Katie

This post is a little different to the others, as Katie herself has not herself suffered from a mental health disorder. Many of you reading this are probably the same – 75% of you do not have a mental health disorder. But with 25% of people experiencing mental health problems each year, it is likely that you will live with/know/date/be friends with someone who experiences these issues. Katie explains what it was like growing up with a mother with serious depression. You can find Katie on Instagram

Depression isn’t something that occurs for a month or two. It is a constant feeling of sadness with no hope of getting better. Some people suffer from depression for many years or maybe most of their life. At times, when you live with someone with a mental illness, it leaves you feeling lonely, angry, insecure and upset.

My mom has had a mental illness for my entire life (and I’m 23). Living with a parent with mental illness is hard, challenging, discouraging and lonely.  A parent with depression is hard to explain to someone that hasn’t lived with them. It’s not something my family has really talked about but it’s like there is an elephant in the room but no one wants to go near it.

When I was younger, it was almost as if my mother wasn’t around. She slept a lot, missed out on my swim meets, practices, and getting to know me. There were times where I wouldn’t see my mom for a week because she was sleeping in her bedroom, away from the house and the world. This left me angry and hurt for many years. Little details about my life she didn’t know and it appeared she didn’t care. I would tell her either about my practices or my friends and it would go in one ear and out the other with no retention. Imagine being a 12-year-old and thinking your mother hated you and wanted nothing to do with you. I blamed myself for a while, maybe it was something I did or am doing. Or maybe it’s just me in general. I would see my other friends interact with their mothers and wish I had that. I wish I had someone to talk about my crushes with or have someone to teach me about makeup. Don’t get me wrong, my mom was there sometimes, but not all the time.

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It wasn’t until I was doing my undergrad that I started to gain more knowledge about depression. It was then that I decided to let go of the past and actively learn more about her illness. As I learned more I realised it wasn’t because she hated me or was embarrassed by me, it had nothing to do with me in fact. All those years of guilt, the need to be careful of what I said, and the hatred had been let go. I know that I will never fully understand what is occurring in her mind but I now have more patience and time for the illness. I’m not so quick to have an argument or get mad. However, this has also led me to distance myself from her. As she still has a mental illness, some of the issues I had when I was younger are still occurring. Little details in my life she doesn’t know and sometimes when I talk to her she chooses not to listen. The truth is, I have grown and learned from the experiences that occurred when I was younger. I do feel, however, the feeling of not being good enough will never go away. I was lucky though, I have a father that is my best friend and I can talk to. The only part I wish I could change is the fact my parents didn’t sit sat me down and explained depression to me.

Today, so many people speak up about their mental health issues but not many talk about the immediate impact of a loved one’s mental health on their family or friends. I think it’s important to realise mental illness affects more people than we know, not only those suffering personally.

My mom is not mean or hateful, but her mental illness makes me think at times she can be cold and unaware. I still wish my mom was my best friend but I wouldn’t be the strong independent person I am today if she didn’t have a mental illness. There are always going to be the good days and the bad days. I am trying to enjoy as many good days as I can. No one is perfect and life isn’t perfect. Everyone has their own insecurities and their own issues. It’s how we react or handle these is what matters. I hope one day she overcomes her mental health issues and can do everything she wants to without hesitation. Until then, I will keep being the supportive daughter that loves her mother very much. Through all the ups and downs she is my mother and I love her.

It can be hard knowing someone with mental health issues, and at times it can seem like they don’t care about you at all. When that person is very close to you it can really hurt when they push you away. Talking about mental health issues will help increase awareness so that those struggling feel more able to talk about their problem, hopefully leading to a more open and accepting society. 

Beth

I love this piece by Beth, which explains her experience of inpatient treatment for PTSD and depression. It’s so well written and I think a must read for anyone who fears seeking help for whatever reason, or has a friend who is the same. You can find Beth on Instagram

I spent the majority of 2011 in a psychiatric hospital. Eventually, I was discharged on my fifteenth birthday. The cook made me flapjack and I ate it with my mum in the communal food hall. Happy birthday and goodbye!

Seven years after, the surreal experience is still clouded by shame and ugliness. The recent discourse about mental health is that we need to be open and talk more.  Yet, it’s not an experience I know when, how or why I’d bring up. Now seems like a good time.

Before my admission, the depth of my knowledge of hospital was second-hand accounts and a grisly watching of Girl, Interrupted. Hospital, however, was much less Girl, Interrupted and more boarding school with mentally ill teenagers (this is paraphrased from another patient, but it’s the best description). If I had known this before, I probably wouldn’t have hidden in my room on the first night.

