#WFAWM – ONE
High school was difficult. At the start I was confident, focused and had many friends. However, over time and due to my commitment to sport, it emerged that only one or two friends would understand my lack of social interaction outside of the school gates.
This left me quite isolated and often misunderstood as someone that did not like to go out or have fun. It soon became vital for me to do well in sport after all the sacrifices that I had made.
I had no idea what I wanted from life career wise. I loved sport, was good at Art and Maths but received little guidance about what I would be perfect for. As a result, I made the decision to copy what my sister had done to become a Physiotherapist as it is what I had the most background knowledge about.
So I went off to Birmingham University with the continued mindset of sport first, studies second and socialising when I can. This again did not help life’s stresses and living away from home made me even more solitary and miserable. I also discovered that Physiotherapy would not be a lifelong career for me, but I still had no other ideas of what to do. Consequently, I plugged away for three years of study moving back home after the first year and still continuing weekly Triathlon training. To put it mildly I was burning the candle at both ends and there did not seem to be a way out.
Eventually, the three years ended, and I landed a job at our local hospital still not having it in my heart to be a Physiotherapist but with no other ideas. I worked for two years there before talking to a teacher friend who gave me the idea of becoming a teacher. Physical education was my first choice, but he offered the idea of getting into teaching through Maths and then transferring over to P.E. later on in my career due to it being oversubscribed. As I was still living at home and had the option to take a career move, I grabbed it with both hands and completed catch up courses for Maths and a graduate teacher program enabling me to become a teacher.
For a few years it was still not plain sailing. My sport still had a hold over me and I was trying to achieve in both running and teaching. As many people know initial teacher training is tough and once again, I was working so hard it was affecting my health.
After three years I met my now husband and as I admit to everyone I meet, he saved my life. My focus for the first time in over a decade shifted from sport to a future. One in which has given me two beautiful children, a wonderful home and a balance between work, sport and life.
When I think back to those early, ‘confident me’ days I would have said this is exactly how I imagined life. For me it was sport that took a hold of me and I was convinced I had nothing other than sport. If I failed at that, I would be failing at life.
If I were able to, in those teen days, I would grab myself and say that sport is not everything. In fact, I would have probably achieved more in it if I knew that I needed a support network around me. One that could pick me up on my down days and give me a break when I needed it. Life is about balance and moderation. Taking time to make big decisions would have also helped. Finding someone to listen and advise may have led to me teaching straight off. Less haste, more speed!
#WFAWM – TWO
As a young person I felt very insecure and confused about who I was. I believe this all developed from a struggle to express my true self. I remember feeling this intense pressure to fit in and be accepted so I became somebody different. I also attended a grammar school which had high expectations of its pupils and I struggled at times with this pressure. I remember feeling incredibly anxious about my GCSEs and I am not sure I dealt with that anxiety particularly well. At this stage I also started acknowledging I was gay and felt very afraid to talk to anybody about it.
This added to the stress I was already experiencing and I went on to develop anorexia during my first year of sixth form when I was 16.
Despite my challenges with anorexia I have achieved and overcome a lot. I found A-levels incredibly difficult. At the time I was extremely disappointed with my grades but now I am proud that I passed all 4 and was offered a place at the University of Manchester to study audiology. In the end I was too unwell to attend university but I still see being offered a place as a big achievement. Between my hospital admissions I had a job as a carer at a day centre for the elderly and I also facilitated groups for people with dementia. This was a job I loved and was highly successful at.
During one of my hospital admissions I began having tonic-clonic seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. This was a huge blow to me and an anxious time as I was never sure of when I was going to have a seizure. I had been living with mental health conditions for years but now I faced living with a physical health condition too and it left me feeling frustrated and scared. Once I began taking medication the seizures stopped but it took a while to overcome the anxiety that the new diagnosis brought.
My last hospital admission was the point at which I really turned a corner. I had hit rock bottom but once I started to feel better I began to see it like a fresh start. I had achieved a lot and been involved in lots of different things in between hospital admissions but now it was time for me to take a step back and really think about what it was that I wanted to do in life. During that admission I decided that I wanted to be a mental health nurse. I had been cared for by many incredible nurses and I had observed them, thinking to myself “I want to do what you do”.
I applied to study mental health nursing at several universities and I accepted my offer from the University of Manchester. I was so ecstatic to be given an offer and felt incredibly proud of myself. I had overcome my anorexia to such an extent that I was able to start university. I was not recovered but was managing it well and I felt that it was time to stop being afraid of what could go wrong and just go for it. Seven years after I had initially planned to go to university – I finally made it.
I have found talking to be the most helpful way of coping for me. My eating disorder thrives of secrecy and I really wish I had felt able to speak more openly about my worries and anxieties as a child. I have realised the importance of having an outlet for difficult thoughts and feelings because otherwise I bottle things up and utilise harmful coping mechanisms.
My life has not turned out the way I had anticipated. It has been a lot more challenging and distressing than I could ever have imagined. I do, however, feel that I have learn a lot from my experiences and it has taught me a lot about myself. I have become a very insightful and empathic person which will serve as an advantage to me in my career.
If I were to give advice to my younger self, it would be to embrace the true me. I spent so long creating this new identity and it contributed to me becoming unwell. I would also say to stop worrying about what you feel people expect of you and do what interests you.
Be true to yourself and be proud of the person you are.
