Helping a Loved One With a Mental Illness

Dealing with a mental illness can be tough. Learning to accept it as a part of your life can be a struggle, and sometimes it seems like a constant uphill battle. But something that makes it that little bit easier, is having friends and family who try to understand, and do everything in their power to help you feel better. While it can be hard to fully understand what your loved one is going through when you’re not going through it yourself, there are lots of things you can do to aid their recovery. It’s the little things that count, and here are some simple tips that could make a huge difference.

Accept that they have an illness. Don’t patronise them by telling them “it’s just a phase” or that they’ll “get over it”, especially after they’ve had a medical professional diagnose them with a mental illness. While you may have thought it was nothing before, you now have proof that there really is something wrong, and all you can do now is accept it. More often than not, people are afraid to talk about their mental illness for fear of rejection from their friends and family. Show them that not everybody is like that, be that person that they can trust and confide in. They know that if they had a physical illness, acceptance wouldn’t be a problem, but show them that you’ll accept them no matter what the problem is.

Research and educate yourself on the illness. Whether it’s something more common like depression, or something you’re less familiar with like borderline personality disorder, make it your aim to learn about the illness. When a person is first diagnosed with an illness, it can be tiring and stressful telling people the same thing and answering the same questions over and over again. If you show that you have an understanding of an illness, it will make it easier for your loved one to open up to you. For example, if they’ve just been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and are having panic attacks, all it takes is for you to ask “And what happens when you’re having a panic attack? I read that they can cause shortness of breath and shaking” for the sufferer to think, “Yes! Somebody understands!” It might seem small, but it’s one less thing for them to explain to you. Knowing that you’ve made an effort to learn about the illness will help them to open up to you more.

Ask how you can help. Instead of just presuming that you know what to do from whatever research you’ve done, ask them if there’s any way that you can help. Of course you can incorporate what you’ve learned into this, but there might be something more specific and personal that helps your loved one out. After all, everyone is unique and we all deal with things differently. Just a simple text saying, “You looked a little down today. Is there anything I could do to help?” is showing them that you’re aware of what they’re going through and that you care.

Listen to them. Sometimes when your mental illness, whatever it is, has taken its toll on you and you’re having a bad day, all you need is somebody to talk to. What your loved one needs right now is a listener, not somebody who’ll butt in every five minutes with “Yeah that happened to me before but…” or “It’ll be fine as long as you…” Your friend or family member is in a state of distress, and you can’t be of any help to them unless you hear the full extent of how they’re feeling. Let them get everything off their chest, and then you can offer them your advice.mh6

Encourage them to try new treatment methods. Getting better can be a very slow and gradual process, and from herbal remedies to hypnotherapy it can all seem a bit much. If the medication they’re on isn’t working, encourage them to go back to their doctor to see if they can switch it up. Different medication works for different peo
ple, and sometimes it can take a while to find the one that’s best suited to you. Don’t let them give up, and keep reminding them that they will eventually find something that makes them feel better.

If you know someone with a mental illness, then I really hope this post has helped you see how you can help. If you have a mental illness yourself and your friends and family are struggling to understand, show them this. Whether you plonk the laptop in front of them on the kitchen table or just send them a link on Facebook, the chances are they’ll read it, and hopefully learn a thing or two.

Choose your words wisely. If you want to be a good friend, don’t say things like “cheer up” or “there’s people out there who have it worse”. Chances are, your loved one has heard this all a million times before, but does it help? No. If anything, saying something like this to a person with a mental illness will drive them further and further away from you, it will be clear to them that you don’t understand what they’re going through.

