The Frustration At Not Getting Better From Mental Health Problems

I like to think of myself as a fairly calm person (watch as my anxiety laughs hysterically in the corner), but lately, I have found myself getting angry, like proper smoke coming out of the ears angry, and the same is happening with my mum. Nay, maybe angry is the wrong word for I am not exactly angry right now but frustrated, and this frustration is aimed entirely at my mental health and the fact that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, my mental health is not improving/is sliding further and further into the abyss of insanity, and now even the professionals are at a loss as to what to do.

You see, ever since I left inpatient, things have been going in a downward spiral, and I am finding myself becoming hysterical and requiring my “emergency” medication to calm me down practically every night. Hell the other night things got so terrible that even my mum took some of my emergency calm down medication just to stop her from going completely bonkers herself and all in all it is getting out of hand. We have been phoning the crisis team almost daily in our attempts to manage my latest series of breakdowns and it has just got me asking, staring up at the sky and shaking my fist asking why, why is all of this happening?

It isn’t even as if I am one of these people who thinks life is supposed to be fair, far from it, I am one of those people who, when others protest “life is so unfair” ask them “my dear, who on earth ever told you that it was?” but this is ridiculous. I just don’t understand it. I have been in mental health treatment for almost 15 years now, 15 long years. Think about how many hours of 1:1 sessions with psychologists that includes, think about how many months as an inpatient in hospital that involves, the number of different medications tried (so many that when you shake me I rattle like a bottle of tablets and a leaflet of side effects falls out of my left nostril), and all for what? For me to still be completely insane…IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE.

What frustrates me is that I know how lucky I am and I know how grateful I am and should be for all the help I have received over the years. There are people across the country who have been suffering for as long as I have, maybe longer and they have not been given the support or access to help that I have been blessed with, they have not had the supportive family that I am lucky enough to be a part of, so logically I should be ok. Logically I should be doing better than most people out there, but I am not and it has me sitting here feeling angry and asking what the hell is wrong with me. What is it about me that seems so untreatable and why are my mental health problems so resistant to every form of treatment?

I think when you live with mental health problems you are expected to feel sad about them and to be fair I have felt sad about my sorry state of affairs many times but this anger is new, this rage at the fact that I have been ill for such a long time with no improvement and I wonder if this is an experience common to people with mental health problems out there. I have to ask, is it? Are there other people out there who, like me, have stopped feeling despair at their situations and have started feeling angry? Angry that no matter what they do or no matter how hard they try, their brains will not co-operate?

I have heard it said that it isn’t until you get angry at your disorders that you can actually get better from them because you need that anger in you to fight, but at the moment this anger doesn’t feel like it is doing anything constructive, rather it feels like a block that is holding me back in my therapy sessions and appointments. Rarely do I meet with a psychologist now with an open mind, now it is always a case of me going in enraged that things haven’t improved after the last session and show no sign of changing any time soon. I think I wouldn’t mind this anger so much if somebody else knew what to do with it, but I find I am dragging it around with me in a bin bag wondering where on earth to put it and the professionals don’t know either.

Today I went to an appointment with my ED support worker and the rage was bubbling, so I asked her what to do. I asked what we could do to treat me, where we could go from here, what new treatments we could try over the next few weeks to see if they help, and you know what she said? “I don’t know” or to be more specific “I don’t know what to do with you at the moment”…She doesn’t know what to do with me? Doesn’t know what to do with me? What am I supposed to do with that!? What is anyone supposed to do with that? Indeed, what on earth is one supposed to do when even the professionals are at a loss as to how to help or resolve the situation? What do you do when the person with all the answers tells you that they do not have any more answers, or even rough guesses, to have a go at answering your question? When I left that appointment I felt like a grocery shopper who had gone to a bakery and asked a baker how to make bread only to be told that the baker had no idea. What use is that? What use is a baker who doesn’t know how to bake? What is the point in a baker who just slaps flour around the place and wears a funny apron and chef’s hat? Sure it may be entertaining to watch someone slap flour about (for we all know that much hilarity can take place when a person is gallivanting with flour), but what use is it?
What do you do with that?

I think the main thing that is frustrating me however is the fact that whilst other people don’t have the answers, I don’t have them either, and if anyone should know how to help a person it is the person who understands the problem better than all others. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I would say I understand my mental health problems pretty well, I have explored them so much over the years that I am familiar with every nook and cranny (particularly the one in the far left…damn that is a tricky cranny), yet I am no more familiar with how to solve my problems than anyone off the street who has never spoken to me a day in their life.

