Sometimes knowing what’s going on in anyone’s head is an area we all struggle with. It can be even harder to understand or guess at what is going on in the mind of someone trapped in mental health problems. And sometimes not knowing makes having an open and honest conversation a huge hurdle, it becomes the elephant in the room that everyone recognises but no-one is quite sure how to bring up. I thought I’d do a post on ten things that I, as someone with a mental health problem, want you to know about my illness.
- My anorexia was never about weight or being thin. It was about safety and taking up as little space as possible. I felt I did not deserve to take up any more than the absolute minimum space in the world that I could. Taking up more space felt dangerous- I might be noticed and that would mean I was unsafe.
- My eating disorder isn’t really about food. I still love food, if anything I love it more than before I was ill. I just won’t let myself enjoy it, instead it’s become an all or nothing experience. The foods I avoid the most are the foods I secretly love the most and wish I could eat.
- My external appearance doesn’t reflect the way I feel. Sometimes it may do, I may have a day where hoodies and leggings are the only thing I feel comfortable in, but most often I look well. I’m a 23 year old female with a wardrobe full of primark and new look dresses and skirts, I can be feeling at my worst whilst dressed in fashionable clothes with my make up done and my hair washed.
- Likewise I don’t look like the picture of a mental health patient that always accompanies any media article on mental health. I don’t spend much of my time with my head in my hands or curled up in a corner refusing to speak. At my very worst I did but that was in a psychiatric unit with very unstable grip on reality- most of the other patients were sat calmly watching TV or smoking in the garden. Very few of us looked ‘mental’. Here’s my mental illness selfie- would you look twice at me in a crowd?
- Having depression doesn’t mean I’m always miserable. I can’t switch it on and off but often when I’m around other people my depression is in the background and I am able to participate in life. that’s not to say it’s easy and I don’t struggle, just that I can enjoy the lighter moments just as much, if not more so, as any ‘normal’ person. It’s when I’m on my own or not busy that my depression hits me hard and it becomes a self destructive cycle- the lower I feel the less likely I am to go out and the less likely I am to therefore enjoy/ experience the lighter moments.
- Self harm is not attention seeking. It’s one that should be obvious but it so often isn’t. I’ve come across a lot of professionals who tell me I’m using self harm to seek care and attention. That in reality couldn’t be further from the truth. I find having to seek help, even from my mum, absolutely mortifying and avoid it as much as possible. For me self harm is a way of getting the bad feelings and emotions out of me, perhaps closer to bloodletting than attention seeking.
- You can have a loving family and stable background and still have mental health problems. I firmly believe there is a biological/ genetic element to a great number of mental health problems. I come from a loving family who support me and care for me deeply. I am loved and come from a family that provides emotionally and financially for me and yet I still have long standing mental health problems.
- Anorexia and bulimia are not like the photos pro anorexic/ bulimic internet sites and instagram accounts show. They are not like the way lifestyle bloggers with anorexia portray. They are life threatening illnesses which take up your entire life. They are not baggy jumpers and cups of green tea- the reality is messier and darker and much more unhappy than any of these images portray.
- It’s not laziness that stops you doing things when you’re unwell. Depression can be paralysing and when I am becoming unwell the first thing for me to lose is my music. Not because I can’t be bothered or because I’m being lazy but because as I get more unwell the energy to just function becomes incredibly difficult to tap into, so anything extra brings about panic that I’m not going to be able to do it and that fear becomes a self perpetuating cycle which leads to a monotonous greyscale effect on life where doing the things that are pleasurable and enjoyable becomes too much to cope with.
- Mental health problems aren’t just ‘being bit moody’ ‘having a down day’ ‘being happier than normal/ hyper’ ‘not being hungry’, They are real and life threatening illnesses. You can’t get a touch of depression or a day of anxiety or a couple of hours of anorexia. They are illnesses which take over and control your life to the extent that they can become your life at their very worst. Everyone feels depressed or anxious at times but not everyone has depression or anxiety, there’s a crucial difference between feeling nervous about an exam because you want to do well and feeling paralysingly scared about leaving the house for a reason you cannot put a name to. The same goes for depression, eating disorders, mania and a whole raft of other mental health problems.
Mental health problems are real and they are serious. They are illnesses, not adjectives.