Although us human beings are social animals and most of us spend a lot of time in the company of others I think we often find it hard to imagine what it is like to be another person. To realise that we all have thoughts and feelings, even the prime minister and that whilst our problems or body hangs up convince us we are the only ones who feel like that, we often share our darkest thoughts with others. Unfortunately I am not the only person in the world with a mental illness but sometimes my illness is pretty good at convincing me that I am.
I want to tell you what life is like from my perspective, what it would be like if you slipped your foot into my size 3 shoes.
I’m pretty lonely, I don’t think it’s something that people even realise I struggle with but I’m probably lonelier than my elderly grandparents. I wake up in the morning with my dog snuggled into me and I’m so scared of her dying because she is all I have sometimes. I check my phone and realise that they’ve been online but they haven’t read my messages, it’s always the same I don’t seem to get a reply unless someone wants something from me. These aren’t the typical “Hey” “How are you?” “Good thanks you?” messages that people send on Facebook when they are bored, no this is me debating whether to accept a hospital admission and asking friends if they would visit if I went in or for advice on what to do. I’m left alone with it all, I’m not angry, I understand. I probably wouldn’t reply to me either.
One of the worst things about waking up is breakfast. I’ve just left the land of nod, I’ve had a few hours respite from the world and then wham! Breakfast straight away! I hate that I have to face food decisions for my entire day, you cannot escape an eating disorder for a day, it is not possible. Any bite of food feels like a binge and every time I eat it feels like my body swells and I must compensate to deal with it. The visions and images come into my mind, they take over my eyes and I cannot see the room I am sat in, only these gruesome and sick images.
The orders that get shouted at me all day long by the voice, orders that always end with “…you fat b*tch!” Distract. Distract. Distract. I must distract myself. But then it takes over my breathing and I lose control and give in and I can’t stop myself and I cry and pant as I hurt myself. I’m screaming “F*ck off!!” back at the voice but it doesn’t leave my mouth. Silence. I’m praying for someone to come along, I need help in that moment, I cannot look after myself. That’s terrifying.
I’m being offered hospital admission because I am not well, I don’t want to go in and I don’t really have time to go in. Health should come first, I know that but what I do, the busyness is what keeps me going and it is my only positive. I cannot let go of that. I know I should be on the ward right now but I don’t want to be, I’ve spent too much of my life in a psychiatric hospital.
I find social interaction difficult. I am either incredibly anxious and struggle to say anything. I hide my mouth behind my hand or sleeve almost keeping my personality and self inside because I do not feel good enough for the situation or for the people I am with. Or I am loud and bubbly and confident but I will lay in bed that night and think over everything I said and dig my nails into my skin with self hatred. I am constantly judging and criticising myself and it is so exhausting.
I don’t have qualifications beyond the GCSEs I managed to scrape. I am academic and hard working, I was all set to come out with A grades in A level psychology but education failed me. I was not allowed to finish my A levels because of my mental health. I have never been so discriminated against in my life. Education implies people are there to be educated, to learn, but mental health was not on the curriculum. I was bullied and isolated by other students but the students were not the ones who were the most damaging-the staff were! One teacher who had never taught me told my then boyfriend to split up with me because I have mental health problems, another time I was sat in a village pub with my dog and a diet coke and I was accused of stalking a member of staff. A month before my final exams I lost my place in education. It was cruel, brutal and I will probably never return to education because of what happened.
My life is very difficult right now and most of the time I’m really not bothered about whether I am alive or not. The love for my Mother and my mental health campaigning keeps me going. I partly blame mental health services for how things are now. I got ill, nothing and no one can change that. The chemistry in my brain along with many other factors screwed up and I became poorly but the way I was treated has potentially prolonged this and turned it into a permanent thing. Accessing mental health services can be like mission impossible, it was hard enough to get my GP to refer me and I was only referred once I had made an attempt on my life. The waiting lists are painfully long and at one point I waited 18 months to see someone and during those 18 months I was in and out of the psychiatric ward, I lost my job, my friends and my education. After 18 months of waiting, I was given 20 sessions of treatment for anorexia…I could not even restore my weight in that time!
Stigma has affected my life in many ways. There’s the more obvious stuff like ‘friends’ not believing I was ill. I even had one ‘friend’ say “You can’t have anorexia because you always argue with your parents and anorexics are meant to be nice.” I accepted most of the stuff people said because I felt like I was a bad person and deserved to be mistreated. There was also the stuff that health professionals said that left me gobsmacked from being told that anorexia is a life choice to having my voice taken the mick out of when I was incredibly suicidal. I was detained under section 2 and on constant observations when a health care assistant told me I did not have a ‘true’ mental illness because he could have a conversation with me!
In my shoes I feel let down by the country, by the government. I have never committed a crime and yet I spent a night in a cell because there were no hospital beds available when I was in a mental health crisis. We are lucky to live in the country we do because most of the time help is there when we need it but sometimes a few people slip through the net and I feel like I slipped through the net a long time ago. I’m mentally ill, unemployed, lonely and full of secrets. I have mental and physical scars that are hidden from everyone’s view but they are burning and itching and it’s getting harder to hide. I’m scared. My nightmares are a respite from the horrors of my mental illness. It’s difficult to be in my shoes, but I’m sure it’s difficult to be in most people’s shoes. I don’t think any of us have it easy and I don’t think the society we now live in is a particularly nice one. I wonder if David Cameron could imagine a day in my size 3s.