Author Archives: Becca

About Becca

I'm 25 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.

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.

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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!)

Today I am angry

Today I am sad. Today I am angry. This week two girls from my eating disorders unit passed away. Only a couple of months ago a good friend from my acute died. They were all failed.

In mental health, recovery is long and slow and hard. There are ups and there are downs, you improve then you crash. With help I believe everyone can get there, can be able to live their lives. But too often services give up. They are underfunded with huge waiting lists and not enough resources to give the help needed.

I’m lucky, I’m still alive but I nearly wasn’t. I was left for a year on the eating disorders waiting list, by the time I was finally seen I was seriously unwell. And although I spent ten months on the unit, I left still very underweight, still unable to handle my purging. My first acute unit gave up on me, I attempted suicide and it nearly worked, so I was discharged for none compliance. My second acute didn’t know what to do with me other than drug me and fry my brain with electricity. But then I got lucky, instead of being given up on, I was moved to a specialist personality disorder clinic. They never for a minute gave up. And now, over 2 years since this admission started, I’m on the home straight.

And that’s why I’m angry. That wonderful women didn’t get the help they needed. Services so underfunded they label you chronic. They give up. I remember watching another girls treatment at my EDU and wondering why they weren’t pushing her towards recovery like the rest of us. No matter how many times you’re admitted, how ill you are, you should continue to be treated and to be given a chance of recovery. Another girl was discharged from a specialist unit and committed suicide. There was no community support and she was left alone. You would never leave an asthma suffer mid asthma attack in A&E and tell them they’re chronic so they can only have two puffs of their blue inhaler instead of the full treatment needed. You would never leave someone in the community without some form of treatment- you wouldn’t tell them that they can’t have any treatment because they’re chronic. It’s wrong and it makes me so angry.

Everyone has the ability to recover. They need help and support and time but I truly believe you can get better. But services give up and people die. And it’s a disgrace.

Bulimic; A day in the life

We’ve seen Anorexia talked about. Its on dramas, on the news, in magazines and newsletters. Eating disorder recovery stories focus on weight restoration and being able to eat ‘normally’ again.  But where are the stories about bulimia? Where do we see people talking about their experiences? Where is the awareness raising for bulimia?

I’ve spoken quite openly about my experiences with anorexia. There is still a stigma attached to mental health problems, but in my experience, the greatest stigma surrounds bulimia. Bulimia attracts a lot of hate- people are labelled as greedy, lazy and disgusting. It’s so far from the truth but so hard to argue against.

I’ve had bulimia since I was 14. This is a day in my life when bulimia took over.

I wake up,  everything hurts. My head aches- bulimic hangovers are real, I feel dirty and itchy and just uncomfortable in my body. My throat is sore every time I swallow and my hand is bruised. I tell myself, today I stop binging, today I’ll stop eating again.

Later, I think I’m staying strong. I haven’t eaten yet and the familiar hunger pangs hit in- uncomfortable but also welcome. My head is killing me. As soon as I can I go into town. Once I would have been clothes shopping, now I go into the food shops, wandering round and round. Picking unhealthy foods up, reading the label and putting them down again.

And then, I slip. I have a biscuit or a latte or something I hadn’t planned for in my day. I lose control, desperately going from shop to shop. I don’t even really know what I’m buying, mostly crap but even things like fruit or cereal could trigger a binge. I feel like I’m watching myself as I move between stores, screaming at Becca, me, to stop. Put it back and leave. But that doesn’t happen. I remember once, when my anorexia was first swinging back into bulimia, getting a phonecall from my bank, mid binge, saying that there had been unusual activity on my card. It was humiliating.

I lock myself in my room and then I eat. I’m not hungry, I don’t want to eat, I already feel sick. But for some reason and I never know really why, I end up still binging. Binging is horrible, it’s out of control painful stomach fear can’t stop someone help me please. Then I become aware of all the wrappers and crap around me. And my stomach is painfully full. I can’t keep this in me. So I purge. Which, by the way, along with restriction, is the best way there is to ensure you keep binging. It’s a never ending cycle. And it is degrading and horrible. You will spend hours cleaning after and making excuses to your flatmates.

And then the day rolls around to night, another binge, another purge. When will this end?

I’m lucky, I am so much better now. I still struggle, I still go to bed most nights wondering whether I could stop eating again, I still spend hours wandering round food shops without buying, I still sometimes struggle with purging. But before, I was spending all day binge purging, I simply couldn’t stop.

And that’s it, a day in the life of my bulimia.

Thriving or Surviving?

I’m a bit late hopping onto the Mental Health awareness week campaign. That is “Surviving or Thriving?” But I think it’s a brilliant thing to raise awareness of.

Before being in hospital I worked in a supermarket office, I volunteered as a first aider, I helped run youth mentoring programs. I loved to read, to sing, to play my violin. I was thriving.

Then I got admitted. For the last few months before I was admitted to the EDU I had lost my ability to thrive. I was cold all the time, my head was a mess of numbers, I was so hungry yet so full, everything hurt. I used to walk back from uni to my flat, an hours walk, convinced that this time I wouldn’t be able to make it. I was only just surviving. As my admission passed I was able to lift myself up again. Groups and therapy gave me the ability to survive and maybe hope toward thriving. I can’t say I ever really felt I’d achieved much but I did make friends for life. What’s lovely is seeing some of the girls I was in hospital with living life- learning to thrive.

I managed to return to my degree and I loved my time working in a laboratory. In there, running between my test tubes and the anaerobic cabinet, I was able to forget about my mental health. I could completely immerse myself. But I was not coping on the outside and I was sectioned half way through my dissertation.

This latest admission has been different to my previous. Here there is a real sense of helping us patients do more than just survive. Across the country there are talks of Recovery Colleges. At my EDU there was one being mentioned but solely as a way to learn about your condition. There is a Recovery College here which for me has helped bring me up to somewhere more than just surviving. Going to groups involving the whole hospital has helped bring my confidence up so I can speak in front of others. I went to groups which made me laugh- the smell of our bath bombs probably won’t ever leave me ( I don’t recommend chocolate essence!)! But I also learnt a lot and as my confidence improved I started writing for the newsletter and then became editor. I haven’t worked for years and this lifted me so much. I learnt to delegate, to use new programmes on the computer. I started to become confident in myself that I could achieve things. I’m learning that talking about my story isn’t a bad thing and in many ways has helped me start accepting my past. I look back at when I first went to Recovery College and compare it to now. I now have the confidence to start thinking about work, about future university study, about leaving hospital completely. I even picked up my violin last time I was home! The Recovery College has played a huge part in my recovery. Most of the places I have been have been solely about survival. There was nothing to help you achieve more than that. And that’s what’s different here, we aren’t just helped to survive, we’re also helped to learn to thrive.