My name is Ashton. I’m 18 years old, and I am the 1 in 4 that suffers from mental health problems. I am in remission from Anorexia Nervosa, I currently suffer from depression and anxiety, and I have OCD tendencies.
I didn’t want to stay at the school 6th form, I wanted a fresh start
When I left secondary school I decided to go to college. I didn’t want to stay at the school 6th form, I wanted a fresh start. I was trying to run away from my problems, without realising that they were inescapable. Over that summer I spiraled further and further into depression. I behaved recklessly and impulsively: drinking, smoking and self-harming. For the past two years self-harm has been my way of translating mental pain into the physical – I can say exactly where it hurts, I can see it and I can cover it up to make it go away.
It was another way to punish myself and a way to block out thoughts and numb how I felt
When September came around I was mentally very unwell. I was picking up new behaviours and anorexia was creeping into my life. It was another way to punish myself and a way to block out thoughts and numb how I felt: alone, isolated, desperate. I struggled to socialise at college, terrified that people would find out about my mental health problems. I didn’t want them to ask questions about why my attendance was so bad, I didn’t want them to ask why I would always be alone, I didn’t want them to ask why I would spend hours walking up and down stairs burning off what I’d been forced to eat the night before, controlled by the voices in my own head.
I planned to talk to my college tutor to tell him how I was feeling and I specifically remember having to book an appointment for just five minutes of his time. “You look OK”, he told me. Covering the bags under my eyes with makeup, covering the scars on my arms, painting my nails to cover the blue tinge, covering my skeletal body with layers upon layers of clothing: I looked OK. Completely humiliated and ashamed I dropped out of college, vowing never to speak up again.
Eventually my mental and physical health deteriorated
Eventually my mental and physical health deteriorated and, after collapsing, I was admitted to the District Hospital. It was here that I was officially diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, a label which I refused to accept due to the associated stigma. I was transferred to an adolescent psychiatric unit a week before Christmas Eve, which I spent as the only patient on the ward. My admission was traumatic, and almost two years on I still have crippling flashbacks of the months spent there. I discharged myself in February, and registered for a new 6th form for the following September. I immediately relapsed and spent eight months consumed by illness. In June 2013 I hit rock bottom; I wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping and was constantly preoccupied with suicidal thoughts. I remember feeling disconnected to my body, unrecognizable and strangely calm the morning I attempted to take my life.
When I was discharged from hospital the following week, I made an appointment to see a new GP, which would ultimately be the turning point in my recovery. I can honestly say that without the help of her I would be neither where nor who I am today. For the first time I began truly opening up to someone, someone who genuinely cared: I caught a first glimpse of hope.
I was terrified about going back to school
September was getting closer, and I was terrified about going back to school. I was having panic attacks daily, which would leave me curled up on the floor sobbing for hours. But with appointments twice a week I gradually put weight back on and become physically more stable, at least. I was determined to get my A-Levels, and make my doctor proud of me. I met with the director of the 6th form to discuss my history and ask any questions. The response was incredible, he was so supportive and went out of his way to make sure I was looked after prior to even starting. In the first week alone, I had meetings with my form tutor, the director of sixth form and the sixth form coordinator. My individual subject teachers were e-mailed and I felt safe for the first time in a long time.
The 6th form coordinator, whom I built up a great relationship with, would check in on me every morning; she would listen to me, make me a cup of tea, supply me with endless tissues, and give me a hug: anything to help. She printed off her timetable of teaching, so I would always be able to find her, and she booked a room so I would always have somewhere to go if I needed to be by myself. On days where I struggled with anorexia, teachers sat with me as I sobbed over a sandwich, they reassured me, they calmed me, and they were always there. Nothing was ever too much trouble and I am so grateful for the time and effort they put in.
Returning to education has allowed me to make the most amazing new friends
I didn’t just lose my incredible boyfriend, friends and family because of my mental health problems, I also lost myself. I will never understand why I had to become so ill but I have learnt to stop looking for the reasons and to stop blaming myself. Returning to education has allowed me to make the most amazing new friends and my diagnoses only make me more appreciative of them – they are no longer a barrier. With so many new opportunities, I can now say with complete honesty that I am excited for my future – a future where people will always stare and ask, “what happened to your arms?”, but a future where I can tell them, with a smile, that I beat my demons.
I still have my bad days, but in the words of the late Robin Williams, a true inspiration, “you’re only given a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it”.