A STUDENT nurse from Eyemouth has spoken out about her battle with anorexia in a bid to raise awareness about the dangers of the debilitating disease.
Nicole Blakie revealed the true extent of her illness during Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 20-25) in a brave effort to highlight the issues sufferers face.
Her story came as quite a shock to some. “I don’t think many people realised how ill I was,” she explains. “I hope though that it helps many others out there and shows them that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Four years ago, Nicole was a happy, healthy 18-year-old who loved sport, particularly golf.
She harboured a life-long ambition to join the RAF - but when she was accepted, her drive to succeed began to take over her life.
“I’m the kind of person who’s a perfectionist, I strive to be the best then the best is never good enough,” she tells us. “Most people would be ecstatic to hear they’d got into the RAF, but for me it wasn’t the best. I thought I should do better, which was stupid because I’d achieved what I’d wanted to achieve - there was no better.”
Before she left Eyemouth to begin training in Buckinghamshire, Nicole felt she wasn’t the best, or the fittest, she could be. She started training intensely and began to lose weight.
Intense training became a rigorous part of her day, and Nicole admits it was already “taking over” by the time she moved south to start with the RAF, Nicole was nine and a half stone, down from 11 stone two months previously.
“Not eating became part of my training as I was scared of getting fat! I began cutting out carbs, then I cut out fat,” she says. “I was living on half a weetabix with hot water a day, and training constantly in the RAF.”
Nicole was burning around 5000 calories a day, but barely taking in a hundred. The stress she was putting her body under manifested itself during training one day when she collapsed. “I was out on a run and my legs gave way,” she recalls. “I was admitted to the RAF medical centre and spent a week there not getting anywhere.”
Nicole’s family were horrified by her tiny frame and gaunt appearance, and she was brought back to Eyemouth to be treated at home by her GP.
But Nicole’s health didn’t improve. In fact, she was getting worse. She became a master at disguising her symptoms. She would wear several layers of clothes for weigh-ins and at home she would hide food. She had lost five stones in three months.
With her condition still deteriorating, Nicole was admitted to a psychiatric ward in November 2009, where she spent a week, before suffering a hypoglycemic seizure. “I blacked out and woke up in Borders General on a nasogastric tube with other lines, drips, a catheter and bed bound,” she says.
She was critically ill. “I needed a wheelchair to get about. My muscles were so weak I couldn’t walk or lift my head off the pillow. My liver was failing and I had low platelets.”
Nicole needed eight blood transfusions. She spent two months in in the BGH before being transferred to Huntercombe, a specialised eating disorders unit in Livingstone, where she underwent a nine-month programme of therapy. “I went through intense therapy and was put on a strict meal plan,” Nicole says. “I was supervised 24/7 - there was someone at my side while I went to toilet, slept, and even when I showered.”
Even while she was receiving intense treatment at Huntercombe, Nicole suffered more serious setbacks. “I took a seizure due to water overloading and was rushed to St John’s Hospital,” she explains. After returning to Huntercombe she was again rushed to St John’s when her haemoglobin dropped dangerously low.
Eventually, she began to improve, and after six months at the facility, Nicole was allowed her first pass home. “Spending time with the family was great,” she remembers. “I realised what life was really like and what I was missing.”
Determined to get better, Nicole focused on getting well. She says: “It was not an easy fight. I faced nightmares and terrible torture, but I battled on through the voices in my head.”
In August 2010, Nicole was finally discharged from hospital, 11 months after being admitted.
“Since then I have achieved some wonderful things,” she says. She got reaquainted with her beloved golf at the end of 2010, and went on to become Eyemouth champion last summer. She has also started nurse training. “I’m doing general nursing at the moment but I’d like to specialise in mental health eventually,” she says. “I’d really like to help people that are in the situation I was in.”
Nicole says that because anorexia is a mental illness, it’s something that she’ll have to live with for the rest of her life. But by learning coping strategies, she can manage it.
“I am not going to sit here and say that I don’t still have bad days,” she admits. “Sometimes I still have to make decisions and deal with ‘the voice’. But it’s how I manage those decisions that counts now, and with the help and support from the specialised team in hospital, who taught me strategies and techniques to do this, I can now deal with it.
“Anorexia, for me, was like another person in my head. Living with someone who was stronger than I was. At the back of my mind I know that because I have had it, something small could trigger it off again. But I take each day as it comes and concentrate on going forward.”
She adds: “I’m now able to enjoy spending time with my family and do the things a 22-year-old should be doing.”