Erin Barstow was just 12 when she began self-harming.
She went on to suffer from anorexia and depression and things got so bad that at 16 she resorted to attempting suicide by taking an overdose.
But four years on, she has just won a Miss Bikini bodybuilding contest and says that going to the gym has changed her life.
She explains: ‘Now there’s a reason to wake up in the morning.’
Erin says of her self-harming: ‘I had had an argument with someone. I went upstairs and that’s when I first cut my wrists.
‘Whenever I felt angry and upset I would reflect on that and go and hurt myself again. I felt it was my fault.’
She adds: ‘When I’m in a mood I’m horrible to other people, so the self-harming is me punishing myself. It took me a couple of years to realise that.’
Her mum didn’t find out it was happening until Erin was 15.
Erin says: ‘Someone at school found out and made me tell a teacher and they phoned my mum and told her everything.
‘I remember I came home from school and I could tell mum had been crying her eyes out. She didn’t speak to me. ‘She didn’t know what to say. She never knew I was doing it. I always wore jumpers and long sleeves.’
Erin was referred to the Child and Adult Mental Health Services and then to Early Intervention Psychosis (EIP).
She had regular visits from a health professional and then had different types of therapy, but none of it was successful.
‘At first it was family therapy,’ she says.
‘So you can imagine what that was like with my mum and dad and a therapist. It wasn’t the best. Things weren’t getting better at all.’
At 16, Erin tried to take her own life with an overdose.
‘I had another argument. When things like that happen I can never control my emotions. That’s when I would self-harm, but at that point I’d had enough.
‘I thought “I’m the problem, so just get rid of me”.’
Shortly after that, Erin developed anorexia.
‘I’ve got two sisters and I’ve always been the bigger one,’ she adds.
‘My sisters are both really skinny. That’s where the eating problem stemmed from.’
Erin’s weight fell dangerously low.
She recalls: ‘It started with throwing away food, or giving it away.
‘After a while you stop losing weight because you’re storing everything that you do have.
‘Then I started taking laxatives. All I thought about was losing weight.’
Erin had previously been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), so she already had laxatives she had been given. Once she had taken all of those she began buying them online.
Once her mum found out, she began buying them in bulk from the supermarket instead.
She was referred to a centre for people suffering with eating disorders.
‘People can sit there and tell you what you need to eat, but if you are in a certain state of mind you aren’t going to listen to them,’ Erin says.
‘My weight dropped quite quickly and people started noticing.
‘I left school in 2012 and I went to college for a year but I got too ill and I had to leave. I was just trying to get through the day.’
As well as being anorexic, Erin was also on anti-depressants and sleeping tablets.
After leaving college, Erin began an apprenticeship in business and administration.
‘I was still really ill,’ she adds.
‘A couple of months into it I had to tell my boss about all my problems.
‘Everyone there was very supportive. I stopped the therapy and stayed on the medication and just saw my doctor. I wanted to get better.’
It was then that she decided to join a gym.
‘That’s when the recovery started. I used to be really shy. I’d get to the door, turn away and come back home.
‘But then I started to get to know people.
‘When I first started going to the gym I didn’t eat and I thought it was fine. But it wasn’t.’
Gradually, Erin started to put weight back on and found a healthy balance between eating and working out to build her body strength.
She says: ‘It’s only in the past six months that I’d say I’ve really recovered. I still have bad days though.’
Recently, she has entered bodybuilding competitions and last month she was crowned the winner of Miss Bikini, a contest held in Gosport, Hampshire.
Erin says: ‘I didn’t think I had a chance. From where I was 18 months ago, being really underweight to winning Miss Bikini was surreal. It was weird.
‘For a long time I have shut it all out. I still struggle with self-harming now. It’s something that I latch on to.
‘The day before I was due to go on stage I was adamant I wasn’t going to the show because I felt so horrible about myself.
‘So when I won I thought “am I making myself feel this way”? So now, I focus on where I was and where I am now.’
Now, Erin hopes she can help other people finding themselves in the same situation.
‘When it comes to mental health services, they don’t always understand the best way. So sometimes it’s nice to have someone who has been through it and come out the other end.
‘You just have to have your own self motivation to do it.’
Erin says joining a gym has changed her life.
‘I am here every day,’ she says.
‘If I didn’t come into this place as much as I have I think I would still be self-harming every day and trying to commit suicide. If I am upset or angry, I come here. I have that freedom to be able to do that.
‘It’s weird looking at where I was to where I am now. It’s a big change.
‘It’s been a long journey and it’s taken me eight years to get to where I am now.
‘I have had so much help from other people and that’s the thing - you have to talk to someone and they will help.
‘I can get through the bad days now and I don’t have to starve myself to feel better.
‘Now, there’s a reason to wake up in the morning.
‘You wouldn’t believe how different it is now. I used to stay in bed for another two hours because I just didn’t want to wake up. I had nothing to look forward to.
‘Whereas now I have the whole day, the whole week, years to look forward to. I know I can plan ahead and do things. I can do whatever I want now. I have that freedom.’