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Dropping Out – When Mental Illness Becomes Too Much

A couple of weeks ago, the results of the National Student Survey were published, and there was one statistic that really stood out to me. Out of the 41.7% of students surveyed who thought about dropping out of college, the top reason for this was mental health concerns. I can’t say that this shocked me, but I thought it was something that needed to be talked about more. More often than not when we hear of somebody dropping out, we can roll our eyes and label them as “lazy”. But 99.9% of the time, this just isn’t the case.mh1

In my second semester of college, I had serious thoughts about dropping out. My anxiety was at an all-time high, to the point where I was barely leaving my bedroom. I’d lost interest in everything, going out was no longer fun and I was struggling to enjoy my lectures the way that I used to. I missed the comfort of my own home and all I wanted to do was go back to Mayo, for my mum to comfort me and remind me that things would be okay. After speaking to a counsellor in UL, I decided I’d take a leave of absence from college. But I was too afraid to say it to my parents, to my friends in college, to my friends back home, and soon the closing date for leave of absence submissions had passed.

mh4I stayed in college, and although it was a very tough semester I managed to get through it. Now my mental health is a lot better, I’m finally enjoying going out again and I’m writing more than ever, plus I can’t wait to go back to Limerick in September. But having experienced the turmoil that comes with making the decision on whether or not to drop out, I know just how hard it can be. Out of the 41.7% of students surveyed, the top reason for thinking about dropping out was mental health concerns. So I spoke to two students, one who dropped out of college, and one who dropped out of school, due to their mental health.

Hannah Murphy is an 18-year-old from Swords, in Co. Dublin. Last year, she started a History course in Trinity College, and ended up dropping out in February, which was ultimately the best decision for her health. Speaking about her mental health, Hannah says that there were concerns from a young age:

“I had a brief history of pyschosomatic illness when I was about ten or eleven, but I had ‘recovered’ fine. Despite being quite extroverted as a kid, it became the opposite at fifteen and I started getting pretty bad anxiety around most social situations, including school.” mh3

Having experienced panic during her leaving cert exams, Hannah didn’t do as well as she thought she would, and felt that this had a huge impact on her mindset going into college. She was disappointed that she didn’t get her dream course, and felt as though she had failed.

Her mental health issues had a huge impact on her college attendance, and Hannah says she skipped at least half of her lectures, sometimes arriving outside the door and backing out at the last minute. She left work until the very last minute, so that she was almost forced to do it. She says that this got even worse by the second semester, adding “By then I really just didn’t care anymore”.

mh2Hannah had contemplated dropping out from the very start, but it took her until February to come to her final decision. With the support of her parents, who knew just how much she was struggling, Hannah decided to leave college for the sake of her mental wellbeing.

Talking about the stigma attached to mental illness, Hannah acknowledges that it’s still there, although it’s now a different type of stigma to before: “I think it’s a case where most people will acknowledge mental illness and sympathize with it, but when actually directly confronted with it from a friend/family member it becomes something they don’t want to really face.”

Hannah isn’t surprised by the statistic from the NSS, and adds that the system kids and teenagers go through right before college isn’t one that breeds mindfulness and self-care very well.

Since dropping out, Hannah says that she’s doing a whole lot better. She’s now being medicated, and is still in therapy but is realising more and more that college wasn’t and still is not for her at the moment. She adds, “I’m not even sure what I want to do, so maybe when I’m a little older and stronger mentally I’ll go back.”

Amy Golden is a 19-year-old from Bonniconlon, Co. Mayo. She attended Gortnor Abbey secondary school, where she dropped out in the September of her leaving cert year due to the toll it was taking on her mental health. mh5

For as long as she can remember, Amy has suffered from depression and has been sent to child psychologists from the age of five. It was triggered again when she was in second year, after the sudden death of somebody she knew, and what continued was a downward spiral for Amy’s mental health. It got to the point where she had to be hospitalised for two months at the end of 2014, after being admitted with self-harm injuries and suicidal thoughts. During her stay, Amy was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Dropping out of school was a difficult decision for Amy, but the mere thought of her leaving cert created stress and led to her self-harming. She reflects back on her final day of school, when she’d hit a breaking point: “The bus had just started, and I could feel this pain in my stomach. I could feel the tears coming, and my arms started to pulse and itch for me to harm myself again. I didn’t take any heed, and when I got to school I went straight to the toilet and bawled my eyes out, and then I self-harmed.”

