Second Chances

About a month ago I was arrested on a Section 136 by the police for my own safety (or whatever they say it is for), taken to a ‘Place of Safety Assessment Unit (PSAU) at the local mental health unit, and then placed onto a Section 2.

The idea of a voluntary admission had been raised that morning, but I was absolutely done with hospital, or to be frank, believing anything was going to change how I felt. I just remember feeling like it was it. That nothing was going to help. That whether I wanted it to be the case or not, I was done.

Fast forward to now and there are two sentences in my mind, and while they contradict each other completely, they are both as true as each other.

  1. Everything has changed since that day
  2. Nothing has changed since that day

I scraped my way out of a Section 3 in less than 24 hours after my discharge, when the police once again put me on a Section 136. I felt not a lot different on leaving the ward, and in many ways I still don’t.

But then… in some ways I do. I have moments where I feel so much better, it is almost unbelievable. And other moments where I feel the same, or perhaps even worse – and this is an extremely confusing place to be in; especially when sometimes I feel better and worse at the same time.

The biggest thing I have noticed in terms of positive changes, is that I have applied for two jobs, and been offered an interview for one. I just would not have applied a month ago, and irrespective of my chances of actually getting said job, it feels like such a huge step forward to even be trying.

But of course, my brain is my brain and it is doing it’s usual brain stuff. I am torn between two people, two lives. The ‘I want it all’ person, the determined, happy, positive me. The me that believes in everything, who wants to thrive. Who sits and cries because I am just so overwhelmed by the support I receive, and the journey I have taken (gosh, that is awfully cheesy for me!) The me where I just want to spread happiness. Where I enjoy the simplest of things and appreciate even just breathing.

And then there’s the other side; I don’t want anything. I want to give up. There is no point, no hope. I am done.

Writing about what that part feels like is difficult. It makes me feel vulnerable. All I can manage to say is that I end up taking extra medication to keep me asleep, or I lay on my bedroom  floor for hours. I have hours that disappear, like I have been laid there and left my body. Then hours where I am flicking between crying, frustration at myself, and sudden plans in my head that I think are solutions, but involve things I do not really want to do (things which will not really help). Sometimes I do the things I do not want to do.

Like I said, sometimes I feel just one way or the other, other times I feel like both of these people at once. Sometimes I cry because I think I am about to give up, and I am upset because of everything I stand to lose in doing so. I cry at the life I wouldn’t get to live, the people I would hurt, and the hope I would shatter. I cry for all of the things I won’t get to do; and yet feel like no matter how much I want to fight, I cannot.

This is very honest for me – but it feels important for people to know that they are not alone in battling between two selves. I know many times professionals may state that the “real” you is the one who is positive. I would not say that (and neither would other professionals). Both are real. Both are very real. But that is the point – as real as the part of you is that wants to give up, so is the part of you that wants to fight.

I guess while we still have both parts of us there, we have to continue and see where our journeys lead. You can always give up; giving up is not something that is a one time only offer. But, when you do truly give up once and for all, fighting will never be an option again.

My friend died after years upon years of fighting with BPD and Anorexia Nervosa. I wish so badly that I could rewind to that day, and do something to give her another chance to try again. I am not keen on using the word ‘chance’, because chances are generally given when we have done something wrong, but I am sure you will get what I mean.

I was dragged to a morning meeting once in hospital last year. I missed them every day, but on this one day a nurse bribed me into it, saying she would only let me go out for my walk if I attended, so I did. They went around in the circle and asked everyone what they were grateful for today. I said “second chances”. The context was different – I had done something the day before that would have given the staff reason to take my leave off me, but they had taken the time to understand the situation, and not just used a blanket rule of automatically taking away said leave; I got my walk.

I have had lots of what you could call “second chances”. Sometimes I have given them to myself, and sometimes by the amazing friends and professionals in my life who have helped me when I could not help myself.

I do not know that if I went back in time, and helped my friend survive that day…I do not know if she would have still ended up in the situation she did. But, I do know that if she had the right support to get through to another day, things may have changed for her; she may be sat here right now glad to be alive. She did not get that chance.

I really hope that for as long as I truly want them, I keep getting chances to try. To try, and try, and try again. But I also understand the realities of mental illness, and that all we can do is fight, make the most of the time we do have, and really… our destiny is in our hands, and what we want to do, or not do, is fundamentally our choice; our right.

And all you can do is take things a day at a time.


