Yes is the short answer. Yes, I spend a large part of my day- everyday feeling sweaty palmed, heart racing and generally just pretty anxious. But when this question was asked today after I had just ordered 2 drinks for us both- neither of which were ‘easy’ they both were the kind of drinks that needed eye contact and a short conversation, above the usual “would you like ice with that?”. I smiled with the normal ‘yes, yes this does make me anxious..’ But rather than just ending the conversation there I decided to add to that “yes this does make me anxious, but I guess you just have to pick your battles don’t you? I mean if I didn’t do any of the things that make me anxious I don’t think I would ever leave the house!”. I have had this mind set for a very long time and when I want to withdraw from this mantra I always have my Mum behind me pushing me forward. I know this must be a hard thing for her to have done, to make me go to school, appointments, social meet ups- regardless of the tears. It might seem a harsh thing to do by other people looking in, but a lot of mental health recovery is like this. Black and white, yes or no. I guess it might be because mental illness is such a messy and emotional thing so the way you need to combat that is by having people around you who will stand firm and support your ambition when you are flagging. It’s exhausting, just the same as recovery from a physical illness, you have to push yourself work through things that are painful knowing that you are moving towards a bigger goal of getting stronger. I know that I can become very critical of myself and feel like I am not making enough progress. But it is important to (again) surround yourself with people who are going to point out how all those baby steps are starting to add up and you are achieving a lot. So try to go easy on yourself, you are doing the best you can. slow and steady will win the race.
Sometimes I think I should stop talking about the psychiatric unit I was a patient on. Only a few people understand what it is like to be in that type of environment. I catch myself making jokes about the things we did on the ward, that just leave most people awkwardly laughing not knowing if that is the right response or not. They don’t know if it tragically sad that at 17 years of age I (and other kids on the ward) had children board games taken away from us because we kept swallowing the plastic pieces. Or if they think of classic mental hospital stereotypes when I share the story of us being tackled by staff over a small tub of toxic PVA glue that managed to slip through the regular bag, bedroom, ward and body searches. It makes everyone cringe when I mention the easter egg hunt that left a room full of teenagers having to be separated by staff after it all got a little bit too heated. The fact that some of us were screaming and squeeling at only 5 minuets in may have given it away that the seemingly inocent and fun activity they planned was going to turn sour pretty fast. The fact that I can remember all of these moments and smile, is telling me that I am probably never going to stop talking about that 9 months I spent in hospital. I don’t think I would be able to stop, even if I tried. The time I spent in hospital is something that I am not ashamed of. I made such amazing progress in those 9 months, my mental health got to the point that I felt like I had a grip on it for the first time ever. I learnt how to share. I went from being the youngest child (and yes I am the stereotype in a lot of ways!) to being thrown into a ward of 12 other young people. And if that wasn’t enough I was at the older end of the range of patients, I definitely had to learn how to share my colouring pens with the others. Those 9 months have been crucial to shape me into the (almost) 18 year old that I am now. I went into hospital unwell and had the expectation that being an inpatient would get me well enough to be living at home again. I learnt much more than I think anyone expected, I learnt how to live with others and work with staff and patients alike, how to do my best to be a team player. I learnt that there are many, many things you should not eat, even if you are desperate to hurt yourself – cherry washing up liquid does not taste of cherry (tastes awful and was non toxic, nice one Tills!). I think there will always be stories that people will not understand and will warrant many more odd looks, but I am not going to stop telling them. If in doubt I will always have my psych ward buddies to laugh with about the endless amount of weird moments and stupid things we all did.
While I was in the shower the other day I started to think (as I often do) about all of the new friends I have made since the start of my admission last December. I have met a hell of a lot of people. Whilst you are living with people you get to know them on a much deeper level than in other situations. You meet a mass of people in school with out really meeting anyone. All of this got me thinking that since we are out in the ‘real world’ again, or at least having pretty frequent access to the internet again we have all become Facebook friends. It was very odd to be in contact with my friends over text when we were on leave, and forgetting that you wouldn’t be waking up with them just across the corridor from you. You may be familiar with how Facebook tells you that you have recently become friends with ‘so and so’ and maybe you should see what they have been up too. This made me think about how shallow everyone regards Facebook as being. So becoming friends with the people I have met throughout my inpatient journey seems to almost dismiss our friendship? I don’t think that is the right way to phrase that. It just doesn’t feel like it fits. For one, it says how you are ‘recent’ friends. Well, you can meet another patient for the first time and in a week it can feel like you have known them for forever. Obviously this isn’t the case for everyone but even if you don’t ‘click’ with them straight away, you will have both seen each other in such an intense and open circumstance that the way Facebook suggests that you have ‘recently’ become friends just doesn’t feel right. I see the people who I am friends with on Facebook and have been for years, I scroll through my newsfeed seeing faces I hardly know. We had a couple lessons together in year 10, maybe met at the girl guides when we were 12. It isn’t really in the same world as the people I met in hospital. They saw the scars I hid for years in a matter of hours, they see the smiles that break through on your first good day in months that are brighter than the smiles from GCSE results day. The difference I struggle with is that only one of these relationships can be captured and uploaded. Maybe the friendships from hospital are too big, too deep to contain into 140 characters. They tell you that a picture can say a thousand words but that doesn’t seem to be the case either for the moments we shared.
