Extract from my latest Metro.co.uk article: 6 people share their experiences of friendship during Mental Illness

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(image: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

I have bipolar disorder and four years ago I was hospitalised for a severe manic episode.

Without the love, kindness and support of my friends, I definitely would not have recovered as well.

Their support reminds me I am not alone and helps me to feel loved and safe. But mental ill health can be frightening for those who do not understand it, and sometimes friendships can be lost when one person experiences a mental health condition.

Some people may find it hard to cope with symptoms of a friend’s illness and, as such, cut ties or back away.

Jessica Valentine, psychologist at the Brighton Wellness Centre spoke to Metro.co.uk. She says: ‘Sometimes having a friend with a mental health illness can be draining. ‘On the other hand, it’s good to experience the journey of mental health; the ups and the downs, from a personal level. ‘You really get to ‘feel’ your friend come out of the depression. And, it somewhat makes you feel that you are living it too, side by side, helping them.’

The Mental Health Foundation explains that friendship can ‘play a key role in helping someone live with or recover from a mental health problem and overcome the isolation that often comes with it.

It advises that many people who manage to hold onto friendships while experiencing a mental health condition can see those friendships become stronger as a result.

I wanted to see the role of friendships in other peoples’ lives, either when they were coping with a mental health condition, or when they had witnessed a friend in crisis.

Here six people explain their experiences:

Read their experiences and rest of article: http://metro.co.uk/2018/03/01/6-people-share-their-experiences-of-friendship-during-mental-illness-7343290/?ito=cbshare

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MetroUK | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MetroUK/

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Why Wait: Eating Disorder Awareness Week and My story with Anorexia: Guest post by Hannah Brown

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(image: rebloggy)

Please read with care: Trigger Warning: Eating disorder Discussion

As Eating Disorder awareness week progresses, it has really got me thinking about my own journey and the symptoms that I experienced as part of my anorexia.

The hashtag #WhyWait is being used this week as we all come to terms with the fact that according to Beat 34% of UK adults cannot name a symptom of an eating disorder, and that even more shockingly sufferers wait 3 years before seeking any sort of treatment.

Aged 19,I started the diet that I thought would give me a wealth of happiness, how wrong I was. What I also started was my gradual decline into anorexia. There were warning signs, there were behaviours that were obsessive and out of control, my physical appearance was changing, becoming weaker and I was almost translucent in colour-  but most strikingly was the change to my personality.

Extreme calorie restriction causes a massive reduction in personal motivation and general apathy. Studies have shown how thoughts become obsessed on food and their behaviours around meals soon turns slightly absurd.

This was absolutely my experience, it crept up on me scarily, without warning. As my diet became more and more refined, my thoughts were turning more and more to food, how I could further restrict, avoid the meal time or alter plans in order to exercise more.

There were so many signs, so many warning lights that for some reason I chose to ignore. I brushed them under the carpet, and kept up with the pretence of “I’m fine”.

Ignoring the issue, or refusal to acknowledge that a problem was developing was a symptom of my perfectionism and the denial that I was experiencing was concurrent with my theme of being the strong one, both within my peer groups and within my family unit.

But why was I waiting, what was I waiting for?

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(image: Rebloggy)

What I didn’t realise was that by waiting to act on my symptoms with any sort of conviction and determination, I was simply prolonging the agony that I would face in the initial stages of my recovery, making those first few months even more difficult. As the behaviours became more entrenched, they became habitual in nature. Personality traits that were once alien and unrecognisable soon become my identity.

There came a time, that I decided to reach out to my GP and unfortunately I didn’t quite get the support that I thought I was going to- whilst I wasn’t turned away, my weight certainly wasn’t critical enough to cause any sort of concern from the medical profession and the advise was to add a dessert into my meal plan, perhaps the occasional spread of butter.

In hindsight, perhaps if I had listened to this very basic advice I wouldn’t have gone on to lose more weight. However, there was no attention given to the mental battles that I was starting to have with my intuition and my fear of food- or the the fear of losing control over it.

Visiting my GP had taken a great deal of courage, as I said I’m always the one that is simply fine, is there for everyone else, often at the expense of myself. To get this quite flippant advice left me feeling slightly desensitised. I left wth their advice- put it in a box and chose to ignore it, my mental health not addressed.

But I don’t want my experience to stop you, or your loved ones reaching out to your GP, because for many they can be the most valuable resource available. Go in, if you can with a loved one and don’t leave that room until you have been given care that you totally deserve.

Alternatively use the Beat help finder page to find that source of support that will be right for you, grab it and don’t let go.

It is OK not to be OK, it is OK to struggle, and it is OK to ask for help. The term “admitting” has slightly negative connotations, like we are owning up to something, a crime. But please, please do not think of it like this. You wouldn’t ever wait after discovering a lump, or if feeling constantly unwell- the same should be said for your mental health.

My journey continued and things didn’t get better until they had got much much worse. I ended up in hospital, but even then I was naive at just how unwell I had become. Hospital was an experience that I will never forget, it was difficult and lonely but undoubtedly it did save my life.

I know, deep down though, that it could have been avoided, I could have saved myself and prevented all the heartache that I endured as part of my recovery.

In reading this, please ask yourself the question: Why Wait?

And take it from me, i might not know you, but you absolutely deserve to receive support and help.

You’re not weak but wholesome and rich, go to my website https://aneartohear.co.uk/- because you deserve to be heard. We can help you.

Guest Post: Hope Virgos amazing story about Anorexia and reaching recovery.