#WFAWM – THREE
Starting secondary school was hard. Struggling to make new friends shattered your self-confidence. You became convinced that you were the most unlikable, boring, ugly person to ever have existed. You had a dream to become a professional athlete and you dedicated so much of your time to training and competing. You were convinced that to become a better athlete and achieve your dream, you must lose weight.
There was pressure with your GCSE’s and A Levels but you studied hard and exceeded your expectations. But still, you never felt good enough.
Convinced that no one liked you, and even more convinced that the way to improve your life, your running, your popularity, was to lose weight. That was the answer to all your problems.
Moving away from home and going to university was challenging. You were incredibly home sick. But you confided in a flat mate who, to your surprise, felt exactly the same. You realised that you were not “weird” for missing home. You made some great friends and finally felt like you belonged. But even that couldn’t save you. You hadn’t realised that throughout your tough years at secondary school, anorexia had started growing. You hadn’t realised that your periods stopping at 14, and you hiding food was a sign that something wasn’t right. You just thought that you were doing your best to follow your dream.
I wish you had spoken to someone. Talked to them about how you were feeling rather than bottling up all your sadness. They could have helped you. But you went to university and continued along that same path – trying to lose weight to achieve your athletics dream.
But anorexia took over at university. Within several months you felt trapped in your head – constantly thinking about food and exercise. You became distant from your friends and so physically weak that you knew your athletics dream had gone. You were scared of what was happening to your body and how out of control your mind had become. But you felt powerless to it. So you continued. Nothing could stop the demon that had possessed your body. Maybe if you’d spoken to someone as a 14 year old when that demon first started appearing, you could have had the strength to fight it off. But, five years later, the demon was too strong. You couldn’t fight it. You were ready for it to kill you.
The next three years were some of the hardest of your life. Three inpatient admissions to eating disorder units. You fought the system – wanting to dedicate your life to anorexia. You couldn’t see that it had poisoned your mind and you hated anyone that got in its way. You later realised that a life ruled by anorexia was not the life you thought it was. It was a lonely, never ending torture.
After three years, you started to want more from life and began fighting the demon. By God was it hard. You started speaking to people; talking helped. And rather than pushing your family away, you relied on their love and support. You stopped keeping secrets – secrets helped anorexia keep control of you.
You spent hours agonising over every meal. But you constantly reminded yourself that if you wanted a life where you could go out with friends, go on holiday, just have a life where you could be happy, then you had to eat. The more you ate, the less scary it became and you started to enjoy it.
Going back to university was hard, especially as no one spoke to you. But you finished your degree with the support of your family and community team. Starting a new job was terrifying but you didn’t run away. The job encouraged you to socialise. You began building a life outside of anorexia. And the more you brought into your life, the smaller anorexia became. You continued taking on new challenges, new studies, new jobs, new social circles, and you started to flourish.
Life grew bigger and anorexia began to shrink. Anorexia now sits on your shoulder. It shouts at you sometimes, but you always try and answer back. When it shouts loudly, you remember to talk to people, you distract yourself, you remind yourself of how far you have come and that you will not go back. You put it back on your shoulder and tell it to be quiet. To my younger self – believe in yourself. Believe that people can like you, believe in your own abilities and talents, believe that you are good enough. Because you are.
#WFAWM – FOUR
Things I wish I’d known then that I know now:
1) The science teacher that at the start of Year 10 said I’d struggle to get a grade C and therefore won’t get to university…Just ignore him. He didn’t know what I was actually capable of, and I proved that to him a few months later when he used my coursework as the example for what the top set should be aiming for (he never told me this, my best friend in the top set did). This made me realise I could do things!
2) GCSE results aren’t the end of the world, and the D in English won’t stop me getting into University as I’ll be able to resit it when I do my A levels and get a teacher that helps me understand it better.
3) Don’t stress with A Levels, things work out for a reason. My sociology teacher spent time helping me to understand the exam questions, and because of the Food Tech department’s help I’ll increase a whole grade from AS to A level, and get the A level prize.
4) University and clearing: it wasn’t the be all and end all when I called my first choice Uni to be told my results weren’t good enough to get in. I took a deep breath, enjoyed the week and my first choice university accepted me in the end.
Moving 20 miles to live at University was one of the best decisions I made and would recommend to anyone to get the best experience. Yes it’s tough and I missed home a lot at the beginning but knowing I wasn’t coping and needed help, I saw a GP within the university who I had regular appointments with to ensure I didn’t develop an eating disorder.
There were lots of things that changed at University. I split my final year over two, about 12 months before graduation I was diagnosed with dyslexia – something my parents had suspected since Year 5. It was hard to take in at the start, but it was certainly for the best and since then has allowed me to access help when needed. I wish I’d not left it too late to seek help and get tested, it could have made such a huge difference.
After graduating from University I told myself I was done with school/learning but signing up to do a CMI level 3 in First Line Management and asking for help because of the dyslexia meant that not only did I get help with my course but also help with writing emails for the job I was doing.
5) In 2016 losing both grandparents who at times I was closer to than my own parents was really tough, but I know that they are still with me.
My son, who was born in 2017 and never met them, has personality traits of them both. Going on maternity leave was tough, leaving a full time job to become a stay at home mum for a year and keeping a small human alive was a terrifying – not knowing how I would feel or if I could last a whole year at home.
At the end of the 12 months I decided I no longer wanted to work full time to allow me to see my son grow up. I handed my notice in on my first day back without a job to go to. Yes this was scary, but it also meant I could do something different if I really wanted to. Which is exactly what I did.
