AT what she admits was her lowest point during an 18-year battle with anorexia, Lorna Collins weighed less than half of her current body weight.

The former university lecturer had a BMI of 12 and her organs were in danger of shutting down.

Now, after one year out of hospital (a record for her), Ms Collins wants to tell the world about her remarkable comeback, the treatment she has received and for her story to serve as an inspiration to others fighting the illness during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which starts tomorrow.

“I don’t want to just survive. I want to thrive,” she says, as she cuddles up to her trusty dog Foxy and takes a break from creating her latest colourful piece of art.

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Ms Collins is recovering from the eating disorder which affects 1.6 million people in the UK and is one of the most challenging conditions to treat and recover from.

She puts her recovery down to the ‘extraordinary’ help and care she received at Cotswold House, an award winning Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust unit at the Warneford Hospital in Headington.

She is now at a normal BMI of 22 and has coping mechanisms, support, art, her animals and a range of new skills.

And she's the first to admit it has been a rocky journey with some crises along the way.

“Anorexia is physical and mental,” she explains, “because when your body goes below a BMI of 17.5 your brain cannot function properly,” Ms Collins explains.

“You think and see things differently about the world. I saw myself as someone who was completely obese.

It wasn’t as though I was thinking ‘oh look how fat I am, how awful’, it was ‘I cannot bear to live inside this body’.

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“The only way I thought I could deal with that was to restrict the food and to lose weight so there would be less of me. I thought if I could be smaller person that would be a good thing. There’d be less Lorna.”

Ms Collins’ life changed in an instant when she suffered a fall from a horse at the age of 18.

Unconscious, and not breathing, everyone thought she was dead. She would have been, but her dad brought her back from the brink.

The catastrophic brain injuries from the fall left her in a coma and when she woke all her memories had gone.

Not only that, her head trauma triggered a range of psychiatric conditions.

“I had no recollection of my entire life. I had to start again from nothing. I was like an artist with a blank canvas,” recalled Ms Collins who had been an international equestrian competing in the European Championships aged 16 and was 10th best in Europe.

“I had psychosis, depression personality disorder, schizo-defective disorder. Every doctor would call it something different. And I also had anorexia.

“It was about control; trying to control what I ate, trying to control the size of my body, control parts of my life.”

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Ms Collins was ill for 18 years with anorexia, in and out of hospitals and treatment programmes.

She recalls at her lowest point she was less than half her current body weight.

“I could not walk, I could not move. I had to be tube fed and I would try, with all the strength I could muster, to pull the tube out of my nose.

“It took three nurses to hold me down because the last remaining shreds of energy and life I had in me made me aggressive against myself and against anyone who tried to force me into being alive.

“That’s about as bad as it got.”

After suffering a relapse in 2017 she was referred to Oxford Health and was seen by Dr Agnes Ayton, consultant psychiatrist at Cotswold House, who she says ‘redefined my idea of normal and helped me get to a normal weight’.

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“For the first time it wasn’t about whether I was thin enough to get in. They were worried about my self-harm and some of my co-morbid habits, but they wanted to help me,” she said.

“What made Cotswold House so different to other wards is that it has a holistic approach to treatment. I learned what it means to get well and how to get there. My treatment was extraordinary. They looked at the original brain damage that started everything off.

“They looked at the different symptoms that had emerged as a result of that damage; they looked at medications, my food plan, my meal diary. They looked at body image and the dysmorphic problems I had.”

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Over time she was gradually allowed to spend the odd night to be with her dog and see her horse Patch back on the family farm.

Stays away were built up so that her transition from inpatient to outpatient was seamless.

“What I’ve been so grateful for this time is having Oxford Health’s support available in the community.

“I have two teams – an eating disorder team and an adult mental health team. I am still in treatment even though I’ve been discharged for a year.

“It’s being phased out because I’m doing so well.

“But having someone to talk to about what’s going on and expanding coping mechanisms even further has been crucial in my recovery.”

“I’ve learned lots of new skills about food preparation and ‘danger foods’ like chips and chocolate. Recently I went to a McDonald’s Drive-thru on the way back from an interview.

“I couldn’t quite believe it and wondered how I managed to do it. But it was Cotswold House that enabled me to do such a very normal thing.”

She added: “I still need to learn to do so much such as having a takeaway, having a pizza or fish and chips. I want to try those things out because previously I wasn’t able to. I think I can do it now and I’m looking for opportunities.

Ms Collins is now looking ahead to the future - she is writing a book about her recovery and hopes to have finally broken free from the cycle that has been her life for the last 18 years.

“I’ve been out of hospital for a year now and that is a record,” she said.

“I’m proud of myself. There are things I want to do. I want to revive my work as a university lecturer. I want to write more books and keep painting. I want to be well.”