Truth be told here, as I am writing this I am starting to think that maybe I am not angry, maybe my mother (who has also been getting frustrated at my current decline – not angry with me you understand, rather like me angry with the fact that no matter what we try we are not seeing any improvement) isn’t angry, maybe we are just scared because we cannot see the answers and when you are being stared at in the face by a pretty massive problem it is scary not being able to see any way around it. It is scary to be stuck in a vice getting tighter and tighter by the day with no sign of relief and hell, maybe some of that fear is what I am writing about rather than anger because in reality I don’t think I am angry with anyone in particular. I am not angry at my psychologist for not knowing what to do with me at the moment, I am scared, I am scared that if she doesn’t know what to do then nobody ever will and I will be stuck like this forever. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I have friends who have received the same levels of treatment as I have, who have been to the same hospitals as I have and they have recovered and that is another thing that scares me. If I have had the same treatment why have I not had the same outcome? Why am i different? Why do the answers for one person not serve as the answers for another? Is there something wrong with me or am I just one of those people who is doomed to never get better? How will I know? Will I ever know or am I just going to find myself sitting here asking these same old questions for years until I am blue in the face (and then indigo followed by a vibrant shade of violet).

To be honest I feel I have lost track of what I am even talking about and barely know what I am saying anymore but I had to get this out, this anger, this fear or whatever this is that is bubbling up inside me like the contents of a witches cauldron. Everyone knows that living with mental illness is sad, but I think today my message is that sometimes, when you don’t have the answers to your problems, that sadness turns to rage or maybe fear. Who knows, like I said I am confused myself, but I at least wanted to write about it in the hopes of finding some sense in all of this. Maybe I haven’t made sense here, maybe I have, but either way if anyone has the answers to any of my questions or feels the same as I do now, I would really appreciate knowing about it. I hope you are all well and know I am thinking of and supporting you all.

Take care everyone x

Frustrated

How Physical Health Problems Can Trigger Mental Health Problems

Last week I talked about a recent incident where my mental health, more specifically my eating disorder’s obsession with drinking a lot of water, had a detrimental affect on my physical health and in a hilarious twist of fate and example of bizarre symmetry (and by hilarious I mean literally the most unamusing thing to happen ever), this week I am talking about how the opposite can also be true, and how physical health conditions can end up triggering or making a pre existing mental health problem worse.

So when we last left off, I had explained how I had been admitted to hospital for water intoxication and was being treated for this problem via a strict fluid restriction plan to get all of my electrolytes back to acceptable levels (it is at times like this when I wish I had one of those “previously on” video clips that they show before episodes of various TV dramas…I should really look into that…ooh and a theme tune! I do love a good theme tune!)
Now, after a few days, the fluid restriction, whilst being incredibly annoying for me, seemed to be working, and my sodium levels kept improving until they were back to normal. Really, that should be the end of the story, the problem was solved so I should have been packing my bags and making my merry way home, but alas the story did not end there and developed into what I like to think of as an epic novel of utter ridiculousness.

You see whilst my sodium levels were improving, I wasn’t feeling any better which didn’t make much sense. I had been admitted for a problem that was being successfully treated yet bizarrely, as the days went on, I became more unwell with a pain in my stomach. The doctors couldn’t really make sense of this and before long I was in so much pain that I couldn’t stand or lift my head off the pillow and was in need of all the morphine I could get. A few tests were run but no answers were revealed so a surgeon was sent to have a look at me.

After thumping me in the abdomen with an iron mallet a few times (she said she was only going to “press gently” but trust me from the pain I am pretty sure that woman had a mallet and a vendetta against my stomach region), it was concluded that I might have a swollen appendix. I was told that normally the surgeons would book me in for an operation to whip it out just incase, however due to my already poor physical health from my eating disorder, they wanted to avoid taking me to theatre (alas the operating one and not the version where you get to watch The Sound of Music on stage whilst eating a little pot of ice cream with a spoon that is basically just a mini plank of wood with no resemblance to a spoon whatsoever), because they weren’t sure I would survive an anaesthetic.

Thus it was decided that they would only operate if they were absolutely certain that such a thing was necessary and therefore some more tests were scheduled to try and clear up what was going on. The problem with this was that by leaving time for tests, we were also leaving time for things to go downhill which they did fairly rapidly. Again the surgeon visited and again an operation was suggested but also feared so I was sent to yet another test in the form of a CT scan where I was basically shoved in and out of a tube a few times whilst doctors took photos of my insides (I really hope that my organs put on their best clothes and posed nicely for the occasion…it isn’t every day someone wants to photograph your intestines).

After the CT scan was complete it was around 1am and I was finally allowed to have some more morphine and attempt a snooze, whilst my sister, who had been sitting beside my bed for the past few days, went home. That was until 4am when another surgeon woke me up, to tell me that the scan had shown that things were rather serious and I was scheduled for emergency surgery immediately, my sister being called back in by the nurses having only just left. The next little bit of time is somewhat of a blur but from what I remember I was pumped with anaesthetic and taken to theatre (again, the operating one. I didn’t get so much as a lick of ice cream and I saw no children dancing in curtains. Livid.)
I was so knocked out that it was about 24 hours before I woke up from the procedure, dazed and confused with a tube coming out of my stomach and leading to a bag of some unidentified liquid.

