At her lowest point, Jess Bramhall planned her own funeral, with her parents told four times to prepare for her death. Her battle with an eating disorder had been a decade-long cycle and, weighing less than the average eight-year-old, she had wished for it all to end.
It took an intervention, to see her worth. And while it was a lengthy process, to reclaim her identity, she is now determined to help others.
She knows what it means to fall into that spiral of despair, she says, to a point where it no longer feels as if life is worth living.”I always used to say ‘I couldn’t do life’, it was just too much for me,” said Miss Bramhall, now 38. “It became my motto. “It was a horrible, horrible time. Had I been able to, I would have killed myself. I was just waiting to die.”
Miss Bramhall, born in Bradford, had moved to the States at the age of six, where her mother had become extremely unwell. When the family returned to England, her mother stayed for treatment. On her return, Miss Bramhall had begun rebelling. By the age of 14, she had already attended 10 different schools, and she felt as if her life were out of her control.
“I was so bitter,” says Miss Bramhall. “At school I was the model child. At home I was pushing all the boundaries. “I started to develop really bad depression. I got quite paranoid, to the point where I wouldn’t leave the house. “I never felt involved,” she adds. “I was always the one with the funny accent, always the youngest. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere.
What started off as rules around healthy eating had quickly escalated. “The weight just dropped off me,” she says. “I was terrified, I could see it happening, but I couldn’t change my rules. “I couldn’t look in the mirror, not because I thought I was fat, but because I could see my bones. I felt sick, by how emaciated I was.”
Miss Bramhall was to be diagnosed with anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and admitted to an adolescent unit.But it was to be the start of a dangerous cycle, she says. She would get ‘well’, and return home, only to be re-admitted, 12 times in total. By the time she started university, she was deemed too old for children’s treatment, and was admitted to an adult acute ward. “This was the first time I realised how ill I was,” she said. “I was on a drip, next to people who were dying. “It all made my OCD so much worse. I was often suicidal, I just wanted everything to end. I wanted to disappear. “Four times, my parents were told ‘this is it’, I was going to die. I was advised to plan my own funeral, so I did. I pulled through, every time.”
The clinical cycle of treatment, she argues, hadn’t worked for her. With every admission to hospital had come more rules, more restraint.Believing she’d exhausted what the NHS had to offer, she turned to a charity in Sheffield in 2010. Enrolling on City Hearts’ restore programme, for women with life-controlling issues, she had initially only agreed to stay for four weeks. Fourteen months later, after graduating the programme, she returned as a volunteer. She now works as a full-time support worker. “All my life I had just wanted to get things right, just to be normal,” she says. “I felt nobody could help me, but there was something about this place. Here, I wasn’t a patient, I wasn’t a bed number. I was Jess. “They genuinely cared. They believed in me, and I’m so glad they did. “Now, I don’t want what I’ve been through to be wasted, when I can help other people. I can use it for good.”
Words by Ruby Kitchen from The Yorkshire Post