My name is Cara and I have lived with mental illness since I became a teenager, and throughout that time there have been peaks and troughs. My main difficulties were always with my mood and my eating: on and off over the last 16 years I have been diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa (eating disorder), and in 2015 I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, a serious mood disorder.
I am somebody who many people wouldn’t realise has a mental illness. I have a responsible and somewhat stressful job, a house, a long term relationship, a degree and a large social circle. From the outside I look like I have everything together – and for a lot of the time these days I do.
But that hasn’t always been the case, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the ways I manage my mental health and maintain my recovery.
Anorexia is an illness, an eating disorder that works its way into every fibre of your being in a way that feels almost impossible to communicate, unless you have experienced how it feels to be in its grasp. Breaking away from it is by far the hardest thing I have probably had to do in my entire life; it was my crutch, my best friend and my enemy simultaneously.
Recovery didn’t come to me easily, it took years of therapy and hard work. I used every resource the Eating Disorders Team had available, but keeping my recovery going is up to me. The way I have to do this is to challenge the negative thoughts I have about myself and about food.
It’s not as easy as just ignoring them (although sometimes this is the best I can do) – I have to actively call them out and make myself believe that they are wrong. For me, the most helpful way I am able to do this is to frame how I feel about my body differently. I think about everything I have achieved in recovery and everything that I can now do that I couldn’t before.
I remind myself that I am able to explore the world, ride my bike in the summer, swim in the sea. I think about how lucky I am to have some amazing artwork on my body. I think about how it continues to forgive me time and time again for treating it so badly. I am grateful for my body and everything it does for me, and I am worth so much more than the space I take up.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar,) a mood disorder where you get manic and depressive states) I felt a mixture of relieved and scared. Huge parts of my life now made sense and there were lots of new treatment options available to me, some of which have been life changing. But I knew this was something that I would never be free from, and that is a frightening thought. Bipolar is chronic and I had to learn to deal with that.
I am an optimistic person, and the way I look at it, I can either sit around being cross with the world about the cards I have been dealt, or I can dust myself off and get on with it. Yes, that does sometimes mean relapse is harder, because when I fall, I fall hard. But I absolutely do not want to be somebody who resigns myself to a life of being unwell when I know I can fight it and engage in recovery methods. I don’t believe that recovery is a choice necessarily because there are so, so many barriers to it. However, I do believe I have some agency over my wellbeing. I eat well, I exercise, I try to sleep enough. I take my medication, which is important to keep bipolar under control- and as the years go by I am getting better and better at reaching out when I am finding things difficult.
Inevitably, I will relapse again at some point, especially in times of stress. I know this and I accept this. All I can do is try my very best to stay positive, keep myself as well as I am able to, and to live my life as best as I can in between.
I truly believe that some level of recovery is possible for everybody. I hope that maybe, after reading this on Time to Talk Day and thinking about your recovery, that you might believe this too.
This article was written by Cara Lisette at caras-corner.com