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Rowenna's interview

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Eating disorders seem to be the new 'trend' of our times. It is a

 serious disease that can detsroy people's lives and threaten

 hundreds of young people if noone takes action.

But how can we help those who suffer?

Is there a foundation that can help?

What if we suffer but we are not aware of our problem?

Rowenna talks about it and offers a solution.


Rowenna tells Liana about the new foundation in Wales, UK.




Why did you start the Graham Menzies  foundation?
It is estimated that there are 58,000 people in Wales suffering from an eating disorder. On average, 20% of them die as a result of their illness or from suicide. Eating disorders have the highest fatality rate of any mental illness. Anorexia nervosa has the highest suicide rate of any mental illness.
In Wales, there are no specialist clinics or centres to treat these people. Sufferers (and even children) are placed on adult psychiatric wards or in general addiction re-habs. Occasionally, the Welsh Assembly Government funds specialised treatment in England... but the process of accessing funding is convoluted and prolongued. I started the foundation because the need for it is desperate. Every year, more and more young, vulnerable people develop anorexia nervosa or bulimia and their lives are destroyed. Somebody should help them.

What is the foundation's purpose?

Primarily, we aim to help people suffering from an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating) and to support their families, friends and carers. We will do this in a variety of ways:

1) We want to connect with and join-up the voluntary agencies throughout Wales who are trying to support sufferers. We can then share resources, support each other and cross-refer.

2) In Spring 2008 we hope to open our first office in West Wales. From there we can facilitate a telephone help line, community self-help groups, provide free 1-1 counselling and a drop-in. We will also manage an on-line community chat site and run education/awareness raising campaigns.

3) In 2009 we plan to open "The Welsh Centre for Recovery" - the first specialised residential unit in Wales. We will be able to treat up to 12 residential patients and 10 day time clients. By working with partnership agencies we will also offer a fully comprehensove dual diagnosis tretment programme (because a high percentage of people who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction in addition to an eating disorder).

Did you have any eating disorder problems yourself?
Yes. I suffered the initial symptoms of an eating disorder when I was about 12 years old. When I was 17 I went to Aberystwyth university and suffered a complete mental breakdown. I believed that I was evil and I stopped eating.
By Christmas my weight dropped to less than 5 stones. My hair began to fall out and my eye-sight began to fail.
Fine hair grew all over my body. I was so so cold, unbearably cold - all of the time.
It was painful to sit still or lie down because my spine and knee caps and elbow bones were protruding through my skin from the inside. I was covered with bruises. Finally,I couldn't really walk any more.
Mentally my short term memory failed. For example, I couldn't communicate with friends any more because when they finished a sentence I couldn't remember how it had began. I couldn't work out what they were saying to me! Even now I struggle to remember much...those two years of my life (age 17-19) are just empty.

I was obsessed with food and desperately hungry; but unable to eat. I was terrified of putting on body weight. Sometimes I would break down and put some food into my mouth... but I couldn't swallow it.

I also suffered from horrible mood swings. I remember visiting my grandparents. They were deeply distressed by my appearance and cooked a meal, but I would only eat the steamed carrots. When I tasted them I could tell that butter had been added. I started to scream at my grandma for "tricking " me into eating and tipped the whole meal into the dusbin; I told her that it was her fault I couldn't eat. My grandma was crying... tears running down her face into her food. My behaviour was unbelievably cruel.

How did you fight it?
When I was 18 I took some bread out of a bin and ate it. Then I was overwhelmed by self-hatred and shame. I tried to induce vomiting but couldn't (plain bread is too dry). In desperation I ate a bar of soup which I thought would make me ill.. but it didn't. Then I began to obsess that the calories in the soap I had consumed would make me even fatter. (At the time I wouldn't risk using toothpaste or lick a stamp).
So I took a knife from the kitchen drawer and stabbed my stomach. I wanted to cut the food out but I culdn't cut deeply enough.
 Then I walked through the university halls of residence knocking on doors and saying that I had a headache - could anyone lend me painkillers? I must have seemed very strange (I had been sobbing and was covered in blood) because most people said no. Finally, I swallowed the tablets I had (perhaps 10) with half a cup of bleach. I prayed that in my frail physical state it would be enough to kill me.

