Tag Archives: recovery

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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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.

An update

I realised I haven’t really updated you on where I’ve been when I disappeared for a while.

A few months ago things were starting to look brighter and I felt like the old me was there, just slightly out of reach. I remember going to my CPA armed with the fact I was the happiest I’d been in years. I had persuaded myself that I might get home overnight leave, that my section would be lifted. I remember being so angry when it became clear neither of those dreams would be happening. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t see how happy I was.

A few weeks later I found myself spiralling again. I was spending hours looking for anything I could self harm with. I remember one leave where I spent the whole time secretly searching the ground for sharps. I catalogued every sharp I saw, planning to get them on my way back. I soon discovered I was never going to be able to pick them up. My eating slipped again and very quickly I found myself fully in the throws of my eating disorder. It took several hospital visits for me to relent and stop refusing my ensures. I still haven’t got up the courage to eat instead of using ensures and fruit. I hate ensures, but at the same time I couldn’t move onto solid food, they became my safety net. As my weight dropped so did my mood and I lost control of my hallucinations. It stayed like that for a long time. As I wasn’t eating and I was fainting around the ward I lost my leave, I lost my unsupervised shower. I felt like everyone was the enemy, that they couldn’t understand.

Then slowly again things began to pick up. There was a lot of tinkering with my medication but slowly it seemed to be helping, finally. I came into hospital taking only two psychiatric medications. Now I take a lot more. Haloperidol worked but gave me painful side effects. Respiradol might as well have been a sugar pill. But now I’m taking a different anti-psychotic and suddenly I found myself again. I started reading again, I started DBT which really helped, I was able to smile and talk to staff, I wasn’t afraid of laughing with other patients. The side effects kicked in, I’m so shaky I cant hold a cup or walk down stairs. I get verbal ticks when I’m talking. But it’s given me myself back and I’m not willing to lose that. My leave was reinstated. I got home leave and I got to see my house for the first time in over a year. I get time out with my boyfriend too and we go to the cinema. I love being surrounded by people who had no idea I am sectioned.And as the weather improved found the courage to wear t shirts that didn’t cover my scars, and no-one even blinked. Things are good. Yes I’m still very stuck in my eating disorder but otherwise I’m content. I’m starting to see a future. I have my books and time to see my family and my boyfriend outside of a visitors room. Yes I get lows but I’m getting there and that feels wonderful.

 

Acute services with an eating disorder

Inpatient wards are never nice places to be; they can be frightening, frustrating, dictative  wards. Anything other than specialist eating disorder units where the service is designed to support and treat the eating disorder service users are suffering with can make acute or other specialised support all the more difficult.

My first inpatient experience was to an eating disorder unit. I remember sitting in costa after being told I was going to have to start inpatient treatment for anorexia nervosa the next day and phoning to mum to break the news and then having to tell my university that I would have to defer absolutely terrifying. I had only been involved with the eating disorder outpatient service 4 weeks and still hadn’t accepted my diagnosis, it all felt rushed and I was resistant to being classed as an anorexia sufferer. I can’t remember my first month or so but slowly came around to being in treatment and it was refreshing to find others like me who had the same thoughts and experiences with anorexia. The groups were all designed directly to focus on anorexia and drive the sufferer forward in their recovery. There was the medical side of it which never stopped being utterly traumatic in my ten months there and I resisted the weight gain side of treatment and at discharge I barely made any head weigh with the weight side of things but I also left with a whole set of skills and a group of friends who truly got it.

Maybe my experience having first been such a safety net and so understanding has made me biased but I’ve never been able to recreate the experience in acute wards. All my admissions since the EDU have been to acute wards and suddenly I was thrown into the world of adult mental health. Each time I have been hospitalised I’ve relapsed to anorexia, maybe not in weight although in some cases lost a significant amount of weight but in behaviours. Every time it’s reached the level where I stop eating and drinking completely. It’s hard on an acute ward to cater to account for all service users difficulties where the funding is low and the supply so demanding. It means though that eating disorder patients can easily slip through the net and only picked up upon when crisis level has been reached. I’ve found that as I’ve moved through services my ability to sustain a low weight and lack of nutrition has deteriorated and in this admission found myself in general hospital for IV fluids. It’s come to the point now that everyone accepts I won’t eat meals and instead have ensure drinks. It can be quite isolating not finding myself able to eat meals in the dining room and I find myself wondering how have I found myself in this position, again.

Acute wards are all about survival and crisis management but this is often to the detriment where specialist services are called in. The level of support and guidance an eating disorder patient is simply not available and in an ideal world that wouldn’t be the case. But for now it’s not and that needs to change.

What’s it like to feel suicidal?

First off a bit of an update. I disappeared over a couple of weeks due to slipping backwards with my eating and drinking and then my mood followed. I was admitted to hospital rehydrated. But I’m not fainting everywhere so I’m allowed off the ward to blog.

Now onto the topic I wanted to address this week.

People don’t talk about, it’s shoved in the corner and not allowed out. But it happens. Suicide is one of the biggest killers of males under the age of 25.But for some people feeling suicidal and not able to shove it in a corner is a harsh reality of their life. I’ve felt suicidal many times and over long periods and it’s been one the hardest parts o my illness for them.

So what’s it like to feel suicidal. For me it’s like smoke, it fills your eyes and nose and mouth so you can’t breathe or scream for help. Talking is an effort, breathing is an effort. The black smoke weighs you down so you can only shuffle. It convinces me not to talk to staff as they’re too busy or you don’t deserve anyway. You search endlessly for a sharp object is you’re a self harmer. I’ve literally gone through everything in my room searching for something to harm with. Usually it’s futile.

That’s my experience of suicidal feelings. I’ve not spoken about other people’s experiences because I’m not in their heads and have no idea what it’s like for them. But male, female, race, sexual orientation and all of them, we need to speak more about suicide, take away the shame by taking it out the corner.