30 December 2015

learning to be

I have always had the mindset of keep going no matter what. Ever since I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes, at the age of seven, I've developed a knack for working through more difficult circumstances. There comes a point, however, where the strongest thing you can do is accept that strength alone may not be enough. I have been struggling with an eating disorder - alongside diabetes - for many years now. I have had periods of recovery, some stronger than others, but I have never found true freedom. 

Though I may have appeared to be coping well at University, the act of 'doing' can easily disguise the true picture. True to character, I have thrown myself into my University degree and societies, in addition to writing on here and other media outlets. I have found comfort in the thought that I am being productive and also 'giving something back.' For me, people-pleasing and perfectionism go hand-in-hand; one of my greatest fears in life is the thought of letting people down. 

While giving everything on a performance level, however, I have been unable to translate this into my day-to-day life. I am continually trapped by anorexia, anxiety and the added complication of my diabetes. I am existing but I am not living, and being surrounded by so much vitality at University has only placed this in starker context. In a bittersweet way, however am thankful for this; it has shown me just how much more there can be to life. So much that I am missing out on and. 

My head continually tells me that I simply 'don't deserve it', but there is a small part of Sophie that still knows this is a lie. Somehow, I need to find the truth again and that begins with letting go. The greatest irony is that, for as long as I can remember, I have defined my life by numbers. The readings on a blood sugar metre, the percentages on an exam paper, the weight on a scale, or the carb and fat grams in a slice of cake I am too scared to eat. 

"The reality is, I have been a mathematician in writer's clothing for too long. I always advocate honesty towards mental health - people have told me how much my words inspire them - yet I have largely hidden my struggles away and suffered in silence. I love blogging, because it has allowed me an escape; talking about tea and happy things has made me, momentarily, break free of the cloud of mental illness. Nonetheless, I want this blog to be a place where I chart my real life moments of joy; not a dreamboard of flowers, flatlays and flat whites - photographed but sipped with shaking hands and the condemning voice of anorexia on my shoulder. 

Currently, I am struggling more than ever. I have pulled myself out of many lapses in the past couple of years, but the illness always comes back with a stronger vengeance. I cannot continue in this prison any longer, mentally or physically.After much discussion with my medical team, I am deferring my final term of study and beginning inpatient treatment. My admission is today and it is possibly the hardest decision I have ever made. Even as I type this, hours before I go into hospital, I am plagued with doubts. 

I am within touching distance of my completed degree and have convinced myself time and time again to simply 'get through' the dissertation and put it behind me - but at what cost? I won't have put anorexia behind me; conversely  I would almost certainly end up in a position where I no longer have a choice over treatment; I cannot do that to my family, friends and all those who care about me - because yes, anorexia,people do care. I also cannot do it to myself. 

The thought of letting people down has never been stronger. Given that my anxiety is largely rooted in wanting to please others, you can imagine the last week has been less than peaceful; I am indebted to my incredible family for helping me through this, and the understanding of flatmates/University societies. It has been a privilege to be Features Editor for Exeposé and publicity Officer for Mind Your Head. However, no role or article matters more than health. I could never give up something as big as my health. I could never let anyone down more than myself, if I continue to listen to the voices that would not stop until I am dead.

Mental illness can completely destroy lives, and anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. As with many who suffer from it, I have continually told myself "I'm not sick enough/I don't deserve help". I need to put my trust in those around me. I would not be offered this treatment if I was a 'fraud'. With the NHS as under-resourced as it is, especially mental health services, I do deserve this support. If I have to remind myself of these facts ten, twenty or a hundred times a day, I must do it. Accepting further treatment has been terrifying beyond belief; however, being offered help is a huge change from the continual stop signs I faced in Exeter. 

Last summer, I made the decision to register with Bristol services and have been with them ever since. Without this support, I do not think I would have been able to return to Exeter in September, nor would I be offered the help I am now. To my distress, so many people will continue to struggle in Exeter, where eating disorder treatment is a paradox - it has one of the most highly-regarded inpatient units in the country, but no outpatient service to speak of. I have heard stories of people who have been on waiting lists for nearly a year, who are given appalling advice by ill-informed therapists and who will continue to struggle without support. Though I will no longer be in Exeter, I will never stop advocating for better treatment there and encourage others to do likewise.

I will miss Exeter so much and have adored my time there. I admit that my head convinces me I will be more missed by what I do, rather than the person I am. My delightful head also convinces me that no one would even notice if I didn't come back. I realise that I have been quite disconnected from the social side of things for a while, partly due to anxiety but mostly lack of energy. I look at everyone around me and it places into context just how far removed I am from it all. I will return to complete my degree, and hopefully enjoy some of the experiences I have missed out on. I am also hopeful that I will be well enough to visit, before this academic year is finished, to see all the friends who will be graduating in June 2016.

I do not know how much I will blog in the coming months. This in itself makes me feel as though I am letting people down, but I know that this is part of the reason a break may be good. I would like to be more open about my experiences with mental health, but want to speak from the position of recovery. This in itself is a huge motivation, alongside having the energy to really build my blog. No more writing posts throughout the night, spending hours editing a single photo or crying over the guilt that I "haven't posted in a week." Beauty begins with be, not do. I want my blog to reflect this.  
I was the child who believed in everything. For many years I would make elf houses with my dad, write to Santa in summertime and herd everyone to bed on Christmas Eve. To this day, a little part of me is still convinced that my Hogwarts letter will arrive. When I went to Hogwarts in the Snow earlier this month, the highlight of my day was seeing the Hogwarts Express and imagining I was stepping through the barrier onto Platform 9 3/4. 

All my life, I have continually believed in so many things around me. What I haven't believed in is myself. I hope that, in the coming months, I will find the ability to do so. I also hope that I can turn my compassion for others into compassion for myself. Right now, my primary motivation is my family, who have experienced more of this illness than any mother, father or sister should ever have to. They deserve so much more, but I also know that their biggest wish is to see Sophie be truly happy again. The smile that would come from sleigh bells, storybooks or the letter that finally came.

I have told myself many times in the past few months that it is simply too late; that this illness has gone on for too long and that I need to accept it as my lot. Then yesterday, as I looked at the photo of me in Leavesdon Studios, I realised something. If a Hogwarts letter ever came, whether it be tomorrow, next month or fifty years from now, I would respond with the same unwavering belief. I would board that train without question.

Being is no different - it is never too late. Possibility begins the moment you pick up the pen and realise that no one writes the story but you. As terrified as I am and as weak as I feel, I must believe that 2016 will open a far brighter chapter than the one I am leaving behind. I apologise for the rambling nature of this post; writing is quite difficult at present. Thank-you to everyone who has been so supportive in the last few days, all my love x

Wishing everyone a peaceful New Year 

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