I moved from the food industry to working in retail. It’s been a big change and also a massive pay cut, but being happier is worth more than money. Deciding that this was going to be my new career I’ve been lucky enough to do a training course to allow me to gain more knowledge.
6) Just over six years ago I was diagnosed with a chronic condition called Lipoedema – I thought I was just fat. It is believed to affect about 10% of the female population worldwide and is caused by big hormonal changes including puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Where there’s an abnormal build-up of fat cells typically in the lower half of the body it can make you look out of proportion. For me it’s my bum, thighs and lower legs, plus my arms. I always thought I just had bingo wings for arms, so finding out I had a condition with a name was amazing. There’s still a lot to learn about the condition, and the team at the hospital they have managed to maintain my shape even during my pregnancy.
I wish I’d known that many things may happen which we have no control over but, take a deep breath, and go for it. It might not work but that’s part of the journey. End that chapter and start a new one. Enjoy life and don’t spend too long dwelling, yes that’s easier said than done, but move on and make memories.
#WFAWM – FIVE
With a large milestone birthday coming up in 2021, I thought it a good time to get in touch. It’s funny how we attach so much meaning to these birthdays, whereas they are just marking the passing of another year, another decade. Fundamentally we are the same person before the minutes tick over from 11.59pm to midnight to 12.01am.
And yet at the same time, we are different. We have moved on, just as time has moved on. I know you had a mantra of “tomorrow will be brighter”. You used to write those words in your journal each night before turning out the light. They allowed you to draw a line under the difficult days. Painful days when you would be tormented by intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and shameful memories.
But please know, bullying yourself, starving yourself and punishing yourself only serve to intensify your pain. Those things alienate you from yourself and from others. A little self-care, kindness and self-compassion go a long way. When you’re feeling sad or hopeless or despondent, tell yourself that it’s okay to feel like that. Put on a soft pair of socks, hug your teddy bear, wrap yourself in a warm snugly fleece. Be your own best friend.
If you can find it in yourself to lower the high protective drawbridge of the fortified castle you have built around yourself, it will help. Trust me, and let a trusted person into your life. There are many, many kind and compassionate people in the world, in your world. I know you may not believe it, but there is a witness out there for all of us. Finding your own compassionate witness might take a while, but don’t be disillusioned. Keep looking. You will know when the time is right. Keeping secrets is hard work, it’s exhausting, and it only worsens the sense of internal shame and isolation.
Trusting people is scary, asking for help is scary. A little fear is okay. I’m aware that your conditioned response to fear is to run and hide. However, why not practice standing your ground, stand tall, stand proud. I know if you do this, little by little, your anxieties will gradually recede, and the world will become an easier place to inhabit. Your world will become easier to inhabit. It will become safer as you fill it with friendships, people who just ‘get you’ and like you for you.
Please trust me when I say none of the things you experienced as a young girl were done to you because you were bad. Those events were not unique. Unfortunately, many other young girls and boys will have suffered too. Find those people, seek out that tribe, they will have an inherent understanding of your circumstances, they won’t judge you, call you worthless, or say you are fundamentally flawed. They will say, it’s okay, you’re okay, and that they understand. You don’t have to conform or transform yourself to fit in with others. It’s okay to be different, a bit goofy. Goofy can be fun.
Change is possible, change can be good, and there is no requirement to stay the same body shape or weight, to always like or do the same things. Try not to cling to routines and rituals. I know they make you feel safe, but they consume precious mental energy that could be spent on creative activities. Think how much fun it used to be playing with LEGO or Plasticine. Why not do something purely for pleasure and enjoyment each day?
Keep going my little friend, nurture yourself, and know that everything will be okay. Everything is okay.
#WFAWM – SIX
It is August 2009. You’ve just been to collect your A Level results and I won’t lie to you, you did not do well.
It looks like trying to cram all of your revision into the study leave period didn’t turn out too well for you. Nor did running out of time to finish your English Lit paper!
Your friends all did better than you and got into their Universities of choice. You’re happy for them but can’t help feeling envious. They have ambition and direction, whereas you don’t have a clue what’s coming next.
Not applying for Uni, and not yet finding a job has left you a little lost. You have three A Levels to your name which isn’t bad going but now you have no idea what to do with them.
It all feels a little hopeless.
But…I’ve got some good news, all’s not lost. In fact, it’s about to get much better for you.
You’ll do a complete 360 on going to University and apply through clearing for a last minute place. It’ll lead you to the most fun three years of your life – learning amazing things, gaining new skills and meeting some friends for life!
You’ll graduate with a degree in Media and Marketing and walk straight into a full-time job in the wonderful marketing department of the University you’ve called home for the last three years. Again – making long-lasting friendships and experiences and opportunities that will stay with you forever. And when the time is right, you’ll move on to take up a role as the Head of Marketing at a local organisation – an amazing achievement before you’re 30!
You’ll have highs and lows, some mental health difficulties along the way but you’ll receive some of the most amazing support a person could wish for. This will bring you into contact with a fantastic charity that you’ll want to give something back to in return, offering huge rewards. You’ll get on with the staff and volunteers so well that you’ll become one, assisting with support groups, training sessions and fundraising events which you love.
Your fear of public speaking will be a distant memory as you proudly present to rooms full of people about your life experiences, all to make a positive impact on the future of those with similar difficulties to yourself. The rewards will be immense – so much so, the organisation will nominate you for a Community Volunteering Award.
