Anon II

This piece is part of #mentallywealthy, a series of blog posts written by men and women who have suffered, or are suffering from mental health problems. The aim is to open up the conversation around mental health and give a voice to those suffering. To see more from this series head to the ‘Mental Health’ tab on my blog. 

It’s not about getting skinny; it’s not about looking a certain way. It’s about not being able to control the external world that surrounds me and so instead I control my internal world, or at least I think I am. Imagine waking up and taking 20 minutes to get out of bed because you feel too faint, too weak, too drained to carry yourself. Imagine having to start your day with the agonising thought of how much weight you’ve lost and having that determine your actions and self-worth for the day. Imagine having your twin sister have to bathe you at your worst point, witnessing your skeletal frame. Imagine having your little sister have to monitor your snacks and meals at school. Imagine having your parents and grandma cry at the sight of you and the thought that you may die in your sleep.

The worst point of my anorexia left me bound to a wheelchair and hooked to an NG tube. I became so frail I couldn’t walk, and I’d abused my body to the point where it couldn’t digest ‘normal food’ anymore. The internet glorifies anorexia in some way and the recovery alongside it. It doesn’t show you the god-awful side effects that come alongside it. An eating disorder is not skipping one meal, thinking you are fat or wanting to lose a few kilograms. It is a mental disease, one that controls your life and overpowers everything else that you once cared about. It transforms you into a different person, stealing your personality, happiness, friends and family and replaces them with fear, anxiety and loneliness. I have had so many occasions where I know I have an abundance of support around me but that voice in my head convinces me that I don’t need help and that it’s better to keep my struggles to myself. It doesn’t appear out of nowhere, it grows from so many different sources; for me personally being perfectionism, a fear of growing up and change, and living up to expectations. It drains your body, mentally and physically, and slowly but surely kills you … literally. Anorexia is the rotting away of your body, the emaciated skeleton you become, the complete withdrawal from life, the numbness of all feeling apart from guilt and crying. It is your fingers turning blue, your legs giving in whilst you walk, the endless hours of body checking and exercising, and nothing but emptiness seen in your eyes.

I have been suffering from anorexia nervosa for almost 7 years, in and out of hospitals, transferred multiple times between treatment teams and consultants. It terrifies me to think that all of my teenage years have been lost to this illness. I was diagnosed when I was 13 years old, and this year, I’ve turned 20. I never thought I’d reach this age and still have my eating disorder. Two seconds ago I was a teenager, just falling into the depths of anorexia, thinking I’d magically get better and be successful in life. Yet here I stand, 7 years later, still suffering, still counting every calorie, weighing myself multiple times a day and still consumed by my eating disorder.

I don’t know if I will ever recover, and if I do then when that’ll be. To anyone else suffering, You don’t have to be alone, find someone, anyone who will listen to you. Sure, there will be nights when you feel alone, some nights where you actually need to be alone but don’t leave yourself with no option but to be alone. Having someone there for you doesn’t mean they’ll understand what you’re going through, but just having someone to listen, to hold you whilst you cry, will give a sense of longing security. Don’t fall victim to your anorexia, don’t become part of the 1 in 5 who die from anorexia.

Read another post here.

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!

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!

Abi

This blog post was written by Abi as part of a series to raise awareness of mental health issues. Abi has anxiety and has suffered from various eating disorders and writes about why we need to start thinking of mental illness as similarly serious as physical ailments. You can find Abi on Instagram

I just want you to take a minute and think about someone you know, a friend or a family member who’s been physically hurt – maybe a broken leg or a sports injury – where you could visually see them in pain. Now imagine being that individual suffering, but suffering in silence – on the outside you may be smiling, but on the inside everything is shutting down.

The reality of mental health vs physical health is that they are just as important as one another. However mental health is overlooked due to the absence of physical symptoms. As a sufferer myself of anxiety, eating disorders and perfectionism, my mental health hit such a low that I couldn’t see a day I would smile again, laugh again or simply be happy in my own skin. Just because I may be smiling on the outside, it doesn’t mean the voices, rules and overpowering anxious thoughts aren’t crippling me from within. Just because I can’t put a plaster on it, or a doctor can’t visibly see my pain, it doesn’t mean I don’t lie in bed at night planning my meals, planning new rules, listening to this so called best friend in my head over-ruling my life, giving me the illusion of control but slowly taking everything, including control, away.

Apart from rambling on and explaining my personal journey – one which I am still travelling through today, the messages I want to get out of this are as follows…
  •  You, yes you, the person reading this. You are worthy. Worthy of help, worthy of happiness and worthy of everything you desire.
  • A problem shared is a problem halved – talking is the best medicine for mental health. You may not be able to put a plaster on it or stitch up the wound – but the more you talk, off-load and express your thoughts, the lighter, more at ease and less anxious you will feel.
  •  I like to describe my journey through anxiety, eating disorders and perfectionism like physiotherapy. It hurts, but the issue will only get better if you are persistent and battle through the pain. Ignore the voices, scrap the rules and ask for help.
  •  Finally, remember. It’s okay not to be okay.
Let’s break the stigma and all call out. Mental health is so important – never be afraid, because one day mental health will be just and important as physical health.
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Thank you to Abi for sending me this post. It’s so important to remember that just because your illness isn’t visible, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Slowly I think the tides are changing, but it takes brave people like Abi talking about their struggles to really make the change. 

