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How I recovered from anorexia and how Childline can help

Faye Cullen developed mental health problems and an eating disorder after a diagnosis of ME left her in a wheelchair and housebound, unable to attend school.  She attempted to take her own life. Faye is helping others with her creativity and online profile. She wishes she had been aware of Childline growing up and says it will help other young people experiencing a mental illness.

When I was eight years old I was diagnosed with ME and was left in a wheelchair and housebound, unable to attend school.

Then when I was 11, I was in so much pain and my body was shutting down that they weren’t expecting me to make it through Christmas.

I think for me that was when my brain kind of broke. I was imprisoned in a bedroom through illness. At the age of 13, I started to develop an eating disorder.

How I developed anorexia

My eating habits changed when I started to get better and I was able to be a bit more mobile and make choices as to when I was eating and what I ate. I had a bit of control and I realised it was the only control I had over my life.

One day when I was on my phone I stumbled across some content online that promoted anorexia. It led to a few months of finding out any new way I could lose weight and self-destruct. This content made anorexia seem like the answer to all my problems, and that only good things would come as long as I abided by all the rules. It definitely had a negative impact on my wellbeing.

Deteriorating mental health

My mum was the first person to realise I wasn’t well. I was supposed to be having nutritional drinks (as part of my ME treatment), and I would never drink them, I would just pour them down the sink. My mum saw me doing it and that was the day it came out that I had anorexia. Up until then, people thought I just didn’t want to eat. They didn’t understand the reasoning behind it. Even I didn’t understand why I was doing it.

No-one had explained to me anorexia was actually to do with my feelings and not food. Nobody (health professionals) had asked me what was going on with me or how I was feeling. I was just told to gain weight and that I would be better.

From the age of 13 to 16 I attempted suicide, self-harmed and was admitted to a psychiatric unit

My recovery

However, on my 16th birthday, I decided I was going to recover. I stopped purging, started eating regularly, stopped self-harm, threw all my razors away and said to myself ‘no more suicide attempts, the only one who is going to get you out of this is you’.

From that day onwards I dedicated every single day to my recovery.

Help from Childline

It’s important that communities talk. I didn’t know how to communicate, I didn’t know there were places that would listen to me. Had I known about Childline when I was 14 or 15 it would have been perfect for me, especially because you can contact them online.

It’s incredible because a lot of people, including myself, struggle to verbally have a conversation on a phone. You have the moment of it dialling and waiting, so to type it can be productive as talking about it. I know that it helps people from the number of people who come and talk to me about it.

Read more: Why telling our stories is powerful

Looking to the future

My message to others struggling is it’s not your fault. I have had a difficult time, but I am still here and still fighting and I am definitely in a much better place.

It’s really exciting at the moment. A lot of positive things are coming to me. I am looking at going into a new job as I’ve just qualified as a pole dance instructor. Mentally, I am feeling so much better now I am starting to know what I want to do – I want to become a teacher, I want to go travelling and I want to do all this positive stuff.

I realise that if I can go survive all of that I can definitely do all this fun, positive, happy stuff. I just need to keep fighting and making sure I know how to do all the things that keep me well and alive. As soon as I am well I want to use my experience for the positive rather than dwell on it. I want to learn from it.

Read more: Going from rock bottom to helping others with anorexia

How Childline can help you

Since April last year, Childline’s trained counsellors have delivered nearly 5,000 counselling sessions with children and young people about eating and body image disorders with just under half delivered to children aged 12 to 15 – a 13 per cent increase in comparison to 2019/20.

Any young person can get in touch with the service via the phone on 0800 1111 or online on childline.org.uk.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.
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