I was initially diagnosed at thirteen with depression, and later post-traumatic stress disorder. My triggers were easy to trace, but felt hard to talk about or treat: the death of my father and being sexually assaulted. I had a mix of relatively helpful to completely useless talking therapies, CBT, art therapy and medications. My advice now: say when therapies aren’t working. Don’t waste your time and health when there are different options.

My admission followed a half-hearted suicide attempt (it’s easier to ask for help) and a week stay in a general hospital. To be admitted, I was interviewed by nurses in the hospital and then transferred to the psychiatric ward. There, more interviews. Psychiatrists, doctor, nurses and occupational therapists. It was intimidating, exhausting and I’d told multiple people various traumatic events over and over. I felt terrified, and alone. They told me, you are here voluntary. But if you want to leave, we will section you. Plus, this is a locked unit.

After being admitted, my mum had to leave. I’d never been away from home before. I curled up in fluffy owl pyjamas and cried. My first night’s cry was interrupted by other inpatients game of knock, knock ginger. Like, I said, hospital is not like Girl, Interrupted.

Hospital was bizarre, amusing and embarrassing. On a day out with occupational therapy kayaking, I nearly capsized and drowned another patient, I had an endless collection (to this day) of stickers for daily ‘arts and crafts’, my care team confiscated pencils sharpeners for being a ‘risk’ (colouring is hard with blunt pencils). Hospital, for me, provided a safe space for me to be ill. It provided me with access to care. I was with other patients and I didn’t have to pretend. Hospital can help you if you need it.

Hospital was hard and lonely. Observation initially included fifteen minutes, arduous checks. Yes, I’m okay. I never said anything else. Struggling to get up for morning breakfast, drowsy with meds. Nurses checking your tongue to see you aren’t spitting meds out. Missing family, school, and friends. I longed for visiting hours. My mum would take me to a Costa nearby. A Tiffin and a hot chocolate was an essential part of my care plan.

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The treatment was intense. I had weekly meetings with a psychiatrist who would assess me (somewhat brutally and painfully, I used to believe) and a doctor for medication. I had intensive trauma therapy; three, long sessions a week. Family therapy, too, which makes my toes curl now. Recovery and treatment is hard, but you’re health is worth the hard work.

Now, I have a supportive, loving relationship, I’m achieving at university, and I live independently in my flat and am surrounded by beautiful people. This is not to say I don’t struggle. I rely on my anxiety medication, I feel debilitated by self-doubt and I’m constantly pushing to be kinder to myself, to let go, and to counter the constant negativity. Hospital was valuable in finding better coping strategies. This advice is out there already: but for me, hospital confirmed it and I hope it’s helpful.

Ground yourself:  Self-care can definitely ground you. However, hospital had more on this. At the time, this was the worst advice I’d ever heard and I scoffed and took it personally. In group therapy, we were told that when we had low moods, read the news, current affairs. I thought the sentiment was “some people have it worse”. It wasn’t, and no one needs to hear that. But mental illness can isolate you and take up your whole focus. Looking outside of that reminded me that pain is an experience humans share. I wasn’t alone. It enabled me to understand pain as a normal experience of being human.  

Be kind: This is, of course, something we hear a lot. Be kinder to yourself. In hospital, I gained four stone (it was primarily an eating disorder unit and I was happy to keep up with the meal and snack times). I ignored family and friends. I was horrible to my mum. I was so hard on myself for this. It’s not necessary, recovery is difficult and takes a lot. Be kind, focus on getting better.

Shame has no place in your life: Get it out, get rid of it. No thank you. Tell people you’re down. Overshare. For such a long time, it felt easier to pretend it wasn’t happening. Yes, I’m okay. Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, your scars are nothing to be ashamed of.

You don’t need a justification: The recurrent themes of my observation notes were ‘lacks confidence and self-belief’.  I remember thinking, so? Doesn’t everyone? I felt wholly inadequate, never ill enough, to be there. How ridiculous is it that I couldn’t see the blinding contradiction – even in hospital, a botched suicide later, I thought I’m not good enough to be here. You deserve treatment, you deserve help, and you deserve love. You don’t need to justify your mental illness, you don’t need to find a reason, and you need to know you deserve to feel better.

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This has to be one of my favourite pieces written for this series, as it so eloquently describes Beth’s experiences of hospital and the many thoughts of people with mental health issues. Mental health can be funny sometimes – when you’re at your lowest point that’s sometimes when you see things without a filter, and there can be a sort of dark humour in those moments. Thank you Beth for writing this!