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!

MHAW

Sabrine

This blog post was written by Sabrine Elouali as part of a series to raise awareness of mental health issues. Sabrine has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anorexia and writes about how this has affected her life. You can find Sabrine on Instagram

 

Be honest. Have you ever said you’re “so OCD” about something? Or perhaps that seeing a messy room triggers your OCD? If you stopped and sat down with a piece of paper, could you actually write a description of what OCD is? I can guarantee that pretty much 100% of people, if asked, wouldn’t be able to. In dedication to Mental Health Awareness Week, I am here to share my experience with OCD and how this mental illness has and continues to affect my life.

OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is categorised as an anxiety disorder, so sits amongst Generalised Anxiety and Phobias. The name of the illness itself is quite self explanatory. The sufferer has obsessions, which are patterns of overthinking and worries that can surround a multitude of topics. The most common that are identified when diagnosing OCD are: Contamination (fear of germs/dirt), Harm (fear you are a danger to yourself or others) and Checking (fear of unlikely disaster based on perceived negligence to your surroundings) But there are many other single forms as well, and more often than not, these categories tend to overlap, with individuals experiencing more than one single obsession. The sufferer then also has compulsions. This is a far more broad area of the illness, and is hard to summarise the main compulsions that are participated in. But the majority centre around repetition, so repeating certain behaviours/actions/compulsions in order to relieve anxiety. Some examples include: Repetitive hand washing, Repetitive asking for reassurance and Repetitive locking/unlocking of doors. Again, this is very brief and compulsions can spread to tens if not hundreds of different behaviours that cause the sufferer to become stuck.

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I thought it was important to share what OCD actually is before I shared my story with it. I have with Anorexia and OCD, both of which started fairly close to each other, but my Eating Disorder preceding my OCD by around 3-4 months. To have co-morbid diagnoses like these are common, but not often talked about. I am still struggling with my Mental Health 7 years on from initial identification. It is not an easy thing to treat, and comes with immense challenges and difficulties. I’ve had hospital admissions for both of my illnesses in the past, and I’ve also had community treatment. Currently, I am technically under adult services in my community, but am not receiving therapy due to its ineffectiveness and am waiting on a private OCD specialist hospital referral.

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So how does OCD affect my life? In all honesty, I think a better question would be how doesn’t it. My OCD consists of intrusive thoughts and images that are focused on a fear I have. This fear is an extremely terrifying and anxiety provoking thing for me and so I don’t feel comfortable sharing what it is. However, I will still try to be as detailed as I can. As well as the constant ruminations in my mind, I exhibit repetitive compulsions. Anything for me can become a ritual/behaviour. Walking up the stairs so steps are repeated up and down, turning a light on and off, touching a door handle and not being able to let go.

These are just a few that I do daily, and so it is easy to see why I am pretty much housebound and cannot go out to do simple routine tasks that would be required in a normal life. Besides the external struggles that my OCD presents me with, we have to remember it’s a mental illness, and my internal mental struggles are just as difficult, if not a lot harder than the outward compulsions people can see. Constantly having thoughts and images flashing and replaying in my head all day of my fears. Like watching a horror movie that just doesn’t end. You watch it again, knowing what to expect, but still end up just as scared as the last time. Unbearable anxiety and living on edge all the time. Fighting to convince yourself of the logic you know is real but being deceived by the irrationality of OCD. Knowing that nothing will happen if you don’t repeat a wash/check etc. but feeling so engulfed in your thoughts and fears that you question what is real.

I suppose the next question would be, if I can’t do normal things, what can I do? Unfortunately I lost a part time job I had for two years that I enjoyed due to my OCD struggles. After a final managers meeting with 2 senior staff members and a gruelling 45 minute waiting time for a decision, it was concluded that “there was nothing more they could do” as it is “a business”. As much as I kind of knew that answer was coming, I cried in front of them as I handed over my locker key and staff discount card. It was a hard day, and was a big catalyst to my illness deteriorating further. As well as that, because my OCD is so severe, I’ve missed out on university. I’ve thought about the possibility of distance learning but the degrees are so limited in choice, and I’d rather not spend energy and time on something I’m not truly passionate about. At this point, I’m not sure what I’ll do career wise. My love of poetry and writing in general has me keen on blogging or journalism of some kind. But my connection to mental health draws me to want to work in services with people like me. I’m hoping I’ll find a way to do a mix of both as that’s where I think my heart lies.

Thank you to Sabrine for sending me this post. It is easy to see how OCD can so drastically affect your life, and talking about it will make people more aware of the realities of living with a mental illness. If you suffer too, know that you are not alone. 

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!