воскресенье, 19 марта 2017 г.
‘Mum made me anorexic’
As a teen Natasha Bodley abused slimming pills that her mum gave her. Now 28, she talks about the eating disorder that nearly killed her
Immaculate blonde hair, perfectly manicured nails and enviably slim. My mum always looked groomed, but I knew what her secret was. Mum barely ate, and she had a deadly addiction to slimming pills. An addiction that I would inherit, and that would leave me sectioned in a psychiatric hospital battling the doctors who could save my life.
Growing up, I thought my mum was so glamorous. She looked like Princess Diana. But she suffered from terrible mood swings. I know now that she had bi-polar disorder. My dad had left us when I was one, so it was just the two of us. I spent a lot of time with my nan while Mum tried various medications to keep her condition under control.
The one thing that was constant, though, was Mum's obsession with her appearance. She'd spend hours getting her outfits right, doing her make-up. Aged 12 I was already worried I was fat, even though I was 5ft 5in and weighed around 7st 7lb.
'You're perfect as you are,' Mum insisted. I didn't believe her. The irony? Mum didn't believe my compliments either. Convinced she was overweight, I knew she gorged on laxatives and slimming pills to keep her size-6 figure.
She hardly ate, so I stopped eating too. Mum tried to make me, but I was determined not to and she wasn't strong enough to fight my tantrums. I lost a bit of weight, but not enough.
As I'd grown up, I'd learned how to get what I wanted - exploiting Mum's guilt for not always being there. So when I decided I wanted to take laxatives, like she did, I knew just how to get my own way.
One night I kept on and on about my weight, which by then was only 7st. 'I'm fat,' I spat, over and over. I ground Mum down until she delved into her handbag and handed me two smooth laxative tablets.
Gulping them back, I felt like I'd won - that we were sharing a secret world. I ended up on the toilet with an awful stomach ache, but I felt cleansed.
From that moment on, whenever I could I'd take laxatives from Mum's bedroom. Consumed by her depression, she didn't exactly try to hide them.
I slimmed down quickly, but no one thought that there was anything wrong. By 15, I was 5ft 7in, a size 4 and surviving on a diet of just lettuce leaves and lemon juice and taking two laxatives a day.
That's when I discovered Mum took prescription slimming pills too - I found them in her make-up bag. I told her I wanted some. At first she refused. I accused her of being a bad mum for leaving me with Nan so much, saying that was why I was unhappy - guilt made her weak, so she took me to a private doctor.
I think she hoped I'd be refused slimming pills - I was just a teenager. But I kicked up a huge fuss in the doctor's surgery and we were paying him, so eventually he gave in to my demands and prescribed me slimming pills.
Mum never tried to stop me taking them - how could she? She wouldn't give them up herself.
Leaving school, I enrolled on a performing arts course. But I skipped lessons to concentrate on being thin. A couple of friends tried to talk to me about what I was going through but I was so wrapped up in my illness I didn't listen to them.
Supplementing meagre meals of lettuce and tuna with between 80 and 120 laxatives a day, my weight plummeted. By the time I was 20, I weighed just 5st 7lb. I was smaller than a size 0 and was dangerously underweight. Looking back, I was so sick - my hair was lank, my eyes dull. I barely left the house. Meanwhile, Mum's depression was being better controlled by new medication and she was thinking more clearly. She tried to help me, but I refused to listen.
As much as Mum's eating disorder consumed her, she'd never let her weight get dangerously low. I'd gone further than she ever had. She persuaded me to go into an eating disorder clinic by threatening to get me sectioned if I didn't.
I was furious, and decided to use my time in the clinic to become more cunning about losing weight. I tried sewing weights into my dressing gown to make me heavier when I was being weighed and I became an expert at hiding food from the staff. Meanwhile, my body desperately craved diet pills and laxatives - without them I felt anxious, sick and faint.
Despite my intentions not to eat, being monitored by strict staff meant that after nine months, I weighed 7st and the doctors discharged me. Mum was pleased. But I felt disgusted with myself for gaining weight. Back home I punished my body with a harsh food routine, eating only microwaved mushrooms.
I knew Mum was still taking diet pills and laxatives to stay skinny. So, when she tried to talk to me, I ignored her.
Eventually, it got to the point where I was barely functioning. My body was going into shutdown and I spent my days just sitting listlessly in my room.
I can't remember the last few weeks before I was sectioned. I just know that I was skin and bone and couldn't even walk. Mum couldn't cope - she didn't know what to do. So she followed through on her previous threat and called my community psychiatric nurse to have me sectioned. As I was carried out of my room, I was too weak to physically fight. But I could still hurt Mum.
'How could you?' I screamed. 'It's your fault I'm like this.'
Mum winced, but stood her ground. I was taken into a psychiatric unit, weighing just 5st. Diagnosed with anorexia, doctors told me I could only go home once I'd reached 7st.
At night, I'd phone Mum, begging for her to come and collect me. When she visited, I pleaded with her. But this time she was stronger. 'You need to get better,' she'd insist.
