To recover, I needed to be okay with being me

Posted 18/08/2017

All my life I’ve struggled to fit in. I came to the belief there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I suffered with a number of mental health issues from an early age. Eating problem were always in there, mixed with depression and other forms of self harm. Having been pushed from service to service I finally found myself at the eating disorders service in Berkshire who, after a bit of procrastination (on both sides) admitted me to the day care programme where I received support to settle into a healthier eating pattern. But things weren’t going to sort themselves with simple weight restoration.

It was here I met Mike, a systemic therapist. When I first met him, I viewed him with skepticism as I’d seen a number of therapists and never quite got what I needed. I’d gained various techniques and used what I’d learnt but they had their set ways of working and I hadn’t really achieved much because (in hindsight) they didn’t accept me the way I was, they just focused on change. It was in seeing therapist after therapist, never fully recovering, that my belief I was fundamentally flawed was confirmed. But Mike was different. He didn’t subject me to questionnaires and exercises; he didn't expect me to reach certain “threshold” criteria to justify me seeing him; he didn’t really expect anything from me, except maybe a willingness to try (which comes naturally to me so it didn’t feel like a tall order!). Instead, he gave me the time and space I needed to explore anything and everything I needed in order to gain full health, not just a version of health that ticked the boxes leading to discharge.

First thing Mike did was get to know me, not just my illness and/or what led to it but me, who I was and what really made me tick. Of course, caught up in an eating disorder, often that’s all you (and the people around you) can see, but Mike took the time to find out how passionate I was about crafts and cats, how deeply I care about people, and that I have a strong Christian faith. It was these things that we focused on. I found this hard because it felt (to me at the time) that everything revolved around food and that was all I wanted to talk about – that (and my other unhealthy behaviours) was all other therapists had spoken about. But Mike gently and gradually showed me that there was more to life. This was very new for me – all my life I’d believed I was a bad person but Mike was saying I was more than an awkward, unmanageable blob, I was an (okay) human being.

Maybe some people would be shocked and consider it a waste of NHS money if I told you I spent some sessions just sobbing or in angry silence, but that was what I needed. I find it very hard to talk about anything; I’m a very quiet person and I’ve always found it difficult to put things into words. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that talking is necessary and I need to express myself using words rather than through my eating behaviours etc., but I needed someone to accept me the way I was before trying to change me. These silent sessions I would sob and sob, trying to speak but simply not having the words. Mike never forced me or made me feel as though I was doing anything wrong.

Mike accepted and encouraged my faith in God. As a Christian it can be very confusing that you believe in this God who appears to allow this distress and hurt to exist, let alone continue when you’re obviously at the depths of despair. I gradually learnt that blaming God doesn't help; he was actually on my side along with Mike and all my other supporters. I had to let us all work together against my eating disorder and recovery was possible.

In the time I was seeing Mike, yes, my weight restored, but so much more happened. I found voluntary and then paid work; I survived an incredibly stressful job that at any other time in my life would have led to a full mental breakdown. I met, fell in love with and married my soul mate. I discovered who I am, that life is for living. My self-esteem has grown – it’s still a work in progress but more often than not, I can say “I’m not a bad person”, which is a massive step for me! I'm actually proud of being a highly sensitive introvert – yes, this doesn't always “fit in” to society’s “normal” but I'm okay with that.

For further blogs about my journey visit www.mindfulsurvivor.wordpress.com

Contributed by Frances

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