“I know I am stronger now!”
From training on injury and faking weigh-ins, Lorna Shaw 21, of Durham gets real as she talks two ACL knee injuries and how they led to a complex life-threatening battle with anorexia.
The teenage years are fragile times for girls and often a time that forges our adult personalities. For brave student Lorna, 21 from Durham, anorexia and two ACL knee injuries flipped her life on its head, having to put her gymnastic dreams to the side when she was told she had six months to live if she did not gain weight.
As a competitive gymnast at the time, Lorna had her sights on the European Championships however a series of very unfortunate events knocked her life and her confidence with it. But she is fighting back!
“It happened just before my 15th birthday on a ski trip and I continued to ski on it because I didn’t really know was wrong with it at first. And then I came back and I took three weeks off from gymnastics because my knee was so swollen.
” I was on crutches when I came back. I just continued training on it because my coaches were talking to me about Europeans the year after. It was like the British championships and I had qualified for Europeans.
“I just continued training on it because my coaches were talking to me about Europeans the year after. It had been the British Championships and I had qualified for Europeans.
“That was what I was going to be training towards so I was like I would just put my knee to the side and just train on it and I trained on it for the next year and a bit.But later realised I needed surgery and my knee could not hold up, ” she said.
This was Lorna’s first Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury, (a common knee injury in athletes that perform in high demand sports) and little did she know that two years on her other knee would give way.
” I think I partially tore my ACL when skiing but because I continued training on it, I ended up damaging it even further, so I tore my cartilage completely and my ACL is just completely gone,” she said
“At that point, I was so bad, I left and had my surgery. I mean you can start walking on it but you have to learn to walk again.
“Going from being in the gym five days a week to not being able to walk. I remember waking up from my surgery and having to get up and walk. It was the worst thing in my life, I’ve never been so embarrassed. I couldn’t even walk I had to have like three people helping me. I could only walk about ten steps and then I had to get into a wheelchair. I was embarrassed because it just wasn’t me. I just couldn’t do it, I was defeated, “she adds.
The injury meant Lorna had to put her active lifestyle to a halt for a year that consequently led to some weight gain. This increased her feelings of insecurity towards her appearance and she began controlling her weight and doing everything in her power to shed some pounds.
“I took a year to recover and then spent a year where I was completely fine, back in the gym running 6, 7 miles pretty fast at around 8 minutes per mile. I was back to being really fit. And then it all happened again.
“The second time it happened I knew straight away as soon as my knee gave way. I literally was like ‘For f***’s sake’ this is not happening again.
“This time I lost my sport and my social life because I was at university. I think that is why it hit me more and I was also just getting back to the fitness level I was at and it just really knocked me down. And you start to think what is the point,” she said
“My injuries were one of the main triggers of my eating disorder but a lot of things triggered it, not just that, a lot in my life went wrong at that time.
WARNING GRAPHIC IMAGE
According to a report by Anorexia and Bulimia Care approximately 1.6 million people in the UK are directly affected by eating disorders with Anorexia Nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder in adolescence especially in females.
Lorna writes in an Instagram post: ” Having an eating disorder is a lot more mental and physical symptoms are side effects in my view. For those who have an eating disorder but do not get below 90lbs (6 stones), it does not mean it is any less serious.”
“I felt like I was getting to where I wanted to be when I lost the weight. As it was something that I was in control of. I wasn’t in control of what was going on with my friends or my money but when I got on a scale every week I was in control of that weight on the scale going down.
“At gymnastics, I had ended up getting moved up to the elite class. My coach never said it was because of my weight loss but we all knew it was.
“That’s the status quo in gymnastics there are pressures on the body all the time and she told me to lose weight but then tried to say that she had only said she wanted me to lose a couple pounds and not to go over the top. That happened when I was 14-years-old and then at 15-years-old after my first knee injury.
“My wake up call was actually before I even got really bad. I collapsed on my mum in tears over putting on one pound and at that moment I knew it wasn’t me I was no longer in control. I was lucky to have that close relationship with my mum that meant that I could just go and tell her that I needed to see someone,” she said
Her worried mother took her to the doctors but had to push to get help.
Though Shaw’s lowest weight was 94lbs (6,7 stone) for her 5’2″ frame and despite being underweight, she felt she was not taken seriously.
“My mum had to force the health professionals to see me because I was still touching on healthy weight though I was on the borderline between healthy and underweight. I had lost two to three stones in the space of three months.
“They didn’t take it seriously because my weight was ok but my mental health wasn’t. I was so obsessed with it. I mean I went on my friend’s family holiday and took my own food. It was crazy!
“My mum had to tell a doctor to refer me to specialists and by the time the referral went through it was about a month later so I had lost another 10lbs. When I went to the referral they did this whole setting and then diagnosed me but then the psychiatrist was on holiday so I had to wait another two weeks so I had lost more weight by the time I got to see her. It is just such a long process before you actually get the help.
Lorna’s case of anorexia grew even more complex as she faced an ongoing battle between her love for gymnastics and her loath for eating and her self-image.
