Pole Dancing Saved My Life
At 5st, Amber was close to death, but then she found a new hobby...
Stepping on the scales in 2014, I trembled with fear. I was just 7 st. My worried mum Theresa, now 56, had dragged me to see my GP.
‘If you don’t start eating, I’m phoning the doctor,’ she’d warned me – but I hadn’t.
Sometimes all I’d have in a day was a packet of crisps.
Now and again, I wouldn’t have anything at all.
Since I was about 14, food had always been an issue for me. I can’t put my finger on what triggered it, but I’d become obsessed.
Soon, all I could think about was ways to avoid meals.
I’d stare at my body in the mirror and pick out flaws. Taking thousands of photos from all angles, I was desperate to be smaller.
Once a healthy 9st 7lb, my weight plummeted. Binning my lunch as soon as I got to school, and avoiding eating in front of my parents were routine. Every day was a battle.
But I hid my fading frame under bulky clothes, pretended I’d had a big lunch when Mum laid out dinner.
And I got worse every year. At 22, I tried to go a whole week without eating.
‘Enough is enough!’ Mum cried.
At 7st and 5ft 7in, I was gaunt, and my skin was grey. That was when I ended up at the doctor’s, who diagnosed anorexia nervosa.
Being weighed only added to my anxiety, and made me want to try and lose even more weight.
‘If you don’t start eating soon, we’ll have to refer you to the eating disorder clinic,’ the doctor warned me.
And, in May 2014, I was admitted to Old Bridge House, a psychological therapy centre in Londonderry.
I’d go there every week, but being weighed regularly only made me unhappier. And
I still wouldn’t eat.
Back home, I’d lock myself away in my room. At times, I was so weak, all I’d do was sleep.
I became more and more fragile. My parents were going out of their minds, but there was nothing they could do.
In March 2015, I was hospitalised. My weight had dropped to 5st and I looked like a skeleton, my bones jutting out.
Other parts of my body were starting to suffer, too.
‘Your kidneys are failing,’ the doctor told me, adding that my sugar levels were so low, there was a chance I could fall into a diabetic coma. Yet I still refused to eat, and was fed through a tube. My dad Kevin, who sadly passed away from a stroke in July, couldn’t bring himself to visit me. He was too devastated to see what I’d become.
Both my parents thought I’d die.
During my time in hospital, I broke out in a raw, brightred, burning rash. It felt like I was on fire.
Screaming with pain, I was diagnosed with asteatotic eczema (or eczema craquelee) – an extreme version of the skin condition caused by a lack of nutrients.
Shortly after, my uncle Tony
Being weighed regularly made me want to lose more
passed away from cancer. Too weak to move, I had to be carried by Dad at the funeral. That a real low point.
In and out of hospital for months, my weight would increase slightly while I was tube-fed, then plummet again.
But, in May last year, Old Bridge House discharged me.
‘We can’t help her any more,’ they told my parents, saying that I’d never recover if I went on like this.
Now I was scared. I didn’t want to die.
Then something on Facebook caught my eye. Pole Infinity…
There were photos on the page of women doing incredible moves on a pole, looking strong and powerful.
Captivated and feeling brave, I sent a message.
Shortly after, I was in hospital again. But, when I came out, I had a message from Karen Baldwin, a pole-dancing teacher and CBT therapist. Feel free to come along, it said.
So, excited – and, at 6st, a little heavier from being tube-fed –I had my first class.
It was awful – I could barely lift my weight off the floor. I felt so embarrassed.
But Karen offered me private lessons, and I opened up about my anorexia. She seemed to understand. ‘You need something else to focus on, rather than food,’ she said. Pole dancing. ‘You need strength from food,’ she added, advising me to stop weighing myself.
So I started eating small amounts and taking supplements for energy. And I was soon practising on the pole.
It made me feel happy, free. It’s been more than a year now, and I still face a daily battle with food and the way I look.
I still see a doctor regularly. But I’m getting there.
If I starve myself, I won’t have the energy to pole dance.
And that’s enough to keep me eating.
The women on the pole looked strong, powerful
Gaunt, frail and starving
Mum and Dad were desperate
It makes me feel happy, free...
The Strength To carry on
Now: I’m fighting back