It was then that I was informed that my appendix, in being left for so long, had ended up exploding. (The surgeon told me that I shouldn’t say that it “exploded” because in technical terms you should say that it “ruptured” but damn it I went through a hell of a lot of pain and nonsense because of what happened so if I want to say that my appendix literally exploded like a firework on the 5th of November then I will jolly well do so!)
Consequently my body had been filled with poison, hence the tube and bag scenario coming out of my stomach after the appendix had been removed, to drain the poison out (the poison being the funny liquid in that bag.)

Since then the job has basically been to free my body of poison, recover from the surgery and try to build my body back up after its internal beating, a job that isn’t going too well at the moment because this whole physical health problem extravaganza has triggered the life out of my mental health problems, more specifically my eating disorder.

Admittedly I haven’t been doing particularly well for a while now, but I have been clinging on to some sense of stability by rigidly carrying out the same routine meal plan via some form of repetitive autopilot action. Unfortunately, this event has utterly destroyed my autopilot “just do what you did yesterday” routine.

I think when you have an eating disorder, eating your meals is kind of like a recovering alcoholic avoiding the pub.
If you force yourself to eat the same meal plan every day, you get into a sort of rhythm, a rather bumpy and unpleasant rhythm that you can’t lead a good conga to, but a rhythm all the same. Missing one meal however is like an alcoholic downing one mouthful of vodka after a few months sober and then suddenly finding it impossible to stop.

Knowing that missing one meal will always make the next one harder is the reason that I fight so hard to complete my meal plan even on the bad days because I know that not doing so will make it harder for me in the long run, but in this whole “my organs are exploding” situation, missing a meal wasn’t something I had any control over.
For the first day of the hospital admission, eating was mentally impossible because I was in a different place with different foods. This problem was somewhat solved when family and friends hauled bags upon bags of my safe foods to my bedside, but by that point I was physically in too much pain to lift my head let alone grab a spoon to chomp down on some cornflakes. During all of these pain days I was also constantly being wheeled in and out of various tests that doctors were telling me I wasn’t allowed to eat before, and incase I was going to need emergency surgery after some of these tests, my stomach also had to be kept empty on the off chance that people would be whipping the scalpels out (apparently it is significantly harder to operate when one has just demolished a peanut butter sandwich…or any kind of sandwich…not that there is any other sandwich worth mentioning).

Post surgery I was finally allowed and encouraged to eat to regain my strength and I genuinely tried, but again there were hurdles. Firstly the combination of anaesthetic/poison/million medications made me extremely nauseas, and I was being sick multiple times a day. My taste buds had also suddenly gone haywire and for some reason I could not tolerate sweet foods which for someone who always picks sweet over savoury and who lives off sweet things like porridge and cereal, this was somewhat of a problem. Even the flavour in toothpaste made me throw up (all over my toothbrush I might add…suffice it to say my breath was not minty fresh), and shock of all shocks, I started to be repulsed by peanut butter. Me. Repulsed by peanut butter aka the food that was previously the holiest substance on earth? Who am I? I think I am going through some kind of identity crisis. You might as well start calling me Malcolm.

Therefore I was trying to find new foods that I could both mentally and physically tolerate, family and friends bringing in new groceries every day (including my parents who had had to cut their holiday short and catch an emergency flight back to the UK with fears that they might not get “back in time”…safe to say their relaxing trip to Malaysia was somewhat of a disaster this year..).

Excitingly, a new safe food that I could physically and mentally tolerate was discovered in the form of mashed potato, but by this point it had been so long since I had eaten properly even that was a struggle. I felt sick at every meal time and I could never be sure why. On one hand it could have been the “genuinely physically ill with poison and anaesthetic” sick that I shouldn’t have forced myself to fight as nothing I ate would be kept down anyway, or it could have been the simply sick with anxiety and fear of food sick that I really should have been challenging to prevent it getting any worse. Sometimes food would arrive and I would feel so ill that I wouldn’t risk a mouthful only for the food to be taken away, the sickness to go and me to realise that all that nausea had been anxiety as apposed to anything related to physical complications.

After multiple meetings with my eating disorder services who visited me a lot on the medical ward, it was decided that I would be discharged home incase eating became easier there due to familiar surroundings. Armed with a ridiculous amount of mashed potato, I really tried but a few days in found that I was struggling to swallow. Again I assumed this must be that whole “throat closing up with anxiety” thing, so I persevered, but then after finding some weird white nonsense all over my tongue and throat and a trip to the doctor, it was discovered that life had thrown yet another curve ball and in my weakened post surgery state, had given me tonsillitis and oral thrush, conditions that make swallowing rather difficult and would therefore interfere with anyone’s ability to eat…Oral thrush? I didn’t even know that was a thing? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH MY BODY.