Although she knew deep down that she needed to drop out, it was hard to come to that final decision. Amy knew it was the best thing she could do for herself, and adds, “if I did stay in school, I would have definitely have been dead By October.”

mh6Like many people who drop out, Amy was petrified about what her friends and family would think, “All I could hear in my head was people saying, ‘She’s only going to go on the dole and do nothing with her life,’ or think that I was a complete waster.” Luckily for Amy, her family were very supportive, and did all they could to learn about her mental illness. However her ordeal also separated the true friends from the fake ones, and many chose not to stick around.

Amy agrees that there’s still a stigma attached to mental illness, and recalls on one particular incident where a family member wasn’t exactly supportive, “I’ve had a family member of mine tell her friends that I was in hospital for a bad tummy bug, because she didn’t want to put up with the ‘shame’ of being related to someone who was ‘mental’.”

Amy feels that there’s nowhere near enough support for students with a mental illness in schools, and says that on a scale of one to ten, she’d give it a three. She adds that a talk about mental health in SPHE for a day or two is not substantial.mh7

Since making the tough but necessary decision to leave school, Amy’s mental health is stable. She’s currently on a high dose of anti-depressants, and sees a clinical psychologist every few months. But it’s still an uphill battle for Amy, who was supposed to receive Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) months ago, which was put on hold when her psychologist went on maternity leave. Her psychologist is the only one in Mayo who specialises in Borderline Personality Disorder, and Amy says the wait has held her back in more ways than one, “I cannot do anything until I start DBT, as it basically gives me life skills, which I need to continue in education or work. There isn’t enough resources for me to even meet someone once a week to speak to while I wait.”

However, Amy recognises that she’s come a long way since September 2014, and adds, “It gets better. Not quickly, but step by step.”

Next time you hear of somebody dropping out of school or college, don’t be so quick to judge. There are many reasons that people leave education early, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t return to it. When you could potentially lose a grant, or even a scholarship, dropping out is no easy decision, but sometimes it’s one that just has to be made. If someone dropped out of college due to a physical illness, there’d be no questions asked. Your mental health is more important than anything, and if you need to take a year out to look after it, then that’s what you need to do.

Positive Quotes For Rainy Days

The day is gloomy; it’s raining outside and it’s freezing cold and it’s not exactly the most uplifting thing in the world. When you’re feeling down and it seems like everything’s against you (and the weather is shit), it’s all about using the little things in life to help you feel better. Something small that I find helpful when I’m feeling down, is quotes. Far from the conventional and slightly patronising “Just think positive”, here are some of my favourite quotes for rainy days.

1. “In the end, we only regret the things we didn’t do, and the chances we didn’t take.” This is my go-to quote when I’m in a fit of anxiety thinking about whether I should or I shouldn’t, with all of the what if’s thrown in between. There are so many opportunities in the world, and it’s all about going out there and grasping them with both arms. Often enough, the same opportunities don’t roll around twice. Go out there and do it!

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2. “I’d rather have a life of oh well’s than a life of what if’s.” Linking up with the last quote, I think of this a lot when I’m anxious. A lot of the time, my anxiety stops me doing things and I completely beat myself up after it. Although I’m anxious about the situation, I know that avoiding it won’t make me feel any better. I’ll just be left thinking about it, whereas if I just went out and did it, at least it’s done. And if it went badly? It’s a lesson learned for next time.

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3. “Never a failure, always a lesson.” It’s inevitable – sometimes things can go wrong, drastically wrong. But instead of focusing on your mistake and getting up in a heap over it, see it as a lesson learned. You tried, you took something valuable from the situation, and you won’t make the same mistake twice. Everyone messes up, we’re only human. It’s okay to mess up sometimes.

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4. “Just because you’re struggling does not mean you’re failing. Every great success requires some sort of struggle to get there.” This was the quote that somehow managed to get me through my leaving cert. Getting to where you want to be in life can be difficult, and sometimes you’ll want to give up when things are going wrong. But knowing that nothing worth having ever comes easily can help, and it will all be worth it when you have your success story at the end of the day. Nobody is successful without a struggle.

pos75. “There are far better things ahead than those we leave behind.” This quote can apply to a lot of things – old friends, missed job opportunities, anything really. But the people that are in your past are there for a reason, I believe that if somebody really wants to stay in your life, they’ll fight for it. Some people come into our lives as a blessing, and others are just there to teach us a lesson or two. Those who leave are just making space for more people to enter our lives, and hopefully stay.