So try not to worry too much about those questionable A Level grades, they won’t define you or hold you back. They’ll actually give you the push you need to pursue what you enjoy and create unique opportunities and friendships to shape the person you’ll become.
It’s about to get so good…
#WFAWM – SEVEN
Dear 16-year-old me,
I know you’ve had a tough time with school- the bullying and teasing, but things will change for you and you will realise the value of education. It doesn’t seem like it right now, but I promise, things will get so much better.
You are going to face your darkest days, and your absolute best! I know you have issues with food right now, but that’s our little secret, right? Trust me, the psychiatrists will notice, your mum will notice, and your friends will definitely notice!
You’ll spend some time in psychiatric hospitals and on general wards, you’ll do irreversible damage to yourself, your self-harm will get worse and you will experience trauma like no other- but remember what you have in life and why you are fighting for it.
You will fail your A-Levels and get a job in retail, but that’s just not your scene. You will move to Cornwall and work in a zoo where you’ll get a First Class honours degree in Zoology. They’ll try to kick you out of university for being unwell but keep fighting.
You’ll move back in with Mum and Dad – trust me, they’re nice people really! You’ll complete your Master’s degree with a distinction…imagine that! The girl who hated school!
You have a fabulous talent for science and writing and you must never give up on that. Guess what I’m doing now? A PhD! You are going to grow up to be a Doctor of Biology.
I know that right now you feel that the world is against you and you turn to drugs to ease the pain, but things can and will get so much better. It won’t always be a smooth ride though. You’ll spend a year in a psychiatric hospital part-way through your PhD and it’ll take tenacity to climb your way back to the top, but it’s doable and the University and your friends are 100% behind you.
So what I really want to say is this… Autism and the mental health conditions that you have are a part of you. Don’t be ashamed and seek help at every opportunity. There are people out there to talk to. Your life will have its ups and downs, you’ll experience love. Loss and tremendous pain, but that all shapes who you will eventually become. Ultimately it only makes you stronger.
So when you’re feeling low and like you can’t go on, remember all of the things that are achievable and attainable. You’ve got this, girl!
#WFAWM – EIGHT
It is 2017 – you’re sat thinking that this is DEFINITELY not your year, but this year will be the making of you.
You might not think it’s possible, but you’ll make it to 30, even 31 and you’ll be okay. In fact you’ll be more than okay – you’ll love and respect yourself more than you ever thought possible.
You are so much stronger than you think and even as you sit in your room desperately searching to feel something, while confusingly feeling way too much all at the same time – that darkness will fade and you’ll see the light again.
Having a nervous breakdown is hands down the most terrifying experience I’ve ever lived through. The embarrassment of “not being strong enough to cope” in my mind – overwhelmed me for longer that I care to recall. There’s nothing shameful about mental health struggles, but I was ashamed and I’m almost ashamed that I felt that way now – but it’s okay. It’s all okay.
I’ve found that life has a strange way of working itself out for the better. A good friend said to me once, “What is for you will not pass you by” – that’s not to say that whatever you want from life will be handed to you – it’s more that things, people and experiences that simply don’t fit you will disappear from your life, and that’s more than okay.
You might think because things have gone bad they will stay that way, but everything is ultimately temporary, a bad day, week or even a year doesn’t mean a bad life.
In short, I was ill – very ill – but now I’m much better. I moved forward with my life and made a change that I never thought I’d have the confidence to do. I did it because I told myself I could do it, fueled my body and my brain, and took that almighty step. I moved myself 1,500 miles from a little town in Cheshire to Valencia, Spain in October 2018. I learnt Spanish (some…still learning), found some lovely friends, (eventually) got a job and crafted my own little life here. It’s been roller coaster ride so far, and I’d expect nothing less than the same from the future. I now live my life for me rather than what I think I should be – and I can assure you its much better that way.
As things can go great, they can also go a little west again, but once again that’s okay – these are all temporary scenarios.
2020 has thrown a fresh set of curve balls on to my path, but I guess that’s somewhat unsurprising – especially considering the global circumstances. Like many people right now, I’m facing some rather tricky professional challenges – which some days feel like they are never going to end, but these are just feelings – it’s not the truth.
One thing I’ve learnt over the last few years, nothing stays the same forever – everything changes and life DOES get better.
I may not be where I would like to be in my career right now, and I do admit that I feel a little lost again, but this is not a time to panic. It’s moments like this – especially with the whole world in turbulence – that it’s more than okay to take stock and pause a little.
Without doubt the most important thing to focus on at any time really is keeping healthy – both mentally and physically – and that’s not a numbers game.
It’s not about the calories you consume, the size of your waist, the number on the scales or even the distance you can run – what counts is how you feel.
I deprived my body of sufficient fuel for too long. Numbers controlled my choices and what I thought was keeping me safe was depriving me of so much.
It’s so important to take time to do things you enjoy – your body and mind will thank you for that. If you’re not quite sure what those things are for whatever reason – try lots of different things – something will click and will stay with you.
It’s okay to stand still, it’s okay to do nothing sometimes, but most importantly Katie – please eat – you have to remember – food is fuel.
Please try not to worry or predict the worst outcome, because deep down you know you can do anything that you set your mind to.
You are enough, just as you are.
Be kind to yourself and others and things will eventually fall into place.
