Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me.

My head feels like it is going to explode.

I stopped having contact with my Dad in March 2016. I really believed I would never try to reconcile things, but I did. Wednesday night and yesterday. And it failed. And technically I’m the one walking away again, but the reality is I’ve been left no choice.

My Dad did things which honestly, I think I would want most people to walk away from their parent after. BUT in my head I was justifying his actions; he isn’t really a ‘bad’ person, he loves me, I need him, I don’t want to hurt him, he only did what he did because of the situation at the time…he needed help. And I was aware that I sounded like a deluded victim, like a victim who doesn’t realise they are a victim…but I was adamant that I wasn’t. That this situation is different to all other situations. That my Dad is different.

Turns out I was being a bit deluded. I was making up excuses for him, as much as I protested to myself that I wasn’t. I even sat in front of the police a couple of months ago and said that to be honest if they wanted to use me in court, I’d be better off on the defense team. I said I would stand there and I would defend my Dad. When they used the words they use to describe my Dad’s actions and potential charges I shut down. I wanted to be sick. I was thinking “NO!!!! That isn’t what it was. My Dad is not these things.”

I was wrong.

It’s hard when a lot of people in life have the mentality that you should always love, honour, respect and never reject your parents. The whole ‘blood is thicker than water’ mentality. But actually I do honour, respect and love him. But that doesn’t mean I can’t walk away from him. And you know, I would forgive him. I tried this week. I gave him the chance. I didn’t even expect him to apologise or be brave enough to have a conversation with me about the mistakes he has made in my life. I said we can pretend it all never happened and just move on. I was being ridiculously generous, really putting myself out there, and he was getting away with murder…and did he take the opportunity? Did he seize it? Nope. He attacked me. He attacked me with the “maybe I hurt you, but think about all of the things I did for you.” and then he listed things, such as picking me up from school when I was suffering from severe migraines, and taking me to my prom.

YOU SHOULD HAVE WANTED TO DO THAT.

All of my childhood I never dared ask my Dad for anything for fear of what he would react like. The last big thing was moving to uni. Because no, my Dad was not happy and honoured to see his daughter move to uni, he was angry, cold, and passive aggressive because of the effort it required to pack my stuff in his van and drive for 90 minutes. He made me feel guilty so that I constantly apologised for weeks. He treated me horrendously.

The day my child moves to university I will be begging them to let me take them. I will be so over the moon to see them leaving home and starting their new life.

If you don’t want kids, if you are going to treat them like an inconvenience their whole lives, DON’T HAVE THEM.

Then he switched. This morning it was all “I’m sorry, I’m a bad Dad” and all of that jazz.

I’m not taking it. He has always had these random but regular pity parties where he feels guilty, but rather than apologising or doing something about it…he makes it all about him, and I end up feeling guilty and apologising to him. For years I have been apologising to him, and it’s sickening. It is sickening to me, that I took on the blame for his actions. That he twisted it in my head so that I felt like the one at fault.

One of the hardest parts of the things that happened with my Dad was that it was so up and down, hot and cold. He hurt us, then he loved us….you thought, “it won’t happen again”…and then it did. A billion times over a good decade.

I was a kid then and I couldn’t exactly pack my bags and leave. A 7 year old does not have that kind of choice. But a 24 year old does. You can think I am a bad person for walking away from a parent, but it’s one thing to forgive and forget the actions of your parent from years ago, but it’s another to forgive someone who is still hurting you albeit in different ways.

I am so, so tempted to let him back into my life. To let him continue hurting me because maybe that would be easier than having no Dad at all. But I also know that it will lead to me self-destructing, and when in 3 months time I am an absolute mess, I will only have myself to blame. Letting him back into my life would screw me up again, and that would ultimately be my choice and my fault – so yes I am walking away, but it feels like I have been pushed. Selfish? Yes. Yes it is. If you call self-preservation and survival selfish, I am selfish. If you call having to spend the rest of your life without the man who was your world as a child that you dreamt of walking you down the aisle and looking after your kids one day, the kids you are going to have to explain this loss to, and losing not just him but the whole of his family too, as selfish, then I am very selfish.

