*Before I began this mini series celebrating the publication of my new book, I did a poll on Twitter to ask if I should split one large post into individual ones and splitting it won, but I wanted to keep things fair and I’ve decided to publish all three previous posts in one massive one too for those who would rather have the content this way… *
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!) 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 to 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!
The three most obvious, go-to answers that you seriously just expect to hear when you ask someone how they have recovered from their mental illness: hospital, medication, and therapy. Fortunately – or unfortunately, I guess, depending upon how you look at it – for me, all three are true…
When my mental health deteriorated it did so in the form of auditory hallucinations, which I somehow ‘tolerated’ for around ten days before finally making my first suicide attempt. After passing out at school I was taken to hospital in an ambulance and then I ran away. The Police were called and when they found me when I had almost reached the nearby bus station, they detained me under section 136 of the 1983 Mental Health Act and I was pretty much thrown into their car and driven back to hospital where a Mental Health Act assessment promptly took place in a little room I’d never been in before in A&E. I honestly don’t’ remember much about it, just that I was told the Police could finally go and if I continued to try and leave the hospital then the staff were now allowed to restrain me, sedate me, and force me to finish the necessary, potentially life-saving medical treatment to counteract my suicide attempt.
With nothing more being explained, I wasn’t fully aware of the fact that after finishing the treatment and it being labelled ‘successful’ in saving my life, I was being transferred to a psychiatric hospital where I could be held against my will for up to 28 days (it can then be extended by being transferred to section three) for a period of ‘assessment.’ I was an inpatient for around two weeks before I started considering going to College to enrol on a fashion course and the Psychiatrists saw this as a good sign that I was thinking about having a future and so I was discharged from the section and allowed home.
My second admission lasted slightly longer and came to an end when I finally told the psychiatric hospital staff that I had been raped and sexually abused over a six-month period when I was 15 (I was 18 at this point). I think the Psychiatrists saw it as both a step forward and a step onto earning the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder where hospital admissions are not recommended; unlike the diagnosis they had been hesitating about giving me of Schizophrenia. I guess once you reveal you’ve been through a trauma, that completely eradicates the possibility of there being any sort of chemical imbalance or basically any illness that doesn’t rely upon going through a trauma to be diagnosed with it!
My third admission was the second longest at a few months and I have always found it ironic that it lasted that long, but actually hadn’t even come off the back of a suicide attempt! I found myself being transferred between different Psychiatric Intensive Care Units (PICU’s) and restrained and sedated so many times that they had to call an optician onto the ward because the muscles around my eyes were almost constantly relaxed and so my vision was going blurry!
After my discharge, I spent the following three years (2009 – 2012) almost constantly in and out of both psychiatric and medical hospitals. When I made my third suicide attempt in the summer of 2012, my records apparently indicated that I’d had over 60 hospital admissions in that three-year period. The professionals most involved in my care from the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) used this as evidence so that when I came off life support from the attempt, I was given funding to be sectioned and transferred to a private psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home. My Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) and Psychologist claimed that the number of hospitalisations was evidence that they didn’t have the right help or supportive services in our locality to manage my presentation of my eventual, final diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Initially, the admission to this hospital wasn’t really proving to be useful beyond the fact that because I was sectioned, and the hospital was named ‘medium secure’ (which meant that it was locked so tight I literally broke my foot trying to kick the doors open when I first got there!) it reduced my safety risk with the chances of me self-harming or making another suicide attempt being made a fair bit more difficult. However, after finally starting the recommended treatment for my BPD diagnosis; Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT – yes, there are many acronyms in the mental health world!), I finally found myself making some progress.
