*This post is the first of 4 which will be published every day for the following 3 days!*
If you’ve read I’m NOT Disordered for a while or have seen the cover graphic to the left of the blog posts, then you’ll probably know that I released a book a few years ago called Everything Disordered (which you can also buy on Amazon - just click on the cover!) and I was honestly worried that having already written a book, the importance and meaning would be taken away in publishing another. Fortunately, the entire process of YND – from having the idea for it to the publication party and everything in between! – has (for so many reasons) felt massively different from that which I experienced with my first book. And one of the largest differences has been the sense of achievement and the notion that it really is a true testament to the progress I’ve made; both in my blogging career and in my mental health recovery journey…
Those with no experience, knowledge, or awareness around abuse and rape and the impact they can have on your mental health, may be surprised to see me consider those traumatic experiences as a reason why I’ve managed to get to where I am today. However, I believe that those with an education or understanding of these will have at least some inkling as to the angle and thought process I might be experiencing in making this statement.
In fairness though, the idea that for some people who have gone through a massive amount of hardship will later say that they recognise they wouldn’t be who or where they are today if it weren’t for that. Now, that can mean positively or negatively – I think that in the immediate aftermath of rape and/or abuse, it is incredibly common to find the survivor having a more negative view in holding the belief that these experiences have ruined their life and changed them for the worse. It’s typically not until much later – when there has been time to process the trauma, to find a level of acceptance that it has happened and it can’t be taken back, and to develop the recognition that you have some amount of choice or power in determining what impact the trauma has on your life – that some sense of positivity can be taken from it. For me (because everyone is different), it took the best part of ten years to come to this more healthy, safe, and productive conclusion!
I think that the largest qualities for me, that the trauma has really introduced to me, and my personality have been – and I really hope I don’t sound big-headed – strength, courage, and resilience. This has mostly been driven from the recognition that the one instance of rape and those six months of abuse really left me with the notion and belief that they truly are some of the worst, and most challenging, things that you can go through in life. And so, if I can make it through them – if I can survive them – how can I not get through all these other difficult moments that life can throw at you?! Almost like, when people say that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can start getting back up and climbing into the light… I had to experience the hardest thing I could go through before I could start establishing strength and courage that would lead to me feeling so much more resilient than I had thought of myself as being, prior to the trauma.
In addition to this benefit the trauma had for my mental health, it’s also very obviously played a massive part in my blogging career; especially in so far as the content I create and publish. In some instances that has clearly meant that the abuse and rape are the complete and blatant focus for a blog post; and sometimes it’s been about the experiences playing a more behind-the-scenes role in subtly inspiring the content of a post. Either way, had I not gone through these things, I wouldn’t have been able to write a blog post a few years ago – in 2017 – about having the ability to cope when reporting your trauma to the Police (you can read it here) and without that, I wouldn’t have received the most incredible, motivational, inspirational, and overwhelming comment that I did a while later from a reader… A lady sent me an email telling me that she had been abused as a child by a member of her family and that in reading my blog post, she had found the determination and strength to finally report it to the Police. She went on to tell me that as a result of her report, the person had been arrested and was facing being imprisoned which would mean so many more people would be safe and saved from the risk he could pose. I couldn’t believe that my words – and my blog – could have such an enormous impact on someone else’s life (prior to that, I had only really recognised the positive consequences I was experiencing from being a blogger) and I immediately realised that if I hadn’t experienced what I had, I wouldn’t have been able to help someone in this way. And, to have helped someone like this? Well, it made everything – the abuse and the time and effort that went into writing the blog post – feel so worthwhile.
Growing up, I had a huge variety of career dreams and goals that varied from wanting to be a horse-riding instructor to an education lawyer! Of course, I had my reasons for each change in them – I mean, I used to take horse-riding lessons myself when I was younger, and I was obsessed with this series of books about a girl and her Shetland pony called Sheltie!
When I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in 2012, I had spent the previous three years really poorly with my mental health and that meant I had quit my weekend job as a Sales Assistant in a huge retail store and instead, I had just had a few voluntary roles in charity shops. It meant that I had no real employment commitment – neither to an actual, current job or to an industry or career I was wanting to, or working towards, working in. This was mostly because I was making so many decisions that could very easily and likely have ended my life on a ton of occasions; so, I was incredibly sceptical of the thought that I might have any sort of future that would require me getting a job with a need to pay bills.
As I got the sensation that I was making some real progress in my mental health recovery, I decided to look into different careers in retail because it was really the only experience I had in terms of my CV and so it was the only industry I felt I had enough knowledge of to be able to determine and decide that it was worth spending my time outside of the therapeutic timetable researching and pursuing. In doing this, I came across the career of Visual Merchandising and felt it was the perfect mix of fashion, imagination, and creativity. I remember that the Activities department used some of their budget/funding to buy me all these books from Amazon around the role, the typical job description and responsibilities, and an activity book for fashion drawing – something I also really enjoyed doing.
