The beginnings of my eating disorder

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I have been thinking about this recently. Where did it come from? I suppose as a child I was always a tomboy, and didn’t look forward to the idea of being an adult and having curves. I was almost scared of the idea of becoming a woman with breasts and big hips. I became overweight in my mid teens during my first bout of depression. The chasm I found myself in overwhelmed me. I needed something, anything in my life to pull myself out of this hole. So I resorted to eating. I’d always enjoyed food, but chocolate and crisps had been a treat, not a way of escaping. But escapism is what I was in desperate need of. During those couple of minutes of eating I could forget the penetrating emotional pain I was experiencing, and concentrate on the smells, texture and taste of the food I was eating. I would hide crisps and chocolate wrappers around the house, because although for an instant I felt better, the guilt I felt afterwards compelled me to hide the evidence. I became more and more aware that I was gaining weight, and so did others around me. I started eating bigger portions at dinner and was forever picking at food. I would become incredibly upset when someone told me I had eaten enough, and that I should stop now. It made me feel like my obsession with food had been discovered, and I had been caught out, that made me feel horribly embarrassed and defensive.

I was bullied at school because of my weight. A group of boys would laugh at me and tell me I was disgusting. One day this group were walking behind me, talking about a rumour that a girl in our year was pregnant. They shouted over at me,

“Is it you, you fat bitch!”

I tried to ignore them , but I couldn’t. These boys would oink and bark in my face as they walked past in corridors. It shattered my self esteem, that I had been gradually building up whilst recovering from severe depression. What they had said and did stayed with me for years. I lost the weight over a few years slowly and healthily. Ever since my weight has fluctuated and I have never once felt comfortable in my own body. I look in the mirror and I see something awful and grotesque staring back. My husband, family and friends say there is nothing wrong with the way I look, but I find it difficult to believe. I analyse every word said about my appearance, and every look that comes my way. I walk down the street and obsessively compare myself with other people, and say to whoever I’m with,

“Do I look like that? Am I that fat?”

I’ll see my reflection in a mirror and feel like I’m going to burst into tears with how incredibly huge I am. I’ll exclaim,

“Fucking hell I’m huge! I’m a whale!”

I’m in a constant battle with my own mind. There is a part of my mind that never stops torturing me, that never lets me fully relax in my own body.

Everything started to unravel during a period of time when I had lost a significant amount of weight. I felt good, still not liking what I saw in the mirror, but saw it as an improvement. Then I decided to have the contraceptive implant. Bad choice. My GP didn’t mention the side effect of serious weight gain and I put back on all the weight I had lost and more in just six months. I felt disgusting and felt physically sick living in my own skin. Wanting to tear out all the fat I could feel from my body, I began to binge. As I’ve already said, bingeing was how I initially put on weight as a teenager. Eating a chocolate bar, a bag of crisps; it was emotional eating and I felt better for a couple of hours until the regret and guilt crept in. I never purged though. I had a phobia of vomiting so would never have dreamt of doing such a thing. As an adult though, life was different. I had grown out of the phobia but the guilt and regret of bingeing remained. So I began to purge, in secret. It was a horrible ordeal to begin with and I often wondered why I was bothering to cause so much damage to myself. But then the threat of more and more weight gain loomed and I continued the ritual.  It began to take over my life, and I started to purge regular meals, in a desperate attempt to be able to live within my own skin. I lost weight drastically, but was still deeply uncomfortable.

I’m managing and trying to recover now. I’m hoping to see a psychologist when I can pluck up the courage. I’m still in a place where I don’t believe I’m deserving of help. Hopefully this will change, but I’m not putting pressure on myself for my thoughts to magically switch.

I have an Eating Disorder

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I have bulimia. Believe me, I hate talking about it. To me it’s an embarrassing secret I keep hidden from others. For years I wanted no one to know about it. I’m ashamed that as a grown woman I do this to myself. It’s not just a teenage illness; I developed bulimia in my early twenties and have struggled to escape it ever since.

It’s a daily internal struggle. I’m constantly in a battle with my own mind. I feel paralysed by the need to binge and purge. I sit stuck for hours, unable to think about anything else. If I go to a supermarket I’ll be there twice as long as I’d planned, agonising over what to buy. Once trapped in the cycle of binging and purging it’s very difficult to break and can feel impossible. After purging, I feel a great release afterwards. It’s an adrenaline rush that becomes addictive. There is also the thrill that I’ve managed to eat and now I won’t gain weight.

