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.