A memory sprung to mind the other day thinking back to when I was first involved in eating disorder services. I was given a questionnaire to fill out and one of the questions on it was, “Does your eating disorder make you feel you can have your cake and eat it too?” And I just think now how inappropriate and insensitive that question was. There was surely a better way to word it, it almost seems as though someone was having a joke at patients expense.
Easter with an eating disorder can be extremely difficult, just like Christmas if not harder. This year whilst I’m stuck in hospital being tube fed I won’t have to face any Easter eggs or family feasts which is a relief in a way but it also makes me feel sad. I wish I could join in with the world and celebrate. I wish I could be around my family and go for a nice Easter walk. I wish I could taste chocolate on my tongue. I wish I could tuck into a roast…but even when I’ve been home Easter has been a challenge.
Just like any other celebrations, birthday, Christmas and Easter became days I tried to give myself ‘off’ from my eating disorder but of course you can’t just have a day off from a mental illness. Generally suffering from anorexia means my diet is restrictive but on these days I would almost give myself permission to eat and with the mixture of excitement, fear, extreme hunger and excuse my language but ‘fuck it’ attitude I would end up binging. I would be scared of the Easter eggs I’d received and would want them out the way so I’d eat them all and then physically and mentally I’d end up feeling rubbish. But it wouldn’t just last one day, it’d last weeks. It’d trigger a splurge of binging and everyday I’d be cramming all the food I could find into my mouth. Easter would ‘ruin’ a restrictive intake and my weight would increase to a number and size I was uncomfortable with. One tiny day would make me spiral out of control for weeks to come. What was meant to be a happy celebration would become a nightmare.
I hope that next year I do get to have a happy Easter. I hope I’m home for it and that I can eat a cadburys creme egg and an Easter egg and have lunch with my family before going for a walk in the fresh Spring air.
I would like to wish all my followers a happy Easter and I truly hope it is a happy Easter. I send you all my best wishes and hope the day doesn’t bring trauma and fear to you.
I got ill with mental illness very young and in a way it stole a lot of my childhood and teenage years away from me. I didn’t get the experiences that other young people had. I never went to university and experienced freshers week, I never experienced my first drink on my 18th Birthday or pizza parties, school canteen food, having fun. Instead I experienced self harm, starvation, suicide attempts and binge eating. For all of my secondary school life I was in a very dark place. And whilst I had to grow up very quickly in some ways, in other ways I remain the twelve year old girl I was when this illness really took its grip and that’s hard. It’s hard to be in an adult world still feeling like a child and only with the life experiences of a child.
I have spent all my life being looked after. As a child I was looked after by my mum and dad and as an adult I have been looked after by nurses and support workers. I crumble with the slightest bit of responsibility that is given to me. For the past year I haven’t even showered or gone to the toilet alone. In fact when I was in the secure unit I wasn’t even trusted to hold the toilet paper myself and was handed it one square at a time.
I’ve experienced trauma and pain and my illnesses have been very distressing and quite frankly horrible. In many ways I have been through more than most adults and yet those very things are what have kept me a child in an adults body.
I still long for my mother, for her hugs and kisses and hand holding. My dad manages my finances because I cannot. I kiss and cuddle and coo my dog. I have teddies on my bed and sleep with the light on. I wear children’s clothes because that’s all that will fit me. I have to ask permission to do anything and I am often told ‘no’. The slightest thing upsets me and throws me into complete and utter turmoil. Tears run down my face, sobs escape my mouth and arms and legs flail. Yet I am old enough to be married with children and have a mortgage and that’s hard. I feel like society puts expectations on me that I cannot meet and my illnesses and situation keep me from growing up even when I’m meant to be a grown up. It’s hard and confusing, scary and shameful to admit but whilst I may be in my twenties, mentally I am still twelve.
Living with a mental illness is horrible, it comes with really tough times, a lot of emotions and nasty side effects from both medication and talking therapies. By this I mean the pain of opening up your whole life to a therapist or the nausea and sedation from your new pills. Throughout my battle with mental illness my dog, Candy, has eased my distress no end.
When I was well enough to live at home being greeted by Candy’s wagging tail means the world. I am someone and I am wanted. When she cuddles into me whilst I cry it makes me feel less alone. Those difficult, dark hours through the night were made better by the dog I had sleeping beside me on my bed. I have stroked her under the chin and told her that I’m sorry when I’ve attempted to take my life and seeing her with her tail tucked in tells me she understands. Pets get it, perhaps more than humans do.
I have really missed being around animals since coming into hospital in 2015. It’s a real shame that animals aren’t allowed on the ward and therapy dogs don’t visit. I think it’d really help anyone in hospital regardless of whether they are there for a physical or mental health condition.
The other night my mental health team allowed me to do something special. I was allowed down to the entrance in a wheelchair to meet my parents and Candy. She was so excited to see me and she cuddled into me in my wheelchair and I instantly felt relaxed. My stresses and worries from the day disappeared slightly. I became mindful. All I was thinking about was the beautiful animal on my lap. I was 100% focused on stroking her coarse fur and running my fingers over her smooth ears. For me animals are magic. Pets bring humour, happiness, unconditional love and companionship and I dread to think of my life without Candy in it.
A couple of years ago I made a short video with Fixers about what it’s like to be sectioned for an eating disorder. This came about after I saw a comment online saying, “I wish I could be sectioned so that I could have a hug” I was utterly shocked by this. Being sectioned is not something I have ever wanted to happen to me and hugs are very rare when you are in hospital. After reading the shocking comment, I made ‘sectioned’ which can be watched here.
My life has changed a lot since then, a lot has happened and when I watch the video now I wish I could update it so I thought I’d do it in a blog post. In the video I had only experienced being sectioned under section 2 of the mental health act. I have now been detained under section 3 of the mental health act since 2015 and this is still on going.
In the video I talk briefly about the two weeks I spent on level 3 which is where a member of staff remains with you at all times, this includes in the shower/bath, on the toilet and whilst sleeping. I have now been on level 4 2:1 for 2 months and this is also ongoing. This means two members of staff are within arms length of me at all times. So now it’s not one pair of eyes on me while I sleep, go to the toilet, shower etc but two pairs of eyes on me. I haven’t gone to the toilet unsupervised since May 2016.
My ‘choice’ remains the same. I have to drink sickly, gloopy supplements or they go down the tube I have up my nose. The difference is that now I can’t bare to let it touch my lips and so everything goes down the NG tube. I say ‘choice’ because I don’t really get a choice, I have to have the supplement drink one way or another. Some days I am restrained whilst they pump the feed down my tube.
I still feel my skin crawling with calories, itching, bubbling. Maybe this sensation will always remain with me around food, maybe it will never go away and that scares me.
In the video, I say “The final section, I hope it was” and I am gutted to say it wasn’t, I have a few more to add to this list. I wish my update was that I was living a normal life and the facts of the video had not changed. I wish I could say I was well rather than wishing I could remake the video to fit with my current circumstances.
My message remains the same: Mental illnesses are not fashion accessories, eating disorders are not glamorous and being detained under the mental health act is not something to strive for. This is still my life and I would not wish it upon anyone.
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.