Experiences of anorexia treatment – Charlotte and Rachels’ story

Sixteen year old Charlotte* spent eight months in treatment at Newbridge House. Charlotte and her mother Rachel* describe their experience.

The route to diagnosis

Rachel: It became very obvious that something was wrong at the start of June last year. Charlotte had lost weight quite quickly, although she was covering it up with baggy clothes and she became very withdrawn. She has always been very sporty and active – we are both the same in that respect. She played cricket for her county and but at some stage, felt if she became thinner, she could run faster. Over time, Charlotte became unable to sit down and was constantly on the move. She was struggling to cope at school, because she literally couldn’t sit through lessons.

The search for treatment

Rachel: We were referred to our local CAMHS services and saw a nurse and a psychiatrist. The approach didn’t get to the root cause of Charlotte’s problems or address the amount of exercise she was doing. It was a very frightening and overwhelming time – Charlotte’s weight was constantly falling. I gave up my job as it wasn’t safe for her to be at home alone. By July, we started looking at inpatient treatment but felt traumatised when we saw a mixed psychiatric unit – it just looked institutionalised and I couldn’t imagine leaving our daughter there. One day, a friend who lived close to Newbridge came over and spoke about it. As soon as she left, we went there for a visit – it was very welcoming and homely and I felt very confident in the staff . We felt very strongly that was where we wanted her to be. Charlotte had a very sad 16th birthday, when her blood pressure had to be checked throughout the day because by that point, she was so poorly and her BMI was just 15.

Admission and early stages of treatment

Rachel: Charlotte is a home girl, so the first few weeks were very hard and very emotional. But we knew she needed to be there and was in the right place when she was admitted in October. I had reached a stage close to breakdown with the constant worry about Charlotte. During the early weeks at Newbridge, her blood pressure was so low that it needed to be checked every four hours, even through the night. It was a relief that professionals were taking over that responsibility. During those early visits, there would be a lot of crying and shouting, but the Newbridge staff always reassured us that this was normal and supported us through it all.

What worked well? What helped?

Charlotte: The sessions with the psychologist and dietitian were really good. They changed my way of thinking because what they said was quite logical. They would say, for example – do an experiment and see what happens if you don’t exercise. I had reached a stage where I thought if I sat down, that would make me fat. It wasn’t logical and they gave me a way of challenging that. Also, it was very important that at Newbridge they helped me to relax – to learn how to relax. The psychiatrist was good – although I didn’t like him at the time because he was really tough and wouldn’t negotiate on things like my target weight.

Rachel: What we understand better now is that Charlotte had always found secondary school overwhelming and this built up into a complete failure of confidence, depression and vulnerability to an eating disorder. Newbridge did much more than ‘treating anorexia’ – they brought our daughter back by helping her to relax and building up her confidence. They went to such great lengths to help her to settle and look after her overall wellbeing. She even had her pet hamster with her at Newbridge for a while. The school teacher was wonderful also. Like many girls, Charlotte became ill during her GCSE year. She had wonderful support, took her exams at Newbridge and they went really well.

Progressing towards discharge

Rachel: As well as the therapy sessions, the practical sessions with the occupational therapist were really important. She joined us for a takeaway which we all shared as a family at home. She went out with Charlotte to help her have a meal out and go shopping, which were both important but very challenging steps for her. The occupational therapy kitchen at Newbridge is just like a home kitchen and we were able to share meals together as a family, so we felt better able to manage when Charlotte came home. She even did things like getting a bus independently while she was at Newbridge, which she had not done before. She went into Newbridge as a child and came out a much more confident and mature young person.

Beyond Newbridge

Rachel: Charlotte has been home now for two months and has maintained her weight. She is looking forward to our first family holiday for a year and after helping in a hospice through the summer, she will start at a new sixth form in September. It was clear that the environment at her old school was not right for her and she is having a new start with new friends.

We are still learning as we go and Charlotte has good days and bad days. But on those bad days, I feel like I know what to do – I know how to distract her and know I will need to give her plenty of time and support to get through it and then the next day will probably be easier.

Overall reflections

Charlotte:Before I went to Newbridge, if someone asked me what I liked doing, I would just say sport. I had stopped enjoying it though, it was just compulsive. Now there are other things that I like, such as drama and I only do sport to enjoy it. I’m not going back to cricket, because that would remind me of being ill, but I have started playing tennis. I like to have a plan for each day and do things, but I can relax now too, which I couldn’t do before. Newbridge has taught me to look to the future and not get stuck in the past, which is what I was doing when I was ill.

Rachel: I cannot praise Newbridge enough – they found our daughter when she was so lost and poorly and gave her back to us. She is the same person, but with so much more confidence and strategies for coping with her feelings and the challenges of life.

* Names have been changed in order to protect parent and child’s identities.

“Before I went to Newbridge, if someone asked me what I liked doing, I would just say sport. I had stopped enjoying it though, it was just compulsive. Now there are other things that I like, such as drama, and I only do sport to enjoy it… I like to have a plan for each day and do things, but I can relax now too, which I couldn’t do before. Newbridge has taught me to look to the future and not get stuck in the past, which is what I was doing when I was ill.” - Charlotte*