But constantly putting yourself last at the cost of your own happiness and life is not something to be proud of. It is self-destruction.

 

The Reality of Anorexia Nervosa: There is no magic wand

Mark Austin has admitted to The Guardian that he told his daughter, who was suffering from Anorexia Nervosa, to “starve yourself to death.”

Undoubtedly it was not an easy thing to admit to, but the reality is that when you are a parent with a child who is quite literally starving themselves to death, you get desperate. I can recite the desperation of my parents when I was destroying myself. What do you do when your 15 year old daughter is laid up in bed, and has not eaten or drunk for the last week? We all say things in anger, but more than it being in anger, it is pure desperation to get a reaction, to change the situation. It is hoping that she will get up and eat.

The problem is, she won’t.

People close to me went to some shockingly desperate extremes that make me want to reach out to Mark Austin and say “it’s ok, really it is ok”. Some of the extremes people around me went to were not ok.

This admission from Mark is to make people see that eating disorders are a serious illness that cannot be ignored. People suffering with eating disorders are not selfish, they are not attention seeking, and neither are they vain. In order to help someone get better it is important, vital in fact, that we realise that this is a serious, life-threatening condition, that is going to require much more than anger, threats, or “just eat” comments to treat. It is a mental illness that requires treatment. It is a mental illness that carries the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders, a fact, that even today still shocks and terrifies me.

There is no easy fix to an eating disorder. There was nothing my parents could do, not really. They could love me unconditionally, they could get me the help I needed, but this was something that was going to take a lot of time, and professional help.

At 15, I spent a year on a child and adolescent psychiatric ward being fed, some time of which was spent sectioned under the Mental Health Act because I could not see that I was ill. Life consisted of breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, tea, supper. I was fed all of the foods we are told not to eat. Doctors were forcing me to do the opposite of what most GP’s are telling their patients to do. Sponge and custard after lunch and tea, toast and cereal for breakfast. Insane amounts of milk (full fat of course!) and fruit juice. No exercise. Meals were followed by observations where we would have to sit in the lounge, watched by staff, being told off for so much as tapping our fingers. Bi-weekly weigh-ins where we were woken up, taken to the toilet where we would have to prove we had been, and were not water-loading, followed by the dreaded stepping on the scales.

It was a strange time of my life. I forgot the real world existed, I almost thought the real world was on pause, waiting for me. But it was not, and when I was finally discharged I had gained 37lbs which I lost in a matter of weeks.

I was not prepared for life outside of the hospital. It was a bleak time. I started giving up on the idea of ‘recovery’. I thought at best I would manage to survive.

Here we are, nearly a decade later. I underwent further treatment;  I had outpatient treatment in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services  (CAMHS), plus outpatient and day patient treatment in the local adult Anorexia Nervosa Service including some time on a gastroenterology ward in a general hospital following a bad relapse…and here we are! (I make it sound simple, ta-dah! It was not.)

Am I 100% fully recovered? Nah. Am I surviving? Yes. But more to the point, I am doing more than that. My eating disorder does not have a devastating impact upon me anymore. I can go out for lunch, eat in front of people, have cake on my birthday and roll my eyes when people tell me how they no longer eat chocolate (more fool them!). Most importantly I have the energy to live my life. I will admit that my eating disorder still lingers there, constantly. I still do not get a day free of it, which is sad. Ten years of not a single anorexia free day. However, it is not loud any more. Yes it is always there, but it is floating in the background. I control it, it does not control me.

How did I get here? Time and professional help, plus support from the people around me.

This is not the sort of illness that can be easily fixed. There is no magic wand. There is no overnight transformation. It requires a lot of patience, specialist care and baby steps – but it is possible.

