The last seven months have been another extremely challenging time for me and my mental health. In 2015 I was diagnosed with anorexia and placed under the care of the YCED outpatient team for a year. In the years that passed, I restored the weight I lost, but never really fixed my bad relationship with food, instead, replacing my one addiction with another – fitness and healthy eating. At the end of 2019, I lapsed with anorexia, losing a significant amount of weight in three months, and was diagnosed in March 2020 with depression and anxiety and placed on antidepressant medication. I have also struggled with self-harm once again in the last seven months and was really questioning the purpose of being alive at times.
During both of these periods, I have felt ashamed and embarrassed, as if people would see me differently, judge me negatively and not support me. I have also felt very alone, as I’ve never known what having depression feels like until this year. I’ve found it extremely hard to communicate the thoughts and emotions that have plagued me. That is until recently. As I am adjusting to a new dosage of antidepressant medication and feeling more emotionally stable, I have been able to process how my depression has manifested itself within me. I think it is so important for me to share this with others so that sufferers know that they are not alone, and the parents, carers, family members and friends of sufferers can get an understanding of what their loved one might be feeling. I know that a lot of progress has been made with regards to making having poor mental health more accepted, but in my experience, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health disorders because it still is not talked about enough. So it is time to share my story.
Having anorexia, for me, has been a method of regaining some control over my life. Yes, I have body dysmorphia and find it very hard to accept myself in my own skin, but the underlying reasons for controlling my calorie intake is linked to being able to feel good at something again when other things in my life have not been going to plan. I can see why those around me find it very hard to empathise, because as I continue to recover and repair my relationship with food my old thoughts and behaviours appear ludicrous even to me. I would think about food all of the time, constantly totting up calories ingested in my head, working out what was acceptable to eat later in the day depending on the amount of exercise I had done or the amount of weight I had lost in the last few days. I would stick to the same pre-packaged, pre-weighed foods so that I knew exactly what I was consuming, and where possible I would challenge myself to go as long as I could without eating, like this was an accomplishment to be proud of and somehow made me a better person. Starving myself and seeing my weight drop helped me to feel good in an otherwise dark cloud of self-loathing, low self-esteem and failure.
This time the anorexia returned alongside depression, and I struggled for a long time to make sense of what I was feeling and why I was feeling it. I felt numb, completely absent of any emotion at all at times, but on other occasions would feel so emotional that I would cry hysterically for hours, but not really know why I was crying. As I continued to feel hopeless and worthless I started to withdraw from colleagues, friends and family, despite feeling extremely lonely, as I didn’t feel deserving of any compassion or support. I wanted to spend all of my time alone, trying to escape my mind, as I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, especially my family. Also, I had no idea how to articulate how I was feeling, and I was worried that no-one would truly understand how I felt and how desperate I was for all the hurt and pain to stop. I felt exhausted all of the time, spending many a day laying on the sofa, unable to even fake a smile. I didn’t care about anything, had no interest in anything I previously loved, lost my appetite which caused anorexia to thrive even more, but yet I still cared so much about not being able to work, letting people down, and feeling like a failure.
When I first accepted help, I wanted this person to take complete responsibility for me, to take away all of my pain, to tell me that everything will be okay. Unfortunately, no-one else could face up to my anorexia or depression and get rid of it for me. People are able to help me, and I have a wonderful family and support network of colleagues and friends around me, but it is I who has to be responsible for myself and take charge of my life. Eventually, I saw this, and with the help of my anti-depressant medication, I have been able to start my process of healing. I wanted to share some of the things that this recent period of hardship has taught me, in the hopes that they may help others.
- Lesson: Never get complacent!
After getting myself to a healthy weight five years ago I stopped analysing and reflecting upon how I was feeling. I ignored the fact that I was using exercise as a means of allowing myself to eat. I was still restricting my intake and was still terrified to eat my forbidden foods. Then, at the end of last year, I completely took my eye off the ball and before I knew it, old habits were creeping in and the pull of anorexia was just too much to fight off. Recovery is a choice that needs to be made every single day, and this is something I appreciate now more than ever.
- Lesson: Everyone should at least have a person they feel they can be completely open and honest with.
I feel as though this is still a taboo subject, and I still feel strange saying the words, “I have therapy…” or “my therapist said…” but having a space to discuss everything I feel, openly and honestly has resulted in me learning so much about how my past and various traumas have led me to be the person I am today. My therapist is amazing at untangling all of my emotions and I am learning how to work on looking after myself better and how to overcome the difficulties I have faced with my mental health. Having a therapist does not make me a weak person; in fact, it is incredibly brave to open up and share painful memories with a stranger in the hopes of fostering a happier future. I have also recently started journaling all of my thoughts because even getting them out onto paper helps me notice more clearly how I am feeling and how I can try to improve things for a better tomorrow.
- Lesson: Knowledge is power!
Unfortunately, the NHS and their support avenues have not been able to be there for me this time around, so I have had to be brave and face things on my own (prior to finding my private therapist). There are lots of wonderful sources of information out there, especially on social media, and it was through contacting BEAT on Twitter that I learnt of a wonderful book that has really resonated with me which talks through ways and means of addressing some of the issues I have with food. I have also undertaken free courses to help me understand my anxiety, depression and anorexia more and this has enlightened me as to why I was likely to be more susceptible than some other people to these disorders. There won’t always be other people there to help us, so we have to be able to help ourselves, as impossible as this may feel at times.
- Lesson: Let those around you help.
The people you care about will not see you as a burden, that is just what your mind will force you to believe. Having people around you who can sense when you are feeling low, know how to perk you up, know whether you need some time and space or engagement and distraction is so very important because recovery is a pretty lonely place at the best of times. Allow loved ones to make the days that little bit more bearable.
- Lesson: Your mental health does not define you.
I am still grappling with this on a daily basis, but I know deep down that it is true because I myself would never ever only see someone’s mental health problems. It is only a part of who you are and those people who truly care about you will see this and help to make it a smaller part of you whilst bringing out and nurturing all of the wonderful characteristics that make us who we are.
I cannot end this blog by saying that recovery is easy because recovery is actually damn hard (certainly the toughest thing I have ever experienced)! You have to fight your demons every day without fail, and this is emotionally exhausting. But what I can say from the past few weeks is that the fight is so very worth it. It will be painful, and there will be setbacks, but that is okay because if you commit fully to recovery and give it all of your efforts and energies you will make it. I know it’s very cliché, but life is too short, so don’t just exist, get out there and fight to live the life YOU want and deserve.
Written by Una Clifford
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