Thank You for Giving Me a New Start in Life; A Good Relationship between Patient and Occupational Therapist Is Vital. Here Anorexia Sufferer Belinda Harries, 49, and Her Occupational Therapist Paula Farrell, 46, Tell in Their Own Words How They Worked Closely Together to Open Up a Whole New World

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I FIRST met my occupational therapist Paula Farrell and the team of carers who have helped me get my life back on track two years ago. The occupational therapy approach is completely different to that of hospitals and day centres.

Paula and my carers provide a complete support system which allows me to live a "normal" life and to be a part of the community instead of feeling alienated. I can safely say that occupational therapy has kept me alive.

I come from a very loving and supportive family, I have two brothers two sisters and I am the eldest. I started suffering from anorexia nervosa at the age of 16. It all began when I decided to go on a diet with a group of friends - however, I was the only one who didn't stop. I lost five stones in the space of about five months and ended up in Guy's Hospital for about 12 weeks.

Back in those days, nobody knew much about anorexia, so treatment involved being confined to a room and being ordered to eat four meals a day. If you didn't eat the food, your privileges (such as being able to leave your room) would be taken away.

When I left hospital I weighed about eight stone but felt really fat and overweight. I started dieting again and within about two months I was back to where I'd started, vastly underweight.

For the next five or six years I was in and out of different hospitals being given various drugs and electro-convulsive therapy to try to get me back on track.

BUT from the age of 21, I stayed out of hospital by learning to keep my weight at around seven stone - just enough so people wouldn't ask any I worked as a secretary up until the age of 29, which was when my son Andrew was born. He was the biggest shock of my life as I hadn't actually realised I was pregnant until the day before I had him. Andrew was born three months premature at 1lb 12 oz.

Despite the fact my son had turned up so unexpectedly, I was really very happy. I worked as a registered child minder while Andrew was small, I ate regular meals and my weight stabilised at about eight-and-a-half stone. My family and friends were overjoyed at the fact I was coping so well.

However, about six years later, I found myself getting depressed and things started going downhill again.

Although my weight was fluctuating, I managed to keep myself out of hospital by attending day centres and seeing a counsellor once a month at the Maudsley Hospital in Denmark Hill, south-east London.

That was what my life consisted of until I was referred to Paula.

I now have two carers who I see on a daily basis - I need this help as I cannot cope by myself with normal everyday chores that most people don't think twice about. Barbara visits in the morning to help me with housework, food shopping and preparing my daily meals. And Margaret comes in the evening for a chat, to help me bathe and generally make sure I'm OK. I see Paula every two weeks to talk about how I'm doing, how I've been feeling both physically and emotionally. If I ever need to speak to her before our meetings I know I can always call her.

Apart from the everyday care, I have become very much involved with the activities put on by Kirkdale Community Opportunities Service - part of the South London and Maudsley Hospital Mental Health Trust.

I go to a number of weekly classes including poetry, creative writing and "chill-out" (which teaches us how to relax at home). …