Even though before going to the hospital I had known that the average length of admission there was listed as 12 – 18 months, I had remained convinced that the staff would give up on me as I felt so many others had done and just discharge me and leave me to my own devices. And so, in finally starting a Therapy programme that was typically described as requiring one year of therapeutic sessions to complete and benefit from it, I had recognised that they were going to keep trying to save me and so, on January 6th 2013, I had a 1:1 with my Key Nurse and I agreed to begin writing about the abuse and to show the staff my notes so that they could gain more knowledge and a better understanding of what had happened to me with her telling me the belief that it would leave them better placed at helping and supporting me. I remember coming back to my room from the 1:1 and seeing my laptop lying on the bed… We were only allowed them after our therapeutic timetable groups and Reflection meeting had finished and even then we were only given them if we asked. The staff had learnt, however, that I would always ask so if I was busy or talking to someone when they were able to start taking them out, they would just get mine automatically. So, coming into my room with it sat there and having the burning thought and desire in me to do something that would allow me to begin documenting the recovery journey I finally felt I was embarking on; it was almost destiny that I turned the laptop on and found myself setting up a blog…
It's kind of funny because now, when I give talks or write posts full of advice for starting a blog, I recommend that people put so much thought into it. I encourage budding Bloggers to give massive consideration to even just the thought of blogging and do their research into the ins and outs of it to ensure they make an informed decision as to whether they feel capable of going ahead and creating a blog. I also suggest people brainstorm title ideas for their blog and pay consideration to the general aesthetic design for it and particularly to developing/having a colour scheme and/or logo. I, however, didn’t pay any mind to literally any of that! I mean, I had no real idea what I was getting into in starting to blog – and whilst I very obviously never regret blogging; I do wish I’d perhaps researched what I could expect so that I felt more prepared and forewarned.
However, one thing in that very beginning of I’m NOT Disordered that I don’t regret, or wish had happened differently in any way, and which I honestly believe that despite not brainstorming it; I still thought it through – was in the naming of it! It was born from the notion that I’m not just my diagnosis; that it doesn’t and shouldn’t define me nor be one of the first things that is said about me if someone were to ask who I am. I also wanted the ‘not’ to be in capitals not just to empathise the word and its meaning, but also because I thought it seemed a bit childish and with the abuse having happened when I was 15, professionals have voiced the idea that it’s really prevented me from aging normally and that a part of me is stuck in that age because I disassociated for a lot of the abusive instances.
So, in addition to the hospital leading to the start of my blogging career, the other ways in which I benefited from the admission was the general fact that it meant I was safer than I would have been if I were at home for the entire two and a half years, I was an inpatient… Unfortunately, though, a massively common and popular misconception of being in a psychiatric hospital is that it’s the safest place in the world. The reasons leading to you self-harming can still be valid and present and with the ward rules banning certain objects, you become more inventive and creative in coming up with a new means to self-harm – which, can sometimes end up being more dangerous that your usual methods. I remember one girl being admitted to the ward with no self-harm scars or wounds because she abused her insulin medication as a means of self-harm… By the time I was being discharged, she needed plastic surgery to heal some of the wounds and to mend the damage they had caused to her tendons and nerves etc.
Fortunately, seeing this whilst going through therapy meant I had a more balanced, positive, and productive view of that situation and another incident that occurred which I will never forget... One of the inpatients snuck a blade back onto the ward after her leave and everyone passed it round each other until the staff realised people were coming to them with very similar injuries and eventually someone handed it in.
We were all made to sit in the communal sitting room whilst a lockdown and search were carried out of literally every nook and cranny in all our bedrooms and throughout the rest of the ward. I seriously couldn’t believe that these girls I’d come to know, and love could be so dangerous and harmful in basically providing each other with a means of self-harming and having the full understanding that in passing this blade on, that’s what the other person would do with it. In addition to recognising the sheer wrong-ness of this action, therapy also helped me to have not been involved in it at all – the lockdown was genuinely the first I had heard of it; no one had passed it to me… And I believe that was likely because they recognised, I was doing so well that I would likely speak up about it.
