Tag Archives: mental health

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.

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.


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.


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.


DBT; a realisation.

Sat in the corner of my room, tying a ligature round my neck. Pinned to the floor and injected. Lying on a bed being wheeled through for ECT. Fainting and being sent to hospital for glucose multiple times. Being watched 24/7 for over 8 months, no privacy at all. Having a CT scan after headbanging. I came into hospital very unwell and there’s a lot I can’t remember, but I’ll never forget these things.

Thankfully I’m so much further on, the idea of tying a ligature is so far away, I never kick off. I am compliant. Those baby steps I mentioned in my last post? They’ve turned into giant leaps. I’m sat here at home on overnight leave, I’ve been out to town with mum and exercised my debit card! I’ve helped cook lunch. I’ve cleaned the kitchen. This time last year I was just starting to have home leave, escorted by a member of staff for 8 hours only. Now I’m a completely different person.

On Wednesday I completed my second and final cycle of DBT. I remember a year ago starting on the programme I was so, well, obstinate that it wouldn’t work. I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t open myself to it. Now I look back and it has helped me so much.  There were four modules; emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness and mindfulness. Each taught me skills I can use to live with, control and maybe even overcome my illnesses.

Through DBT I found a way to manage situations where I needed or wanted specific outcomes. I learnt how to voice my opinion and ask for my needs to be met without shutting down or disregulating. I started being able to take part in my treatment and to get my needs heard and met. Mindfulness taught me how to recognise my emotions, how to observe them and employ my most effective skills to deal with that emotion, or, simply stop and watch the emotion pass by. I learnt to use pros and cons of a specific situation or behaviour to balance out whether the urge I was having would actually be effective.  I went from feeling awful all the time and reacting immediately  to being able to stop, use my skills to recognise that I was feeling bad and instead of self harming or ligaturing I would distract myself. I would ‘radically accept’ I sometimes cannot change the situation (for instance I have to come back to hospital after time at home) but I can employ techniques to help.

I never thought I’d say thank you to DBT. I really struggled to grasp it, it didn’t really fit with my illness but with help I could use skills from DBT anyway and slowly that opened up a way for me to engage in DBT. It’s very weird thinking I won’t have anymore DBT but I’m so thankful for it. And to anyone starting DBT, stick with it. Don’t let anyone derail your recovery by telling you horror stories of DBT. It’s hard, you will probably cry with frustration, you won’t understand at times, you’ll feel stuck. But, for me, there’s almost a sudden moment when I realised, I do understand this and I am actually using the  skills. I can only say thank you to the therapy team for not giving up on me.

And so from baby steps, this is a giant leap. I’m on the home run.