I’ll leave you with some ever invaluable words from Matt Haig: “We are at a crossroads. And at a crossroads it is better to slow down and wait at the lights and check the map. After all, movement isn’t progress if you’re heading in the wrong direction. It’s okay to wait here for a while.”
Take care, you got this.
#WFAWM – NINE
First of all, well done for finishing primary school and going to secondary, you’re handling it well. The bullying is hard but please stop finding attention from wherever you can get it as you’ll learn in your 20’s this is not a good thing. They are not your friends.
I know you self-harm to cope but don’t be too hard on your parents and listen to the people that say there is no good that comes from it. You may think they’re talking absolute rubbish but it’s true. Talk to people more about how you’re feeling, keep writing things down. It won’t last forever although it may feel like it now.
Also don’t be so stroppy to Nana as she is actually saving you right now. Keep going over on Saturday’s even when you don’t want to – she needs you.
I know you’re going through absolute hell right now I promise you little girl it will all be ok.
Your Nan was your rock. I know how much you loved and adored her. She is there with you always. Keep talking to her through your bedroom window. It is not silly I promise you, you will do this until day your parents sell the house.
Talk more to your counsellor. She’s there to help, not just someone to turn to when you’re bored and you will thank her in the long run.
Pretending to be someone you’re not will trip you up one day and people will find out who you have pretended to be for many years. Just be you! You have a lot of love to give. Keep your head down and keep going – it won’t last forever.
It’s the last year of secondary school finally! See – you did it!
They will put you on a part time timetable so use this to its full advantage, but as much as you hate school please try not to skip the extra lessons.
College is going to be a big wake up call. You’re going to be there five days a week and full days at that. All I’m going to say is don’t do half-hearted work and leave assignments til the last minute – it will bite you on the backside in the long run!
You may think all the college lot are only interested in is boys and going out but believe me this does change when you speak to them years later.
You may wonder why everything keeps on failing – your gran died, you failed your college placement which means you have also failed college. You go to a new placement and work your backside off only to fail that too. You will wonder who you are and struggle to work out who you want to be.
First of all, let’s stop with the wanting attention and fighting to be loved – it will leave you rejected. When you meet a certain guy, instead of fighting everyone who raises concerns, listen to them. They’re concerned for a reason. Everything they ever say will prove true, he will leave you heartbroken and penniless.
In the mist of this you will get your first full time job. At first you’re going to absolutely hate it and wonder how on earth you’re going to pass probation. But you will be there seven years later.
When you hit 25 everything will change.
I’m nearly 29 now. I have a nice car, a nice house, a long-term partner. I see people from school who come to my workplace to work and talk to them about everything I went through.
These difficulties will make you stronger I promise you. It will not be forever. You will look back and think why did I let this bother me?
School, college and Uni will not last forever, it may seem it like it now and feel like a constant battle. But I promise you, you will overcome it.
Take advantage of anyone that is there to help you. Don’t fight for attention. Don’t fight to be loved because one day it will all click into place.
Always listen to advice you may not want to hear it but mostly it is worth noticing.
I’m not saying things will all be sunshine and roses but teenage years are the hardest you will ever go through.
I still wonder what I’m set out to do in life but if I can help just one person I will.
Take care of yourself and just be you!
#WFAWM – TEN
One day, you will speak your truth. You will have the courage to be vulnerable. You will step bravely out of the skin you are wearing and for the first time, you will be no one but yourself. Coming out will feel like an impossible task but you will do it and it will be okay.
I know you can’t think about me right now, that anything outside of this struggle that you are living in will exist but, it will and it does. You may see me as someone different now but I am not, I am built from you. I am you and you are me but you are inside the cocoon at this moment, breaking down in the darkness, not knowing what’s coming. This pain you are living in, you are unknowingly transforming. It feels like everyone and everything hurts you right now, even yourself but it isn’t always this way.
I know it’s hard for you and actually I know ‘hard’ doesn’t cover it. I know anxiety and low mood tag along as unwanted guests everywhere you go but it won’t always be this way. You will feel like life is worth living. There will be times when this intensity in which you live your life will fuel your passions instead. And you will find your voice.
You. Will. Find. Your. Voice.
You will write and draw, film and create, you will speak. You will speak about your personal experiences of these exact times, locally nationally and even internationally in front of many audiences in fact. Calm down,I know the mere thought of that creates a surge of anxiety for you right now but you will do it and you will feel proud. Hey, you didn’t know it was possible to feel proud of yourself, right?
You will take opportunities that you never even dreamt off. You will go places. You will find joy in small things, you will make good friends, you will lose yourself reading stories and you will even write them. And no, it won’t always be ‘plain sailing’ but you will get through those times too even the ones that feel impossible. Look, you have survived everything life has thrown at you so far look at the evidence. Please always speak to people, friends, family members, someone, when you are struggling because there are many people who care and many people who are there for you, even in the times when it feels otherwise.
When you get here, when you become the person writing this letter, you will look back on what you are experiencing right now and you will be so thankful that you stayed.
#WFAWM – ELEVEN
You are sixteen years old, with a brilliant, successful life at your fingertips. You have just represented Great Britain at the Junior European Three-Day-Event Championships in Poland, riding a horse called Quake. Everything you do is tipped towards triumph. You are happy. You have lots of friends.
I just want you to be aware that nothing is perfect in life, and that’s OK. Your existence is going to change more than you could ever imagine. It’s important to accept this change, continue to be brave, and feel compassionate towards yourself for just how hard it is, when everything breaks, when you break.