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6. “Big things often have small beginnings.” This can be applied to everyday life, but I often use it to justify my career choice. I was always told that “There’s no jobs in journalism” and “You have to be a really good writer to be a successful journalist”, and although that’s true, it takes time and patience to become a good writer. Once upon a time I started this blog and nobody was reading it, and now I have over 40,000 viewers. Every small step is a step in the right direction, and added together will lead to big things in the future.

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7. “You can’t appreciate the good days without the bad ones.” The bad things that happen to us in life make us appreciate the good things, and the little things, so much more. We can’t change our bad days, but we can learn from them. If I have an anxiety-free week (okay that’s pushing it, try an anxiety-free day) I’m on top of the world, because I know how much anxiety can drag me down. Appreciate the good days while they’re there, and make the most of them.

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8. “Life is a gift, don’t take it for granted.” Okay, so this isn’t exactly a conventional positive quote but bare with me. I’m a firm believer in living every day like its your last, because you never know when it will be. I make sure that I do at least three things every day that make me happy, make me feel good or make me feel like I’m helping somebody out. You can’t take your happiness, or the gift of life in general for granted. pos99. “What’s meant to be will always find its way.” Right now, you might not be where you expected to be in life. But I can guarantee you, you’re exactly where you’re meant to be. I believe that life is planned out for us all, from the day we’re born until the day we die, and the things we experience shape us into who we’re truly meant to be. I’m not sure if I believe that there’s a God out there who does all the planning for us, but I guess somehow had to, right?

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10. “What will be, will be.” Sometimes things go to shit, and you just have to deal with it. What will be, will be, and you just have to make the most out of all the situations life throws at you. I love this saying so much that I got it tattooed on my thigh, it’s a constant reminder to live in the moment, because you can’t see what the future will bring.que-sera

Mental Illness Medication – Still a Stigma?

The acceptance of mental health issues is something that’s come along in leaps and bounds over the last five years. Having dealt with generalised anxiety disorder since I was around seven years old, it’s something that I’ve experienced personally, not just witnessing the change. But with mental illness being a topic that’s so close to home, there’s other things that I’ve noticed that others haven’t seemed to pick up on. Yes, people are becoming more accepting of these issues, but there are still major problems associated with them. There still seems to be a major stigma attached to taking medication for mental health issues.

Although I’d had GAD for years, it was only in fifth year that I was properly diagnosed, and in sixth year living with it was an absolute nightmare. I was working my ass off to get the course of my dreams, Midwifery, but was finding it extremely hard to cope with the stress and pressure I was putting myself under. I tried everything, and I mean everything, to fix myself. I went to different counsellors, I meditated, I did yoga, I exercised, I paid a bomb for hypnotherapy and tried numerous herbal alternatives to medication, but in the end nothing was working.

I’d exhausted all of my options and decided that it was time to see a doctor, but there was one thing that was putting me off. I was informed that in a job like Midwifery, your medical records are checked and if you’ve had any mental health issues in the past you won’t be hired. This irritated me beyond description. Essentially, I was being told that I would be judged because I had a mental illness, and that nobody wanted to hire a mentally ill person. Discrimination is a word that sprung to mind immediately, I was disgusted. I thought to myself, isn’t it better to hire somebody who has been diagnosed with an illness and is being treated for it, so that it won’t affect their work, than to leave them scared and ashamed to take the medication that they need for fear of losing their job?

This incident left me petrified to go near any medication for my anxiety, I’d worked so hard for my course and I wasn’t going to let something as stupid as my medical record stop me from achieving my dream. In the end, my anxiety alone stopped me from achieving my dream, because I was too afraid to get the medical help that I clearly needed. Had I been medicated when my anxiety was at its all-time worse, I probably would have gotten the course that I deserved.

