Behind Rosa's Mind
My experiences of anxiety, depression, anorexia nervosa and self harm are rooted in different events which have occurred throughout my life, and have been influenced by my own personality and character. I think it's important to share my story in order to destigmatise mental illness and bring hope to others in similar situations.
Growing up, I was an anxious child. I have multiple life-threatening food allergies which mean that my relationship with food has always been complex. Luckily I had close friends and an extremely supportive family, so managed this anxiety well and was a happy child. However at the age of 15, I experienced a serious anaphylactic reaction. My life was saved by my Epipen and by hospital treatment, but the event was extremely traumatic and affected me greatly.
I was soon referred to CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) by my allergy doctor, as I had developed obsessive rituals around food and was avoiding situations which I deemed 'unsafe'. It was terrifying to open up about my anxieties to my psychologist, but I was grateful to have a professional who I trusted to help me.
After a few sessions focusing on my history of trauma and anxiety, I opened up to my psychologist about something huge. I self-harmed, and had been doing so since the age of 12. I had started to self-harm as a young teenager when I realised that I was gay - the feelings of alienation, isolation and confusion were too much for me to handle. Over time I came to accept myself and my sexuality, and came out at the age of 15! But by then, the use of self-harm as a coping mechanism had been hard wired into my brain. I was my way of dealing with feelings of numbness, detachment and emotional pain.
This was a turning point for me. My psychologist respected my privacy and didn't disclose this information to my parents. I finally had someone I trusted enough to be honest about the cycle of self-injury I had found myself in, and I found a tiny ounce of hope that maybe I could stop.
Whilst continuing to work on my anxiety and self-harm issues, my fears around food led to me restricting my diet and losing some weight. This soon spiralled into obsessive calorie counting, compulsive exercise, dietary restriction and the misery of anorexia nervosa. My psychologist referred me urgently to the CAMHS ED service, and I was diagnosed 2 days later at the age of 17. I managed to avoid an inpatient admission due to my strong family support network at home, and my "complex" allergies, which were deemed too risky for an eating disorder inpatient unit.
And so the long work of my recovery began. In short, I spent roughly a year resisting treatment and being controlled by my ED. I was miserable and a shell of my former self. I attempted to take my own life the week before my 18th birthday. But then something amazing happened - I received my first offer to study medicine at university. After receiving offers from 4/4 medical schools I applied to, I made the solid decision to commit to recovery and follow my greatest ambition of becoming a doctor.
I found an antidepressant which lifted me out of the depression fog I was stuck in. I followed my psychologist and ED nurse's advice to the letter, even when it felt impossible. I handed over control of my food intake to my mum, and stopped exercising (apart from short, gentle walks). I ate through tears, pain, mental and physical discomfort and the screaming voice of my ED inside my head. The story of my recovery is a whole post in itself, but the key thing I want to share is that it is possible! I am now a 3rd year medical student and have recovered from anorexia. I have learnt how to manage my anxiety and depression and reach out for help when I'm struggling. I have made a huge amount of progress in terms of self-harm.
I have better days and worse days. I'm still learning how to manage them. But with the help of friends, family, talking therapy, medication, university support and rediscovered hobbies, I am getting there. There is no shame in speaking out, and that is something I hope to inspire in future colleagues and patients when I qualify as a doctor.
"The sun will rise and we will try again"