This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is Surviving or Thriving. I absolutely love this, to me it’s making the point that so many people miss. Getting through a mental illness is all about surviving, surviving the illness itself, surviving what the illness takes away from you, surviving the mental health system and more.
But once on the road to recovery (which I truely believe is possible for everyone) it really is about finding how to thrive. Many people get stuck in survival mode and I want to cry out to them, you can do better, there is more out there for you, I promise.
I want to be an example, dare I say, an inspiration, that survival in possible.
When your mind is sick and all around you is black, it can feel like there is no hope, like you’re all alone and no one has ever felt as bad as you feel before. I have been there, I have been in deep dark depression and debilitating anorexia. At times I’ve been so stuck in my head my behaviour has made no sense at all. I’ve been in that place where you make the same mistakes over and over again, desperately hoping something will magically solve itself.
But I survived, I fought my way to freedom.
It is wonderful to be positive about the possibility of freedom from mental illness but sometimes there’s an added dimension that makes recovery far harder than just taking medication and forging a few new neural pathways (if that wasn’t hard enough!).
Eating disorders, in particular, are incredibly difficult to recover from because as they are a coping mechanism and therefore there’s a big part of the sufferer that does not actually want to recover. This can be really hard to admit, and nearly impossible for other people to understand. I argued with myself, I was going through hell, I hated what was going on, so, of course I wanted to get better but a big part of me was holding onto (what felt like) a safe coping mechanism.
So, I want to be a warning.
I have recently spent some time thinking about what my mental illness took away from me.
Sufferers are all too aware of how much we lose to our illness but at times we can be so embroiled in the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we become blind to the scale of the impact.
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. – Beat
I’m fortunate that I’m here to tell my story, however…
I have problems with my bones, colon and stomach, I have fibromyalgia and could be infertile. I have to have frequent blood tests which often show deficiencies and I continue to take medication and undergo other treatments including operations to manage the various conditions. Consequences other people face include ongoing liver, kidney or even heart problems, with eating disorders, no body system is left untouched.
If you or someone you know is struggling to break free, I implore you to do everything you can to find that tiny part that does want things to be different and hold on tight! Things will only be different if you try something different.
Surviving mental illness takes effort, thriving takes something else!
Thriving at life isn’t easy, the truth is, life’s hard – I don’t think anyone would deny that! I have to work hard at the little things, being spontaneous, using the phone, knowing how to take care of myself, smiling when I have no energy and being socialable when I don’t want to. That feeling “stop the world I want to get off!’ – I get that a lot! But I’ve discovered the things I like, I know what makes me happy and I make sure I take time out of life.
When making my way back into the world of work I did some volunteer work to a) find out what I was good at and b) find out what I liked. Trying new things with no strings attached is fun and liberating! It became fairly obvious that my forte was going to be in the mental health world, my personal experience built on my background education. Since then I’ve been gaining experience in a variety of settings and more than anything I’m enjoying writing 🙂
There is no definition of thriving, you are not going to know when you’ve ticked that box and that can be tough! It’s a journey not a destination!
My dream is that people can see that I can recovered and have hope that they can develop their own version of recovery, I want those struggling with the pull of addictive behaviours to find the desire to break free and I want those stuck in survival mode to break free and find how to thrive in their unique way.