This Mental Health Awareness Week, we're hearing stories about Body Image - how we think and feel about our bodies to break down the stigma around the related mental health issues. 

"There, I did it. I talked (wrote) about something that has eaten away at me from the inside for way too long, and do you know what? It feels better and that’s why I wanted to be involved in this campaign."

I’ve written many articles on my mental health struggles, but this theme is the biggest challenge so far, because there’s so many complex issues and, if I’m honest, they’re still very deep and I still struggle today. 

I’ve got a photo of me, aged 26, which was taken on a beautiful beach in the Maldives on my honeymoon. When I look at it now, I can’t believe how much my brain lied to me at the time. It’s the only photo of me without my sarong wrapped around me during that holiday. My stomach still churns when remember exactly how I felt at the moment 25 years ago. I felt like I was the size of a whale, and every other girl in that resort was skinny and beautiful and I was HUGE and ugly.

To be fair, I had put on ‘lots’ of weight (or so I thought, it was actually only two dress sizes up) and even went to see a hypnotherapist about me not being able to lose weight. She obviously saw that there were underlying issues and started digging in my past to see what was underlying this insecurity and it was actually the first time I’d spoken to anyone properly about my Dad’s death 12 years earlier. Even in 1994 mental health wasn’t really talked about and I felt a bit embarrassed about crying about my Dad when I should have been ok about it after all that time and anyway, I wanted to lose weight not talk about that.

The year that followed that picture was probably the worst year of my life, my annus horribilis, which included my Mum being sectioned 3 times with hypomanic psychosis, my Niece taking an overdose, going bankrupt on my business and a few other family upsets and deaths, oh and I split up with my new husband after only 9 months of marriage.

There’s little wonder that I ended up on anti-depressants and what followed was the colossal and very real weight gain. And not just a pound or two, it was 5 dress sizes bigger in 18 months. I wasn’t really aware what was happening, but I had stopped going to the gym and stopped working and became totally isolated; I was also comfort eating to the point of making myself sick – to clarify I wasn’t purging myself, but I was literally overdosing my body with food which resulted in constant IBS and headaches. I also remember feeling a sense of ‘relief’ that I didn’t having to worry about dieting or being too big anymore - I could just get ‘fat’ and enjoy feeling full.

Since then there has been a succession of various diets, fasting, stuffing and stopping my meds (and I always lose weight when I’m manic!). During a thinner time I met the man who would father my child and along with life’s rollercoaster my weight and body size also followed suit. The last time I really tried to lose weight ‘properly’ was about 4 years ago after seeing a psychiatrist about my general mental health (Bipolar/BPD) and he acknowledged that there was a significant history of eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and I was eventually referred to a psychologist.

Although the DBT was helpful at the time, it was limited and I still don’t feel as if I’ve properly addressed the underlying way that I feel about my body. It’s very conflicting and I wonder if I’m using my ‘fatness’ like a comfort blanket. It’s something I need to get a handle on because I’m actually struggling to walk now because of arthritis and have become reclusive again because I hate having to go through the whole wardrobe debacle every time I even think about going anywhere. It’s also been one of the underlying reasons that my partner of 15 years and I split up last year. He couldn’t understand why I just couldn’t start exercising and dieting, but it’s not that simple to me. Until I unravel the reasons of why I keep sabotaging myself, I don’t think I can move forward.

I did try to contact an eating disorder organisation but they couldn’t ‘advise’ with the body dysmorphic issues which seemed a bit contradictory as I think the two go hand in hand – I’d even go so far as saying it’s like self harming. I know what I’m doing but I don’t seem to be able to stop myself. Today I really hate how I feel and look and I desperately need to sort this out, for my own self worth and general health. I don’t know if I will ever learn to like seeing myself in a photograph or mirror, but I long for the day where I can ‘feel’ happy inside of me.   

There, I did it. I talked (wrote) about something that has eaten away at me from the inside for way too long, and do you know what? It feels better and that’s why I wanted to be involved in this campaign. In fact, it’s why I got involved with Time to Change in the first place, because I have read other people’s stories and felt a connection which has given me a sense of hope and that I’m not alone in my struggles and I hope this is what my story has given you.

Mental Health Awareness week takes place from Monday 13 to Sunday 19 May 2019 and is led by the Mental Health Foundation.

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