EDAW 2018: One foot still in my eating disorder

It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week and usually I would at least intend to do something, but this year I have not. I came out of hospital last week, and while I had one article planned for someone else, nothing has materialised.

But… it’s not just that. I think I have got to a point where it feels, at least for me, like something I need to distance myself from to an extent. Or perhaps, more to the point, because of the stage I am at in ‘recovery’ from my eating disorder, it feels like I am less entitled to a voice – I look ‘well’, physically I am pretty well, and I am not where I used to be. I am nowhere near where I used to be.

And yet… I am so far from where I want to be. And I think this part, where I am, needs speaking about more. One of my previous posts for EDAW is a post I think summarises a lot of the general stuff I want to say, year in, year out. Raising awareness feels like it needs to change; what we are saying needs to change, and raising awareness is only so good. I mean, most people are aware of eating disorders. The understanding of eating disorders on the other hand, is not always so great.

I look back at when I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, and the subsequent years upon years of treatment. I received support from CAMHS, and then adult services. Inpatient for eating disorders, inpatient on medical wards, outpatient and day patient. I look back and there are so many things I remember, but more to the point, so many blank gaps; I hear stories of what I was like from my family, of things that happened, and it is like it was not me.

Today I was sat with my my community worker, and we were discussing my eating and exercise. I had a horrible moment where this wave came over me, and all I said was… “I was so unhappy”. And then I said that the word ‘unhappy’ was a poor word to explain how I felt.

It is hard to believe that I was once very underweight. That people approached my Mum in the street concerned about me. That I had to go into hospital on bed rest, be pushed around in a wheelchair, and even when I relapsed, re-entered ‘recovery’ remaining as an outpatient/day patient, I had to go briefly onto a medical ward because it was too dangerous to start eating at home; because of the worries of refeeding syndrome, and how my body would react to food. When people are worried that you starting to eat again could be dangerous, it sounds like the most ridiculous thing ever; that if you are going to start eating more again, you need to go into hospital so they can constantly monitor your bloods, your vitals and your weight.

The biggest thing that always comes back to me was the last time I entered ‘recovery’ from a bad relapse. I had no intention of agreeing to go into hospital for medical stabilisation. I had no intention of getting ‘better’. I definitely had no desire to gain weight. But I went to an appointment, and by the time I got there I was crying my eyes out in the waiting room because I physically could not handle even walking. I saw myself, week on week, find the journey to my appointment harder and harder. I watched my body get weaker until I struggled to make it at all. I was not sure I was going to make it the following week.

I agreed to the admission. Not because I wanted to get better. Not because I wanted to gain weight. I was not even really thinking. All I knew was, I could not carry on.

I went home and in two days leading up to being admitted, I crawled up the stairs to get to bed because I could not walk. And I sat in front of my psychiatrist and I realised… if she told me she was crawling to bed because her body was so weak from starvation that she could not walk, that if someone the same age as me (19), said that… I would be terrified for them. I would feel sorry for them. I would feel… just shocked that someone could be in that state.

And I remember on the ward, in the bathroom getting changed, after avoiding mirrors for months, I saw my full body naked… and I cried. I saw what everyone else was seeing. I saw why my Mum refused to hug me. I saw that there was barely any ‘me’ left – and while I mean that physically, really, I mean it in every sense possible.

So yes, I was a typical patient with anorexia. I was. I was underweight, anaemic, low blood pressure, osteoporosis, refusing to eat, crying over food, crying at being weighed. I was dizzy and weak, my hair was falling out by the bucket, and I had reached the point where I did not want to be alive. Each day was painful to survive, mentally and physically. I felt like I was dying, and really, I was.

But… it does not end there. It has not ended.

Last week I injured myself. I manage being a “healthy” weight by exercising. I force myself to maintain a little below the weight range the eating disorder service I am no longer under, set me. I do not need specialist treatment any more. But god forbid I go over that weight range. God forbid I get an injury and cannot exercise…

Oh. That happened.

And in that happening, it has been a stark reminder over the last few days, of the fact that you can seem ‘recovered’ and ‘better’, but you can still have one foot in your eating disorder.