All of the cliche comparisons mental health professionals will give you, for me none of them will be as accurate as the metaphor of my mental health being like a game of wack-a-mole. I don’t know if this is more relevant because of my BPD diagnosis. As all of the elements that come along with BPD can be overwhelming and hard to keep stream line and all in check. But for me the balance of PTSD, bulimia and my good old friend- self harm are the fun factors that I link mainly with my seemingly never ending game of wack-a-mole. Just when I have made it a week free from bingeing my mind seems to up the anti with the urges to cut myself, or hey maybe jumping out of that second story window would be a good idea… or how about putting my hand in the flame of that candle? NO BRAIN we don’t do that! WACK! The main behaviours seem to rotate endlessly and it is extremely tiring to be fighting all of them at the same time. I struggle to keep them all under control and it seems to me that there is always one behaviour leading the way and the others are less intense as I am in the depths of whatever my focus is on. At the moment bulimia is taking centre stage. I haven’t gone a week free from bulimic behaviours in months. This must sound pretty negative and you would be right if you were left to remain to looking at just one side of my recovery. On the other side you will see how I am coming up to 4 months free from self harm at the end of this month and I have never felt stronger. So, where does this leave me? Well… I am going to continue plodding on, I am going to continue fighting all negative behaviours as much as I can. I am find it easier to fight self harm and I am having more success in not using those behaviours, but this doesn’t mean that I am not having success with battling bulimia, because I am! I have been making progress but I am trying to keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day (another one of my favourite sayings 😉 ) and I need to keep pushing myself because slowly but surely I am making baby steps in the right direction. Sorry this is kind of an open ending but this is real life recovery and I am definately a work in progress I am just very happy to be sharing it with you guys:)
I miss self harm. I miss it so much. Most people seem to think that by me not cutting myself for 3 months shows that I no longer struggle with self harm. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Don’t get me wrong, self harm was a bigger part of my life when I was cutting 5-10 times a day, and that isn’t exactly rocket science to figure out. When I was hurting myself that much I couldn’t get away from self harm, it really does become the centre of your life. If I wasn’t cutting I would be in my bathroom or the clinic with a member of staff trying to stop the bleeding, I would be having stitches or getting my wounds dressed, taking pain killers to combat the pain from nerve damage, figuring out what to wear to cover my arms but also finding clothes that would not show up stains as easily when my blood would seep through my dressings, the list goes on and on and on. I no longer have to think about all of these things, at least not on a practical level. But the issue I am living with now, is that in a strange way I miss all of those things that come along with self harm. I hate having to use the past tense when I outwardly talk about my cutting. Because it doesn’t feel like its in the past. I know I don’t want to be in pain and I know there are so many things about self harm that I don’t miss having to face every day. Parts of self harm are shameful and I have definitely experienced this more as the severity of my self harm increased. The nerve damage becomes a constant issue, but you don’t want to talk about it because you brought it on yourself. You ruin all of your bedding but you don’t feel worthy of changing your sheets every few days for something that – again, you brought on yourself. You flinch away from any person who touches you, even when they just want to give you a friendly hug. For me this lead to me isolating myself even more because I didn’t want to make anyone feel like there was something wrong with them and that was the reason I didn’t respond in the correct way to there perfect friendly gesture. Why is it that even when I know self harm creates its own little world of hell, yet I still seem to crave that hell like a sour sweet that you know you hate but you place it on your tongue time and time again. I know the effects of self harm have been devastating on my body and my emotional state yet I still want it just as intensely as ever? I have found comfort in the pain, the panic the rituals time and time again. I still pride myself on the fact that I feel as if I am “good” at cutting, but how is that even possible? Being good at something would indicate that there is an end result or some sort of achievement. But I know damn well that there are no winners when you cut, and it just gets worse when you do it to the point of needing stitches. Yeah sure, you may feel proud for a while when your stitch count is totting up but you are playing a game of Russian roulette with your own body. It’s only a matter of time until it goes too far. You will damage yourself, really damage yourself. You can count yourself lucky when you get away with some minor nerve damage, but you have been warned of the bigger price that you may have to pay. The infections that can be fixed with a quick trip to the general and a few hours on a drip- not too bad, huh? What about when the warm blood is rushing down your hand but you can feel nothing more than cold pins and needles. scary? You are getting closer to the time that you are sat there with the blood pouring but all you can focus on is how you can’t move your fingers any more. I miss self harm, I miss it so much. But I can’t go back into its grip again because one cut will be simultaneously too many and never enough. How ever much it hurts to live without it, the risk of monumental damage is huge and I’m scared that I will be unable to save myself again. But I am not ‘over’ self harm. It is a daily battle of fuzzy legs and blunt pencils but I have no other choice to take this over self harms consequences. I have made this choice over and over, it’s not easy but I have confidence that it is the correct path to follow.
