Author Archives: Becca

About Becca

I'm 26 and a graduate from imperial having studied microbiology. I've been unwell for a long time and in and out of hospital. This is my space to spread awareness and tell my story.

Realisation and challenges

When I was on the eating disorders unit and being made to gain weight, my biggest fear was I wouldn’t be able to stop. I remember arguing over and over with staff that if they made me eat I would get fat. The idea I might go back to being overweight was the worst thing for me. I remember them assuring me that wouldn’t happen.

Well, the worst thing did happen. A combination of bulimia, medication and a long term general psych admission saw my weight shooting right up. Into the overweight range. I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, that anorexic voice is still there. But now I can see that being overweight isnt the worst thing that could have happened. I could have died from a heart attack when my weight was so low or found dead in a pool of my own vomit or with a ruptured oesophigus. Being overweight isnt ideal but it isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. I’m still, against the odds, alive.

My thighs touch now, my stomach no longer concave and I cannot count my ribs. This body feels alien at times.

But this body is strong.

This body saw me take on the biggest physical challenge of my life this weekend just gone. These legs carried me over 45km in a single day taking part in the Just Walk event over the South Downs. They propelled me up hills I couldn’t have tackled even six months ago. Taking part in this challenge with my mum, I laughed a lot, yes i had the odd wobble and tear but together we put our heads down (and our rainmac hoods up!) and after 12 hours and 45mins we crossed the finish line. My fitbit said we did 49km in all.

Scary to think in the last few years I’ve been too weak to climb the stairs, unable to stand for long without passing out, being pinned down in hospital to receive fluids and glucose. I look back and I’m so glad I’m not that lost girl anymore. Walking this walk made me realise I am strong and determined and stubborn. I have the best family (mum kept me going and my sister met us at the end with cake for the car journey!) and friends and boyfriend around me.

Sometimes I miss it, that cold clear feeling of starvation. But actually, I’ll take a few extra pounds any day if it means I can live my life and keep challenging myself.

I walked the Just Walk 45km for Beat eating disorders. I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support people have shown me. The fundraising page is http://www.justgiving.com/rebecca-stenning1

I’ll leave you with some pictures from a soggy, difficult but exhilarating day.

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5 months on

Hello again! It’s been a long time since I posted but here I am, posting today. That rosy glow of just being discharged from hospital and getting my life back has faded. I’ve been out of hospital for 5 months, which I am incredibly proud of. But I also struggle now with the realisation that I may be out of hospital but mental health still has a massive impact on my life and i’m not (as I perhaps naively hoped) cured.

I’m living a life unrecognisable from the one I was living just before I got admitted. I have a job, I work in admin at a GP surgery which I love and which gives me something to get up for each day. It’s also a challenge every day, every day my anxiety builds up but I still make myself get up and go in. I’m proud of that. I’ve taken up violin lessons again and despite my anxiety, I go every week and almost always enjoy myself. My family and my boyfriend are massively important to me and play a huge part in my recovery.

But it’s so much harder than I thought it would be. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t posted- I felt ashamed to still be struggling after all the input I’ve had. When I first came out from hospital I was almost giddy with relief. I was free! I could go where I want, when I want. I was going weeks without self harm. I was home again. No more medication queues, no more observations, no more leave forms or ward rounds. I had everything back (socks included!)

January is a trigger month for me. Specifically the 18th. I was dreading it, it’s always been a time I really struggle. I actually managed okay this year. Mum and I turned it into a challenge day- we did an eight hour skiing course which was awesome and definitely kept me occupied away from the negative thoughts and memories. It worked well!

But the last few weeks have been harder. Self harm crept back in and my mood dropped a lot. I’ve felt, well, flat and tired.  I find myself struggling with flashbacks, both to the assault and to events that happened in hospital. And bulimia has taken over again. I find my time alone consumed with thoughts and anxiety around food until I break and spend hours binging and purging. I hate it and it scares me. It’s a hard pill to swallow, transferring from the bubble of hospital life to the uncontrollable nature of real life and discovering that you’re not, in fact, cured.

But I’m not giving in. I didn’t spend a year doing DBT to just go back to old habits! I have a big poster with my DBT and grounding skills. I take daily walks, often with my ipod to keep me company- it turns out sitting on the swings or just outside the church is quite calming. I talk to my mum. I feel at times very low and quite beaten.  But I’m a hell of a lot further on than I was this time two years ago.

