Surviving an Evolving Mental Health Battle
In our latest 'first person' story, Tori* explains the twisting and turning of her lengthy journey with mental illness. She urges others to stay dedicated to recovery - no matteer how tough it may seem.
"In such a short space of time within my 22 years of life, I have experienced many mental health isses, much to my confusion and frustration I found that once I mastered the recovery process of one, another rose its ugly head, dragging me back into the dark hopeless realm of relapse.
Although what I intend to describe to you may be interpreted as a rather unfortunate string of events, I must emphasise that I am not the victim of an adding sum of diagnosis, but a survivor of an ever-evolving expression of mental illness in which the focus was always on symptom management and never the investigation of a root cause.
I knew from at least the age of 9 that I felt different to the other children I had met and I remember feeling a dull crushing pain often at school or at night and by the age of 12, I had begun self harming.
The pain I inflicted upon myself made sense in my young head, I started to put the pieces together and realise that what I had always felt wasn't normal. The self harm eventually felt useless in helping me understand my pain and at the age of 14 I developed and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
During my psychiatric hospital admission I then went on to experience symptoms of psychosis, OCD, depression and anxiety which I began to recover from steadily from at the age of 16. It took me a few years to become fully weight restored and by the age of 18 I had recovered almost fully from these ailments, but I still felt the dull crushing pain lurking behind every corner of my life, I lived in constant fear that I was not strong enough to prevent relapse.
Shortly after my recovery, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and struggled with substance misuse, bulimia and once again self harm. I felt like I had failed my family ,friends and the professionals who had helped me get my life back, but I also felt like I could once again express the pain I still had inside of me.
However once again I recovered progressively with the help from services before the age of 20. The many paths I had to walk in order to achieve a competent state of recovery in these issues were complex and filled with lots of pitfalls, but I saw the correct services for each separate coping mechanism I developed and managed to curb these dangerous behaviours. It wasn't until I sought private therapy that allowed me to work on my deeper more internal issues, that I lost the need to seek out such harming coping mechanism and the risk of developing even more mental health symptoms lessened.
In the narrative of my recovery timeline I hope to illustrate that for some people, mental health illnesses do not simply ‘come and go’ but may in fact evolve into less recognisable forms that can occupy the mind without detection until a full blown relapse is seen.
In my experience, recovery can be a journey that's easily made worsee by converting one disordered behaviour into another, or using an equally harmful coping mechanism to replace an existing one.
I have spent my whole life trying to recover from mental health symptoms and not the core of where these symptoms had come from, and I heavily encourage those with a similar experience to reflect upon this.
It's important to be self aware and to talk about the mental health issues that you are going through with family, friends and/or professionals. But also remember to be kind to yourself, especially when your recovery journey does not go exactly to plan.
To those who are reading this with a similar experience, I promise that this struggle does not last forever and neither will the severity of your evolving symptoms and use of damaging coping mechanisms.
Every time I found myself battling a new ailment, I fought with the knowledge I had gained in recovering from the last one; to this day I find that with each battle I face, I fight feeling stronger and more equipped than the last. It is possible to find balance and peace in the war against mental illness, the process is excruciating but worth it.
I am now 22 years old studying at university, living with my partner and working my dream job, helping people recover from their eating disorders. I can say with confidence that I haven't experienced suffering close to what I did in my previous years.
I still struggle with my body image and the dull crushing pain I once experienced comes and goes, but I know how to deal with it now. My mental health illness does not define me and I will continue to fight whatever comes my way with the knowledge I have gained from my past experiences.
My story is not unique and recovery is possible, you can achieve this too."
- Nov 2020