This Mental Health Awareness Week, Rose Walters tells mental health charity SANE how her struggle with anorexia would have been too much to bear without the support of her parents.
At the age of 14, Rose Walters was hospitalised for anorexia. With no friends, and no one in hospital to support her, she'd look forward to the two hours each day that her parents were allowed to visit.
"When my parents came they would calm me down and listen to me," she says. "If they came in an evening they'd take me out for a wheelchair ride around the hospital, which kept my mind off my illness and distracted me. They reminded me that I was loved and worth something. They helped me feel better when staff often made me feel very bad."
By the time Rose was discharged from hospital, she weighed only slightly more than when she first arrived in the ward. Her recovery there had focused solely on the physical aspect of her illness rather than the psychological, with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and medical staff encouraging her to overeat, a practice Rose later found out could have killed her.
"It was almost like they had no knowledge of how to deal with an eating disorder in a young person," she adds. "I don't hear anything good about CAHMS from people who are currently dealing with them, so I don't think things have improved much since I was hospitalised."
Realising that they couldn't rely on mental health services to support her recovery, Rose and her family decided to take matters into their own hands. Her parents, both working full-time, researched her condition, and helped to normalise her eating habits while giving her space to focus on her passions and future ambitions. Their approach, she says, was to strike a balance between being a source of comfort and tough love.
"An eating disorder is almost like a separate entity in someone's head," she explains. "They're not the same person. You have to speak to both people, being kind to the person that's left in there, because they're weak. They need help and support. At the same time, you have to be firm when you hear the anorexic voice."
Rose has now overcome her anorexia but still struggles with body dysmorphic disorder and anxiety. Her experiences battling anorexia have culminated in the publication of six books, including a handbook containing advice for parents and guardians on how to support someone through an eating disorder.
"It's the young person's family who are on the front line fighting for their loved one as they are unable at first to fight for themselves," she explains in an introduction to her book online. "I know first-hand from speaking to my own parents that it is so frustrating and desperately worrying when access to help and support seems to be continually out of reach. When this is combined with unwillingness to access support from the person in question due to the nature of the illness, it can be incredibly difficult for family and friends to know what is best to do to help them."
As well as her books, Rose also maintains a blog called Tough Cookie, with sections detailing advice on health, nutrition, and body image. She acknowledges that there are many forums online promoting negativity around eating disorders, as well as 'pro-ana' websites, which encourage harmful eating practices. Her blog is intended to provide a safe space for those looking to recover, along with their families.
"There was nobody around at the time of my diagnosis who understood what I was going through or had been through something similar," she says, when explaining her reasons for setting up the blog. "I really wanted to be that person for other people. They could look at this blog and think, 'yes I can get over this.'"
SANE is a UK-wide charity set up to improve the quality of life for people affected by mental illness. For non-judgemental and completely confidential support, call our helpline at 0300 304 7000, available from 6pm - 11pm every evening.
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