Lets talk about our mental health
As the news broke this weekend announcing another young man had taken his life, I decided I could no longer not write about my mental health.
It is becoming increasingly more difficult to hear of so many people of a similar age to me having taken their lives. More often than not due to the ongoing pressures society puts on us. Whilst I feel there is a lot of steps ITV need to take to ensure the right aftercare is in place, we also need to become more aware of the struggles surrounding us. We need to learn to speak out more about our own mental health.
Perhaps it’s because of where I work. (FYI all views in the post are mine and not endorsed or connected to my workplace) or the support network I have around me. In the last 2-3 years, I have gone from being unable to speak about my mental health, keeping it locked in the past, ashamed it was ever a part of my life, to a place of confidence in speaking candidly about the struggles I have had. This was not born from the need for sympathy or pity. I want to talk about my problems. I want anyone who is going through similar struggles or anyone who has a friend in a similar situation to know they are not alone and to not feel ashamed or embarrassed to speak out. Things can always get better.
I want people to feel comfortable turning to a colleague, a friend, a family member or their partners and explain if they are feeling overwhelmed, sad, anxious, alone etc. To not feel ashamed of a situation they are in. To be able to speak out and seek help. I know no one wants to be in a situation where another family member is lost because they didn’t feel there was any other way. There is, there always is.
An open letter about my mental health journey.
To anyone who needs to hear this,
I was trying to think of the best way to share my mental health journey with you. I wrote so many posts and none of them felt right. So instead I thought I would go back to basics and tell you my ‘story’. I want to highlight that there is no hierarchy of mental health, no one deserves to talk about their mental health any more than anyone else. Any mental health issue can be crippling and I urge you to talk about any struggles with someone you feel safe to divulge with. There is nothing more damaging than opening yourself up to someone who doesn’t take your pain seriously.
So here, it goes, stick with me, I am hoping it can help but it won’t be short.
I guess if I am going to be nothing but honest, which is my aim in this post my mental health problems go way back to primary school. I was bullied through primary school and high school by just one boy. Whilst I am not putting any blame on him at all, it is where my problems probably began. I was scared of school, insecure and losing all confidence in who I was as a young person. I shied away from everything at primary school. From group games, making up dances with my friends, trying to sing badly to the spice girls to ensure I gave him no ammunition to humiliate me. I don’t know why he had such an issue with me. Despite having a fantastic friendship with girls at primary school, and other boys, this one boy haunted me all the way until I was 14.
I finally left high school at 14 for the Grammar school, and I managed to blend into the crowd and not see him again. By the age of 14 however, the damage to my self-esteem was already done. I can only reiterate this wasn’t his fault, he was a child, but I did not know myself well enough, I wasn’t strong enough to know that this was not my fault either.
By 14 I had already missed as much school as I could convince my mum I was too ‘ill’ for so I didn’t have to sit in class with him. (my mum worked full time so it wasn’t anywhere near what I would have liked). By 14 I only had negative feelings towards school and towards large groups of peers. I believed all boys viewed me as the loser he made me feel I was. I still to this day struggle to be the joke in a mixed group, changing my persona when men are around. I had come to the conclusion I was never going to be good enough for anyone or anything, I shrunk into having no idea who I was as this gangly young person.
I never told my parents and only spoke with one teacher about it because I was friends with the ‘popular’ girls and I was so ashamed. I didn’t want to be seen as weak and unliked. I also had the most amazing friends and I could spend the majority of my day happy, really happy. (I would also like to clarify I wasn’t the perfect teenager either, I know there were things I did to others that were very dickheadish of me, I have many regrets).
Slowly over time, thanks to my friends and my first boyfriend I began to see myself as a good person, I was happy. Yet I had no idea of who I actually was and the sort of person I wanted to be. I was a 16-year-old floating. I was trying to find an identity as someone I would like, someone who could be a good person when I was so easily influenced by other people. It is a process which took years to learn.
