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.

Stop With The Stigmatising Headlines

When something goes wrong in society and a horrible tragedy happens like a brutal murder or someone on the loose with a gun the media often instantly blame mental illness for the tragedy. This week an incredibly upsetting and heartbreaking incident occurred when a Germanwings plane crashed in The French Alps on Tuesday killing all of the 150 people on board the flight. It is such a sad and tragic occurrence and I cannot imagine what the families of those people are going through right now.

The media, however, have not dealt with this situation in the right way. As a society we tend to blame groups of people, for example when a terrorist attack happens we blame an entire religion. When the news emerged that the co-pilot appeared to crash the plane on purpose and he had depression, the media gripped onto the fact that he had a mental illness and immediately put the blame on that releasing stigmatising headlines. The Daily Mail printed on their front page, “Suicide pilot had a long history of depression. Why on earth was he allowed to fly” This headline is unacceptable. The majority of people with depression are not dangerous nor are they bad people. I have depression and I would never dream of killing one person, let alone 150 people. I have never hurt another person physically and I highly doubt I ever will. I know many people with depression some of which are charity workers, scientists, nurses. Why should a mental illness mean that someone shouldn’t be allowed to do their job? 1 in 4 of us suffer from mental health problems and I’m sure there are many people working in ‘trusted’ positions that have mental health problems whether they are diagnosed or not. Anyone whether unwell or not can be impulsive. We all have a heart that could stop beating at any time, are we saying that anyone with a heart shouldn’t be a pilot or a surgeon?

The Daily Mirror’s front page involved a huge font with the words, “Killer Pilot Suffered From Depression” So? The pilot may have had depression but correlation does not imply causation. We don’t know that it was his depression that made him crash the plane and we may never know but it is wrong to speculate and turn to blame a vulnerable group of people. The pilot had his own thoughts and choices, individuals are responsible for their own actions. This tragedy is not an opportunity to stigmatise those with mental illness. People with mental illness are still people, people who are capable of achieving great things. Let’s not blame mental illness every time something goes wrong.

If you stigmatise and shut out certain groups in society then society loses out. People have much to offer the world regardless of age, race, religion and disability. Let’s focus on people’s gifts and talents and see them as individuals rather than grouping people and tarring them with the same brush in order to cope with the horrors that happen in our world. You cannot group people together, mental illness is a huge umbrella and no two people are the same. One pilot with mental illness may be overly cautious. Another pilot with mental illness may be impulsive. People are people, each individual unique in how they respond to the world around them.

Bad things happen in this world and maybe people blame things like religion or mental illness because it makes it feel easier to them or helps them to make sense of things but we need to accept that bad things happen and individuals alone can cause trauma and nightmares. Blaming innocent groups leaves people outcasted, alone and puts unnecessary fear into society.

We must remember that we all have mental health, we are all on the scale somewhere. People with mental illness are not scary or dangerous. They are not ‘crazy’ or ‘lunatics’ they are simply people like you and I and there’s a high likelihood that at some point in your life you will struggle with mental health problems.

I am not standing up for the pilot, not at all. If he did crash that plane on purpose then it is beyond wrong, heartbreaking, horrific but I do think that if the pilot’s depression did contribute to the crash and he had a long history of the illness like the media suggest then questions need to be asked about why he didn’t have the right help. I do not know the situation here but I know that I have cried out for help in the past and been ignored by services and ended up making serious attempts on my life. It needs investigating, did services let him down? Should they have stepped in? Had he made hints or comments and if so why weren’t they taken seriously? I am not saying that it was his illness, we do not know that and it is wrong to speculate but I am saying that this is why it is so important that help is there and accessible for those battling mental illness.

People are mainly good, there are a small minority of people in society who are dangerous and it is wrong to think that the whole of that minority have mental health problems. There are many good people with mental illness and I have been so lucky to meet some of those amazing and inspirational people. In some ways my mental illness has actually helped me to become a better person. I am able to understand what it is like to struggle and I use my negative experiences in a way that turns them into positives whether this be through my blog or speaking out in the media. The night spent in the cell due to lack of hospital beds was one of my worst but I have used it to speak out, raise awareness and to help make change happen. I have a mental illness but I have never attacked anyone or killed anyone. People with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of crime than the criminal. I used to struggle to leave the house but I began baking cakes for homeless young people and it helped me to get out the door and they got some yummy food in their stomach. I honestly believe from the bottom of my heart that my mental illness has helped me to learn and grow into a fairly good person.

The Mind Media Awards 2014

Wow! What an inspirational night!

I have shared my experiences of mental ill health in the media, particularly focusing on my experiences of spending a night in a cell after being detained under Section 136 of The Mental Health Act. As a media volunteer for mind I was invited to the Mind Media Awards in London last night.

It was such an amazing, inspiring night and I am still buzzing, I truly believe that it is possible to make changes in attitudes towards mental health as well as treatment of mental illness. A highlight was seeing Michael Buchanan and Andy McNicoll win their much deserved award, particularly as I worked with Michael Buchanan on the S136 piece which, again, highlighted the bed crisis.

Last night showed how as a society we have come on leaps and bounds. It was the norm to be silent about these illnesses not so long ago but as more people are speaking out we are stamping out the stigma that exists. Imagine a world where no one has to be ashamed or hide away whilst their illness destroys them. Imagine a world where we treat each other with compassion instead of judgement. It’s possible.

TV programmes such as ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ and ‘The Dumping Ground’ are highlighting mental health problems in a more truthful light than ever before. The character suffering from a mental illness is not put into the script for comedy purposes. More importantly, programmes such as ‘Rugby League: State of Mind’ which target an audience that is often hard to reach and starts life saving conversations.

There were so many inspirational individuals and stories last night, 15 year old Ellen won an award for her amazing OCD blog and Deana Collins, Karen Bonsall, Mary Brailsford and Richard Ward won the Speaking Out award for their brave, persistent and life changing work.

Last night made me even more determined to continue speaking out and reaching out because change is possible. You might think that one voice won’t make a difference but it really, really can. I will not be silenced by my illness.