Mark Austin did not get it perfect. No parent gets it perfect. I do not read his account to The Guardian and feel shocked. I do not think anything negative of him, in fact I applaud him for speaking up. I know what it is like to go through this kind of illness. It is arguably harder for the family than the sufferer when the person is at the worst stage of being unwell, with no sign of wanting to get better in sight.

What is not acceptable is to have professionals that do not take it seriously, like the GP who met me aged 14 and said I would be fine after my exams, and who never saw me again because I was sectioned in hospital; this is what is not forgivable. It will not be “fine.” It is not a problem that will go away however hard you try to ignore it.

We need to be willing to face up to the reality of eating disorders, and the support that people need. Recovery is not easy or quick, but it is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate, So Why Do We?

I was at an appointment the other day. The staff were aware of my mental health problems, and they asked me what I do in my free time. I said at the moment I am working and at university. She looked shocked. She then said “unpaid work, though?” because obviously us crazy folk cannot hold down a paid job. I mean, what kind of fool would pay me to work?

It annoys me. Number one unpaid work is a brilliant thing to do for experience, and for giving something. Number two, why would you assume my job is unpaid?

I was then further annoyed when she said I needed to come back on Monday to see their consultant. I told her I had work, and couldn’t make it. She looked at me and said “well, you have to have see the consultant” and then booked me an appointment any way. I was stood there thinking ‘yup, please ignore me, my words mean nothing’.

I honestly do not think that if I was ten years older, and not in for something mental health related, she wouldn’t have ignored me. But hey, I am crazy so my job cannot be that important, right?!

We think that we have progressed with our attitudes towards mental illness, and my gut reaction is to say some progress has definitely been made. I mean, we do not lock everyone away in asylums anymore, people are not oblivious to mental illness, and people know what depression is. Mental health is talked about more. Being homosexual is no longer a sign of insanity, and we do not drill into peoples brains hoping it will ‘fix’ them like we did in 1935.

My research in my undergraduate degree proved that making a definitive conclusion is not that easy. Some things have improved, some things have not. Do you know what schizoaffective disorder is? What about obsessive compulsive personality disorder? Unless you have an interest in mental illness, or personal experience, probably not. Even spellcheck does not think ‘schizoaffective’ is a word.

While general attitudes have become better, I would argue it is something we are fine about as long as we do not have to come face-to-face with it, and for a lot of people mental illness is something that affects others, not themselves. Did you know that only 46.9% of disabled people are in employment? Which is a gap 33.1% higher compared to people without a disability. The disability employment gap is one of the most significant inequalities today.

In 2015 the Conservative Party stated that to half the gap they would need to change policies, practices and public attitudes.

Not all disabled people can work, fact. That is why there is no goal to get rid of the gap completely. But some can, and some want to. It is easy for people to respond to this huge gap by saying that disabled people do not want to work, that they want to live off benefits, and all of that other rubbish that realistically applies to a very small percentage of those with disabilities, and actually also to a larger number of people without

I do not personally have much of an issue with the term disability. I would agree that I do have a disability, and that it can be extremely disabling. But it can also be worked with if I am surrounded by people who are willing to be understanding, and to provide me the right environment to minimise the impact my disability has on my ability to work, and to succeed.

Starting my recent internship has made me aware of the difficulty I would definitely have to work full-time, while juggling my medical appointments. I can see why this could be unattractive for an employer, and even for me; even if I managed to find an employer who was happy for me to take time off work for appointments, it would mean that my disability would still be impacting my ability to work full-time, and receive full pay. But this is the thing. I would not think about that; that is something I have to live with, but being discriminated against, is not.

I would be overwhelmed by the amazing support of my workplace to enable me to work. I would arrange my appointments as best I could to avoid interruption. I would stay late at work if I could, or arrive early. I would give everything I could and more, and being able to have my necessary appointments would actually boost my productivity at work, compared to if I was having to delay them, hide them, or become stressed at managing them.