My parents, along with myself, were afraid of what would happen if I went on medication. It balances out the chemicals in your brain, which sounds a little scary when your brain is the control panel of your whole body. When my anxiety got bad again this semester, I decided that I needed to give medication a try. No newspaper in the future is going to be asking for my medical records, and I’m pretty sure I’ll have figured out how to keep my anxiety under control in five or six years time anyways. I was prescribed medication that I can’t even remember the name of, and if I’m honest it was a load of crap. I lost interest in absolutely everything, and if anything it was making me worse. I gave it some time to work, but after two months decided that enough was enough. I was stuck in a rut again. Medication didn’t work, what was I going to do now?

I went back to my doctor who decided we’d try another approach, and I was prescribed Xanax. Yes, Xanax. When I heard the word, I started to imagine how I’d be on these tablets: drowsy, slurred speech, unaware of my surroundings. After the horror stories of Xanax that I’d heard, I was terrified to take them. I read the side effects on the instructions leaflet and almost started to cry, what kind of freak was this going to turn me into? I don’t take them regularly, only when I’m in a fit of anxiety, so when I had my first bout of panic after receiving my prescription I tried one out, and was pleasantly surprised. It calmed me down, and that was all that it did. It didn’t make me drowsy or crazy or weird, I was just like myself, but calm. It seemed like I had finally found the answer to my problems.

I’m open about my anxiety and everybody knows it, but for some reason I was afraid to tell anyone that I was taking medication for it. Not that I’d be shouting it from the rooftops anyways, but for example, when I take one during the day I can’t drink afterwards. If me and my friends were going out and somebody asked why I wasn’t drinking, there wasn’t a hope in hell that I felt comfortable saying it was because I was on medication for anxiety. I was ashamed of it, something that annoyed me, because I wouldn’t have been ashamed if I was on antibiotics for a throat infection. I wouldn’t have been ashamed if I couldn’t drink sugary alcoholic drinks because I was diabetic. So why was I so ashamed about being on Xanax? What I’d been told in sixth year had stuck with me, that I wouldn’t be accepted if I was on medication for a mental illness.

I went through eleven years of anxiety before I finally gave in and tried medication, and if I’d only tried it sooner it probably wouldn’t be as bad as it is today. Another reason I waited so long is that I was always told “Medication for mental health issues isn’t good for you”. Well you know what? Medication for many different issues “isn’t good for you”. If you take medication for a very long time or abuse it, it can wreak havoc on your body, but nobody says that about other illnesses. It’s always mental health issues, and I’m tired of it.

If a friend or family member is on medication for their mental health, please don’t jump to conclusions and think that it’s going to alter their lives or tell them that it’s not good for them. Believe me, we’ve heard it all before and weighed up every option before deciding to go down the medical route. What I’d say to anyone who, like me, had exhausted every other option is this: do not be afraid to take medication. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and change things up when they’re not working. Not all medication works for everyone, and it may take a while to find one that suits you. I’m not saying to go straight down the route of medication, but please, don’t be afraid to try it. It could be the one thing that really helps.

An Alcohol-Free Student Life: The Update

A few weeks ago I made a post about an experiment that I’m doing, to see if cutting alcohol out of my life would improve my anxiety at all. A lot of you have been asking how it’s been going for me, so I said I’d update you but I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet.

To put it simply, I feel a lot better. Cutting alcohol out of my life has by far been one of the smartest decisions that I’ve ever made in regards to my health and wellbeing. Before, after a night out I’d wake up hungover and crippled with anxiety, unable to face even my closest friends for fear that I’d said or done something stupid the night before, and going to lectures would launch me into a panic attack almost immediately. I’d spend my day lying in the dark in my bed, with all these thoughts racing around my head about what an idiot I’d been the night before (and as I said, this happened even when I’d only had three drinks).

By not drinking, I’ve completely eliminated the prospect of that happening and have in turn made my life a lot easier. Going out and not drinking isn’t a problem for me, because my friends are the type that I can have just as much fun with when I’m sober. Although it can be hard going to house parties where there are people that I don’t know, it’s something that I’m sure I’ll get used to and all it will do is improve my communication skills.

A lot of people would ask me, “Why aren’t you drinking?” and although I’d explained it to my friends, others would be like “Go on, have one! Don’t be dry, just drink!” and to be honest this really annoyed me. It’s my choice not to drink, and feeling pressured to do it just pissed me off. I have to admit, it was really hard to ignore the peer pressure but the next morning I always felt better knowing that I was okay and my anxiety was on a low.