There are few people I am still in contact with from ‘before’. ‘Before’ being- before my admission. Before I went utterly mad. Before it all went to shit. I have one friend, Lily who has been amazing throughout this all. I’m talking exceptional, she wrote to me every week without fail while I was in hospital keeping me up to date with the outside world and helping me to keep up with the Kardashians- with out having access to there twitter feeds or the show. She doesn’t stare at my scars which I am forever grateful for, because people who don’t are hard to find. She makes me laugh as we pick up were we left off without any awkwardness. She has never treated me differently because of my struggles or issues. I honestly couldn’t have asked for more from a friend. And this weekend we got to see each other and spend time doing normal things in a favourite time of year- winter! We did a small amount of christmas shopping, we are both on a budget this year so it seemed almost like a challenge to get gifts for everyone when funds are low but ambitions are just as high as always. This year Lily has a car so a large percentage of our time this weekend was spent blasting music through her stereo, dancing and singing. It feels good to be normal and doing the same things every other 17 year old seems to be doing. We then went to our local carnival that passes through the bigger villages around our area. Again it felt great to be there with other teenagers who just wanted to see the floats and be with friends, nothing more complicated than that. It wasn’t a complete break from mental illness, my mood was not perfect but it was manageable. I always have some particular ‘symptoms’ (for want of a better word) that linger around pretty much all the time. But we both had a good time and for me to get to the point of feeling comfortable in another persons company(outside of my immediate family) is something that has taken some working up too and now I have made it to this point I don’t want to take for granted, or let be tinged by mental illness which holds that niggling feeling of “what if” or “you don’t deserve to feel..”. So, that’s all from me really, just want to share some positive moments from the past few days. Join me on my next quest of ‘Tilly attempting to be a regular teenager’ 😉
Well here we are. 100 days since I last cut myself. 100 days of fighting harder than I ever have before. Cutting was one of the main reasons for my admission and I have been living side by side with it for 4 years. Several months ago I started to realise that how ever much I hurt myself, how ever deep I go, how ever many times I do it, it will simply never be enough. This was a huge thing for me to come to the conclusion of. I felt so sad that self harm, my best friend and partner was not what I once thought it was. I used to explain to people that they couldn’t support me like self harm could. Self harm would be there through the good and the bad and nothing could compare. I couldn’t see myself getting to the point of enjoying pain free showers on a daily basis or not waking up to stained bedding and painful swelling. I’m far from recovered and I still battle with self harm everyday (even though it isn’t a physical thing that everyone can see). The piece of writing that follows is when I started to really recover from self harm…
I’ve spent hours with staff holding me as I cry, shake, scream. When your mind is disordered to such a severe level that you need to come to a hospital, its like everything someone says to you is twisted and changed into something completely different from the intended message. Your disorder makes you your own personal language for you to share with you and your mind only. Staff have to battle the distorted language. It isn’t something that I will ever be jealous of them for, listening to the secret whispers that are spoken only for you is something very intense and hard to ignore because nothing ever seems to make more logical sense than what your mind is telling you. It can quickly wreck everything. Trying to learn the real meaning of words again is something that I think I will have to learn slowly after a long period of time because I’ve been so used to reading so deeply into things to find a way to hurt myself out of what someone has just said. Convincing yourself that a light flickering is a sign that you shouldn’t have lunch. Making connections to reassure yourself that you are making the right choices, it made me feel good, Ive never felt so sure of myself and what I was doing. It takes a little bit of distance to realise that your whole life was wrapped up tightly in your mental illness it gets under your finger nails and behind your ears. You end up finding it in places that you would never expect. Its hard to clear up all of the ways it has encased your life but I am feeling hopeful that one day I will be able to say “I managed to beat it.”
I have come such a long way and I am proud of myself. I honestly could never see myself getting to this point, well not until it started to be my every day reality! I didn’t think I would be enjoying life the way I am now even a mere 6 months ago! I’m letting myself heal. It still isn’t easy but I’m dedicated to recovery and making a future that is worth living!