Happy World Mental Health Day

Happy World Mental Health Day!

But what of it, I hear you say.

Well, to put in in perspective,

Let’s look at it this way;

 

More People have a mental illness,

Than do have a dog as a pet.

In fact more kids have mental illness,

Than have pet fish, and yet;

 

It’s uncomfortable to think red hair,

Is as common as PTSD.

Or in a life time more have thoughts of suicide,

Than watch Saturday Strictly on TV.

 

The fact that pet rabbits are rarer,

Than depression no one declares.

Or more have bipolar or psychosis,

than numbers of people with black hair.

 

Car factories, classrooms, cafes,

The Cabinet, the corporations;

Mental illness is everywhere,

Except or conversations.

 

Brothers, mothers, sisters, misters,

Have a mental health so to speak.

But why is it that when things get tough,

It’s a dirty secret we keep?

 

Looking at it this way,

Two conclusions we can make.

You decide which explanation,

Is more accurate to take;

 

Either mental illness is simply,

A standard fact of every day.

To be spoken of more like a cold,

Than plutonium poisoning, say.

 

Or the alternative explanation,

Looking at humanity is that maybe;

All in all, perhaps,

We are all a little bit crazy.

These statistics were taken from http://www.mind.org.uk,  www.pfma.org.uk,  www.theapricity.com,  www.barb.co.uk, and are based on the Uk. Due to the nature of statistics they may be slightly inaccurate. But from carrying out research, overall I’ve learned that mental illness is much more common than we think, because we tend to keep in tucked away under our hats. 

Why I Eat.

‘I thought you might like a cake each, they’re left over from our meeting.’ My heart was racing and my mind was blurring, because I was given a cup cake to eat today in a lesson. Yesterday, I started to shake and my mind started raging because someone told me how nice I looked, and how much I suited all the weight I’d put on. Last week, I had to hold back tears as I stared at a menu in a restaurant. My head was spinning too much to make a decision and tell the waiter standing behind me.

I am so well now. I am physically healthy, my relationships with my friends and family have never been stronger, I have the social life I never dreamed of, and a future that looks so exciting. Yet, to tell you the truth, some days I miss anorexia, I want it back. I know I am falling into the illness’s trap of looking back with rose-tinted spectacles and ignoring the sheer hell of it. But sometimes I want to be back there- recovery is so exhausting. So why do I eat?

In order to explain this, I need to start off by telling you why I didn’t eat.

I wanted to feel powerful. I wanted to make sure that everyone else was ok, that I wasn’t upsetting or hurting those around me, so I had to be the perfect girl. The healthier, fitter and more independent I could be, the closer I was to achieving this. I wanted to be someone with self-control, determination, someone that was doing everything right. I wanted to be our world’s idea of powerful and successful. The lies that had started to dominate my mind had convinced me that I was worthless and that everyone else saw me in this way too. I had to become someone or something to have a place in this world.

I wanted a secret. Something that made me special, something that was just for me- a gift only I could have. No one else could hear anorexia’s soothing voice- just me. Because of the lies in my head, and the disgusting person I believed myself to be, there was no way I could believe that anyone else would see me as anything other than worthless. I had to shut out the world, but I needed a companion to occupy the empty shell I thought I had become. Anorexia was what I believed I needed.

I wanted to numb myself. As humans, we can experience so many raging and violent emotions- I was consumed with distress and shame. How are we meant to handle this? But, I found a way. The further and further I fell into anorexia’s grasp, the duller and duller my mind became. Thoughts became illusive, life became a hazy swirl of events- I had my own place to escape to. Even when I realised the place anorexia was taking me was so dark, I didn’t care. I believed that it was where I was supposed to be, what I deserved.

I wanted to become invisible. I remember smiling at how perfectly defined each rib was,  at doctors who acted with a mix of deep concern and frustration as I lost more and more weight and as my heart beat became slower and slower. I was achieving my goal; I was becoming invisible- I was getting closer and closer to disappearing all together.

In actual fact, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I wanted help. I had become a victim of my own mind, a prisoner to myself. But it didn’t make sense, I had done so many great things in the past, I couldn’t be failing now.  Everyone believed I was so mature and so sorted and so together- so when my head started to tell me I needed to hurt myself, I had no words to call for help with. But I found a way to express it. I could use the destruction of my body as a scream of distress, an SOS call. Anorexia became my life line.

But there was a moment when I made a decision. I was lying in a crowded general medical ward, freezing, alone and terrified. I realised I had a choice: I could stay in the perceived safety of my prison of anorexia, or leap into the dark unknown of recovery. I was tired to trying to not exist, and when you are at rock bottom, what do you have to lose? Could I fall any further? I was tired of trying not to live. I was ready to start fighting to be alive.

