“I feel fat” is something that runs through my mind and leaves my mouth thousands of times a day but what does it mean? Fat is not a feeling and factually I am underweight. I’m trying to explore what is really going on when I feel fat. I mean I can ‘feel’ it, I get the physical sensation of fat growing on me, I can feel my skin tingling, itching and bubbling. I can pinch my fat but I’m told it’s just skin and I can see I’m fat in the mirror and in photographs but emotionally it is not possible to feel fat. Maybe I feel sad, anxious, afraid or even angry but my brain smothers the emotion and turns it into the feeling of fat. The world of eating disorders is a very confusing place. I don’t know what’s real and what’s not or who or what to believe. I can look in the mirror and see my sickness on rare occasions but just hours later I can see the flabby me reflected in the mirror again. It’s like living in a funhouse where all the mirrors are stretched and exaggerated. I don’t know the truth of what I look like and that can be very scary.
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.
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.