And an aside, in two months mum and I are walking the Just Walk 45km and I’m walking to raise funds for Beat Eating Disorders. I would appreciate any sponsors so much!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rebecca-stenning1

 

 

Sit ups to sores

Back in 2012, pounding the streets, I would think to myself “if only my PE teachers could see me  now!” At school I was never sporty. I liked to walk but mostly I hated sport. My love of netball disappeared when I stopped growing and stayed too short to reach the ball. I was relegated to “special PE”- plastic rackets and foam balls style sport.

Anorexia convinced me I was succeeding at exercise finally. I was doing so much more exercise than I had ever done. But anorexia is a trickster. I wasn’t healthy, I wasn’t getting fitter. I was torturing myself. Before being admitted I was walking hours a day, at least 10km every day. I was forcing myself to skip manic-ly for every extra calorie consumed. I reached a point where I was so unwell I wasn’t allowed to use the stairs at my outpatients and yet I was constantly moving as soon as I finished my appointment. I remember walking down fulham road, freezing cold and praying I could get home without collapsing. I would walk past Chelsea and Westminster hospital wondering whether I should go in as my head was spinning, my chest was agony and I could barely stay upright. And still I made myself keep exercising.

And then came the day where I was admitted as a day patient. Only it didn’t work, I was so terrified of the food I was being made to consume I left the unit after every meal and speed walked for hours. I was still sure my exercise was healthy, everyone always says you should walk more right? But as I spiralled down I was caught and fully admitted to the ward. My head went into overdrive. I couldn’t go on my walks. I couldn’t go to the gym or for a run. Why were they stopping me being fit when everyone always said exercise was a good thing? That was when I hit my lowest times with my exercise. I used to lock myself in the unit shower room for hours, exercising to the point where I had sores on my spine and bruises on the backs of my hips. I refused to sit down after night snack until 2am when I would finally let myself rest.

It took a very long time for me to start rebuilding my enjoyment of exercise. I had programmed myself to rely so heavily on extremes and numbers I had to teach myself how to exercise safely. I no longer go running, for me that was just a form of punishment. But I walk the dogs with my family and once a week do a two hour keep fit session. I’m learning I need to fuel my workouts, how I survived on so little whilst doing so much I really don’t know. It’s still hard sometimes to switch my brain off. I have to make a conscious effort  to exercise “at my level”. I used to think that meant working at the highest intensity without taking a break, always wanting to burn the most, do more repeats with less rest. Now I see that sometimes I have to step back listen to my body when it’s tired. It’s not easy, but I’m getting there.

 

World Mental Health Awareness Day

Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day 2017, a day designed to break down stigma and open up conversation about mental health.

Mental health conditions affect 1:4 individuals during their life time. Increasing numbers of people are seeking support for mental health and stress related disorders, and yet we still stumble over talking about mental health.

The theme for this years MH awareness day is mental health and the workplace. I’m going to extend that to mental health in education.

I have long been a high achiever. By the age of 14 I had discovered a passion for science and a love of reading and writing. But behind my string of A grades and music exams and writing prizes was the beginning of a battle with my mental health which would shape my life for the next 11 years.

My school were made aware of my mental health difficulties very early on in my struggles. I was depressed and self harming. But they didn’t know what to do with me, how to support me. I was high functioning, my grades never dipped. I saw a psychologist for a couple of years who questioned me occasionally on my self harm, dismissed my worries with food and discharged me when I turned 18 with the comment “don’t go getting an eating disorder on me.”

I continued to struggle with my mental health the whole way through my schooling but despite secondary school being a hotbed of pressure and the time when a lot of mental health problems begin to manifest themselves there was next to no conversation about mental health and no openings to ask for help.

I achieved top grades at A level and gained a place at a prestigious university studying Microbiology. But within such an institution there is a lot of pressure to achieve the highest grades alongside the pressure of just moving to university. I asked for help during my first year when my eating disorder was starting to spiral. I received no support. I was attending university lectures right up until the day before I was admitted to an eating disorders unit in my third year. When I returned I was once again left to my own devices so long as my academic performance was good. I had a brief meeting with my head of year and then dropped. I was outwardly coping. The day before I was sectioned I was working in the laboratory on my dissertation. It was only once I was sectioned that I was given any support, I had my deadline extended on my dissertation. And that was that.

I’m not in education any more but I will continue to talk about and raise awareness of the need for support services within school and university. People assume you can see mental health problems. If you saw me you would assume I was fine. And yet I have BPD and atypical bulimia, I’ve been ill for 11 years and spent the best part of the last 5 years in and out of hospital. I wish there had been someone at school right when it all started who had taken time to find out why I was self harming and helped sign post me to the right services.

