Tag Archives: bullying

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. 

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.

Anorexia ‘the slimmers disease?’

‘Eating disorders are about being thin and attractive, right?’ 

It’s a common misconception. And it’s one of the biggest problems I have around many of the awareness campaigns. Sure I think anything which promotes body confidence and challenges unhealthy ideals at both ends of the spectrum is a good thing. But it doesn’t ring true for me when the message is that thin models cause eating disorders, or when you’re trying to recover and the message as often flung about in the recovery communities is ‘recover for boobs and bum’ ‘recover for curves.’

For me my eating disorder was the exact opposite of subscribing to the thin ideal or an attempt to be attractive or thin or fit in more. Whilst I still suffer with the fear of being fat and the distorted body image for me my eating disorder is about safety. When I first fell into the grasps of bulimia it was during a period of my life where I was being severely bullied day in day out. One morning I suddenly thought, if I’m sick I don’t have to go into school. So I went upstairs and made myself sick. It didn’t work, I still went in to school that day but in my head I made a connection. No matter what anyone did to me I could make myself sick. It was a safety switch.

But it wasn’t until I was assaulted that my eating disorder rapidly spiralled out of control. It was as if someone had set a time bomb in my brain and it had just gone off and left nothing standing. I couldn’t stand the thought of being looked at or thought attractive. I felt dirty and contaminated and unsafe. My eating suddenly switched from binge purge to restrict and purge and my weight started dropping quickly. I felt too dirty, too contaminated to eat. Getting comments in the street or walking past a building site and receiving whistles or being asked for my number in the supermarket, it all made me feel deeply unsafe. In my head a healthy weight was directly tied to being assaulted. I couldn’t separate the two and losing weight became a way to escape from the assault and ensure it never happened again. When my periods stopped, instead of being scared I was elated. I was no longer and adult and so no longer at risk. As my weight started to get critically low I went from getting no comments to getting abusive comments “Go eat a pie” and being spat at in the street. Instead of making me stop it spurred me on. No-one found me attractive, I was ugly and bony and isolated and that felt the safest way to be.

When my eating disorder switched suddenly back to bulimia back in March last year it was the most distressing experience returning to a healthy weight and getting my period back. Suddenly I started getting comments again, builders would make lewd comments as I walked past and the occasional car would honk. Rather than being flattered I felt sick and dirty once again. I had reached a healthy weight and once again it was proving unsafe.

So for me anorexia/ bulimia was never about being attractive, fitting in or being “thin”. It was about being safe and that’s what makes it so hard to give up, because recovery just feels so unsafe.

And for many people eating disorders are not about weight or thinness or being attractive. They are complex mental illnesses which differ between each individual and serve different purposes for each person. Yes many of us feel fat, yes many of us focus on our weight and yes body dysmorphia is a large part of the illness. But it’s not everything and it’s not ‘why.’

Sticks and stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

Only they will.

From the age of 12 up until about 15 years old I was bullied. I don’t know what I did wrong or why I wore the target but from my first day of secondary school it was obvious I wasn’t going to have an easy ride. I still feel weird saying ‘I was bullied.’ When your confidence is undermined every day you begin to doubt yourself, to wonder if it’s all in your head and that you are simply different, odd and somehow deserving of the abuse you receive.

Although there were occasional incidences of physical violence, admittedly minor, the vast majority of the bullying was verbal or online. I raised my hand in class to the mutterings of ‘boffin’ and ‘teacher’s pet’. A teacher praised me and in the playground I’d receive a barrage of abuse. I can still feel the sticky note on my back ‘If I’m smiling there must be something wrong’ that even the teacher ignored. I can still remember the poem written on bebo about how I was ‘horrible and terrible, better off dead’, a statement I had adopted and carried with me ever since. I can remember the ice cold fear of sunday evenings knowing I would have to go back to school the next day. The sobbing after walking into a classroom full of old friends talking about you, only to go silent the minute they spot you. The abandonment of all my friends moving tables in wood tech, leaving me conspicuously alone.

Words are like poison, it only takes a small amount to pollute you. They’re like perfume, the bad sort that you spray a tester on and find yourself engulfed in a cloying scent that no matter how often you try to rid yourself of it stays stubbornly around. It has taken years for me to be able to articulate what I went through and it took being admitted to an Eating Disorders Unit before I could really face up to how effectively bullying destroyed me.

My self harm started with the bullying. At first as a desperate way of saying ‘help’ and then a way of coping- they could hurt me but I could hurt myself more- and then of getting the contamination, the badness, out of me. It became a vicious cycle, the more I self harmed the more reason I gave the bullies to despise me, the more I was portrayed as attention seeking and overdramatic.

My eating disorder started with the bullying. Coming home from terrible days at school only to find my phone jammed with messages of hate and my email in a similar state I would comfort eat to fill the ice cold pit that had opened up inside me. And then came the realisation that if I was sick I wouldn’t have to go to school, so I went upstairs and without trying to hide it threw up. I still had to go to school but I’d found another way to control my life- it didn’t matter what I ate, I could get rid of it. Even when the bullying stopped with my move to a different sixth form the words ate away at me and I ate away at myself, slowly slowly slipping into bulimia then anorexia and then faster and faster until I landed on an EDU.

I doubt very much the bullies knew what effect their words would have. When you’re part of a group it’s hard to admit or see the consequences of your actions, especially if you are simply going along with it and not being the protagonist. But this post is to say, please think. I very much doubt my bullies realised that their actions would contribute to my nearly dying. That I would be hospitalised four times because, in part, of what they said. That they had undermined me and destabilised my foundations so successfully that I would feel I deserved to die. And yet they did.

Bullying of any kind is serious. If it’s happening to you know you’re not alone, that it is not your fault. And you deserve better. Please, speak to someone. Never let them take away your voice or your power to articulate yourself and ask for help. And this is to say you can survive it and become stronger. Never forget that.

And if you are on the flipside, making a joke and just having a laugh. ‘It’s just words right?’ Wrong. That joke? That laugh? They’re a human being and you have no idea of the long term ramifications. Just think, is the laugh worth taking a life for?

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will hurt forever.