“It all begins and ends in your mind. What you give power to, has power over you”
I first mentioned my mental health experiences back in my Mental Health Awareness Week post in May and I felt it was time appropriate to write another post – not only to link in with Channel 5’s Me & My Eating Disorder programme which aired last week, but also at a time when my own difficulties have been resurfacing. (Also, My “I’ve had a virus” excuse is wearing thin and people seem confused as to how long it’s taking to recover!)
Having experienced anxiety/depression/and eating difficulties since I was 12, I always approach tv programmes about mental health with caution – so many times they’ve miss interpreted the reality of living with mental health challenges, or played it down as “an attention seeking illness”, and I watched Channel 5’s Me & My Eating Disorder with the same outlook. One TV guide had described eating disorders as “a deadly game of starvation and one-upmanship. Blimey, if its a game, how many £200’s have I not been paid for passing go multiple times?! Queue the eye rolls and expectation of a programme completely playing down the illness and making a light hearted discussion about a serious issue. I’ve seen the cycle of feeling unwell, treatment, recovery, relapse and recovery first hand, so I’m always intrigued how its portrayed in programmes like this.
HOWEVER, I guess I was surprised. There were definitely things I don’t think the programme portrayed well, but then I think, can a tv programme ever portray the exact reality of mental health issues? Probably not. But actually, there were a couple of comments that really touched a nerve and made me sit up and notice a few realities.
“My stomach wasn’t empty. It was full up with anxiety, knots and butterflies”*
This is me. Right now. For the past…. 8 months? No, I’ve not been in and out of hospital with a virus. I’ve actually been battling a relapse with my anxiety and depression which in turn has triggered my restrictive eating habits in terms of variety, “safe foods” and eating out. (One thing I HAVE to emphasize, is that I’ve never been diagnosed anorexic, and I’ve tried for 12 years to get the doctors to remember that. Thankfully, my current doctor knows that the problem is my anxiety disorder, the food just so happens to be what’s affected. I don’t like that I’ve lost the weight again, I don’t like how I look as I’m too thin, and I’m not afraid of putting weight on). Out of the past 12 years, about 5-6 years have been in total recovery and I’m so proud of that, but the other years have all been over shadowed with hospitals, doctors appointments, and treatment. I still haven’t mastered how to describe what it feels like to live with a mental illness like anxiety or depression, but I always say, imagine a situation that makes you feel nervous (sitting an exam, flying if you don’t like flying, speaking in public), and try to imagine feeling like that all the time. Every day. It drains you
“Maybe every time I felt fear, I was actually hungry”*
Why did it have to be food that I chose to control when I felt anxious? For the majority of people whose anxiety and nerves only bother them every now and then, they can have a glass of wine, go for a run, buy a treat for themselves …. so why did I have to choose food? And with that, choose to restrict food so much that I became physically unwell? Talk about making a big problem out of something that probably originally started as a tiny thought. Since being diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, my anxiety around food has inevitably heightened dramatically. My main anxiety symptom is nausea, and pre diagnosis, my coeliac symptoms included nausea too. I learnt that every time I ate, I would feel unwell. With a fear of vomiting, feeling nauseas is just another strand for your anxiety to cling on to and then the vicious circle begins again. When your weight drops below a certain point, your body is of course, starving itself, and it start to compromise to make sure the vital actions needed for living happen over the things that “can wait”. The lower your weight becomes, the harder it is to think rationally. The harder it is to think rationally the more anxious you get, and so the food starts becoming controlled. I feel fear at the majority of meal times. Even though I know myself that its all gluten free, and it wont make me feel unwell, my anxiety can’t see that. Food is anxiety. I may be hungry, but anxiety doesn’t care. It will do its job regardless (even if that job is actually making things worse in the long run).
“People don’t realise how far away from real life you are” – “I want to be involved in life again”*
I was speaking to somebody a couple of days ago who has only ever known me during a “recovered” phase, and when I explained exactly what the situation was at the moment, his response was, “wow, I didn’t realise things were that bad”. And that’s just it. Again, unless you’ve experienced it yourself, mental health is very hard to understand.
How far away from real life am I? At 24, hypothetically I should be working or studying, enjoying hobbies, going to social occasions, being independent. In reality right now, I’m probably doing the complete opposite. The four walls of home and the doctors surgery are forever getting more beige the longer I sit in front of them!
Its not a sob story. Just the reality of mental health and how isolating it can become.
I am so looking forward to the “normal” and outgoing Hannah being allowed back. Getting back to work, moving out, visiting friends here there and everywhere! Right now, I can’t picture reaching recovery, but I know its possible. I’ve done it twice before, and I can do it again. Somehow. Eventually.
“The fear of what the anxiety might do to you is what has you stuck and trapped. It’s your fear of fear that caused the whole problem” Barry McDonagh
*these quotes are taken directly from individuals who featured in the Me and My Eating Disorder programme on Channel 5