I’m so proud of all the progress I’ve made with my mental health issues – I lead a mostly happy, healthy life, bar the odd anxiety attack and the anorexic voice that whispers in my ear (but gets quieter every day). I’m so proud of all the women I see around me who have made the same changes – who fight for the life they deserve, and there is often no harder fight than the ones in your own mind.
This year’s pledge for International Woman’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. Because I write openly about mental health issues, people often open up to me about their own problems. Every day I hear amazing stories about people who have dared to change – who’ve given it everything they have to break a bad habit or thought pattern, to accept a compliment and fight down a negative thought, who’ve accepted that some days it’s OK just to get through it still breathing. I’ve seen women juggling jobs and families, whilst coping with severe anxiety and carrying on despite just wanting to curl up and sleep. Or run away and hide from life. I’ve spoken to people who’ve reached out and asked for help when their condition has become too much for them to cope with alone. All these are amazing achievements that are battling for change and acknowledging an inner strength that can only make women’s positions in society more powerful.
And I also want to thank those who enable these changes. I’ve had some amazing carers and therapists, all of whom I know must have helped so many women find new reserves they never knew they had. There was Barbara who, when I was hospitalised, taught me to confront the other patient who was bullying me – she showed me I was strong enough and I was worth it. There was Leanne who helped me acknowledge my abusive past relationship and helped me see that it was not my fault and that HE was the weak one – that I was punishing my body because of shame and fear but that I was strong enough to live my life without needing to do that. And now there is Kris who is working on keeping me safe and happy – who is guiding me through memories that are holding me back and allowing me a space to grow and push myself to get everything from life that I deserve. These women – and thousands of others like them – have been bold for me and countless others when we’ve been too afraid. But they’ve passed on their strength and knowledge so that we can dare to be bold too.
Keep helping each other grow. Keep daring to be different. Keep fighting for change – you’re worth it.
Just wanted to share this image:
Aside from proofreading and editing, I work part-time in a stationers so that I’m not on my own all week. Yesterday an older lady brought in a book to be photocopied about depression. The pages she wanted copies of stated that the main cause of depression was ‘choosing to feel that way’ and it included suggestions on how to ‘cheer up’ – and this book was allegedly written by a doctor. Terrifying!
I could imagine these copies being passed on to a child in an attempt to help but causing more harm than good. Which got me thinking about motivation to recover from mental health issues, because, however much we might all hate hearing it, recovery has got to come from within ourselves. It’s horribly hard work and an immensely daunting and lonely prospect. But, aside from looking at the triggers and root causes of our problems, we’ve got to find the reasons we want to stay healthy for. One of the very first motivations I had to fight anorexia was to have the strength to lift up my (then) baby niece. What keeps it at bay now is that my general quality of life is better without it and I don’t want to let the people who love me down (sometimes these motivations can still wobble a bit but they are always there at the back of my mind). I think these are similar for my depression. I was at an assessment last week and was asked what stops me from carrying out any suicidal plans and I was ashamed to admit that it was imagining the distress of friends and family finding my body. But I was told not to feel ashamed of that reason – whatever keeps you safe is good enough.
But what about the people who can’t find a motivation to get better? I must admit that I feel frustration at people who don’t seem to try to help themselves recover (so maybe I am like the lady I mentioned at the beginning). Maybe my frustration comes from a lack of understanding or empathy, maybe it’s because I’m trying, so why aren’t they? Or maybe it’s a bit of jealousy – that I’m not longer in that dark but comforting place of low expectations – that I’ve failed by letting go for the sadness.
But I also feel sad for the people who are searching for reasons to recover but they aren’t quite concrete enough to hold on to to help pull them out of the void. What can we do for these people? How on earth can you help people who are too afraid to let go or feel they don’t deserve to be happy? I get a lot of people coming to me for advice on mental health because I’m open about it, but I can feel so useless at helping.
So I’m interested – what was it that made you fight your issues – what advice would you give? And I know that outside factors play a huge part and you can’t just wish yourself better and bang there you go, but what keeps you wanting to try?
There was an article in yesterday’s Guardian that revealed that many anorexic patients from England are being sent to Scotland for treatment due to the lack of available facilities here.
The article said that, “Mental health experts voiced deep concern about the trend and said it could damage patients’ chances of recovery, increase their sense of isolation through the separation from their families and even increase their risk of dying.”
Now I know from my own experience that I would have found this practice devastating. I was an inpatient at the YCED for nine months in 2011 and it was a terrifying and, at times, lonely experience. There were constant injections, humiliating experiences like being accompanied in the shower, having to be in a wheelchair despite having legs that were functional and that’s not to mention the terror of mealtimes. Yes, there were some brilliant nurses there to talk to and yes, I made some brilliant friends on the ward – but not having my family close by to support me and remind me of my ongoing life outside the hospital? Unthinkable!
The YCED was an adult ward and had 20 beds and a long waiting list. I know how fortunate I was to have been given one of those beds. The policy there was that if you were above a BMI of 13.5 (I think) and you didn’t try to help yourself get better, you’d be asked to leave so someone else could have the bed who was more willing to be saved. There was often a lack of nurses as critical or violent patients needed round-the-clock supervision by two staff. The focus was on refeeding but also there was talking and body image therapy along with dietetics lessons and occupational therapy. I am in no doubt that being there saved my life. I was so, so lucky to have a bed.
