Fall down, get back up.

I haven’t wrote in a while. It’s the usual, what do I actually want to share scenario.

I have good news any way. I have been taken off my section 3 and discharged from the unit. I am back tomorrow for an appointment with their inreach team but after that I will never be back on the ward, just the outpatient clinic.

The time I was on a section 2 was horrendous. I was doing things to myself, and it appeared like I was getting worse, both for me and the staff. I started getting more leave in an attempt to improve things, however things became even worse. I went back one Monday about a month ago expecting discharge, and instead was placed onto a section 3. This marked change. I think I knew that because I had just been placed onto a section 3, and because the consultant was going away, there was no chance of me leaving for at least two weeks, so I sort of admitted defeat.

The day after being moved onto the section 3, I had my first proper chat with a nurse. I hated said nurse with a passion. She turned out to be the person who helped me most, the person I opened up to, and a big part of me being where I am now. I never expected that. The biggest thing I have gained from this admission is the ability to use my words to express myself.

There were a lot of awful times where I was unable to keep myself safe, or look after myself. I do not remember the first week. I did not eat, drink, or leave my bed. I do not remember any staff from this time except for one, despite the fact I was on constant 1:1 meaning I had to be with a staff member at all times who could see me, including if I wanted to shower or use the toilet.

After that week I made a slight improvement in terms of eating and being out of bed, but there continued to be a lot of risky behaviours. It is strange to look back and remember certain things. I remember looking in the mirror having lost weight, with marks all over my body, bloodshot eyes, a bruised head like you have never seen before, burst blood vessels all over my eyelids, cheeks and neck. I hadn’t been washing. I hadn’t had any change of clothes because I had none.

And now? Now I have gained weight. I am dressing, showering, wearing make-up, doing my hair. I look happy. Nurses have told me I have a sparkle in my eye. I smile a lot. I laugh. When I have been back to the ward lately I talk to the other patients, check on them, get them into the garden and have a kick around with them. I’ve spent a lot of time in that garden kicking a ball against a wall. I talk to staff, joke, laugh, smile. Cry with happiness, not anything else.

That is not to say the last few weeks have been problem free. I had my leave taken off me over bank holiday after going on a 30 minute walk and not returning, and needing a lot of support to keep myself safe and return. I lied to staff, to their faces, to get out that day because they were concerned, and I am shocked at the fact I did that. Losing my leave led to the second time I have become extremely distressed in there. I dived out the door when a member of staff was coming through, and had several nurses drag me back onto the ward. But the thing is, in there, each day is a chance to start again.

I got my 8 hours leave back last Tuesday, for each day. Then had overnight leave Saturday and Sunday, and was discharged today. I was given the option of a weeks leave, then discharge, but it felt best to have a clear cut discharge.

The night I was placed onto the section 2, I was distraught at going into hospital. It started with a phone call with my community team, led to an A&E visit escorted by the police from which I managed to escape from, and led to an incident that saw me being arrested on a 136. I’m not going to go into the incident, but when I was arrested the police officer was shaking, he was holding me down on the ground and he kept saying that everything was going to be ok; the worst was over.

I did not believe him. I was thinking that the worst had just begun. He saved my life, quite literally, and I was angry. Yet deep down a part of me wanted to feel his relief, and I think I was able to recognise that was something to hold onto. I can honestly say that very slowly, I am beginning to feel relieved. If the police officer had reacted a few seconds slower it is highly unlikely, if not definitely unlikely, that I would be alive right now. A few seconds where I stopped feeling fear and found myself at a total loss, could have ended my life and destroyed the people who care about me. He stopped me from doing that.

I was angry at being in hospital for probably 70% of my admission, and not happy about the situation for about 95%. But now I look back and I wouldn’t take it back. I am grateful that I was forced to stay in hospital when I wasn’t able to see that it was needed, and I am grateful to have been allowed out now that I am strong enough to support myself.

A lot has, and is, changing in my community support. I was discharged from the service I was under when admitted. I can return in February, but I doubt I will. I am now about to start private therapy with a low fee service and my NHS support is completely different, and has not really begun yet.