Now I am three weeks post surgery (happy no appendix anniversary to me!) and in positive news, the nausea from anaesthetic and poison is practically gone. Having started another lot of antibiotics and some weird throat drops I have also regained the ability to swallow but after so many physical preventions to eating, I am now mentally more terrified than ever at the prospect. I have been to my eating disorder unit and the scales say that I have lost weight yet somehow I feel bigger.
Doctors are telling me that I have to get back to my old meal plan immediately so that we can add new things in to regain all that I have lost but it feels impossible. I cannot comprehend how the hell I was managing to eat before, despite the fact I was doing it only a few weeks ago, because now such an ability has become alien and frightening. I am tied up in a bundle of fear over food, throwing up, weight gain, trying to eat whilst being laid up in bed unable to carry out my usual exercise routines and consequently recovery from surgery isn’t going very well because I don’t have the energy to recover. Both the physical affects and mental health problems are feeding off each other like my body is an all you can eat buffet, and ironically the one person not getting fed in this situation is me. I have been on the edge of collapse for months now, clinging to the edge of stability with all the strength I can muster, but this has thrown me. I have fallen off the cliff. I am spiralling.

…And on that jolly note, that is pretty much my explanation of how a physical illness can go on to affect/cause/trigger a relapse in a pre existing mental illness. As with a lot of my blog posts, it hasn’t been a particular barrel of laughs as far as topics go, but it is the honest truth, and as always, that is what I am determined to put out there in terms of raising awareness of mental health problems.
Now after all this typing, I think I am very much in need of a nap and then maybe I will give some more mashed potato another go. Eating food is the last thing I want to do right now and my stomach is already full from terror, but I promise, I really am trying.

Take care everyone x

AppendixExplode

Birthdays And Mental Health Problems

When I was younger and heard adults saying things like “I just want to forget about my birthday this year”, I thought that adults were crazy and needed to seriously reconsider the way in which they were living their lives. Why on earth would anyone ever want to forget about their birthday?

For me, birthdays were something to look forward to and something I couldn’t forget about if I tried. Birthdays were about choosing which soft play area you were going to take all of your friends to for the party, buying rainbow coloured bouncy balls to fill party bags with and deciding whether you wanted a Thomas the tank engine or Spice Girls birthday cake ready to decorate with a flaming beacon of candles. Birthdays were about unwrapping incredibly exciting and complicated plastic contraptions that you would then spend the rest of your day watching your mum struggle to assemble amidst an encyclopedia of instructions in every language but English, before finally making it look like the thing on the box, only to realise that batteries were not included, causing your mother to curse the creators of Toys R Us and howl at the moon until the early hours of the morning, Barbie’s camper van standing motionless and taunting you from the corner. Birthdays were about wearing a badge with your age on it to school so that everyone would know how very mature you were and how much respect they should bestow upon you, and no birthday was complete without a trip to TGI Fridays where you would stand on your chair like a king whilst a chorus of red and white striped waiters belted out “Happy Birthday”, the performance concluding with rapturous applause from all around and, if you were lucky, an extra gummy worm in your Mississippi mud pie. With all that to look forward to, how could anyone dread a birthday?

I was sure that I would always look forward to my birthday and would never be one of these fools who looked upon the occasion with anything other than spine tingling excitement. I was wrong.
For the past few years, despite little Katie’s best intentions, I have become one of those people who wants to forget about their birthday, and I think it is because as you get older, birthdays don’t mean the same things as they used to. They become less about gummy worms and birthday cakes and more about time passing you by, life passing you by, which isn’t something you really care about when you are younger and your main focus is getting the bit of icing on the cake that has your favourite cartoon character on it. On top of that however, when you are mentally ill, I think they are especially hard because for me at least, a birthday can feel like a reminder that you have wasted another year drowning in anxiety and the older you get, the longer you have been stuck with this mental illness bothering you all the time.

That said, I guess you can sort of see birthdays and that marker of time passing as a positive thing. This year for example, I turned 25 (I did it last Thursday as a matter of fact and luckily, despite all the dreading and worrying about it talked about in this post, I really did have a lovely birthday, so if you sent me a birthday message or said hello to me at all on the 22nd June then thank you for being someone who made it special. I really appreciate you all so much). Alas! I must get back to the point!
So, turning 25 means I will have been unwell for 14 years. On the plus side, whilst a depressingly long time, it is an improvement in the sense that I can say the number 14 because it is a safe number, unlike the number I used to have to say, (the one that comes between 12 and 14), which is a somewhat difficult number for me to handle in terms of OCD (YAY SILVER LININGS).
Also there is something rather motivating about birthdays in that they often inspire you to make goals of things you are unhappy about and want to change before the next one.
Indeed, I think that as the number of years I have been ill has gone up, the more motivated I have become to fight my illnesses and push as hard as I can for recovery even when it involves doing something scary.

