Quitting her university course and preparing for her wedding day was a time filled with stress and emotion for Ruby Henderson and it was also the start of a familiar cycle.
Ruby, now 28, from Newton-with-Scales, near Preston, has battled with eating disorders since she was 12 years old.
Despite treatment and recovery in the past, Ruby relapsed in 2015. Now, two years on, she has recovered, but admits she is likely to battle with eating disorders all of her life. Ruby, a clinical co-ordinator at Preston and Poulton-based Breathe Therapies, is sharing her story in the hope it will help others to speak out and to seek help when they need it.
Ruby recalls: “There was a lot of emotional distress in the run-up to the wedding – I was trying to please everyone and ended up channelling my anxiety into controlling my body and my weight.
“I also wanted to look good for the wedding – just like anyone else would – so dieted to lose weight. But an anorexic on a diet was a recipe for disaster.
“I was very sly with it at first. Working with people with eating disorders meant I was well aware that what I was doing was wrong and I felt extreme pressure to keep that hidden. It fell under the radar for a while.
“But, soon cracks started to show in our relationship ahead of the wedding and there was a lot of psychological distress. I wanted to make everyone happy and that’s when I started controlling my food.”
Ruby married in June 2015 and, following her honeymoon, she decided to leave her position at Breathe Therapies. She wanted a break and soon after took a job at a supermarket to pay the bills.
She says by Christmas 2015 she was physically unwell, citing the busy shifts as a reason not to eat.
She explains: “For people who knew me, it was evident by this point. But the reality is, people stopped knowing what to say. People started to think this was just part of what I did and I’d get better because I had done before.
“I felt quite isolated and because people didn’t know what to say, I felt demoralised, like my only identity was to be ill. I did a lot of reading and research and began treatment through Breathe Therapies.
“I identified that there could be biological reasons behind my behaviour, that this wasn’t my fault and there could be something neurologically wrong with my brain.”
The breakdown of Ruby’s marriage followed and at this point she says she felt “directionless” and had “lost her purpose”.
When her mum was involved in a serious car accident, Ruby said she knew she needed to make a change.
She remembers: “I thought, I can self-destruct, or I can get my life back bit by bit. There is no linear explanation for how I did that. But, facing the near death of a parent made me realise ‘people need me’.
“My recovery was different this time. In the past I had gone from not eating to over eating so I gained weight quickly. This time I did it steadily.
“At my lowest point, at Christmas 2015 I was six stones and by August last year I’d restored my health to eight stones.
“I am now healthy, I eat, I’ve returned to my job at Breathe Therapies full time and I’m in a new relationship.
“There’s no quick fix to getting better, it takes time and small steps. I know that the way I manage my anxiety is through controlling food and I think I will have to keep tabs on that for the rest of my life.
“I’ve also learnt that this isn’t just something which affects young girls. This has been a part of my life for 12 years. It can affect anybody, no matter what age.”
Ruby’s advice to others facing the same situation is: “I know through my own experience that when you’re stuck in this cycle it can be hard to get out.
“But asking for help and support can make such a huge difference. That might sound obvious, but I didn’t always want help.
“This was both my best and worst coping mechanism. But asking for help is the first step to getting better.
“Sometimes, talking to your nearest and dearest for help might not be the right answer, but speaking to clinicians and getting support from organisations like Breathe Therapies and Support and Education for Eating Disorders (SEED), can help you identify what you need.
“Not everything works for everyone and not everyone around you will know what to do or say, but knowing what help is available to you and how to talk to your family about it can help get on the right track.”