It was absolute torture. Fighting myself every single day, over and over. Ignoring the voices in my head telling me I was too worthless for this, that I didn’t deserve to be alive, that I was hurting everyone else around me. But I did it, or rather am doing it. I have a life that I could never have dreamed of now. It is still a fight, but I know why I need to do this. So this is why I eat:

I want to be normal. Sometimes when I find myself stressing about the bus being late, or unable to decide what to wear to the next party I can’t suppress a smile. To have the stresses of normal life to worry about feels amazing. Creating a corridor jam at school because you’re too weak to push the doors open, collecting all of the hair that has fallen out in the last ten minutes on your sofa before anyone notices, crying because you have to touch the body that you have come to loath so much to wash yourself in the shower, is not a normal life. And it’s a life I hated. So every time I want to slip the biscuit you’ve just given me into my pocket to put in the bin later, or pretend I’ve eaten lunch so I don’t need to eat my sandwich in front of you, or stir my yoghurt round and round and round to put off eating it for as long as possible, I just have to remember how closed and confined my life had become, how removed from what life is supposed to feel like, how trapped I was. Then I know what to do. I want this normal, ordinary life that I have fought so hard to have.

I want to never, ever go back to that place. There was one day where my family went to the cinema. But the twenty meter walk back to the car was too much- my brother had to support me and help me into the seat, where I sat slumped over, unable to support myself. I was carried into the house, and placed on the sofa.  My mum had to hold me as I cried and told her I was so tired of keeping myself alive, that I couldn’t do it any longer. My starved brain couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t, my life had become one tortuous nightmare. I never, ever want go back to that place.

I want to live. It took for me to have my life stripped bare to realise how beautiful life is. I used to have to list the reasons why I have to stay alive to convince myself to get out of bed in the morning. Now, I like to wake up and list all of the reasons why I am so blessed to be alive. I had to choose whether I wanted to live my life, and I have chosen to do so. Anorexia is not a life, and I want to live.

So this is why I eat.

Eating disorders are not glamorous or romantic or an achievement. They are not special or comfortable or pleasant. They are destructive and debilitating and terrifying. They are not a choice, they are an illness. I don’t know why we are allowed to suffer. I don’t understand why we are left to hurt so much. But I do know that it has been this suffering and hurt that has taught me to see not just the harshness in this world, but to see also how compassionate, how strong, how brave, have precious people can be. And above all, how beautiful life is.       

Ordinary extraordinary people.

I have a secret to tell you. It is a secret that I have never understood until now, and it is a secret I now want to share.

It wasn’t doctors and nurses who saved my life. It wasn’t therapy or group work or medication. It was ordinary people like you.

Why do you even bother any more, you are so worthless. You are going to make a fool of yourself yet again. Of course you are because you are just so useless. SO USELESS. Hi! It’s great to see you, how are you doing? You do realise they don’t really care. They are lying. You know they’re lying to you don’t you? That’s because you are so worthless. They won’t even be listening to whatever you say back to them. I’m doing OK thank you. Hahaha no one knows, no one knows how you feel and most importantly no one cares! They hate you, they all hate you. You deserve this. Oh good. I’ve just been thinking about you, I noticed you’ve been a bit quite recently and was just wondering how things are. No they haven’t been, that’s another lie! You are such a disgusting person, why would they care? Why would anyone ever care? Do you understand? NO ONE CARES. I’ve just been really busy and things, that’s all. I’m fine. That’s right, hide, hide, hide. From everyone. Keep yourself shut away. Lock yourself in your mind. That’s what you deserve, because this is your fault you know, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT. OK, cool. But if you ever want to talk to me about anything I’m always here to listen. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare burden other people, how selfish are you to burden people just because you can’t cope! There you are, hurting more people again. Just because you are so pathetic, why should other people suffer too? You brought this have to all on yourself, by being so worthless, SO WORTHLESS. Well erm actually, I’m not feeling too good at the moment, and I guess I’m just finding things quite hard at the moment. WHAT are you doing? Do you really think they care? Why are you being so selfish? You are going to look so stupid when they judge you and laugh at you and ignore you- they won’t believe a word of what you tell them. And if they do, they will tell you it’s your fault-which it is. I’m so sorry to hear that things have been hard for you. Do you want to come to my house for a cup of tea tomorrow? Lies. Lies. Lies. You are so worthless. They don’t even care, no one cares. You deserve to be alone.

But why would they ask how I’m feeling? Why would they listen to me? Why would they ask to spend time with me? Maybe, just maybe they do care. Maybe I’m not alone in this.

Mental illness feels like you are living under a shield of bulletproof glass that surrounds you every single moment. It holds you prisoner. On the inside, your tumultuous thoughts and emotions rage, rebounding of the glass edges like an endless game of pinball. They form a hazy cloud of distress around you, consuming all that you are, and distorting your view of the world. On the outside, the smiles and kindly intended words or your family and friends fizzle out like tails of fireworks as they collide with your unbreakable force field.  You are imprisoned in a violent swirl of distress. Alone.  Until someone reaches out their hand.

Every time someone was brave enough to ask me how I was feeling, to send me a quick text, to invite me around for a cup of tea, to remind me that they are always there to listen, something strange happened. It was like each ordinary act of compassion was a tiny diamond bullet that left a crack in my glass prison. At first I didn’t notice, and then I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t- the lies in my mind were too loud. But then over time, as more and more kind words and actions were spoken and given to me, those cracks got bigger and bigger. The prison got weaker and weaker. Until, every so often,  I had a glimpse of life on the outside. I saw that my thoughts and feelings weren’t true, but the compassion of those around me was. They do care. I’m not alone in this.