You fall to pieces. But you are able to get up, and create a brand-new life – from nothing. You create a new, extraordinary ability to be creative. Your life is wiped clean, like a blank white canvas, on which you build your very own composition. Not your parents’, nor your old winning ways with the horses. Something very different.
Difference is a wonderful thing. You may think that you are an ‘anomaly’, that no one understands you, that you are left out, you are ‘away with the fairies’, ‘gone AWOL’. People call you all sorts of things. I’m afraid you will have some terrible experiences, Lorna.
But you are strong, determined and resourceful. You will invent new ways of being – inside yourself, your body, with people around you. Please trust that you will work things out, however difficult this may seem.
You won’t believe any of this now, aged 16 – a high-flying success, on song for your dream, which is to ride at the Olympics. Please trust me. Your current dreams will change, but you will still be happy and successful – in different ways.
It is important to be patient and compassionate with yourself. Try not to blame yourself for what happens. Keep breathing. Express yourself – use any or all means of opening your imagination. There are no limits. Your creativity will open relief and a practice that will help you and also other people. This is your vocation.
I’m not sure if you are still reading this. Perhaps you’ve gone outside, to ride Quake? Please keep this letter somewhere safe, and come back to it, when you lose everything. Because, you don’t lose everything, you create everything.
#WFAWM – TWELVE
Another weekend has come to an end and you’re lying awake in bed, just hours away from another Monday…another full week at school.
I know it’s not what you expected it to be, Year 11 is like survival of the fittest, you are expected to look, talk, act a certain way, and you don’t know how to fit in. You have spent so much money and time trying to change the way you look, with people’s comments and laughing echoing in your ears as you try to escape into sleep…
“She looks about ten”, “boring”, “you’re so small and innocent”, “aww bless her, she’s getting embarrassed.”
Just remember, they don’t know you, they’ve never given the time to get to know you. Their opinions or the way they treat you, do not define you and, trust me, they are not important in where you want to go.
Here are a few comments that you will hear from people in the next ten years…
“I’m so proud of you”, “you’re so clever”, “you are a beautiful writer”, “I like that you don’t wear much make-up”, “you’re so kind.”
Right now, I know you can’t imagine any of these things could ever be said to you. I will be honest, you will never look like the popular girls at school, and you will discover the internet to become Yr11 X 1 million – and that is going to be whole minefield itself.
But, spoiler alert… you will do things that petrify you a little, like travelling to America by yourself; meeting the most amazing friends, and I promise, you will feel that you belong somewhere –and that is just the beginning.
I’m not saying that you will always fit in, but you are going to learn how to be happy just being yourself. You have control over deciding where you go, who you are and what you do, and yes, you do slip up a few times, but you don’t regret any of it. In fact, all the exciting experiences, friendships and achievements you are going to make, are a result of you being true to yourself.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone and don’t give up. There are so many exciting things to look forward to.
#WFAWM – THIRTEEN
To my younger self,
It’s not easy growing up, especially when your head feels like a scary place to live. There are many changes going on in life during this time including puberty, relationships and preparing to leave home and go to university. This period in life wasn’t a smooth one. I didn’t know what was happening.
I thought I was dying but now I know they were panic attacks. They’re horrible and debilitating but they pass and nothing bad happens. The intrusive thoughts made me feel like I was going crazy. Convincing me that I wanted to hurt myself and those that I love. But now I understand that these are just thoughts and are the opposite to what you value. Every single day was a challenge but every single day I woke up again ready to face these battles, and so will you.
Things got harder when I started university. The dancing that you once loved doing will slowly fade away, so make the most of it. There’s more pressure, more expectations to be good enough. I didn’t ever really feel good enough, but I can assure you now that good enough doesn’t exist.
Things felt out of control and I turned to food. Controlling everything I ate, every minute I exercised until I saw the number go down. Only now I’ve realised that the scale doesn’t determine your worth. Anorexia had a tight grip, refusing to let go without a fight. So many tears, hospital admissions and painful feelings.
It will hurt but you will live despite it all. It will be frightening. You try to put on a brave smile, but your eyes tell a different story. I know how tiring that can be to pretend that you’re OK. I want to let you know that you don’t have to pretend. You don’t have to have it all together. You can release all that pain behind your eyes, and I will hold you, I will listen. Even if other people don’t, because you will come across the small few who will be afraid to see your vulnerability.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. Asking for help was the best thing I ever did. I know you are scared of how the world will see you. But please don’t carry on hurting yourself like this. You are a warrior. That sparkle in your eyes will come back and you won’t have to cry so much anymore. I’m here for you. I won’t ever leave you.
Some days you will see hope. You will want to give back and care for people how you longed to be cared for. And that will feel good. You deserve peace and love and I promise that I will hold you and not let you go until you get there. Because you will get there. You will find your passion that brings you so much joy. You will learn what an Occupational Therapist does. You will be forever grateful to the Occupational Therapist who saved your life. You will become an Occupational Therapist, helping other young people like yourself to find a hope that keeps them alive. I know because I am getting closer each day, and every day I spend doing this fills me with joy.
I would have never imagined as a young girl, battling so much that I would be where I am today but with hard work and perseverance it’s possible. Your experience will be valuable. Share it. You are not alone, and you will get great comfort in hearing the positive impact it may have on others. Spend time with people who lift you up and make you laugh. Print off your favourite quotes and stick them on your bedroom wall. Remind yourself of what you’ve overcome and be kind.
