Gill is a volunteer with CAPS Independent Advocacy

IN 2014 I had to give up my dream job. I worked as an advisory teacher for children with additional support needs and my career was everything I had ever dreamed of. But the stress of teaching and a triple whammy of psychiatric disorders – namely bipolar disorder, binge eating disorder and pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder – meant I had to retire on medical grounds.

I cannot begin to explain the devastation I felt. Everything I had worked for had been for naught and I had nothing to contribute to society. And I couldn’t bear to part with the teaching resources I had built up. Time passed and a project CAPS facilitated, “Seen But Not Heard”, came to my attention. A collective advocacy eating disorder project, they had just received a grant to produce a resource pack to go out to GP practices. Suddenly I felt the fire in my belly. Finding NHS treatment of binge eating disorder to be pitiful I wanted to ensure it was represented on the project and awareness of it was raised.

At the initial meeting we shared some of our experiences of eating disorders and brainstormed the appearance of the resource pack. The finished resource pack went beyond our expectations and was eagerly received by the target audience.

Packs were also sent out to local universities and on the back of this the Art and Music Therapy Department of Queen Margaret University asked us if we could do an introduction to their students of what it is like to live with an eating disorder.

We agreed to do this and developed a session plan. As a first time it was a bit rough and ready, and to say we were nervous and unsure of ourselves is an understatement.

With a churning stomach I got up to share my story. And suddenly it clicked – I was teaching again. I was back doing what I loved. As a perfectionist, I was aware of things we could have done better. But when more than 30 evaluation sheets came in, full of praise, we knew we were on to something. I walked out of that first session floating on air.

Since then we have continued to deliver sessions to art and music therapy students and now also deliver it to occupational therapy, clinical psychology, and PhD students. Through the LEARN programme we also deliver it to the general public. People who come are desperate for information. At every course at least one person has identified themselves or a person close to them as having an eating disorder.

Knowing that something as simple as sharing my story may help someone else get treatment and support means I have not been through the things I have been through for nothing. I matter and my story matters. Volunteering has given me a sense of purpose and restored my pride and confidence. And I’ve finally thrown away my old teaching resources.

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