During the first years of my illness when I had to go back a year in school and take time out of education to go into hospital, I was motivated to fight purely because my illnesses were making me unhappy, but not so much because I realised what I was missing out on whilst stuck in my head. Ok I often couldn’t leave the house and I missed out on a few sleepovers with friends, a couple of school trips and several opportunities to share a pizza and watch a movie on a Saturday night, but to begin with, missing the odd pizza isn’t that big a deal. Obviously I would have liked to have done all the things like going bowling with friends and eating popcorn at the cinema, but for me being safe at home not having to touch or eat anything, felt a lot more comfortable. I would have rather stayed in my little bubble avoiding as much anxiety as I could, even if that meant being a little bit lonely, than go out of my bubble and cause myself a lot of distress trying to wear a pair of bowling shoes or eating a mouthful of popcorn. Staying safe was my priority, and if that meant missing out on a few sleepovers/meant less terror, that was a necessary sacrifice I would take. Why terrify yourself for weeks and weeks just trying to get the courage to see a friend for an hour? Better just to avoid it.

However the longer you live with mental illness, the more those little things add up over the years, and suddenly you find you have not just missed the odd sleepover, you have missed hundreds of sleepovers, hundreds of moments in which people took photos and made memories that they reminisce about and fondly recall with sentences beginning “Oh my goodness do you remember when…”. After several years, you haven’t missed one bucket of popcorn, you have missed an entire swimming pool worth of popcorn (not that I advise you put popcorn into a swimming pool…just trying to get the image of how much popcorn we are talking about across), and that amount of popcorn can’t be caught up on as easily as the one bucket you missed in the first place. As the days become months and the months become years, you realise just how much of your life you have missed out on because you were too scared to take part in it, and suddenly the motivation to work even harder to stop the years passing by without you noticing increases, because you finally understand how rubbish it feels to be left so far behind everyone else.

However at the same time, whilst the longer you live with a mental illness the more anger and frustration you have at it to motivate your recovery, the further entrenched you are in that illness and thus the harder it feels to get better. It is a catch 22 situation, the most vicious of all the vicious circles.

Time passes, you get angrier at all the time wasted, you become more motivated to fight but then find it is harder to fight than the first day you tried to challenge yourself because the illness has used the time wasted to dig its claws into you even further. Odd things that started out as little quirks to keep yourself safe become engrained habits and habits are a lot harder to break than things you only did a few times. I have smoked only one cigarette in my life and I will be honest, I hated it. It was like swallowing a smelly smokey fire. Therefore deciding to “give up” on the idea of smoking after that cigarette was not a challenge at all. I had spent longer as someone who didn’t smoke than I had spent as someone who did, it wasn’t a habit and I was not addicted or used to the comfort or feeling of a cigarette in my hand. Now however, I have officially been mentally ill for longer than I have ever been not mentally ill and I have dug myself into a hole so deep that it is far harder to get out of. Years ago I didn’t go to a meal out with friends because it made me uncomfortable, but that uncomfortable feeling has built over the years, and now I don’t go because I am terrified. Eating out doesn’t make me anxious, it makes me feel like I am dying on the inside. The longer you are ill, the more set in your ways you are and the harder it is to get better.

This year then, as always, though I dreaded my birthday as it scares me to think how long I have been trapped in my own mind, I am trying to see it as a positive motivation for change, an opportunity to say “this past 14 years has been hell and I am determined to fight as hard as I can to make sure that number doesn’t go up by one every time my age does”. I am fed up, truly angry every year as I see the growing list of all the opportunities I have missed out on and I really do want things to be different. It is just difficult, ageing with mental illness. As the years pass you may feel more motivated, but at the same time, you just feel more trapped.

Take care everyone x

BirthdayBlog

The Problem With Before And After Photos In Eating Disorder Recovery

A few months ago, towards the end of February, it was Eating Disorders awareness week, so naturally I did as I always do on this occasion and buried my head in the sand for the duration of the week (I also allowed children to use the remaining sand to build sand castles atop my hiding place because I am such a lovely person). This may sound like odd behaviour for someone who is constantly talking about mental health problems like eating disorders in order to raise awareness and for someone who has a strong disliking of sand, but then again odd behaviour is what I am known for. Literally.

The reason that I avoided the internet during that week, and indeed avoid it every year, is that it is a week in which social media is filled with “before and after” pictures, aka photos of someone taken during the depths of their illness, compared to a later photo taken post/during recovery. Don’t get me wrong, these photos certainly have their place and I would be lying if I were to say that I have never been inspired by any of them. Often these pictures will come with an empowering and motivating story of someone’s journey in recovery and triumph over anorexia, and that is brilliant. That is something that should be celebrated, and those stories  are shared throughout the Eating Disorder community to encourage others to fight their illnesses and to give hope to those who doubt recovery is truly possible. I love these stories but it is not the stories of recovery that I have a problem with, rather I have a problem with the “before and after” photos that are often involved in telling the triumphant tale.

