I don’t like labels. If I tell you I have suffered with depression, anxiety, anorexia, mood swings, traits of OCD, self harm and intrusive thoughts, this tells you very little about what it means to be me. Saying that these things affect my life creates even more anxiety because people will have made assumptions about me and my life which may be far from the truth.
Every mental illness is a spectrum. We all have elements of the traits of mental illness because we are human and we have brains. If your issues are significantly troublesome to have a considerate impact on your life and you seek medical advice you may be diagnosed. There is no denying that diagnosis can help lead towards treatment but there is so much co-morbidity that it can be difficult to neatly pigeon hole your illness. I don’t refer to my problems as the anorexia, the self harm, the intrusive thoughts etc I refer to it as my illness. It isn’t many things it is one thing: something that stops me living my life. It looks bit like this:
They are greatly intertwined. My mood swings ranged from severely depressed to elated with a great sense of underlying anxiety which resulted in panic attacks. My low body weight and the ‘trapped’ feeling of anorexia contributed to my depression. The anorexia was a way of managing anxiety. The compulsions around counting were a way of managing anxiety. I could go on and on and on.
Everything is intertwined. Pull on one issue and the others pull back. I was hospitalised for anorexia and began an 8 month long journey through DBT to reach recovery. The diagnosis was anorexia but the treatment helped me address the other issues. Initially, the others got stronger and I was nearly transferred to a general psychiatric ward because my self harm was becoming too dangerous. Perseverance and a willingness from the treatment team to help address the other issues meant that I was able to firstly overcome my eating disorder but also some of the other issues I face.
There’s been a lot of talk around the Horizon episode of OCD. I am scared to watch. Prior to my stay in hospital I was suffering from compulsions to count mostly around food and drink but it did spill into other areas of my life which ended in my not eating or drinking. The ‘rules’ went something like this.
Imagine a banana. I could not start eating the banana until it was a multiple of ten past the hour (1:20, 1:30, 1:40 for example). Eating the banana must take 10 minutes. It must be split into 10 pieces. Each piece must take a multiple of ten chews subject to a minimum of 30. A banana was relatively low on the anxiety level but these rules applied to everything. Trying to pour a glass of water so that I could make sure these rules were followed led me to tears. What if there was some left over that wouldn’t reach 10? Could I drink at all or would I be able to stop.?Would these bring about all those fear that something would happen to me and those I loved? What if I ate peas? Could I eat 10 at a time and be ok as long as each mouthful was a multiple of ten minimum of 30 or would I have to eat 1 pea at a time and each pea would need to be 30 chews?
It was exhausting. There was lots of discussion in hospital as to whether this was a sign of the eating disorder or of OCD. Half of my treatment team felt one way and the other half the other. I was never formally diagnosed but it was a barrier to treatment. I remember having a discussion with my therapist whilst simultaneously counting and him shouting at me to stop but his shouting was distracting me from counting resulting in a panic attack.
I worry that because it wasn’t diagnosed people assume that it is therefore of no concern that it doesn’t affect my life. I certainly suffered feelings of great shame because I felt it was something separate but others couldn’t agree. I valued their opinion over mine. We all suffer to some degree but I feel like so much reliance is on fitting the diagnostic criteria that we lose sight of the fact that the person who suffers should be the one to determine whether or not it is something that stops them from living.