Yoda’s wise words “you must unlearn what you have learned” resonate a lot with me when it comes to recovery both with my personality disorder and eating disorder. I have to unlearn a lot of behaviours and thought processes that I have learnt.
I need to learn how to eat normally again. I’ve forgotten what an average healthy diet looks like and I need to learn this not only in my head, but my body needs to learn to tolerate a normal intake too. I need to learn how to just simply eat without compensatory behaviours afterwards. I need to learn portion sizes and be able to treat myself without feeling unbearably guilty or it turning into a binge. I need to learn how to deal with emotions and the total pain and anguish I experience without using self destructive behaviours.
I have been unwell for a long time and I have learnt to live my life this way, now in order to reach recovery and live a more stable life I need to unlearn these thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that enable me to cope with the world around me. Recovery isn’t just about learning, it’s about unlearning too.
I often feel quite ashamed of my mental illness. It’s like by being so unwell for so many years I am less of a person than my peers who have degrees, careers, children, marriages and so on. I always feel embarrassed because I feel my life shouldn’t be like this, I shouldn’t be like this.
My mental illness has put me in situations that have made me feel shame, that have made me feel like a bad person. Claiming benefits made me feel awful, selfish, worthless. I felt like the scum of the earth but I was too poorly to work and needed money to survive. I never ever wanted to be in a position where I had to claim benefits. The night I spent in a police cell made me feel like a bad person. As nice as the police were to me, I was treated like a criminal. I had my belongings and shoes taken off of me, I was strip searched and then put in a cell for many hours. I felt like a criminal. I felt like the whole of society was looking down on me.
I feel extremely guilty for the pain I have put other people through. I have dragged family and friends through this nightmare with me. My dad hasn’t slept properly in 18 months, my mum has cried at her severely anorexic daughter. It’s not nice for me but it’s not nice for those around me who have to witness all this too.
I do feel like a bad person. I do hate myself. But I shouldn’t, having a mental illness does not make me a bad person or any less of a person. It just makes me ill. This is something I never chose to happen to me. My asthma doesn’t make me a bad person, yes it can inconvenience people when I’m having an attack but nobody thinks I’m an awful person because of it. I know there is a difference between physical illnesses and mental illnesses because mental illnesses can impact and influence someone’s behaviour. I feel like a terrible person for some of the text messages I have sent when I’ve been unwell, or for getting angry at my parents for what seems like no apparent reason. I feel like a terrible person when someone makes the effort to spend time with me and I can’t stay awake or I can barely utter a word. I hate myself when I can’t follow your conversation but what I need to learn is that it isn’t my fault.
Having a mental health problem doesn’t make you a bad personal, neither does it make you any less of a person. You are unwell and you had no choice over that. Don’t feel like you are a bad person over an illness that happened to you.
Radical acceptance is a DBT skill and it’s all about accepting the situation you are in and making the best of it. It’s a skill to use when the situation can’t be changed, for example after someone binge eats they cannot change that they have binged and the best thing to do is to radically accept you have binged and to use skills to cope with the binge rather than using more negative behaviours to cope such as purging or self harm.
Right now I am in a situation I do not like. I am frustrated that my choices have been taken away from me now that I am sectioned and it gets to me that I can’t do what I want to do like going for a walk or going to bed when I want to instead of having to wait for the medication round to get to me. It’s frustrating that I don’t have freedom and I find it suffocating that I have two staff members within arms reach of me at all times. I long to have five minutes alone, to use the toilet in peace, for some privacy when visitors arrive. It gets a bit much sometimes but I can’t change this. This is the situation I am in and I will be in until I go to a specialist unit in May. I have to radically accept that this is my life right now and make the best of the situation that I can. None of this is going to go away. I wish I had choices, freedom, privacy and alone time but I don’t so I’m radically accepting that this is how it is. When my visitors come we can still have a nice time without privacy. When they feed me I have to accept that this is how it is and I have no choice in it. Whilst this situation feels suffocating I have two people next to me that I can talk to about anything and everything and I should embrace that and use them. Things aren’t great right now, I hate the situation I am in but right now I cannot change it, I just have to make the most of it.
Today is Sock It To Eating Disorders Day so put on your silliest socks and post a #SockItSelfie to help raise awareness of eating disorders. You can also donate to the eating disorder charity B-eat here
This world book day why not check out the book ‘Dear Stranger’. All profits from the sales of these books goes to the mental health charity Mind.
Dear Stranger is a collection of inspirational, honest and heartfelt letters from authors, bloggers and mind ambassadors to an imagined stranger. Insightful and uplifting, ‘Dear Stranger’ is a humbling glimpse into different interpretations of happiness, and how despite sometimes seeming unobtainable happiness can, in the smallest of ways, become an achievable goal.
Letters included in ‘Dear Stranger’ are written by a variety of people including myself, Fiona Phillips, Matt Haig, Caitlin Moran and Richard Branson.
I have not always had supportive friends and family when it comes to my eating disorder. In fact there were years of pain where people didn’t understand or walked out of my life and I have never felt so lonely and isolated.
Nowadays I am extremely lucky to have the support I do. My parents visit the hospital everyday, my sister visits everytime she has a Saturday off work and I have several friends who visit often too. On top of this is the incredible online support, my twitter followers who send well wishes and the comments on my instagram that keep me going. I no longer feel alone in my battle and whilst hospital can be an isolating experience, I feel much less isolated than I used to.