Hazel

This post was written by Hazel, who bravely sent it to me to shed light on a rare condition called selective mutism. There are so many mental health conditions out there, and I think it’s so important to understand that although these are ‘invisible illnesses’, anyone could have them. You can find Hazel on Instagram

 

Imagine being back in school, in a group of your classmates. Now imagine that every time you want to speak, you go over it hundreds of times in your head. Imagine worrying about what you’re about to say every time you speak. Imagine knowing that you want to speak making you physically shake and feel sick, your heart beat so fast you can hear it, and the conversation goes on without you. As you’ve nearly got the courage to speak, you realise the conversation has moved on and it’s too late. You realise you’ve not spoken that day at school, maybe even that week. Every lesson you sit there terrified the teacher will pick on you. Even saying yes to the register is something you think about constantly, not being able to concentrate until it’s over. No one wants to sit with you because you don’t speak – you’re at best ‘boring’ and at worst ‘weird’. You’re too scared to eat in front of others and leave your packed lunch untouched, even though your stomach is rumbling, and wolfing it down once you’re alone on the bus home. That was my experience for my 5 years at secondary school, every single day. It’s not that I refused to speak; I literally couldn’t. And it was only more recently that I learnt it was an actual, rare psychiatric condition – Selective Mutism.

I was always a quiet child, and teachers always claimed I’d ‘grow out of it’. Now, anyone with social anxiety knows that isn’t true. As I got older the severity lessened to the point I would talk to a small group of friends and started to go to parties etc by sixth form. But I’d still stand outside classrooms feeling sick if I had to walk in late, knowing people would look at me. I’d still sometimes be too scared to go and sit with my friends, thinking they didn’t like me or I wasn’t fun enough. Any group conversation I had I’d still rehearse; my voice would go shaky and I’d feel a massive adrenaline rush afterwards. So much so that I’d often be so deep in my thoughts I’d lose track of the conversation entirely. Social anxiety is arguably a very selfish mental illness as in you think about yourself a lot – how you act, feel, are perceived by others. I often cancel plans last minute because I’ve spent hours crying about having to go outside.

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Moving to university was something I knew I had to do – to remove myself from my very safe feeling home environment and try to conquer my fears and finally make proper friends. I went out a lot and met a lot of new people. I loved my housemates. I started feeling like I was ‘over it’. This came crashing down in my second year when I felt unable to go to lectures, spent hours alone in my room crying and even began to cut my arm with a razor in a bid to shock myself out of particularly bad panic attacks. Pain was the only way to get out of my own head. I claimed this was a burn, a cut, and being clumsy no one ever questioned it. I’d go out and drink far too much, feeling too awkward unless I was blackout drunk. I ended up in hospital three times, and it could have been much, much worse. The embarrassment combined with the depressant effect of alcohol just made my anxiety worse, which was such a vicious cycle. I spent hours and hours crying to my boyfriend at the time, hating the way I looked, and the slightest thing could set me off. I wouldn’t meet his friends or go out when it’s be more people than just us. Feeling so self-conscious and low I knew I had to get help or lose him.

Having CBT and starting to take anti-anxiety medication was how I began to fight social anxiety, after suffering for over 10 years. I still sometimes shut down and want to be alone – being around groups of people or even close friends/housemates can be exhausting. But getting hep was the best thing I ever did, and I’m not sure I’d be about to graduate without it. I always saw people who turned to medication as weak, which is a stigma which needs to end. Mental health is something we need to speak about, and as the first time I’ve shared this to anyone, this is me saying that I refuse to feel embarrassed about my mental health.

Thanks so much to Hazel for sending this in! Sending all my love xx

Eleanor

This post was written by Eleanor as part of my #MentallyWealthy series. Elly has bipolar disorder, and writes about how exercise has helped her cope. You can find Elly on Instagram.

Feeling “hyper” is an exciting feeling, right? Your energy is skyrocketing and your thoughts going 100mph. Experiencing a change in mood and energy levels is completely human. But imagine that instead of those hyper periods lasting for an hour or so, it’s two weeks. And then after that the depression comes. It feels like it will never end. Eventually it does, but then the hypomania comes again.

There are two types of Bipolar Disorder, I’m going to talk about type II and how fitness has been the biggest part of my recovery. I’d like people to see that having a mental illness doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t choose how you want to live with it, that you can pursue your passions and find your sense of self again.

Since I can remember, I have loved being active. I love the challenge of sport and putting my competitive mindset to good use. I started athletics when I was 9, figure skating at 12, and loved to climb mountains. But alongside this kid that was smiley and happy, I also had mood swings and slept very badly.

At the age of 16, I started experiencing severe depression. I didn’t want to tell people what was going on in my head for fear of being seen as anything other than a happy person, thinking I was imposing negativity on others. I also held onto the false belief that people wouldn’t care anyway.

When I got to college I struggled; sleep was constantly a problem, the workload was more intense and as a result I was even more angry with the world for not letting me sleep. I was in and out of hospital whilst getting support from CAMHS and then the Adult Mental Health service. My identity felt like it was gradually eroding away: I couldn’t maintain my studies, social commitments were impossible to keep and what had previously been my passion in sport, I started to resent and then give up. It felt like a joke to hear “it’ll get better” after years of feeling like I was fighting to get out of a black hole that was invisible to everyone else around me. And I was tired of fighting.

