"I knew it was possible to recover". Shelley Perry overcame her own eating disorder and helps others do the same

Shelley Perry worked as a mental health and eating disorder nurse for 13 years at The Priory Hospital at Bartle, near Preston. She tells Fiona Finch how her own eating disorder lead her to set up  Breathe Therapies 10 years ago.

Monday, 11th January 2021, 6:04 pm

Breathe ...it’s a message Shelley Perry took to heart when she set up a pioneering not for profit help service in Preston a decade ago.

She wanted to help those burdened by eating disorders and mental health issues to recover and rediscover a joy in life, just as she had done.

Shelley said: “I knew it was possible to recover. I knew I had to create Breathe Therapies so that we could help others to live their life to the fullest, and not feel trapped by their mental illness.”

Founder and Clinical Director Shelley Perry celebrates the 10th birthday of Breathe Therapies with some of her team Photo: Neil Cross

Last November Breathe Therapies, which also helps people with obesity and wellbeing issues, celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Celebration might seem a strong word to use in the middle of a pandemic. But Shelley said she is celebrating because she is extending her service to help more people both online and in the workplace.

Her own experience first lead her to set up Preston based city charity S.E.E.D. which provided support groups for those with eating disorders. In its first few years it operated from the Disability Centre (Disability Equality North West) on Church Street, Preston. S.E.E.D.'s work continues today.

Two years later in 2010 Shelley created Breathe Therapies as a social enterprise non-profit organisation. She is its clinical director and had seen the need for a holistic and multidisciplinary approach which would bring in expert practitioners from a range of disciplines to offer clients clinical support.

Shelley Perry (right) pictured with daughter Sianna Photo: Neil Cross

Shelley’s own battle with an eating disorder surfaced after she moved to Lancaster to train as a mental health nurse.

The 47 year old recalled how her own problems developed. She said: “I had anorexia first, then bulimia for about five years. I was really, really quite unwell from 17 to 21.”

Initially she did not recognise that she had an eating disorder. The associated depression had left her feeling suicidal.

She said: “I decided to train as a mental health nurse. I didn’t realise I had an eating disorder until I was into the mental health training.”

Breathe Therapies on Navigation Way, Preston

She had left her home town of Burnley and moved to Lancaster to train and found herself: “away from all my support and my home town."

She said: “I was a real home bird back then and had quite a lot of friends and family around me. Moving up to Lancaster and splitting up with my boyfriend at that time just completely exacerbated something that was already there.”

Shelley was determined to heal herself: “I figured out quickly what was going on. I realised I couldn’t be a mental health nurse if unwell with an eating disorder.

“I made it my mission to do whatever I could to get well by the time I qualified as a mental health nurse. I threw myself into that as well as study and then met my husband when I’d qualified.”

Time to talk at Breathe Therapies Photo: Neil Cross

Tragically Shelley was to face further heartbreak. Her husband drowned in a freak boating accident leaving her a young widow with a three year old daughter.

That daughter Sianna is now 22 and has graduated with a degree in business and management from Edge Hill University, Ormskirk.

Having grown up with Breathe Therapies her mum is delighted that Sianna is now bringing her own expertise and commitment to the service as its business and finance manager.

Noting how her daughter is both determined and an amazing cook, she added: “She makes me laugh everyday. There are so many things that remind me of her dad.”

Shelley worked as a mental health and eating disorder nurse for 13 years at The Priory Hospital at Bartle, near Preston.

Over the past 10 years Breathe Therapies has worked with more than 400 individuals and provided support for their families through groups, treatment and holistic therapy, helping some 100 people in the last year alone.

Shelley said: “I couldn’t begin to fathom just how many people we would help when I started Breathe Therapies."

As for how the service got its name she said: "Back when I was very poorly myself, before training to be a nurse, I would get very tense and just forget to breathe because of trauma I had experienced.

"People would tell me 'Shelley, breathe..' and I had to focus on inhaling and exhaling. Taking it in and then releasing out. I have said 'and breathe...' to myself many times. As I studied breathing techniques and why breath is so important for our mental health, I was fascinated with it.

"Years later when I decided to create Breathe Therapies, I knew it had to be called something that would represent each person's journey. Our butterfly logo ties in with this and represents the journey of an individual - cocooned and trapped within their illness, which is how I felt when I was poorly, but after receiving the appropriate support, love and therapy, being released and having the feeling of a weight being lifted - being able to breathe again."

Forced to move online with much of Breathe’s therapy offer during the Coronavirus pandemic , she says her service will now have a much bigger reach, recently fielding enquiries from Cumbria, Bristol and overseas.

Home has been in Preston for the past 16 years. Breathe has developed and has moved premises arriving at its present location at Quayside House, Navigation Way, three years ago. Previously it was based at Fulwood Therapy Centre, then at two locations in Penwortham - Galloway’s and the Talking Therapies Centre.

Shelley is keen to deliver professional treatment and therapy without a waiting list.There are now 10 staff members with a team of 15 self employed clinicians also providing services. It is a not for profit service with charges ranging from £80 an hour.

Looking to the next decade Shelley is fuelled by multiple ambitions - to run an inpatient and day care service as well as an outpatient service.

She said “I had quite a long term vision for it. We’ve achieved a lot and in terms of the bigger vision we’ve still got a lot to achieve. That still motivates me to keep going. I’m still excited about that. Currently we have an inpatient service. We’ve still got quite a long way to go .”

Over this first decade the success stories of clients have brought tears to her eyes. They have also caused her to reflect on the ups and downs of her own personal journey .

A member of Crossgate Church in Preston, she said: “It’s almost a privilege to have been through it so I can be in that position - both from a professional and also from (the position of) somebody who has experienced it and can share that empathy and compassion.”

As for actually marking the decade Shelley said: “We would also like, once the pandemic is in a different place to do an actual physical celebration. We don’t know what that looks like yet...”