Of course, there was a time when I gave in. It was at a friend’s 18th and as soon as I got in the door there was a game of Kings being played, so I gave in and took a drink. But I made sure that I’d eaten plenty beforehand, and probably had a total of four drinks. When I started to feel that the alcohol was affecting me I stopped, and when people asked what I was drinking I’d say “Oh, vodka and coke, the usual,” when all that was in my cup was coke, but sure who was to know? For all we know, people could be going out acting as drunk as can be but in reality be completely sober.

To stop the “why aren’t you drinking?” questions and prompts and encouragement to drink, I start off my night with a drink in my hand. It’s only a WKD or a light beer, but it’s still a drink in my hand. That way nobody notices that I’m not drinking, even if I have that same bottle in my hand for two hours.

So that’s it I guess, although my anxiety isn’t completely cured, cutting out alcohol has helped it a lot. I’ve accepted it, and I know it’s something that I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life, but I know that by challenging myself and taking on experiments like this, I can figure out what helps make me feel better. I’m probably going to stick with this for another few weeks because it’s working well for me. College is nearly over and Summer is fast approaching, so who knows, maybe I won’t drink again until September?

I now notice that this was not very short at all (apologies) but for anybody who is suffering from anxiety, I’d definitely recommend cutting out alcohol. It can be difficult in a college environment and like me, there may be times where you give in but the important thing is not to give up. All you can do is try your best, and I promise you it’s so worth it.

What It’s Like To Have OCD: Caoimhe’s Story

I’m here to talk about OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) but I’m sure you all know what it means anyways: “someone who is very particular about things”. Well, yes and no. If that is the description that comes to mind when you hear those three letters, you are sort of right but there are also some other vital aspects in between the words and its actual description, and for that reason I’m here to inform and get rid of the stigma, in reference to me anyway.

There are many different types of OCD. But obviously, I’m going to talk about my experience with it and how affects me on a daily basis. Just to give a slight heads up, this is kind of, sort of, is the first time I’ve ever really spoken out about this. So be patient or keep reading rather, as it is an article and no one is actually speaking…

In February 2013 I found out that I had OCD. It was after six long months of anxiety and ill thoughts, of missing school and feeling down to the point of being unapproachable. It was great to finally have an answer for these things that I was doing and these feelings that I was having. See with me, although I am a perfectionist, it really isn’t based on ‘tidiness’ or if I’ve washed my hands enough times. I mean yes, they are aspects of it but they aren’t all of it like some people think. My OCD is linked with a lot of things, such irrelevant situations to others but are definitely significant to me. Let me explain, ok so such things as getting exactly eight hours of sleep each night or having to know the exact route we are taking somewhere. They are perfect examples of what OCD is for me.

I’m going to pose a scenario: imagine you’re lounging around at home and you get a text from one of your mates saying “we’re heading out tonight!” To most people nine times out of ten they’re like “Yes, woohoo, let’s do that!” Well for me, that poses nothing but anxiety, especially if I have somewhere to be the following day. Yes, it’s great that I’m young enough to be able to go out. But the stress I experience isn’t worth it which makes me come across as a hermit. But hey, it works for me. OCD leaves me lacking spontaneity I suppose, I can’t go on impulse, I have to be well informed or else uh oh, disaster. Now to bystanders that could be classed as ‘dramatic’ but for me it’s a necessity.

I’ve tried many things to try and help me deal with it and I long to be more forgiving of “spur of the moment” situations. I’ve tried medication, emotional eating and the most common one, ignoring the problem. Yes the medication helped, for a while. But then I became anxious because of how these tiny tablets were making me feel, which is ironic because they are anti-depressants after all.

That’s when I realised how lucky I was to have music in my life. I love to sing, to perform. I’ve been doing it since the age of 15, gigging from 16 onwards. I can go from busking on the streets to singing in bars and sometimes even on a prominent stage, that along with exercise has become my remedy. I know this sounds disgustingly cliché but it works for me. When I’m singing or in the gym, everything else just goes away for a little while, it’s an escape.

