Tag Archives: anxiety

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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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!)

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.

A long journey

On the 2nd May 2015, I was sat in a car park, on the way to work, and I had cut my wrists. I had phoned my mum, terrified I was going to run into traffic. As soon as I had hung up, I realised I didn’t want to be saved.

I cant remember much of the next 18 months. I know that I was desperate, that my sole intention was to kill myself when I could get the chance. And there were times I nearly succeeded. I stopped eating and drinking and was taken in and out of hospital for glucose and fluids. I remember fighting that, I didn’t want them to help me. I couldn’t understand why the staff didn’t just give up on me. I spent hours head banging, trying to escape myself. I still have two ridges in my forehead and I spent a long time with an open split on my head where I had gone too hard.

My mental health story started long before that. Aged 14 I was being bullied at school. It wasn’t just name calling, I was pushed over a wall, slammed in a door. There were comments made on a bebo page- one of which stuck with me. That I was better off dead. That was the first time suicide entered my head. By the end of year 9, I was self harming and bulimic. I felt so alone.

I moved schools for sixth form and found my  feet, still suffering from an eating disorder and self harm, but I was feeling happier. I had a group of friends. For the first time in a long time I felt like people liked me.

The same came when I started university. For the first term, I loved it. My eating improved, I mostly stopped self harming. I was feeling well. But then I was raped and my world fell apart. Almost immediately my eating disorder took over. My depression clouded me. By second year I was anorexic. I’ve never felt so isolated. We lived in a horrible flat. I remember sitting there trying to persuade myself that I could cope. I managed to finish second year with a 2:1 but I didn’t feel any sense of achievement. I was completely in the grips of failing mental health.

In December of third year I was admitted to an Eating Disorders Unit where I spen ten months. I came out still struggling anorexia but then months later I suddenly flipped back to bulimia. Horrendous bulimia. I was binge purging on 1000s and 1000s of calories. Once my bank even rang me as there had been so much use of my card. I was falling apart and was admitted to an acute unit, twice. I came home, relapsed and that started this admission.

I’ve spent too much time in hospital. I’m tired of living by a regime. I want to be able to wake up when I want. I want to work.

And suddenly I’m getting there! This Wednesday I had my section lifted! It’s been the best part of two years since I was free. There is no better feeling that sitting out in the park knowing I can sit in the park enjoying the sun and not being limited to 1 hour. I can walk as far as I want. It’s such a weight off. I’ve worked so hard to get this far and I’m going to keep working.  I have the most incredible family, friends and boyfriend, even when I’ve felt alone, I haven’t been. They’ve been there, every step of the way. I have a 2:1 degree in microbiology and I’m going to use it.

My mental health story doesn’t end here, it keep going but changing course. Two years ago, I was desperate to die. Now? I’m desperate to live.

A ceasefire

Last week I was transferred from the priory back to the local NHS unit as a bed had come available. I was terrified, my experience last year on an NHS ward has honestly left me scarred and I was terrified this ward would be the same. Thankfully I was wrong and this ward is much better than that last NHS ward but it’s still hard. I thought I’d share some positive writing from my last creative writing group at the priory, hopefully it’ll help me to re read it too as right now I feel anything but positive. The topic was ‘The Gift I Give Myself’. 

My body is battle weary. For ten years it has been the canvas I painted my pain on, the battleground in the war against myself. For years I deprived it of sustenance, forcing my weight lower and lower, each pound a victory, each newly emerged bone a battle, I thought, won. But all I achieved was the bone deep aching cold of permenant winter, bones of a 70 year old at 21, the sharp pain of pressure sores where bone strikes seats and floor and mattress. For years more I have subjected my body to the harsh ravages of bulimia. The continuous filling and violent emptying which led to ulcers hands, a bleeding inflamed oesophagus and the risk of sudden death. And yet still I war with myself this way. 

For years I have scored self hatred on my skin. Scars stripe once pure arms and legs, a visual map of my failings. For years I’ve counted my worth on the depth of a cut or the number of stitches required. 

And yet ten years of battle and I find myself no further on. My body is tired and battle worn and scarred but it has surivived all I’ve thrown at it. It has survived bullying and rape and mental illness. So perhaps the greatest gift I can give to myself is a ceasefire. A time to end my war with myself and enter the uncharted we territory of recovery… 

A day at the priory 

I wake up disorientated. Sure for a minute that the sounds of talking I can hear are my mum in the kitchen with the radio on. Then I open my eyes and realise the door is in the wrong place and there are too many voices for it to be just my mum. Then it hits me. I’m on hospital, again. 

I doze until 8am when I drag myself out of bed and do battle with the temperamental shower trying to eke just a little more hot water out of it so I can wash my hair. Showering has got hard again. It feels like a marathon and leaves me exhausted. I just want to curl up in bed and sleep the day away. Once I’m dressed in my biggest hoody and jeans that are becoming baggyer by the day I shuffle to the clinic room and join the medication queue. Olanzapine and venlafaxine washed down with ice cold water. 

I’m struggling with food again but I force myself down to the dining room and wait for a bowl of porridge with a whitworths shot a friend brought in for me. Normally I eat alone at one of the small tables but today I push myself to sit at one of the big communal tables and find myself joined by two other patients who I chat with whilst eating. 

Back on the ward I wander between my room and the lounge- not able to settle anywhere and filled with anxiety. Today is day one of my new increased meal plan and the day they’re going to start locking my bathroom after meals so I can’t purge. I willingly agreed to it, after talking to my friend Tash I have a new resolve to beat my eating disorder once and for all. I’m sick of it dictating my life and ruining my health. 

The rest of my day is filled with groups. Yesterday I had support group in the morning which is a space to talk and share how we’re doing in the here and now and tell our stories. I feel very detached as I speak about being sexually assaulted- I want to cry but I don’t seem to be able to these days. The detached feeling follows me throughout the day and I struggle to feel present during the CBT group that follows. I had a visitor yesterday, my friend Tash who’s been amazing throughout both our battles with mental health and who always gives me that push to try a bit harder and really challenge my disorders. 

After that I spend my evening curled up in bed, the rooms are freezing for some reason, and watch TV. Last night I watched the Island on channel 4 and enjoy the escapism it provides. At ten I go to the clinic room and wait for my meds before heading to bed, glad another day is over.