I will be seeing a new psychiatrist, who I have met once. She was amazing, I have to admit. I cried like no tomorrow, but it also felt good. I have been referred for the 3rd time to CMHT, and that will take some time. But what is the biggest thing right now is this new service. It is small; it has less than 10 staff members, and has only been open for 2 years. In those 2 years it has seen 120 patients which is nothing in comparison to most teams. It is funded by the police, and is a partnership between them, the NHS and a charity. They provide short-term intensive support, so for now I will be seeing them twice weekly at home. That will decrease pretty quickly, and after 6 to 8 weeks approximately, it will stop, and I will then be under the care of CMHT and the psychiatrist.

I am a bit anxious about it, and about the fact that right now it means all new people again. They attended my discharge ward round today and basically I will be seeing the nurses and the police officers. The police involvement panicked me a bit, but they are specialised in mental health, and will be much more like seeing a nurse, than a police officer. They don’t wear uniform and if you didn’t know they were police, you’d think they were nurses.

I am also moving this month, into a new houseshare. Said houseshare is with the loveliest live-in landlady ever, a beautiful home and a goregous chihuahua called Tilly. I was honestly terrified of post-discharge due to living and money and work, but I honestly feel like things are falling together so perfectly that it is almost unbelievable.

I know that difficult times are likely to come, although right now I can’t imagine it. I know that things won’t always be easy, but I also feel like a brand new person.

I never thought I’d go onto an adult acute ward. I never thought I would be sectioned. I never thought I would have both those things happen, and end up concluding that while I would never want to go through it again, I would not take it back. But I wouldn’t. I feel fresh. I feel new. I feel happy.

I don’t feel afraid of being here tomorrow.

I honestly could not speak higher of the professionals who have worked with me.

I honestly could not be prouder of myself if I tried.

I have a heap of regrets with university, work, and many of the things that have happened over the last 2-3 months. I have a heap of things I would do differently. I could sit here and list them all…if I wanted to. But I don’t. I don’t care. It was all worth it. Things fell apart, and then they came back together, stronger than ever.

That’s all that really counts.

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While There is Life, There is Hope.

Pre-warning: This is a long post (like 99.97% of my posts). Sorry, not sorry.

I have quite a lot of rough patches every week, often at night time. It is not uncommon for me to spend the early hours of the morning walking around the city. More often than not I wake up in the morning wondering why the hell I was in such a state (and tired!)

I have also been doing a lot of reflecting while walking.

I think I have mentioned in brief that things took a turn for the worse in late December. I went to my hometown for Christmas. I stayed at my sisters new house and it was nice to begin with, although a little weird to see my sister independent and in her own place. I was supposed to stay until after New Year, but then something happened on the 28th of December and on the 29th I got the early coach back to Leicester.

I was not in a good place. I had stopped taking one of my medications a few months before; at first it was forgetfulness more than anything else, then it was a case of “well I didn’t take it most of last week so clearly I don’t need it.” My mood was dropping rapidly, and the obsessions that the medication was prescribed to treat became a lot worse. I cannot say it was stopping the medication that caused that, because it could just be coincidental, but what it did mean was that when I got back to Leicester I had a huge amount of medication sat in my bedroom.

I took them.

It’s hard to admit this. I am not sure why. Fear of being judged maybe. Fear of being open having an impact on how people see me, and on my future prospects. Fear of people who know me reading this, when only my family and a couple of close friends know about it.

I fell asleep in 2016, and when I woke up it was 2017. I was confused. Apparently on the day I gained consciousness I made a nurse call my Mum, before falling to sleep for 24 hours. When I woke up I made a different nurse call my Mum, panicking about the fact she would be worried about not hearing from me over New Year. The nurse told me that my Mum was saying I had contacted her the day before, but I did not remember at all. I do not remember anything.

I know it was serious. I know things could have worked out differently. But I feel extremely aware of the fact that for me personally, it was not the worst experience I have had. I was unconscious, and if at any time I was aware of pain or what was going on around me, I sure as hell do not remember it now. The worst part of what happened was feeling embarrassed. I had a catheter in, and when I tried to walk for the first couple of days I couldn’t. The medication gave me the side effect of a tremor when I was taking the normal dose, so the overdose left me violently shaking and my legs just buckled underneath me. But it honestly was not that bad.

Not that bad in comparison to other less “serious” things that I have done. There have been things I have done to myself that have been far more terrifying, far more painful, and to be honest, quite horrific. Largely because I was conscious. I have also been arrested while in a crisis, and when you are in that kind of state and locked in a prison cell for 16 hours, I can tell you that you leave even worse than you were to start with.

