Helen was born in Ascot in May 1986. The youngest of 4 children, where her 2 elder brothers are 10 and 9 years older than her respectively, and her sister is 8 years older. Helen was a very fussy eater as a child from 18 months, confessing to eating only macaroni cheese and doughnuts until her early teens. Her mother was a good but unadventurous cook. Her older brother and uncle (who was a trained chef) taught her how to cook, but she would not eat anything put in front of her. Her father left the family home when she was 10, and she remembers money being tight. As a teenager she started to eat roast dinners. Clearly affected by her father leaving, she would either gorge or famine, although always skinny.
Helen met her partner David when she was young and had baby Melanie when she was 17. Within 2 months of giving birth they moved away from the the extended family to Devon to live in a house owned by David’s mother. David already had 2 children by his previous marriage, Ellen who was then 4, and Richard who was autistic and less than a year old. Ellen was a fussy eater, pampered by her natural mother. Richard would eat everything. Richard was quite a responsibility for Helen’s young shoulders because of his medical condition. Initially Helen would return to her mother’s house when the step-children came to stay every weekend. After a year, she started to be closer involved with them. It was only when her own daughter Melanie was born that she decided she wanted her to eat a variety of foods and did not want her to be fussy like herself and her step-daughter. It was also at this stage that Helen realised that she needed to eat properly too. She had suffered from Post Natal Depression for 4 years.
When Melanie was old enough and Helen had recovered from her PND, she needed to go out to work as money was tight. Initially she started as a volunteer at the local school to help grow her confidence. She had previously left school with no qualifications. She had been suffering from glandular fever at exam time and failed to sit her exams. Her self esteem was low, but she recognised that she needed to bring some money into the household. The school offered her a position working as a teaching assistant, and she trained for her NVQ qualification at this time.
In 2009, her second child Heather was born. Over this period the family had moved home several times. David had fallen out with his mother and she sold their family home from under their feet. The relationship with her mother-in-law dissintigrated, and a combination of all of these factors drove Helen into a deeper depression than she had experienced before.
She had started to go to the ‘Stay and Play’ sessions at the Millwey Community Centre as a means of getting out. It was at this stage that she was exposed to HALFF and the Make and Munch sessions. Although Helen could cook, she confesses that the sessions taught her a lot about healthy food. She gained more knowledge on food labels. She enjoyed coming to the sessions as they were really good fun and gave her the opportunity to get out of the house and meet new people. She felt it was good for Heather to be around other young children, to see other children eating together at the table. She admits that whilst she used to sit down and have breakfast and lunch with the children, she tended not to sit down with them at dinner time. She now does this as she sees the importance that it brings to the family.
She is more organised now and prepares some meals at the weekends for the week ahead and puts them in the freezer. The children have a busy life and this means that when in a rush she can still give them a nutritious meal. The sessions also gave her a wider repetoire. She mentioned particularly the lunch boxes – making corn fritters – making her own yeastless bread. She regularly prepares meals with Heather and Richard. Richard loves to prepare food and cook it. Having used the special protected blade knives at the sessions gave her confidence to allow the children to do these activities with her at home.
I spoke to Helen on a very grey day, where Heather had been ill for over a week with a chest infection. Helen was tired but very positive about her current state of mental health. Coming to the sessions has helped her build self confidence and esteem. She does not let little things worry her any more, and tries to better handle the family issues which regularly challenge her. At one stage she thought she was going completely mad. Over time and by getting more involved with the HALFF sessions, she is so much better and more positive. Heather now helps HALFF to promote their activities by putting them up on her Facebook site, she regularly tries to convince her friends to come along. Emotionally she is clearly much stronger. She has stopped taking her anti-depressant medication. She feels good about herself and recognises that being involved with HALFF has helped her considerably.