Initially, I was tube-fed by nurses. Then I was gradually moved on to solid foods and watched while I ate in my room. Eating in the dining room was a privilege you had to earn, but eventually I learned to eat more normally and not view food as my enemy.
After seven months, Mum came in for a meeting. I'd made it to just over 7st. 'I can go home,' I cried.
Mum shook her head. 'No, you can't,' she said sadly. 'If you move back in with me, all your old habits will return.' She was right of course. But I felt stung by her rejection.
'You gave me this eating disorder,' I hissed as she left.
I stayed in hospital for a few more weeks. Mum called but I refused to speak to her.
Once I weighed 7st 7lb, I was allowed to leave the hospital as long as I agreed to regular check-ups to make sure that I was still working towards a healthy weight.
I found a small flat to rent and started to carve out a life for myself. I wanted to get better and to study again.
Slowly, I realised I couldn't blame anyone else for what had happened to me. Or rely on them to fix things. I started seeing a psychiatrist and committed myself to getting better. There was just one thing missing - Mum.
After six months I rang her. 'Thank you,' I said. 'You saved my life.' And we started to rebuild our relationship.
A year on, I'm a healthy 9st 7lb, a size 10 and I have a good relationship with food. There's no overnight cure, but I'm getting there. Mum and I still have a different relationship to most mothers and daughters. We've been through some really tough times. I know she tries to control her weight, though I hope one day she'll stop.
We talk on the phone all the time and meet a few times a week. I don't blame her for my eating disorder any more. I thank her for saving my life."
Sonia Szynkarski, a former sales executive, 48, says: "I'll never forget watching as my darling daughter was carried screaming from the house by the mental health team taking her away to be sectioned.
The truth was, however much Natasha hated me, I hated myself more. My beautiful, bubbly girl was a skeleton, dying in front of my eyes, and it was all my fault.
Her problems had been triggered because I'd set a bad example. As her mum, I should've tried harder to say 'no'.
But I hadn't always been there for her. When she asked for laxatives, I should have refused. And three years later, I still didn't say no when she wanted diet pills. Maybe if I had, things would have been so different.
My own weight problems had started when I was pregnant with Natasha. I'd piled on 3st, taking my weight to 11st. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I panicked. My rounded face and puffy ankles made me feel sick.
When Natasha was born, I turned to anything to help me lose the weight. I didn't have time for diets, so I found a quick fix, using laxatives and pills. Even though they left me feeling drained, they also put me in control.
But despite losing weight and having an energetic and happy toddler to look after, something had changed in me. My mood swung violently between elated happiness and a plummeting feeling of doom.
When Natasha was five years old, I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. While I came to terms with my illness, I struggled with being a mum. And I made some serious mistakes.
As Natasha grew up, all I could do was watch her pick up my bad habits. I should have led a better example, but I was consumed by my own compulsions.
Looking back, I realise that I wasn't thinking rationally. When Natasha was 15, she demanded slimming pills. We had a vicious row and she was quick to point out what a hypocrite I was - I popped pills like they were mints.
I really thought that the doctor would tell her that she was being ridiculous, but instead he wrote her out a prescription. As her mother, I should have stopped her. Only that would have meant I had to give them up, and I wasn't strong enough.
In my medicated mind, I thought that I was still in control. I took them and I was OK - wasn't I? It sounds like an excuse, but I really didn't know what I was doing.
When I finally grew stronger, with better medication and counselling for my bi-polar disorder, I realised that I had to help Natasha. She was so weak, she could hardly move. 'I've done this to her,' I sobbed every night. It plagued me, how I wished I'd done things differently.
Laxatives and diet pills were part of my life but Natasha had to escape. And I had to help her. When she was sectioned, she was wheelchair-bound and fed by a tube.
It broke my heart the day she begged me to take her home. For the first time, I had to learn to say 'no' to her. After seven months, she had become stronger but I knew that I couldn't let her come home. It was time to be the mum she deserved.
I crushed her that day, but I only did it to save her life. When I look at Natasha now, I'm so proud of what she's achieved. She's studying performing arts and doing brilliantly.
My bi-polar is under control with better medication and I do my best to fight the lure of diet pills, but I do still take them. I used to torture myself for Natasha's problems but she doesn't blame me. 'You were ill yourself, Mum,' she says.
It doesn't stop me wishing I'd done things differently. I'm constantly in awe of Natasha's strength. Finally, she's the strong beautiful woman she always aspired to be.
And with her help, I'm getting there too."
Susan Ringwood, chief executive of eating disorder charity B-eat (visit B-eat.co.uk), says eating disorders can run in some families. "While you can't actually inherit an eating problem itself, you might inherit some of the vulnerabilities that make having one more likely - such as a chemical imbalance in the brain, which can cause depression leading to an eating problem," she explains.
"Daughters do copy their mothers' behaviour. If a mother makes self-critical comments, it's very likely to have an adverse effect on the daughter's self-esteem."