I have been thinking about these things a lot while walking, and the consequences of the suicide attempt; I was assessed under the mental health act, and told I had a choice between voluntary admission, or being sectioned. I agreed to go in voluntarily, which I am beyond relieved about. I got myself out quick, and I mean quick. Even the psychiatrist admitted he would not normally let someone out as fast as I got out. I was determined. I was thinking that if I stayed in there I was choosing to fight, and if I was going to choose to fight, I would be far better off fighting at home.

The hospital environment was bad for my eating; I was not eating at all and my weight was dropping, and I felt like my anorexia was re-gaining control shockingly fast. I knew if I stayed in there I was going to find myself with more problems, rather than less. I was dizzy and light-headed, and more to the point, it was making me feel better. I knew that was not good, and I knew it needed to stop. I was also due to start an internship, and that felt extremely important to me, and I made it very clear to the psychiatrist. I knew that I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of doing it, and that not doing it would have a really negative impact on me. I was terrified, of course. I wanted to run a mile, make up excuses not to do it, and avoid facing my anxiety; but I also wanted it, badly. I wanted it more than I was afraid of it, and doing it was one of the best decisions I made. In fact, in January it was just about the only good decision I made.

I was scared. I begged and begged my way out of hospital. I jumped through the hoops. I did what was expected of me to prove I was safe. I gave them no reason to use the mental health act against me again. It could probably have gone two ways; it could have gone badly. I remember getting home and while I was insanely relieved to get my freedom back because I cannot cope being stuck indoors for a whole day, never mind longer…I walked into my house very overwhelmed. I panicked. I thought I had made a mistake. I remembered what things had been like leading up to the admission, and as to be expected, I was doubting my ability to cope.

It also could have gone well. And it did. Sometimes there is such thing as ‘positive risk taking’ and this was that.

I still get myself in bad places. Having Borderline Personality Disorder means I often get myself into the worst kind of states, and then several hours later I am thinking “Girl, what was that about?!” It is extreme, a little dramatic and very frightening; I know I can do things that feel right in the moment, that in less than 24hrs time will seem ridiculous.

At my worst points, and on my walks, I have established some facts that help me to keep safe:

  1. I want my life to mean something. I do not want to be remembered as the girl who ended her own life. I want to do things that help people, and make my mark. I do not care how big or small that mark is, but I want to make it. Even in the darkest of times, the idea that in my lifetime I might make a difference to a single persons life, feels like a good enough reason to fight.
  2. People. And I do not mean fighting for people, or because people love me and losing me would hurt them…but that there are people who have done so much to help me, and I just cannot chuck that away. My Mum and sister have stood by me through thick and thin, even when I least deserved it. And professionals including my previous psychiatrist and various people at my secondary school, college and university who have still believed in me when I lost all hope, who have fought for me and simply never given up on me.
  3. Things can change for the better, and quickly. Just as things can get suddenly worse, they can get suddenly better. There are endless nights I have survived, and woke up relieved. One of the hardest things to do is be in a state of despair and believe that it is not permanent, but one thing I remind myself is that change is actually the only thing in life that is guaranteed.
  4. One of my common thoughts when struggling is that I have been fighting for so long, and that giving up is only logical. My mentor at university challenged this by saying that surely having been fighting for so long is a reason not to give up now, not to throw all of that hard work away. I’m not going to lie, when she first said that I was thinking that she did not get it, and it was a load of rubbish. BUT, on reflection, it is true. I did not come this far, to only come this far.
  5. Future treatment. During a recent bad night it hit me; I have an opportunity to go back to the therapeutic community and dedicate some time to working on myself. If I truly put everything into it, and do not self-sabotage it, it could really make a difference. I mean it might not, but it might. What is more the point is that it is with a service that I have gained a lot of faith in, with people I have begun to trust, which I did not previously. I mean regardless of whether the treatment method is ideal, I know the staff and other patients from experience are in equal amounts supportive and challenging; they are tough and sometimes hard on you, but in a helpful way. How can I give up before I have exhausted all options?

The biggest thing is, how can I throw my life away when there is hope for change, people who will stand by me, people who will not give up on me even when I do, and when I have the power within me in some small form, to do good?

If I give up there will be no more trying.  And while often trying feels much more like struggling, I will take the struggle because struggling can lead somewhere. I hate struggling, but at least struggling means there is hope.

While there is life, there is hope. 