Often when I’m depressed, I binge without thinking. All I want is to just do something to draw my mind away from all the negativity in my head. When I have finished and realised the extent of what I have eaten I feel angry at myself and physically uncomfortable. So, I will purge to counteract that feeling. The swell of anxiety after eating can be unbearable. My stomach is full and it feels ready to burst like a balloon that’s been overfilled with air. The tension inside continues to swell and I find it difficult to regulate my breathing, taking short sharp breaths. My head is dizzy with worry and the nausea is there in the background. All of this is coaxing me, fuelling the compulsion to purge. I can’t think straight, my mind is bogged down with the stress and all I can think is,

“Get rid of it, you’re a disgusting pig. Get rid of it, get rid of it now.”

The anguish I feel is all consuming. I’m trapped and claustrophobia envelops me with the walls around me folding into smaller and smaller pieces, until my world is miniscule. Then the only thing left is the temptation to binge and purge. The guilt I feel is tremendous and I promise myself this is the last time, every time.

I’m currently trying to recover from bulimia. It’s been a monumental task. The daily ritual had become ingrained into my thinking, to the point that I couldn’t picture my life without it. I have had slip ups. I know there will be more, but I will never make it an excuse to give up trying.

 

My First Panic Attack

I had my first panic attack when I was 18. It was Christmas time and I was back from Uni. I remember being in bed when I suddenly felt a wave of nausea. The feeling built up gradually, to the point where I was convinced I was about to vomit. I rushed downstairs to the bathroom but nothing happened. My Mum had heard me coming down the stairs and appeared at the doorway to check if I was ok. That was when the pain hit me. A sharp, intense pain penetrated my chest; it felt like I’d been stabbed. I began to pace the house but each step I took the pain resonated from my foot up to my chest. With every action, the pain continued to intensify, as did my desperation. By that point I was crying with fear. I was convinced I was having a heart attack; that I was going to die. My Mum at this point rushed to the phone and rang an ambulance. Unable to control my breathing, I began to hyperventilate. Again this was a new experience and again I was terrified. Anyone who has experienced this knows how difficult to reign back in your breathing pattern is, especially when you don’t understand what is happening to you. I didn’t understand that I needed to calm myself and try to relax and that by doing so would release some of the pain. The ambulance arrived whilst I was sitting on the sofa, hunched over with my hands clamped over my head. The paramedics were incredibly calm and patient with me, especially as it took about 15 minutes for them to convince me to move. I’m a very prideful person and even in the state I was in, I didn’t want to be helped or go to the hospital.
It was my mum who first suggested it might have been a panic attack. In hospital the doctor took an ECG, which came back normal and then ordered an x-ray of my chest, that again, came back as fine. His opinion was I’d pulled a muscle in my chest. My conclusion; he had no idea and was bullshitting.

For the next 3 years, I had numerous panic attacks, I couldn’t honestly say how many. I found heat of any kind soothed the pain and calmed me down. I would take a shower, sit on the floor with my back to the radiator in winter. Finally I bought a lavender pillow I could heat up and then place on my back or chest. The attacks would feel like they lasted for hours, and some did. Most attacks would occur in a cluster of two or three over the space of a week. The most frustrating element of the panic attacks was they would nearly always happen in the early hours of the morning. After each bout, I would be utterly exhausted.

I was finally offered CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) when I was 21. Before this, I was fobbed off many, many times by doctors who knew what was wrong with me. They’d say have a relaxing bath, drink some herbal tea before bed…blah, blah, blah. What I really needed was to learn why this was occurring and what I could do about it. The six CBT appointments I had were incredibly helpful. I learnt to accept that this was something that happened to me and that when it did, I could control it. Each time I had an attack, I would say to myself, ‘I know this is a panic attack. I know nothing terrible is going to happen to me. I know it is up to me to control and stop this.’ My counsellor showed me relaxation techniques and how to regulate my breathing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate and help calm my thoughts. My favourite relaxation technique was to tense and then relax my body starting with my toes and moving up to my neck.