Another positive impact being in the hospital had been after the second time I managed to escape… I knew that if people didn’t come back from their unescorted leave on time, the staff would drive around the area looking for them, so I booked a taxi from a nearby shop. Then, on my leave in the grounds, I climbed over the boundary fence, over the fence of the elderly care home next door, and then walked out of a person’s side gate and jumped in the taxi asking the driver to take me to the nearest train station. I got a train to another city, bought the things I needed for a suicide attempt and boarded a bus to god knows where so that I had some place warm to continue to make my attempt and so that I was on the move to avoid any Police (being sectioned and going AWOL, the psychiatric staff are legally obliged to call the Police).
By the time the Police found me back in the train station, my attempt was complete, and they called an ambulance but were told that it’d be far quicker for them to take me to the medical hospital near the psychiatric one on their lights and sirens and have the psychiatric staff meet us there. I remember racing through the traffic and thinking ‘I wish I wasn’t poorly so I could enjoy this instead of it just making me feel even more sick!’ When we got to the hospital I refused the potentially life-saving medical treatment for the suicide attempt, and I vaguely remember my favourite Psychiatrist (the one below my Consultant) coming to the hospital and saying to the Doctors and Nurses “this isn’t like her at all, just do it.” Next thing I knew I was waking up from life support a while later and the treatment had been administered and my organs stabilised because apparently whilst I was out my blood tests turned bad and I had to have additional medication for a while.
When I was allowed back to the psychiatric hospital a ton of the staff came to take me from Intensive Care to there and I screamed and cried when they started guiding me upstairs to the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). The Unit was above the ward I’d been on for over a year by then, and I’d heard the screaming and alarms through the ceiling/floor, had been told horror stories of how patients were treat up there and what it was like, and then – believe it or not (but it’s still on BBC news online if you google) – a patient killed another patient by suffocating them. So, needless to say, I panicked and sat on the floor so that the staff literally had to drag me onto the PICU and into my new, empty bedroom. I spent the following two or three days alternating between sleeping, vomiting from all the medication and anaesthetic/sedation, crying, and – at one point – I ended up feeling like I just had to have a shower despite being on ‘eyesight’ observations (meaning a member of staff had to have me within eyesight 24/7)!
There came a point when I was being sick that I remember crying and thinking ‘it cannot get any worse.’ I felt like I’d hit absolute rock bottom – something which, to be honest, I actually thought I’d already experienced years ago! – and I found myself literally desperately begging the staff to move me back down to the ward where I now thought of four of the girls as ‘best-friends.’ When they finally agreed, I was put in an empty bedroom and was told I had to have a period of stability to begin earning the right to go back into my bedroom. I talked to the Ward Manager though and said that despite the risk and worry of me thinking I’ll be viewed as superficial, I wanted her to know that being with my own things, having them around me, would be the thing to make me feel better and the longer I was away from those things, the more upset I would become.
Thankfully, she told me I’d made some valid points, and I was allowed back in my room, but the entire ordeal didn’t stray far from my memory for such a long time after that. This ended up being a good thing though, because it provided me with a harsh reminder of what my life would become if I continued to not put in enough effort in DBT sessions. It was a huge motivation to cooperate more with staff and to try so much harder to take some real notice of all the safe and healthy coping skills we were being taught and encouraged to use in Therapy and to actually start really trying to apply them despite when everything in my body was telling me not to and instead, to self-harm or make a suicide attempt or run away. I finally saw that I didn’t want this to be my life. I didn’t want that to be the way my life actually ended, either.
Partaking in weekly group and 1:1 DBT sessions for over two years was incredibly challenging and sometimes felt like I’d imagine climbing a mountain or something might feel – like every time you think you see the top; you get there, and before you can even breathe, you realise that there’s still so much further to go! I think that the first hardest part to the Therapy was that it basically meant tearing all my reasons to keep quiet and not talk about my experiences, my thoughts, and my feelings; to pieces. So that everything was coming forwards and I was finally able to talk things through to a point where I got the strangest, and most unexpected sensation that I could properly breathe now. It felt as though all this time, I had been holding my breath and just waiting for the inevitable explosive relief that I somehow just knew would come with blurting everything out. Getting it all off my chest.
