Friday, 28 April 2017

Smear test.

I'm going to hold my hands up to something. Two years ago, a few months before I turned 25, as is procedure, I received a letter inviting me for my first smear test. Honestly, I laughed a little about it being an invitation- Club Cervix, cells are freeee- and then just tried really hard to forget about it.

I know that's bad. Trust me, I know. You see petitions circulating all the time, demanding the age for testing be lowered, complete with pictures of a girl in her late teens or early twenties who died from cervical cancer. Yet there I was, being offered the free test, and doing my absolute best to ignore it. But I never quite could.

For two years, it lingered over me. I made a few appointments, which I then cancelled. I refused to open petitions shared by my friends on social media, because I flat out could not bring myself to deal with the guilt I got about stories of women younger than I was who were refused the test, by doctors, that I was now refusing myself. And still, I did nothing.

I'm guessing you can imagine a lot of the reasons why I never went for the test, esp if you know me. For those who don't, just quickly- I was sexually abused throughout my childhood. As you might expect, I'm pretty screwed up. I don't know how many sexual partners I've had, because I used to have to be hellishly drunk to have sex. I didn't like sex. And I REALLY didn't like men. So I punished myself with extremely drunken, only barely consensual, sex. Since I stopped that, about 5 years ago, I've got more comfortable with myself, my limits, and my sexuality. But, it still fucks with me- no pun intended- fairly regularly, even after the masses of therapy etc I have had. Being touched in intimate places can trigger some really dark shit in me.

There's a happy end to this little cervical saga. The last few months have been really difficult mentally, because I've been so physically ill. Infection after infection, bladder issues, major bowel issues (guys: don't abuse laxatives, because even years since I last took them, I have issues. I'll explain more about that another day), mobility problems. I didn't have a massive relapse though, just some hard times. I came out of that mess with a renewed motivation. I'd got complacent in my recovery and it took the last few months to really remind me that mental health is something we all need to commit to taking care of constantly. As is physical health.

In my complacency over my recovery, I forgot that I'm pretty invincible. Nothing that can be done to me could be worse than what my mind has done to itself over the last few years. My mind nearly destroyed itself, before its revolt and revolution. If it can survive that, it can survive a quick test.

So for anyone worried about their smear test. You go into a little room with a nurse, who asks questions about stuff like contraception. Nothing major. Then you get on a table and the uncomfortable bit happens. You open your legs and they use this little device thing to open you up. It doesn't hurt or anything, it's just odd, like a vice opening. The nurse then sticks a weird brush thing in and twists it about a few times. That doesn't hurt either, but it's even more odd that the vice thing. I think because it's not a part that's regularly touched, it feels proper bizarre. Then that't it. The whole thing doesn't even take a few minutes. Done. Nothing more for 3 years.

I wasn't shamed for not having gone earlier and the whole thing was explained to me before anything happened. I can't speak for all nurses, but the one I saw was lovely and did her best to make me feel comfortable with the whole thing. I did take some PRN before it happened, so I was calmer than I might have been anyway, but I had no mental health reactions afterwards, apart from a slight cockiness that I'd got it done, and feeling like a fully fledged Grown Up Woman.

If anyone has any questions, give me a shout!

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A hospital stay.

I have had a hellish month or so. I've been ill more or less constantly since December. It's never been particularly serious, I've just felt lousy for months, mostly with stuff I didn't even bother going to the doctor's for. I eventually went when I had vertigo, a few months back, and bloods didn't show anything, so I never went back. The GP I saw, who, bless him, didn't know my history, asked if I thought it was mental health related but I was certain it wasn't. With my history (which I then had to explain. However much I could), I was sure I'd know.

Then, about a month ago, my problems got worse. I lost my energy, I had aches, then I got what I thought was a sickness bug. You know, a 24h job. Long story short, after 6 days I was admitted to hospital with a kidney infection and for a slap on the wrist because apparently 3l of Pepsi Max a day isn't healthy. Who knew?! I was there for 10 days and my mental health took a major nosedive, not least because it ended up a urology thing, and having my genitals poked around with, outside of an intimate setting (and even sometimes then) triggers a lot of PTSD sexual abuse stuff.

Then, it was decided I was impressively (I paraphrase) constipated. I'll give you a min. Honestly, I had suppositories, laxatives and an enema and, without too much detail, nothing worked. It's been a ride, because suddenly (I've been out of hospital for just over a week now) everyone is losing their minds because I'm not too keen on continuing laxatives. My MH isn't strong enough right now to handle not getting hooked again, but until I'm shitting properly I can't have the catheter I currently have out.