Since CBT, the amount and severity of attacks have diminished and now I rarely suffer from them. This year, I have only had one major one. What I’ve realised is the anxiety and panic attacks are intertwined with Bipolar. They are part of the cycle; it often starts off with mania, that then subsides to a point where I feel devoid of energy. The offshoot of this is either a massive panic attack, a deep depression or both. I now look at panic attacks as my body’s way of saying ‘No, I’ve had enough of this nonsense, you’ve been using my reserve battery for too long, so I’m fucking you up for a bit.’ One piece of advice from my time talking to Gp’s that wasn’t entirely useless was having a bath. When I’m stressed or panicky, I’ll run a bath full to the brim with bubbles overflowing. It’s my safe place. Lying back in that warm water soothes me and distracts me from the pain and pressure I’m feeling. I lived in a house with only a shower for three years, but now I have one again I make sure I take a bath every single day to relax.

You can watch my video about panic attacks here

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Anger and Bipolar

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I have always had a temper. Except for the people closest to me, it’s a side of me that I rarely show. One of the major problems I have when managing a manic episode is controlling my anger. I usually come across as calm and friendly; a level headed type with a gentle nature. When I’ve explained I struggle with angry outbursts to people, the reaction I’ve had has been

“But you don’t come across like that” or “You seem like such a calm person!” or “Could never imagine you doing something like that.”

I find it all very difficult to explain to others. Of all the mood swings that accompany Bipolar the swell, well actually the tidal wave, of anger I feel is difficult to explain and for others to grasp. What tends to happen is that I bottle up how I feel and hold onto it when all I want to do is rant and rave. Everyone has flashes of anger and we all know someone that we describe as having a short fuse; they’re a hot head, or just generally grumpy and bad tempered. The anger I feel is sustained and intense.

It begins with a general irritability, with everything around me touching a nerve. Ok, everyone feels that way when they’re having a bad day and we might feel as if we want to burst. For me that irritable feeling is relentless, like a constant itch I can’t rid myself of. The loudness of someone eating, the way they might look at me, people getting in my way when I walk down the street all annoys me. I will snap at people vocally and internally. This will go on for days and days and, if I’m lucky, it all levels out and I act like an annoying bitch for awhile before it dissipates.

The anger, the real anger, is when things get serious. Sometimes it is an explosive rant. I’ll shred the person to pieces with a barrage of insults, or I might angrily shout about something that happened earlier in the day. Everyone does this occasionally, but nearly always it will be a significant argument or serious situation. It’s not the same for me, with the tiniest annoyance setting me off and sparking a rant. I often explain these rants as being stuck in a loop. A cyclical bout of anger I trap myself in. It can last hours, ruining an evening or a whole day for myself and everyone that has been caught in it. I literally can’t move past the problem and calm down, constantly going over and over it.

On another note, I’m also ashamed to say I have had many, many temper tantrums. Shouting, screaming, swearing at nothing, everyone, in people’s faces, in the street and at home. I’ll stamp my feet whilst I rant and rave, I’ve thrown my phone, my laptop, trashed my home. I’ve hit myself, I’ve punched the walls – I had to explain to my landlord when we moved out why there was knuckle shaped hole in the wall. These tantrums can be a response to pretty much anything that has upset or annoyed me. Once it started because I thought my brother had opened a package addressed to me. Another occasion involved me forgetting my hairbrush when my husband and I went on a trip.

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Before I was diagnosed, I assumed everyone had bouts of anger similar to this but they were just better at hiding it than me. I assumed it was pms, although this anger could happen at any time of the month. Mania and feeling stable but happy are very different things.  Bipolar: The difference between feeling good and mania Deciding that this was true, in certain circumstances I began to train myself to hide how I was feeling inside. At work in particular, because of the nature of my previous jobs, I would nod and smile when really I was raging. I would excuse myself and go to the bathroom, where I would scream and stamp my feet. This is one of the most unhealthy coping mechanisms I have acquired over the years and is one I can’t seem to break. Returning home after work the anger would explode into viciousness and exasperation. Everyone I have lived with, or has spent an extended period of time with me, has had to deal with this and I’ve apologised many times when I’m more stable.

