WATCHING your friend fade away because of her eating disorders is a struggle over which you have no control.
These are the words of a friend of the Cork woman who anonymously told her story in The Echo yesterday about living with bulimia and anorexia for more than a decade.
The woman has been on a waiting list for out-patient counselling since last November.
However, she believes her only hope of overcoming the disorders is through in-patient treatment.
Her family and friends are rallying around her after she returned home to Cork from Dublin in recent weeks after a suicide attempt.
They are working to secure her the treatment she needs but feel helpless because there are just three public treatment beds available in Ireland at present.
One of her best friends says watching the woman go through the pain and agony of her eating disorders is very difficult.
She explains: “To be friends with someone who has struggled for so long in life with mental health issues is a pain you carry in your soul. It’s something that can’t be healed because the resources for help are so limited, unless you can pay.
"It’s a fear to your core when you hear your phone go off when you’re in bed, you jump to the worst situations and sometimes you’re right - it is that call at all hours.”
She says she got such a call in mid-March to tell her that her friend of 27 years had been admitted to hospital after a suicide attempt.
She said: “It’s a struggle to watch such an intelligent, funny, amazing person that has so much to offer simply fade away in front of you while you sit, forced to watch, with no control.”
She added: “She has been my best friend for 27 years and I couldn’t imagine a day without her. It’s utterly unimaginable, but it’s not too late to save her life.”
She also said her friend’s situation has deteriorated over the years into what she describes as “a very severe situation”.
And she said: “Because she is so drained from not getting the help she needs to get better, she almost feels she has to pretend that she is ok. It is so difficult and I love her so much.”
She and the woman have been friends since meeting in nursery at the age of three, and have remained close through thick and thin.
But the friend is sad that their lives have taken such different paths, with the eating disorders causing so much pain and difficulties for the sufferer.
She added: “Finding ways to support and help her is not easy – I don’t understand how someone in her shoes can be screaming out for help and cannot get it, how she tried to kill herself and was able to come out of hospital after that, despite wanting help.”
She continued: “Lockdown has made her situation worse – she could hide it easier when she could not meet up with any of us who would have recognised the signs.”
She and the woman’s cousin are speaking to The Echo today in a bid to raise awareness of how eating disorders affect not just the person themselves but also those close to them.
The woman’s cousin said her family has always been aware of her having difficulties but the extent was unknown until her recent suicide attempt.
But her cousin said that the secrecy of the condition is something which makes it difficult to always be able to help.
She explained: “This really has opened my eyes hugely as to the severity of what she is going through. We knew the ins and outs of it but did not know the extent until her suicide attempt.”
She pointed out that the woman was able to hide a lot of her pain and anguish from her family because she was in Dublin and they were in Cork.
“We knew it was bad but not that bad. She had problems with her body image since she was a teenager. But she always puts up a front but cannot now that she is at home.”
Her cousin believes the woman’s condition was exacerbated by the isolation of lockdown.
And she says she and other relatives are adamant about getting the help the woman needs but cannot afford.
Private treatment costs up to €60,000 and the woman does not have health insurance.
Her cousin said she was as close as her sisters to her and said: “I cannot stop thinking about her now.”
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns has repeatedly raised the issue of treatment for people with eating disorders in the Dáil.
She said: “It is very worrying that €1.6 million was allocated in the 2019 budget and none was spent. Eating disorders, which disproportionately present among young women, are some of the psychiatric conditions most associated with mortality.”
She said she was assured by the Junior Health Minister for Health, Mary Butler, in February that the funding would be spent this year.
But Deputy Cairns said: “However this case indicates that there is still a significant gap between government’s intentions and on the ground healthcare services for people who need them. It is outrageous and inexcusable that people can’t get the support they need.”