Right, this is going to be a pretty personal post. So, anyone who doesn't want to know deep dark things about me, leave now. Alternatively, the Gossip Girls of you can rush down to find out all my nasty secrets (well, not all. Just quite a lot).
I thought about writing this post a little while ago and decided against it. After the recent news of Robin Williams' suspected suicide, I have once again changed my mind. So here we go. All I ask, is that everyone at least tries to keep an open mind. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate how we can paint one image to the world, when actually, behind closed doors, we're feeling very different to the person we are attempting to portray.
My own foray into the world of "Mental Health Issues" began (as far as it says in my notes) when I was 16 and in the middle of my GCSE's. Personally, I think I've always been funny about food. I may remember very little about my childhood, but I do remember feeling "fat" from a young age. I wasn't fat. I can look at pictures of myself from then, and now I don't understand why I would feel like that. From about 12 I always had restrictive eating patterns. Whether it was simply that I was being vegetarian, or vegan, or I was on a weird health kick where you have to "have a spoon of lemon juice and olive oil every night because this will detox your liver and make you skinny".
At 16 I developed bulimia. Which I initially suffered with until I was 18 and entered treatment. Completely debilitating disease. Makes you hate yourself. Obviously you have a really unhealthy relationship with food, but it consumes your whole life. I saw my therapist for around 15 months to try to work through everything, and by the time I left him, (by which point I'd started Uni) I did think that I was better. I really believed that. Within a week I had relapsed.
That's ok though, because relapse is all part of recovery. Whilst I was annoyed at myself, I got back on track and had a better (yet still not perfect) relationship with food. But it kind of slipped slowly. Initially, there was no real trigger as such, I kind of slid towards being restrictive with food. And I had safe foods. And I became a very obsessive runner. I'd been running since I was around 14 but it was at this point that I became really compulsive about my running. 5 miles every morning at 5am. Which turned into 5 miles twice a day, maybe three times a day on weekends. The real snap in my head came when my boyfriend at the time left me.
"He's gone because you're fat."
And that voice in my head was back. "No more that 1000 calories today. No more than 700. Get it below 500. What do you mean you're hungry? You're disgusting. Have you just eaten chocolate? You're a vile excuse for a person, no wonder he doesn't want you."
And I fell head first into anorexia. Which I simultaneously loved and hated. I couldn't see how thin I was. Again, there are very few pictures of me from this time, but the ones that there are, I can see it now. I was ill. I was really ill. People would stare at me, especially at my arms. I'd never had big arms but now they'd disappeared. They were gross. I was gross. I got the biggest rush ever when I was told I was too thin. That was literally the best compliment anyone could give me. Which is utterly preposterous. ("Oh, I've just got a really fast metabolism- I eat loads!" was always the reply.) It's quite an arrogant illness in the way that it makes you think that you're better than everyone else because you can refuse food. "You're the strong one. Look at your will power. You're so much better than everyone else."
It got to the point where it was no longer sustainable. And I binged. And that's when I went to get help again. I was scared of eating. I was scared of food. So I was referred. And told I was anorexic. And put on a waiting list to get treatment. In the meantime I had to go to the doctors every week to have an ECG and blood tests to make sure that I wasn't going to drop dead anytime soon. I'd developed brachycardia, which is where your heart slows down in an attempt to conserve your calorie output because you're not eating enough. My periods had stopped. My hair was falling out. I'd got that lanugo stuff on my face and my shoulders. Whenever I went running, I had to stop every hundred metres or so and sit down, because I thought I was going to pass out.
It was unsustainable. The waiting list for treatment was long. By the time they saw me, I'd fallen right back into binging and purging, and I refused their help. I'd put weight on. I hated it. I should note aswell that I was unable to get on a pair of scales. I couldn't do it. I measured my success with the size of clothes I could fit into. So, at my smallest, I was a size 4. And when they eventually called me in to see someone I was between a 6 and an 8. The man who I saw said he could only treat me if he could weigh me, so I ran. I couldn't do it. Looking back, it's really odd. It's like it was a different person.
After I'd refused treatment, I carried on binging and purging. And I became severely depressed. My eating was entirely unregulated. I would have days of eating nothing, followed by days of consuming 3000, 4000, 5000 calories at a time. I was probably at my lowest point. This was in my third year at uni.
In fourth year, I realised I couldn't carry on. I couldn't battle with food and my feelings regarding it whilst attempting to successfully complete a Chemistry degree. It wasn't possible. And this is why I took my year out. I went to see the doctor and told him everything. I said I wanted to have a year, with medication, to try and get myself "fixed" and for that to be my priority. Luckily for me, he saw that as a good idea, and that was probably one of the wisest decisions I have ever made.
So, I had my year out. Was given fluoxetine. For those of you not in the know, that is Prozac. And I felt a lot better. Luckily for me, I stopped taking it shortly before I got pregnant (there's evidence that suggests it can result in heart defects in a foetus).
I still wouldn't say I was 100% fine though, not even at that time. I struggled with getting bigger in pregnancy. After spending the entire of my adult life trying to be thin, it was difficult accepting that I was getting "fat" (pregnant- not fat, you silly brain!)
Having Percy has healed me. (NB. This is not an instruction to everyone to have babies.) I am now fine. I can eat what I want. I can have whole milk in my coffee. I can have ice cream. I can have chocolate. And more importantly, I can have one bar of chocolate, and it doesn't lead to seven more. I can get on a pair of scales and weigh myself. And it doesn't define me (I'm 57kg in case you were wondering, a perfectly healthy BMI of 19.6). I'm not going to say that the reason that I'm better is because "I have more important things in life to concern myself with", as I don't think that's true at all. When you are ill, in my case with eating disorders, that is the most important thing in your life. That is your focus. Nothing else matters. You don't choose for it to be that way. That's just how it is. It's very hard to convey just how all consuming it is.
The point I'm trying to make, it that you would never know. If I hadn't written this piece, very few people would know exactly what had happened. I can count them on one hand. And I think that's wrong. Robin Williams' publicist has said that he was severely depressed towards the end of his life. And I can't help but wonder, how many people knew about that? If you'd had a limb amputated, or you had a serious physical illness, you'd be far less reluctant about sharing it. You're still ill. It's just harder to see. And it's not your fault. And you're not crazy. (I say this, but I remember one time when I was crying because I'd eaten a piece of toast, so maybe I was crazy!)
I guess I'm sharing my story in the hope that it will help others share theirs. That one day, hopefully, mental health will be as easily talked about as any other kind. And if there's anyone feeling like they're stuck in a really dark place and can't see a way out, you'll get there. I did. At my lowest, I truly thought that nothing was worth it, and now is probably one of the best times of my life.
p.s. Also, Prozac is fantastic, and I recommend everyone gets on it right now.
p.p.s. Kidding, obviously. Only take it if it's prescribed to you!