What does ‘one foot in an eating disorder’ look like? It’s:

  • Maintaining the minimal healthy weight for your age/height, and not accepting that your body might be happier at a slightly higher weight. That a BMI of 18.5-20 does not necessarily = recovered, and that gaining a little more might psychologically do the world of good, as well as physically
  • Micro-managing your eating and exercise to make sure that your weight does not go up (and hoping, deep down, that it will go down)
  • Exercising when you do not want to exercise, it is convincing yourself you do. It is stopping doing weights, because you know cardio will burn more calories, and it is exercising when you have an injury because you are terrified of not burning calories.
  • Judging yourself based on your weight, being critical of certain parts of your body, and letting that control your life to the extent that it is destroying your life.
  • Still not allowing yourself to eat a long list of foods, and punishing yourself if you do. Following routines and rituals around food. Not being able to manage if you cannot eat in your regular routine, or alone, or at home.
  • And it is being incredibly isolated with it; because you are ‘recovered’ in the sense you do not require a referral to eating disorder services. You are physically pretty healthy, and no doctor is going to be worrying over you. You know your weight is healthy ‘enough’, and because of this you do not dare consider that you need to let your weight go up a bit more. You do not dare have a conversation about it, because you think you will be judged… that people will just be thinking “but look at her, she is fine.’

And this is dangerous, because it makes the risk of relapse high.

Personally, I feel confident that I will never go back to where I was. I am very structured with my eating, and I feel dependent on that structure. If I did not have my set meals at set times, not only would my eating disorder become problematic again, but I think it would impact on my other mental health problems. I am very rigid about my eating, and I would not easily be able to break out of the patterns I have; which is good, in that it keeps me eating, but there is a long way to go to feel ‘free’.

I have not yet let go. I fear that to ‘let go’ would mean to be at a weight higher than many people who recover from eating disorders would ever consider. I fear that to ‘let go’ would to be at a weight I could not manage. More than anything, I guess I fear to ‘let go’ because I have clung onto my eating disorder for so long; it’s a monster. It is scary. It controls my life; but it also feels familiar, and safe.

But like the saying goes…

“The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

And I have run around the idea of letting go of societal standards, and eating disorder services goal weight ranges… and just…letting go. If being a higher BMI means I am happier and healthier, and free…I will do it. And I know I have said this before, but I know that there is every chance that right now is the time that I really will make those next steps to… to a life where my eating disorder has less control than it does now.

I am not a fan of the word ‘recovery’, so I do not want to say I am trying to move onto a full recovery. I am trying to be free, and happy, and accept myself as I am. I am not after full recovery and loving every inch of myself… just freedom, just to feel carefree…to go out with friends and eat a slice of cake if I want to, to not micro manage my weight like it is a full-time job… really, I just want to truly live.

It is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and I guess this post is for the people who have overcome what many would see as the “worst”, but who actually, are still fighting a horrible, daily internal battle. This is me telling you that your body weight might be at a weight that medically is “healthy”, but that does not mean that your journey has ended; it does not mean you do not have behaviours that you still need to work on, or pounds that is is absolutely ok for you to gain.

This post is me telling you that if you are in this place, you are not alone, even though not as many people talk about this part as they do when you are acutely unwell or in early recovery. And I am here waving my own little banner for you, cheering you on, to do whatever it is you need to do next, albeit exercising less, heck quitting exercise… or challenging what you eat, gaining more weight than a professional once told you that you need to (because ya know, we are not robots; you cannot take 20 people of the same height and gender and expect them all to be the same weight). Whatever it is you need to do, I am here for you, and quietly encouraging you, as I encourage myself.

There is, in the end, the letting go.








I have set up some volunteering. I am a Social Media intern for an organisation that tackles body image issues; currently I am running their FaceBook page. On the 28th of December I will be a volunteer Media Relations Manager for a self-injury charity which is a larger role and with a lot of work, could turn into something really good. I feel really committed to this one and building on my skills. And then once I have had my training on January 29th I will be volunteering with the NHS communications team based at a Child and Adolescent Mental health team.

However, I have seen two perfect jobs. One is part-time, but I am not sure taking it would work out. It would leave me with less money than I currently have and it might have an effect on my other volunteering and I do not want that to happen. It would also stop me from being able to return to therapy.

And to be honest, I really want to return to therapy. I am just scared of how long that process is going to take and of being continuously rejected. And it would be kind of hard to swap mental health teams.

The therapy would be 3-4 days per week, usually 3. And not all day. So my current roles would work with the volunteering. Taking on a job would not be.

I want to be happy with the idea of volunteering and building up my CV while doing therapy. But it is hard not to want to just sack therapy off and get a job because I’m 25 and the pressure to be further into life than I am feels huge.