The thing is, people can discriminate against people with mental illness, but mental illness is never going to discriminate against you. You might have a negative attitude towards those with a mental health problem, but they are still going to come into your life. It is going to affect your colleagues, employees, friends or family, whether you like it or not. Whether you think it is something that happens in your life or not.

More scarily perhaps, is that one day it might be you. You could be the top dog in a major company who does not take particularly take an interest in disability in the workplace. You might be a bit irritated that your PA, Janice, has to take two hours off on a Wednesday afternoon because she has a one hour appointment with her community psychiatric nurse, plus has to travel to and from the clinic. You will forget Janice stayed at work for an extra hour on three days last week. You will forget Janice doesn’t take lunch breaks, and always emails back at weekends. You will forget that since Janice started her role, she has made your day-to-day life easier, and taken on many extra roles that you never expected her to take.

You will be reluctant to hire the best applicant for your new events manager because she disclosed that she has physical health problems that will mean she has to take some time off work once per month to travel to a hospital out of the local area. You will think that you need someone who does not have these needs, and that they are not suitable for your company, just like the principal that once said to my support worker that students with severe mental health problems are not going to achieve A-Levels, so why support them in trying to do so?

And then fast forward, it is 2027. You have been getting very stressed at work. Janice left, and her replacement is struggling. Your wife has been working away a lot, your kids have left home, and it is like you never see neither them or your wife any more; she admitted a few months back that she is not happy in your marriage. Your mother has Alzheimer’s (which is a mental illness too, but for some reason that doesn’t count) and she is deteriorating. Last time you saw her she did not know who you were. You have begun thinking a lot about your childhood growing up, and how she used to be. You keep remembering things you had forgotten; maybe your childhood was not as rosy as you had convinced yourself. You remember your father being very violent to your mother, and having to witness that. Bit by bit it is coming back to you, like a tap that no matter how hard you tighten it, it just will not stop dripping.

You feel low. You know you do. You say low, because you do not want to say depressed. Men do not get depressed, not strong men like you. Not top of the company men. Not men who earn £100, 00o per annum. Not men who are well educated, and whose parents were too. You tell yourself you will ‘snap out of it’ soon. Maybe you just need to work harder. Only weak people take a step back, take a break. But it is getting worse, and you end up going to see your GP. I mean, he will just say you are fine.

Well, apparently not. Apparently you have signs of depression, but mental illness is not something you will ever experience, right? He must be wrong.

.

Does having a mental illness make you a negative person?

I really aspire to be one of those people who are always positive. One of those people who are always smiling and laughing. I used to be at secondary school, before my mental health problems really began and I have often questioned whether I am a negative or a positive person. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am positive..  yet I don’t see how that is possible given how I feel a lot of the time. People describe me as positive and I think “yeah, you’re thinking that because I don’t let you see the other side of me.”

But is feeling low, is feeling suicidal, really the same as being negative? It sounds like a stupid question. How can wanting to hurt yourself be positive? I’m not saying it is. It isn’t.

(Here comes the but)

I spent Friday night in A&E. I was there from 1.30am to 9.30am cycling between crying my eyes out, scratching my face off and sitting in silence. Saturday I spent asleep. Sunday and today I haven’t exactly been bursting with energy and thirst for life. I have had moments where I want to fight, but I have had a lot of moments, more moments, where I am extremely upset, distressed, angry, or denying having emotions, denying needing people, not allowing myself to like myself, blocking people off and hiding away. Is that negativity? Do we judge me by these facts? Or do we look at the fact that this evening I managed to take myself on a nice walk in the sunshine and come home and do a little exercise and put my positive head on? Is positivity the absence of negativity, or is it coming out of the negative mindset with an overall positive attitude? Isn’t someone who can come out of such a horrible place, still fighting, one of the most positive people of them all? Surely it’s easier to be positive when things are all good. Does being positive when things are all good really make you one of those optimistic people? Or is an optimistic person one who can experience the worst possible feelings but still smile at the end of the day?