Firstly, these images will usually show the person in the depths of their illness as an incredibly underweight individual, with ribs popping out so far all over the place that you could easily use them as a xylophone. Regardless of the inspirational intention with which they were posted, there is always the risk of these pictures going on to be triggers for other sufferers or, dare I say it, “thinspiration” for all those misguided souls who think that anorexia is something to aspire to. They can also make sufferers who are perhaps not as underweight (or who are unable to see themselves as that underweight) consequently see these images and feel that they cannot seek help because they aren’t “thin enough” or “bad enough”, when encouraging people to seek treatment is supposed to be the whole point of a week dedicated to educating and raising awareness of eating disorders. Similarly, in their representation of someone with an eating disorder and someone without, they encourage the myth that eating disorders are about being thin and that eating disorders can be seen, (a myth I have tried to tackle here: Why it is physically impossible to “look anorexic”.)
For people who do not know much about eating disorders and who do not have the time or interest in reading full accounts of recovery journeys, these snapshots may be the only experience they get of someone with an eating disorder, so the risk is that the stigma and lesson of “ill is underweight”, “well is a healthy weight” will be perpetuated without taking into account the far more complex and important internal and mental struggle that is having an eating disorder.

Similarly, as an image to summarise recovery, I feel it is problematic in that the main difference that is visible between the two pictures is weight, which implies that the main difference one goes through is the difference of the number on the scales. It suggests that in recovery, the biggest thing you “gain” is weight, when really weight is probably the smallest of all the things I have seen people gain in recovery. I may not be able to speak as a recovered person myself, but of all the friends I have watched beat their eating disorders into a soggy pulp on the ground that is no longer able to control their lives, the change in their weight has been the least significant change of all. Okay there is a change in weight and perhaps clothes size, but when I see my recovered friends, I do not see the change in their BMI, what strikes me most is the change in their lifestyle and their overall presentation as a person. To me they have not gained weight as much as they have gained themselves. When you are in the depths of your eating disorder, as much as you fool yourself, you cannot maintain a normal life. Your ability to have a job, have normal relationships with people, be happy or even function are seriously compromised, and these things are all aspects of life that can be improved on with recovery. I have seen friends go on to study medicine at university, have romantic relationships, give birth to children, climb mountains (I am talking proper big mountains like Kilimanjaro), and travel the world. They have regained their ability to properly smile, to laugh without having to fake it, and to me seeing all those photos of them skydiving in Australia or getting married and having babies have been far more significant and noticeable changes than what size jeans they wear. It is these aspects of recovery that are the really important reasons that people need to fight and it is these changes in lifestyle that are the really inspiring stories. Yes weight gain is a part of the journey, but what is more important is the places that weight can take you, for example to medical school or up a flipping huge mountain.

On a similar note, my other issue is that I feel before and after photos simplify the process of recovery. In one picture you probably have someone who is underweight and either looking miserable or faking a smile out of dead eyes, and in the other you have someone who has gained weight and perhaps, is beaming at you with genuine joy. This then makes recovery very straight forward, “Being underweight make you unhappy and thus gaining weight will make you happy”. It automatically assumes that the happiness comes as the weight increases, without highlighting the far more complicated journey in getting that weight to be there.

It is hard to explain exactly what I mean, but it is like looking at a picture of someone standing in a field looking miserable, and then another photo of them smiling in the same field but with the addition of an ice cream. At face value then, you can look at these pictures and think “well a person was sad because they didn’t have an ice cream but then they got an ice cream and they were happy” , simple. What the picture will not tell you however, is how that ice cream got there. Little would you know that the person had not simply walked up to the nearest ice cream van, asked for a 99p Mr Whippy and walked away smiling, just as the person in recovery had not simply gained some weight, and in turn, a smile (side note did you know that they don’t even do 99p Mr Whippys anymore? They are now at least £1.50! How do those ice cream men still have the nerve to play jolly tunes as they patrol the streets for customers now that they are basically performing daylight robbery rather than offering a merry treat. You can play Greensleeves all you want but that doesn’t change the fact you are making me re-mortgage the house to buy myself an ice cream. SHAME ON YOU ICE CREAM MEN. SHAME ON YOU.)

Anyway, what the picture doesn’t show is that to acquire their ice cream they were forced to go on a perilous test of their endurance, that pushed them to the limits of mental and physical strength. To get that ice cream in the picture, that person had in fact had to walk across continents and cross oceans to America, the largest producer of almonds in 2014 I will have you know, and then had to hand pick hundreds of almonds ready to blend into a creamy milk worthy of a tasty frozen dessert (this person was lactose intolerant so almond milk was the milk required for the job.)
Then, exhausted from months of trekking, nut picking and milk making, that person had to swim across even more oceans into the freezing cold pole of the Arctic where they stirred their almond milk with a wooden spoon atop a large glacier that acted as a natural freezer for their ice cream churning process. Even when the ice cream was made it didn’t get any easier as they had to then wrestle with a penguin who had cheekily tried to steal the ice cream (I don’t blame him to be honest. I would steal ice cream if all I had ever eaten was raw fish), and then they had to get the ice cream all the way back to that field in their country of origin, back through the hot climate of almond fields in America, without the creation melting. Clearly that is a far more character building excursion to get to that point of “person with ice cream in a field” than the picture initially suggests, and I didn’t even tell you the 5 month side trip it took to make the cone in which the ice cream was to rest (it would take too long to tell you fully but as a brief summary it involved a very angry rhino and a lot of waffles).
The person worked hard to get to the point where they were standing in that field with that ice cream, and all that hard work is eradicated, as it is in recovery journeys, when all you see is a simple before and after shot.

