My name is Charlotte, I’m 23 years old and I have been diagnosed with depression, bulimia nervosa and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When I was just ten years old, I started turning to food for comfort. It was my way of dealing with my dreadful home life. Fast-forward four years, after gaining a lot of weight due to binge-eating, I started restricting my food intake. Even though I wanted to lose weight, my eating disorder wasn’t some sort of diet. It was a way I could finally have some control over something in my life. This started a long cycle of restricting and then binging and purging. I also started self-harming at the age of 14 and was diagnosed with depression. School forced me into counselling which I hated. I didn’t get on with my counsellor and was made to feel that everything I was going through (poor home life, losing a friend to suicide, etc) was my fault. My GP prescribed me with anti-depressants and suggested pulling me out of school due to it, but I fought on. I was determined to get my GCSE’s and come out the other end. Saying that, there’s nothing against people who do decide to leave education due to their mental health, you have to do what’s right for you. Your mental health should always come first.
Things improved after I finally left school. My whole mood generally lifted. However, things started getting bad again when I started college. My self-harm was bad as were my suicidal thoughts. To make matters worse, I couldn’t go to any of my classes without having a panic attack. I didn’t know how to reach out, so I left. I took a year out. That should have been a productive year where I focused on my mental health, but the complete opposite was true.
I returned to college the following September. My second attempt at college was much better. I made friends for life, friends I’m in contact with today, a couple even being my best friends. Despite me actually enjoying myself, my mental health was still bad which in turn made my attendance bad. This was something else I struggled with in school and got into serious trouble for. History was repeating itself.
Finally, I reached out… but I wasn’t completely honest about what I was going through. All I said was that I was struggling with sleep, which wasn’t a lie. But I was really struggling with my depression, and I was also experiencing hallucinations at night. This was when I was prescribed anti-depressants again and I suffered with an allergic reaction. I remember refusing to turn up to college because I had a bright red, bumpy face, arms, and legs. Luckily, college started to become very helpful and understanding now that I was being somewhat honest. My lecturers were supportive and helped me get good grades so I could get into university. Other staff were also extremely helpful, such as the mental health nurse and my learning mentor. I even started counselling again, but once again didn’t get on with it, so I quit.
The Wake-Up Call
After college, things started to get better but never 100 percent. By my second year of university, I was in a deep, dark hole that I couldn’t find a way out of. I went from restricting my food, to binging and purging. The weight gain made me so ashamed that I isolated myself from my friends, family and university. Suddenly, I found myself stood on Clifton Suspension Bridge at two in the morning, daring myself to make the jump. I was found by some people who worked there, who also called the police and an ambulance. It was the worst night of my life… and I felt embarrassed that I made such a scene.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the wake-up call I needed. A month or two later, I attempted suicide again. I was lying awake in pain and throwing up all night, not wanting to call an ambulance. After reaching out to some friends, I felt so alone because no one wanted to help. I had told them what I tried to do, but they were too busy to help. A part of me was ready to give up. But no. This was the final wake-up call. I finally reached out to the mental health service and started engaging with recovery. I was assigned a care-coordinator and a psychiatrist and was referred to the eating disorder service.
About a year ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD. This is something I’m still coming to terms with. I tried a support group that looked to educating us about our disorder, but I found it too difficult and quit after the third session. I’m still not ready to relive the painful memories that still haunt me.
So far, recovery has been a lot of long conversations, support groups and sitting on waiting lists for therapy. One of the worst things about recovery is the NHS waiting lists (but I won’t get started on politics here – I’ll be good). It’s also hard confronting what haunts you and staring it straight in the face. COVID-19 means that I’ve also missed out on a lot of therapy and support groups. Overall, it can be summed up by simply saying this: it’s hard work. One day, I know it’ll get easier. I’ve come so far already. I’m getting out of bed every day and trying hard to get better. Plus, I’m eating healthy and I’m still engaging with the mental health services every week.
Writing for this new book I’m a part of, Through the Hourglass, a mental health anthology that focuses on letters of reflections to our past, present and future selves, has been great because it’s helped me respect my body, to finally show some love to it. Love that it’s desperately needed from me for years and years. It was empowering to finally refuse to hate myself. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a cure-all. But it was proof that I can learn to love myself. This book is important because it can help others come to this realisation. It’ll help them see how far others have come, and how far they too can move forward. When I was at my worst, when I didn’t see any way out of what I was going through, I really could have needed a book like this.
This book is really important to me, as it is the other writers. This World Mental Health Day let’s keep talking. Let’s help organisations, the NHS, and books and resources like Through the Hourglass. To find out more and to grab your own copy, click here.
It Gets Better
If you’re struggling, you’re probably tired of hearing this, but it does get better. I’m living proof that it gets better. From two suicide attempts and complete isolation, to getting out of bed every day and working hard. You can do it too, it will happen for you, it just takes a lot of time. But it’s so worth it. Be honest with your friends and family with how you’re feeling. Especially be honest with your doctor so they can get you the right care.
And lastly, don’t just spread mental health awareness on this one day. We have to look out for each other and be kind to one another every single day. We need to check up on our friends, not leave them on their own in their hour of need. And we need to demand better mental health services from the government, don’t ignore the cuts they’ve made. (Okay, I know I said I wouldn’t get political, but it’s needed here.)
Stand together, be strong.
Until the next time,