No, hurting myself isn’t positive. And no, it isn’t the person I want to be. Feeling low and hopeless isn’t the kind of person I want to be neither. But I have borderline personality disorder and this is how my life is, and to varying extents, probably always will be. I’m probably never going to be the exact person I want to be, who never lets things get her down. But maybe that’s okay. To live with this illness, to spend 9 hours in A&E crying my eyes out, to hurt myself again and again and hibernate in bed for a few days and then to get up, get dressed, go out, smile, talk to people.. to carry on in spite of everything. Maybe I should be proud of being that person. Proud of being what I am, rather than being disappointed in myself for what I’m not.

Never let anyone make you feel like you are are a negative person to be around because sometimes you feel less than ecstatic. Everyone gets down, and some of us get it worse than others. Some of us aren’t momentarily unhappy. Some of us have an illness that makes this more frequent, more intense and harder to live with, but never let that make you feel like you’re not an optimistic, positive person. To keep getting up and trying again is one of the most amazing traits you can ever have. To let yourself feel all of your emotions, including the terrifying ones, and to still get yourself back up, is a part of your personality that will take you further than you can imagine.

 

 

 

When silence replaces emotions

When I was in trouble as a child my mother, like most mothers, used to use my middle name, “Natalie Jane come down those stairs right now.” I like my middle name now, and I always have but I’m not sure I’d be so keen  if it was coming from my mothers mouth again. As a child I read a lot of books by Enid Blyton, and one of my favourites was ‘Naughty Amelia Jane’. I remember secretly liking that her middle name was the same as mine. I guess being naughty has its appeal, and because we shared the same name I thought we were practically twins. 

When I was younger I was also in trouble.  A LOT. So much so that I ought to have been named ‘Natalie Trouble Wilson.’ I was particularly bad at never ever getting away with things. I remember always arguing with my sister, and even if she was in the wrong, my big mouth would get me into trouble. All my parents would hear would be me screaming, first at my sister, and then at them. Whilst my sister on the other hand was one of those ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ types.

The people in my life who I’m not so close to, or those who I’ve just met, see me as the quiet one. Just recently a lecturer said “you are so quiet.” I was laughing inside because if my Mum heard someone saying that she would think it was hilarious. The truth however, of what I am really like, is somewhat similar to how I am with getting things done. People always think I am super chilled back. I sort everything out last minute. But I’m not actually chilled out at all. Inside I am a panicky mess, but I get so panicky that I avoid doing whatever the thing is. I’m the same with being a perfectionist. I’m so worried about doing something wrong, that very often I end up not doing it at all.

I am loud. Very loud. But very often I am quiet. It’s not because I am a ‘quiet person’, but because of a whole range of fears, and over my life I have basically trained myself to be silent to the point that now it’s not even a choice I make. I remember as a child I would frequently be told off for being loud, for talking too much. I was blamed for my sisters lack of speech, and her speech problems which she had therapy for. I wanted so badly to be quieter, more like her.

My loudness, my constant chattering and asking questions seemed to cause nothing but problems. I’d be questioning everything. I wanted to know the why’s and how’s of everything, and let’s face it, that’s pretty annoying to live with. It led to arguments between me and a member of my family, which led to violence and slammed doors, cars leaving drives, and the disappearance of a parent for days at a time. So I started setting myself rules about when I could talk, and how long for. It seemed like a fabulous solution. There was a particular situation that is very clear in my mind. I was sat with my father watching the formula one racing. I kept asking question after question, after question. My father kept turning the TV louder, and louder, and louder, ignoring me. Every time I spoke he would turn it up that little bit louder. In the end we had an explosive argument that I will never forget.

Not speaking seemed like the solution. If I was silent, there would be no arguments, no violence, no disappearing bodies out of the door. Except I couldn’t do it. I’d tell myself ‘no talking for the next 20 minutes’ but before I knew it my mouth was open and words were spilling out; ‘Why does that car have red bull on it?’, ‘Why do they change the tyres?’.

Every time I failed to keep quiet, it was like the part of myself that was full of self-hatred grew bigger, and bigger.

