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Ipswich teenager to become mental health nurse after anorexia battle

PUBLISHED: 07:30 02 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:40 02 March 2020

Zoe Knagg and her mum Sharon after she returned home from Cambridge happy and healthy. Picture: ZOE KNAGG

Zoe Knagg and her mum Sharon after she returned home from Cambridge happy and healthy. Picture: ZOE KNAGG

Picture: ZOE KNAGG

A brave teenage girl from Kesgrave who almost died during an episode of anorexia is making it her life mission to help others battling extreme eating disorders.

Zoe, now 17, suffered with anorexia nervosa from the age of 11 to 16. Picture: ZOE KNAGGZoe, now 17, suffered with anorexia nervosa from the age of 11 to 16. Picture: ZOE KNAGG

Zoe Knagg, 17, was rushed into A&E with hypothermia at the age of 15 due to her heart rate and blood pressure being low, after having an episode of anorexia nervosa.

She spent eight weeks on a children's ward at Ipswich Hospital before being told that she needed to go to a specialist eating disorder unit - something which isn't available here in Suffolk.

Initially Zoe - who had anorexia from the age of 11 - was offered a place at a unit in Edinburgh, but her devastated parents decided to reject the offer in hope of somewhere closer to home.

She was then given a place at The Phoenix Centre, in Cambridge, which Zoe says "saved her from dying".

Zoe and her boyfriend Jake Clayden who has been a huge support to the teenager. Picture: ZOE KNAGGZoe and her boyfriend Jake Clayden who has been a huge support to the teenager. Picture: ZOE KNAGG

"When I first arrived I was terrified," said Zoe, who has grown up in Kesgrave with her close family.

"Although I was lucky enough to be at the closest eating disorder unit, I really struggled as I was at a place with complete strangers and I didn't want my parents to leave."

Zoe spent five months at the specialist centre and admits she felt "very vulnerable" and "lost without being close to her parents for comfort and support".

She said: "To not be able to live near your family when your young and suffering is a really hard reality to deal with as they are the people you want most at that time.

Zoe Knagg was sent to a specialist unit in Cambridge for her eating disorder at the age of 15. Picture: ZOE KNAGGZoe Knagg was sent to a specialist unit in Cambridge for her eating disorder at the age of 15. Picture: ZOE KNAGG

"When you are in a head space of despair, fear and anxiety all you want is the ones you trust."

But Zoe says she was one of the lucky ones, as other people on her unit lived four or five hours away from home.

Despite the difficulty of being in an unfamiliar place, Zoe spent five months at the centre and says she cannot thank the staff there enough for their help.

"They taught me to love my body for how it is and I slowly started to gain confidence again and was able to return back to my normal life in stages," said Zoe, who is now looking to pursue a career as a mental health nurse following her experience.

Zoe and her dad David Knagg. Picture: ZOE KNAGGZoe and her dad David Knagg. Picture: ZOE KNAGG

She is planning to apply to the University of Suffolk or Essex University so she can give back to the services that helped her.

Zoe says her anorexia was brought on by bullying at school and thinks it is vital for young people to realise how their words can affect people.

"If people were more educated about mental health and how it turns peoples lives upside down they may think about what they say," said Zoe.

"So to anyone that may read this and is suffering with anorexia or any mental health condition, there is so much more to life and your illness doesn't define who you are. Everyday work towards a better tomorrow and you will be living the life you always dreamt of."

More: Suffolk's mental health patients 'anxious' after being sent miles from home for treatment


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