I'm probably guilty of oversharing; I'm a private person but when it comes to my mental health, I'm quite comfortable being open about my struggles. It's an interesting balance. Will people be interested? Am I on the right track? Is this too much? It's a conversation I've had on multiple occasions; perhaps my desire to share my story goes back to a time when I struggled to let anyone in, I became wrapped up with my illness and ultimately stayed unwell on my own. It was hard to open up to the people I care about. I was scared to let them down, to admit I was struggling and to allow them into the depths of what was going on in my head.
There wasn't always a right time or a right way to talk about my mental health. Perhaps there is always a right time, but perhaps there isn't. Sometimes the opportunity doesn't arise or you have to make that chance to speak. Being a human can be tricky, there's no manual that lets you know how to deal with different situations and sometimes it would be really lovely if there was something to refer back to when times are hard.
I developed maladaptive coping strategies over the years and thankfully had the chance to receive the support and help I needed at a time I was able to engage with it and I now consider myself to be firmly on the road to recovery. It's strange when you start to do things and quickly they can become a habit, recovery has been a little like that... finding ways to develop the healthy and happy habits that turn problems into more manageable solutions.
I hate labels with an almighty burning passion. I think they can be something that frees you and offers you comfort but can equally burden you and make you feel more stuck. I struggled for a long while to accept that I had problems with my eating, denying the severity of my illness for a very long time. It's interesting that when you have a difficulty with food, the thing that often becomes key to whether you are eligible to receive support and treatment is your BMI. Now, if I ruled the world, BMI could go and die in a hole. BMI is like underwear, it's important but it's not something that needs to be on show and focused on all the time... and I certainly don't need other people flashing theirs in my face. BMI is tricky... it's one measure but not the whole picture. It doesn't take into account muscle mass, hydration, whether you've peed or not... and above all it doesn't measure anything that's happening in your head. They key to eating disorders often isn't the food, it's a symptom but there's underlying problems that are the real problem deep down. It makes me cross that we currently have a system that just doesn't seem to work, people are too ill or not ill enough and often it's near impossible to receive the treatment you need when you actually need it. I think treatment should start early and work to help people before they ready the point of being too unwell to engage... I suppose that's an argument for another time though.
So... I went from worrying a little about my weight, to being totally encompassed mentally and physically with an eating disorder. One of the ways I've tried to describe it to friends, family and professionals before is like that kind of conscience feeling when you leave the house and you know you've forgotten something; that feeling deep in your stomach that something is amiss but you can't quite put your finger on what it might be. Well imagine that but the only way you can get rid of it is to place all of your self worth on what you're going to eat or not going to eat, what you weigh or should weigh or did weigh or will weigh... then imagine that feeling being the background of everything. That's what it's been like for me with an eating disorder, part of my treatment has been to look at using mindfulness to notice my ED but let those thoughts go without needing to engage with them.
I hope you can excuse me while I overshare, I do it to try and help others and share my experiences to try and break down the stigma around mental health problems. I hope that if we try to move towards a society where it's ok to talk about mental health, then a few more people might be able to get the help and support they need. I also share my experiences to help myself with my own recovery. I will not let my eating disorder beat me and persuade me back to a place where I keep my struggles from others to remain on the side of my illness.
Photograph by Kate, see her full blog here.