Then, in January 2013, I created I’m NOT Disordered and began blogging. And immediately – even though I had just a few motivations, little expectation, and a small (but important target audience) – in that moment, my life changed forever. It changed and I didn’t know it would nor did I even intend for it do so!
Originally, my blog’s sole purpose was to keep a document of my progress because I created it after having just had a really helpful 1:1 with my Key Nurse when I agreed to begin writing about the trauma I’d been through and then let the staff read it. It felt like a huge step forward into recovery with my mental health and being an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home gave me the sense that I wanted to – and needed to – effectively and efficiently communicate my journey to my friends and family. They had been so prominent and witnessed so much of my illness and the unsafe ways I was coping with memories of the abuse and the hallucinations that it felt only right and fair that they should be able to be ‘beside me’ through these more positive and productive moments too.
In terms of expectations when I first created, I’m NOT Disordered, I imagined that – at the absolute very most – it would end when I was discharged from the psychiatric hospital. I mean, it only made sense; if I was starting to blog because I wanted to keep in touch with loved ones whilst all that distance from everyone, why would I still need to do that once I was back home? Also, what would I have to write about if my mental health was all better? There’d be no inspiration or influence on content! And I think that this is one of the greatest reasons why I always try to get the message across to anyone with a mental illness that they shouldn’t believe or trust any professionals who talks about recovery being the end of everything. Those who seem to encourage the notion that once you fit the ‘recovered’ criteria that will be the end of your struggles and you’ll go on to live a completely ‘normal’ life – as though even having had a mental illness, it won’t shape or influence so much about you?! The thought that recovery is linear can be so dangerous because if there is a relapse, you’re left feeling completely alone (thinking that this doesn’t happen to others, or the professionals would have warned you) and hopeless (that if it’s got bad again there’s little chance it will ever completely stop or get better).
If you’ve read, I’m NOT Disordered for a while now, then you might know that I did actually quit blogging when I was discharged in 2014; but that was mostly because I’d received two horrible comments from readers. And, at the time, I weighed up the benefits I was getting from blogging with the thoughts and feelings I was having to learn to cope with when I got those comments, and I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t worth it. That blogging just wasn’t rewarding enough. In all honesty, even to me this sounds like madness! I mean, the way I am with my blog today – the passion I hold for it; it’s kind of surreal to think back and recognise that there was actually a time when I felt the complete opposite!
In fairness though, my quitting only lasted a few months before I found myself seriously missing blogging and it was then, that my really true and obviously still very current and intense passion for I’m NOT Disordered – and everything surrounding it – was actually properly established. Whilst I was clearly doing so much better in terms of my mental health than when I started blogging, having emotions about someone or something and recognising someone or something as important to me, was still really challenging. It was no longer about me being cold inside, more that I was afraid things would go downhill again and I believed that if I had built strong relationships and found meaningful activities in my life, then going backwards would hurt so much more. I came to the conclusion, however, that whilst I was alive, I was going to do everything I wanted to in order to make the most of it and I wondered whether doing this, would mean that if I were to feel suicidal again, I might be more capable of getting through it because I would have a huge list of people and things that I would lose.
Whilst in creating I’m NOT Disordered I had obviously done so with some sort of purpose in terms of having multiple motivations to do it, it wasn’t until after my break from it that I finally felt a different sort of purpose… I started to feel as though I had been put on this earth and have gone through all that I have, to do this – to blog and to use my experiences and writing as a means of helping others. I mean, for what felt like forever, I had been 100% convinced that I had been put in this world to commit suicide at a young age in order to draw attention to the failures of mental health services… This was something that I really believed, and it actually made me so much more suicidal to believe that I’d just be fulfilling my destiny if I were to kill myself. And so, to finally see that this was wrong and to feel so completely reassured and comforted by the knowledge that I was meant to be here and that there was purpose to everything I had gone through. That all those things had a worthy reason for occurring – I mean, if being abused meant I could help someone else avoid that or seek help and report their own experiences? Well, maybe I could find some sort of silver lining in it…? And blogging did that. I’m NOT Disordered did that for me.
So, this bit is more about how far my mental health had come rather than my blog… One question I’ve been asked a lot in mental health crises that have involved other professionals – particularly Police Officers – has been whether I have people around me who provide help and/or support for my mental health. And my immediate – almost automatic – answer is and has always been “my Mum.”
I honestly feel that I didn’t really appreciate my Mum properly
until I felt as though I was making steps forward in my mental health recovery.