Christmas and Mental Illness: Borderline Personality Disorder


It seems obvious that I write about this. I have wrote about Christmas in relation to my experiences of Anorexia, and surrounding the family side of the festive period, so it only makes sense to write about what is my main current diagnosis; yet this post is not coming very naturally.

The thing with having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is that I can only prepare and preempt things to an extent. Really, I have no idea. I have no idea what mood I will be in that day because I can never predict that, although it is likely to be very up and down, and mixed up.

I have no idea what kind of thoughts I will battle with the most; Will it be self-destructive thoughts? Will it be past memories? Will it be anxious thoughts about the day(s) ahead? Will it be paranoid-like thoughts? Will I be able to put certain things into a box for the day and ignore them? Or will they, at times, knock me to the ground?

What physical state will I be in? Will I have been sleeping well, or not? Will I be over sleeping? Will I wake up drained? Will I be agitated? Or so anxious that I cannot sit still and before long my body becomes exhausted? Will my brain be going at a million miles per hour but my body lagging behind? Will I feel bad for sitting around all day? Will I need to take PRN medication that will make everything calmer, and yet feel fuzzy? Will I need to go out for a walk to get some space? Will I manage the food side as good as I expect? If I do have some ‘freak outs’ will I be able to manage them?

Will someone say something that triggers me off? Will I misinterpret something? Will I think someone is making a negative comment when they are not? Will someone say something that reminds me of something I cannot manage to think about? Will I think everything people say is a hidden version of ‘I do not like you’, or, ‘you are not good enough’, or perhaps even, ‘you are too much’?

And how will everyone else be? Will my sister be struggling badly? Will my Mum make comments about my Dad and his family? Will I cope seeing my Dad and his wife for the first time in two years? Will it be awkward? Should I ring my Grandparents on Christmas day? Do they want me to? Will I be able to recover enough from Christmas, to survive my biggest fear of New Year?

It is really hard to know. When I was unwell with Anorexia, I knew what was going to be hard and I knew what to expect. With this side of things, while I can imagine what might become difficult, there is also a high chance that something will swing out of nowhere. Or that I will be fine, or great, or fine and then not fine, a million times over.

Christmas with BPD is a lot like life with BPD, except the environment is different and it adds a whole new level of unpredictability.

I am very rigid in terms of a lot of things surrounding time and routine. I like familiarity. So, going away for Christmas is not ideal. Christmas is not ideal. And in writing this, I have for the first time realised that what others describe as me being rigid and inflexible, is actually me trying to find some way to have control over things around me so that I can reduce the risk of something around me sending my head into a whirlwhind. Looking at it now, it makes perfect sense.

So, how do you cope? You try and keep some things the same as normal; take your medication like you usually would, try not to change your sleep pattern too much, drink and eat properly (and regularly) and incorporate the things that usually help you cope. For me, a big one is getting some air, going for a walk. If Mum has forgotten something for Christmas dinner (which is basically every single year), when the shop opens for two hours, I go. If Mum has not forgotten something, perhaps I will conveniently run out of tobacco, or heck, I will just be honest and say I am going for a quick walk around the block. On Boxing Day I will force everyone on a walk with me.

If you live with BPD you know how unpredictable it is. Some things are reasonably predictable, other things hit you out of nowhere. I was sat somewhere a few weeks ago in the middle of the night, and I broke into tears thinking about the fact my parents separated eight years ago. I have never cried over that before.

My other big tip is to walk away from any family related chaos or conversations that you just cannot handle. My Mum is bound to make some comments about my Dad and I will be implementing the bite my lip, count to ten method.

I will remember it is OK not to be OK at Christmas because your struggles do not suddenly vanish; in fact many get magnified. I will remind myself nothing is all good or all bad. I will remind myself I can come back to Leicester and rant my head off at the mental health team I am under. I will focus on the things I love; giving presents, sitting around the table forcing everyone to wear their hats out of their crackers, being able to finally let myself eat multiple chocolates out of the tin, and inflicting my Christmas quiz on the entire family.

I will be silly and hyper, and keep the mood up, because that is what I do. And I will find the child within me because I never want to lose that (and to be honest, there is not much chance I ever will). And I will be glad we are all together, because every year there are a million points where the year could have ended differently and so I will hug my little sister tightly because time and time again we prove that we can get through anything.


