My name is Kirsty and I have been suffering with mental illnesses for some years now. It all began back in late 2012 when I was first diagnosed with depression. It began as extreme self hate and I relieved the mental torture I was putting myself through by self-harming, a habit I still now find hard to overcome sometimes. After a few months of nothing getting truly better, things took a turn for the worse and I tried to take my own life. It was then I began to realise how ill I actually was, I started to try and accept help, and I began slowly fighting the urge to self harm. I started to see that I could be happy again, and that I had things worth fighting for. My GCSE exams were coming up, and I had to do well in them so I could do my chosen subjects at sixth form. I also had a family holiday to Spain and a two week expedition to the Pyrenees to look forward to. Things started to get a lot better and I was beginning to enjoy being me again. I embraced my exams, the holiday with my family was fantastic, minus one little blip I had, and the expedition to the Pyrenees was a life changing experience and I learnt so much more about myself, even though I struggled to begin with, and spent quite a lot of the first week in tears, obviously I wasn’t as recovered as I first thought. I did manage to pull myself together though as I didn’t want to ruin this once in a lifetime opportunity.
After the summer was over, it was time to start my A levels, I opted for a fresh start and moved to a different sixth form college. I knew it was going to be hard as I have always struggled with friendships, but I needed a change as my old school held too many bad memories. The year began well, I started to make new friends, but then mocks came and my education came before everything, I began feeling like I didn’t fit in as school work was more important than socialising to me and I felt like people didn’t really want me around and I wasn’t like them. Eventually I distanced myself from this group of people and began spending breaks by myself. At this point I was already obsessed with exercise, I had always been overweight so my new years resolution for 2014 was finally get the body I’ve always wanted, one that reflected my love for sport. I started off by going to the gym a couple times a week with my sister, then I began to run, I actually became quite good to begin with and in march actually competed in a cross country competition with cadets and managed to get to the stage where I was racing against girls from across the united kingdom and even came 10th in the country. But back then I was fuelling myself enough and had energy to spare. For me, the weight wasn’t coming off quick enough and my body wasn’t reflecting how much work I was putting into changing it, so I completely altered my diet. I started slowly cutting out food groups and on days I wasn’t doing any exercise I began starting to believe I only deserved to eat fruit and vegetables as my body didn’t need anything else. My level of activity increased dramatically, and as my AS level exams were looming I guess I began to use it as a stress relief. I was vigorously exercising at least 6 days a week, spending hours in the gym and running around 3 times a week, with a combined distance of about 2o miles plus. The number on the scales was declining fast, and I couldn’t get enough of it, every time I reached a set goal, I made a new one and was determined to go even lower. When exam season hit, my intake hit a new all time low, I had now cut out meat, dairy and only allowed myself carbs on days I would do exercise. I was forcing myself to revise 12 hours a day as I was so scared of failure and only stopping every few hours to consume a tiny amount of food. I was extremely stressed and was pushing all of my family members away. I ended up completely alone, something I never wanted to happen. After exams were over, the stress of results seriously got to me an the amount of exercise I was doing increased whilst my calorific intake was dramatically being decreased even further.
I kept promising my family I would try to eat more, but every meal I had the mindset ‘oh well, I’ll just try again tomorrow’. But tomorrow never came and my body was beginning to give up on me. I was freezing all the time, even in 30 degree heat, I was physically and mentally exhausted but I forced myself to do hours of exercise to punish myself. I was rigidly counting every calorie I put into mouth , including green tea and diet coke because I thought it would make a difference. I was literally dying in front of the people who loved me the most and there was nothing they could do about it, I didn’t accept I was ill, I thought I was fine, I believed I still needed to loose weight as I still saw an overweight girl staring back at me. Then one day my mum approached me, she’d had enough and begged me to accept I need help, I was so reluctant but finally agreed for her to contact CAMHS. A meeting was arranged for a couple of days later and it was there that I forced to begin the journey of recovery.
