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!