I hope that if you cannot see a reason to make it through another day, you can hold onto the possibility that one day you will find a reason. I hope you know that although I am just a random stranger sat behind a computer screen who does not even know your name, I believe in you.

I hope you know that your kindness has to extend to yourself, and that your place in this world is important.

And I know this is cheesy, but I hope that you know that I am a human. I am real. And I am always only a message away. I care.

The Life Plan

My life plan right now is better known as the treatment plan. I’ve had a bit of a dilemma recently. I have a place at an assessment centre for a grad scheme. It was unexpected and it threw a spanner in the works. My plan was to fight to get back into the therapeutic community aka take time out, and then when I got onto the assessment centre I was thinking ‘Maybe I could just never go back to treatment and get “better” by just “getting on” with my life’. And it could work out. Treatment isn’t always the way to get better. Sometimes living life is. Maybe moving to London and doing a full-time grad scheme would help me get “better”.

However a draft email has been sat in my outlook account for the last week. A draft email stating that right now, due to health reasons, I can’t accept a grad scheme offer, therefore I need to pull out now. The reluctance to send it is the ‘But what if I actually got offered a place on the scheme? How can I turn that down?’ which is why I need to hit send. Because if I did get offered it, it would make my life even harder.

I had an “interim appointment” with the PD service today. A brief explanation if you don’t already know from my other posts is that in November I was, in short, chucked out of the therapeutic community (TC). I was “too unstable” and “too high risk”. I ended up on an acute psychiatric ward, and if you are deemed as being acutely unwell, you are not deemed ready for therapy. Since then I have just had an interim appointment in March.

Today a plan was made. My options were private, self-funded counselling which I was assessed for, and found for a VERY reasonable price; it’s with a charity, and they do student rates of £12 an hour! If you’ve ever looked into private counselling you’ll know you can pay £40-50 an hour minimum. So that was option 1, and would involve being discharged from the PD team with re-referral for the TC once ready and suitable (I’m not allowed back while people I was in treatment with last year are still there). Option 2 was to do a smaller, once weekly group for 6 months, starting in Jan with an interim appointment in May and fortnightly scheduled telephone support, then re-referral to the TC in July 2018. Option 3, which was the option I put forward, was to skip the once weekly group, have the interim appointment/phonecalls, and be re-referred to the TC as soon as I can be.

We are going with option 3! The downside is I won’t be having any formal support until that time comes, which should be November/December – but I will have an appointment in August, and fortnightly phone calls with my lead professional. They are going to work out the date they *think* should be the point at which I can go back into the TC process and let me know. I’m expecting it to be no later than December.

The TC process is a long one. You have to do a prep group first, on a Tuesday morning. If I started that in January, I’d expect to be finished in March/April. It took 4 months last time but I think this time I could be quicker. Then the actual TC is for one year. The TC is 3 days per week, with the occasional extra half day where you are expected to help run the prep group in blocks. Halfway (or 3/4 way) through the TC you join another group called Thrive, which would increase it further…Thrive is basically like the prep group, but it’s a post-therapy group…it’s preparing you for leaving the TC…and when you leave the TC after the one year, you continue going to thrive for either three or six months, I can’t remember. All in all you’re looking at 18-24months.

I am dreading it. The TC was the most exhausting, at times soul destroying, intense, sometimes toxic, environment I have ever been in. I found going there three days per week more exhausting than I would find a full-time job. All I wanted to do when I left each day was sleep. Weekends were spent recovering from the week.

The idea of going back terrifies me. It is by no means the easy option. It would actually be easier for me to try get on this grad scheme. I wouldn’t have to feel bad for not being in full-time employment. I wouldn’t feel like a failure because all of my friends are working and living their lives and going somewhere…and I am sat in a hospital. I wouldn’t have to turn down an amazing grad scheme. I wouldn’t have to worry about money. I wouldn’t have to go through intense therapy that is going to bring up some tough stuff; I am not a person who openly talks about stuff with people, so group therapy is really difficult for me. I am sat here right now thinking ‘oh f**ck what am I doing?!’.

But it’s the plan. And it is a good one. I can finish my current job because I will still be here in September, and honestly I was worried at the idea of having to leave the job early to move away for a grad scheme (grad schemes start in Sept) because I would honestly be absolutely gutted about it. People kept saying to me that I can’t not take a 1-2yr grad scheme because I want to finish the last month of a temporary contract and I was like UMMMM YES I CAN IF I CARE. So this works out soooo well for that. A grad scheme would also mean moving from Leicester at the start of Sept when my MA finishes on the 31st aka I would need to get my dissertation finished a month early which would be fun!