Within minutes of seeing me I was told I needed to be in hospital, that my heart and liver were giving up and I was on my death bed. On the 8th of August I was admitted to skylark ward, Kettering general hospital. I was hooked up to various machines to try and keep me alive. I still refused to believe how ill I was. That evening I was presented with a fat free yoghurt and could not bring myself to take a mouthful. My dad was trying to spoon feed me it, at 16 I was being treated like a toddler, it was humiliating. But i was so consumed by my eating disorder I couldn’t see what was best for me. After refusing breakfast the next morning I was told it was either accept a NG feeding tube or be sectioned and be forced to have one anyway, along with having all rights taken away from me. My heart rate was dropping below 35 bbm so they needed to get some kind of nutrition in me. I eventually ignored my thoughts and agreed to have one. Even lying in a hospital bed I was still ruled by anorexia and thought everyone around me was lying, I would force myself to wake up at 3am to do an hours exercise routine, with my mum in the room asleep, and nurses outside my door. Looking back I can see how ridiculous I was being and can’t even relate to that person anymore.
After two long weeks on skylark ward I was told I had a bed at the Phoenix centre in Cambridge, a specialist adolescent eating disorder ward that would help me restore weight and find coping strategies for when things got tough. After 4 months there, I can honestly say that they did absolutely nothing for me and most of the time had to help myself. I managed to get back to eating food by myself, FYI first thing I ate was a bit of cucumber, weird I know. I won’t go into detail about exact events that happened there because to begin with I seriously relapsed into my depression and planned to end my life in so many different ways, almost succeeding and to be honest was not a great time for me and I’d rather not talk about it. Anyway, I asked for discharge before Christmas, and they kind of went okay, it was like they didn’t even care anymore, I was just taking up space. The whole admission I was still controlled by anorexia, I forced myself to eat food again to seem like I was getting better so I could get out quicker and loose the weight they’d put back on me- I only let them get me to 85% weight for height so I wasn’t even discharged in the healthy weight category.
Christmas arrived and I was still pretending to ‘recover’. I was incorporating chocolate and alcohol into my meal plan and my family though they were getting Kirsty back. How wrong they were. Not long into January I began my planned relapse. I started taking back control of my intake and started cutting calories. By March I was back in hospital after not consuming anything in a few days. It was then that I had a serious eureka moment, I realised I didn’t want this, I didn’t want to be in an out of hospital, I wanted to be well enough to go back to school, to finish my A levels, to be at a stage where I could go to university and achieve my dreams. From that day on those things have been more important to me that being skinny and fragile would ever be. I began increasing my intake slowly and with my mum by my side I managed to get back up to an amount that I could healthily maintain my weight, even though it was (and still is) underweight. I managed to get well enough to start to introduce school back in June, ready for September. Mum was even allowing my to come along to her exercise class on a Monday. My mind-set had completely changed and I was beginning to embrace recovery again.
September quickly arrived and I was finally ready to go back to school full time, enjoy it and be able to concentrate. A few days into school I began to remember my love for learning, and after struggling physically during the first week through exhaustion, I was even motivated to increase my intake, with the addition of another ‘exercise day’. I’ve had to tweak my diet a bit since then, but I’m maintaining my weight, and even though I don’t like what the number is saying on the scales, I beginning to see muscle definition on my body appearing and that is something I want more than to be able to see my bones.
Every day is a constant mental battle for me, every day I decide to be stronger than the voices in my head, to pick up to spoon and nourish my body. Every day I get one step closer to being Kirsty again and not the girl with the eating disorder or the girl that’s depressed. I’m finally letting myself be happy for once, and although I struggle to think I deserve it, I’m trying to challenge those thoughts because I’m not a bad person and I don’t deserve to despise myself so much. I still have a very long way to go in terms of recovery, but I’m, dare I say it, proud of how far I’ve come this year alone, by myself. I’ve proven not only to myself but to the people around me that I am stronger than my eating disorder and that I can do this no matter how hard it gets.
Sorry this is so long, I didn’t realise I had so much to say, and I could still write more, but that can wait for another post, thank you for reading this, if you got to the end, there is so much stigma around eating disorders and any other mental illnesses, that I am actually ashamed to even admit I suffer with them and I tend pretend that everything is okay because I don’t want anyone to see how much I’m actually struggling mentally. If I had one wish, I would wish to be able to wake up in the morning and be happy with the person staring back at me, to not hate every part of me, to be able to say positive things about myself and actually be proud of who I am. I wouldn’t wish my struggles on anybody, but I believe they have shaped me into a stronger person. I can’t really remember who I was before my problems, so it’s time to start again, to create a new, better version of me, a Kirsty 3.o.