As part of Mental Health Awareness Week some of our brave AO’ers are sharing their journeys with mental health.
Today Beth shares her inspirational story with us about her experience with Anxiety and Depression.
My mental health journey started when I was 14/15. I have always struggled with anxiety and when I was 15 I experienced depression for the first time. Being a teenager is difficult at the best of times but with my GCSE exams, my step mum severely ill with her bipolar, no self esteem, bullying and my crippling anxiety things became too much for me to handle. There was so much going on around me that I felt I couldn’t control so I turned to food as a way of controlling something in my life. This was then my rocky road with Anorexia began. I didn’t realise then but for the next 9 years my relationship with food was about to change.
Between the ages of 15-18 my weight fluctuated up and down. I would lose a stone and put it back on with ease. It was when I moved to live in Manchester for the start of my degree that things really took a turn. During school and college I had been so passionate about my artwork but when I went to university I had no direction, I had no confidence and I felt so isolated. My relationship with my family had never been great but I was going months without speaking to my Dad and I felt that if I told him what I was dealing with then he would see me as a failure. I really struggled to make friends on my course as I was so run down and ill at the start of my course with tonsillitis and other illnesses that everyone else had already settled into their friendship circles by the time I made it to class. I felt like I didn’t fit in and my flat mates were all at a different university so I felt even more alone. As my confidence dropped so did my mood and my relationship with food got more complicated. I began to restrict my diet more and more and anything that passed my lips I would force myself to throw up anyway. I was so miserable. Stuck in an endless loop of self-loathing, starvation and self-harm.
As I struggled more and more with my eating disorder and self-harm I became more depressed and fell further behind with my uni work. I was drinking and doing anything else I could to take away the pain I was dealing with. I continued to lose weight because that was the only thing that made me happy. As long as the weight on the scales was dropping, it made the painful life I was living worth something. My lifestyle was so unhealthy yet if my boyfriend mentioned getting help to me I would become defensive and argumentative, convinced he was trying to stop me from being happy. Happiness meant losing weight and nothing else mattered to me.
In April 2016, after several arguments my boyfriend forced me to go to the doctors. As soon as I explained the feelings and anxieties I had been experiencing he referred me to the Manchester Eating Disorder Clinic. I had an initial review appointment where I had to fill out a self-assessment on my mental health to assess what sort of support I needed. I then waited another 9 months until my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy actually started. In that time my anxiety got worse, my relationships with my family and friends deteriorated and I was completely lost. I was self-harming daily, going days without eating and the worst part of it all was that I had completely normalised this behaviour convinced that anyone trying to stop me losing weight was the enemy. In January 2017 I was diagnosed with Anorexia with bulimic tendencies and Body Dismorphia Disorder.
In early 2017 I didn’t eat for 4 days and I collapsed in my flat. My body was getting so tired and didn’t have the energy to look after me properly. I had permanent heart palpitations and was constantly too weak to even get out of bed. In June 2017 I took an overdose in an attempt to take my own life. I was taken to hospital and I had to drink liquid charcoal which forced me to throw up my stomach full of tablets. I spent the night alone in A&E, so upset and tired. I really didn’t want to continue living a life that was so emotionally, mentally and physically painful and I knew that I didn’t want to end up in that position again. My weight at this point was 6st 10lbs and my BMI was 11.
All I could think about was the fact I wouldn’t see my boyfriend again if I didn’t get better and I knew I had to change something. I started taking antidepressants which I still take daily but at a lower dose and I continued my 8 month therapy programme until I made it out the other side. I can honestly say without a doubt that my therapist saved my life. I never thought that opening myself up to a stranger and discussing my problems would help but after everything I have been through with my mental health, I look back and couldn’t be more grateful for what the NHS gave me.
They gave me my life again. They gave me the opportunity to live and enjoy living. To make the most of spending time with my friends, family, boyfriend. Travelling, reading, learning, exploring…the list goes on. I am still learning to love myself and that’s okay. If i had never first told my boyfriend, gone to that first appointment or gone to that first therapy session I wouldn’t be here years later to share my story and tell others to reach for help if they need it. One thing that has helped me with my recovery journey is I write a blog called @n0rainn0fl0wers on Instagram which I started because I wanted to process my feelings in a healthier way. When I started that blog I started it to help both myself and other people who may have been going through similar to what I went through / was going through know that they aren’t alone with their feelings.
Mental health is so important. If not more so than physical health. They go hand in hand together. Just because you can’t always see someones pain doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If your brain isn’t healthy, how are you supposed to look after and care for yourself? Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. You are never alone and your feelings are always valid. Don’t continue to run from your problems if you’re afraid to face them because they will definitely get worse. Embrace your insecurities because they are a part of who you are and don’t forget, there are now flowers without rain.