I have lost many friends because of my illness, people who simply couldn’t cope backed out of my life and it really hurt. For years I kept my illness from my extended family and wouldn’t talk about it to my immediate family. This caused tension, loneliness, arguments, upset and total utter misery. Now I am much more open and I am both lucky and truly grateful for the support I receive from the people in my life.
Friends play a key role for sufferers of eating disorders, they are often the only part of ‘normality’ left in a sufferers life. Right now I am very unwell but I love nothing more than to have a gossip and a giggle with my friends. I don’t always want to talk about anorexia, sometimes it’s nice to take silly photos on Snapchat and to make plans for the future.
The role of the family is vital, particularly if they are the people the sufferer is living with. I know it is not easy for my family to deal with my eating disorder. I am well aware that they are heartbroken by how poorly I am at the moment and that before I came into hospital I was hard to live with. I was often in a bad mood with a short temper, particularly around meal times. I would eat separately to them most of the time and if they were in the kitchen when I was food prepping I would be very stressed out. They had to deal with a lot, especially coming home to empty cupboards during periods of binge eating. But I needed them. I needed them so much. Their love and support meant the world to me and without them I probably wouldn’t still be alive. We used to not talk about anorexia but now we are so very open with each other and it has brought us closer together. I have an incredible relationship with my family and I feel both lucky and thankful for this everyday. My friends and family both play an incredibly vital role in my life and my recovery.
“You’re looking well”, those words that are said and meant with good intentions but spiral an eating disorder sufferer into a world of terror, confusion and fear. I hate people telling me I look well because I hear the word ‘fat’ when you say ‘well’. I’ll be left thinking ‘oh my gosh my cheeks are chubby, my thighs are thick and my stomach is prominent’ and my body image will be thrown out of the window for at least a week but I think I hate these words more because when they are said to me, I am not well. The battle on the outside doesn’t always show the battle on the inside when it comes to eating disorders.
I may have managed to spoon cereal into my mouth at breakfast, I may have ordered a frappucino in Starbucks and I may be a healthy BMI but that doesn’t mean my eating disorder has gone or lessened in intensity. In fact some of the times when I have been a healthy weight have been my worst times mentally. A sick person doesn’t want to hear that they are looking well.
I hope that one day I am able to hear the words, “you’re looking well.” And respond with “thank you, yes I am” and to truly mean it. To feel good about having this said to me but for now it is something I dread to hear and I know I’m not the only eating disorder sufferer that experiences this.
There are plenty of ways you can get involved in Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2017. You could blog, vlog, tweet, Facebook and instagram to raise awareness of eating disorders using the hashtag #EDAW2017
You can learn more about eating disorders on B-eat’s website and you can donate to B-eat here
On Friday 3rd March it is Sock It To Eating Disorders Day where people don their silly socks in order to raise awareness for eating disorders. You can buy your socks direct from B-eat here
So this year, put on your silly socks, get the conversations about eating disorders flowing and donate to help change and save the lives of those affected by eating disorders.
When it comes to eating disorders, early intervention is so important. I often wonder what my life would be like if I would’ve had treatment much earlier on in my eating disorder. Looking back I just wish someone would’ve taken me seriously. My parents were called into school because I had been throwing my packed lunch away and concerned friends told teachers but other than that no action was taken. The school nurse’s response was to tell me that I didn’t want to end up like a girl in the year above me who had anorexia. On one occasion I did visit the GP but no further action was taken, there were no referrals to CAMHS or follow up appointments. I wasn’t referred to eating disorder services until I was 17, at which point I was years into my illness.
Early intervention is important because these illnesses are so easy to get stuck in. They take over the whole of who you are. Anorexia took over my body, my personality, my social life and eventually my identity. Food and weight were all I thought about and if I wasn’t obsessing over these I was exercising. It became my life and the longer it is your life, the harder it is to get out of. With early intervention comes quicker recovery and I believe there is more chance of making a full recovery too.
Early intervention isn’t just important in the beginnings of eating disorders but also when it comes to relapse. When I first relapsed with anorexia nervosa it took 13 months from referral to treatment by which point I was very poorly both physically and mentally. At the beginning of my relapse I had friends, a boyfriend, a part time job and I was studying A levels at college. At the start of treatment I hadn’t seen friends in months, I had broken up from my boyfriend, was unemployed and had lost my place at college due to my health. Now imagine if things had been different and I would’ve gotten treatment earlier on, I might’ve been able to make things work with my boyfriend and my job and college. I might not have lost my life to the illness and since losing it, I have yet to rebuild it.
Maybe with early intervention I wouldn’t be typing this from a hospital bed with an NG tube up my nose and maybe it would’ve saved a lot of heartache and pain not only for me but for my family too.
Eating disorders are potentially fatal illnesses and unfortunately some sufferers do die whether this be because of health complications or suicide. Early intervention would save lives.
So my message is this: Early intervention when it comes to eating disorders is key and life saving in more ways than one.
This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and I will be blogging, tweeting and instagramming all this week. Don’t forget to take your #SockItSelfie and post with the hashtag to raise awareness. Eating disorders can and will be beaten.