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Kate Le Page - Goodbye Ana: Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa
Kate Le Page was born in April 1978 in Guernsey, Channel Islands. From a young age, she acquired a love of travel and a keen interest in language. At the age of 20, Kate was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in 1998. During hospitalisations at Marchwood Priory EDU she found solace in writing poetry which helped her to express the intense emotions experienced in the fight for recovery. Kate is currently training to be a Counsellor and has recently been awarded a diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Following her graduation she organised conferences involving eating disorder specialists from the UK and Canada. In our interview conducted by Sarah and Candace, Nursing Students completing their placements at mindyourmind, Kate talks about her battling and recovering from anorexia. Read Kate's personal stories: Anorexia: What Helps? What Doesn't Help? and Treatment: My Experience.
Writing ‘Answered Prayer’, a poem from her book, Goodbye Ana: Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa, has been a significant part of Kate’s recovery.
Why did you decide to share your story through poetry?
I’ve always found it easier to express myself through poetry than prose and during my recovery I struggled to read long autobiographies about people’s experiences with eating disorders. With poetry, you can simply dip in and out and don’t have to read cover to cover to understand the author’s story. Also, in the early days of my recovery I was triggered by the mention of weights/sizes and so I wanted to get my story
across in a way that would be less likely to trigger any sufferers.
What do you hope others will gain from reading your poetry?
I hope that sufferers will be able to relate to my experiences and gain hope and encouragement for the recovery journey. The underlying message is that recovery is truly possible and achievable but it is something that does not come either quickly or easily, you tend to get out what you put in. My primary aim was also to educate health professionals, carers/friends/relatives of sufferers as well as work towards reducing the stigma and myths surrounding eating disorders and mental illness in general.
Did you write the poems throughout your experience of anorexia or afterwards? Was this a sense of healing for you?
I wrote the poems throughout my illness and recovery, some were written whilst in Marchwood Priory Eating Disorder Unit and most were written in the later stages of recovery. Writing has always been something I have found to be very cathartic and healing - it’s almost as if the very act of putting the chaos down onto paper clears some much needed recovery head-space. I believe that eating disorders thrive on secrecy so writing has been a means to challenge the distorted thoughts / body image that accompany such conditions.
Which poem has the most life changing meaning for you? Why?
I think the poem ‘Answered Prayer’ has been the most significant for me in terms of meaning because it is about reconnecting with my faith after many months of feeling like I had been abandoned by God, where in actuality it was me that had moved away from him and distanced myself through going deeper into the illness.
In my darkest times I sought comfort through crying out to God using poetry I supposes in a similar way to David does in the psalms. When you begin writing, you’re really doubting, questioning whether God is really there and by the end you are praising him for his faithfulness. The Psalms have been a real source of encouragement as they remind me that I’m never alone, that everyone struggles at times.
Do you believe something triggered your anorexia?
This is something I have discussed many times whilst in therapy - I have come to believe the expression that ‘genes load the gun, environment pulls the trigger.’ I was about 14 when my anorexia began - the year before we had moved out of a neighbourhood where I had felt happy, safe and had good friends close by. Also, my grandfather suddenly passed away and I had begun to get bullied at school - mainly for having large (UK size 10) feet. Friends would say to me that my feet wouldn’t look so big if I gained a lot of weight which I found very hurtful and this made me even more determined to lose weight in the ridiculous hope that this would somehow make my feet somehow shrink!
Do you still have moments of weakness between you and anorexia? What do you do to distract yourself and move away from those thoughts?
There are definitely times when anorexia tries hard to whisper lies into my ear and I have come to accept that it is something I need to remain aware of in times of stress. I still occasionally struggle with change and perfectionism though nowadays I am far more alert to spotting potential triggers.
Today, I use CBT thought records to challenge my negative automatic thoughts (‘NATS or ANTS!’) as well as my cognitive analytical therapy map/ My map is on my website and shows me what traps I can fall into and various ’exit strategies’ to avoid relapse. My home also has coping thoughts/inspirational quotes dotted around on post-it notes- I find these really helpful as they remind me how much better life is without being ill all the time. Dawson, my gorgeous Jack Russell, has also been a fantastic distraction and caring for him reminds me that I need to be kind to myself and treat myself with the same love and respect. (And yes, I am a massive Dawson’s Creek fan!!)