Christmas and Mental Illness: Family

My family situation has changed a lot over the past six years. When my parents were together we spent either Christmas Day or Boxing Day at home, and then the other day at my Dad’s parents. The last years of life being this were quite difficult for me because of my anorexia, and I relied quite a lot on my Mum. All year round I tried to manage on my own, but once faced with Christmas dinner and extended family, I needed her. She would stop people trying to force food onto my plate and help me to cope.

When my parents separated we continued to do this, except obviously without my Mum, and then my Dad remarried (to the loveliest person in the world) and so she would go with us; one day at home with Mum and her partner, one day at my Grandparents with Dad and his wife. It was different, and hard in some parts, but it was also nice.

However shortly after Christmas 2015 we stopped having contact with my Dad, and consequently his family. Last year was the first Christmas not going to my Grandparents, it was the first year of going home from university and my sister having her own place, so I stayed at hers, and the first year I was really struggling and under the crisis team where I live now.

When I went home I was experiencing really difficult thoughts, but I was managing them by delaying the idea of acting upon them. I thought “I will see how I feel once I go back to university in January.” I thought we were all managing quite well. On Christmas Eve my sister and I both cried, and Mum cried because we cried, and we worked through it together. We did not really talk about the absence of my Dad because it was too difficult, but we were there for each other.

Then a few days after Christmas my sister and I had an argument like we have never had before. I think everything just got too much for us both, and due to us both having mental health problems we just could not manage it. The argument turned violent on both our parts, which has never happened before and has never happened since. The police were called and we were both taken to A&E; myself because I had broken my big toe and my foot was also badly cut, and my sister because she had hurt her own head after she chucked me out of her house.

Rather than staying at home for another week and getting the coach I had booked back, I booked a coach for the next morning. I came back to university early, with nobody else around. I had all of the medication I had not been taking for the previous three months and on the 30th, I took them all.

I do not remember anything. I woke up on the 1st or the 2nd with a catheter in. I was distraught. I was really distressed about the fact I had no clue what had happened, how I had got there, how I had behaved, and that I had had medical treatment that I was oblivious to. I got up and tried to walk, and my legs kept collapsing and I kept falling to the floor. I wanted to get out of the hospital and yet there was no way I was going very far.

I cannot really remember how I felt. I had been planning it before going home, but then after what happened at home I just… I knew I was going to do it. I came back to university and knew I was going to be alone for the New Year and I felt so, so alone. I have never felt so alone. I think what pushed me from wanting to do it, to doing it, was probably feeling like I had nobody to turn to. Even if I had wanted to seek help, even if I had felt brave enough to, I would not have felt like there was anyone. Not family, not friends and not professionals.

I am really anxious about New Year this year and I feel like I will probably cry a lot.

But, things are different. I am doing better. I pick myself up so quickly from blips. I have really good support. I still have not seen my Dad, but on Christmas Eve I am going to. New Year… I will celebrate it, as hard as it is to feel like doing so at all.

The thing about family when you have mental health problems, and especially when they do too, is that when you are able to support each other (which we do most of the time), it works really well. It can save you, it can keep you going and you can feel like you really are in it together. My sister once told me that I am like oxygen to her and that she probably would not be alive if it was not for me. We call ourselves the three musketeers; me, my sister and my mum.

But the problem is, when something goes wrong, when you are to the point where you are no longer able to support each other for whatever reasons, it can become really difficult. Families generally speaking argue at Christmas (lets be honest). But it gets really magnified. Christmas is such a wonderful time, but when your family has these kind of issues going on, it is also really hard. You try and be positive about it. I always think “OK, so my family situation is different and a bit messy but I am going to enjoy it with the people I do have and despite the mess”, and you try so, so hard to do that.

I am extremely lucky with the family I do have. We have a small Christmas. We do not make it into a big deal. We focus on spending time with each other and finding our own little bits of happiness within it, and I love that. BUT, that does not stop the things that hurt from hurting. You try and ignore those bits, because you want to make the most of what you do have… but sometimes trying to ignore that and push it away is harmful.

And even though I know this, I still know I am going to want to ignore those bits. I am going to be 100% happy, wonderful Natalie and I am not going to let myself get upset. I know I will struggle coming back to where I live. For the first time ever I am not in denial about how difficult I find coming back. But I feel like when I come back this year I have the right support. I will be able to vent a bit, get upset… or whatever else I am feeling.

It is really important to try and have someone around who can help you. I could not let many people help me when I was ill with my eating disorder, but I had my Mum and I let her help at Christmas when lots of family were around who thought that the best thing they could do was try force dessert down my throat even when I said “No thank you.”

