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!

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!