And then my eating disorder happened. I can’t remember when or why it started. I remember taking tinned soup to a house party and not thinking anything of it. Finding excuses to not eat out for social occasions. I can’t really remember it taking hold until I realised I didn’t eat the same as other people. There would be panic if more than one meal I hadn’t planned was arranged that week. If my family had a takeaway I would have a low-calorie equivalent I cooked at home. I can remember panic rising and causing a full sweat once when I had been for afternoon tea. I felt agitated, stressed that I couldn’t go to the gym to work it off. So stressed I left the friends I was with promptly on a Sunday afternoon to work out. After that, it spiralled.
I had no idea the damage I was causing myself or my family members. It was never about not eating, or being thin.
I think the size issue is so important. Many believe eating disorders are about size but in my experience, it had very little to do with it, the emphasis for me was always control.
It could have been due to any of the above I discussed, my anxiety and my need to be ‘perfect’, my family falling apart and not being able to fix it. (although I would never want to put that on my parents because they are two wonderful humans who have become even better parents since they separated). Perhaps the fear of the unknown? I don’t know but all I know was the things that weren’t helpful were the ‘you need to eat more’ ‘Jade you look like you could do with a burger’ comments. My eating disorder lasted I guess from the age of about 18 – 22. Thanks to my family, my wonderful friends, my fantastic uni housemates (who saw me eating the same soup and lunch every single day for two years and never said anything negative to me), the doctor who didn’t make me feel like I was a problem and slowly I got over it.
I remember it vividly compared to the rest. It was the summer of 2012, I was working with my sister on a yard, my family drama had settled down, uni had finished, I had secured my first job working for a company I loved. I felt so happy and my sister would make the best lunches. It was the first time since I was 18 I let someone make food for me and with the increase in calories and the extra weight gain came the compliments and my confidence just started to rocket.
I have made my recovery sound easy and quick, and compared to others it was. There was no hospital stays and no long term physical effects on my body. To me however my god it wasn’t. It must have felt like an eternity to my family. It wasn’t until the last two years, 8 years since I have been able to talk about it honestly. There are times when thoughts creep back in my mind. When I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I secretly wish I had that self-control back in my life. However, I am well enough to recognise they are just thoughts at dark times and they will quickly pass and there are some things which will never leave. I will always know calories of a banana, egg, pitta bread, pasta dish, sauce, bread the list goes on. I will always know how many calories make up a pound in weight, these are things I have learned to live with and ignore.
It didn’t just end here
in the aftermath of my ED came crippling anxiety and a need to be perfect. The days of eating everything with the smallest spoon and folk were behind me. I no longer collected recipes I was never going to use, I stopped counting out the exact number of grapes and no longer ate at the same minute every day. A new level of worry however began and it was the paranoia of not being good enough. I literally wanted to be the Bree off Desperate Housewives level of well-presented perfection. For someone who struggled with who she was and is inarticulate, to say the least, was the most unachievable task I had ever set. I was worried about offending friends, not being liked, saying or doing the wrong thing. I was worried about my future, worried about my past, worried about family members and if I didn’t do something perfect they would be punished for it.
See the problem with mental health is that some parts don’t get talked about enough. Issues such as how dark thoughts can be. A lot of the time when I wanted to eat something or do something that I was in two minds about I would have a voice saying don’t do it, don’t eat it, someone will get hurt if you do. It’s stupid and ridiculous and no one wants to talk about it because it makes you sound crazy. Yet this is the reality of most mental health conditions (in my experience).
You have to remember this was all 10 – 5 years ago and since I have become a lot more open and honest about what I went through and how I am feeling. I probably talk about how I am feeling too much these days and I am fine with that. I still have panic attacks, mainly whilst I am asleep. These don’t happen often but they are terrifying when they do. I wake sweating, with a raging temperature, unable to catch my breath, unsure of what I am even panicking about. I also have them in the day time, usually if someone mentions space. I know it sounds daft, I don’t know what it is about the universe which sets them off but my panic attacks can be so bad I have to lie down to cool myself down. I also have an irrational fear for old buildings with original features, and old toilets where the flush is above your head. Strange because if its a new toilet made to look old it is fine. I am also irrationally afraid of anyone dressed up as a character, in character. These sound made up I know and I am fine with them, we all have little things that make us a bit quirky, they don’t change my day to day life. I just want to show you that it is ok to be a bit different.