And how I am seeing this is…yes I am 25 this year and I thought I would be well into a career by now…but what is 1-2 years of my life if this treatment actually helps? Do I want a full time job where I am struggling and spending evenings and weekends in hospital or prison cells? Or do I want to focus on treatment, get myself sorted, and then focus on my career? In the long-term this could be the best decision I have made. I will be fully dedicating myself to treatment this time…rather than doing treatment plus university. This time I am going to give it everything. If I am taking a year or two out, I am going to make it worth it. While I do want to find part-time work, the part-time work will have to be second on my list of priorities.

So now I just need to work out how to get myself ready for returning so that I don’t get chucked out for a second time!

PLAN.

We also had some interesting conversations regarding diagnosis which I might write about another day, and it was raised that my exercise might be becoming excessive and/or obsessive and how to manage that.

It has been one of ‘those’ weekends

I guess I should know by now when things are deteriorating. It had been happening for a few weeks. I should also know by now that a holiday plus a bank holiday plus being alone would make things escalate. I guess sometimes I hide from the facts and hope that if I cover my ears enough and ignore the signs, it will all be ok.

And it is all ok. I am sat here writing this because things feel safe now. I can see now, that in many ways, the last four days could help me forward. But it does not mean it had to be that way. That I had to go through what I have just been through in order to make progress or feel ‘better’. I could have chosen to intervene sooner, but I succumbed to the darkness and it could have turned out differently. It is turning out ok. I have “survived”. I am taking positive steps now, but there was the risk this would not be the case.

I know. It sounds like I am talking in code. And I am. I do not really want to publish the in’s and out’s of what I am talking about, for a multitude of reasons. Let’s say, I was not in a great place between Friday and today. It was horrible, but one of the worst parts is coming out of it, and thinking “Girl, why did you put yourself through that? Why have you just thrown away four days of your time?”

Because everything stopped mattering. I stopped doing my university work, so I am behind my schedule I created for myself. I have messed up my sleep routine, which was not exactly great to begin with. I have damaged myself, physically and emotionally. I have withdrawn from people and just, life. It happened slowly, over a few weeks. It was not that bad at the start, it became gradually worse and then suddenly bad. It is hard because I should have taken myself and my thoughts more seriously before it got worse, but I just hoped it was going to get better by itself, somehow.

I entered a really dark place, and I do not know where it would have gone if I had not picked myself up. I mean, I guess I do know where it would have gone, but I don’t want to say it.

The ‘thing’ that broke the self-destruction was a dream. It was not an interesting dream. It was a very boring dream, if we are defining exciting dreams as being beyond the realms of ‘normal’ life. I never used to remember dreams or nightmares often. But since I have been on nicotine patches I have started to. To be honest, it is mostly a bad thing, to remember my dreams. But not last night.

I dreamt I was starting back at work. I am returning to where I did my internship for 5-6 months part-time. I dreamt about that. It was my first day back I think, or definitely first week or two. I was sat at my desk doing some work, and then a staff member came to talk to me, followed by one other, I think. We were just chatting about work and stuff going on, and I was laughing and happy.

I woke up this morning thinking about it.

It felt like a reason to fight.

So here I am. Fighting.

Between rock bottom and recovery.

Everyone talks about rock bottom, and talks about being better but it feels like nobody talks about the in-between. Everyone talks about rock bottom as being this one particular solid place you hit. This one particular solid place you hit right before you get better.

I have spent some time searching online to find something I could read that did not just talk about this, but nothing seems to really come up. I want to understand. I want to be understood. How do I manage this stage? How do I put it into words? How do other people do this? I want to read someone else’s words, and feel less alone.

I cannot find them.

I do not know if it is specific to certain mental illnesses, like borderline personality disorder, which are more long-term and up and down, up and down… but rock bottom for me is not one time or one place, nor does it always look how you would imagine.