It is difficult to express to someone any negative feelings you have, especially at Christmas because you do not want to bring the mood down… but it is important to have someone. It could be one family member, or a friend. Just someone. You might never have let them in before, but it could help to tell them even just a little bit; tell them that you might struggle. You never have to tell them everything, you do not have to tell anyone everything, but saying just something might help you. And there are lots of other ways to get support. A lot of mental health services will be shut, but you can make sure you get a bit of support before and after, and there are lots of helplines that will be open.

I have never called a helpline, so I know how much people can feel like that is not what they want to do. But at this time of the year when things can be very hard and other support is more limited, I think it becomes an even more important option for some. I mean, what is the harm in giving it a go?

I think the biggest thing I have learnt is that if you do cry on Christmas Day, as horrible as it feels, as much as you just want to be happy because you feel like you should be, it’s OK. You can actually be sad and cry, and also be happy and enjoy things.

Families are complicated at the best of times. Mental illness is equally complicated and difficult. The two combined at the time of year when it feels like you should be nothing but festive and cheery… it is OK to struggle. There is nothing wrong with it, and I can promise you that you are definitely, a thousand percent, not alone.


The End Goal is Recovery, Right?

I have stopped using the word ‘recovery’. This means that the sentence ‘I am in recovery’ is no longer going to be coming out of my mouth, which at first seems quite negative. But it is not the same as saying ‘I am not in recovery’ (which I would not say any way, because that would still be using said word).

I first began questioning ‘recovery’ when I found out about ‘Recovery in the Bin‘ on Twitter, although this was some time ago. I agreed mostly with everything they talk about, although maybe not to the same extent that they do.

I’ve done some reading on the recovery narrative, and how it has been taken over by neoliberalism, and places pressure on the patient. It is like you have to be in recovery. You have to be getting better, and it seems a bit… demanding. There are plenty of physical illnesses where patients are not expected to fully recover, and yet the emphasis placed on recovery within mental health seems to demand that you do, that to be fully recovered is the end goal.

We all need end goals… or think we do. That we do X, Y and Z, and then we have achieved the goal and that is done. However, I am beginning to think that there does not need to be an end goal, or at least for me personally; I can only ever speak for myself.

I am not being negative, I am not saying that I will not ever be what many describe as ‘recovered’. I just think maybe I will not, and maybe that is ok. It does not mean I am going to spend my whole life struggling or being a victim, it just means that I have come to an understanding that I might always live with mental illness, and that living with mental illness… well, it is not the end of the world. I can still be happy, still get on with my life and still be me.

The pressure of the recovery narrative is, I think, harmful to me. The pressure some professionals place on recovery is harmful. People can be discharged or excluded from services for not getting better and I do not agree with this. Why can we not support people in managing, even if they stay where they are? And I know the answer to this. If someone is not going to fully recover, they might (MIGHT) always need some degree of support from health services = not exactly cheap or ideal for the NHS. Mental health services are thinking about your discharge as soon as you are in them, their goal is to get you better and get you out.

But what even is ‘better’? I get a bit sick of, and sceptical of, the wonderful recovery stories. I had anorexia, and to some extent you could say I do. I am not fully recovered. It does not control me any more, I am not underweight, I manage my eating to varying extents. I do not need treatment any more. But neither would I make a fantastic magazine story. I am less ‘Woman Had Anorexia, Nearly Dies and Now She Loves Her Body and Eats Whatever She Wants and is Magically Amazing and Living Life to the Full’ and more ‘Woman Had Anorexia, Now Manages it’.

Not such a great headline. Not going to attract much attention aka not what anyone wants to publish, or talk about. It just is not that exciting.

And yet I am happy, fine and content with it.

When you are ‘ill’ people will throw stories at you of people who had Anorexia and now they are better and that becomes your goal (or should, apparently). I just never found any of that very helpful. Hearing from, talking to people who had fully recovered… I just felt like I would have found it more helpful to hear from someone who still struggles, but manages. Someone who is still living with it, but is getting on with their life, and is healthy and happy despite it.

‘Recovery’. ‘Survivor’. ‘Warrior’. These words just do not help me, personally. You hear people describe people who fully recover as being strong. Does that mean those that do not are weak? If you have not made a full recovery, does that make you a failure?