The second hardest thing with DBT was that literally every single coping skill you were taught across the four modules (Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Mindfulness, and Emotion Regulation) were things which I couldn’t believe I hadn’t already thought of trying to do myself. Things like writing or mentally doing a pros and cons list before acting or making decisions in order to ensure they’re balanced and healthy, using distracting or self-soothing activities to detract or counteract from unsafe, negative, or self-deprecating thoughts and feelings. I mean, how could I not have thought of these things? How could I not have wondered if these much more healthy and productive methods would help more so than self-harming or running away? It was frustrating, but the staff reassured me – and other inpatients who were experiencing similar thoughts and feelings – that they recognised and appreciated that when you’re so poorly and your mental health is so unwell; thinking things through straightly and reasonably can be really tricky, and unbalanced and ill-thought-out actions and coping mechanisms can engulf any ideas to do anything safer and more positive.
Finally – for this part, at least! – medication! Prescribing medication for me or for most others diagnosed with BPD; is a fraught, friction-worthy, and debatable issue amongst all in the mental health industry – even if they’re people who can’t actually prescribe medication! Being in that psychiatric hospital though, there wasn’t a single inpatient who didn’t take some kind of psychiatric medication and so it was there that I was prescribed my anti-depressant, anti-psychotic, and mood stabiliser.
After being discharged, I had to register with a new GP in my local town and I remember my first appointment with them I ended up crying because the GP said that he wanted to stop all of my medication because “it’s too much medication for one young person to be on!” I was so terrified because whilst I appreciated and recognised how helpful DBT had been, and how being sectioned in the hospital had helped with my safety and risk levels, I also believed that my medication had been hugely beneficial too. I felt that it had helped stabilise me to a point where I was able to begin Therapy and able and willing to actually follow any advice or new coping skills I was taught. Whilst I had been in hospital for over two years, I hadn’t forgotten everything I had gone through in those three years before that when my mental health was really poorly… And I couldn’t risk having that happen again – I felt that I’d just scraped through by the skin of my teeth (is that even the saying?!) and that if it were to all go backwards, I wouldn’t be so lucky. I wouldn’t make it out alive. Ironically, being in recovery meant that I had now seen the positives in life, and I had my blog… So, I really no longer wanted to die, but I felt fairly convinced that my medication was a huge part of this positivity and hopefulness too.
I can’t remember how, but the medication drama was sorted and I continued to take what the hospital has prescribed with the only major changes being when I was on caseload for the Crisis Team and they added another anti-depressant to the mix which I took for just over a year, and then the more recent fiasco with my anti-psychotic medication… Earlier this year – in February – I was sectioned again and admitted to a local psychiatric hospital where I spent probably the worst five consecutive days of my entire life. The entire admission was as complete disaster that actually resulted in me having to put in a formal complaint to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) who oversee such wards and services. The complaint was resolved in a 12-page report which literally listed that the investigator had found evidence the upheld every single instance and issue during the admission that I’d complained about. It was full of apologies and ‘actions’ of tasks and duties that would now be carried out to ensure these things didn’t happen to another inpatient – which had been my goal in making the complaint – it wasn’t about looking for a ton of apologies (though it was nice and appreciated of the Trust to issue them) – it was about making sure the staff learnt from their wrongdoing because perhaps the next person to go through it actually wouldn’t cope with it the way I had done. The way where I had managed to survive all of their failings and shortcomings.
