In just under 8 week’s time, I will be running the Edinburgh Half Marathon in aid of SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health)- an amazing cause that helps young people who are dealing with mental health problems. It is a charity that is incredibly close to my heart, and I really feel honoured to be able to fundraise and also increase awareness for them- as well as hopefully getting a good time for my first every half marathon!
Why is SAMH so dear to me?
I’ve always been a shy person. My dad worked a lot, and eventually left the family home when I was 8 years old to go and look after my grandparents in Aberdeen – this turned out to be the beginning of a very long and messy divorce between my parents- and my mum was always incredibly harsh and strict with us. Children, to her, were to be neither seen nor heard, just fed, watered, and expected to automatically do and be the best out of everyone. High expectations to put on any child to be perfectly honest.
Because she worked so many hours, my brother and I were looked after by a woman who, instead of caring for us, was verbally, mentally and physically abusive. We were terrified of her. Thinking back, it makes me feel sick that I physically couldn’t have done anything to prevent any of it happening, but in not being able to do so, I wasn’t able to prevent my brother – who was between the ages of 3 and 7 when this all happened- from being hurt.
Physical abuse is one thing. Mental abuse is another. Marks fade, but negative thought patterns don’t. If someone calls you fat and ugly enough times, especially at a young age, it sticks. If they call you worthless and a waste of space, you believe it. Thoughts don’t go away. They’re there forever.
Being told to shut up every time I opened my mouth meant I began to think no one wanted to hear my voice. Throughout school, I was horribly shy, and would avoid speaking to new people if I could help it. I didn’t want to give anyone else the ammunition to be able to call me names or tell me how useless I was. Encouragement didn’t exist in our childhood. Acceptance for good grades and punishment for anything that went wrong, no matter how tiny the problem, was the way our lives worked.
At 17, I was told I was depressed. I suffered panic attacks and crippling anxiety, I cried constantly, I gave up on everything that had once been special to me, and severed friendships because I felt I wasn’t good enough for anyone to have to spend time with me. I stopped speaking to my dad, I lived with my mum at the time but we hardly spoke, and when we did, we would just end up screaming at each other, and I walked around school feeling ashamed of myself because I was the only person I knew to have to skip two periods of Maths every week to speak to a counsellor who would come in and see me. I had friends, but none of which I felt would understand how scared I was to go home at night.
When I was 18, I contemplated suicide.
Without going into too much detail, I had everything ready. I genuinely thought to myself that, seeing as the people who were supposed to love me the most in the world had either abandoned me or had spent my entire life telling me how rubbish a human being I was, then the world wouldn’t miss my being there, and I could just end my pain and suffering- and the burden I was being to everyone around me- if I was no longer alive.
What stopped me? Call it divine intervention, coincidence, or just a regular 12 year old kid being annoying and wanting his sister to play football with him, but my brother walked into the room, pounced on me, and dragged me into the garden to play ‘penalties.’ And it hit me. Even if everyone around me didn’t want me there, my brother would always need me, just as I needed him. We had been through so much together it would be so selfish of me to end my pain and leave him alone. And I couldn’t face the fact I’d be leaving him alone with people who couldn’t tell him how special he is; how bright and generous a person he is and how happy he makes others.
So I continued with life.
I worked hard at my exams, got into University, and finally got my chance to move out of the family home and into a flat near campus.
I was free.
My brother and established a routine where we would speak to each other every day, so I could make sure he was okay, and we still do that, three years on. I studied hard, did my obligatory year abroad, and then a subsequent semester abroad, and to be honest, they were both pretty amazing opportunities and definitely experiences I am so grateful for and will remember forever.
But as I said before, negative thoughts, once they are planted, grow and manifest constantly. Though I went to University and came out of my shell because I took it as a fresh start and clean slate to begin my life properly, I still looked in the mirror every single day and saw the ugly, fat girl that I had always been told I was. I found it hard to maintain new friendships out of genuine fear that these new mates would see the ‘real me’ and run a mile. That they too, would end up knowing that I was nothing but a worthless waste of space and get tired of me anyway. That became a horrible pattern. I would make friends, get scared they’d abandon me, so push them away before they got a chance to know me well enough. Everyone was kept at an arm’s length- attack is the best form of defence right?
Then last year it got too much. I suffered a hip injury around the time I went of my French semester abroad, which meant I couldn’t run for three months (running has been my go-to free therapy for the last few years) and this crushed me. Keen to embrace living with a French family, not wanting to be rude and declining their food, the new lifestyle and lack of exercise meant I gained 5 kilos in three months.
I remember waking up one morning and just suddenly noticing the extra weight. I cried for two hours, had a panic attack and got so angry at myself for having allowed it to happen. Unable to deal with it in a rational way, my brain kept telling me how disgusting I looked, that I couldn’t even control my eating, which of course led to comfort eating, then… bulimia.
My entire world changed.
My day began to revolve around my mealtimes, how I would be able to sneak away without anyone noticing so I could purge, and that developed into not just getting rid of bad foods, but every food. It got to a point where I was lucky if I kept a breakfast banana and coffee in my system.
Of course, there were times when I really thought about the long term effects of what bulimia would do to me… rotten teeth, heart problems, hair loss, etc, but that’s the thing about eating disorders. When your world has fallen to pieces, eating disorders give you a sense of having some control over something. Then it takes control of you, and it’s a vicious cycle you can’t get out of.
That was a year ago.
Three months into it, I really thought it would be the thing that would kill me. I didn’t see any way in which I would be able to recover, or eat without feeling like a failure or a pig, but when I came back to Scotland, someone told me about SAMH and what they do, and through counselling sessions, hearing about other people’s experiences, and finding a new love for life, I can truly say I am on my journey to recovery.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a long way to go. The longest I’ve been able to go without purging so far since the beginning of 2017 is a week, and the whole cycle is intensified and gets worse with stress. Visits from my mum fill me with dread, I still struggle with getting up some mornings due to anxiety, and I even feel nervous around my own friends and boyfriend at times… how I even secured a boyfriend I’ll never know. That’s just the way I’ve been programmed I guess. To think that at the end of the day, they will see right through me and get sick of me. It’s a terrifying and unfair thought that creeps into my head at the most inconvenient times.
I try to say to myself, and everyone else, though, baby steps. It’s so important to take each day at a time, and before you know it, a week has gone and you’re still okay.
There’s a weird kind of comfort knowing that there are other people in the same boat as you. It makes you feel significantly less obliged to battle through issues on your own, and, through encouraging others to get better, your own goals start to fall into place and you realise that you can help make a difference in other people’s lives, at the same time changing your own. Trying to help other see a light at the end of their dark and twisted tunnel has taught me that I too, can get better.
So, in 8 weeks, each step I take while running the 13.2 miles around Edinburgh will be in aid of not only those who are trying to get better, but those helping them. It takes a lot of courage to be open about your pain, but it takes that and then an amazing amount of patience and kindness to be able to be someone who genuinely wants someone to heal and be good to themselves. Mental illness is a horrible thing, but, the world can truly be a better place if we all support each other.
If you’d like to donate even just a couple of pounds to SAMH, the link below will help you do so. Thank you so much in advance, and remember, you’re helping amazing people do amazing things!