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Ending the stigma

13th October 2015

Something is changing. Something rather exciting is happening. People are talking and it's only just hit me how powerful our voices can be. Growing up, before my anorexia took hold, and even during 'well spells' I was often nick named "Gob on legs". I'm Northern, outgoing, big personality, big hearted...and I'm dead proud. That's me. I am what I am and I is what I is. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I embrace it. It's not always been this way.

I suffered in isolation for years. In Children's psychiatric units, Eating Disorder units, hospital beds, a prisoner in my own bedroom. I had no voice. Well, I had huge voice actually, it was just inside my head. I had a demon in me in the form of anorexia, I had a darkness in me in the form of depression...I was a shell. I had a mental health illness. Eating Disorders and depression...both MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESSES.

When I decided to first speak out about my past suffering I had no idea of the impact my voice would have. And I often found it mind blowing the difference in reaction from someone when I chose the word mental health illness to describe my past anorexia. Many believe it's a 'habit' born out of vanity and the "pressures of the media." Absolute codswalloping Rubbish. It's a life threatening mental health illness, the highest mortality rate of all mental health illnesses and is born out of something inside the individual to which they are struggling to handle or control. If ever I hear the media or pressures from magazines being blamed for eating disorders I get rather passionate in saying...NO WAY! Saying this belittles the extent of pain and suffering caused to someone with an eating disorder, and indeed those affected around them. I didn't open up a copy of, say 'Mizz' magazine, back in the day and go "Oh, blimey, she's slim...I should be like her. Tell you what, I'll lose all self worth, stop eating, nearly kill myself and cause immeasurable pain to my family, because, well, I want to be like her!" I was reading the Beano comic still at 10years old for god's sake. I am damn sure he didn't make me ill! My point is...more and more are now talking about what suffering from a mental health illness is really about. I for one am delighted by this. Finally. Finally!

Stigmas are being booted, fears and realities are being shared, hearts are becoming open and most importantly, minds and ears are absorbing. People are always going to judge. I pity those folk but it's a fact of life. I once remember I did an interview about my battle with an eating disorder and campaigned enormously for Eating Disorder Awareness week only to have a comment put online in one of those delightful comments boxes stating "Oh f off with your attention seeking, what crap, she only wants to be famous, she needs to lose some weight again!" I read it, and my heart sank. Such ignorance still exists. I don't need to justify why I speak out, but I will say this, it's because I can make a difference, my parents charity SEED Hull and I, not because I want attention. Fortunately, I'm a tough cookie, and can deal with online trolls. There are many. That's life. We have to feel very sorry for them indeed, and I often thank them, because it's one comment like that which makes me all the more determined to have my voice heard. And as ever, hold on to the amazing comments I receive when having a voice. My voice.

I recently became an ambassador for Anti Bullying Pro and The Diana Awards, as bullying was the initial reason for my eating disorder beginning, amongst other issues which remain more personal to me. I couldn't control what people around me said or did to me, but I could control what went inside me. Also the less of me there was physically, the less of me there was to my body became frail and child like again, losing the signs of puberty, which in my mind had changed everything. I once again began to share my story and was opened up to a world of such bravery by many young school goers, teenagers, men, women...all who had suffered, yet together, by speaking out, had come through and defeated the bullies. The more our voices are heard the stronger we become.