Who helped?
I woke up later that night and just didn't know what to do anymore.
I wrote a leter to the university medical nurse begging for help and pushed it under her door.
She arrived first thing in the morning and seemed to know all about me. I think lots of students had gone to the wellfare department and registered their concern. She weighed me and then told me that legally I would have to be sectioned because my weight was so low that I was deeped close to death.

Via the university I received psychotherapy and medical help. My white blood count was very low which meant I had little immunity to illness. I was given nutritional suppliments and was weighed regularly. But as soon as I reached 7.5 stone in weight all treatment stopped.
I spent the next five years secretly cutting myself (self injury) and binging. I induced vomiting up to 25 times a day. Sometimes I drank plain water just to vomit. At other times I didn't eat for days at a time. I attended church every day and prayed to God to help me be a good person. I became obsessed by church buildings because I thought that if I just sat still in church, at least I wasn't doing anything bad or wrong.

Finally... a friend of mine who was already "in recovery" suggested I attend an 12-step fellowship meeting. I had tried everything else (hospital, mental health care, counselling, religion, even living abroad) so I thought - why not?
I don't think there was another person in that room with an eating disorder but I received the most incredible support, acceptance and understanding. I had very little motivation for committing to recovery - but these people gave me strength and courage and friendship. I tried really hard because I didn't want to let them down. They gave me a reason to try.
I also began reading everything and anything I could to educate myself about eating disorders.

Why is it important to have this foundation/centre in this area?
There is no specialist support at all in Wales. However West Wales is particularly geographically isolated because it is surrounded by mountains and the sea and has poor transport links. It is not possible, for example, for someone from West Wales to commute to England for treatment.
It is also important that treatment is available through the Welsh language rather than only English.

How do they raise funds?
We have applied for lots of charitable grants.
In Febuary we are giving a presentation to the Welsh Assembly Government (sponsored by Bethan Jenkins AM).
We are also holding a charity auction at the Millennium Centre (Cardiff) in March.

How do they work? What services do they offer?
From our office in Aberystwyth (Ceredigion) we will offer/facilitate the following services:
*An on-line web site loaded with information
*An information data-base
*An on line chat room so that people suffering from an eating disorder can build relationships and support each other
*A telephone help-line
* Free counselling
*Free educatin and support
*Referral information
*A dual diagnosis treatment programme

We also aim to open a residential unit. This will enable us to offer a smooth continuem between in/out patient counselling and to care for people who are more seriously ill. From the residential unit we will run programmes which treat:

*people with eating disorders (residential and say care)
*family programmes
*after care programmes
*dual diagnosis (eating disorders in combination with substance misuse or other associated issues. e.g. severe depression/self injury). Such care programmes may involve partnership work with other agencies.

Is there an age limit for the patients?
Residential treatment will be available for people aged 18-65
Day care and support will also be available for younger people.

How many consultants are there?
We are very new and all of our staff are currently volunteers, four of them are trained in psychology and many others have personal experience of addiction or mental health issues.
The residential unit will employ 15 staff members including 4 counsellors and 1 nurse.

Are they all volunteers?
Yes... we are trying to raise money for training and to employ staff.

How did you choose the name for your charity?
The foundation is named after Graham Clifford Menzies.

Graham was respected across the board for his contributions to the therputic field and for his compassion, generosity, committment and honour. He managed a 12-step re-hab in Wales and became CEO of Broadway Lodge in England. He also served on the executive board for a range of professional organisations such as EATA.

I love Graham because he made me laugh, and because he was the best man I have ever known.
He died very suddenly in January this year. I tried cpr but was unable to keep him alive until the ambulance arrived. He was my soul mate. At age 31 my entire world died.
I decided to transform this agony into something beautiful and good - so I established the charity in Graham's name. His insight, ideas and plans have formed the basis for the foundation. I would like to achieve something meaningful to honour my angel.

Can anyone help? How?
If you have any information/experience regarding the treatment of people with eating disorders then we would love to hear from you! We are also interested in employing trustees with legal, financial, pr, marketing  or medical experience.
We are currently seeking donations for our fundraising auction in March - any organisation which makes a donation will be advertised as part of our pr program.
Finally, of you are willing to make a financial donation please log on to: or send a cheque made out to "the graham menzies foundation" to our office in Wales.

Please e-mail us for more information or to receive our monthly progress report


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