26 February 2016

One Word at a Time...

Why do we struggle to talk about mental health? Is it because those suffering feel ashamed? Is it because we have this perception that those with mental health issues are dangerous and out of control?

I was surprised to find out that each year 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems. That is a staggering amount, especially considering that nobody ever talks about it! Imagine just how many people out there are suffering in silence, afraid to speak up or talk about what they are going through. I think it is incredibly sad, and that is why I have chosen to be so open and honest about my experiences; in the hope that it will encourage people to seek help and realise that they aren’t the only ones affected. I anticipate that those listening to or reading my story will understand that I do find it difficult to open up, but I can honestly say that speaking up is helping me more than I ever thought it could. It allows me to reflect on my experiences, realise the severity of my illness and motivate me to continue towards full recovery. Every time I write a new blog post, do an interview or write an article, I cannot help but wish I could have had access to an honest account of what it is like to suffer from an eating disorder, by somebody that is going through it. This is another reason why I want to resume speaking out, because I would like to think that there is at least one other person benefiting from what I am producing.

I began sharing my story back in September 2015 when I was in hospital. Viking FM were coming to interview staff about the new development of five new bedrooms, which would accommodate more individuals that were in desperate need of specialist help at the unit. They asked if any patients would be willing to share their experiences, and I obliged. Of course it wasn’t something I was proud of discussing, but I wanted people to be aware of just how severe the condition can get, and how little help there is in the community for mental health problems, particularly eating disorders. However, I did not anticipate the reaction that this would have on my recovery. I became incredibly motivated, not just to heal myself, but to help others. I began to think more closely about how I could reach out to make people aware of the condition, but I knew I needed to be healthy enough both physically and mentally before I could pursue this venture.

When the time was right, I decided to create my blog. I was just coming out of full time treatment and was unsure of what the next move would be in terms of how I would cope without being supported 24/7 by specialists. I regularly referred back to my diaries from hospital when I was struggling, and I thought to myself just how much writing these entries helped me to reflect on the difficulties that I experienced that day. Then I remembered how hard I tried to find positive blogs that documented people’s recovery, being honest but optimistic. It was so difficult to find such websites and I thought, “Why shouldn’t I create my own?” That was when Every Step Another Story was published. Since then, it has been displayed on the Humble Tart Kitchen, SEED charity, Mind charity and NEDA Proud2Bme websites. I am so grateful for their support in believing that my writing is worthy of being promoted under their reputable organisation names. The response it generated was way beyond what I would have ever imagined, and I am so proud of the continuous positive comments I receive, demonstrating that the blog is fulfilling its intended purpose. To hear from established charities, authors and publications, telling me just how inspiring and well written it is, makes my self belief and confidence go from strength to strength. Therefore affirming, that once again, the blog is doing so much for my recovery than I would have imagined. As I continue to wait for psychological help, it is becoming my therapy.

On 22nd February, I heard some very exciting news, that I had been asked by The Yorkshire Times if I would become a Lifestyle Correspondent and have my own column within the online publication! I was absolutely thrilled with the opportunity to engage a wider audience, but also to push my writing skills in order to adapt to cater another media source. At first I panicked, thinking that I would just be spending my entire life writing, and reverting back to my previous habits of declining social events in order to meet work demands. However, I am pleased to say that I am learning to balance my life, prioritising other events, whilst still meeting deadlines. Having this column is allowing me to conduct more scientific research into the illness, as apposed to just thinking about my own story. This is challenging, in particular reading about the reality of recovery, or the tragic end that it can cause. However, I need to be aware of this in order to increase peoples understanding of the cruel reality that mental illnesses are! I am looking forward to producing more articles for this publication, and I hope that it will encourage others to think twice about the complexity of the condition.

My determination to help others has seen me do another interview for Viking FM. This time detailing my journey beyond hospitalisation and my perspective on the services offered in the community. I figure that the more people voice their opinions about the mental health treatment offered, the bigger difference it will make. As I have just mentioned, I am still on the list for psychological support within the community, and I have been on said list since June 2015. Now I think that this is appalling, and if I hadn’t have had the intervention from hospital, and was relying on this support, I don’t think I would have had the strength to continue on my own. This is just from my experience personally, as I know that I tried for six months and could not find the courage to fight what was going on in my head. However, I do know of people that have recovered by themselves using books and family support, and I cannot commend them highly enough; it is an amazing feat! I hoped that doing the radio interview would prove to people that recovery is possible, but that professional support is vital. I can only wish that someone who makes the decisions on funding, services or specialised treatment will have listened to that interview, and it has made them think twice about where they make the cuts next.

During Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to be a guest speaker at the University of York’s Mental Health Awareness Project- Understanding Eating Disorders: Mind and Body event. I personally felt a special need to speak at this event, as it was at university where my health really declined. Of course, I was nervous about speaking in front of an unspecified amount of people, but once I got up there and started my presentation, I felt so at ease. The feeling of empowerment over my illness was amazing, and every time I speak out, I find that it gives my eating disorder the massive kick it needs. I know that it is not embodying a miraculous cure, but it does give me that boost of motivation, when I recite everything that I have been through. Not only that, but being able to raise awareness of eating disorders whilst being stood next to Marg Oaten MBE, the co-founder of SEED Eating Disorder charity in Hull, was an absolute honour. I admire every aspect of her determination to make a change to the way that this mental illness is viewed within the local area. Together, along with a lecturer from the university, we were able to give an interesting talk that encompassed a variety of insight into the illness, from different experiences and knowledge.  We also did a question and answer session, which allowed me to continue with providing detailed accounts of living with the illness from my own perspective. I was really pleased with how I performed during the event, and it cemented in my mind just how much I want to be able to do this to help others and raise awareness.

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