I Feel Like I am My Mental Illness

Getting better terrifies me. I have struggled with eating since I was 5 but officially anorexia was diagnosed a decade ago. I’ve spent the past 6 years in and out of hospital. I’ve only lived in Wales for 3 years and I have spent nearly all of that time in one hospital or another.

I am the girl who brings her own food to people’s dinner parties. As my extended family tuck into an Indian takeaway, I shiver over a bowl of soya porridge. As my grandparents enjoy their Sunday roast, I nibble on raw peppers, carrots and cherry tomatoes. That is what has become expected of me. I don’t just have anorexia, I am anorexia.

Hospital has become my home. Everyone knows I’m in hospital and I am used to being here. I’m used to living in this little bubble away from the real world. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to go to the supermarket, or the cinema, or anywhere for that matter. I’m used to spending all my time with nurses and support workers instead of friends and family. I think nothing of having two people watching me whilst I go to the toilet or shower or sleep or do anything. This has become my life. Whilst other people my age go out on a Friday night, I lay in bed with a member of staff on each arm. This is the norm for me. This is my life.

I have become my mental illness. It has become my identity. People follow me on twitter and instagram because I’m ill and my whole accounts centre around my illness. My blog and it’s successes are because of my mental illness. My media work, my speeches…they have all been about my mental illness and that is what I have become known for, for being mentally ill.

So how am I supposed to get better? I don’t know who I am without all of this. I don’t even know if it’s possible to be without all of this. Will I ever wake up and be glad I’m alive? Will I ever tuck in to an Indian takeaway with my extended family and not want to kill myself with guilt afterwards? Will I ever go out with friends on a Friday night? Or have conversations that aren’t about illness or recovery? Who will I be if I get better and this is no longer who I am? I’m scared I’ll become a nobody but I’m even more scared that it isn’t possible. That I am a mental illness and I will always be a mental illness.

Don’t Assume I’m Well Because I Speak Out

There seems to be an assumption that people who speak out publically about mental health problems are recovered. This is something I find very difficult because I end up having a lot of conversations with people who assume I am recovered and okay when the truth is that I am not. I feel positive for the first time in a long time, I want to live my life and achieve things and make positive change for other people’s mental health which is why I speak out and put a lot of effort into doing so. This positivity is a new thing, even as little as 8 weeks ago I didn’t feel positive about life and if I am completely honest I didn’t want to be alive. I use this positivity to inspire others because for over a decade I spent every single day wanting to die and I didn’t believe that could ever change but it did and it happened when I was least expecting it. It is very early days, I’m still in the stages of ‘firsts’, the first time I took paracetamol for a headache, the first time I sat down and watched my favourite film. All these little things that add to taking care of myself I am doing for the first time.

With anorexia, I’m not sure I will every be completely better, I have suffered with this illness since I was 5 and to me recovery isn’t about anorexia completely disappearing, it is simply about being healthy enough to participate in life in a fulfilling and meaningful way. I am actually quite unwell with anorexia at the moment, it went downhill after Christmas and I haven’t managed to halt it yet. I work at it every single day but my weight is not healthy, my body is not healthy and my mind is not healthy. I still have a long way to go.

People can speak out about mental illness and make a positive impact on the world around them whilst they are still unwell. I don’t have to be a shiny, recovered, perfect smile kind of person in order to achieve the things I want to when it comes to raising awareness, understanding and educating and inspiring others. I have been detained under the mental health act twice in the past 12 months, I am in treatment for anorexia, I am nowhere near well and recovered and I will probably never be mental illness free.

The media tend to have a focus when they are covering a mental health story. It often involves looking back on the person’s past with mental illness and then a short bit on how well they are now. This is the case for some people but it would be more beneficial to focus on the ‘now’ and on the day to day living with a severe and enduring mental health condition. I think it is very inspiring to see how someone built up a satisfying and happy around their mental illness rather than showing someone who miraculously recovered. There are some people who will probably never be completely well, the media do not cater for these people.

I speak out about mental health, I campaign for positive change in mental health but I still suffer with a severe and enduring mental illness every single day.