These days, I take it in small steps like I’ve been taught to by my counsellor. I take each day as it comes. I’m training myself to be more “out there” and positive but like everything, it will take time. At the end of the day, my OCD might never go away but it’s how you deal with it that makes the difference.

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What It’s Like To Have Anorexia: An Anonymous Story

Living with anorexia, the mental illness with the highest death rate of all mental illnesses, due to the complications it causes physically, or eventual suicide, is the hardest thing anyone can possibly imagine.

Imagine not being able to eat, even when you’re too weak to climb the stairs to get to bed, and instead going out for a six hour walk.

Imagine being freezing all the time and growing a layer of hair because your body can’t keep warm because there’s so little flesh. Imagine your heart rate being dangerously low.

Imagine living on half an apple a day, which gets quartered when one of the six times you weigh yourself every day goes up even 0.1 of a kilo. Imagine being so thin you need a wheelchair, you get bed sores from lying down too long and you get bruises from wearing socks.

Imagine having a tube stuck down your throat with food pumped directly in to your stomach because you are physically unable to eat. Imagine the pain of that. Imagine losing the ability to have children because your body isn’t strong enough to function properly. Imagine your blood sugar going lower than someone with diabetes and nearly falling in to a coma.

I do not have to imagine it. I lived it. I was diagnosed with severe anorexia, chronic bulimia and severe depression aged 17, having managed to hide it for three long years. I started experimenting with self-induced purging and self-harm along with dieting and weight loss attempts aged fourteen. I was very unhappy at school and it began to affect me deeply, which made me grow to hate my body. I didn’t feel in control of any part of my life, and the only thing I could control was my food intake and my weight. It felt good to have something to be in control of. I felt powerful with my little secret.

I managed a year of college before the weight loss got so drastic that I couldn’t hide it any more. I was pulled from college and hospitalised in a specialised eating disorder unit in England. I spent ten months there, and came home to Ireland only to relapse immediately and end up in a general hospital at an even more dangerously low weight than I was when I was hospitalised in England. I spent a few months there, and managed to maintain the weight that I was when I was first hospitalised. People stared. It’s possible they had only seen people so thin on the ads for starving children. That’s what I looked like.

I had therapy twice a week, but the weight fell away and I ended up in a psychiatric hospital seven times in the space of two years. It never worked. All they did was get my weight stable, and I only ate so I could get the weight high enough that they’d let me go so I could lose it again. The stays in psychiatric hospitals were in between a few stays at a general hospital in Limerick where I was tube fed, unable to eat enough to keep me alive. They had to put the tube down five times because I kept vomiting it back up. When it was down, I would turn down the calorie intake on the machine so I didn’t have to have so much, and I switched the machine off when the nurses weren’t looking.

Eventually, I ended up in a high dependency unit in the regional hospital in Limerick again, weighing just 31kg, which is less than four and a half stone. I should not have survived it. How I did, I will never know. It was here that I reached some of the lowest points of my entire life. I wanted to die and was convinced that I was going to. I called my mam at one a.m. to come and say goodbye.

The next day I woke up a changed person. I began eating small amounts, and tried really hard. I discharged myself because I hated my doctor, and began slipping downhill again, and the bingeing and purging got out of control. It still is. I am now a healthy weight but I find it difficult to even look in the mirror at how I look now, 3 years on. It has taken 3 years to put on the weight, but I’m finally getting there. Not that I know what I weigh. I threw out my scales in defiance the day I turned 24 and I never ever looked back. I am free that way.

Every day I remember how bad things were. I could never go back to it. I lived hell, and so did my friends and family. I lost a great deal of friends, people who couldn’t watch their friend so close to death and not helping herself to get better. I learned who my real friends are. My family never left me, through everything. I cannot imagine how it felt for them.

All I want is to be free, and not have to watch everything I put in my mouth and feel guilty about it all. All I want is to stop thinking about food and my next binge session. All I want is to be free from these thoughts and these actions. I know I will be one day, I just have to work at it and try every day to go a little further to free myself from the bonds of anorexia. One day, one day. Soon.