Before university, I was diagnosed as Bipolar Type II. After numerous medications, we thankfully found some that worked for me. It isn’t completely certain what causes individuals to have Bipolar Disorder, but genetic and environmental factors can play a large part.

I started athletics again while I was getting used to this new medication. At the time, for me, it was the perfect way to feel physically tired, focus my mind on learning new skills and for the endorphins that followed. I also started surfing, and it truly felt that exercise was another form of medication supplying my brain with the “happy” chemicals I couldn’t produce myself. It was a way of connecting my mental state with my physical body and it made me feel like myself again.

There are times when exercise doesn’t make you feel instantly better, and maybe you lose a little hope. But doing something that will benefit you in both the short and long-term can seriously help to make low moods pass. On the flip side, it is also a productive way to use any extra energy you have.

In hypomania my brain becomes wired in overdrive; I plan out massive unachievable things, my behavior changes and decisions I make can be risky or even dangerous. But when exercise is introduced, my mind is focused on one thing: whether this is running, lifting weights or surfing. It can be a way to work through a multitude of feelings and get your head space back to a safer place, and it was the biggest part of my recovery.

I still have times when I feel incredibly low or have unusually high levels of energy. Acknowledging these feelings is the first step: know that it is okay to feel down, hyper, happy, fatigued and that all of these feelings eventually pass.

Thanks so much to Elly for sending this in!

Jemima

This post was written by Jemima, who has suffered from anorexia for the past four years. Whilst she has not been vocal about her story in the past, I love that she is using this opportunity to open up about her struggles and share the realities of living with anorexia, what is often ‘glamourised’ on social media. You can find Jemima on Instagram

“Loss of appetite for food, an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat”. That is the online definition given for Anorexia Nervosa. However, the reality of it is a million times more complex than that. I mean, if you’re ill surely you want to get better? Whilst that’s true imagine having your mind in two parts, the rational side and the irrational side. Every second of the day is a battle between the two, the rational side yearns for nutrition to get well again, whilst the irrational side is telling you “you’re not really that sick” “that’s far too much” “the guilt of eating that won’t be worth it” “everyone’s over exaggerating” “just lose a little more”. This fight is what presents itself from the moment I wake to the moment I sleep. That’s why the above definition is so inaccurate, it’s never as simple as “just eat!” – if it were I can assure you that I would have beaten this four years ago.

I’ve never said anything publically about my battle with Anorexia Nervosa, but thinking about it recently I’ve realised that I’m only fuelling the stigma by staying quiet. Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. Kevin Breel vocalised the issue with the stigma surrounding mental illness saying, “We live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast. But if you tell people you’re depressed, everyone runs the other way… We are so, so, so accepting of any body part breaking down other than our brains, and that’s ignorance, pure ignorance. That ignorance has created a world that doesn’t understand depression, that doesn’t understand mental health.”

Two years ago Anorexia landed me a hospital admission robbing me of my dream gap year job, last year it robbed me of my university dream at St Andrews. In January 2017 I was told that if I carry on as I am I will soon be dead. That’s the reality of it, despite the fact that Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, people still don’t seem to recognise it can be fatal.

Anorexia does not only kill the sufferer, it also destroys those around them having to sit and watch helplessly. Anorexia is not simply wanting to be thin or the desire to get attention or any of the other misconceptions. My Anorexia is a yearning for control, when paradoxically it’s taking all my control. It’s seeing people being restrained and tubed, people crawling down corridors crying in pain as their bones have got too weak, its being physically present but mentally consumed 24/7 by food and weight thoughts, it’s having your entire mood and worth dictated by the number on a scale, it’s hot water bottle burns all over your body. It’s appointments, weekly blood tests & ECGs. It’s seeing your parents and siblings bursting into tears of despair and fear, your twin sister who came into this world with you watching you kill yourself unable to stop you. Anorexia is the most isolating, deceiving and manipulative disease. That is the reality of it… and the toughest part is, only the one suffering with it can change things.

I know that I am still far off recovered, but I felt that there was little point in me keeping quiet for the fourth year running. Social media is brilliant at helping us all create a façade to others that we feel great all the time and have everything together. But that is its unhealthy side; it’s the false pretence we all put on. So today, for the first time, I want to use social media to effect positive change, to show that despite all my photos etc. I don’t have it all together, I’m currently not okay. I hope that in posting this it may inspire others to speak out about mental health or to feel less alone.

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Thank you so much to Jemima for writing this! If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email florabeverley@gmail.com. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!