I'm dealing as best I can, but I'm not as healthy as I could be, mentally or physically. As much as I still don't think the origin of my many minor illnesses have been mental, I can't argue that there's not a link between the two.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

EDAW 2017

It's that time again, Eating Disorder Awareness Week is upon us. In the last few years, it's been really easy to write about- here are entries from 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011- and even though they're pretty cringy in parts, they were easy to write. This year, it's been a bit tougher. In a way, that's great- I count my recovery as starting when I started taking food orally, during my last NG tube (those nasty feeding tubes that go up your nose) period, which means my recovery will be 3 years old this spring. That's great. Obviously. But the further I get into my recovery, the further I get from all I once knew, and that's why it's harder to write this year.

So I've looked to the internet for inspiration, because I can't not acknowledge the week, despite not having an ED any more. According to Beat, this year the emphasis is on early intervention, so I'm going to talk a lil about that.

Between the ages of 8 and 11, I went to the doctors a lot. If I wasn't there for how often I was vomiting (self induced, not that anybody but me knew that), I was there for infections and all sorts. Eventually, it was just decided that I had a nervous stomach, but that there was nothing really wrong with me. Which wasn't true, of course, but there was nothing physically wrong with me apart from the side effects of having an ED. Once I got to secondary school, I went to the doctor every few months to be treated for a tremor. The tremor is benign and there's a genetic element to it, but mine was exacerbated by low blood sugar and anxiety. That was never picked up, though.

Throughout my childhood, I alternated between anorexic and bulimic years. If my weight was healthy, it was that way because of bingeing so heavily. If it was under-, it was because I was barely eating. Hell, when I was about 15, I was overweight, again from bingeing so much. Throughout those years, my eating and body image were never once healthy. But the only time it was flagged up by people in my life was when I was underweight, concern falling away when I began bingeing again.

This led me to conclude that I only mattered, that my suffering only counted, when I was anorexic, rather than when I was bulimic.When, often, I was hurting more when I was going through bulimic periods. Anorexia is drawn out and slow, and, for me, occurred when I stopped caring. Bulimia is violent and fast, and, for me, occurred when I cared too much.

By the time I was ready to demand help, I was 17. I'd been ill for around 9 years, so the opportunity was long since lost for early intervention. There were so many opportunities in those 9 years for a doctor to have picked up on what was going on with me, so many times where I was in front of medical professionals literally for things that are textbook ED signs. The thing is, doctors just don't have the training. Hell, the only people who seem to know what to look out for are those with personal experience.

It took me from 17 to 24 to recover. 7 years. 7 years of different medications, different therapies and a whole lot of different hospital admissions. 7 years of my organs going into shock and then failure. 7 years of my bone density falling and my joints crumbling. 7 years of thinning hair and cracked skin. 7 years of feeling like a failure every time I acted on a compulsion- which meant I pretty much always felt like a failure, let me just say.

My point is this- I firmly believe that early intervention would have saved my early twenties, and almost certainly my teens, too. Did I recover? Yes. It is absolutely possible to recover, no matter how long you've been ill. But it would have been a damn sight easier to have done so if I'd not spent most of my life ill, by the time I started treatment. Not everyone is as lucky as I was, or has the same access to treatment (thank you, NHS). Not everyone recovers. People die. They die. Anorexia is the most fatal mental illness, but still treatment funding is limited and medical staff training is scant.

So, you're going to have to fight for effective treatment. I'm sorry. You shouldn't have to, when it's hard enough to believe you deserve it. But if you need a hand, give me a shout.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Once SBIWYB was 7 years old

It's been the best part of a month since I last posted, because I needed a bit of a break. In a few weeks, it will be 7 years since I started SBIWYB. I started it because I'd blogged on MySpace in my teens (lol, RIP. To both MySpace and my teens) and in the few years between the death of MySpace and me setting this up, I'd missed writing for me. Avoiding coursework and college work in those years was cool, but not quite the same. If you're not going to write as often or as well as you ought to, you might as well screw up for yourself, y'know?

The key thing was, I started this for me. I never wanted or expected internet fame, and hell- I never got it. I will say, though, I definitely wanted attention and that, I did get. Like, I really was doing it for me, and for the voice it gave me, even just amongst people I know. There's still such a stigma around mental illness and talking about it made a lot of people in my life uncomfortable. I don't know if they thought my issues would make them look bad (I just had to delete a comment identifying who I'm really talking about... but you know who, hahaha) or what, but in the early days, I got a lot of stick for doing this.

