A Lincolnshire woman, who valiantly overcame an eating disorder, has courageously spoken for the first time about her painful story in the hope it can help change the lives of other sufferers.
Patricia Smith, from Quadring near Spalding, agreed to speak out as part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week – an international event designed to improve the understanding of eating disorders and remove the stigma attached to them – and says without support from Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (LPFT) she wouldn’t be alive today.
The 63 year-old has fought a tumultuous battle with anorexia and bulimia for as long as she can remember, and has undergone years of rehabilitation and counselling.
“I have battled anorexia and bulimia all my life, and it is so much more than just sticking your fingers down your throat or forcing yourself not to eat,” said Patricia, now discharged from the service.
“I had three jobs, went to the gym every day and went running wearing a bin-liner. I wouldn’t eat and I took laxatives like they were sweets.
“I was constantly in-denial for years and I felt there was no-one I could talk to - the only way I felt I could cope with the stress was by not eating.
“If hadn’t been for the Eating Disorders team, I don’t think I would still be here today.”
Patricia had an extremely difficult childhood where she was the victim of sexual abuse from a trusted family member.
And things didn’t get any easier for Patricia who had two rocky marriages. Her first husband would often beat her, and the second would mentally torture her.
She confesses things got so low and out of control that she considered taking her own life.
“I was sexually abused by my grandad when I was younger,” added Patricia, who is now happily married to her third husband.
“I would suffer from anxiety attacks; I would always be lying and hiding things – mainly from my family - the people who cared about me most.
“The stress of it all made me suicidal. I was on 24 hour watch and regressed so much that I was almost child-like. I think it was all to do with being in control, and food was the only thing I could control.
“I will never fully recover. The scars of my past will always be there. I have lost teeth and have severe back problems, but I am no longer fearful of what tomorrow will bring.”
Patricia’s daughter Michelle, now 43, says it was difficult having to act up from a young age and care for her mother.
Having grown up exposed to the side effects of living with an eating disorder, Michelle admits it was all she ever knew, but stresses more needs to be done to educate carers on the symptoms to look out for in relation to anorexia and bulimia.
“It isn’t just weight-loss or anxiety, it can also be the cause of a huge change in personality,” said Michelle, who was inspired to become a Child Protection Manager after her mother’s experiences.
“She was obsessed with being a feeder to other people and would make me have a massive portion.
“She would buy twelve tins of beans, and if someone took one she would go mad and have to go to the shops to get another one.
“But she is now so much better with food and speaks so highly of Ingrid and her eating disorders team. I really can’t thank them enough, and I am hoping to meet them in person in the near-future.”
Ingrid Whitaker, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist for LPFT, has kept in contact with Patricia and says she is delighted with her progress, believing the Trust’s community programme provides the perfect environment for patients’ to have the best chance of making a full recovery.
She said: “Patricia is completely unrecognisable from the lady I first met.
“I am extremely proud that she has taken the extremely brave step to tell her difficult story and I am certain it will inspire others affected by eating disorders to come forward and tell theirs.
“Eating disorders diagnosis rates are on the rise so it is vital we keep awareness of the key symptoms and promote the services that are available to these people and their families.
“Our community programme allows service-users to be more comfortable in their own home, and together under local provision we support their carers to help them get on with their lives with less disruption to their daily routines.
“Ultimately we believe this gives all of our service-users the best fighting chance of making a full recovery”
Dr Kevin Hill, Chair of NHS South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group - who supports the LPFT eating disorders service added: “Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia affect over one-and-a-half million people nationwide, and there may be many more because often sufferers hide their condition from their friends, families and work colleagues.
“Here in Lincolnshire, we work closely with LPFT to offer a range of support groups dedicated to helping people combat and manage their conditions. These groups include former sufferers, their family members and friends, so they have direct knowledge of the impact it can have on people’s lives.”