So I say this to all schools and universities and places of education, mental health problems come in all guises but they all deserve help. From the A grade student to the one barely scraping by. Mental health is indiscriminate and support needs to be too.

The next step

1st May 2015, I’m sat in my car in a car park having just made a suicide attempt. I was admitted to next day for a crisis admission that was only supposed to be a couple of weeks. Things went very wrong and I got iller and iller. I was sectioned and became such a risk to myself I spent 8 months on 1:1 before being transferred to a specialist unit. 

I didn’t want to live. I didn’t think I would ever get better and I fought so hard against the staff. But somehow with the support of an amazing team on the ward, the right medication, with the therapy and with the wonderful care of my family, friends and boyfriend, things started to turn. I started to notice positives again. I started sleeping better. I found my laughter again. I relearned how to smile. I started to talk to people. The recovery college helped me build a sense of self worth and self confidence. I started to want to live. I stopped self harming. 

And finally, a week ago, i was fully discharged from the unit back home! I’ve never left a ward feeling confident that I could do this, that I was better. I left this ward with a smile on my face and a new feeling- hope. 

World suicide prevention day 

Imagine that everything is black. You open your eyes and you can’t see anything. There’s a heavy weight pushing you down. It hurts. You’re being pushed down and down. Even sitting up is too hard. On top of that there’s a million thoughts bashing around your head.

You’re a bad person

Everyone hates you

You’re a burden 

You’re better off dead

I can’t.

It takes up every thought, every moment. You need a way out and suddenly suicide offers itself up. You gnaw on the idea obsessively. It’s almost a comfort at time. I feel awful but there’s a way out. 

The first time suicide entered my mind I was 14 and being bullied at school. I woke up dreading each day and then, one day, online i found a hate page about me. Someone had written how I was better off dead. That sentence got stuck for many years. It was years later that I made my first suicide attempt but I’ve been living with the spectre of suicide for 11ish years.

For a very long time after being sectioned I fought so hard to end my life. I spent 8 months on 1:1 being watched around the clock but I still tried and tried over again to take my life. I felt hopeless, I felt too broken, too damaged by my past to continue living. 
But things did change. I had my friends, my family, my boyfriend around me, holding my hope for me when I couldn’t hold it my self. I haven’t attempted suicide since January and I no longer feel suicidal. I am lucky, I’m genuinely glad I was found every time I attempted. At the time I was furious but now I feel differently. 

I wish I could say the same for some of my friends. Beautiful, kind souls who saw no way out. I think of them every day and I live my life for them. These women were failed by a system that leaves you falling on your own until crisis happens and you make an attempt. Where is the support to prevent these deaths? Because they are preventable. 

Imagine if we had a system that offered support before crisis? If we listened when someone started asking for help rather than sending them away to get sicker before they qualified for help. Or we never saw the ‘it was attention seeking/ a cry for help/ manipulative’ attitude from the professionals. Imagine how it feels to reach out only to be told ‘if you were serious you wouldn’t tell anyone’. Too many people are silenced.

 Suicide is such a taboo subject and it shouldn’t be. We put our hands over our ears and eyes and pretend we can’t see it. As do the mental health system. But it’s there and it’s taking too many lives. 

Learning to live

I’m sitting here at home typing this and I’m amazed by the feeling of freedom. I’m on a full week leave from the unit, building up to discharge and I keep expecting someone to tell me off, say I can’t do this or that or ask me to write down my description before I go anywhere!

There are so many things you take for granted every day when you’re not in hospital. The ability to go to bed and wake up when you want, being able to walk out the front door just because, boiling the kettle, shoelaces!  

It’s both exhilarating and unnerving moving towards discharge. I love being at home, I love that I’m not spending all my time watching the music channel waiting for the meds hatch to open anymore. Suddenly I can go out and meet up with friends (also a weird feeling, why would anyone want to meet up with me?!), I’m starting to live again. I feel guilty sometimes when the other girls comment that I’m so lucky to have all this time. But I worked for this.

I worked so hard to get here and it’s taken a long time so I’m going to enjoy it. It’s also hard at times, the thoughts and self harm urges still appear, sometimes the flashbacks get to me, but I’m also stronger now. Before this admission I would have been in A&E every day because I would have acted on the urges, but now I have skills to get through those moments. DBT did not come easily but now I can really see how it’s helped.

And now, I’m going out to meet some wonderful friends today. These girlies kept me sane at my EDU with our illicit diet cokes every day and it’s wonderful to see them all beating anorexia too. So that’s me for today, on my way up to London to terrorise the locals and put the world to rights (probably featuring diet coke!)