Where I am today
28-year-old Jade is ED free, I love my food and I absolutely love to exercise for my mind. I have no shame in admitting I still exercise for physical goals and benefits. I think too many people are trying to make others believe they shouldn’t exercise to look good. There is nothing wrong with using exercise to look a certain way as long as it is done in a healthy way.
My anxiety is controllable, I have learned a lot of ways to help manage this. Dougal, despite him being a little shit literally saved me from my 20s of self-doubt. Having a good routine of walking him and company when I don’t want to talk to people. Podcasts and long walks outside, running, morning routines and knowing this is when I feel my best. Morning coffees with my friend, letting go of people who are detrimental to my mental health. Cooking nice food, sharing my house with the best housemate. Not checking clothes website often and feeling the need to buy unnecessary items. Having the best, most inspiring family and friends. Informing my boss of when I might not be feeling myself. She knows if I am plugged into my headphones too much, things are either not great or I am listening to an amazing podcast series and I am happy to talk about either. lunch club with my family, just time in general with family. My nephew, he brings so much happiness, perspective and love that I have never felt so strongly before. Photography, focus, having things to organise. Having a business and a busy full on job helps as it keeps my mind active. As stressful as it may be for my family, they allow me (without argument I will add) to organise everything, it keeps my mind occupied but most of all therapy and the help it has given me to work through this and the coping mechanisms it has taught me, I am in this happy place today because of the therapy I have been lucky enough to access.
I still have some way to go, but I like who I am. I am proud of myself as a person. I work hard, I have never let my mental health interfere with my job, I show up 100% every day (100% after tea that is, probs about 33% before caffeine). I believe I am a good friend and colleague, I am reliable. I can put things into perspective and listen to a friend’s problems. I am not perfect, I don’t want to be. I am happy with who I have made myself to be, demons and all.
So if you have made it to the end of this long letter, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to understand me better, I just hope we can all start helping each other. We need to keep breaking down these barriers and lessening expectations of what life should look like according to social media because honestly, it is a pile of shit. I am happier focusing on making the world a better place in every way possible, and whilst I am still learning and I will still make mistakes I want you to know you are not weird, fat, ugly, stupid, boring, poor, untrendy, unread, untraveled, uncultured. You are not behind, you are where you are supposed to be, you are doing great, you are great and no matter how you feel we all can make it, we will be ok!
Since writing this I have continued to be in therapy for Anxiety and OCD (it has nothing to do with cleaning and everything to do with a shit storm of thoughts) and I cannot thank my therapist enough for all the help they have given me.
People who inspire me by sharing their journey
Healthy chef Steph – Instagram influencer who speaks openly about her struggles with ED
Ferne Cotton – Radio DJ, public figure, presenter, talks openly about her mental health. Author of mental wellbeing books, yoga books and creator of Happy place podcast.
Matt Haig – Author of Reasons to Stay alive and Notes of a nervous planet. all round incredible man campaigning for mental health awareness.
Victoria Milligan, motivational speaker, writer, campaigner for mental health
Bella Mackie – Author of Jog on and all round everything you could want from a human.
Bryony Gordon – Author of Mad girl & Eat, drink, run. Creator of the Telegraph Podcast Mad World and journalist.
Jonny Benjamin – Mental health campaigner, vlogger and author
I have become alarmingly aware how white and middle class my inspiration list is, so I am going to work on this.
Beat eating disorders
If you are feeling overwhelmed or you are struggling with your mental health book an appointment with your GP to discuss steps you can take going forward. If you can afford private therapy, the waiting lists are shorter and you can choose your therapist via websites such as BACP’s find a therapist
No one else’s recovery / progress matters. Some work better with medication, others work better with therapy and various therapy works for different people. Some work best with medication and therapy. Do not worry what others tell you, just go with what feels right to you.
If your child is experiencing bullying at school make sure you create an environment where they feel they can speak up. I am hoping 20 years on we are now a lot more open about bullying. I think it is important to not blame the child bullying, there is always a story.
This is just the first in a series of posts I want to do about mental health so if there is anything you want me to cover let me know. I just want to remind you that I am not a trained professional and all thoughts and opinions are my own.