'I didn't leave the house for four years and took 36 pills a day, but losing weight saved me'
It is difficult to imagine hiding in your own home for four years, but being boxed in within four walls was the reality for 50-year-old Blackpool mum Cathy Matthews.
After the trauma of a 'bad marriage,' severe battles with depression, osteoarthritis in her back and knees and fibromyalgia, by 2018 Cathy's weight had crept up to a debilitating 25 stone.
Standing at five feet and eight inches tall she had a BMI of 53, putting her in the NHS' 'obese' category and at high risk for serious health problems such as heart disease, cancer and premature death.
"I was so depressed, I just didn't want to do anything," said Cathy.
"I was so ashamed of the way I looked.
"Through a combination of the pain I was in, not sleeping and mental health issues, I didn't leave the house for four years.
"I had shopping and takeaways delivered to me, and I didn't set foot outside my front door in all that time.
"I thought nothing of sending my son to the shop with £20 and telling him to spend it all on chocolate, and I would eat tub after tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream.
"I took 36 different pills every single day, for my illnesses and anti-depressants, and I was so disgusted in myself that I didn't have any mirrors in my house, I couldn't bear to look at myself."
Cathy, who lives on Princess Court, central Blackpool, spoke to The Gazette for our Follow Your Dreams series, which launches this week, looking at how people have transformed their lives for the better.
She is mum to Ashley, 31, Jack, 26 and Rebecca, 24.
Her daughter Rebecca has Asperger's, and requires care at home which Cathy is solely responsible for.
But with her weight crippling her to the point she needed crutches to move around, her care duties became more and more difficult.
In a last-ditch attempt to help, son Ashley bought his mum a mobility scooter in an effort to coerce her out of the house, but it ended up sitting in the garage untouched.
In April 2018, she received a Slimming World leaflet through her door and pinned it to a board in her kitchen, casually glancing over it whenever she entered the room.
Three months later, her depression and levels of pain had become so severe that she knew she had to make a change to save her life.
"I looked at that leaflet for at least three months until I decided that if I didn't do something, I was definitely going to die, and I was ready for it to happen," Cathy said.
"I forced myself out of my house on July 11, 2018 and went to one of the groups at the Salvation Army (Blackpool Citadel, Raikes Parade.)
"If I hadn't decided to turn my life around that day, I really don't think I would be here now."
Cathy was 'terrified' at the thought of going to a group, but everyone was so welcoming that she knew she had found the motivation to carry on.
After visiting her Slimming World group every week for over 70 weeks, by January 2, 2020 Cathy had lost a staggering 10 stone, now weighing in at 14st 11lbs.
She described how the combination of weight loss, support from her group and from her son Ashley gave her the will to carry on pushing towards improving her health.
She said: "Ashley came with me for moral support, and now he's lost 4 stone himself as well, Slimming World has changed both of our lives for the better.
"I just love food, and following this plan allowed me to continue eating the foods I love, especially chocolate.
"If I don't allow myself to eat a bit of chocolate every day I will just binge eat it, and start the cycle all over again."
Cathy's weight loss has resulted in an enormous improvement in mobility, and she no longer needs crutches to walk anymore.
Her achievements had not gone unnoticed by her group, and she bagged the prestigious titles of "Greatest Loser 2019," "Woman of the Year 2019," and "Miss Slinky 2019."
Ashley also won "Mr Sleek 2019," highlighting the incredible effort both he and his mum had put in to transforming their lives.
"I recommend it to absolutely everyone I meet," Cathy continued.
"I've made so many new friends, I've even got a job as a cleaner at the Velvet Coaster Wetherspoons on the prom, which is unbelievable because before this I couldn't even walk properly."
Cathy wanted to inspire others to change their lives, and after taking nearly 40 pills a day for four years she is now completely medication-free.
"I weigh everyone in our groups at the Salvation Army now, and everyone comes to me for advice.
"I absolutely love being able to help others and I hope I can inspire anyone else to change their lives too.
"I thrive off going to Slimming World and I owe my life to it, if I can do it so can anyone else."
* Tomorrow, as part of our Follow Your Dreams series, in partnership with Slimming World, we will hear from a couple who left their jobs and home behind to embark on a seven-year round the world bike ride.