This week’s blog is a must read – one I’ve kept in reserve for Eating Disorder Awareness Week which begins today. One from one of the bravest and most lovely people I’ve had the good fortune to come across. One which proves that early intervention and really listening to someone with a mental health problem is essential. Almost every line is quotable. Please read and share and next time you think someone is being an attention speaker spend a few minutes to truly listen. There is also a link to BEAT – the UK Eating Disorders charity – and a few key facts about Eating Disorders at the end of this article. Please, please read these and see if there is anything you can do to raise awareness.
Things would have been very different…
When I think about my experiences of mental health, I always think back to the words of a nurse who looked after me in hospital. She told me treatment was all about learning to be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it. Yet, in reality, nobody views mental health treatment in this way.
I’ve never forgotten the words of a doctor, spoken when I was 8 years old; “she is craving your attention, ignore her and things will return to the way they were”. This was my first experience of professionals not recognising my developing illness. I heard those words and interpreted them to mean I needed to be more secretive, to make sure I wasn’t seen to be wanting attention. I visited several different doctors in subsequent years, but the same thing was said, I was dismissed as being young and seeking attention. All this time, my mental illness was becoming more powerful; I was becoming more ‘anorexia’ and less ‘me’. My experiences of being continually taken to the doctors, and consistently sent away without any offers of help or referrals elsewhere, have made me passionate about the need for early intervention for those suffering with any mental health issue. The longer the illness is left untreated, the more powerful the voices become and the harder it is to reach the victim. Early treatment is essential in stopping mental and physical health rapidly spiralling downwards. I believe, although I didn’t realise at the time, that if my eating disorder had been diagnosed earlier, things would have been very different – my physical health wouldn’t have deteriorated to a critical point and therapy would have been possible from word go, as opposed to having to wait until my physical health stabilised.
My experiences of inpatient care on the children’s mental health ward really highlight how important it is that sufferers, if requiring inpatient care, are placed in the right setting. The doctors and nurses on the unit where I was, were lovely. They would try their best to make you smile, feel safe and at home. But, they didn’t have any experience of somebody suffering with my illness. I was able to pull the wool over their eyes, something that simply is not possible in a specialist setting. I suppose my admission to hospital saved my life at that time, but it didn’t treat the cause of the problem. Inpatient treatment also cannot be stand alone, being discharged without anything in place such as therapy sessions, made it so easy to return to my destructive ways.
That is the negative side of the treatment I have received over the years, but I have seen the positive side too. A side that the media often gloss over, in favour of shock headlines. I managed to hold on for 2 years after being discharged from hospital, spinning a tangled web of lies to cover my tracks. But, eventually I realised enough was enough. There is one universal truth about mental health illnesses, and that is, they are exhausting. And I was tired. I was tired of putting on a happy face. I was tired of life. Hospital felt like a better option than dying. I wanted help, I desperately needed help, and inpatient care was the best way to receive it.
The months I spent as an inpatient in a hospital specialising in treating my mental illness were the best, and worst, of my life. The mental torture of feeling like a prisoner in both your own body, and in the hospital walls, was draining. But, the team were absolutely incredible. They taught me how to live a life where my illness isn’t the dictator and helped me to find me. Every single person played their part in helping me to become the person strong enough to stand alone, to face life, and to start living. Right from the nurse who helped me to create a wall of recovery, adding bricks whenever I overcame something to the doctor who understood how my mind worked so tailored my treatment to make it as effective as possible, I wouldn’t be here without them. The programme of treatment was intensive and busy, art therapy, music therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), craft and so on. As you progressed through your treatment, you were rewarded with the chance to go to yoga sessions, take a supervised walk in the grounds, go on a trip to Sainsbury’s… before eventually being allowed to go unsupervised on walks. This programme was perfect for me; it allowed me to push myself in an environment I knew was safe. I had made up my mind I needed the help when I was admitted, but it was only half way through my admission that I realised I wanted to get better. I know that many of the patients on the ward had their eyes opened to a life not dominated by mental illness by the team at the hospital. The staff were understanding, caring, kind and thoughtful. They were strict, and at times it seemed they were unfair, but in hindsight everything they did was for the greater good. But more than that, they were human. They talked about things outside of the bubble we lived in at the hospital, they reminded us that life was outside those doors and we had to go out and get it.
When I was discharged, I was completely different to the person who was admitted. And it felt amazing. The transition to day care was faultless, initially attending 4 days a week, gradually decreasing the days to 1 over the next few months.. To go from an inpatient environment to a life of normality is hard. But, day care provided an essential scaffold to help me to continue to fight my demons. It just shows me that high quality day care and outpatient services are as essential as inpatient care.
I didn’t walk out of those doors, at day care, for the last time, completely cured. Treatment has been pivotal in my recovery, I couldn’t have done it without the high level of care I have received. Treatment has to be personalised, intense, challenging and real; in that it has a real world focus. Yes it has to restore physical well being, but it must tackle the core of the problem. The body heals far quicker than the mind, but individualised treatment and determination from both sides makes it possible for both body and mind to heal.
I have a job I love; an amazing family, great friends and I have found my feet in a world that still feels brand new. It has been a team effort, and all those involved in my treatment have been a key part of that team.
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On average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1,043 days. On top of this, in a YouGov survey conducted for EDAW (Eating Disorders Awareness Week), more than one in three adults (34%) in the UK, who gave an answer, could not name any signs or symptoms of eating disorders. Find out more about the signs of an eating disorder.
We know the sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and fast recovery. As well as campaigning to improve the services available, we recognise that we must raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder and encourage and empower people to take action now – no matter how long their symptoms have been present.
So, join us this EDAW to ask: ‘Why Wait?’ – to see what you can do to help right now head to https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/edaw