One comment that really doesn’t help is “I can see you’re angry.” Yes, of course I’m very aware that I’m angry! Or “You just need to calm down.” It’s pointless to reason or argue with me and the best way for people to deal with it is to leave me to myself. I’ve told family and friends there is no point in telling me I’ve upset them there and then, because I won’t see how inappropriate I’m being. If I’m calm and stable, then I’ll listen and I’ve been deeply upset at how I’ve treated people I care about.

I know my behaviour is  destructive, and after the mania has ended I am completely exhausted. I talk about the realities of mania in the post Mania is… The anger can last for weeks, or a month or two, so doing nothing for a week and catching up on sleep is all I will want to do. I’m learning to spot the signs now, but it doesn’t necessarily stop it from happening.

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Mania is…

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Running into the garden armed with a super soaker and naked, shouting ‘you little fucker’ at a cat

Screaming ‘fuck you, you twat’ at the top of my lungs at a bar manager.

Refusing money to pay the heating bill when living in freezing temperatures.

Laughing uncontrollably and jumping on the bed for no reason.

Putting a trip to Japan on the credit card.

Getting angry at the smallest annoyance and shouting, swearing, stamping my feet for hours on end.

Talking incessantly at a crazily fast pace.

Loudly explaining how to properly shank somebody waving around a steak knife in a busy restaurant.

Walking home from town alone in the early hours of the morning.

Sleeping less than 3 hours a night.

Confronting complete strangers when they are rude.

Working out obsessively.

Driving recklessly; tailgating, driving too fast and speeding around country roads and crashing into other cars.

Wanting sex at four in the morning.

A mind bursting with creative ideas.

Having ridiculously high expectations of myself, and others around me.

Hearing voices that fill me with confidence and excitement.

Ranting angrily at someone, or myself, relentlessly for hours on end. For more about anger, read Anger and Bipolar

Making family and friends cry when I make rude inappropriate statements about them.

Ridiculing people I love in public.

Deliberately being belligerent and combative to start an argument.

Growling at work, and looking surprised when people notice.

Composing strange disturbing noises and shouting them in people’s ears.

A feeling that my mind is one moment buzzing with excitement and happiness and the next with anger and animosity. Bipolar: The difference between feeling good and mania

An intense need to scream; with happiness or anger.

A ‘twinkle’ I see in my eyes when I look back at photos. Some of these photos are in my post Capturing Moods: A Bipolar Picture Diary

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How much is too much: Alcohol and Bipolar

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I love a good drink. Alcohol plays a major role in how I relax and how I socialise. Over the years, as my moods have changed, so has my relationship with alcohol and my consumption. When I lived alone, I was in a manic state nearly the entire time and I drank often in my flat when no one was around. After it became a problem, I made a promise to myself never to drink alone again. I’ve kept that promise, well as much as I could. I’ve had  some rare slip ups to this rule when I’ve been feeling very depressed. Alcohol was there and I knew it could numb the pain I was in.

Anyway, the point of this post is to explain how alcohols effect on me has changed recently. Take yesterday evening. I was sat at home, after having more than a few drinks the night before, I thought I’d have a quiet night in to myself. I’d been feeling slightly delicate that day, probably because we had started with beer and then graduated on to whiskey. Though feeling a bit rough, it wasn’t a problem; until about five that evening. My heart began to race. It felt like it was going to explode. There was a sharp, shooting pain in my back that radiated into my chest. It felt like the beginning of a panic attack. I sat as relaxed as I could taking deep breaths through my nose and exhaling out my mouth. The pain refused to dissipate. To calm myself, I ran a bath. The bath has become my safe place and the heat soothed the pain I was in.

I knew it was the alcohol that was effecting me because this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Before Christmas, I was drinking heavily. The nearer we got to the festivities, the more often I was having panic attacks. Move forward to Boxing day evening and I was in terrible pain, my heart again racing at a ferocious speed. I had to retreat upstairs to the spare room I was staying in and cry. I sobbed, sitting on the bed, feeling that I could no longer cope with these nearly incessant bouts of panic. The next day, with my husband, we made the connection between the panic attacks and alcohol. Without fail, the day after drinking I would have these attacks and it seemed to be the only explanation.

We decided it would be in my best interests to not drink until my birthday at the end of January. It worked and I didn’t have a attack for the entire month. I saw my psychiatrist during this time and he agreed it was most likely alcohol making me feel this way. I was also severely depressed and he felt the alcohol had contributed. Alcohol, he said, interfered in how the medication I was taking worked.