Chloe

This post was written by Chloe’s a letter to her depression. So often we focus solely on the negative aspects of mental health and whilst there are so many, it’s often nice to remember what it’s taught us. This is why I’ve shared this post as part of my #MentallyWealthy series, as it really embodies the reason for the series. You can find Chloe on Instagram
 

In honour of mental health awareness week, I wanted to write this post to show how I look at mental health from a different view.

I experienced it to varying degrees for a number of years so it’s taken me a while to get to this point but I want people to know that being diagnosed and being given those labels like depression and anxiety by a doctor don’t have to be the end. They can help explain the situation but they should never define you.

Rather than explaining all the hardships and suffering associated from having a mental illness, I now reflect on it and say thank you for all the challenges that it brought me and all that it’s taught me. So here’s my letter to my mental illness, which I’m proud to say is now a memory of the past.

Dear depression,

Thank you for everything, for it has lead me here today.

Thank you for all the days you made it hard to leave the house because every time I did, it proved to me I could overcome fear and prove something wrong. Every day I turned up to school or work, taught me a little more that no matter what, I can always show up.

Thank you for all the times you made me doubt my worth because it has made me realise it, build it and know that I am just as worthy as anyone else.

Thank you for all the times you made me cry through sadness, doubt and guilt because you took all those tears away and got all the sore, red, puffy eyes out the way and left me with fresh, if slightly baggy, morning eyes now and just tears of happiness.

Thank you for all the sleepless nights because now I take comfort and am grateful for all the nights I fall asleep easily and rest peacefully until the morning, even if I do have to get up for a wee…

Thank you for all the times you shamed my body and looked at it with disgust and hatred because you did that when it was different shapes and taught me that I have to love and embrace it all through the journey of it changing. I know now to focus on what I love and look to improve, rather than just crying and bring my reflection.

Thank for the times you teamed up with anxiety to make me nervous in social situations, making my heart race and encouraging me to hide because every time I stayed out, I won a little more and now I feel grateful to be excited to go out and even encourage social occasions.

Thank you for all the challenges you gave me because every one made me a little stronger and made other challenges in this life come a little easier.

Thank you for making me conform to other people’s ideals because now I feel so free to finally be able to be myself rather than being a chameleon to every situation, just wanting to blend in.

Thank you for teaching me that a doctors diagnosis doesn’t have to be forever, and I don’t have to wear or be defined by any label.

Thank you for sticking around for so long because you taught me never to give up and good things really to take time; that there is no quick fix to solve a big problem and with dedication and love I can do great things.

Thank you for all the problems you posed me with, because it gave me perspective and made a lot of things seem so small.

Thank you for the times you broke me right down to rock bottom. From there you left me lying on my back, so the only way I could look was up and realise that was the only direction for me to head in.

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So thank you for all you gave me, because it got me where I am today!

I love this post, so thank you so much to Chloe for sending it in!

If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email florabeverley@gmail.com. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!

Lauren

This post was written by Lauren as part of my #MentallyWealthy series for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018. Lauren is 18 months into her recovery from anorexia and shares her experience of the bumpy road of recovery. You can find Lauren on Instagram

Almost two years ago, I found myself in a toilet stall in Malaysia, on the phone to my parents back at home, verbalising for the first time that my mind no longer felt like my own. After a month away from home, the Anorexia that had been controlling me through much of my final school year had grown into spitting, skeletal monster that had wrapped itself around my brain, distorting my perception of everything around me. The relief I felt when I finally said the words out loud was unparalleled, and in the weeks following my return home I felt like progress was being made. I had accepted I had a problem. I was receiving the counselling and nutritional guidance I needed. University still seemed like a sensible goal come October. Surely, the gap from diagnosis to full recovery would be a matter of months?

Unfortunately, this was not the case. I spent large parts of my recovery being told that I was brave for talking about my illness, and that I had overcome the biggest hurdle by accepting that I was unwell. But for several months after my first counselling session, I continued to feel that surge of euphoria when I stepped on the scales and the number dropped. I continued to weigh out my food, count my steps and calories, continued to overexercise. Recovery is not the neat, brief process I had imagined it to be, and accepting I was unwell was not the most difficult part. In fact, it became a new tool for the Anorexia to use; if I had accomplished this step, there was no need to try new foods or gain the weight back. As long as I was talking to people about the fact that I was unwell, I didn’t actually need to do anything to address the problem. I ended up in a bizarre situation where I could openly discuss my plans for recovery whilst edging closer to hospitalisation; I took a twisted pride in my manipulation of the situation, kidding myself that I was fooling those around me into believing I was engaging in recovery even whilst I faded into a bruised and delusional skeleton.

