October 31, 2016

Image of the author, Holly

On World Mental Health Day, I spoke. I spoke about my experience with mental health, which I haven’t done so honestly and raw before. I made my post public and had the biggest surprise when I had the most wonderful response. I’ve always been an ambassador for this sort of thing, especially at 17/18 when I was psychology representative at my sixth form which I used as a platform for National Eating Disorder Day, Time to Talk Day and World Mental Health Day, for example. Despite this, I never brought my own experience into it, purely because I was afraid of the reaction. Many people suffer in silence too, but even after recovery, people, including myself, are still silent. It is time for that to stop.

Mental health is something we feel like we shouldn't speak about, but when it's part of our everyday life, why shouldn't we? We all most probably know somebody who has mental health problems. Be it a family member or somebody you used to work with or sit with at school. I've suffered from an eating disorder for over 7 years and at first it was something that I couldn't talk to anyone about honestly because I didn't think people understood, or would judge me; which sometimes did happen by being called an attention seeker or that I was being dramatic. However now, my experiences and the incredible support system I'm lucky enough to have, has made me realise it is ok not to be ok and it is perfectly fine to talk about it.

I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 13 and discharged from the hospital just after my 15th birthday. Only to relapse into bulimia with restrictive tendencies at 16 and still not fully recovered today. Whilst suffering with anorexia, I lost friends: I wasn’t around often at school due to my frequent hospital visits and counselling sessions at school. I’m not going to apologise to those “friends” I lost because I wasn’t at school 5 times a week; that wasn’t my fault. Instead, I will say thank-you to those who did support me and who I still count as very close friends to this day. At 16 I moved away from Peterborough to Bournemouth. I was presumably recovered for just over a year at this point and the last thing any of us thought would happen was for me to relapse, even more so relapse into a different eating disorder.

I remember so clearly meeting a couple girls who were naturally slim, I spent most of my time with them but being new I felt vulnerable. Before I knew it, my relapse took a turn for the worse when I slipped into bulimia. I was reluctant to find help at first, but soon realised I couldn’t do this on my own. I booked an appointment with an eating disorder charity in Bournemouth and went on my own without telling anybody. They took me on and introduced me to the “recovery group”. I didn’t know whether this would work or not, all I knew is that I didn’t want to step foot into a hospital. I carried on there for 2 years and met the most amazing people who I related to so strongly. A sense of community I’ve never felt before and a family I never knew I needed. My eating disorder has been a vicious cycle and still is at times, but I feel like I’m on the right track with the right support.

 I experience social anxiety which I used to put off as "preferring my own company" when in fact I sit believing that my friends don't want me around, or even when I am out, I’m not really enjoying myself and just wanting to be back at home. That I'm almost scared to ask people if they want to do something, which sometimes takes me days to plan out how to ask and half the time I just don't because the fear of rejection but the stigma around that is people who aren't aware make the assumption you're unsociable. Being at university made this very difficult to handle. It never really came to light until I started noticing I would purposely have an early shift the morning after a night out so I didn’t have to go, or that my chest would tighten every time I went to speak to someone, be it a best friend or a stranger. I would have panic attacks when driving to a social event and would have to pull over my car because I sweat and feel like my heart is about to pound out my chest.

Mental health is not something I'm ashamed of, it's not something I put down as a weakness but nor is it something I define myself by. It's not attention seeking or being dramatic, it is a mental health issue. The importance of mental health is so significant and the fact it is 2016, I am baffled over why after so many years, we are still afraid to talk and not prepared to take steps forward. It is time to talk.

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