One of the biggest things that I have, and am, learning is that the things I hated about myself, are the things that many of the people around me love about me. My parent(s) weren’t able to cope with me, but that does not mean that I was the problem. Just today my sister told me that one of the nurses who work at the hospital she’s in said that she liked me and that I seem like I’d be a good laugh.

It’s just weird to think that I’ve spent so long hating myself for things I never needed to hate myself for. That I’ve seen who I am as being fundamentally wrong or bad, when that was never the case. It’s hard to undo that, no matter how much I know it’s not true, because for so long that was my reality.

Baby steps.

 

 

 

 

End of my undergraduate degree (and a little update!)

I handed in my dissertation last week, and my final assignment this week, and I don’t know if it hasn’t hit me yet or if I’m just not a very emotional person, but it hasn’t bothered me that much! Everyone keeps asking how it feels and I don’t really have a response!

13119957_10154165230109740_8187903505665237008_o (1)

I also had a final presentation and the transformation with my confidence has been incredible over these three years. I know I talk about it a lot…but in first year I didn’t do my presentations and so I got ungraded for one, and capped at 40% for the other because my lecturer agreed I could hand a paper copy of what I would have said. Second year I did them, I’m not sure how well. This year I have been so much better. I mean my hands shake and I feel terrified but even turning up is a big deal with me! And a friend commented on how I seem like the calmest/most confident person in our group hahahaha if only she could see me inside!!! But it feels so good to see this progress. It means more to me than any qualification or grade, as insane as that sounds.

Today was a big one! I never go out with my friends, but it was one of theirs last day here before they move back home and I went. Not only did I go but I ate waffles!!

waff

To think that when I was 15 years old I had a crisis meeting with mental health services because I hadn’t eaten all week and then I ate a grape and had a total meltdown, I feel this is a pretty big deal. It is probably the most challenging thing I have done in recovery (oh and a pizza a few months back).  And it was so lovely to see my friends, and I am going to miss them so much.

girls.jpg

I also met my best friend at home yesterday after seeing my psychiatrist. I met her at the anorexia nervosa day programme I used to go to and we’ve only actually been really close for 9 months-ish but she is literally such an amazing person. It sounds cheesy but she brightens up my life so much, she really brings out the best in me. She makes me feel ambitious and determined, happy and just able to be myself. She is probably the most amazing person I have met in my life. I haven’t had someone I can call a best friend in so long, I thought I’d never get that close to someone again, but this girl is like a second sister to me. She is a ray of sunshine even when things are tough. She makes my mood go from pretty damn low to absolutely amazing just by being herself. I am so lucky to have this girl.

I have been struggling a lot this last few weeks. I had an incident 3 weeks ago, which I am absolutely determined will be my last, but it has led to such an insane number of hospital appointments and I might need surgery and I am sick to death of hospitals/clinics right now. I have been to the therapy preparation group twice now and it’s, overall, good. I lost it on Tuesday-Thursday and was adamant it is stupid and I am not interested in going, but I have come through that now ha! There has been an issue within my family that has basically changed my whole life. I don’t want to go into it, but I’ve lost a member of my immediate family. I think I am fine with it, that I am coping, but then there are moments where it hits me and those are pretty tough – especially with things like finishing university and graduating, knowing that person isn’t going to be there. My psychiatrist told me I can get upset, that it is ok. That I won’t disintegrate, and I keep reminding myself of that.

I have been referred by occupational therapy for camouflage make-up and I’ve seen some examples of how amazing it is (this guy with full body tattoos had them all covered and you couldn’t see them at all!) and it is going to be so so life changing for me. I’ve also booked a holiday to Marrakesh at the start of September with my best friend! And I’m going camping in the peak district in a couple of weeks with my sister which is going to be so lovely. I love a walking holiday. I haven’t been on holiday since I was 18 for various family/health related reasons so this is all very exciting.

I guess I am learning that I can be both happy and sad and that is ok.