Building A Life Worth Living: Thinking Of Life Outside Hospital

Building a life worth living is a big part of DBT and it’s something I haven’t worked on much or even thought about until recently. I’ve been unwell for well over a decade and have been in hospital for a year and a half. I’ve never been a mentally well adult and have not been able to function at a normal level since school. For these reasons I have always found it very difficult to think of a life outside of my illness and in some ways that can hold me back in recovery. However just weeks before I’m due to go to a specialist unit which can help me I have an idea of how life will look when I come out of hospital.

I know I won’t come home fully recovered and jumping with the joys of spring but I imagine I’ll be able to function. I want to attend outpatient appointments with my mental health team but alongside that I want to work in a bakery, go to ballet classes, help out with the younger ballet classes and prepare and cook my own meals and snacks from scratch. I could then channel my obsession with food down a productive and enjoyable route whilst still enjoying dance and exercise at a sensible level.

If I can maintain that lifestyle for a while then the next step will be learning to drive and getting a place of my own even if that’s renting a studio flat. Then the next step, and the one I’m most excited about will be becoming a mother. I’ve already decided for very personal reasons that I want to be single so I will go to a clinic and use a sperm donor to conceive.

I think it is good to go to this new unit with an image of what I want my life to look like when I come home. So this is me thinking of building a life worth living.

Radical Acceptance: Making The Best Out of The Situation I am In

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.

Health Check Wales: Eating Disorders

I recently wrote a piece about eating disorders for Health Check Wales. Here is the article:

