Monday 5 March 2018

Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2018 - My Story

*** Possible Trigger Warning ***

My struggle with my mental health probably spiralled when I moved to secondary school. I always struggled to some extent and when as a teenager I was diagnosed with Disorganised Attachment Disorder which made total sense as to why I struggled as a child with my emotions and with friendships and people in general.

At secondary school I found the transition hard. Most of my class (which was my year group) from primary school moved up into the same secondary school as they where both linked. Over the summer my 'friendship group' from primary school suddenly grew up and when we moved to secondary school I felt left behind. I also HATED the change between classes - all the people and loud noises and getting squished and squashed. I used to dread it. I also avoided the canteen like the plague. It was too small and too loud and had far too many people in it for my liking. Instead I spent my time with in the library or the music classroom as I got on well with my music teacher.

I was also badly bullied and it wasn't just by one person or group of people - if it wasn't one person/group picking on me then it would be another person/group of people. There was emotional bulling, verbal bullying and physical bullying. Things like name calling, taking my bag and emptying the contents down the corridor, even one time throwing a chair at me. I was a bit of a ticking time bomb - I was easy to wind-up and reacted with explosive results and I struggled to manage my emotions due to my Attachment Disorder. Even my so-called "friends" bullied me.

My eating disorder began gradually and developed over time, creeping up on me. It started by skipping lunch at school so as to avoid the canteen and be able to spend my lunch times elsewhere where I was safe from the bullies and so I could be alone.

Skipping lunch soon became a game with myself - a battle I was winning over the hunger and I liked the control I asserted over my hunger and the strength I found with myself. I couldn't beat the bullies but I could beat myself.

I became obsessed with numbers, I learnt the numbers in most foods. Food began to scare me. And this fear and obsession overspilled into my chaotic home life. Mealtimes became a game, skipping them and a battle of wills and I became a pro.

All the time my mental health was breaking me apart - alongside the eating difficulties I battled with depression and self-harm too and I was all alone with this. I first opened up to my music teacher about my self-harm who didn't give me the best advice or support. Then during an annual appointment with my paediatrician (whom I trusted and I'd known since I was small) it all came spilling out - my struggle at school; the bullies; how low my mood was; my self-harming and my eating behaviours, thoughts and difficulties. He diagnosed me with Clinical Depression and Anorexia Nervosa (restrictive subtype) and a referral to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). Suddenly I went from seeing my paediatrician yearly to twice a week and I started seeing a dietician who wanted me to follow an impossible meal plan and had zero idea of the mental battle I was fighting. 

My music teacher was made aware of my new found diagnosis'. Shortly after my diagnosis we went on a residential school trip. I remember that first night; on my plate was tricolour pasta and peas and sweetcorn which I couldn't manage to consume despite my music teacher sitting with me encouraging me to eat. That night one of my so-called "friends" told me that "I made her feel fat" because of my actions that meal time. I felt so hurt as she had no idea what I was going through.

After my diagnosis of Anorexia in October I went downhill very quickly. In November I took an overdose and my referral to CAMHS was made urgent and I was seen that day by someone who later changed my life. She was the first person to truly listen to me. I started seeing her several times a week but my Anorexia was out of control. I was regularly in and out of A&E for things like hypoglycaemia (low blood sugars), fainting, hypokalaemia (low potassium), injuries form falls including fractures, and pressure sores. Just before Christmas the decision was made to section me under the Mental Health Act. I was sent to a CAMH's inpatient unit in York - the nearest bed in the country. From there things only went bad to worse, I was tube fed, regularly restrained and sedated. I bounced around several different units in the country, taken in by whatever unit could meet my needs physically and with my behaviour. As well as being stuck deep within my Anorexia I was severely suicidal, chronically self harming and clinically depressed. I found it hard to see a life free of mental illness.

The main issue I found with inpatient treatment was there was a huge focus on weight restoration and the emotional side, such as the offer of  psychological therapies was severely lacking which is why I believe is why I was so stuck within my Eating Disorder and struggled to recover.

My home life was a chaotic too but in my last inpatient CAMHS unit I had a good social worker who helped to make home life less chaotic. I cam home after a long time in hospitals and received intensive psychoanalytic/psychodynamic psychotherapy in the community. This therapy was with the lady who first assessed me take first time when I took my first overdosed. She had kept me on her case load all those years and was the only person in my care team to attend every meeting about me when I was in hospital. I firmly believe that she was the fist person I developed an attachment to given my Attachment Disorder. Therapy wasn't easy and there was many ups and downs. I also saw the psychiatrist with my therapist once a week. She stood by me regardless of what I threw at her (not literally!). There where occasions when I needed to be readmitted to the children's ward at the local hospital but my CAMHS therapist still came and saw me for our sessions or made arrangements for me to be escorted over to the CAMHS building as it was on the same hospital site to give me some stability and consistency in my life. Over time I began to open up to her but it took some time and a lot of trust and she helped me find my voice through writing and creativity and began to see freedom from demons, but I still felt trapped.

Like my transition to secondary school the transition to adult mental health services wasn't easy. The adult Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) wasn't able to offer me the intensive support I needed or the psychotherapy I needed to continue. I spent time on adult psychiatric wards but again the main focus was just a sticking plaster to get me home. There is a local Eating Disorder Unit which helped me and the psychiatrist who used to work there was amazing and there was another team member but after they both left the service wasn't quite the same.

I still struggle at times today but I'm a long way from where I was ten years ago. I will always say that I'm in a state of "recovering" and my Eating Disorder will always be there in some way; its just a case of learning to be the one in charge. There are still things I struggle with such as eating out and clothes shopping but hopefully one day those things will become less scary. I can now go for coffee with a people and can mange to eat small things which has given me a lot more freedom and gives me more options in life.

I also have Complex PTSD which I use my eating disorder and destructive behaviours as a way of coping but I'm developing my coping toolkit (a literal one).

I don't regret my past; I've learnt a lot and its opened up a lot of opportunities to bring change and improve care for other children and young people who are struggling with their mental health. I'm a Young Ambassador for the Eating Disorder charity Beat, and I was a VIK for Young Minds. I've also spoken in parliament. I am on the board at the Royal College of Psychiatrists acting as a voice for children and young people and spoken at conferences and round table meetings for various charities and taken part on many different research projects. I see my work as turning my negative experiences into positives.

If you see someone struggling take time to send them a message or some mail. It could really brighten their day and let them know that they're not alone in the world and that their is hope and freedom waiting for them. H.O.P.E - Hold On Pain Ends