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  • Writer's pictureClaire Innes-Martin

It's World Mental Health Day 2018!

Hi. It’s me! Claire! SO. When asked to describe myself as a number of different things: a daughter; a wife; a cat-mum; a friend; a teacher; a learner; a yogi; actively pale; still a potential girlfriend for Noel Fielding (sorry hubbo), and a woman in active recovery from anorexia.

My relationship with food and exercise, for as long as I remember, has been a bit fucking weird, to be fair. Throughout my teens, I lived truly in the shadow of binge eating and body hatred. My formative messages about food were very mixed up and I had no idea what “a balanced diet” was. Due to problems with my growth, I underwent surgery which didn’t go quite to plan, and went unfixed for a long time. It left me with even more body issues at a time when aesthetic beauty seemed both the most important attribute to possess, and the one attribute I was absolutely missing. My family used to joke that I was “allergic to exercise” when the truth was, I hated how I looked and so did my peers – and they weren’t shy about telling me! Like many people, I was bullied in school and it really fucking hurt, and that’s all there is to say about that. I just wanted to hide.

At the age of 18, I swear, anorexia happened JUST LIKE THAT. CRASH. BANG. WALLOP. OH SHIT. My descent into mental ill-health happened at breakneck speed, and I was using extreme behaviours straight off the bat. I don’t even know how I KNEW some of the things I did, it was as though my eating disorder had been this complete, festering package just WAITING for the final nudge on the latch of its cage to sink its teeth into every aspect of my life. It took a pretty long time for people to become alarmed, because I was overweight when my anorexia began. So.

I lost weight.

I started university.

I lost weight.

I made friends.

I lost more weight.

I worked part-time in a café.

I lost more weight.

People kept telling me how great I looked, and how they admired my discipline in slimming down.

I lost more weight.

I lost more weight.

I cried at a work Christmas dinner party when somebody encouraged me to eat my food.

I lost my job.

I lost more weight.

I lost my place at university.

I lost more weight.

I lost many of my friends.

And I just… kept on… fading… away. Eventually, my frantic parents made me see my GP, where I was advised that I wasn’t yet thin enough to be considered an emergency, and that “it would be advisable for me to eat more calorific foods to regain a healthy weight. Something like a Mars Bar?” Had I possessed the mental or physical energy, I might have laughed. Admitting I had a problem had taken every iota of my strength and courage. I walked away from the GP surgery that day holding my mum’s hand, and I remember her looking at me and knowing she thought I was going to die. I looked at her, and I thought that I was probably going to die too. Not because I wanted to. Not because I wasn’t trying, or because I didn’t care how much I was hurting my family. Anorexia was just SO strong, and it was choking every last drop of who I was from me, every second of every day. I lost more weight. Then some more. I suffered nerve damage to my legs and back, and swallowing began to cause severe chest pains. I kept losing weight, and all I can remember of the last few weeks before my hospitalisation is darkness, grinding pain, the screaming despair of my parents, and the very real sensation of separating entirely from the world around me.

I am one of the lucky ones. Following an emergency admission I spent the best part of 8 months in full-time hospital care at The Priory. My time in hospital was not privately-funded, which was then-available more commonly than at present in Scotland. My opinion is that (depending on the case) outpatient care is favourable to inpatient as it allows those fighting eating disorders to recover in a “real life” context. I left hospital (albeit on a phased basis) totally institutionalised and terrified of living in the outside world. I had to keep learn how to portion food and use cutlery normally. I had to learn how to look at a menu without having a panic attack. I had to learn how to communicate with others normally and stop staring at friends and family in social eating situations.

Now more than a decade into recovery from anorexia, I can’t say I am totally recovered. I am far from alone in this, with some recently-recorded showing that just 46.9% of former Anorexia Nervosa patients could be classified as “cured”. My body dysmorphia remains off-the-charts-totally-whack-as-shit, and I am really frightened a lot of the time. After undergoing a corrective operation 4 years ago, I began using eating disorders that continued until a few months ago (even on my wedding day, which makes me feel so sad eve now) After years of peaks and troughs, I found yoga on a whim, and it allowed me for the first time to take possession of my physical body, reassessing ALL my initial priorities in approaching the practice. It’s pretty simple. I can’t be strong, breathe deeply or transition through sequences without being physically nourished. I can’t maintain my learning and teaching without sustaining my mental and emotional energy. The truth is, I remain well for many reasons, and all of them are both predictable and utterly crucial – but my own yoga practise is a fundamental motivator to function on my very worst days, and I am confident that it always will be.

Mental health awareness has come FAR since my initial experience, but recent statistics show that only around one in ten young people with an eating disorder feel able to advice from teachers, parents, GPs or the school/health systems in general, whereas around half feel these groups are where they should be able to turn. Conversely, sufferers are going online - which is favourable for its anonymity, but can be treacherous ground due to ill-advice and potentially-harmful/triggering content.

There are only two reasons that I didn’t talk about my eating disorder for a decade, and those are shame and fear. Those are two of the same reasons why I am talking about it now. I am a 32 year old woman who is exhausted with feeling ashamed, and angry at being frightened. I am far from alone in this, I know. I invite you to consider: If I can feel this way with all the self-awareness, love, support, strength and community I possess, what could somebody in your life be going through without some/all of those resources to draw upon? If you suspect that somebody you know is struggling with their mental health, I strongly encourage you to get yourself educated first, and then make yourself available for them to reach out to. Seek advice from people who know, and don’t let discomfort stop you from talking about the fucking tough stuff.

If you are somebody in my life who is struggling, my heart is with you, as is my time and two listening ears. Sending so much love.

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