After the admission, I met with a community Psychiatrist who absolutely refused point blank to increase my anti-psychotic medication – despite the psychosis being the reason for the admission! She kept talking about how she’d read my notes dating back to my first hospitalisation in 2009 and that there was no evidence that medication had helped me. I continued trying to point out that the fact that after the new anti-depressant was at an effective dose and when my anti-psychotic was last increased, I had actually been completely discharged from services for over a year. In the end, she gave me some sleeping tablets and a mild sedative medication! For me, this was useful but because of the risk of addiction to these tablets, it wasn’t really a long-term answer at all!
When, a few months later, I ended up under the care of the Crisis Team again and they arranged for me to see a different Psychiatrist who immediately offered (without me asking or even suggesting!) an increase to the anti-psychotic medication, it felt like a complete ‘told-you-so’ moment. A sad one, obviously. But still, it was hugely validating and helpful; it was just difficult to hold onto that when the majority of me was wondering whether I would have been doing so much ‘better’ by now if that first Psychiatrist had done the increase. However, I knew that I couldn’t change that, so I just had to focus on the fact that at least it was being done now.
Asking for help from professionals and taking medication for your mental health is often – and wrongly – seen as weak and as though it’s an illustration that you’re not strong enough or brave enough to find your way through, and out of, this by yourself. To me, this leaves the implication or assumption that to believe this means that you think that to ask for help and support is ‘easy’ when really, I’d say it’s incredibly difficult, takes an enormous amount of strength, resilience, determination, and purpose, and that for someone to do it, they should be seen as utterly inspirational and a force to be reckoned with!
I feel like these pieces of content demanding teamwork are hugely valuable and responsible for how far my blog has come, especially in terms of the readership count. The obvious logic behind this is that in working with other bloggers, organisations, or online influencers, you very typically receive double the publicity than you would if it were a post created solely by yourself because you’ve attracted their following too.
This has worked especially well for me, and for I’m NOT Disordered when I’ve collaborated with a person or an organisation who have a very different following and target audience to me and my blog because it has enabled me to make my blog’s content applicable and attractive to those who might not have given it the time of day without the collaboration or partnership label. And, with everyone having mental health and it just depending on how well or otherwise a person’s is, I’m NOT Disordered can end up actually being genuinely appropriate for those new readers too.
Fortunately, in choosing to begin featuring collaborations, I didn’t have any of the concerning worries that perhaps this was a sign that the content I produced wasn’t good enough in whatever way. In fact, it was quite the opposite – because of its popularity – I felt confident in my blog and its content to feel that it was good enough and therefore worthy of joining up with others who – I believed – could help me to make some special, unique, exciting, important, and meaningful content that might be able to help so many readers/followers in so many different ways. And that was the ultimate motivation for me – not the idea of how many more people would see my blog, but how many more people I could reach and then, potentially, help or benefit them in some way.
I’ve learnt so much in my collaborations with other organisations, particularly very recently when a huge organisation I’ve worked with many times, were in the news for a negative issue and I felt forced into making the decision as to whether to continue working with them. This is something that has previously happened but with my local Police force who ended up making some serious failings with someone in a mental health crisis and I made the decision to distance my blog from their name and cancelled any and all future projects with them. It ended up proving to be a really challenging, upsetting, and difficult time and so I didn’t want it to happen again with this organisation. I spoke with the staff I typically work with there and after a few conversations and emails, I made the decision to continue collaborating and partnering on some huge and exciting upcoming projects.
I made this decision based on two factors: the first was that I received information that left me feeling that I was in a good, confident position to defend my decision should anyone confront me for it. The second reason was because I came to recognise that the most important thing should be the nature of the work we do together and as long as that remains positive and useful for others, then my conscious feels clear. I also came to realise that the fact they have requested and enjoyed working with myself/I’m NOT Disordered does illustrate some sort of willing and want to improve; as well as an acknowledgement that they need to work with service users or patients in order to learn how to make those improvements.