The recovery narrative, while it can be inspiring and motivating, also can be damaging. It can also be taken on by mental health services in a way that is detrimental to patients, puts extreme pressure on them due to the expectations involved, and is heavily linked to the discharge of said patients. Get them in, recovered, and out.

Borderline Personality Disorder was not an NHS priority many years ago. Help did not really have to be provided, because people believed it was a disorder nobody could recover from, and if you cannot get better, why treat it? And then the paper was published… ‘Personality Disorder: No Longer a Diagnosis of Exclusion’ because people realised actually, you can get better. And that was fabulous that it was now a bigger priority and not a death sentence and yet at the exact same time… why does an illness need to be something that can be gotten rid of, why does someone need to be able to fully recover, in order to deserve help? We sure as hell do not treat physical illness like that.

And you know, things can get bettER. Some people do describe themselves as fully recovered, and one day that might happen for me. It just is not my priority any more. Aiming for ‘recovery’ helped me a lot because it felt like if I was not getting better, I was getting worse and I dreamt of being one day, finally ‘recovered’. It gave me hope, or that is what I thought.

But because life has not worked out the way that said dream was supposed to go, and I have not fully recovered… the narrative of recovery, that goal, became unhelpful. We can live with mental illness without that being a negative thing. We do not have to ‘beat it’ to be strong, successful or happy. If we do feel like we reach a place where we are fully better, fabulous. I am not knocking that or saying it is not possible.

But if we end up living our lives with some degree of mental illness, that probably fluctuates over time… becoming sometimes worse, sometimes better… I just think that is OK and the more I think about it, the stronger my distaste of that word, ‘recovery’, becomes.

I am Natalie. I have mental health problems and I am not fully recovered. I might never be fully recovered. It does not mean in ten years time I cannot be in a relationship or having kids, or finally having my dream career. I do not need to be fully recovered and symptom free in order to have, or to deserve those things. I do not need need to sit in front of an employer and be able to say ‘I had mental health problems’ and I do not need to be totally fine to manage a relationship or not scare off potential partners. I do not need to be mental illness free to be a good parent and I do not need to reach some end goal of a full recovery to look back on my life and be proud of it.


Christmas and Mental Illness: Anorexia Nervosa

Christmas is just two weeks away, which does not sound that long. I can bet that those living with Anorexia Nervosa have been thinking about the festivities and food for weeks, if not months.

I do not do that any more. The only conversations I have so far held around  the combination of food and Christmas include:

Mum: I’ve got a turkey

Me: Is it big?

Mum: Yes

Me: But I mean is it huge? Is it big enough for me? Because you know I love turkey.


Mum: (some sort of talk about money and presents etc.)

Me: As long as you have a huge turkey, 20 kilos of Brussels sprouts and a tub of both Celebrations and Miniature Heroes, I don’t care.

These are not the kind of conversations we would have been having years ago.

I have to say, Christmas always seemed to fall in with being around the time of year where I was actively trying to “beat” my eating disorder, at least in the latter years. Yet even so, it was always a terrifying time of year. I would be planning it way in advance; what I would eat, how I could eat less prior to the days surrounding Christmas to compensate for eating extra and how I was going to manage other peoples attempts at making me eat more.

I remember agonising over it, even when well into recovery. I would decide to push myself to have one dessert over the Christmas period, and then argue with myself about when this would be. Would I have it at home with my Mum? Or at my Grandparents? If I could only have dessert once, I was desperate to pick the right day, the right meal, the right dessert. And should I pick the dessert I want? Or should I pick the one that my eating disorder would berate me least for? I would flick between “F**k this I am eating whatever the hell I want” to “Ok, maybe this year I will just have a little bit of dinner and next year I will have whatever I want.”

During the earlier years of my eating disorder I remember making sure I was sat next to my Mum at the table of my Grandparents, clinging to her side, needing her to help me battle off different family members trying to force extra food my way.

I remember hovering around the kitchen when my Mum was cooking our home Christmas dinner, cooking vegetables differently for me, and keeping an eye on that bottle of oil she was so freely splashing all over the place. I was a control freak… but gradually over the years I have backed off more and more. My Mum has gained her place in the kitchen back, and no longer has to worry about me parading in and having a fit over what she is doing. I know she loves it, and I love letting her.

I enjoy Christmas dinner now, and no longer do the difficulties surrounding food take over the whole thing. I now get to enjoy watching TV, Christmas movies, sharing, opening presents, giving presents, pulling silly faces, and going for a nice walk because I want to (not because I need to burn calories), or not going for a walk because my pyjamas and the warmth are much more inviting.