My biggest piece of advice to you is to never stop fighting. Never stop fighting to be free from your mental illnesses. Never stop fighting for what you deserve. Never stop fighting to be heard. You deserve to be heard; you deserve to be seen. Everyone deserves to own their story. This is your story and one day you will own it.
In fact, one day you will be proud of it.
Love from your wiser self x
#WFAWM – FOURTEEN
A matter of words
You’re in the last two years of school life. It feels a small amount better than what it’s previously been over your school life. Life is going to take you on a path that you did not know or think about.
It’s going to start awful and it will feel like it’s a long time for things to get better. But the positive opportunities you will get from it will be breathtaking and inspiring and will teach you so much.
Life is not doom and gloom, it’s just the angle we view it from day to day.
You will learn that yes, education is important, yes, money is nice to have, but the life you want is something that makes change, helps others and leads the way forward.
Always keep your head up, be open and honest about everything. Nobody wants the stereotype ‘tough man’, people want to see someone who is able to say there is something wrong.
Your biggest enemy you face is YOU, but you can also be your best supporter. All you need to do is organise each piece into the puzzle.
You can do it.
#WFAWM – FIFTEEN
Its 2008, you’re 14 and you feel so out of place in the world. You don’t know where you fit in. You have friends but you always feel on the outside looking in, feeling left out like you don’t really matter to them. Some girls are cruel at school, they make fun of your hair and how quiet you are. You don’t feel smart or good at anything at school, your friends always refer to you as the blond and stupid one – your friends are all in top sets at school, getting the best grades without having to even work hard but you? You work so hard and still your grades don’t seem good enough. You never feel good enough.
You feel out of control of your life, and nothing you ever do seems to get you praise, only you could have done this better. You feel you are constantly trying to feel like you are loved, seeking for signs that you are enough. You feel you are always trying to this perfect little girl, but you then feel the pressure to never do anything wrong. You question everything you do. You can’t make decisions because you fear you’ll make the wrong one. You don’t understand your feelings and emotions, but you feel anger scares you, but you don’t understand it. You just keep trying to be perfect, make everyone happy, make everyone proud of you, do nothing wrong. But this is tiring, exhausting.
Things feel too much. You can’t cope and you just want an escapism. You just need a break from the thoughts in your head and the pain and sadness in your heart. You feel so lonely, lost and scared. You don’t understand your feelings and can’t make sense of your thoughts.
But then you meet this person. She seems so beautiful, and perfect in every way, she has everything under control. She is the epitome of everything you want. She tells you her secret and says she can help you get what she has. She says she can make everything better, take the pain away. She says she will be your friend. You begin to do what she says and to start with things feel better. I don’t blame you for falling for her, she can be very convincing and cunning. Before you know it, you have fallen in so far and begin to see the real side of your new friend.
If you don’t do what she says she becomes angry. She tells you to punish yourself if you don’t obey her every command. You become a slave to her rules, but you tell yourself that everything is okay, that if you do what she says you will be fine, after all you did feel better, didn’t you?
Fast forward to summer 2015 and you are now 21. You have now spent 5 long continuous years in 4 different inpatient facilities and 4 years spent sectioned under the mental health act. You have lost so much to this “friend”, yet you can’t shake of her grip. You feel she has you trapped, like a butterfly trapped in a glass jar. You can see your friends living their lives – graduating, working, travelling, relationships, family. You see your family trying to live their lives but constantly being pulled back to look sadly in at the butterfly in the jar.
You realise everything you have lost to this “friend”- an education, friends, family, dreams, hopes, hobbies, learning to drive – all your teenage years and early twenties lost because this “friend” has you trapped in this glass jar, controlling you and feeding you false lies and dark thoughts. You have tried fighting but it constantly feels like a losing battle, flying round and round the jar, not sure which way is up or down anymore, lost and alone is this glass jar.
But it was on this darkest day, when hope seemed all but gone that something somewhere inside of you made you look up from the darkness, made you look out of the your glass walls and this time seeing all the things you had lost to this “friend” didn’t fill you with hopelessness but anger. Anger not towards yourself though, anger towards this your “friend.” Anger for everything it had taken from you, everything you had lost, and you realised that this was not your fault it was this thing you thought was your friend. Maybe in the beginning it did help you feel in control and gave you a purpose and sense of achievement but this you are now seeing was a false lure.
Now in fact you feel more alone, lost and scared than you did 7 years ago. Finally, you are beginning to see that this thing that has you locked in this glass jar is no friend, but a deadly and cruel disease that has taken everything that you once cared about away from you, very nearly including your life. You did not ask for this disease, you did want it, you just wanted the pain to stop, a friend to hear you and see you.
But now you are seeing clearly for the first time in years. You suddenly feel jealous of your friends who have been outside your small world living their lives, free and happy and YOU want that. You want to be able to do all those things you thought you no longer cared about or wanted or could achieve but it was never you that thought that, it was this illness.
You are realising that you are not this illness and you will not be defined by it. For the first time since this illness trapped you in this glass jar you WANT to be on the other side of the glass, YOU want to be out their living your life too. You want to do all these amazing things that you thought you couldn’t or didn’t care about, but actually you are realising you DO want that, you DO want to be out their LIVING your life not just existing. For the first time you hate what this illness has taken from you, you hate it with every inch of your being, you realise you hate being stuck in hospital.