I do think that deciding to include collaborations or guest posts on your blog is an important decision process that I believe those outside of the blogging industry would overlook or remain ignorant of just how difficult it can be. And this is just one of many examples for my motivation behind writing YND; that I want to raise awareness of the wellbeing of bloggers and highlight how it can really suffer or be challenged by blogging. We’re all aware that what you see of the lives of others on social media or on their blogs is what they choose and what they want you to see. This often means negative aspects or struggles in their lives and in their blogging, career can be missed out and therefore those outside the industry remain unaware of just how difficult blogging can be. This absence of knowledge and awareness can have a further negative impact on a blogger who may come to feel and/or believe that their loved one’s underestimate and belittle what they do.
One of the best aspects to collaborations, guest posts, and partnerships for me, has been building connections and the whole networking scene! I absolutely love it! I love meeting and getting to know people who are in a position of power in their own industry or career path – especially people who I, personally, might genuinely think of as being in a really important and respectable position. People who – when I get to know them and build a rapport with them – I end up feeling seriously privileged and honoured to be able to say when I have done so.
I believe that being determined, dedicated, and resilient are three qualities that can be absolutely essential – and the very least, really important – both in recovering from a mental illness and in creating and maintaining a blog.
Over the years, when I’ve told people how long I was sectioned for (the two-and-a-half-year long admission) they’ve almost always remarked that it’s ‘such a long time,’ and I used to agree, but then I came to recognise that since the abuse had started in 2006, and the admission wasn’t until 2012, that was six years of things both building up and exploding outwards and all over the place! So, how could anyone (including me) expect for things to improve – or to even make any sort of difference – in any less time than one third of the length of time I had been poorly for? I mean, it’s like if your laptop is playing up and stopping doing certain features, but you keep using it… Eventually it gets worse and worse, and that additional damage will likely take longer to fix than if you’d took the initial fault in to be repaired immediately.
This is where a huge passion of mine lies within the mental health industry; shedding light and weight on/to the idea of prevention and so giving added importance and priority to Children and Young People Services (CYPS) because they’re one of the best methods and opportunities to offering help and support as soon as signs and symptoms of mental illness are illustrated. One key quality or strength that can be instilled in a person by doing this is resilience, and I think that this is because if you start telling someone as soon as possible that they’re strong enough to fight against any unwanted or unsafe thoughts, and that they can get through a traumatic event or experience that might have triggered their illness, they’re more likely to believe it – or at the very least, come to agree with it.
So, for me, to go through – due to my own doing, though – years after the abuse of having the ability to repeat my abuser’s words again and again; that I was useless, that I was weak, that I was worthless and to - due to my own doing, again – have no one tell me they were all wrong; it meant it took an incredibly long and difficult time for me to learn to believe the psychiatric professionals when I was finally faced with them telling me those destabilising, self-deprecating, unhealthy, and confidence-destroying thoughts and feelings weren’t true. It was like all those negative ones were almost engrained into my brain and into my heart. As though someone would actually need to really carve them out in order to take them from me. In order to stop me from agreeing with them and from – whenever a professional ‘let me down’ – turning back to them when I felt alone or isolated as though they were some sort of comfort blanket that I’d grown up with for years and years.
I actually think that rather than the mental health professionals – particularly those in the psychiatric hospital on the long admission – be the most monumental in helping build my resilience, my blogging was! Because it was the purpose and passion in my life that left me feeling motivated to continue with life… It helped give me reason to put in as much effort as possible to working with the staff and arriving at the same conclusion – that I’m strong, brave, worthy, and clever… This really helped when it came to recognising my resilience because I felt the need to ensure that I didn’t become cold and unaffected emotionally by upsetting or difficult instances. I had to make sure that in building on the belief that I can make it through a lot of a hardship, that didn’t stop me from still reacting to those hardships with genuine thoughts and feelings.