My eating disorder was never about food, and Christmas is not really about food neither. And yet food dominates both of those things. You feel guilty for letting food ruin Christmas when you know that it should be so much more than that, and yet the fear and anxiety takes over. More people are around than usual, extended family see you for the first time in a while, and their reaction to the fact you have lost two and a half stone is to keep passing you chocolates, offer you another plate of turkey and sit dessert in front of you even when you have politely declined and your mother has given them the look of death.

You have to deal with the usual guilt of life with an eating disorder, combined with the guilt of making Christmas harder for the rest of the people around you. You feel guilty that how Christmas is affecting you, means that you are behaving differently, which upsets others. You feel guilty that you cannot tuck into your Grandma’s usual Christmas trifle that for 14 years was the highlight of your Christmas. Your Grandma walking in with it, her prize trifle, prize only because you have always loved it so much… and you feel this dreadful sense of guilt, of letting her down, because this year rather than jumping out of your seat for the first serving like you always have, you put your head down and hope nobody looks your way.

I am so glad that I am where I am with my history of Anorexia. I do not claim to be fully and magically “recovered”, and I struggle still on a daily basis. That being said, Christmas does not terrify me. In fact, Christmas is now a time for me to really stick two fingers up at Anorexia and say “you don’t have me any more.” Any guilt I feel, I can fight, strongly. If any disordered thoughts pop up, I hear them for a second and shake my head. “No thank you, you are not welcome here” and then I pop an extra chocolate in my gob for good measure.

But this is not the case for everyone. I wish I could be there with anyone who struggles with their eating disorder over the festive period. I know how hard it is, I truly do. I know how much you long for the year when you do not have this intense anxiety and fear overwhelming you and taking away all the happiness of Christmas from you.

But I can also tell you it will not always be this way. I have watched myself find the Christmas period easier and easier over the last ten years since I was diagnosed with Anorexia. I never thought I would get where I am today, but here I am. I used to think I would be the one who never gets “better”, but none of us are exceptions; we can all get to this place. I hope that in another ten years time, I am even further into life without Anorexia than I am now, and that it can get even better still. Sometimes I doubt that, but then, I doubted I could get where I am now too. Life is full of surprises.

It happens in baby steps, like most things. I hated the initial years in recovery where I pushed myself, but “pushing myself” was still very limiting. I pushed myself to have one chocolate out of the tin. I pushed myself to have one form of potato. And it was SO frustrating. I wanted to just stop caring. I wanted to have mashed potato and roast potatoes, half the tin of chocolates, and dessert twice if I so pleased. I spent so much time agonising over all of my fears and selecting THE one I would decide to challenge, while wishing I could challenge them all.

Even when I was “in recovery” (I hate that word), and even now as I am, I can only push myself so far. But I promise you, year by year, what you can manage grows. And more than anything else, as the eating disorder slowly loosens its grip, you slowly gain back all of the things you so desperately wish you could focus on, rather than letting food dominate the whole period.

I know the guilt for wanting Christmas to be over, purely because of your fear of food, is horrible. I know it gnaws away at you. You think that you are “bad” because rather than looking forward to time with family, giving gifts, and doing all of the festive things Christmas involves…all you can focus on is food, how to avoid it, and how long it is till it is all over.

Do not feel guilty. I know that is easy for me to say, but you are not a “bad” person for the way your eating disorder takes over everything. You are a strong person for taking each step you take, however big or small. And sometimes you are strong even when you cannot take any steps at all. None of this is your fault, and you are never alone. And nothing is permanent.

Honestly, I wish I could go back to 15 year old Natalie and shake her. Tell her that everything her eating disorder is telling her is lies. I want to scream at her “you are living on a bed of lies.” No, eating extra for a few days is not going to do anything, and no, even if it did make you gain a couple of pounds, it does not matter. Yes, you deserve to enjoy food. I want to hug her and tell her that one day she is going to look back on where she is and see the strength she had within her just to survive.

You are strong for surviving. Christmas might involve arguments, and tears, and anxiety. It will be difficult, frustrating and exhausting. But none of this takes away from the strong person that I know is within you.

And I truly hope that at least once, you laugh without thinking, and that if you need someone to talk to, you are not afraid to reach out. Christmas can be lonely, but you are not alone in feeling that way. We are all here.