Obviously I am not saying we should stop people from sharing their recovery stories and indeed, if you have recovered from an eating disorder, then I am OVERWHELMINGLY proud and impressed by your determination and strength. If you were here with me now rather than wherever you are reading this, I would give you so many rounds of applause that my hands would fall off and I would be left clapping stumpy wrists to show appreciation of your achievement. What I am saying is that maybe, more often we should be celebrating and telling these stories without the underweight photos that go with them. A story is still a great story without pictures. Hell, look at Harry Potter, that story changed and continues to change generations of people, it has grown theme parks and movie franchises, careers and other astonishing things, all from a pile of words cobbled together with no images at all (For the purpose of this post can we please just pretend that the illustrated versions that are currently in production don’t exist.) Still, even when pictures are added to the Harry Potter books, it will still be the words that are doing all the talking.

So that is why I have a problem with before and after photos when it comes to eating disorder recovery, not because I don’t like inspirational stories or don’t want people to celebrate their achievements, but because those pictures don’t really do anything but diminish and reduce the value and greatness of what has been achieved. As a snapshot ok, a picture may say a thousand words, but a recovery journey is made up of millions of them.

Take care everyone x

BeforeAndAfter

The Effect Of Mental Health Problems On Carers

A few days ago I was out for a wander with my mother and I asked to borrow her phone because my OCD fear of contamination often means that I leave my own phone at home, meaning my “mobile” is ironically rather stationary. I did not ask to borrow her phone to play a few rounds of snake as I often did as a child (God I miss the 90’s), I borrowed it because I wanted to check my emails. You see, I am a very important person and for this reason I am often swamped with a lot of very important emails and thus it is vital for me to check my emails at all times to see what exciting opportunities I am receiving/check if my online shopping order of a new penguin onesie has been dispatched yet, because one cannot wait around all day for these things. What do they expect me to do, wear normal clothes? What a hideous idea!

Anyway, as I tapped on the little email icon on my mother’s telephonic device, I was immediately confronted with a word document in which I could clearly see my name. Had I not read my name I would have perhaps realised that this document was not for me and was actually an email sent to my mother, seeing as I was using her phone which was naturally signed into her account. Having realised this I would have, of course, closed the document and signed out in order to respect my mother’s privacy, but alas I did not realise this right away as, like I said, I had read my name. Thinking my emails had somehow popped up automatically I read on, but soon enough I realised that this message was perhaps one that had not been written for the eyes I had tucked neatly behind the rims of my spectacles (top tip: when wearing glasses always make sure your eyes are tidily kept behind the lens part of the glasses rather than allowing the eyes to wander aimlessly across one’s face).
When I realised that this document was not for me I probably should have closed it right away and swiped off to check on that penguin onesie, but alas I was all too curious and without saying a word, I read all of what was on the screen…

The document it turned out, was a draft of a letter from my parents, a letter about me. I won’t go into the full details of the letter’s contents, but as a brief summary it said “Dear High up person in Mental Health services, We are the parents of Katie who is really mentally ill and we are terrified for her life right now because things are so bad, so please can you help locate some kind of treatment that is more intense than the outpatient services she is currently receiving because she is truly insane and we do not know what to do with ourselves”. Suffice it to say, upon reading that, I was a little shocked. Obviously I know that I am mentally ill and I know that this has a large impact on the family and friends around me, but I guess that when you are the one suffering with the mental health problem, it is quite easy to forget the effect it has on other people because you are so wrapped up in your own world. Seeing this was a massive reminder and realisation as to how much people with mental health problems affect the people who love them. On this blog I am always talking about how my illness affects me and when we think about a household in which someone is a little bit on the bonkers side, it is often the person who is unwell, as opposed to the carer, who is in the forefront of our minds. This really made me think how if I, as someone who has a lot of experience in mental health problems, can forget or not realise the impact of insanity on others, a lot of people out there with no experience probably have no idea at all and therefore it needs to be talked about.

