How did you feel about leaving Newbridge?
I could not wait to go back home. I was perhaps a bit unusual in that although I was very poorly when I was admitted, being at Newbridge was like flicking a switch. I did everything that I needed to do to work towards discharge as soon as possible. I spent three months in Newbridge and left just before my 18th birthday.
What did you do to prepare and what helped?
I wrote lists of little things I could do when I got home because I’m the kind of person who needs to be occupied. Often, we end up thinking about the ‘big’ things like going to university or travel, but I would write lists of the little things like baking, making a photo album and gardening; things I could easily do and enjoy. I’ve always been a list writer, so that worked for me.
We decided that I would repeat a year of my A Levels because I hadn’t been able to study in the way I needed to at Newbridge. I was adamant that I wanted to carry on studying A Levels and I’m so glad that I did; I know people worry about continuing, feel anxious about going back to school or sixth form college and maybe give up. Giving myself the extra year was a a good decision: I don’t think I would have been ready to go to university soon after being discharged and it was an advantage going over things that I’d already covered. It also gave me more time to think about what I wanted to do at university.
How did you get on reconnecting with old friends and making new ones?
My old friendship group was really good and I just fitted straight back in. Because I was repeating a year, I also had a new friendship group of people I was studying with, who were younger than me and it was good having these two groups.
I came out of Newbridge a very different person. I had always been serious and seemed older than my years. Newbridge brought out my inner child; a more light-hearted side, allowing myself to be silly and fun as well as hard-working and serious.
Did you tell people you about your admission to Newbridge and your eating disorder?
I went back to my old college, so quite a few people already knew that I’d had an eating disorder. When I met new people, I didn’t tell them; not because I wanted to hide it but just because I wanted to have a fresh start.
Did you face any challenges or relapses?
For about a year after leaving Newbridge, I was doing well and it seemed straightforward but then I relapsed. It was changes in my eating and my thinking and the changes were quite gradual. I was going out with someone from my old friendship group and I think that triggered the difficulties.
The difference this time, compared with when I became very ill before I came to Newbridge, was I was able to talk to my parents pretty early on and they were better skilled to manage the situation. Newbridge really helped our family dynamic: it used to be my Mum and sister who were the chatty ones who would express emotions easily and I would be more like my Dad and keep things to myself. When I became ill, it was a case of the ‘unbreakable’ person is broken. We’ve changed how we function as a family and have become a stronger unit because of it.
Consequently, when I had my relapse, we all dealt with it much better, together with the tools I had from my time at Newbridge and my determination not to become ill again. I was able to get back on track. It is important to remember that if you relapse, or face a bump in the road, getting through it does make you stronger.
How are you getting on at university?
I’m in the third year of a degree in food science and nutrition. I always wanted to do something science-based and I really enjoy food science particularly: how you engineer certain tastes and flavours, for example, by applying biochemistry knowledge. I am currently on a third year on an industry placement.
I’m at the University of Leeds, a city where there are many thousands of students. I find wherever I go, there is information about mental health: what you should be aware of and where to go for help. I probably wouldn’t use the services myself – it works better for me to talk to my family if I’m worried and to put into practice the things that I’ve learnt, such as it is a good idea if I cook with or for other people. I love cooking and shopping for meals, but I don’t like doing meals just for myself. I still find, four years after I was preparing to leave Newbridge, the same thing applies – I like to be active and occupied.
What would your overall advice be?
It is really important to be prepared. How you prepare is very individual: for me, it is writing lists and plans and eating with other people and it may be very different for others. But know what helps you personally and try to have that in place around you. I think it is also important to be prepared to have bad days and bumps in the road. I still have some bad days when I just want to stay in bed. But I get through those days, I’m enjoying my life and I feel positive about the future.
*patient’s name has been changed to protect her identity. Photograph depicts a model
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