I have the kind of rock bottom times you read about a lot when people talk about their mental illness. The hospital admissions following serious attempts at harming or killing myself, like New Year. On December 30th I took all of my prescription medication I had been collecting, and I woke up in hospital on January 2nd. I think about that a lot. I woke up with no recollection of the paramedics taking me to the hospital, and no recollection of being in hospital. I woke up in a different year. To this day I have no idea where I was in the hospital or what treatment I had. That sounds like a rock bottom place, right? The sort of rock bottom you read about and think “Oh my, that is bad.” The sort of rock bottom that would make a good real life story. Or what about when I sat with my legs over the edge of a multi-storey car park? That was definitely a rock bottom kind of moment. Sadly what made it rock bottom for me was the fact that fear was forcing me to stay alive. It was a moment where I realised I had little choice in living, and walking down from the car park was far from a moment where it all clicked and I suddenly wanted to be alive. I took three more overdoses instead, and ended up in hospital on a drip each time. One time I ended up in the psych ward. It must have been awful, right?

And it was.

But this world between rock bottom and recovery is worse, I think. It is longer. It requires so much more. It is painfully slow. The bad times are horrific. I wish I could point out a particular time and say this was rock bottom and that it does not get any worse; but rock bottom is not some fixed tangible place. Rock bottom is where you make it. For me, the car park does represent a rock bottom, but rock bottom could have gone further. It could have changed. It could easily have ended up being somewhere else.

I hate that rock bottom moments in people’s stories within the media need to have the shock element to make them newsworthy. I mean sitting on the edge of a multi-storey car park and being found by security was pretty rock bottom. And people would be interested in that, maybe shocked, and sad. People are not so bothered about the in-between world.

The world where I do not wash for days upon days. The world where the sofa and my bed are the only two places I feel ‘safe’ (and I do not really feel safe at all). Nobody is so bothered about the nights when I cry myself to sleep, miss deadlines, withdraw myself from everything and everyone, or have to seek emergency support to stop me from self-harming, or overdosing, or finding myself back on top of the car park. It is not so interesting when the person does not actually do anything. I think people think it means it is not so bad, or perhaps I wrongly assume that. But it does feel that way. That by not hurting myself, things must be better or easier or somehow less painful.

I will tell you now, not hurting myself is much more painful than hurting myself.

It is like with eating disorders. Everyone is fascinated and interested in shocking images of underweight bodies. Stories that tell readers that this girl was on deaths door. They would be interested in the parts of my story where I would not even drink water or brush my teeth for fear of gaining weight. The bits where I ended up in hospital. People are less fascinated by the battle of eating, but eating any way. The battle of not wanting to gain weight, but gaining any way. They think that means that the problem is better, or easier, or perhaps even over.

Everyone with an eating disorder knows that is not true. I have not had any serious issues with my weight or eating, apart from small lapses, in years. It does not mean it has gone away, but nobody is really bothered that I had two months where things got a bit worse again and I lost a bit of weight. Nobody is really bothered that I struggle to eat out, or eat the exact same things every single day. It is not life or death stuff.

My previous psychiatrist was the first professional who made me feel like there was someone in my life that knew that gaining weight, eating more, and not hurting myself, was the harder option. I recall some of the things she said. She told me that I did not need her support to destroy myself, that I had proven I was perfectly capable of doing that by myself. She told me to eat, was to choose the harder path. She told me that to not take an overdose, to not cut my skin, was harder than giving in. She saw my weight going up, and she did not think everything was fine. She knew it was not. She knew inside I was falling apart.

By her understanding this, she probably saved my life a million times. Her understanding of the struggles I was facing when I was doing all of the “right” things, is what kept me doing the right things even when they felt incredibly wrong. If she had thought that my weight gain meant I was happy and absolutely fine, I would not have been able to explore just how difficult it all was. I would have kept it all inside, and I would have, in the end, gone back to restricting and losing weight. Her understanding that I needed her support most when I was looking after myself, and keeping myself safe, helped me to keep going. If she had assumed things were great purely on the basis that I had not self-harmed since she had last seen me, I would have slipped backwards.

The biggest thing I have ever needed to get better, is for someone to recognise that “getting better” is more painful and more hard work than not. That the time I needed the most support was when I was fighting against the thoughts inside of my brain. A brain that is very often trying to kill me. All I have ever needed is someone to see that I am managing to look after myself, but still sit in front of me and tell me they know I am not ok.