My resilience was actually tested by my blog when I received a few horrible comments just before my planned discharge from the psychiatric hospital and whilst my resilience allowed me to safely cope with those comments, I wasn’t determined or dedicated enough to blogging to continue with it. So, on my discharge, I closed I’m NOT Disordered down and spent a short while without it in my life… But I grew to miss it. I missed having the outlet of both my creativity and my pent-up thoughts, feelings, and experiences/memories. And so, that was actually the longest period in almost eleven years that I totally didn’t blog for; but I’m glad I did it because ultimately, that helped me develop my dedication and determination to continue blogging and to make my blog into all that it is now – although some moments, opportunities, and achievements have surpassed even my dreams!
I think that the memory, understanding, insight, and knowledge of how it felt to not have my blog has really helped me to find the courage and strength to put myself – and my blog – out there in the world in building connections, handing out my business cards to anyone I think might benefit from my blog, and doing media appearances and interviews etc (which I’ll talk about next). It’s helped me to become determined to grow and develop I’m NOT Disordered to now be at the point where I honestly and seriously can’t imagine my life without it. Sometimes I used to wonder if that sounds a bit superficial to need your blog so desperately and to be so determined and dedicated to it. Ultimately, though, it’s so important and special to me that I’ve grown to be somewhat careless about others having that thought or belief of me and my blog, because I’ve developed the notion that nothing and no one can stop me now! I’ve come too far to quit now.
The first of these to happen was attending my first event in 2014 for Time To Change (who are no longer operational but were a huge campaigning organisation trying to encourage and promote a reduction in stigma and discrimination around mental health) when I volunteered to be at their stall and activities in the shopping centre local to the psychiatric hospital, I was actually still an inpatient of. I remember doing the pre-event training session with one of the hospital staff accompanying me and then she came to the event too! And whilst I felt totally appreciated by the event staff, all I really did was hand out leaflets and try to entice people to come to the pledge booth or to get involved in the drama and art activities. I feel bad saying ‘all’ because I respect and am grateful for all the volunteers who do these roles at events, it’s just that I say ‘all’ in terms of in comparison with the seniority and the responsibilities I’m given at events more recently. But I don’t want it to seem as though these roles have made me arrogant in any way…
I try to think of it as like any other 9 – 5 job or some other well-understood, typical career like medicine with their 12-hour-long shift and that similarly to those, in blogging and working at events, you can work your way ‘up’ and earn promotions. If you earn trust and work so hard that you also acquire higher expectations and confidence in your skills, that can lead to more responsibilities. And, sometimes this can actually be surreal! I mean, I was so awe-stricken when, just a few years later – after numerous collaborations with Time To Change – I was actually asked to give the closing speech at one of their huge events in London! It felt like a massive turnaround from handing out leaflets and I thought that it was a really good symbol and example of just how well I’m NOT Disordered was doing, especially in terms of both its popularity and reputation.
I think that the one, main downside of events – no matter what their cause, duration, or my responsibilities within them – has been the toll they’ve taken on my energy levels. At one point, I was travelling to London so often that I actually considered moving there (then I was at an event literally around the corner when the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge occurred and that terrified into changing my mind!) and ended up having to tell organisations that if they wanted me to travel that sort of distance and which takes that length of time, I would need overnight stays in hotels too. I think the reason this became a huge problem though, was because that having been suicidal for so long, and now feeling better and being so proud of my blog, I wanted to grab every opportunity and event invitation that came my way! But sometimes this meant I was taking on far too much at once. I’ve learned from doing this though, and I now recognise that I actually enjoy events more and feel that I’m more helpful and useful at them, if I choose carefully between which I attend/speak at etc because it means that I’m able to dedicate 100% of my energy.
