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.

Advertisements

Just keep swimming!

Pretty good quote from Disney there.

When I last posted on here I thought I was coming out of a blip, and then said blip continued. I 100% thought I could positive think myself out of the hole. I don’t really recall what happened but it worked very temporarily, perhaps a day, and then things became worse again. I ended up in hospital a couple of more times, but only overnight…and then slept a lot in the day time. I mean positive thinking is vital and I 100% believe that what we think, we become. That being said mental illness and being low is not exactly the same as being negative, and positive thinking can only do so much. I think when you are at rock bottom, it takes more than positivity to help you, but once you are beginning to feel a little better, positivity can really help.

Things are better now though! I went through a couple of days at the weekend where I was looking after myself better, but I felt incredibly low, which is the usual process after a blip. It’s like you are letting go of the ways you have been coping, so it’s relatively “normal” to feel a bit rubbish and it’s a lot like when you have been physically ill and it takes a few days to get your energy back, but here we are!

I can’t say I am entirely sure how things have turned around. On Friday I was in A&E from about 3am-7am…but I was determined to still go to work, but then I fell asleep. I was so angry with myself when I woke up. I woke up 15 minutes before I was due at the hospital for an appointment that I was planning to go to on my lunch break. I had to practically run to the hospital and I was not exactly wide awake. The clinic was running an hour late, and I basically slept in the waiting room for another hour and then saw them. They asked a lot of questions and were worried about me, so they wanted me assessed by the crisis team but I managed to avoid it. I walked home in a daze and really disappointed in myself. I think sometimes you get to the point where you are drained, tired, and sick of letting yourself down. I spoke to the mental health team I am under for a planned phone call and I attempted to act “fine”…but the plastic surgeons, police and the university mental health team had all contacted them within a day so the “I’m fine” routine didn’t work. When I got home I rested all afternoon/evening, and my pain levels were so high that even with prescription painkillers, I was struggling. It helped me to keep safe because the idea of more pain was, to be honest, intolerable.

I am still on extra meds, plus the pain killers and antibiotics. Apparently it’s harder to get antibiotics these days but I swear I’m given them so often! It can’t be healthy!

I’ve been to work, and the gym for the last 3 days. On Monday I saw my MA supervisor, and I’ve also been super challenging myself with food. At home especially. I had been eating the same things every day for all meals including my evening meal, and then having set rules about lunch at work that I won’t go into, but I’ve had different meals every evening, eaten foods I haven’t eaten in a long time (cheese, avocado, salmon, cous cous, houmous, crisps and more), and also eaten different things at work. Every time I start panicking about it and my head wants to go back to eating the same old things I actually get really angry with the thoughts and I feel like, and excuse the swearing, “f**k you, you don’t get to dictate my life any more” and I love it when I am able to have this attitude.

I actually feel like my recovery from my eating disorder has had two stages; stage one was forced treatment as a child, stage two was actively choosing to “recover” as an adult, and I feel like I am entering a third stage where I am no longer accepting what I previously have. I’ve not been “ill” in terms of my anorexia for a few years, but I have been making a deliberate effort to keep my weight at or just below the target weight range eating disorder services set for me, doing as much cardio as possible, eating at certain times, eating the same foods, avoiding a lot of foods and other similar things…and I feel like I am beginning to challenge that.

If I gain more weight, who cares?! I’d rather be happy. Just because my current weight is what I need to be to be regarded as “healthy”, doesn’t mean it is my bodies healthy weight. I mean BMI isn’t the most reliable of measures, everyone’s weight/BMI varies, and a minimally healthy weight doesn’t have to be the end goal. A BMI of 20 is healthy, but so is a BMI of 21-24. I choose a little extra weight, happiness and being able to eat dessert any day! More than that, I choose being mentally healthy over spending my life restricting what I eat, not eating things I enjoy and having to put so much energy into not gaining weight. There are far better things to be putting so much effort into, and some food is good for your body, some food is good for your soul!! A healthy body is important, but so is a healthy mind.

I am a big believer in lifestyle changes for anyone who has weight related issues, rather than dieting. I am a big believer in body acceptance – body positivity is great, but actually you don’t have to love your body all of the time, but you can accept it and not criticise every aspect of your appearance. I despise the money making diet industry. I despise the guilt that so many women (and men), feel over their bodies and what they eat. I despise body shaming of any description albeit fat shaming, or thin shaming, and I absolutely hate that some people feel they have to adhere to certain standards. I hate that we are bombarded with messages such as ‘fat is bad’, ‘low calorie = healthy’, and ‘no pain, no gain’ – and I want to practice what I preach!

AMEN.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

.