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You are fat’

‘you are worthless’

‘No one really cares…’

‘You can’t possibly be going to eat that…’

…     I am not entirely sure when that voice in my head began to dominate me the most and when I stopped enjoying the company and the value that she brought me. She definitely was my best friend when we were 13 and she was ace. She helped me switch off from the real world. She gave me purpose and I loved her for that. She was my best friend, there when I needed her, and reassuring me when I felt lost or alone. The bond we had was incredible… or was it. After three years of being best friends I no longer seemed to do what she wanted. I wasn’t trying hard enough and I wasn’t losing enough weight. The cycle of happiness I had been living in for so long had disappeared. Instead of wishing I could do better and please my anorexia more I felt trapped. I would lay in bed for hours wishing that I would not wake up. Wishing my life away not knowing when I would feel better again. I hated what I had become and I felt lost and so afraid. Maybe that’s why part of me was secretly happy when my pre CAMHs routine got disrupted.

Every Tuesday my Mum would come and get me after registration to take me to CAMHs to get weighed and have a therapy session. I would get registered and then head to the locker room where I would have about 3 2 litre bottles of water. I would stand in the locker room downing the water. Stars in front my eyes, my head spinning as it took all my strength to keep drinking and full up on water. But one Tuesday she turned up and I hadn’t had time to water load. I felt agitated on the way to the hospital and as I reached inside my school bag to pull out the weights I realised that I had forgotten those as well. As I sat in the waiting room I felt in a complete mess and then I got weighed. My weight had dropped.

Two weeks later I ended up in hospital – my heart had nearly stopped and this was the last resort.

I spent the next year of my life recovering from anorexia. It was hard work and made harder that my weight seemed to go up and up and my mind couldn’t keep up. I had to learn the important of eating and the importance of talking about how I felt – both of these things seemed aliened to me. As I put on the weight, feelings that I had never felt flooded back through me. This was terrifying at the time and at times I do still panic when I feel too much. But learning to cope with my feelings in hospital helped me. I learnt the power of the words ‘I am not okay’ – and I gradually realised that people did care and want to help and sharing my feelings was much better than not eating. Like seriously, what had not eating ever done?

I spent a year getting intensive treatment and I was equipped with the resources to help me keep well but the reality was the battle was not over yet. I had to keep well and manage my recovery. I had to keep managing those voices in my head telling me I was fat, worthless and only good at anorexia.

Managing my recovery got easier. I had less fat days and began to switch off at meal times. I gradually began to accept that anorexia does not make me feel better or give me value but that I can get that value from those round me. I also realised how much better life is when I am not letting anorexia consume me. Yes, I didn’t think this was an issue when I was best friends with her but it was so true. I never could have gone travelling had I been friends with her still and I never could have done marathons or even had a more normal life. I was so lucky that I was given a second chance at life to conquer anorexia and start living again.

Please give it ago. If you are living with an eating disorder, please do seek help. Give beating anorexia a go.

I guarantee you it will be worth it – yes hard work but the best thing you decide to do.

Hope Virgo suffered with anorexia for 4 years before being admitted to hospital in 2007. She lived in the hospital for a year and since being discharged, has fought to stay well. Hope now lives and works in London, runs marathons and has a keen interest in exercise and maintaining good mental health. She is in a whole new place, taking each day as it comes and living life to its fullest. Hope has recently written her first book, Stand Tall Little Girl (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stand-Tall-Little-Girl-Inspirational/dp/1911246151)

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Stand Tall Little Girl: Hope Virgo- Book Review

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I came across this wonderful book and Inspirational Mental Health book series by new publisher Trigger Press, on Twitter and via a friend of mine who knew Hope. The publisher is part of mental health charity the Shaw Mind Foundation and its book series is about reducing mental health stigma and showcasing inspirational people and stories.

Hope Virgo is a British mental health speaker, author and advocate, a survivor of eating disorder Anorexia nervosa, who continues to break stigma and speak about her recovery and on going battle with anorexia.

‘Stand Tall Little Girl’ is the real story of Hopes journey with anorexia and mental health issues. She talks about her childhood and her first diagnosis and hospitalisation. She describes anorexia as tricking her into thinking it was her best friend and coping mechanism, when it almost killed her. Hopes weight dropped so dangerously low that doctors gave her a week to live- her heart couldn’t take the strain.  At this point she was hospitalised to a specialised unit for year and was able to access treatment to start on the process of being well again.

Hope describes what living on an inpatient ward as a teenager is like and the difficult process of learning to eat and having to eat calorific meals again. She talks about the friends and comrades she made in hospital and the struggle of being in hospital for a year.

She talks about leaving hospital and finding coping mechanisms to live again, about her support network and tentative steps back out into the world, and about going to University and starting to live her life again, whilst still in the shadow of anorexia.

The book is expertly written, with insights from Hopes family about what it was like for them and Hope, when she was unwell and getting better. Each chapter deals with a specific period of time and Hope is very honest about her recovery journey. It is not smooth and she did relapse a few years ago. However, her relapse was better managed as she had developed ways of coping after hospital and most importantly, she asked for help from those around her, recognising she was unwell again.

Hopes story is one of utmost bravery and triumphing against the odds. She is now an advocate, author and speaker for mental health, runs marathons and has a healthy attitude towards food. I loved reading her inspirational, well written and beautiful story.

For more from Hope you can find her on Twitter @HopeVirgo and on the BBC and Good morning Britain on 30th July 2017.