I developed anorexia when I was 12 years old and I was brilliant at it. I became the master of deception, lying to my friends and family for four years. I got sucked in to this cycle where anorexia would give me the value I needed, this sense of purpose that I wasn’t getting from anywhere else. That voice it my head became like my best friend, reassuring me all the time and making life okay.
When I was 16 I got referred to The Child Adolescent Mental Health Hospital but the lies continued. I couldn’t get my head around why people were trying to take away something that made me feel so good. This voice, my best friend who completely reassured me. When people told me that voice was slowly killing me, I didn’t believe them. I felt invincible so I kept doing what I did best.
Little did I know that my heart was nearly going to stop and I would be admitted to a mental health hospital where I would spend the next year of my life beating that voice in my head that had given me so much direction for so long. That voice that had made everything okay. I had to learn that my best friend was actually an enemy and someone that I didn’t need to or want to know.
On that first day in hospital I remember standing there. Completely terrified about what was going to happen. I had spent too long turning people away from me and thinking that this anorexia was making my life okay.
I can’t imagine how hard it is being a mental health nurse. The challenges you face, the frustration of people who don’t work with the programs. But what I do know from my time in hospital and work now is that mental health nurses can save lives. The tools that I was given back then equipped me to take on life when I was discharged.
The truth is recovery from a mental health problem, as I am sure you all know, is not easy. And it is not always completely linear. But the fact is you have the power to save a life.
In 2016, I relapsed. I had managed my recovery since 2008 but after my grandma passed away things began to go wrong. Just before she passed away I had this terrible visit with her after she had moved in to a care home. I was consumed with so much guilt and I felt completely trapped by it. For the first time in nine years my anorexia crept back in. Anorexia reassured me and made me feel complete again. Anorexia helped me switch off all these emotions.
That is where the battle began. The voices back in my head and I felt completely trapped. I was scared that I was going to get sick again and I didn’t know what to do but at the same time this anorexic voice, the skipping of meals, exercising made me feel complete.
Part of me knew what I was doing so after a couple of months I ended up referring myself to the mental health hospital near where I live. I had an initial appointment only to be told I was not thin enough to get support.
I knew at this point that I had a decision to make. Either I lost all of that weight again or I drew on all those tools that I had been equipped with. And I did just that. I set myself a meal plan, an exercise plan and I started to talk about how I was feeling! If it hadn’t been for those nurses in my first mental health hospital who knows where I would be now.
I spend a lot of my time now working with individuals in hospitals. People who have had mental health problems the majority of their lives. And speaking completely honestly I get frustrated. I get frustrated that people still see anorexia as their best friend, that people see no way out in their recovery. But what I do know is that even the conversations that you think aren’t doing anything, that people dismiss, it is these types of conversations that can save lives.