AMHERST – Desiray Dobson didn’t accept she had an eating disorder until it nearly killed her.
“The doctor said I was two or three weeks away from everything shutting down,” the 39-year-old Amherst woman and mother of two said. “It was that close.”
Dobson had such a desire to be thin that she would only eat one meal and then exercise to the extreme to lose the weight she perceived gaining from that. She saw herself as overweight while others, including her husband and her friends, thought she was going too far in her desire to be thin.
She was struggling with anorexia as well as depression and anxiety. After losing nearly 50 pounds in seven months and at 92 pounds she was finally convinced to seek help, which included a month-and-a-half stay in hospital in Halifax and a 32-week outpatients’ counselling program. She counts herself as being fortunate to get help and to have a great support network around her.
“I’ve had an eating disorder since I was in my teens and I had three really bad bouts of it in my lifetime. About two years I had a lot of stressors going on in my life and I crashed,” she said. “I was in the grips of my eating disorder. I couldn’t eat unless I knew I could get the exercise. In my mind I was only allowed to eat one meal a day and that was just chicken and broccoli.
“To me everything was still fine because I was still working, I was raising my two kids and taking them to hockey. I wouldn’t accept that I had a problem.”
Dobson attempted to keep her eating disorder to herself, but those around her were pleading with her to get help. She went to the QEII Health Sciences Centre to be assessed and was only there 15 minutes and a bed was available.
“I was lucky because usually it’s a six-week to three-month wait for a bed,” she said.
She said the treatment was difficult because it too her away from her home and family for extended periods and travelling back and forth to Halifax and staying in the city was expensive.
“I was away from my kids for four days out of every seven. They just wanted their mother. They didn’t know anything about mental illness or eating disorders,” she said. “That time away was really hard.”
She wishes there was a program closer to Amherst where she could use the new eating habits in her own home. When she was going through treatment she was living at Point Pleasant Lodge in Halifax, where it was difficult to put into practice was she was learning.
“At the end of the 32 weeks I was thrown back into my life and expected to pick it up from there,” she said. “I’m still struggling, it’s not a disorder that goes away. There are times when it’s still hard to cope with. I have to be careful with what I do. I can’t go to a gym. It’s like an alcoholic going to a bar.”
She credits her family doctor, the dietician and the psychologist for keeping her on track. She also credits her family for sticking with her through some very tough times including caring for the children when she was receiving treatment and listening to her cry when she hit roadblocks.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
She said it’s very difficult to see a psychiatrist in Amherst because there are only a couple of part-time psychiatrists that make periodic visits to the area. She said she was lucky at the start because there was a cancellation and she lived close enough to the clinic that she was able to get an appointment.
Even still, her appointments are three to six months apart – which can be difficult when she’s facing a crisis.
Dobson said it’s difficult to talk about her disorder and her mental illness because there is still a lot of stigma. However, since going public and talking about her disorder on Facebook she has received nothing but support from her friends.
“I’ve had a lot of people thanking me for saying something because to a lot of people mental illness is a taboo subject. People don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
She’s hoping others suffering from anorexia and mental illness will seek help and not be afraid to tell their stories. Dobson has met several times with Cumberland North MLA and PC health critic Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin.
“Hers is another example of people not having adequate access to health care,” Smith-McCrossin said. “Every day I hear stories of people who are unable to get the care they need.”
She said there are solutions that can be put in place immediately such as looking at no-show rates across the province for appointments with mental health. She said there is up to a 30 per cent no-show rate for appointments. She said something as quickly as reminders can help avoid this.
“This biggest solution is talking to the people working in mental health. They have the solutions,” Smith-McCrossin said. “Care should be done with the patient in mind. Right now, there’s little consideration for the patient. Instead, they’re looking at the bottom line and are making decisions based on book smart but it needs to be patient focused.”