Anorexic girl who weighed less than three stone beats eating disorder
Published 20/09/2012 | 12:21
A former anorexic who was so ill she weighed less than three stone has finally beaten the eating disorder that nearly killed her.
Emma O'Neil, 22, was so thin that even lying on a hospital bed left her bruised - in what doctors told her was the worst case of anorexia they had ever seen.
Emma spent her teenage years in and out of hospital, where her worried family and medics begged her to eat, and where it took up to four nurses to hold her down to force feed her.
But it was only after she got so weak she collapsed while crossing a road - narrowly escaping being hit by a car - that she started her long road to recovery.
Now, eight years on, Emma, from Glasgow, is finally back to full health - and has even set up a foundation with two friends, to help anorexics and their families cope with the condition.
Emma said: "At the time, I didn't realise how ill I was - I didn't realise what I was doing to myself and my family.
"My doctor told me I was the best anorexic he'd ever met in his career - but I thought that was something I should be proud of.
"I was so thin that I couldn't even sleep on a normal hospital bed - my bones were like razor blades jutting out and I was left bruised.
"Even an airbed was too rough for me, so they had to wrap me in my dressing gown and sheepskin blankets.
"Some of my friends I was in hospital with who weren't as ill as I was who have died - I'm so lucky to be here.
"I want to take something positive from this horrible experience, and do all I can to help other people who are suffering."
Emma was a sporty teenager and weighed a healthy seven stone when she first developed the condition in her early teens.
Within six months, her weight had plummeted to just over five stone - and she was admitted to Gartnavel hospital in Glasgow.
But anorexia continued to ravage her body - taking her down to a skeletal two stone 12lbs.
Emma said: "I can't even really remember how it started - it certainly wasn't a vanity thing, as I was a very sporty teenager, and wasn't chubby at all.
"I have a very addictive personality and I remember trying to see how thin I could get, and I started being sick after I ate.
"One day, my mum caught me being sick, and she was so upset I felt awful. I thought of her as this superwoman, and seeing her cry shocked me.
"She said she couldn't watch me eat if that was what I was going to do, so I just decided not to eat at all."
Emma's weight continued to plummet until she was pulled out of her private secondary school and taken into hospital.
But she carried on shrinking as she battled against doctors, pulling out feeding drips and refusing to eat - and even once took four nurses to hold her down and force feed her.
It was only after she had been in hospital for two years that a turning point finally came, when she came close to being run over after she collapsed crossing a road.
Emma added: "I had been allowed out for a day visit with my dad, who took me shopping in Glasgow city centre.
"We went into one shop and I was so weak he had to carry me up the stairs, but I still didn't realise how ill I was.
"When we left the shop, we went to cross over the main road, and when I was half way over, I saw all these cars rushing towards me.
"I tried to run across to the other side of the road, but I just collapsed - I didn't have enough muscle to run.
"It was only then that I thought: 'Maybe I'm not so well.'
"It wasn't like a magic switch suddenly turned on though - it was still a long and difficult journey. Anorexia was like a prison that I couldn't escape from.
"I could see the devastating effect this was having on my parents and I didn't know how to help them, but I thought, 'I can't lose my family, they mean everything to me'.
As I put weight on all I saw was this monster. I was frightened of people seeing me. "I was this carcass, this body. It was the most disgusting feeling I have had in my life.
"Only in the last year have I been at semi-peace with myself - I have realised the most important things are having a baby, having a career and having a healthy body to carry me through life."
Emma set up The Only Way is Up Foundation earlier this year with friends Catherine Morran and Susan Parker, who have both suffered with the illness too.
Emma said: "We want to go into wards and hospital units and help staff and families support people who are suffering with eating disorders.
"We are the ones who know how best to help people get better.
"There were loads of things that happened to me in hospital that absolutely didn't help me at all.
"The drip feed I was given had the fat and calorie content written all over the side, which only made me more determined to pull it out - I couldn't stand the thought of all of that going into my body.
"Some of the doctors just dismiss people with eating disorders as attention seeking - that's absolutely not the case, and we want to help people get better treatment.
"We also want to provide somewhere for sufferers and their families to turn to for help and someone to talk to - I'm sure if a service like this had existed when I was in hospital, it would have been a great help for my parents."