I became unwell at a very young age after my Dad’s illness caused a lot of fear, anxiety and confusion around food. Age 6, the school reports state that I wouldn’t work with the other children in group work and I rarely spoke in class. Age 7, I remember banging my head against the school toilet’s wall, tears rolling down my face because I got a question wrong. I didn’t feel pretty like the other girls, I didn’t feel like I had a talent like the other children. Not eating became my talent. No one recognised the signs, back then children weren’t thought to get mental health problems. Only teenagers got anorexia right? Wrong. I spent months on the sofa as my weak body struggled to fight viruses and colds. I was always freezing cold, always tired and always unhappy.
Secondary school meant new problems were thrown my way. I felt very insecure, inadequate and worthless. My school uniform was traditional and in PE we would wear skirts for outdoor PE and gym knickers for indoor PE. Suddenly I became aware of my body and full of fear that I would be fat and have to wear a pair of knickers in front of the whole year. My image became a huge focus and the more I focused, the more distorted my views were. The bullying began, the self-hatred tripled. I woke up one Saturday morning and I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to be in my body. I used to wake up full of energy and wanting to have a good day but that had gone. I had gone. I walked downstairs and laid on the sofa and could barely talk to my parents. I began to cut myself. I suppose it was the only way I could get the distress out. Nobody had spoken to me about mental health, I didn’t know anything about being mentally unwell. I just thought that I was a bad person for feeling so bad and so I didn’t share what was going on. I shut myself away and hurt myself. I didn’t know what was happening to me.
On my 13th Birthday I woke up full of excitement despite the sadness I had been feeling. I always loved my Birthday. I leapt out of bed and went into the bathroom and that’s when I saw it. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and saw what the bullies sang at me daily. I saw this ugly, disgusting monster staring back at me. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t want anyone to see me ever again. I needed to disappear. I threw myself out my bedroom window in the hope that it would kill me but I barely got a bruise. I got through the rest of secondary school starving myself, purging and self-harming in the toilets. On my worst days I would sit at the back of the class overdosing. I was a child in desperate need of help but nobody knew what to do. School put me in counselling but it wasn’t enough. I visited the doctor once and was too afraid to go back.
I left school and tried to make a life for myself but it was so difficult whilst I was still battling with my mental health. I lost too much weight and had to leave the dance course I was studying. I was heartbroken and full of self-hatred. I gave up. My weight dropped lower and lower and I would cling on to the walls just to walk to the bathroom. I went to my doctor in desperation and he told me to come back in a month. I couldn’t wait a month. The next day I was rushed into hospital after taking an overdose, with drips, oxygen and monitors connected up to me and my body so weak I collapsed walking to the toilet I was certainly at crisis point and yet the team that assessed me sent me home with a follow up appointment with CAMHS in a week’s time. I wish they would’ve put me in hospital then because the longer I was left with little or no support, the bigger the problem got. I didn’t have that much to do with CAMHS, the service scared me so I avoided it as much as I could and I ended up being referred to the eating disorder service before I was 18.
Being in adult services as a young person is difficult. Community mental health teams especially are used to adults of perhaps my parent’s age and they don’t know how to provide appropriate support to young people still living with parents and in education. The next few years of my life I felt like I was being passed around as quickly as children throw the package in pass the parcel. The eating disorder service that I was referred to was a glimmer of hope at the time. I went back into education and put some faith back in my existence. I found treatment difficult, I don’t think the health care professional is always aware of how hard it can be just to turn up to the appointment when mental illness is suffocating the person. I never gave up though. Then one day I was given the news that funding was being changed and it meant I would have to go to treatment in the next county. I was at the beginning of recovery, incredibly vulnerable and my glimmer of hope was taken away as I was placed on an 18 month waiting list.
I struggled alone and ended up on an acute psychiatric ward for a short admission. I battled to stay in education, determined to make a life for myself. One Sunday morning I received the news that my best friend had taken his life. I was shocked, heartbroken and fed up with the world I lived in. I couldn’t cope. I was binging and purging, taking 20 laxatives a day and I would overdose purely to be knocked out and get some respite from the world. I was asking for help from my GP at least once a week but they couldn’t do anything, the funding had not yet changed over and I was still sat on waiting lists.
Christmas with an eating disorder is incredibly difficult. The socialising, the food and the pressure to be happy is often too much. Thrown in on top of that was exam stress. I wanted to die. I bought a single ticket on the bus, my heart racing with fear and my mind racing with uncertainty. Did I want to do this? Did I want to hurt my family like my best friend’s death hurt me? I reached out for help but don’t be mistaken. There is a myth out there that people who ask for help don’t really want to die. That is not true. I wanted to die but I didn’t want my Mother’s daughter to die. It was college policy to call the police. Why? Why are the police called for an illness? I was distressed enough without having to walk through college with a police man either side of me. I was detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act and then taken on to a Section 136 suite where I was assessed and then agreed to go into hospital as an informal patient.
I discharged myself two weeks later over fears that I was getting fat but once home I quickly realised I was not well enough to be out of hospital. Only days later I was sat in a department store’s toilets binging, purging and taking a vast amount of laxatives. I was sick of this life. Done. I just wanted to die. With razor blades and laxatives hidden in my socks I attended a meeting at college. The police were called and I was detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. I desperately needed the situation I was in to improve but instead it got a lot worse. There were no places of safety available. The officers were left with no other option but to take me down to custody. It was a Friday night. Have you ever been to A&E on a Friday night? Imagine being in a police cell! It was not the police’s fault, in fact the police were excellent and they were incredibly unhappy and frustrated with the situation too.
