When I had my asthma attack, doctors automatically referred me to specialists to offer support and I was firmly told to go to this appointment, to come back and be checked on this date, to take this medication. It was easy to share about my experience and needs with friends, family and colleagues who asked questions and supported me through my recovery which set me back more than I realised it would.
But when asking for help with my Eating Disorder, I found that talking to friends and family about my Mental Illness was incredibly difficult. I was hugely concerned of stigma, even from people I loved. When I went to the doctors, I was misunderstood and I had to summon the mental strength to realise that he was wrong and to go and make an appointment with another doctor. Even now, I wait for an appointment with an eating disorder clinic and I’m terrified they will look at their criteria and find some loophole that says I don’t fit in, that I don’t have their idea of a problem. It terrifies me that my fears will be realised that I don’t actually have a mental health problem, I’m just a disgusting freak who should be able to control the way she feels. I have to quieten this ‘voice’.
I contacted the charity B-EAT who have a support helpline. Although my very small group of friends and family have been loving, at this point I had yet to find somebody who was supportive enough to help me get professional help. The helpline were so understanding. They had heard my story a million times before. They directed me to a support group and also gave me the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines for eating disorders. These guidelines are the essentially the blueprint for doctors to follow and explained what services should have been offered to me. They even suggested I print them off and take them with me to my next doctor’s appointment. It was like having a guardian angel helping me though.
I contacted the local support group suggested to me and met up with the 2 leaders at a pub for a chat. I was due to start a night shift and it meant sacrificing a nap, but I was determined to still go, thinking that if I tried to re book I would end up losing heart. It was a rare moment of mental determination and I was going to ride it! They were amazing. One of them had been a sufferer herself in the past and the other had studied eating disorders which turned into a compassion to help people suffering with the illness.
Although I took many messages away from me that afternoon, there was one that struck me the most:
You have to fight for help, you have to keep pushing and say if something is not working and to try something else. There are so many different types of help out there – different therapies; medication; support groups – you just have to keep pushing until you get something that works for you.
So the physically ill are pushed through procedures to get well, while the mentally ill have to fight and crawl to get help? It’s not just people with eating disorders who get this treatment, it’s the same for many mental health conditions. In the past I have also suffered with Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Depression, Post Natal Depression, Agoraphobia and several others – each time I asked for help from my GP I was either misdiagnosed or referred for self help. When it came to my post natal depression I was so frightened from previous unhelpful experiences I thought they would be more concerned about my child and take him away from me. I suffered a miserable existence for a year after he was born, thinking several times how easy it would be to just run away, or just not exist. I once even put a pillow over his face, just for a second. I ran out of the house and cried in the garden for over an hour. I felt like a monster. Nobody would understand. Nobody would help me. To this day I have not been able to tell a soul, even my husband, about what I did. Today I love my boy more than anything in the world and the pair of us are incredibly close but my experience has affected my decision on having more children.
Fortunately I didn’t need to show the last doctor the NICE guidelines I had printed out. I didn’t feel anxious because I had been in hospital for something else (physical), not slept for days and was exhausted. I didn’t care about what she thought or even what she had to say. I had mentally prepared myself for another hurdle and was trying to think beyond this appointment and what I needed to do next to get help. Did I really have the drive to keep doing this? But it turned out this doctor was fantastic. She was compassionate and understanding. I got the feeling she had heard this plea for help before and seemed to recognise my tangled relationship with food and my feelings about myself.
All experiences should be like this. People with Mental Illness have enough of a challenge trying to get over the stigma from society, without having to fight for understanding from health care professionals. I’m so grateful that there are so many wonderful Mental Health charities out there – some are specific to condition and some generic – full of leaders and members that understand conditions and understand the help needed. They shoulder some of the burden and give people the strength to fight for what they need to be healthy.
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