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Recovery is not a smooth process, and it does not take mere months. I took an enforced gap year and when I finally reached university just over a year after my original diagnosis, it was not the experience I had been led expect from friends and the media. How to manage freshers’ week when you can’t bring yourself to drink alcohol for fear of ‘wasted’ calories? How to talk to someone you like when you are internally assessing every physical flaw you possess? How to deal with deadlines when you are too depressed to get out of bed? I made some fantastic friends, have a hugely supportive family and have medication to manage my depression, but first year has been a struggle. I have recently returned to counselling after verging on a relapse during exam season, and have been booked in for a bone density because I have not had a period in over two years. The fantasy of the rapid recovery I had talked about with my parents over the phone in Malaysia is laughable now, but not an uncommon perception. Mental health recovery is not smooth, it is not a journey of self discovery, it is not glamourous. I am still on antidepressants, still obsessed with food, still capable of spending hours at a time in front of a mirror dissecting my body. The body that may not be able to bear children because of what I have put it through, the body that I continue to berate and critique on a daily basis.

Recovery is the best thing I have ever done, but let no one tell you that it is not brutal. It is necessary. It is the only option, but it may take years and it will not be without struggle. Do not be cosseted by the notion that talking is enough; it is crucial, but you have to act on your words. I have to act every day to prevent the monster feeding on my hunger, and it is empowering, exhausting and exhilarating all at once. But it is a battle I am proud of and a battle that is happening in every country, city and home every day. You are more than your illness, more than your recovery and every action you take creates a new identity that is not defined by these things.

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A huge thanks to Lauren for sending me this post. Recovery, as Lauren mentions, is the only option following an Eating Disorder diagnosis, but unlike so many of the stories we hear, it’s not always the smooth road we (or our families) expect. 

If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email florabeverley@gmail.com. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!

Jemma

Jemma got in touch with me as she wanted to share what it feels like to have anxiety, and the issues a lot of people have in taking mental health seriously. There’s still a taboo that mental health is something you can just ‘get over’ and Jemma talks about why this is so flawed. You can find Jemma on Instagram

 

I want to be honest with you: for a long time, including before I ever suffered with it myself, I associated the term ‘anxiety’ with weakness. Physical ill health, like chicken pox or a broken leg is something beyond your control, but surely anxious or depressed people can just, like, be more positive and just try – right? Hahaha I wish. Anxiety is often defined as a ‘feeling of worry, nervousness or unease’, or a ‘strong desire or concern to do something or for something to happen.’

To me, anxiety seemed like Piglet from Winnie the Pooh, a small scared and maybe even slightly pathetic creature (no offence to Piglet he is still one of my favourite Winnie the Pooh characters.) Even when I first admitted to myself that I had symptoms of anxiety, this idea of ‘weakness’ still stuck with me, despite discovering for myself that ‘staying positive’ had little to no effect on the tirade of emotions, panic and fear going on in my head almost constantly. It turns out that having a mental illness is something beyond our control just the same as physical illness. Weird hey?I wish it was possible to just connect a wire into my brain and project everything that goes on in there onto some sort of hard-drive that could explain everything better than I can but until that’s invented all anyone really has is their own experiences, so I’ll try to explain mine.

  • Imagine giving a piggy back to a huge gorilla who is screaming in your ear constantly so you can’t move or think properly
  • Imagine that feeling when you’re `at the very top of a roller coaster that’s just started falling, you know, when your stomach feels like it’s going to come up out of your mouth?
  • Imagine a dark cloud just above your head which makes everything around you really harsh and bright, yet also dark and fuzzy at the same time – it makes no sense yet it’s still happening.
  • Imagine you’re trying to untangle a knot which no matter what you do will not loosen and it’s just so frustrating and you feel so useless and stupid for not being able to just undo a simple knot.
  • Imagine feeling constantly guilty and like you’ve forgotten something really important. That you’ve let someone down, but that person is everyone you have ever met and they all just really wish they had never met you.

These feelings were taking over my life constantly but there was no reason why this was happening. My life was good, my friends, family and boyfriend were and still are all amazing yet all I wanted to do was hide in my room in the dark day after day. This made the guilt worse and due to the fact that it was all in my head I felt as though I was making it up and wasn’t strong enough to just get over it.

Despite feeling this way almost constantly, the only time I was ready to tell a lot of my friends about having anxiety was when was I put on anti-depressants. I think this is because it made what was going on with me seem more valid, because how can you deny something that you’re taking pills for? It made it easier for me to talk about because I felt that people would have to take me seriously if a doctor had deemed me ‘serious’ enough to be medication-worthy.

Obviously this is a flawed way of thinking, yet I know I’m not the only person who has thought this way. This is representative of the fact that people generally find it hard to accept the fact that what goes on in our brain and how it can make us feel is just as much out of our control as whether or not you get a cold next week. This is why having the courage to talk about how you feel is so important. Also, having the courage to listen to someone is just as important, and accepting that what they say they are going through is valid, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.