I will never forget that night. The way I gripped my head with my hands when they broke the news to me about where I had to go. The fear. I didn’t want to do anything wrong, I was scared of getting in trouble and of being shouted at. I was strip searched. It was for my own safety but that did not make it any easier, I cried throughout it. I didn’t want to be in the cell but I didn’t have a choice. I laid there listening to drunk, rowdy criminals kicking off. I was unwell but there was not a medical professional in sight. I was in that cell for 10 hours before I was assessed and transferred on to the psychiatric ward. I was ashamed, I felt like I had done something wrong and I wouldn’t tell anyone where I was, my family didn’t even know.
I lost my place in education because of my mental health. I was a high achiever and often got the highest marks in my class. I was capable but the support for my illness was not there. I felt like a hopeless case.
Eventually my name came to the top of that 18 month waiting list and I began treatment again. I was given 20 sessions, I could not even restore my weight in that time and on session 15 I was discharged for lack of progress. I was sent a letter telling my doctor that my prognosis was poor. What was the point in anything anymore? I stayed in bed for a month and barely ate until one day I ordered a pizza. I ate it with the windows open so that my parents wouldn’t smell it and then I binned the box in the park, travelled to the next town, shut myself in a public toilet and said goodbye to the world. I truly meant to die. Police found me unconscious 6 hours later and I was taken to hospital and treated whilst a police officer remained with me. I barely spoke. I was gutted I had survived. I was transferred on to the psychiatric ward once my physical health had improved. I was sent to a bed in another county as there were no beds available locally. I was beginning to settle in at that ward when I was transferred back to my local one. I needed stability, not disruption. Within 24 hours I was travelling home in a taxi after being asked to leave because they needed my bed. I hadn’t got out of bed since my suicide attempt, I had barely said a word and my blood sugars were 1.3. It was my mum who was left to pick up the pieces when I sobbed so loudly in bed that night.
A few difficult months later I began to get help from a charity. I had stopped leaving the house, I had pretty much stopped speaking but a counsellor from a charity began to visit me at home. I wouldn’t speak to her but I began emailing her to communicate what was wrong and gradually she got me to leave the house and to speak and less than a year later I was attending music and art classes and baking cakes at the centre. She gave me the time that mental health services never did and I left a confident young woman.
I moved to Torfaen last year. Moving house was difficult, I left everything that was familiar and the support of the charity behind. I went to my GP as I take a lot of medication so needed to sort a prescription in my new town but I also knew that I needed some support. As a young person it can be difficult to get health professionals to take you seriously. I was given an assessment by the community mental health team and they ignored my history and referred me back to my GP as they thought my mental state was due to recently moving house. Unfortunately mental illness does not discriminate and anyone can become unwell…me, you, a 5 year old, an 85 year old but for children and young adults it can be hard to be taken seriously.
With little support my mental state and weight declined. I became so unwell that I remember very little about this period of my life. I agreed to go into hospital but I was really unwell. I thought the ceiling was moving, I thought someone was outside my window and I couldn’t stop harming myself. I spent the whole first night with a bag over my head drifting in and out of consciousness before staff found me in the morning. I was then detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act and placed on constant observations. Finally after over a decade of illness I was being taken seriously. An eating disorder specialist and dietitian were called in, my medication was reviewed. I was at risk of being tube fed and being threatened with the secure unit. I fought my hardest and 2 months later was discharged back into the community healthier, wanting to be alive and with the community support that could’ve prevented me becoming so unwell had I been given it before I needed to be sectioned.
My mental health now has been the best it has ever been. I had a small relapse over Christmas and ended up being detained again when I became convinced that I needed to die on New Year’s Eve. I ran away from the hospital and was found by police who took me back to the ward. I ended up being restrained and injected that night. I’ve lived more this year than I ever have before and I’ve begun to use my experience of mental illness to help others and make a positive difference to the society we live in. I speak out in the media about my battle as well as running a blog and blogging on The Huffington Post. I am still unwell and sometimes I struggle to balance my busy life and my health. I had a slip up not long ago and was detained under Section 136. The police officer was compassionate as I have found most are but again we ended up in a situation where there was nowhere to take me. We ended up having to head towards the police station. A cell being the only place left for me to go. When I am acutely unwell and a law abiding citizen I should not have to worry about ending up in a cell. Fortunately the Section 136 suite became available and I did not end up in a cell again but it meant we were driving around for a long time.
I am finally receiving good quality care and treatment. I attend a dialectical behaviour therapy group and it has changed my life. I have learnt how to do mindfulness in a way that suits me, I have learnt how to tolerate distress and regulate emotions as well as learning interpersonal effectiveness. I am able to apply these skills to my everyday life as well as my mental illness. DBT is changing my life, I just wish they taught the skills we learn in group at school like they teach PE. Early intervention is incredibly important and whilst it’s not always possible we need to ensure that when a young person is asking for help that they get it. I imagine my life would be very different now if I got the professional help I have now when I first asked for it. I also want to stress the importance of educating people about mental health problems and giving people the skills to look after their own mental health right from toddlers up to the elderly.