Mental Health: A Patient's Perspective

Trigger Warning: This article contains detailed accounts of living with and recovering from eating disorders. If this is a sensitive issue for you, please do not continue reading. Once upon […]

Trigger Warning: This article contains detailed accounts of living with and recovering from eating disorders. If this is a sensitive issue for you, please do not continue reading.

Once upon a time, in what feels like another life, I suffered from anorexia. I was 12 years old just hitting puberty (boobies, spots, you know…all that jazz). I had no self-esteem and my daddy had just been diagnosed with cancer.

Before I go any further I’d just like to say that this story DOES have a happy ending; I’m now healthy, headstrong, attending University and utterly loving life. I have no lasting effects from my illness expect for an intense dislike of breakfast foods and what I would consider a hell of a lot more empathy for the human race.

It began by carrying a little ‘puppy fat’…at least that’s what my mum would call it. I can remember being in dance lessons and feeling like the biggest person there, a lummox, despite only ever being a size 12 at 5ft 10. The doctor I was taken to was surprised that I wanted to diet as my BMI was in the healthy range (18.5-25), yet I began to cut out things like sweets at the cinema, gravy on roasts and crisps in my lunchbox. Initially it felt amazing; my friends complimented me as I became leaner and more petite just like them. My mum was impressed at the beginning too at my resolve to ‘get fitter’; she actively encouraged me to go jogging and cook for myself. What mother wouldn’t?

I guess anorexia crept up on me. Just 4 months (and 2 dress sizes) after I had begun my ‘diet’ I was dragged back to the doctor who patiently sat with my mother as she sobbed through stories of trying to force feed me grapes, catching me jogging on the spot in my room at 4am and concerned phone calls from my maths teacher (ironically I’ve always hated maths). At a BMI of 18 he diagnosed me as anorexic and sent me marching off to go and see my brand new community mental health nurse. You see the thing is you don’t actually have to be dying of starvation to be anorexic, you just need the obsessive weight loss mentality which is what was recognised in me and allowed me access to a community mental health team which I desperately needed.

To round up a few agonising months; I didn’t get any better. My dad was discharged from hospital to find his wife intensely worried for my life as I spent up to 14 hours exercising in my room each day. I was no longer able to attend school as I was too weak and I had also met another girl suffering from anorexia and got locked into a sick weight loss battle with her much like those ‘thinspiration’ websites. I ate salad with raw mushrooms each day or breakfast cereals with water, I wouldn’t shower and I still wasn’t thin enough.

I was eventually admitted as an inpatient to hospital which saved my life. I was firmly made to eat and enjoy food again, the exercise was stopped and I was given an ‘incentive chart’ which meant I had to reach certain target BMI’s to earn freedom on the unit (16.5 = two hours leave unescorted bliss). I left the Unit months later after several different therapies and learnt lessons that have made me a better person today.

I believe anorexics fall into one of three categories: the ones who don’t recover, the ones that will relapse and the ones that never have trouble again. I think that I am the latter although I will have to be careful for the rest of my life about how I think about food and dieting. Think of it like being a recovering alcoholic. If I could back and change my experience I wouldn’t, although the hurt caused in my family because of my illness is my biggest regret of the whole thing.

So with all that in mind do I think that celebs shouldn’t talk about mental health/their own mental health problems?! Of course not! God knows it needs as much exposure as it can get. Mental health isn’t obvious (like a broken leg) and so often signs are missed that stop people gaining access to treatment that they need. They say even negative publicity is good publicity as it gets people talking about the subject and in some sense I have to agree. When referring to mental health people will always think of tragic cases with dangerous individuals like Christopher Clunis which thanks to its high profile has actually helped people with mental health problems despite the media horror as it has ensured community mental health teams monitor patients more closely and can impose treatment orders on them if they are deemed at risk to the public.

Some people will always look at mental health with their blinkers on, point at the ‘weirdo’ on the street and say “must be a nutter”. However, thanks to MIND’s recent ad campaign, it is getting more and more acceptable to have a mental health problem AND talk about it. So with people like Frankie from the Saturdays making it ‘cool’ to be depressed I’m actually all for that. It is a much better form of depression ‘role model’ than being ‘emo’ which was all the rage when I was 15 and didn’t encourage anyone to talk about problems. I respect people who can talk about their issues for therapeutic purposes, but it takes real courage to admit to needing service input and actually accepting that you have a problem. Have a little faith in your mental health professionals and charities I say, they will spot who needs support and help you through it.

Editor’s Note: Don’t suffer in silence, if you are someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder there are many support resources available.SUSU’s advice centre is the best first port of call.