Anorexic Helen Gillespie has dieted drastically since the age of 10 in a bid to stay young.
Helen, 30, has never developed breasts, had a proper boyfriend or moved out of her parents’ house. Shockingly, 6st Helen was so scared of growing up that since the age of 10 she’s stopped herself from growing older by sticking to a maximum of 750 calories a day.
But ironically, far from keeping herself childlike, she now reveals her eating disorder is turning her into a shrunken old woman, her bones are crumbling and she has varicose veins.
‘Doctors tell me I’ve got the bones of a 70-year-old woman. They’re so weak that I broke my wrist after a fall when I was 14. If I don’t improve, I’ll continue to age prematurely,’ says Helen, from Perth. ‘For a long time I looked like a child but now I feel like an old lady,’ she adds.
Helen’s dieting started when she was 10 and consuming just 60 calories a day. By the time she was 15 she weighed four-and-a-half stone and was just 24 hours from death. She spent four months in hospital, but as soon as she went home she would starve herself until she had lost as much weight as she needed to be readmitted.
This cycle continued for the next two decades. Part of the problem was that Helen felt her parents had very high expectations of her. She strived to meet impossibly high ideals in her music, dance and academic work.
She says: ‘It is only recently that I have realised that it was me, not my parents, who pushed me to do better and better. I constantly crave praise, love and affection and was terrified that my every move would be criticised.’
Helen soon realised that one thing she was good at, was losing weight.
‘My weight was something I could control, and losing weight seemed to be a talent which other people, particularly other girls, admired,’ she says.
As Helen grew up, her need for praise and reassurance didn’t diminish. In fact, growing up and gaining responsibilities terrified Helen.
‘My friends we started to have boyfriends and I felt like a young child inside. That was very scary and alien to me and I didn’t feel I could connect with that.’
‘It comes down to having a huge fear of growing up and a huge fear of relationships, responsibilities and expectations.’
Helen surrounded herself in a child-like world.
‘I lived very much in an imaginary world with my soft toys which I used to take everywhere until I was 11. I had to force myself to grow up, but it was quite painful because I wasn’t ready. I would rather have just stayed young and innocent.’
Helen’s fear of becoming an adult meant she missed puberty as a teenager, and didn’t have her first period until she was 26.
And tragically, Helen has never developed breasts and has to wear a prosthesis made for patients who have had mastectomies.
Helen has spent virtually all of the past 20 years in hospital, meaning she has missed out on an education. It is only recently that she has been able to live at home with her parents, a retired social worker and retired teacher.
However, she is still unable to bring herself to eat a healthy adult diet. Instead she eats just 750 calories a day – a small bowl of cereal for breakfast, four pieces of fruit at 5pm, then two pieces of tpast and a tin of baked beans around 2am – just over half of the recommended amount for a child aged one to three.
‘I’m starting to realise that I have a very childlike view of the world,’ says Helen. ‘When you’re a small child you think that everything will just come – you’ll be married, have children, a job, a house and a garden. But I’m starting to realise that actually life is very complicated – and it terrifies me.
‘I think on a subconcious level by keeping my body young, I was stopping people having expectations of me.’
Over time Helen has come to realise that she cannot live in the body of a child if she wants to achieve her dreams. Over the past 20 years she has battled with anorexia, with her weight increasing to a high of 9st when she was 20, only to fall to the 6st she weighs now.
‘I want to warn others that anorexia can take your childhood away. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in Never-Never Land, and I’m never going to find my way home.’
‘I do want to get better, but I do wish that I could be a child again and not have all the responsibilities that come with being an adult.
‘I don’t believe that I’m beyond help – but I’ll never ever be normal.’
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