My battle with mental illness began at such a young age that I don’t really know what it’s like not to have one. But I can understand how it must be difficult for someone to understand it if their lives have not yet been touched by it. I’ve seen the stares, heard the comments and read the hate I’ve been sent over the internet. Being unwell is hard enough on its own without the added ignorance and stigma. I became fearful and anxious around food when I was five years old. After seeing a family member become unwell I thought that I would become poorly if I ate food too. As I grew older food became more of an issue. First it was about fear, then it was about perfectionism and control. I was seven years old and banging my head against the school toilet walls for getting a question wrong. By the end of primary school not eating had become my identity. Other children in my class were good at PE or art or maths. I was known for eating “like a bird” and I finally felt like I had a something that I could do. Secondary school complicated life even more. I was bullied, I didn’t feel welcome in any of the friendship groups that I tried to hang around with. I felt geeky, ugly and hated myself. I saw the bigger girls wearing gym knickers in PE and I was scared that I’d get big and be laughed at in my gym knickers too. I began to walk for hours before school, I’d barely eat anything and anything that was eaten would be thrown up. I was self-harming several times a day and overdosing at the back of class – and yet my school didn’t get me help. At this point I didn’t even know that I had a mental illness. Once I left school life became more difficult because with each sad event that happened in my life anorexia and depression seemed to grip their hands tighter and tighter around my neck. I became withdrawn and isolated myself from everyone. It’s scary how mental illness can blend seven whole years into one big blur of hospital admissions, detentions under the Mental Health Act, numbers, scales and suicide attempts. Growing up I wanted to be a nurse or a dancer, battling severe mental illness was not a part of the plan. Often eating disorders are on a spectrum and it is recognised that symptoms change. Someone who meets the criteria for anorexia may months or years down the line meet the criteria for bulimia, or binge-eating disorder. I have certainly experienced many different symptoms with my eating disorder. My primary diagnosis is anorexia. Many months of my life have been spent surviving – or dying – on very little food. I would eat so little food that my body couldn’t keep itself warm. I’d spend my day in the bath or leaning against a radiator. The cold that an eating disorder brings is different from the cold of a winter’s day. It is unbearable, painful and numbing. I’d see the number on the scale drop and the outfit options in the wardrobe became minimal as nothing would stay on my tiny frame, and yet the reflection in the mirror never changed. The girl I saw in front of me didn’t seem to be shrinking, and therefore any weight I lost did not feel like enough. I’m not sure it would ever have been enough. I was slipping towards death, not happiness, perfection or body satisfaction. Then comes the bingeing and purging. The uncontrollable binges that extreme hunger brings. I’d sit on the kitchen floor and eat and eat and eat. I’d work my way around the room, from the fridge to the cupboards, and sometimes, once the food had all gone, I’d eat icing and drink vinegar. I’d try to make myself sick but nothing took away the feelings of guilt and self-disgust, anger and fear that would be left behind for the coming weeks. I hate bingeing and purging and I hate the way I feel I have no control over it. I’ve tried to stop it by attempting to end my life in the past – that’s how desperate and horrific it has made me feel. I also struggled with abusing laxatives and diet pills. I would take far more than the recommended amount but the more I took, the more I felt I needed. I knew exactly the time to take my laxatives so that it would have an effect at night when my family were asleep. Every night spent in agony in the bathroom, sweating and biting onto a towel with pain. It was horrible. One night I took 20 times the recommended dose and I genuinely thought I was going to die. I was in so much pain that it made me sick. My body was weak and I was lying on the bathroom floor, convinced it was the end. I was admitted to hospital the next day and laxatives have not been a part of my life since. I’m still in treatment now and I still really struggle with my mental health. I’m on medication for depression and the other symptoms that affect me and I’m in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for my eating disorder, which has helped me cope with the distress that an eating disorder can bring, as well as recognising when decisions are fuelled by emotions. Eating is still a challenge. Regular eating is not something I’ve ever really done and I struggle to eat regularly every day but I’m better than I was. Depression and mental illness still take over my life and there are days when the suicidal thoughts are a whisper in my head, but there are still days where the suicidal thoughts are loud and repetitive and I struggle to find a reason to carry on with my life. My hospital admissions are getting shorter and the length between them is getting longer and I see that as a positive sign. I recognise I’ve got a long way to come but I am already on the journey and I never thought that I would be where I am now. While I would never wish mental illness on myself or anyone else I am grateful for the lessons it has taught me. I’ve learnt that everything happens for a reason and the best days of my life have happened as a direct result of the worst days of my life. I spent a night in a police cell when there were no hospital beds available. I was law-abiding, not violent and very shy. That night was terrifying and traumatising and made me feel a lot of shame, but without that night I would never have appeared on national radio and news, live TV and newspapers like I have. I would never have started my blog or found my love for writing again. Without anorexia I would never have met my best friend in treatment, my recovery buddy, who I have shared many happy memories with at the beach, or at a restaurant winning against our eating disorders. I would never have been to London to speak at conferences and meetings. The help and treatment I receive from South East Wales Eating Disorder Service has been life-changing, and without their help I wouldn’t have achieved these things either.

There’s Nowhere For Me To Go

I haven’t been well lately, my mood has crashed completely, the flashbacks are overwhelming and anorexia has been screaming at me. The past five weeks have been a downhill spiral of self harm, suicidal thoughts and no energy to do anything. Unfortunately it is also summer meaning that my psychologist, dietitian and psychiatrist have taken big chunks of leave.

Last Monday I can barely remember, according to my friend I was extremely withdrawn and not well and she took me to hospital to be assessed. We phoned the psychiatric ward at 6:15 pm and I was not assessed until 4.30 am. Waiting so long in an acute mental health crisis was really not helpful. Hospital was meant to help but the entire stay was horrific and stressful. Some of the staff were incredibly rude to everyone. My friend was crying and they opened the door and said, “Off you go!” and left her crying on the curb outside.

I ended up with the wrong medication most of the time and when I went to correct them it didn’t sort anything out. I actually had to explain to a qualified nurse the difference between tramadol and trazodone. I was given one out of my seven tablets at nighttime and when I explained the nurse didn’t return with the right dose and so that was a pretty sleepless night.

I was put in a two bedded room and I accepted that was the only bed even though I struggle hugely with sharing. The staff assured me that as soon as a single room became available it would be mine. The next morning I was put in the four bedded room when single bedrooms were available. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were deliberately trying to wind me up but I just left it because the staff had caused so much stress by that point that I simply gave up.

