I was eating myself to death
WOMAN'S OWN|August 17, 2020
I was eating myself to death
When Helen Darnell, 51, faced a crisis, she used food as a coping mechanism
JANET TANSLEY

Walking through the hospital ward, I stopped to look in on my patients, smiling through upbeat chatter as I checked temperatures and handed out medicine. ‘Almost break time,’ I thought, my mouth already watering at the idea of all the treats I planned to buy from the hospital shop. Gorging on junk between shifts was the only time I wasn’t full of worry.

It was summer 2010 and my son, Connor, then 13, was being cared for in a psychiatric unit, after trying to take his own life. He’d been suffering from low mood and suicidal thoughts for months, and watching him in so much mental pain was soul-destroying. I felt helpless, and my mind was preoccupied with constant questions. Had I done something wrong? Would Connor be OK?

I was a single mum, so hid my feelings at home to protect my other children, Jodie, then 14, Ellie, 10, and Josh, eight, and kept a smile on my face during shifts as an A&E nurse at Royal Berkshire Hospital.

During my breaks, I’d buy crisps, chicken sandwiches, a pasty and whatever else I fancied, then sit in the staffroom or hospital grounds eating. For those 20 minutes, I focused only on each delicious mouthful, and it was like the food I was shovelling in my mouth was washing away all my problems and giving me a burst of comfort.

‘I kept a smile on my face during A&E shifts’

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August 17, 2020