Over time I have found that most people do want to at least try to understand what you’re going through, and it’s never anything to be ashamed of. If someone puts you down for how you feel then that really says more about them than it does about you. Another thing I’ve come to realise is that Piglet isn’t pathetic, he goes through hell every day and still carries on and I think that makes him pretty darn strong. You rock Piglet.

 

Thanks so much to Jemma for sending this in! I think it must be so hard for people to understand something they can’t see, and anxiety is one of those invisible things. Luckily the more people share their stories such as this, the more people will understand!

If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email florabeverley@gmail.com. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!

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Lucy

This post was written by Lucy, who got in touch wanting to share her experience with bipolar. It’s so eloquently written, too! This post was written as part of my #MentallyWealthy series, a series of blog post with the aim of sharing what it’s like to live with a mental health condition and how we cope. You can find Lucy on Instagram

 

For me living with bipolar is about thriving and not just surviving, it’s a condition I have but it doesn’t define me.

I suppose I had my ‘epiphany moment’ in early 2010 when I found myself in A&E at midnight in an incredibly distressed state with strong suicidal thoughts. The doctor on call said something incredibly profound to me…”just remember that you are braver than you believe and stronger than you seem”.  Little did I know he was quoting Winnie the Pooh to me until years later, but I credit that doctor with saving my life.

I was subsequently diagnosed with type I Bipolar Disorder, and upon reflection it had probably appeared in my early teens but it took over fifteen years to diagnose.  Once I had the diagnosis, I engrossed myself with learning as much as possible about the condition and how I could tackle it, as I believed it to be something I could “beat”.  I now know differently, I can’t beat a chemical imbalance in my brain and instead I embrace it.

To me, my condition is often a rollercoaster and one I have learned to, dare I say it, enjoy, which may seem slightly odd when one reads the pessimistic and gloomy views often associated with bipolar.  Yes, I am on daily medication to take away the extremes of the manic and depressive states but I have to say that now I have come to terms with it, I wouldn’t change it for the world.  My manic episodes have led me to travel and live in some incredible countries along the way, and I feel like I have lived. Bipolar can sometimes be a cruel mistress, but also one to embrace.  I feel so much more, and experiences take on a whole new dimension for me.  I can smell the fresh scent of a peony and it lights up my soul; on the flip side I can also put the best fake smile on known to man and hide the pain I feel inside. Would I trade the highs so I wouldn’t have to experience the lows?  Not in a million years.  The lows can be crippling and indeed terrifying, but now I have changed how I think about bipolar, it makes me feel alive as I am actually feeling something.  Often with the depressive state, I used to feel empty, numb and worthless but now I know I can turn a corner and soon it will be ok again.

Developing an early warning strategy to deal with the onset of a high or a low episode was key for me and I was fortunate to take part in the early trial of a monitoring programme (True Colours) run by a team in Oxford. Diet and exercise has been absolutely instrumental for me, even if some days I couldn’t walk further than the garden gate as I couldn’t bear to face the world.  At that time, I lived in a cottage in an incredibly rural spot with no neighbours so I’d have more chance of conversing with a deer than a person, but that’s how debilitating it was.  I have to credit my rather amazing husband with his endless research into the effects of diet and exercise on mental health, as it was something that wasn’t really talked about 8 years ago, it was medication or bust.  He noticed how much better I was if I had a diet consisting of lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, a consistent sleeping and waking routine, how I felt after I took our dogs for a long walk across the fields and even when he coaxed me into trail running (I am not a natural athlete, I can assure you). Sometimes I still need that reminder and even a bit of tough love when I’m heading on a downward path and I tell him that I’m struggling – he gives me a hug and then tells me to put my trainers on and that whilst I probably hate him at that precise moment in time, I’ll thank him later.  He’s usually right.

In October last year, I switched to an organic, whole food, plant based diet for a multitude of reasons, but the main focus for me was to see how it affected my mental health and it was incredibly positive.  Caffeine can trigger a manic episode for me, so out went my Diet Coke obsession and my ability to drink a phenomenal amount of tea in a day.  I also ditched alcohol as I noticed that had a negative effect on my mood.  I joined a gym to keep my exercise going through the winter as running round country lanes at 6am in the pitch dark can be slightly lethal, even when lit up like a Christmas tree.  I mix up my routine with HIIT sessions, weight training, yoga and my favourite still has to be going for a run in the great outdoors.  I’m following the ‘One You Couch to 5k’ plan again, and Sarah Millican keeps me going.

