I have learnt something amazing in the last few weeks since I wrote my last blog post and decided to share it on my personal Facebook. I didn’t share it straight away – I didn’t have the confidence – but when I eventually decided I had nothing to lose something unexpected happened. People from various different stages of my life – secondary school friends, university friends, random acquaintances I’d met once or twice and even people I’ve not met – began to fill my inbox with the most caring, supportive and helpful messages. Some shared their own similar stories, some offered a hand to hold should I ever need it, and many people praised me for my openness and honesty about something which I have kept very private for so long.
When I pressed the “post” button, I was filled with dread, thinking that my friends list would see the words I’d written as attention seeking, an overreaction, or pathetic whining. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I keep learning over and over again that the section of my psyche that causes me to perceive my physical appearance and my worth so wildly inaccurately also warps my perception of more subtle aspects of myself. Although I am training myself to interrupt the thoughts of self-doubt and shut them down before they establish themselves as “truth”, learning how to recognise which ones are not true is a tricky process.
What I have learnt is that when you reach out, other people will help you in this process in ways I never imagined they could. Some will do this by reassuring you that you’re not all of the things that your mental illness, in my case my eating disorder, will try and force you to believe. This reassurance is a great comfort and made me feel loved, appreciated, and worthy, which of course are all very nice things to feel.
There is something even more effective than praise and reassurance, however. Something which I was not ready to open myself up to for the entirety of my “struggle”, until this year. When you live alone with your mental illness, refusing to open up to anyone about it, it becomes easier and easier for the destructive thoughts to delude you, convincing your impressionable, vulnerable mind that they are worthy of taking up space within it. On the other hand, when your friends know about the defective aspect of your brain, they can actively identify your mistaken thoughts and, to put it bluntly, call them out on their bullshit.
For example, my ultra-caring boyfriend, who has had this part in weeding out my starvation-mode thoughts since I told him about them, has recently altered his approach. I was being stubborn, I didn’t want to eat before we went out, and after a few of his attempts to change my mind, I snapped at him “I’ve gone without food for (x amount) of days, I’m pretty sure I can handle another hour.” He replied “that wasn’t you talking there, was it?”. The way that he gave me no choice but to acknowledge that I was experiencing disordered thoughts was, while uncomfortable, extremely effective. Like a dog with its tail between its legs, I gingerly made my way back into the kitchen and had a bowl of cereal.
Now that I am honest with him, I have a boyfriend who supports me, argues with my disorder, and encourages me every day to give myself the nourishment that I deserve. Not only this, but after making it public that I have this problem, I have real life friends, Facebook friends, instagram followers, and other online support who check up on me and are there for me when I need them, and when I think I don’t (thank you Joanne, especially, if you read this!).
The point of this post is that I would never have received this abundance of help and experienced such an increase in my support network had I not made the awkward decision of publicising my mental health problems. It is scary, it goes against the isolation that so many mental health problems force their sufferers/survivors into, and it gives you no choice but to face your reality – you can’t hide it anymore or ignore it when you’ve told everybody. But the benefits that I have reaped from being truthful about my issues surpasses any initial minor anxiety I had about others knowing that I’m wired differently upstairs.
Noone has treated me any less kindly than they did before they knew the specifics about my mental health. Noone has bullied, shamed, or mocked me for it. Noone has tried to tell me it is a weakness. All that has changed is that now people know I need encouraging sometimes, and so I have received encouragement. It really has been that simple.
I would like to take a moment to thank everybody who has been there for me throughout this journey of learning to stand up to my own misprogrammed thought processes. If it weren’t for the care and support of my family, friends and my partner, I would be a lot further away from self-awareness and health, both mental and physical. I would also like to wholeheartedly encourage anybody who reads this and is struggling, to REACH OUT. It could be to your parents, a mentor at school, a friend, or if you think “f*** it” the way I eventually did, your entire Facebook and Instagram friends lists. And if you don’t want to talk to someone you know, you can talk to me – just please don’t suffer in silence.
email – firstname.lastname@example.org
instagram – evelloydeats or evemichelley
twitter – evemichelley
Feel free to reach me on the above accounts if you need support.