The depression has lifted now and I’ve decided only to drink on special occasions. Unfortunately this means dealing with the fallout the next day and I need to decide whether having a few drinks is actually worth it.

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Novel Update: 1

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It’s been nearly two weeks now since I started work on my novel. I have been persistent and strict with myself, writing each day. Some days it might only be a couple of hundred words, but it is still progress. The word count is currently standing at 15,000. I’m trying not to get hung up on this, preferring to concentrate on the flow rather than length. Before beginning in earnest, I had an entire notebook filled with ideas for chapters and whole chunks of prose and dialogue scrawled on the pages. I have been trawling through these notes, deciding what works and what doesn’t.

Much of what I have written is deeply personal. There are situations I have described that none of my family or friends know about. I’m concerned of what they will think of me after reading these chapters. However, I made a promise to myself to be as honest as I possibly could about my experiences, and the impact Bipolar has had on my life.

I’ve been open about it with friends and family, with offers to read my work through and critique when it’s finished. I’m not sure how I feel about the people close to me critiquing my work. I would prefer a completely honest assessment of what I have written, not a watered down version of the truth.

There are many questions and doubts circling my mind as I write:

Is this engaging enough?

Will anyone actually want to read this?

Has everyone been lying to me and I can’t actually write?

I’m trying my hardest to silence the negative voices. I have a reputation for self sabotage and I’m determined to keep going and pursue my goal.

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Bipolar: The difference between feeling good and mania

 

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Mania is tricky. It’s sneaky. It creeps up on you without you realising. One minute you’re feeling productive, happy, then a few weeks later you find yourself in full blown mania. In the midst of everyday life, it’s easy to lose sight of your moods when you suffer from Bipolar.

Mania for me is reckless, dangerous driving. It’s spending masses of money I don’t have. It’s an irrational, intense anger toward everything and everyone. For more, read Anger and Bipolar . It’s believing I can rule the world, and anything is possible. To read more of what I do when manic, check out Mania is… Paranoia follows me everywhere, whispering in my ear. It’s hearing voices that boost my self belief.

The problem I have over and over again is whether I’m in a good mood or in the early stages of hypomania. Hypomania is the lesser extreme of mania. Your self confidence is unbound, you feel constantly restless and itching to start that new project you’ve been dreaming about. A good mood and hypomania can present as extremely similar to an outsider and even feel the same to myself.  I have been in a hypomanic state when family and friends believed I was just happy. What they didn’t see was that I was constantly ‘on’, like a light with a faulty switch that can never be turned off into you fix the problem. It’s a dangerous time, as relentless energy pushes me on further to do more and more. I can’t sleep or eat because my mind is desperately active; it needs to be satiated with action and excitement.

If this isn’t addressed and treated, hypomania can easily turn and I find myself in the throes of mania. Mania doesn’t always feel good. You’re not always ecstatic and the life of the party. It can be as self destructive and life threatening as depression. It’s hypomania but brighter, louder, so much so it’s like your senses are overloaded. It can be irritating and unpleasant, like when you’re trying to sleep and it’s three in the morning, but your body is constantly in an awkward position and you can never seem to get comfortable. I feel like raging and screaming because of the pressure building inside my head, but there’s no release valve. It’s not anything like feeling ‘good.’

My partner and family are always the first to see it. I have a glint in my eye, as many have remarked. I’m relentlessly proactive and take on far too many projects. My speech quickens, and I’m always waiting eagerly for my turn to speak and when I do, the speech is pressured, non stop.

I’m constantly critiquing my own moods, my behaviour for the fear of it being something more sinister. Why must I doubt my own happiness? It’s a terrible thing to be continually worrying about your state of mind even when you’re in a good place mentally.

Stability is unfortunately a rarity for me. It means I can be productive, and the world feels like a positive place. In all honesty, a stable mood often feels alien to me and I feel uncomfortable when I am. My world feels flat; not erupting into jagged cliffs or sinking into dangerous caverns.

My psychiatrist urges the need for routine. Routine is a Bipolar sufferers best friend. Even if I’m not tired, I should get changed and get into bed, the same time every night. A lack of sleep is a major trigger for me and I’m guilty of expediting a bout of mania by staying up late into the night and early morning. Having a daily, general routine stops me from over exerting myself, which again is a slippery slope towards mania.

