In my latest appointment with the consultant I mentioned my trepidation in going back to work because of the stigma attached to mental health issues and he asked ‘whose stigma? Theirs or yours?’ I have to admit that he had a point, most people won’t ignore the issue because they are condemning of me and my illness but simply because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. The problem is thus my interpretation of the silence; which unfortunately for me is abject shame. I am both ashamed of myself and embarrassed and even though there was nothing I could do to stop the crushing bulldozer of this illness I still feel that it has defined me as weak.
That said, there is a lot that still needs to be done to de-mystify mental health problems and bring them out into the open. There is much in the press and on TV right now on the subject of mental heath awareness and some high profile supporters. I watched (with not a little apprehension) Louis Theroux’s visit to an eating disorder clinic aired on BBC 2 last Sunday. It was sensitively done on the whole but I felt it didn’t even scratch the surface of what anorexia means for those who suffer, (though admittedly I am possibly not the best critic right now). The portrayal of the woman who kept 4 boiled sweets in her cupboard which would last her many weeks as she allowed herself to take them out in turn for the occasional suck was heart wrenching and oh so true. The truth of the matter is that anorexics really really do want to eat but a force much more powerful than simple hunger is there constantly telling you that you do not deserve to. There is a bizarre comfort in hunger. Interestingly, what it highlighted was what I have also experienced, that anorexia is very often absolutely nothing to do with body image.
Overall, it’s positive to see that we are now beginning to openly discuss the once shunned illnesses that do affect so many of us and yet are so poorly understood. The challenge now is to channel this awareness into action so that people are able to access the services and treatment that they need.
My recovery is still fragile, I am holding onto rigid plans which mean I eat enough but I cannot yet let go and allow myself to actually enjoy food. I know that the day I instinctively reach for a biscuit without a second thought may never come but I know that I can keep healthy at least by following a regime. One positive is that I have been given the go ahead to take up exercise again; to begin with 30 minutes of swimming once a week, so am looking forward to getting going with that as soon as I can. Mentally, too I feel stronger and more able to think of other things. And not just food. I just need to hold on to the fact that recovery is so worthwhile, and the further I walk down that road the better.
A day off and I can’t help but appreciate the contrast with the clinic as I sit here in Costa in the sun drinking coffee and EATING A WHOLE BISCUIT. Doing something so simple that most people take for granted I feel like I’m choosing light over darkness and misery. I haven’t chosen to have this illness, absolutely no one ever chooses to suffer from an eating disorder and it so important to banish the stigma and lack of understanding surrounding this illness and mental health generally by creating a shift in our prejudices and allowing people to speak out. Though my illness is not a choice, I can however, choose to recover and by deciding to do so everything somehow comes into a sharper focus.
I feel very privileged to be thrown a lifeline by those who are there to help but it is up to me to grab hold and hang on. That’s not to say that it is at all easy to do. Dave needs to know that I am still able to wrap the fingers of one hand around my upper arm and my hands around my upper thigh but Dave, being able to do this is not a badge of honour!
However much I may question the process and the means, I am lucky to have received the best of care; my poor GP must dread me coming through her door but has allowed me to talk nonsense for weeks and, the last time I visited, arriving at the surgery after having spent the night in a stable looking after a sick pony, she simply gave me a hug, which at the time was a pretty on the nail prescription. Having said that, and best intentions aside, we have all suffered at the hands of an overstretched NHS and I can add my own stories to this, including an A and E misdiagnosis, a child left on a trolley for over 12 hours and of course the interminable waiting times.
The NHS is under ever increasing pressure to work within ever decreasing budgets imposed by this government, together with launching an attack on junior doctors, the removal of bursaries for student nurses and the 1% pay cap. In the run up to the general election the party leaders seem to be intent on booting around gimmicky promises, such as extra bank holidays – really Jeremy? – rather than discussing the real issues which frighteningly will affect us all. Theresa May has promised an extra £10 billion to the NHS over the next three years but they need twice that money and now. The effect of Brexit will mean that the recruitment of staff from the EU will drop rapidly, and the pay cap has meant that some staff have chosen to stack shelves rather than continue to work in the NHS. It seems that the current government is intent on running the NHS into the ground by way of controlled demolition. After another five years of relentless destruction the rubble that is left will make pretty parks and cemeteries for those who have no means to do anything but die and everyone sensible will be expected to have a private health care plan.
Rant over. Thank you for listening. 😬