Many may have heard my story numerous times over, but I'll never stop telling it, in the hope that somebody else new hears it and takes strength and comfort from the outcome. I have other blogs on SEEDS website, which go into depth of such telling and again I hope all my blogs bring something. Even just one little grain of hope, help or support. I am so proud to be patron of SEED...because it signifies how far I have come to. I'm well again. I take on this role as I am recovered. And no matter what anyone says, or whatever the doubt in your mind may be. Listen to me...RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE. Looking back, if I'd have had the help that is now being offered more and more to those suffering with an eating disorder, my life could have been very different. There's still so much to be done and to change, and we are still desperately seeking more services and knowledge to help those in the grips of an eating disorder...but we are getting there and it's heartening to see. Here be the reason my parents set up no family or sufferer would ever go through what we did in such extreme for all those 13 years. I was turned away from a Doctor at the age of 10, when my parents saw those first signs of anorexia, to be told my BMI wasn't low enough for there to be a problem. Thus I lost more weight, helpless as a family, and thrown in the grips of a life threatening mental health illness. First being admitted to a children's psychiatric unit, locked away from my family and friends and kept on bed rest. Made to eat and gain weight, without ever addressing the cause of my actions and pain. I had stereos thrown at my head by other patients, watched as one was sedated during an 'episode', was told in full detail of how my roommate was raped, watched as another patient cut herself in front of me and left to fight to survive. My parents took me out of that place, thank goodness, and next I was in an eating disorder unit. Once again, fed to gain weight, never addressing my mental torture and shipped out. Surrounded by such despair and isolation. Many a visit to hospital ensued, on bed rest, drips in my arms. Cut to, standing in my kitchen with a knife to my wrist, almost about to end it all, before my Dad's voice snapped me back into reality. Overdosing on sleeping tablets because the pain of living was too hard to bear, but the pain I'd cause by dying was something I couldn't do to my family whom I adored. I was trapped in the hell of my mind.

But here I am now. A woman of 31 years old, living my dreams, surrounded by the most wonderful friends and loved by my amazing family. Having just recently achieved things beyond my wildest dreams. Mainly my love of singing coming back into my life and sharing my voice again on stage. I've never felt so whole and happy. My road to recovery started at the age of 20 years old...11 years after I first became ill. But it happened. One of my dearest friends had taken his own life and I was allowed out of the eating disorder unit I was in at the time, after an episode in hospital due to cardiac arrest, to attend the funeral. He had said to me just a week previous that he wanted me to get my life back, that I was beautiful and talented and he wanted to see me fulfil my dreams of being on the stage and acting. He hugged me that night and whispered in my ear "Don't waste your life Gem, you're too good to waste". Little did I know those would be his last words to me and I'd never see him again. I stood at his funeral and saw heart ache and destruction and loss I had never witnessed before. It suddenly hit me...I was doing the exact same thing but much slower. I was killing myself. That day changed my life forever and the road to recovery began. I get asked many times how I stepped onto that path of recovery and for me it was simple. Back then, I didn't love myself, but I loved my family and friends. If I couldn't do it for me, I had to do it for them. Whatever you can find to grip on to, to give you that first bit of courage, you do it. I promise in time, you will start to realise you are getting better for YOU. It's a long road, I'm not going to lie. It requires many a setback, that's the truth. But when the path veers you just have to side step a soon find your way again. And that is done not on your own, but by speaking out. Seeking help. Embracing the love and support that is out there once you find your voice. You have what it takes to beat this. To beat any mental health illness. You only give people or monsters in the mind power if you allow them it. Don't allow them it, it is YOURS.

This year hasn't always been easy for me. Some if it documented in the press, some of it not, and will remain so. But I came back fighting, and all along the way, whatever life threw at me, I picked myself up, dusted myself off and carried on, stronger than before. Until that final bell, fight like hell! One thing I've learnt more than ever this year is the power of letting things go. The power of being and accepting others and situations for what they are, knowing that the world is a lighter place if we forgive and move on.

My Grandad passed in March as many will know and I dedicate this blog to him. For giving me a soul mate in him, an extra father, alongside my already amazing one, for giving me a heart as big as the universe and for believing in me. Keep talking, if you see something, say something, hold onto your dreams and ambitions and envisage the life you deserve. It's there for the taking.

I never look back and regret. My past is my present and it made the strong, grateful woman I am today. Look around you, there is always something no matter how small, to be grateful for.

All my love and light,

Your Patron, Gem x