A few years after I started blogging and I saw that I’m NOT Disordered was reaching hundreds and then tens of thousands of people, I began writing emails to various local newspapers about my mental health journey and my blog’s successes, various achievements, and special collaborations. I didn’t think, for one minute, that any of my emails would actually be read or taken seriously; never mind being used in one of the major local papers; The Chronicle! It was so surreal doing the interview and then having my first ever photoshoot on the footpath and grass in front of my house and bang in the middle of the street (so all my neighbours and anyone passing could watch the photographer telling me to pull my hood up a little bit and to ‘look thoughtfully into the distance’!)! After that article was published and proved to be popular, I then had an Agent get in touch who offered to sell my story to other media outlets and see if it got any attention and so, before I knew it, I’m NOT Disordered, and I were also in Take A Break magazine!
A part of me was nervous as heck to tell my entire life story and reveal some hugely important (and potentially controversial) details about my mental health journey e.g., the number of hospitalisations (60) in the three years of 2009 – 2012 – I was so scared people would judge me for that and say I had been unworthy of the care I’d received or that I was an attention-seeker or something! But I recognised that all these worries were based on previous experiences and was it really fair to hold those against this new one? Should I let previous terrible moments hinder my future? Because I knew that being in the media was really going to help my blog to reach so many more people and that would open up the possibility of helping that increase of people too, so I felt motivated to do whatever I could to try make this work and to go ahead with the media appearances.
Funnily enough, I had submitted some press releases for the release of You’re NOT Disordered so I Googled my name in the ‘news’ section to see if anyone has published them, and it turned out I’d actually been on the sites of two other huge media outlets too – The Daily Mail in 2015 and The Mirror in 2019! I learnt whilst in a voluntary role years ago that newspapers etc can often print press releases or stories without contacting the person or organisation to tell them that they are… Now, I understand this might be based on sheer workload in that they must get so many stories to publish and how can they go about contacting every single person, but it also doesn’t make sense because if they did contact the person or organisation, they could share the article on their own social media, blog, or website too and bring it even more attention/readers etc.
One of the other negatives I experienced with doing media appearances, was when I did some interviews for a few different items on TV, and I quickly learnt just how edited your interview can be! In one piece that my local mental health Trust CNTW (Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne, and Wear NHS Foundation Trust) asked me to be a part of was for the news and I remember my interview taking about two or three hours and then on the actual report on TV, I think I said/they kept about three sentences! Initially, I was not only disappointed, but also insulted because I honestly thought that it meant that everything else, I’d said hadn’t been good enough to be featured! I mean, of course I’d heard numerous stories about how edited programmes can be – such as 24 hours in A&E and Big Brother. I had actually had someone who had featured in a mental health documentary do a guest post on my blog about how days of filming had been cut down, so I definitely had an awareness from before I began going into these types of opportunities. But unfortunately, that didn’t really prepare me for the disappointment.
Since then, however, in any further media appearances, I’ve never felt that same dismay nor the insult because I had come to accept that this is the way the media works… I still felt lucky though, for one thing, I was relieved that what I said – although edited and cut – was still kept within context and didn’t leave room for misinterpretation. I’ve learnt that can happen from not long into my blogging career when I found out a part of a blog post I’d written for I’m NOT Disordered had been taken completely out of context and used on a Facebook group that actually promoted self-harm. I was absolutely horrified and so angry and frustrated because it was a hard thing to fight... I mean, they’d literally copied and pasted what I’d written so it wasn’t like I could deny it… It was just that they’d taken it out of the issue and instance it was regarding and in doing so, had made it sound like something I would never even think, say, or write! Fortunately, the owners of the group agreed to remove the post when I messaged them.
One final thing I’d like to say about publicity opportunities, is that so many people now attempt to join the blogging world/industry with the misguided impression that you’ll just instantly or automatically get views and earn some sort of privileges and people talking about you. This isn’t – or at least it hasn’t been for me – at all true! I’ve really chosen to put myself and my blog out there to the media and press, I’ve worked hard to create so many opportunities that I’m almost at a point where I don’t often need to initiate anything anymore. I’d like to think, though, that I still don’t rest on my laurels. That I still have the drive and determination to continue to better my mental health and I’m NOT Disordered.