One patient threatened to kill me with their bare hands and strangle me. It was extremely distressing for me but the staff didn’t seem to care. I came into hospital to get better and feel safe and I felt anything but.

The last straw was when I tried to use the skills we are taught in DBT to distract myself from hurting myself. I asked the occupational therapist if I could do something and her response was, “Usually people with low mood don’t want to do anything.” Her comment put me in a place of guilt, shame and wanting to give up on DBT.

I decided the ward was too stressful and was making me worse and so I asked for leave until ward round and they allowed it. I got home and sat in a chair and cried for hours. Home wasn’t the right place. If I broke my leg then my mum and dad couldn’t x-ray it, diagnose it and put it in a cast. Neither can they fix my broken mind. I silently struggled until ward round and then explained the situation to which they had no solutions and I decided discharge was the only option.

I am now at home with no energy or motivation to do anything, very poorly with depression, battling with self harm and suicidal thoughts, hating myself and struggling with my eating disorder. Home is not the right place for me at the moment but hospital is too stressful which leaves me with nowhere to go…how can that be right?

Acting Opposite: Anger

Anger is something that I really struggle with and often feel ashamed about but I am learning that feeling anger doesn’t make me a bad person, anger is a feeling that all of us have.

When I get angry I tend to curl up. I’ll cross my arms and legs and crouch and look down. I make myself very small and appear avoidant according to my psychologist. I often don’t acknowledge what is going on in my body nor the feeling I am having but with help I am recognising that anger is an issue in my life. When I’m angry the urge is to lash out…often at myself with self-harm or to swear a lot and not deal with things in an effective manner.

Today I was full of anger in my session with my psychologist and he told me to act opposite to which I angrily told him that I didn’t know what the opposite was. We recognised that the urge was to curl up, avoid eye contact and lash out/swear and so he got me to sit in a relaxed and open posture, stop swearing and look at him and it did help. I think curling up, avoiding eye contact, frowning and picking my nail varnish often makes me more angry, frustrated and wound up and by acting opposite to this urge it made me feel better. The anger was still there but I felt calmer, my heart wasn’t racing and I wasn’t making the situation worse by swearing at my psychologist so we could then have an actual conversation.

Acting opposite is a big part of DBT. If the urge is to self-harm then self-soothe and have a bubble bath or paint your nails. If the urge is to avoid then avoid avoiding. If the urge is to dislike someone and the dislike is unwarranted then think compassionate thoughts about them. If anger is giving you urges that will make the situation worse then do the opposite.

Sectioned: A Spoken Word Piece

Last August I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and spend two months in hospital. When I was discharged I decided that I wanted to do something with my life and turn a negative into a positive and so I began working with Fixers. Around the same time I noticed a lot of pro-ana and pro-mental illness posts appearing all over social networking and one comment that really stuck out to me was someone saying that they wanted to be sectioned so that they could have a hug whenever their sad. I was also shocked by the amount of comments about mental illness being fashionable and people likening the psychiatric ward to a big sleepover but that is not the reality.

I wrote a spoken word piece and used my photography along with Fixer’s filming and editing to create a piece to explain what being sectioned is like from a patient’s perspective whilst also targeting the groups in social media that aspire to be unwell. Being sectioned often feels like something I should keep secret and be ashamed of  so that’s exactly why I decided to shout about it publicly. There should be no stigma.

Feel free to share this video and spread it’s message.

STOP

STOP

My psychologist handed me a few of these cards yesterday because I need them. There are times when I don’t think, I just react and then I end up making the situation worse whether that be because I’ve shouted back in an argument or because I’ve hurt myself or spent money I don’t have.

I’ve stuck these in a few places where I am likely to see them at a time when I need them. They are in my self-soothe box and next to my computer and I’m going to save the image onto my phone too.

I think STOP skills can help everyone but I feel it is important to put this on my blog because I think both people with mental health conditions and those caring for people with mental health conditions could benefit from this. Don’t just read it, write it down and put it where you will see it. If you struggle with binge eating stick it on the fridge, if you struggle with spending then put it in your purse. Put it somewhere that suits you.