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Why did I ask Flora if I could write about bipolar? Well, largely because I finally want to speak out about it – I’m tired of having a condition I felt ashamed of for years and dealing with the social stigma surrounding it can be a minefield for everyone involved and quite frankly, it is exhausting.  I wanted to highlight the fact that it is not all doom and gloom, bipolar can be life changing and not actually for all the wrong reasons.  It has taken me a while to get to this point, but now I can embrace it and actually enjoy it.  Being able to truly understand my condition and thus subsequently manage it, is rather empowering. It has certainly been a journey so far, and it is a life I wouldn’t swap for anything.

Embrace it, nourish yourself, thrive in the experiences life throws at you, seek out adventure in everyday life and don’t just survive as you are worth so much more.

 

I love Lucy’s positive outlook on her condition. I, too, have developed a quasi ‘thankfulness’ for my depressive episodes, because they made me the person I am today, and whilst neither of us would probably wish these ‘disorders’ on others, there’s no reason not to accept and even celebrate the positives they can give us. Thanks so much to Lucy for sharing this with me. 

If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email florabeverley@gmail.com. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!

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Rose W

This article was written by Rose W as part of a series to raise awareness of mental health issues and break down the stigma that surrounds them. Rose started to suffer from depression and anxiety whilst at university, and shares her top tips for coping. You can find her on Instagram.

I thought I understood mental illness and I thought I was too strong to ever be affected by it. I was wrong. Throughout my teenage years, I watched as some of my closest friends battled various mental illnesses and eating disorders. I was determined to help them and support them for however long it took and I will never regret that. Being so close to mental illness growing up, I thought I had a pretty complete understanding of it by the time I went to university, but going into my second year, things started to change. I want to explain my experiences of poor mental health at university so that more people can recognise when to get help for themselves or their friends. Too many people suffer alone and it can have devastating effects.

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Around August 2016, I started to feel disconnected from my life. Things that would normally make me happy, such as seeing my friends, would make me feel tense and uncomfortable. Everything felt wrong and I convinced myself I just needed to get back to uni and everything would be fine. However, when I returned to uni in September, nothing changed. The more I struggled to feel happy, the more upset I became with myself. I would wake up convinced that something was seriously wrong. My heart rate was constantly elevated, breathing was hard, my skin felt wrong and I wanted to cry all the time. Despite watching my friends struggle with mental illness in the past, I didn’t recognise it in myself. I couldn’t focus on my work without feeling sick, I would sit with my friends and smile whilst feeling nothing but sadness. The longer it went on, the more I just wanted to sit in my room alone. Acting like I was happy was exhausting and I didn’t know how to tell my friends how hard it was to be around them. By the time I went home for Christmas, I was having panic attacks so severe I would throw up. Luckily my family saw instantly that something was wrong and took me to the doctors where I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression.

Through my experience with mental illness, I have struggled the most with maintaining friendships and my studies. So here are my tips for making the most of your university experience whilst fighting your mental illness:

  1. Talk to someone. That is so much easier said than done and there are still times when I cannot face having to talk to people but I promise you, it helps. Explaining to your friends and family how you are suffering will be a weight off your shoulders. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to people you know, try reaching out to a therapist and access the mental health services at your university. Fighting mental illness with the support of friends is so much easier. I’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by a fun and supportive group of people, and whether or not they have been conscious of it, they have all made my battle easier.
  2. Plan out your studies and give yourself time to relax. Getting too behind on your work will probably cause greater anxiety. Try to do as much as you can but if you find yourself unable to focus, then breathe and walk away. Work is important, but it is not more important than your mental health.
  3. Tell your university. They may be able to offer additional help, or at the very least, grant extensions on assignments. Often at least one of your professors will be more than understanding and having a member of staff willing to support you and speak to your other tutors will make your life easier.
  4. See the doctors. Having an official diagnosis helped me so much. I was able to learn more about my specific mental illness and how to start on the road to recovery. If the doctors suggest using medication, take it and do not be ashamed. You wouldn’t tell someone who needs glasses that their eyes could see perfectly fine without them, so if your brain needs some extra help to balance out, take it.
  5. Remember you are still worthy. You might feel like you are a burden, and that no one wants to be around you, but you’re wrong. Good friends will understand that for now, you’re struggling and they won’t leave you. Even if you are battling yourself, and find yourself hard to love, others will still love you. I met my boyfriend four months after being diagnosed and I was open with him about my mental illness. Almost a year later we are still together and going strong.

For anyone watching their friend suffer, please tell them you care. It seems simple, but when your own mind is betraying you, it is hard to see that people around you want to help. Today, please take the time to reach out to your friends, especially men, who suffer alone disproportionately. Do not let your friends suffer in silence. It’s time we ended the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Thanks so much to Rose for sending me this post. Mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of their knowledge of the issues themselves. Being self-aware is the first step towards acceptance and recovery, and there is no shame in getting help from others. I really like these tips for managing a mental health problem whilst at uni, a time when a lot of us suffer. 

If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email florabeverley@gmail.com. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!