“It got worse when I got diagnosed and I was still doing gymnastics. They said ‘you are going to have to stop gymnastics if you do not put on any weight’ but that was what kept me eating because I couldn’t do gymnastics without any energy,” she said
“My love for gymnastics helped but was a constant battle. Sometimes I would fake my weigh-ins because it was to the point where the Doctor said that if I lost more weight the following week I’d have to stop.
“It sounds horrific but I used to drink between one and two litres of water before I went or I would put things in my pockets because I would always go after school and I had this light jacket with zipped up pockets.
At times the eating disorder created tension between Lorna and her mother Linda and put a strain on some of her relationships.
“My mum was really badly affected, my dad was too but he isn’t one to speak about his emotions.So I think me and my dad weren’t as close anymore. He kind of distanced himself.
“And it sounds funny to say but my mum used to eat more to show me that I could eat more but then she would get frustrated when I didn’t eat more.
“I was a different person so I used to scream at her. In a way, it brought us closer but in a way it felt like no one got it, no one understood.
Though she has recovered the eating disorder has left some deep scars.
“I feel like it is one of those things that is just always going to stick with you,” she said
“I still sometimes feel like no one understands even those closest to me like Jack for instance ( A close friend ). I still struggle with body image at times.
“The other week I was telling him how much I hated my body and he said ‘ well you don’t hate it that much otherwise you would starve yourself’. And I was like you can’t say that to me.
“The fact that someone so close to me like Jack said this made me understand that a lot of people still don’t get it. I think that is why it’s hard for people to open up and that’s why it is hard for people to not be embarrassed. Same applies for my injuries. No one realises how that affects you mentally.
“You literally go from being so active and busy to having to just sit on the settee. You have someone making your breakfast and someone having to help you in the shower and that for the first 3 months.
“And the second time round it was a longer recovery,” she said
Obsessing over controlling her weight had become a distorted coping mechanism for Lorna as she felt it got her closer to competing in the European Championships.
This made recovering a complex process.
“I faked my discharge so I finished the recovery on my own,” she admits
“Getting active again helped with my eating disorder but in a way it didn’t. Because see I had a year of training on my injury that is when the real bad parts of my eating disorder started and then the year after when I was getting back into sports, obviously I still had my eating disorder but I had sports to help it. It made it worse at times but in a way, it was also my escape.
“Sports made it worse because it was just easy for me to exercises for hours.
“Because I felt safe, I’d go because it was my comfort zone but then you also loose more weight so you feel even better and you want to come back, it didn’t help that there was a scale in the gym.
“Being clean and lean was a disorder in its own according to Lorna as she still struggled with her relationship with food.
“my obsession with fitness became a replacement for my eating disorder towards the end.
“I wouldn’t have said I had an eating disorder at the time but I still did.
“I’d go to the gym and have a cookie and feel fine but in the back of my mind, I only did because I had exercised two and a half hours. I would never put on the weight,” she said
Lorna is now a healthy weight and is more determined than ever to compete at European level.
“It still annoys me, it still feels like I need to finish what I started.
“I don’t think I’ll be happy until I compete at an international level. Because I’ve done national level competitions and I need to prove to myself that I’ve still got what it takes.”
“Anorexia has made me a stronger person. I can’t say I am glad it happened but it has made me stronger and I now know what I can overcome,” she adds
Shaw feels stronger and has helped raise funds and awareness for B-eat a charity fighting eating disorders in the UK.
“I can honestly say I am a stronger person because I have to be. I think it is nice to be able to recognise that for myself and not have to have someone else tell you,” she said
Though some friendships were strained when Lorna had anorexia her best friends Amy Lyall and Rachael Turnball have been a great source of support for her despite not always feeling equipped to help.
“It was hard seeing one of your closest friends go through something like that. Sometimes I felt helpless but I was always there for her to talk to, even if it was just encouraging her while she had her lunch or taking her mind off things if she felt low. If anything I think it brought us closer because I could tell what she was thinking just by the look on her face
“Her mindset is definitely stronger now. She’s learnt to live every day like it’s her last and not let anything stand in the way of her goals! I’m jealous of all the travelling she’s done. And I do think she’s turned her experiences into something good by raising awareness and talking to other people who may need some help,” said Amy
Rachael adds: “I was only 15 years-old when she told me. I didn’t even know what the word meant. I spent a lot of my time reading about it. She’s my best friend. But I still had no idea what to even say to her when she came with things,”
“At times I just couldn’t even answer when she would say something and even if I did, sometimes she would be abbot snappy back to me. Or she would constantly say ‘no that’s not going to work’. I felt no matter what I said it was stupid. Amy was much better at helping her than I was. So I did feel a bit left out. I never blamed her for anything but it’s just hard to feel close to someone when you feel you can’t help them when they need you, “says Rachael
“She was always a bubbly outspoken personality. But, she was a base at gymnastics so it meant she had a lot of muscles. Which obviously isn’t how all the media portray women to look. But it’s also not how a lot of other girls in school look. When she started having these self-conscious thoughts, she was so much more reserved and less outgoing.
“It changed her!
Rachel adds:”Ever since she mentally and physically got better, she has been a stronger woman than ever. I cannot emphasise how strong she is now. She has had a lot of battles and she has won them all!”