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.
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.
Being distressed is horrible, those feelings of utter desperation, sadness, anger, fear, guilt…the list goes on. All those emotions and thoughts that form a ball of intolerable distress. So you can imagine how horrible a distressed person is feeling but imagine on top of that being restrained so that they can’t move their limbs or go to a different room. They are stuck. From personal experience I can tell you that it’s truly horrible.
I understand why restraint is necessary. Restraining is used to prevent harm either to the individual or to other people. I have always been restrained to stop me from hurting myself or absconding.
Frustration comes to mind when I think about restraint. Frustration mixed with terror, anger and shame. I’ll share with you a recent experience of being restrained. I had attempted to pull my NG tube out and it was half out by the time the staff noticed. They both grabbed me, one on each wrist and with a tight grip. I couldn’t move my arms. At that point I didn’t particularly care as the NG was already too far out to put back in but it still wasn’t nice to be held down. They held my arms for what seemed like ages and I needed to use the bathroom. I was escorted one on each arm to the toilets. After I had used the toilet I wanted to look in the mirror to body check and I admit this often takes me some time. The staff I was with thought I had spent long enough in front of the mirror so went to hold me and escort me out and back to my room. I hadn’t finished and it the distressed state I was in, I felt I needed to finish. So to stop them from walking me out and away from the mirror, I put myself down to the floor and sat cross legged with a person still on each arm. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I hated that people were holding me and touching me. I was angry at them because they were stopping me from doing what I felt needed to be done. I was also deeply ashamed, there is little more shameful than being restrained. Having the control over your body completely taken away. Being held down so that you cannot move. Being injected with a medication you don’t want and surrounded by staff. Being watched whilst in such a vulnerable position is horrible. I understand that it’s necessary…in fact it’s probably saved my life a good few times in the past but that doesn’t take away how traumatic and horrible it is to be restrained.
This Eating Disorders Awareness Week you may want to check out the following videos:
Firstly there is a talk about anorexia nervosa. It was performed at Ignite Cardiff and is titled ‘pro ana?! Pro life!’ It is about the realities of living with an eating disorder compared to the idealised views of the pro-anorexia community. It is also about overcoming eating disorders and sends the message out that ‘life can change in a minute.’ You can watch the talk here
Next we have a video about being sectioned for an eating disorder. It was created with Fixers, a U.K. charity and was brought about after seeing a comment on social media saying, “I want to be sectioned so that I can have a hug whenever I’m sad.” You can watch the video here
Finally we have a TV programme called ‘The Feel Happy Fix’ which was recorded live from the ITV studios by Fixers UK. It’s a programme that focuses on young people’s mental health in general but many of the young panelists have personal experience of an eating disorder. You can watch it here
I was amazed to receive an email congratulating me on coming in the top 60 mental health blogs on the planet. Mental illness Talk came in at number 41.
The link can be found here
Being in hospital can be a very lonely and isolating experience. I know this myself having spent the past 18 months in hospital, I haven’t seen my grandparents, aunts and uncles, my goddaughter and most of my friends and most days I really, really miss them. I understand that seeing a loved one so poorly can be heartbreaking and many people don’t know if the person is even up for a visit.
This afternoon was lovely, I saw my ballet teacher, my friends and their four year old son and my parents and not only did it make the afternoon fly by but it brightened up my day. I feel like I am a part of the world around me, like I’m connected to society again and people haven’t forgotten about me.
My message is this: visitors are so important during long inpatient stays. I really miss a lot of people who were in my life 18 months ago and it means the world to see their faces even if it’s only for a few minutes.
So thank you to the people who have visited me and to those of you considering visiting a loved one in hospital, please do. It makes the world of difference.
Today is Time To Talk day 2017 so take 5 minutes to talk about mental health. It is so important that we get these conversations going because they can save lives as well as working to stamp out stigma.
This Time To Talk day, I’m going to tell you a little bit about how I’m spending it. I’m currently in a general hospital being tube fed for my anorexia, I’m on 2:1 observations meaning I have two members of staff with me at all times and I’m on a level 4 which means I must be within arms length of the staff members, this includes when using the toilet. So there the facts about my situation but now it’s time to talk about how I feel.
I’m confused, recovery and weight restoration is being forced on me and I’m not sure that I want it. I’m scared about the future, my team are looking for a unit to send me to and so far none have accepted me. I don’t know what the near future holds for me. I’m homesick, I haven’t been home in 18 months and I would give anything to sit on the sofa with my family and dog and watch some rubbish telly. I feel alone and lost, I haven’t seen many people in the last 18 months and my grandmother has passed away during that time, I never got to say goodbye, I wasn’t well enough to go to her funeral and that breaks my heart everyday. I’m annoyed and angry at myself for losing out on so much. My goddaughter will be 3 in March and I’ve missed so much of her growing up, my dog is 14 and I’m scared she will die before I get home.
I have conversations about mental health every single day because I am unwell, but you don’t have to be ill to talk about mental health. We all have mental health, so please this Time To Talk Day 2017, take 5 minutes to ask someone how they are, send a text, natter over a cuppa, get the conversation going about mental health.
Happy Time To Talk Day everyone!