Indeed it reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago when the window cleaner rang on the doorbell to collect money for his bubbly services. Months prior, had he rang the bell, nobody would have answered because my mum would have been at work and I would have been hiding under a blanket somewhere worrying about who was ringing on the doorbell. However, recently my mum has given up work for “many reasons” she says, but if we are honest it is to care for me because, to borrow a phrase of every 5 year old trying to get out of a P.E lesson across the country, I am “not very well” (Thanks for letting me borrow that phrase kids. You may have it back now. Really appreciate it.)
Naturally though, the window cleaner is not aware of my mental health problems, so he was surprised at my mum opening the door in the day time. When she explained that she had actually given up work, he jovially commented “ahh, a lady of leisure”, and to be fair to him, how was he to think otherwise. Still it was a comment that made me a bit uncomfortable because I realised that there are probably some people out there who would hear that my mum has given up a “proper job” to look after me and would think that she is indeed a lady of leisure, swanning around the house in a floaty gown without a care in the world. She doesn’t have a mental health problem and since mine are all invisible creatures in my head, it would be easy to assume that they don’t affect her life very dramatically. This could not be further from the truth, and in my eyes my mum’s unofficial job of “looking after a maniac everyday” is not at all leisurely and, if anything, it is the most physically and emotionally exhausting job on the planet.

For me, it can take hours to eat a meal, hours to perform a washing routine “correctly”, hours to put my hair into a pony tail that is “just right” according to OCD and not likely to kick off world war three any time soon. Rituals take so long that I am frequently getting to bed around 6am, just as my dad is getting up for work, and though my mum isn’t there for all of that time, for the majority of it, she is there. She is the one calming me down after I have had a panic attack, she is the one helping me to prepare food and weigh courgettes if I am too scared to go in the kitchen myself, she is the one having to answer my constant reassurance seeking questions of “did I do that right/is something bad going to happen”. Aside from those more physically demanding things however, I would say that the biggest impact is the emotional stuff that goes alongside it.

I remember a time when I was having a particularly bad day and had found it hard to follow my meal plan so I ended up accidentally fainting (I am pretty sure it is hard to faint on purpose but I want to make it clear that the fainting had not been my intention). When I came round on the sofa I did not feel well at all and I remember mum being very anxious about it, a fact which, at the time, I felt really angry about. Looking back it sounds awfully selfish but I just couldn’t see why she was making a fuss. She wasn’t the one whose heart was skipping beats like a child with a jump rope of death, she wasn’t the one who was so weak she could barely move and whose vision was fading in and out of total darkness. If she was at all dizzy or weak, she could solve the problem easily by going into the kitchen and having a few chocolate digestives to perk her sugar levels up. I on the other hand, no matter how I felt, was still too scared to eat something. Little did I think about what it must be like to watch someone you love struggling to stay alive, without being able to do anything about it. Okay my mum “has it easy” in that she can grab a biscuit whenever she wants one, but she also has to worry about the fact that I cannot do that, that I cannot take care of myself at all right now, and that is incredibly difficult.

It isn’t even as if she can get a break very often from her role as “carer” because naturally if she isn’t caring for me she is worrying about who is doing it for her or worse, me caring for myself. She can go to bed at 2am and sleep through the rituals I carry out until 6am but I highly doubt she has a restful sleep knowing that I am awake charging around like a lunatic, worrying about whether i have eaten enough or whether I am going to have one of my panic sessions which usually leads to me doing something rash and dangerous before I have time to realise what is going on.
Living with someone with a mental health problem also restricts someone’s movement and freedom drastically, much like it might if you had a Yorkshire terrier or a golden Labrador. I have never had a dog but from what I gather, you need to constantly be aware of what they are doing and where they are going. You cannot just jet off to Paris for the weekend without worrying about where the dog is going to go, and in my mother’s situation, I am very much like that dog (only a really freaking crazy dog that you can’t just send to the local kennel.) In the letter from my parents to the fancy mental health person that I had read accidentally/kind of on purpose having discovered accidentally, they spoke about how they have a holiday booked in August and are panicking because if things remain as they are, I will not be able to be left. People know that as someone who is unwell, I often feel trapped behind the bars of the mental health cage, but it is important to realise that often, those around them are caught up in that cage behind those bars too.

Reading that letter has had a big effect on me, not in the sense that I am now “trying harder” to get better as if I wasn’t trying before, but because it has made me especially aware of how mental health problems suck both the lives out of those they inhabit and any other lives that happen to be within range. A mental health problem is not a vacuum with a specifically designed nozzle that only pulls on the sufferer, it is a vacuum with a flipping massive gaping hole that hovers over a household and jumbles up all that there is inside, so that even those who aren’t “technically ill” can feel like their world is spinning.
In a way I guess this blog is kind of like a shoutout or a thank you to my parents as well as an apology at how much I am affecting their lives negatively right now. More than that though, I want it to highlight the fact that in general, life as a carer is incredibly taxing and debilitating in its own right, and that it is a serious job, the stress of which should never be underestimated or brushed aside. Raise awareness for people who struggle of course, but it is important to also raise awareness and support for the people who are standing alongside them.

If you yourself are a carer of someone with a mental health problem, please know that on behalf of all mentally ill people, I see you, and I thank you.

Take care everyone x

CarerPrison