I’m slowly getting better managing Bipolar. It surprises me often how easy it is to slide back into old routines and find myself in a manic state. I’ll try my hardest this time to not let that happen.

This mood scale from Bipolar Uk is very helpful for charting moods, if you believe you may have Bipolar bipolar_uk_mood_scale

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Capturing Moods: A Bipolar Picture Diary

Recently, I have been clearing through all the photos on my phone. As I sorted through, I found a number of selfies and what shocked me was the difference in my appearance! Now when I say this I don’t mean changes of hairstyles, or weight loss or gain, but how each picture encapsulates my mood. From depression, to stability, to mania and back again, they were all there. This was never intentional; I was never conscious how often these photos framed my state of mind. I can see the pattern now; it is etched on my face. I find it quite unnerving to witness ‘from the outside’ the peaks and troughs of my mental state.  So many people have said how they’ve noticed a ‘twinkle in my eye’ during a manic episode, my eyes somehow look bigger and intensified. When I’ve looked back at photos of myself I’ve instantly recognised the heightened mood I was experiencing at the time.

 

This was mid summer. My drinking becomes more excessive when I’m hypomanic. I’ll drink everyday, even though I don’t need to drink to be sociable or enjoy myself. Friends and family will think I’m drunk when actually I’m completely sober. As you can imagine I definitely should not be drinking at this point. I also don’t care how I look. I’m wearing minimal make up and I haven’t sorted my hair.

Here my mania has increased. My eyes appear deeper and glisten with a fierce intensity. In both these pictures I was heading to a concert. If I’m already feeling manic, an event I’ve been looking forward to makes my high mood even more profound.


The two looks of depression. In the first photo I’m wearing minimal make up and my hair is scraped up. With the second I’ve added a touch of foundation and eye make up. I’m astute at covering up my depression, I can look ‘normal’ and happy; I’ll do my hair when I go out or go to work; I’ll wear clean clothes and will pay attention to my hygiene. When I’m at home, that all goes out the window. When I feel safe, alone, or with my husband, I don’t feel the need to hide my negative emotions and this is evident in my appearance.

I just can’t stop pulling ridiculous faces! I’m really not bothered how stupid I look and go around telling everyone how ‘malleable’ my face is! This bout of mania was short and sharp.

Tired, very tired. I have to inevitably come down and this is the result. The difference is always in the eyes. The dark circles and the pale face are indicative of how washed out and exhausted I’ve become. My immune system is also lowered after a lack of sleep, food and an almost unending amount of energy during a bout of mania.


Feeling confident and assured. This is always a worrying time for my family. When I say I’m feeling assured I mean my confidence materialises as aggression and hostility. I go looking for arguments and I usually find one.

This was Christmas time. I spent most of the time pretending I was ok, when I was actually really struggling. I was flitting between different houses, trying to see family as much as possible over Christmas and juggling work commitments. I’m secretly very tired and trying to take grip of my emotions in case I suddenly burst into tears.

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The is me now. I’m relatively stable and at the time of taking this picture I had just come through a severe bout of depression, which lasted about a month.

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Stigma on the internet: Psychosis is not a fashion statement.

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I enjoy trawling through pinterest. It’s usually a safe place for me, where I go to look for tattoo ideas, new fashions and recipes. However, this week it turned me into an angry ball of rage and indignation.

I came across the above image, an outfit labelled as psychotic. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; why would you think to come up with an idea like this?! From someone that suffers  from psychosis, I don’t choose a look when I’m hearing voices. Eyeliner, denim shorts and pretty rings are not high on my list of priorities at that particular moment. Severe mental health problems are not fashionable or something to aspire to.

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I found that this pin originally came from the site Polyvore, where users can create ‘sets’ and name them how they see fit. Once on the site, I then found the set above, ‘I am psychotic’ Where does this idea that being psychotic is cute come from? It is far from cute. It is terrifying, bewildering, confusing. When voices are screaming and shouting at you to the point where you can’t concentrate on anything else and you feel so desperate you would do anything to get away from them, tell me then how cute it is.

This proves that much more has to be done to raise awareness of mental health problems. People are slowly beginning to understand more about depression and anxiety, but there are disorders such as psychosis that need to be brought to the forefront.

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