Doctors and nurses showed me how to get through it, therapy helped me to understand it, medication helped me to weaken it. But it was the brave actions of ordinary, extra ordinary people in my life that enabled me to shatter the glass prison and rediscover the reality of life-It is not always easy or gentle or clear, but it can be beautiful.

Let’s be ordinary extraordinary people. It’s time to talk about mental health.

 

‘Five reasons to date a girl with an eating disorder.’

This article is a response to http://www.returnofkings.com/21313/5-reasons-to-date-a-girl-with-an-eating-disorder .

Nothing screams ‘there is so much misogyny and prejudice about mental illness in the world’ louder than a good old fashioned article about ‘reasons to date a girl with an eating disorder’. But there’s more than that. Eating disorders have been- quite appropriately- declared an illness like any other reserved for people of all ethnicities, genders, ages, and socio-economic status. In other words, the presence of an eating disorder is as much of a reliable predictor of various socio-economic, cultural, and personality traits in a person as a sprained ankle is. Not at all.

The idea of dating someone because their illness makes it easier for you to get what you want is repulsive, if not sadistic, which is why I wanted to challenge this article and the prejudice surrounding mental health.

I could have responded to describing what it is like to have clumps of hair fall out every time you brush it. Or how hard it is to be trying to get through a day when your vision is blurred and you are shaking with weakness. Or what it feels like to be trapped in your own head and tortured by your own thoughts. Or what it is like to have a mind so cloudy that you are unable to construct a sentence, or concentrate long enough to hold a conversation. Or what it feels like to have a feeding tube inserted through your nose and down your throat. Or how humiliating a supervised shower is. Or what it is like to have someone else decide when you can see your own family.

But it seems illogical to respond to such a negative article in such a negative way. I chose instead to try to describe what mental illness, such as an eating disorder, feels like.  I have only scratched the surface, but I hope I have used this destructive article to show a glimpse of what mental illness is like. From my experience, something good comes from all destructive things.

I have met some of the most beautiful people in my recovery from anorexia. By this, I mean people with so many truly amazing qualities- real beauty. I have written about just five of these qualities.

  1. They are strong.

Recovery involves battling with your own mind every single day. Facing your most terrifying nightmare on a regular basis. I don’t think there is anything braver than embarking on a journey that you cannot rest from even when you are so scared and so exhausted. To learn to override your thoughts and feelings, that your life is worth living, to learn to accept yourself, to even like yourself, to persisted with friends and family as they try to understand, to face the stigma and misconceptions of mental illness day in and day out takes real strength. There are few situations that take more strength than this to overcome.

  1. They understand what it means to be patient.

Patience is such an important virtue- in our relationships with people around us, with our hopes and aspirations and to get through the tougher aspects of life. To recover from an eating disorder takes real patience. Patience with yourself as you try to begin to comprehend why your thoughts are telling you to starve, that you are worthless, that no one could possible tolerate you, let alone love you. Patience when you take a few steps backwards even though you want to go forward. Patience in accepting where you are, and patience to get to where you want to be. Patience with your friends and family when they unintentionally say things that hurt you as they try to help you. Patience to accept that everything takes time.

  1. They are compassionate.

People recovering from an eating disorder or other mental illness know what it feels like to be hurting on the inside, but hiding behind a smile on the outside. They know what it is to feel like the whole world is crashing down on you, and to have everything you are broken at rock bottom.

Sometimes we can be too wrapped up in life to notice that other people are suffering. But when you know what it is to be hurting, you begin to understand other people, to get a glimpse of their hurt- in fact you feel it yourself, and are compelled to show compassion and be there by their side.

  1. They know the value of friendship.

Eating disorders, like other mental illnesses, tell you that everyone hates you. You deserve to be alone. You are not worth friendship. People in recovery know what it is to be terrifyingly lonely, even if you are surrounded by friendly faces- it’s part of being unwell. So recovery involves breaking down these false beliefs, recognising that to your friends and family you are worth so much. But what is more, it is realising that your friends and family are worth so much to you, that to be human is to need other people to laugh and to cry with. To understand that relationships can seem scary, will be hard work, but have so much value.

5. They see how beautiful life can be.

We don’t choose to be alive. But those who are recovering from an eating disorder do.

Eating disorders consume your mind. They consume your feelings about yourself, your value, your worth. They consume your hopes and aspirations. They then consume your friends and family, leaving you to believe that you deserve this isolation. Finally they consume your body. Your life. Eating disorders destroy a person’s whole existence. But, to have chosen to recover is to have chosen to live. Every single day isn’t something that you have to just go through, but something that you have decided you want, and have fought so hard to have. Going into life with this mind set, you cannot fail to appreciate how pretty a pink and orange sky looks, or how fun it is to mess around with your friends, or how good a cup of tea is, or how fuzzy a hug from someone you love feels, or how refreshing raindrops feel on your face, or how electric it feels when you make someone else smile. They have chosen to see how beautiful life can be.

In the words of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, beautiful people do not just happen.