13 Aug 2022

Kildare woman's story of battling an eating disorder

Rose B O’Donoghue talks to a young mother about her efforts to treat her eating disorder

Kildare woman's story of battling an eating disorder

Karen Blanche

Kildare woman Karen Blanche is happily married and the mother of two young children.

She is currently battling anorexia nervosa, an addictive, life threatening eating disorder she first presented with at 17 years of age. So how can Karen claim to be ‘happy’ in her life and yet find herself in the throes of relapse?

“I was trying to lose weight when I was 17 and look good. I have had many good years since, had a few minor relapses but overall I was well and healthy.

“In 2012, I got married and my husband has always been very supportive of me. I have two lovely children aged three and six years. However, when I feel things are getting out of my control — I want everything to be perfect — I put myself under pressure and relapse. Emotional trauma, like when my father died suddenly, had a huge effect on me.”

Karen decided to speak out about her illness and the lack of support services across Co Kildare for persons with eating disorders. The financial burden of treatment and ongoing counselling, etc, is also a strain on the family budget.

“Last week was national Eating Disorders Awareness Week,” said Karen. “When there is so much emphasis on talking openly about mental health issues and supports, I found there was very little help for me out there.”

Karen recognised the signs of early relapse but “the bottom line was I had to hit rock bottom before I got help. My GP saw how my body weight had plummeted, my bloods were gone haywire, I was having palpitations — I wasn’t in denial but I was in serious trauma.”

There are, incredibly, only three public beds at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, to cater for persons with anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating or avoidant restrictive food intake disorder.

Because of her failing health, Karen was admitted to St John of God’s, Stillorgan, where she was treated for 16 weeks.

The HSE subsidised her programme, which Karen believes costs in the region of €50,000.

Since her return home in December, Karen says “it’s a daily struggle” but she is getting there, and is grateful to the extended family and relatives for their support.

Treating an eating disorder merits monitoring by a multi-discipinary team, as the conditions have underlying pyschological issues and physical addictive traits.

Karen is driving to Dublin every week and attending a dietician and a counsellor.

“It costs €160 for the two sessions, along with petrol but it is really helping me,” she said.

The HSE confirmed “the National Clinical Programme for eating disorders does not have a specialist team in Kildare at this point.”

Bodywhys is an organisation based in Dublin which offers support to families living with, and supporting persons with, eating disorders. Barry Murphy, communications officer, stated that, as part of the HSE’s Model of Care for Eating Disorders, Bodywhys has introduced a new free Pilar programme for families.

This involves a four week course, two hours per week, for families and partners trying to understand and support a family member with an eating disorder.

The course was held in Cork and Arklow this year, with more courses planned for Galway and Carrick-on-Shannon in May.

“The HSE Model of Care for eating disorders was launched in 2018, and has a five year implementation timeline. It will improve the clinical outcomes and recovery of people with eating disorders, and reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with same,” he concluded.

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