An anorexic who was on the brink of death after living on just ONE packet of crisps a day says her life has been saved – by pole dancing.
Amber Harkin, 26, was just 14 when she began struggling with issues with her body, before eventually being diagnosed with anorexia in 2014.
Despite two years of psychological treatment her weight plunged to just FIVE stone and she eventually stopped eating altogether.
Doctors told her devastated parents she was “beyond recovery” and “wasn’t going to make it” and she was sent home, too weak to even walk.
Amber was so poorly her dad had to carry her at a family funeral and she wore clothes for children aged 12 to 13.
But she was saved when she saw a Facebook advert for pole dancing lessons – coincidentally taught by a qualified cognitive behaviour therapist.
Amber found herself motivated to get better so she could lift herself into a series of complex moves as she got into the activity.
She now eats up to three meals a day and is a healthy size six – and is pole dancing in shows.
She admits she still has work to do to battle her inner demons, but is determined to get bigger and stronger with more pole dancing classes.
Amber said: “Pole dancing means everything to me – I really believe that without it I wouldn’t be alive.
“My first class was awful – I was really weak so I couldn’t even lift myself, and I was too afraid to do any moves in front of the other people in the class.
“But then I met Karen Baldwin, an instructor who is also a qualified therapist, and she took me on for one-to-one lessons.
“She’s has helped me be proud of myself for the first time, and perform not only in front of other pole dancing classes but also in shows.
“She has taught me how to take the focus off my issues with food and my weight, and focus instead on pole dancing.
“My body has definitely changed thanks to pole dancing, and it’s taught me to challenge myself to keep getting better.”
“I love pole dancing so much – I couldn’t live without it.”
Amber was always slim, but started to lose weight in her late teens when she began throwing away her lunches on a regular basis.
Her mother, Theresa Harkin, 56, noticed she was cutting back on food but Amber would eat small amounts when she got home.
Eventually she stopped eating altogether for an entire week when she was 22 and her mum sought medical help.
Amber said that three years on she doesn’t understand what triggered her anorexia.
She said: “I started throwing away my lunches a few years before going to see a doctor.
“My mum knew I was doing this, but I would come home and eat a packet of crisps, so she didn’t say anything.
“But then when I was 22, there was a whole week when I refused to eat anything at all, and then my mum panicked and phoned the doctor.”
In May 2014, the day before her 23rd birthday, she was admitted to the Old Bridge House psychological clinic near her home in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
At her lowest weight she was just five stone and her anorexia began to affect the rest of her body with her kidneys beginning to fail.
She was hospitalised for several months in March 2015 and had to be fed through a tube after continually refusing to eat.
She then developed a burning rash over her body which was eczema craquele, an exacerbated form caused by a lack of nutrients in her body.
Amber added: “During that time my uncle passed away and I wasn’t even able to walk at his funeral – my dad had to actually carry me to lay flowers at my uncle’s grave.
“It was the worst time of my life.”
She was discharged from Old Bridge House in May 2016 after showing no signs of improvement and doctors told her parents she was beyond recovery.
She said, “I still wasn’t eating and I couldn’t even move, so the doctors said they couldn’t do anything and they told my family I wasn’t going to make it.
“I remember crying in my bedroom thinking that this was it, I wasn’t going to make it – it was the scariest time of my life.”
But she spotted videos posted by Pole Infinity and Beyond on Facebook, and plucked up the courage to have a private lesson with tutor Karen.
Karen has been working with Amber as both therapist and pole dancing instructor for the past 14 months, and Amber says she has been crucial on her road to recovery.
Amber, who still chooses not to weigh herself, has worked her way up to a healthy and athletic size six and goes to two pole dancing classes a week.
She also stretches every night on the pole she recently had installed in her bedroom.
Amber and Karen have also been working together to develop a recovery programme for people with eating disorders, combining therapy and pole dancing.
Proud Amber said: “I didn’t have anything like that to turn to when I was at my worst, so I want to share my own story so people can be inspired and see what they can do when they change their focus.
“I still struggle a lot to do normal things, like go out and socialise with people or even eat solid foods – I still get my nutrients from supplement drinks.
“But it’s my goal for this year to be able eat solid foods again.
“My dream is to become a professional pole dancer, so I’m trying really hard to keep getting better, and I’m feeling optimistic about my recovery.”