I'd say, since I turned my life around over the last few years, there's been far less conflict over this, and that's been great. But there's also been far less to say, I guess. In the earliest days, I mostly just wrote manic rubbish and I do think I got more articulate, but since getting out of hospital 2 years ago, I also think my writing might have got more dull. My life today is far better than it's ever been, but it doesn't make for as interesting a blog.

So, 7 years on, I'm in a pickle. I'm not ready to give up on SBIWYB, I've enjoyed writing every entry, but I also cringe a bit at how less often I post now. So, I took a break to have a think about these last 7 years and the direction I want to go in today. I came to the realisation that I wouldn't be without the record this has given me of my battle. I think from here on in, I'm going to focus on mental health stuff in the media, with occasional life updates, and focus less on my own- good- mental health. I'm not ready to end this, but I won't apologise for being well.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Self diagnosis.

Quite a few times on here, I've told you some really shitty things I've done. I was brought up Catholic, so maybe I'm still a sucker for Confession. Regardless of the reason, I want to tell you yet another shitty thing I did in my past, and try and explain how it happened. And this is it: I nominated myself as bouncer to the exclusive club of Eating Disordered and attempted to refuse entry to anybody I didn't see as ill enough.

But I'm going to backtrack a little bit. I'm going to start off telling you about my evolution of thought on self diagnosis.

When it comes to physical illness, I think you're really best off not googling your symptoms. Sure, there are times when it's responsible to do so- checking what to spot when it comes to breast cancer, for example- but generally, don't google whether your headache is a brain tumour. Mental illness is different. With mental illness, I think that you're best to be as aware as you can. With mental illness, a lot of the times I think that you can self diagnose because pretty much any sort of diagnostic test is based on how you rate your mental state, no fancy equipment necessary. It's not necessarily true for every condition, but generally you know if you're depressed or anxious or starving yourself or whatever. And, maybe most importantly, self diagnosis enables people to articulate better to professionals what's going on for them.

It was maybe 9 years between the start of my eating disorder and my actual diagnosis. There were a lot of reasons for that, but the main one is that I was very, very young when I started and so when my symptoms were brought to my doctor's attention, it was diagnosed as something else. But I knew I had an eating disorder. My behaviours started when I was 8, and it wasn't long after that that I realised what was going on. I didn't understand the implications, of course, but I could put a name to it. I'd self diagnosed 7 or 8 years before my official diagnosis and it helped. It helped knowing that it wasn't my fault, it was a genuine illness and when I was ready, I could get help.

For whatever reason though, once I got the diagnosis, I became really bloody cocky with it. I disregarded the fact that self diagnosis had benefited me so much in my earlier years and I started to become really elitist. I needed to be great at something, and having an eating disorder was something I could execute brilliantly, so I'd get arrogant over the fact that I had that diagnosis. It was fucked up, but I can understand how I'd got to that place. I wasn't at all pro-Ana, I did my best to direct other people to recovery, but only if they had that diagnosis. Only if I deemed them worthy. I was constantly so angry at anybody I saw as playing at having an eating disorder and I loathed people who self diagnosed and had the audacity to claim the disorder as their own, when it was my thing.

That's hard to admit to, because it made me horrible. Horrible. I decided it was my place to pick out who did and didn't have an eating disorder, I judged people for doing what they had to, and, what I now consider even worse, I made diagnosis into something it really shouldn't be- an achievement.

The thing is, the thing that recovery has really shown me, is that eating disorders are way more of a spectrum thing than a binary one. Eating disorders are different for everybody, in behaviours, attitudes, thought processes- everything. And the degrees in which people are affected are all different. It's not more impressive to eat less or to vomit more. It's not more impressive to have been ill or diagnosed the longest. It's not more impressive to have been tube fed the most or at the lowest weight.

We do what we have to do. And I'm sorry that I made it into more than it ought to have been.

Friday, 13 January 2017

BPD and stigma.

When it comes to mental health, not all conditions were created equally. I could honestly go through the entire DSM and write the societal view on each condition. Lord knows I've heard the views enough times. But I'll give you the edit...

Depression and anxiety have the least stigma, but that's not always a benefit because they're seen as not as significant as others. Eating disorders, particularly bulimia, are seen as a joke- how often are the popular girls in comedies given bulimia? PTSD is to be worn as a badge of honour, but only if you got it in the military, because then you're a hero. Got it from anything else? I can send you plenty of TRIGGERED memes, urgh. OCD is a quirky or anal personality trait. She's so tidy! She's totally OCD! Schizophrenia is really misunderstood (fact: it's not having split personalities) and terrifying and dangerous for the public. Same as psychosis- how often do you hear about schizo/psycho killers, eh? How many actually have diagnoses, eh?

