Sheila Naughton's Eating Disorder Recovery“It’s a learning curve while you’re in it.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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Broadcaster and Gogglebox Ireland participant Sheila Naughton spoke to Ryan Tubridy about her ongoing recovery from an eating disorder and the role her family has played in supporting her.

At the outset, Ryan declared himself a big fan of Sheila’s TV appearances and Sheila says she’s fairly sure that she and her family were watching him on The Late Late Show at some point, possibly while he was watching them. Sheila says she loved being on the series, but at some point in 2017, she realised that something was wrong:

“Everything seemed great, we were on Gogglebox, living in Dublin. But I just wasn’t feeling… I knew in my head that there was something not right, that my relationship with food and exercise and body image and everything like that was kind of monopolising most of my time and thoughts.”

Sheila says she “plummeted” into developing a full-blown eating disorder. Her parents came to a moment of realisation too, which Sheila describes vividly. She says she was on a break in work and sent a photo of herself to her Dad. His reaction was dramatic:

“He said he did not recognise the photo. He didn’t know who the person was. He turned to my Mam and said ‘There’s something wrong here’ and then got in touch with somebody who was living in the house with me, and they said ‘Thank God, you’re coming.”

Sheila says her family staged an “intervention”, which ultimately led to her getting the care she needed. But she says it was a long road, even to begin the recovery process. Ryan wanted to know how her parents handled that first conversation: how did they deal with the sensitivities around it? Sheila says there’s no easy way; everyone had to learn by doing it:

“I do get parents writing to me a lot on, say, on Instagram and things, about what to do. Unfortunately it’s a learning curve while you’re in it. At the start they said all the wrong things.”

Sheila tells Ryan about one exchange with her Dad where things got heated:

“I remember I was packing a bag to go into hospital and Dad says ‘You know you’re not going on a holiday!’ And all the clothes got thrown out of the suitcase and I screamed and shouted like a toddler. You know, a slip up; these things are going to happen. Or it’s even ‘Why can’t you put a bit more cereal into that bowl?’ You know, and I can’t. That’s the answer.”

From her experience, Sheila says kindness works, when it’s combined with realistic expectations of what you can achieve as a parent or loved one:

“It’s learning to be kind to them and sensitive. It’s trying to take control of someone who’s an adult, while also knowing that you can’t actually control it and you can’t make them get better.”

Having been through a programme of treatment, Sheila says she’s doing well, but she sees her recovery as an ongoing process. She also has a lot of compassion for the family members and loved ones of a person living with an eating disorder:

 “One thing I would say to anyone supporting someone with an eating disorder, it’s OK to take a break from that person sometimes. I was tough; tough to deal with, and you will say the wrong thing. Just know that if you ask that person what’s the right thing to say or the right thing to do, the next time that won’t happen. I’ve a brilliant support system, because we all tried to come together and get the help that we each needed to deal with this awful thing.”

You can find out more about Sheila’s treatment programme and the tools she’s developed which are helping her own recovery in the full interview with Ryan Tubridy here.

If you are affected by the issues raised by Sheila, you can contact Bodywhys (The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland) at alex@bodywhys.ie or via their helpline at (01)2107906.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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