The idea of being sent so far away from my loved ones is devastating. Anorexia is a vicious illness that affects your whole way of thinking, not just the food you eat. You think of yourself as unlovable, not worthy of attention and entirely unremarkable without your thinness to help you stand out. How abandoned you would feel if your family struggled to visit? It could only confirm your suspicions about yourself. And more – so much of my motivation to get better was not for myself (at the start at least) but because I could see how upset my family and friends were and I wanted to not be the cause of that. Take that away and I would have had to have admitted I deserved to get better for myself – a hard first step for tackling a mental illness.
Of course not everyone on the ward was as lucky as me. Not everyone had the warm, support that I had. The visitors and the people trying to understand how I was feeling – but for God’s sake – we need to do something to tackle this situation. The lack of facilities for mental health care can’t go on like this. We’re putting people’s lives at risk…just in the same way as if they were being sent hundreds are miles away to get treatment for life-threatening physical illness.
The sooner people understand the importance of mental health care, the safer the next generation will be.
I just wanted to share an update. Since I wrote my last post about my therapist not being there for me, I’ve had a lot of feedback and encouragement about letting her know how she’s making me feel.
The next week she cancelled on me twice and so, with you guys’ help in mind, I spoke to another therapist there about what was happening and how I was reacting. She strongly persuaded me to tell my therapist how I felt but said there was no pressure if it was too difficult. So when we did finally meet, I did tell her how rejected and uncared for I felt (OK, maybe I slightly sugar coated it but I think I got my point across). She apologised and explained what had happened from her point of view – and I totally got where she was coming from but I guess I still wish things had been different.
The whole thing was horrendous – I was outside of my comfort zone and wanted to weep constantly for upsetting someone by putting myself first. She also kept calling herself ‘rubbish’ and ‘a shit bag’ so I felt horribly guilty. Sometimes I think she and I might be too similar for this relationship ever to have worked! We could have been friends perhaps, but not
BUT it was totally worth it because I have now had my therapy extended! I’m going to have sessions with someone else in the new year to look into the issues and traits that I struggle with most that I feel haven’t been tackled thus far. So hurrah! And thank you so much – I wouldn’t have had the courage to say anything without your help!
My schema therapy trial (which started over two years ago) is coming to an end next month. To be honest, I don’t feel too sad about it. It’s not that I don’t think I’ve taken anything out of the process (although believe me, I will have a lot of feedback to give in the debriefing) but because…I’ve stopped trusting my individual therapist.
She’s great when she turns up but she’s constantly cancelling and delaying sessions and it makes me feel so unimportant. When I was really struggling recently and finally felt brave enough to reach out for the first time between sessions – she never got back to me. Last Christmas she gave me a present which was meant for a different patient – I mean, surely this isn’t what a therapist-patient relationship is all about?
What gets to me most is that the Schema Therapy model promotes almost familial relationship
s so that the therapist becomes a parent figure. This means she tells me how much she cares about me and wants me to be happy…but when she’s not there for me when I need her, well, I sit there thinking ‘bullshit’. So I’ve stopped trusting her. If she says my actions, which I’ll beat myself up over, aren’t that awful then I find it hard to believe her now. Ultimately I feel that even someone who is being paid to care about me can’t.
And the one thing I really wanted to tackle and overcome during this therapy, she’s promised over and over again that we’ll get to and never have. And I don’t think the remaining two sessions will cut it…if she turns up to them. Maybe if the therapy had worked better I’d be assertive enough to confront her about it…but I’m not. I’m just not.
So the question is: do I just end my therapy here and put it down to experience and try and tackle my demons by myself, or do I try something new and learn to put my faith in someone else?
It’s been a long time since I wrote. Indeed so long, my name has changed from Mason to Ford!
Basically, I’ve not written because I thought I was coping well and I was happy and could think of nothing worth writing about but the build up and aftermath of my wedding have shown that maybe that’s not quite true. Don’t get me wrong – the wedding was everything I could have ever dreamed of and my husband is the most wonderful man in the world but the stress leading up to the day and what it represented really got to me.
First of all, I stopped taking my medication because I got it into my head that if I was taking them, I wouldn’t experience the day to its emotional maximum. Not my smartest ever idea because I forget that my anxiety rockets whenever I decide to wean myself off them.
Secondly, with my fear of giving up independence stemming from many things in my past, including an abusive ex, I guess I was afraid. I kept drinking too much and generally acting like an idiot for a couple of months beforehand. My heart was pumping too fast constantly and I really began to dislike myself and feel I didn’t deserve the happiness my relationship was giving me. But my husband is worth the fear and helps me battle my negative self. My BPD had me mood flipping like crazy between approval seeking, impulsivity, self-hatred, vulnerability and disassociation. I could feel my healthy self (much like my dress in the pic below) unravelling and I was clinging on to my sanity by a thread. It proved to me that I’ve not been taking my therapy seriously – I’ve not been working hard enough to actually improve myself between sessions and I think I’ve been quite flippant about the whole process. Now I know, at least, exactly what I want to tackle but this therapy trial I’m on is nearly over. I think I’ll look for something more afterwards.
But the wedding was amazing and I’ve felt so much more secure since. But I need to learn from how badly I was feeling and realise that I still have a lot to tackle. I’ve also struggled with my anorexic thoughts of late. On the build up to the wedding, the stress caused me to lose weight, and putting that back on since is a battle I’m winning but with a loud anorexic voice screaming at me for being greedy all the while.
I’m getting there – I’ve come far – but I do need to be more aware of my triggers and my pitfalls. I’m just so lucky to have married the man who can help lead me step by step to a healthy future.