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.
It’s something I hear all the time, “School days are the best days of your life” and I can’t help but think that is the biggest lie I have ever heard. I can think of little worse than having to go to a place everyday learning about things that don’t interest you whilst being crammed in a room full of people who are only similar to you in age.
For me school days were not the best days of my life at all, far from it in fact. I was bullied, bitched about, I spent my break times in the toilets self harming or purging. I threw my lunch in the bin everyday. I faked ill to stay home. I hated everything about school. I hated that I was practically forced to see the school counsellor, a much older man that I just didn’t click with. No, school days were not the best days of my life.
The best days of my life were sitting in a hot tub with my friends and family giggling and drinking Pepsi max out of milk bottles with paper straws, the day I went on BBC Breakfast, the moments in my ballet classes when I don’t care about my reflection in the mirror staring back at me. Whilst I’m in a dark place now I have had some of the best days of my life and these have all been since I left school. I can promise you this: if you hate school and think these are meant to be the best days of your life, they are not. Your best days are yet to come and I promise you that they will come. School days being the best days of your life is one of the biggest lies I have ever heard. Don’t fall into the trap of believing it’s true.
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.
Three years ago my family and I packed our bags and moved from Northamptonshire to Wales. It was terrifying. I was dreading the move because it meant leaving everything that was familiar behind. Whilst my care had been rather rubbish back home, it was what I knew and leaving that scared me. Knowing I’d never see that receptionist’s face again upset me. I had my special place, the middle of a field where I’d often be the only person for miles and leaving that was hard. Everything was going to be new and whilst new can be exciting, it can also be stressful and lonely.
I remember trying to find the GP surgery for an emergency appointment, we walked up and down the same streets several times, walking complete circles of the block just to end up where we began and all alone time was ticking. We were going to be late, and being late sends my anxiety soaring.
I didn’t know anyone other than my mum and dad. I find it hard to put myself out there but I went to a local young people’s centre in the hope of finding friendship and I did but that doesn’t take away how utterly terrifying it was to walk into that centre for the first time. Definitely going to a local group or class helps when moving to a new area. It is so important not to become isolated as this often is not good for mental health. Volunteering is also another way to get to know people and the area you have moved too. Social media was so important to me in the first days, weeks and even months after my move. I was able to keep in touch with friends and family back home as well as emailing and phoning my old counsellor who’s support was pure gold dust. She probably didn’t realise just how much I needed her voice and reassurance then. Mind also run an online community called Elefriends and this could be a good way to connect to people and feel supported.
I’m sitting on the end of my bed in hospital. Numb but in pain. I don’t understand anymore. Utter confusion. Dreaming of a future like a child, imagining I’ll be a vet or a teacher but seeing reality like an adult…I am just a psychiatric ward patient….I probably don’t even deserve the word ‘just’ in front of that. I’m a nothing, a no one. Three months locked away has completely detached me from the world around me. I belong nowhere and with no one. The world outside the window doesn’t feel like mine. It’s like I don’t remember what the rolling hills look like, nor the supermarket aisles or petrol stations. My ballet shoes disintegrated when my life turned into compost. Maybe new flowers will grow out of the soil but I doubt it. It feels like I’ll never feel the sun on my skin again and that my heart will never vibrate with the bass of loud music. Will I always be gone? Will I ever find me again?
Earlier this month I was lucky enough to go to London with UK charity Fixers to talk about young people’s mental health. The event was held at BFI, London in the morning and we watched some of the educational and inspring films that Fixers have produced on mental health which can be found here: http://www.fixers.org.uk/
We then separated into groups to focus on six key sections which were: Health Care, The Media, School, Home, Work and Play. Young people discussed the issues in these sections and came up with solutions as to how young people could be happier in these places, for example if schools were to offer mental health education it would be of huge benefit to young people and enable them to feel happier and support one another.
In the afternoon we went to the ITV studios for a Question Time-style debate. Anna Williamson was our presenter and I was lucky enough to be one of the six panelists. All of the panelists had personal experience of mental health problems and drew from their experiences in order to answer questions, highlight issues and offer solutions and advice.
The ‘Feel Happy Fix Live’ debate was streamed on Youtube last night at 8pm. You can watch the debate here:
The panelists are Danny Bowman, Shannon Finan, Carney Bonner, Laura Quinn and Jordan Caldwell alongside me, Claire Greaves. To find out more about The Feel Happy Fix Live, please visit http://www.fixers.org.uk/feel-happy-fix/the-feel-happy-fix-live.php