Right now I am in a good place with my eating. A genuinely good place, but that is not to say my eating disorder is not present every single day, it is. There are some real shit times still; probably at some point every day. But I have gained so much knowledge and understanding, and so much help, that even now my previous psychiatrist is no longer present in my life, in the moments where I could easily slip backwards, I hear her words in my head. They are no longer just her words, they are mine too. Her retirement did not hit me that hard. I wondered why for a while, but then I remembered something she said; that one day I would have got what I needed from her and be ready to move on. I got what I needed, and it is inside of me for life. I am ready to move on and work on the rest of my issues elsewhere.

The self-harm and suicidal thoughts side of things is a work in progress. Bloody slow progress. Painfully slow. Sometimes so slow I feel like I am sinking. My focus right now is on stability and I swear to god I am sick of hearing that word. I head the word ‘stable’ and my eyes automatically roll back. I have, in the last week or so, come to acknowledge that right now I am not really aiming to “get better” as such. Not really better. Right now I am aiming to survive. I know, it sounds defeatist and depressing, but it is not. Not for me. I mean, just surviving is crap. But it is also essential. Sometimes, temporarily, it has to be enough. Sometimes just surviving is brilliant. My plan is to survive for now; to be stable and reduce/minimise/stop my destructive behaviours. The “getting better” bit will come after that. Aiming for my end goal right now just leaves me feeling deflated and defeated. Aiming to cope and survive is best for me right now. It means that I do not feel disappointed in myself for still feeling so god damn sad every single day.

My biggest realisation is that the help I could return to mirrors (I think and hope) the attitude and understanding of my psychiatrist; that not engaging in a behaviour is much harder than engaging (or a different kind of hard at least). And that support is still VERY much needed after someone stops hurting themselves regularly. And my belief that the people who I might return to for help in the future know this, gives me an insane amount of hope, and an insane amount of trust, in them and in eventually getting myself where I want to be. I just hope that everyone can find someone who gets this, and if you can’t, I hope you can be brave enough to tell someone, and give them that chance to be the person who supports you when you are roaming in the no mans land between “ill” and “recovered”.

rock bottom

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#TimetoTalk 2017

It is #TimetoTalk day tomorrow.

‘Time to Talk’ day is held by the mental health movement ‘Time to Change‘, which aims to change how people think and act about mental health to reduce isolation, and feelings of shame or worthlessness.

‘Time to Talk’ day tackles the difficulty of being able to be open about mental health problems by supporting people to be able to take the time to talk and listen.

For someone with a mental health problem talking can be a complicated issue. There is wanting to be open and honest Vs the fears of being judged and treated differently. There is wanting to share your struggles and experiences Vs wanting to maintain privacy. There is wanting to raise awareness and reduce stigma Vs not knowing what, nor how much, to say.

Talking is important. Being able to talk if you want to is particularly important; but I have to highlight that it is OK for you to choose how you approach this. Some people are private, some people are open, and many are somewhere in-between. There is no right or wrong way to talk about mental illness. We all share different things with different people; some people find strangers easier to talk to, some people prefer to talk to a select few. Some people talk online to raise awareness, but do not talk about it in their day-to-day lives.

Talking to raise awareness is incredibly important, but this does not mean you have to talk about anything you do not want to. The point of this campaign is to help people, not pressure them. You might just want to raise general awareness, rather than divulge personal information. Finding how you want to use your experiences and voice is a journey that takes time.

The reality is though, that despite amazing improvements in public understanding of mental illness, there remains stigma attached to having a mental disorder. There can still be feelings of shame attached to struggling with something that is both extremely common, and also not the your fault.

The biggest thing we need everyone to understand is that nobody is immune from mental health problems. The chances of you knowing a friend, family member, or colleague with a mental health problem is high. One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Not having a mental health problem right now does not make you immune. Having a great career, great family, good income, or anything else does not make you immune neither. Just become someone “looks fine” does not mean they do not have a mental health problem.

Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect everyone. 

Sadly it often takes personal experiences to fully understand the impact and reality of life with a mental illness. It often takes having, or knowing someone with a mental illness, to make people take an interest – but mental illness should be something on everyone’s agenda.

“The way you act towards someone with a mental illness can change their life: by opening up to mental health you can make a real difference. ”

Time to Change

Mental illness is a disability, but with the right treatment, understanding, empathy and adjustments, it does not have to be disabling.

For ideas on how to get  involved with #TimetoTalk visit the website here.

If you have not yet signed the ‘Time to Change’ pledge and joined the 96675 other peopple who have, do so now!