Whilst I was poorly, I had no respect or gratitude for anyone in my life
because I was so caught up in the hallucinations and then the thoughts and
feelings around self-harm and being suicidal meant that I also felt annoyed and
resentful of anyone (professionals mainly, though) who tried to stop me from
doing these things. When someone would stop me or take actions t
o prevent my ability to hurt myself, it felt as though they were either punishing me or were completely ignorant. I mean, it left me convinced that they might think I was either deserving of living a horrible, difficult, and upsetting life or that my life wasn’t that bad after all!
I think that another reason why I didn’t feel as good a bond between my Mum and I as I do now was because I worried that if I did, I would be even more suicidal from the thought of the stress and psychological pain I was putting her through. Don’t get me wrong though; it’s not like I don’t feel bad for everything now – I’ll always be sorry for everything that happened – but I’m in a much better place mentally so that I don’t feel really unsafe when I think about it. And, of course, I really appreciate and respect my Mum for her response whenever I voice this; in saying that I needn’t feel this way because those things only happened because I wasn’t well – it wasn’t really ‘me’ meaning to and wanting to treat her that way.
The largest positive I taken (and I believe my Mum has too) from our relationship’s journey has been the thought that we need to make up for lost time now. There were so many times when I would be travelling on my way to run off and self-harm and I’d see a Mum and her children outside the bus window, and I’d be so envious – desperately wishing that it was my Mum and me. Or even just wishing that it could be us. So, now we do so many activities together, we talk so much on the phone every day, and send lots of messages to each other with funny things we’ve seen online.
My best-friends (Georgie, Martin, Sophie, Lauren, and Jack) are also hugely important to my mental health journey and recovery. I think the best quality that they all have in common is that they’re each so different to the other. Not only in terms of their personality, but also the way in which we met and the importance that holds in our friendship and how much – or how little – we talk about mental health and other ‘deep’ topics. I mean, when you’ve got psychiatric professionals in your life, it’s sometimes really nice to have a person you care about who doesn’t put a lot of attention into that side of things and who can spur you on to be more positive in putting upsetting issues to one side whilst you’re with them and focusing simply on having fun.
Georgie: used to be my support worker and now we talk about our mental health regularly and often end up being supportive and helpful in crises.
Martin: is my only blogging friend and with blogging being such a huge part of my life, it means a lot to have someone who I know genuinely understands that.
Sophie: I’ve known the longest (around 17 years!) and having met whilst the abuse was happening, it’s nice to have someone who has stood by me literally throughout everything.
Lauren: I’ve known the second longest (around 16 years!) and whilst we don’t talk often because she moved away and has a child now (Greylan), when we do get together, it’s like we were never apart.
Jack: we met years ago through a mental health event, then we reconnected at the Staff Excellence Awards earlier this year and the number of times we’ve laughed so hard is just phenomenal!
Finally, (last but certainly not least) my little fluffy ones! I’ve had pets since I was little and the family cat; Saffy, was literally the only one who knew about the abuse as it happened because I would tell her through my tears. It meant that when I finally got my own home in 2014, I just felt completely natural to get my own cat, Dolly. Since then? In 2017, I got my first Lionhead bunny called Pixie, and then Dolly died in 2018 so I got my little rescue kitten; Emmy within a week because Pixie and I were so lost without that third presence in our home. After three years together – in 2021 – Pixie died and a few months later I got my first mini-Lionhead bunny, Luna. They had a little over one year together before Emmy died in October 2022 and I made the decision to give Luna and I some time together before finally deciding – in January 2023 to get another mini-Lionhead bunny I named Gracie…
When we lost Emmy, I remember asking the Vet what would help Luna and she said get her a friend and pointed out that it’d be much easier to introduce her to another bunny than a new cat. However, the two of them bonded so well – almost within 24 hours – and it meant they spent all their time snuggled up together or washing each other or chasing each other in a different room and I was just sat by myself! So, that’s why Ruby came along; to be company for me and boy, is she the bestest companion ever?! She’s honestly just like my little shadow!
Since each of my pets that are no longer here (Dolly, Pixie, and Emmy) have left a huge imprint on my heart, I didn’t want them to receive no mention… Dolly helped me get through my transition from the psychiatric hospital to my own home. Pixie helped me to tell the difference between my rabbit hallucinations and reality, and Emmy helped me through my growth and progress over the years. And, obviously my three current little ones are having a huge impact too; I mean Luna and Gracie never fail to amuse me and make me laugh like, at least once every single day – the chaos they cause and get into was initially annoying and I found myself shouting a lot, but I found myself recognising that actually, I’d much rather they cause mess and chew through my phone charger than not be here at all! And with Dolly and Emmy, there were things I would always say “I wish ____ did that!” and Ruby literally does everything I wanted in a kitten. She’s left me feeling really fulfilled and like my home is eventually complete – as though I was always destined to have two bunnies and a kitten!
In terms of YND and writing it, Ruby has been the most helpful! She’s cuddled up beside me while I typed difficult parts, and then she’d lay on top of the keyboard when it really was time to stop and go to bed!