Sometimes the person who smiles the most has the deepest darkest pain. Sometimes the person who supports us the most has their own constant battles. Sometimes the person who appears to never give up is the one who’s constantly thinking about it.
Today is world mental health day, and I have to say I have been blown away by all the incredible support and sharing of stories and experiences being talked about over social media today. What brave and strong people we all are, even if at times we don’t feel it!! One of the hardest parts of mental illness is often talking about it. So the fact that so many of us are talking is an amazing step forward! However, I know that unfortunately there are so many people who still can’t face opening up and talking yet. Which is fine, everyone’s journey and process of dealing with a mental illness is different. I believe in take your time, but don’t take forever. You don’t need to share your pain with the world, but just start with someone. After all, “A problem shared is a problem halved” as they say…
So I’ve decided to share my story. I actually wrote a blog post last year on this but I didn’t feel brave enough to post it, but now, given recent events in my life, my attitude is more along the lines of “fuck it” and I feel I am unstoppable!! So here I am sharing my mental health journey and I’m hoping that it will help others who are maybe going through something similar and show you there IS a life after the dark. It DOES get better.
In my life, there’s 2 types of mental illnesses I’ve faced… the first is a constant, it’s something I’ve always had to deal with, and probably will always have a battle with it. My anxiety. I’ve always struggled with anxiety ever since I can remember. I’d get so worked up over school exams or ballet competitions to the point I’d be sick, uncontrollably shake and struggle breathing. The things that trigger my anxiety are if I get stressed and overwhelmed or if something is out of my control. It just throws me and I can’t always process how to deal with it. I’ve always been pretty organized and a bit of a control freak, so when something or an unexpected situation happens, I get caught up in a panic, my chest goes tight, I struggle breathing and the anxiety takes over. Having recognised I struggle with anxiety back when I was 17, I do feel I can control it better and not let it consume my life so much. Granted it’s always there, and more recently I had a HUGE test coping with it. But I did it. I got through it, and once again I feel stronger for it and know the next time it comes around, I can beat it and control it again.
The second part of my mental illness story is something not many people know, but after 7 years. I finally feel ready to share it with the world. This isn’t/wasn’t a constant problem like my anxiety, but an extremely painful and testing moment in my life that triggered it.
When I was 19, I was in my second year of ballet school, living in London away from home, and I accidently fell pregnant with my boyfriend at the time. Obviously being only 19 and with a growing student loan, I was in no position to be having a baby, I wasn’t in a place I wanted to be to start a family. So I we (my boyfriend and I at the time) decided to go through with an abortion and it honestly completely broke my heart.
One thing I had always known I wanted in my life was to be a mummy. It was my dream to have a family and I knew that at some point in my life I had to have children. I’m just one of those people that’s always been maternal since about age 11 haha! So to find myself in a position where I had to say “no, I don’t want this baby” destroyed me. Of course I wanted this baby, just not yet, not now. I’d never been so scared, lost and emotionally conflicted in my entire life.
Afterwards was when the peak of my mental illness kicked in. I just couldn’t shake the guilt of having a termination. It started with self-harming but I soon realized too many people were noticing that, so I needed another way to punish myself. This is when my bulimia kicked in and I started taking laxatives and making myself sick countless times a day. I was already not eating a lot anyway from the stress of it all, but I just felt the need to punish myself further for what had happened. It went on for about a year and I’d gone down to 44kgs. For ages I just blamed the intensity of my ballet because at this point I was now in my third and final year so we were touring the UK performing and auditioning for work. I finally hit a point and broke down completely to my mum and admitted what I had been doing. That I had a problem and I knew I needed help.
The turning point in my head for me and the recognition that I had a problem, was that I just didn’t like this person that I was, constantly lying to myself and to the world – I was exhausted! Also what made it so difficult to actually admit was the fact that I was at ballet school. I felt people would automatically blame the dancing for my bulimia because of this stereotype of “all ballet dancers have eating disorders” which just isn’t true! Mine happened because of a specific event, and I just couldn’t see any other way of coping with it. I didn’t want to tell people about the abortion, I just couldn’t, I was ashamed, so how on earth could I admit to being ill and explain myself without being shrugged off because I was a ballet dancer.
But I wanted to get better. Probably the biggest drive in my recovery was the hope of one day having that chance to be a mum again. And if that’s what I truly want, then I need to be healthy and strong, and I can’t keep damaging and ruining my body or my chances of getting pregnant again later on in life. During my recovery I had 8 months of counselling and was on antidepressants for 6 months, which looking back now seems like a blur. I used to have times when I was nervous about relapsing or something triggering it again, but it never has. If anything, although it was unbelievably painful and utterly shit at the time, I know that I’m so much stronger for it, and if I can get through that dark period of my life, I can get through anything.
So here I am today, and what I do know is I am an incredibly blessed and STRONG mama that I always knew I was meant to be. Yes, I’m someone who sometimes battles anxiety still, but I conquered my demons. I’ve been tested since and I’ll probably have more challenges ahead in life. But they will no longer define me or control me. I won.
Just remember, your illness doesn’t define you, your strength and courage does. That this isn’t the end, even when it can feel like it at times. Also to not be ashamed of your story or past, because it will inspire others, which is why I finally wanted to be brave and share my journey and I hope it does inspire and help others.
Lots of love, Bethany xxx