Pole Danc­ing Saved My Life

At 5st, Am­ber was close to death, but then she found a new hobby...

Pick Me Up! - - CONTENTS - Am­ber Harkin, 26, Lon­don­derry

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.

So weak

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.

New fo­cus

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

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