As tomorrow sees the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and it is a topic close to my heart I thought it only right I acknowledge it. I’ll be honest, I don’t entirely know where this post is going and it’s somewhat of a personal disclosure, so please bear with me!!
In July 2008 I began suffering with an eating disorder. In August 2008 I qualified as a Mental Health Nurse. In September 2008 I began my first job as a qualified nurse, working with adolescents who experienced a variety of mental health problems, including eating disorders.
As you might guess, the summer of 2008 wasn’t the easiest time for me. My eating disorder started following a 9 day stay in Acute Dependency for a severe exacerbation of my asthma. During this admission I was given very high doses of steroid medication, which has the unfortunate side effect of increased appetite and rapid weight gain. In the following 2 weeks I gained over 1 stone in weight. Even worse was that this weight gain happened right before my university graduation ball. Coupled with another side effect, acne, I was left me feeling ugly, worthless and frankly repulsive. I’d been diagnosed with depression at the age of 17 and had few coping strategies to manage how I felt about myself. As time went on my eating disorder got worse, until it got to the point where it was impacting on my ability to work and my physical health. In March 2009 I sought the support of my GP and was subsequently referred to a community eating disorder service for treatment. It’s hard to describe how this made me feel, when I myself was working as a mental health professional. Surely I should be immune? Surely I should have been able to help myself?
When I look at the picture above, I barely recognise myself. It was taken at the tail end of 2010 when I was near my lowest weight. My smile is false and I’m dead behind the eyes. Losing weight didn’t make me happy and I’ve never felt as rubbish as I did at this time.
Fast forward to 2015 and I view myself as being ‘in recovery’ (if only the journey had felt as though it was been that quick and easy!) This doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with my body image and my weight. I doesn’t mean I don’t have the occasional lapse back in to old habits. What it does mean is that food, my weight and my thoughts about my body don’t control me anymore. They don’t consume every hour of every day. My body isn’t perfect and it never will be – there’ll always be things I’d like to change in an ideal world.
It may sound silly but fashion, primarily pin up and vintage, has been somewhat of a saviour for me during my recovery. There are countless women on Instagram that serve to show being sexy and stylish doesn’t have to be the preserve of ladies with a certain body type. Discovering brands like Pin Up Couture has been somewhat of a revelation; when you see that they are specifically targeted towards ALL women, not just women of a certain size and shape. One of the hardest things for me has been to accept that clothes I bought when I was ill don’t fit me anymore and probably never will in their current state. I have to try to convince myself that it isn’t because I’m too big, but the clothes are too small! This is where my trusty sewing machine comes in handy! Over the coming weeks I’ll be blogging about a favourite dress I bought during ‘the dark days’ and how I plan to make it wearable again.
As I said, I don’t really know where this post was going…. I guess the message that I wanted to leave you with is that it’s okay to talk about mental health. It’s okay to be honest. It’s okay to not completely love your body, but girl, you’ve just got to work with what you’ve got! If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, or any other MH problem, there is help out there. Recovery IS possible.