And Lord, don't get me started on borderline personality disorder (as you can imagine, I'm totally about to get started on BPD).

For those of you who don't know a lot about it, BPD is characterised by emotional instability- really intense highs and lows, usually really quickly fluctuating- and problems with things like identity and relationships. Self harm, suicide attenpts and dangerous behaviour all join the party. And from the people I know who have had it (bear in mind I was on a hospital ward for women with BPD for 2.5 years, so I know a lotttt of people with it), it tends to strike people who had shitty childhoods.

The general consensus on BPD is that those affected are manipulative, dramatic, jealous, dangerous attention seekers. And whenever a film features a female stalker, they're ALWAYS diagnosed BPD. Hell, even Ugly Betty featured a girlfriend of a main character who tried to kill Betty because she thought she was making moves on her man. She'd lost her shit because she had BPD. Snore. It's the laziest way to create a villain, ignoring that people with BPD are far more likely to be victims of abuse because they get into such dodgy relationships and typically have low self-esteem.

My diagnosis was changed last year from BPD to Complex PTSD, among other shit. Generally, I don't really care any more what I'm diagnosed with. I haven't cared for quite some years, although it did used to be really important to me. I knew the BPD label didn't fit me, but I wouldn't have cared too much what my notes said if it wasn't for the stigma, including from mental health teams themselves. Knowing that any contact I made with professionals was blighted by a condition I knew I didn't have was tough.

Which is pretty screwed up, since even if I did have it, I'd be just as deserving of time and care. Even if I did have it, I'd still be worthy of recovery. Even if I did have it, I wouldn't have been dangerous.

Even if you have it, you're no less deserving of anything than anybody else.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

What people want to know.

When people hear that you had anorexia, they want to know what your lowest weight was. I just checked with my mum and she said that I weighed 7lb 1.5oz in September 1990, so whack that down as my answer. Can't get more exact than that. Well, I know babies sometimes lose a few ounces straight after birth, but for argument's sake, let's stick with just over 7lbs. Oh, people really want to know your lowest BMI? Bit irrelevant to much, apart from my medical notes. Bit like the composition of my urine, really.

When people hear you had bulimia, they want to know what the most you ever ate was. Ok, this one is a lie. Nobody wonders that, because they generally think bulimia is just normal eating with added vomiting. Often, though, they want to know how much you got up. I used to get some wild bugs as a kid. Nose vomit for days. Oh, people really want to hear about how much you did it when you were thin and attractive and vulnerable, but still old enough to be hot? Jokes on them, because the pictures of thin, attractive, vulnerable but still old enough to be hot women making themselves tragically and beautifully sick are lies.

When people hear you used to cut, they want to know what the worst thing you ever did to yourself was. I can answer this one unequivocally. Bleaching my hair. Although I'm really pale and freckly, I have dark eyebrows so I only suit a really narrow colour palate. And I can tell you now, blonde hair doesn't work. At all. Oh, people really want to know how many stitches you needed? Unless you're the one pulling them out or whatever, I don't know why you'd need to know? Or unless you're in charge of buying the thread used? I'm clutching at straws here.

When people hear that you were known for overdosing, they want to know how many times you did it. That's a toughy. I mean, I used to take 4 paracetamol every morning I woke up hungover and I definitely snuck some extra Calpol when I was a kid. Oh, people really want to know how many times you did it with the intention of doing serious harm? I suppose it's quite a hard one because you can't judge intent on how many pills you poured down your throat.

When people hear that you were suicidal, they want to know how many times you tried to kill yourself. I never used to use zebra crossings. I ate some really questionable seafood in my younger years. I definitely can't be arsed exercising these days, Oh, people really want to know how many times to wrote a note and took a categorical step towards death? Ever so sorry, but it rarely works like that. Some suicide attempts and some suicides are slower, more laborious or less decisive than others. Some lives are like that too, actually.

Look, I get it. Freak shows have been a thing with humans for forever. We're drawn to the odd and we are attracted to things that are completely different from us. But listen, right, the mentally ill are not your oddity. They shouldn't be the latest exhibit to marvel over.

To those who are neurotypical: respect boundaries and appreciate that mental health is a difficult topic for a lot of people to talk about, don't make shit awkward. Don't create an us/them framework or use others' internal battles to make you feel better about your own. To those who are not: don't fall into the trap of competing with others over who is the most well/ill. I've done it, and nobody ends up any better for it. Don't feel like you have to justify yourself or prove you are/have been ill, with information you're not wanting to share.