It seems that you describe a lot of emotions such as anger, hopelessness, fear, anxiousness in your poetry. What would you say was the most overwhelming feeling you experienced throughout your struggle with anorexia?
I would say that the most overwhelming feeling was that of fear - I was afraid of so much that my world got smaller and smaller until it was just me and the illness and no-one else was allowed in. Fear of scales, food, meals out, socialising, buying clothes, relationships, doctor appointments, others discovering my illness, being forced to gain weight simply dominated my existence. The word ‘existence’ quite literally sums up living with anorexia as it’s not really a life because whilst everyone around you is moving forward e.g. having children, careers, relationships you remain stuck and trapped.
In your poems you thank God, and mention: “I’ll be set free with Jesus”. Has religion been a source of strength and hope for you?
My faith has been probably the biggest impact on my recovery. I grew up not believing in anything and in 2001, aged 23, I dated a Christian who introduced me to the friends that were all part of the church where I came to know Jesus as my Saviour and later got baptised. It was through these new friends that I felt the acceptance I had been desperately seeking for most of my life and also met my husband.
Knowing with absolute certainty that, because of Jesus, that one day I will be in a place where there is no suffering (i.e. no parasitic eating disorders or depression) truly gives me the strength to endure the most challenging days, when anorexia/depression threaten to overwhelm me again. Also, as a Christian I believe that God has a plan for each of us and that He works all things together for good so I can see his hand on my life, especially recently with using my most darkest times to reach others through my book.
Who or what was your largest source of inspiration? Was this what helped you turn your life around? If not, what did?
Apart from my faith, my largest source of inspiration has been my husband, Mark - he has always been able to separate Kate from anorexia and encouraged me to keep fighting, especially in the early days of my recovery. I believe that having a strong, secure, loving relationship has given me the safe environment I needed to maintain good physical and emotional health. When I was in treatment Mark would fly over from Guernsey to England to visit me most Sunday’s and when I was a day-patient (before we were married) he would meet me at the airport at 5.30 am to see me off.
What also helps is I know that my marriage has remained strong through horrendous times when I’ve been hospitalised for several months and I know that Mark loves me regardless of the fight we’ve had to endure together over the past 6 years. I’d also like to acknowledge the tremendous support from my doctor (James Ray) - he has been fantastic in always providing the best treatment at every stage of my recovery and has also written the foreword for my book.
What would you change about your road to recovery from anorexia if you had to do it over again?
The main thing I’ve learnt is that the earlier you seek help the better the chances of making a good recovery. I didn’t get any proper help until I was almost 20 so my illness had become very ingrained in terms of my thinking/behaviour patterns and my physical health had been greatly affected. However, I’d say that as the medication (as well as CAT therapy) I take now wasn’t available when I first got ill, perhaps the doctors I saw back in the late nineties were just doing the best they could.
I wish that I’d taken the eating disorder consultants, dieticians, therapists, doctors more seriously when I was younger too… I thought I was almost invincible as for many years I was reasonably healthy and remained in total denial of the long term risks to my health.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who is experiencing anorexia?
My main advice would be to firstly accept that you need help (recovery requires good support) and grab every bit of help you can obtain with both arms. Don’t wait until the illness has wrecked years of your life and listen to what the specialists/doctors tell you as your anorexia will tell you they’re lying to you but it’s anorexia not them who really lie.
Also, think seriously about the consequences of not getting help sooner rather than later… I am 31 now and am unable to conceive, work with children (due to poor immune system) and have osteopenia (early signs of osteoporosis). My twenties were spent in some form of treatment or another and involved being hospitalized 6 times and countless trips to the ER with viruses/infections that my body was too weak to fight off. Untreated, anorexia is truly a wasted life but with treatment you can get your life back and fulfill your dreams and aspirations.
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