You have been there for so long you got used to it, you felt safe in this small, predictable and unchanging world compared to living in the “real world” where you would have to be exposed to all your fears and worries. But now you see that living in this small glass jar is no way to live. Yes, you may feel safe and everything is controlled, but it is stripping you of all the things you wish more than anything you could be doing but have just been so scared and frightened to face the challenges that recovering poses.
However, in this moment you hate this illness, you hate everything that has happened to you and you hate what you have become because of this illness so much, but you realise that none of it was your fault. Now more than anything you WANT to have everything that has been cruelly taken from you, you don’t want this illness anymore, you don’t want to be stuck in the same position in another ten or twenty years (which right now if nothing changes is all you can see happening), you WANT to face those fears and you are prepared to do WHATEVER it takes to get your life back.
You are prepared to challenge your fears and you are prepared to feel uncomfortable. You accept that it is going to be difficult, it is going to be the scariest thing you have ever done but you know if you carry on as you are then nothing will change. You will stay in the same vicious cycle, with the same tormented thoughts, the same sadness and loneliness and hopelessness. You WANT to do everything in your power to be free from this illness, you do not want to lose anymore time to suffering and sadness. You have had enough of existing like this and you want to LIVE. You may not believe you will get there, but you have passion and determination to succeed that one day YOU WILL BE FREE. In that moment you notice a small crack in what was the perfect glass jar.
So, you fill your mind with dreams and things you think YOU would like to be doing or able to do if you were suddenly free from this glass jar – horse riding, meeting friends again, going travelling, learning to drive, university. You begin complying with treatment, you listen and try your hardest to trust those trying to help you. Its not easy. Nowhere near.
Everyday is a battle. Picking up that fork, hand shaking, tears running down your face, but you keep going because you know this is the only way. You must keep facing your fears and exposing yourself to painful thoughts and emotions but your determination to have a life again, however that looks, is stronger than ever. You promised yourself you would reach your dream of going to university and this is the only way you are going to get there. But little by little things are improving. You are gaining more freedom from the hospital, slowly being allowed to do more things you used to enjoy and meet up with friends again. You think, maybe just maybe the hard and difficult days you still have are worth it because you can slowly see more and more cracks in the glass – filling you with hope. Hope you can one day break free.
It is now summer 2018 and after 8 long years of inpatient life and 3 years since having the realisation of what this disease was doing to you and taking the leap of faith to at least try and change your future you are discharged from inpatient facilities. There have been bumps along the way BUT you were taken off your section, you have kept persevering even when it felt like the road you were on was never ending, you kept believing one day you would be free of hospitals and one day you would reach university.
Amazingly to you, you have just completed a college course, and been accepted at your first-choice university to study zoo biology, something you have wanted to do since 2015. You have started horse riding again, you have started to enjoy foods you could never have eaten just a few years ago, you have challenged your fears and thoughts, you have been on a family holiday – the first since 2009, you have a sense of achievement.
Finally, you are starting to believe that you can do this, and maybe you could even recover to a life you could only have dreamed of a few months ago. The cracks in the glass have been spreading and holes are beginning to get bigger. You can feel you are close; you are able to join in with this life on the other side of the glass, but you can feel your wing is still caught on the broken glass. Not quite allowing you to leave your confined space.
Its frustrating, you have left hospital, but you know there is still a long way ahead of you before you are no longer attached to this glass jar. But you can see how much freedom you have now compared to what you had years ago, you have made true friendships with people you can connect to, you feel heard and seen and life doesn’t seem as scary as it did when you were younger. Though you still struggle at times and some days still feel hard you know you that those days are worth it for life you now able to forge.
So now you reach summer 2020 and what a journey you have been on. You have been out of hospital for two years, you have been discharged from CPA’s and your CPN, the mental health consultant is looking to discharge you from services all together by September. You have successfully completed 2 years at university and are starting a placement year hoping to travel aboard for some of it. You raised over £500 for a charity that continued to offer support at university – First Steps – by sky diving from 10,000ft! You have taken up new hobbies and volunteered at local zoos and animal rescue centres. You have begun driving lessons and made more true and meaningful friendships. You have a boyfriend who is so kind and caring and are hopeful for a bright future together. You feel like the hard days are behind you, life is full of everything you once hoped and dreamed of. Some days you still find you have some unwanted thoughts, but you have learnt to acknowledge them but not entertain them. You do not let them impact you or your life.
You understand now that thoughts and feelings are not facts, you have millions of thoughts and feelings a day and these more unwanted thoughts are just part of being human but, you know now that they do not lead to a good place if you get wrapped up in them. You also know you do not ever want to go back to that dark and lonely place, you have too much good in your life now to lose it all. Life can still be scary, but you are learning to embrace that and enjoy each moment without worrying about the future.
The glass jar has completely shattered, and you are finally free from the grips of this deadly disease. You spread your new wings and fly, finally believing that you deserve this, you deserve this life and above anything you deserve to be happy and free. Fragments of the glass jar may remain etched into your wings, but they remind you of all you have overcome, and how strong and brave you are for defeating something that seemed so unbreakable. But you broke it with your determination to live and your passion to succeed, and ultimate belief in yourself that you deserved more than that glass jar.
As you’re reading this in that hopeless and scary and lonely place, you may be wondering who this is from, how can they know what is to come for you? Well I’ll tell you how, because this is YOU. You are the author of your own story and you too can recover from this illness called anorexia.
Thank you to all our Words From A Wiser Me contributors!