Second guest blog from mental health campaigner, Emily Nuttall. Here, she poignantly shares her mental health struggles and lived experience of an eating disorder.
In the previous blog, I reference ‘my mask.’ I used it so well to hide my pain and mental health experiences.
A mixture of depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, flashbacks, voices, autism and PTSD was a recipe that allowed anorexia to consume both my mind and body. In a way, this was terrifying, but in another, they were my best friends. I had never felt the safety blanket that it provided. I desperately needed it and it was there for me; it helped make everything feel ok. It helped me get through the trauma, turmoil, devastation and loss of control that life had thrown my way.
This made it so much harder for me to be open and accepting of help and support, which prevented me accessing treatment. I felt a lot of guilt and shame for being Emily.
I have recognised now there have been many contributing factors for my anorexia and other mental health problems it led to – including experiencing my father walking out of my life aged 3 and blaming myself, to then go through emotional and physical abuse for 10 years from my step-mum, who was my father’s new wife from the ages of 8-18. I kept this a secret; buried and internalised… witnessing and experiencing domestic violence, two devastating painful family breakdowns, and very traumatic and unexpected bereavements of my 3 very close family members.
My cerebral palsy and spine conditions have involved complex, scary treatments and endless surgery, giving me a loss of control and not feeling like I was in my body. I’ve experienced surgeons and doctors telling me that I could never be “overweight” otherwise I wouldn’t walk – giving me that fear that I needed to change. The combination of family illness, being a young carer, homelessness and accommodation challenges, school bullying, peer pressure, high education expectations culminated in me not knowing my place in the world – not feeling wanted or loved.
“My cerebral palsy and spine conditions have involved complex, scary treatments and endless surgery, giving me a loss of control and not feeling like I was in my body.”
To everyone around me I was always trying to show a happy and smiling face on the outside, whilst in reality I was broken. I was hurting, listening to my best friend anorexia. I struggled with self-harm, restricting my food and excessively exercising. It was all I could concentrate on and think about in my foggy, clouded mind. The physical pain every time I denied myself food or harmed myself ‘helped’ numb my emotions and gave me the respite I desperately needed. I was angry and broken but instead of directing that anger to others, I directed it to myself.
Family relationships were broken beyond repair. I couldn’t and wouldn’t dare tell anyone of the emotional abuse I was going through. I was screamed at and told I was worthless, fat, ugly, a mistake and that I had ruined the family unit. I was told I didn’t deserve to be in this world. I witnessed terrifying violence and felt relationships breaking down around me.
I was running away from home, drinking, engaging in risky behaviours – just generally going off the rails. The hatred of the school bullies, the name calling, the overwhelming fear and not being able to make sense of this chaos and confusion, voices, flashbacks despair pain. I was ashamed to be Emily, even though I desperately wanted to be. I couldn’t show that broken, lost Emily, but only the “I’m fine” Emily. I thought I would be weak if I showed other my pain.
“I thought I would be weak if I showed other my pain.”
I didn’t want to be ungrateful and selfish because many other people were still caring about me, loving me, supporting me. Essentially, they helped me save and change my life.
I was first referred for treatment in July 2008 from the children’s ward after my school picked up on the signs and symptoms of anorexia. I had been physically unwell for months but they didn’t know why, so they related it to my physical disabilities. However, after I was admitted I underwent assessments where I was officially diagnosed with anorexia.
I was then admitted to an inpatient facility, sectioned twice, and then engaged in CAMHS (Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services) home-based eating disorder treatment, alongside the support and care of the family intervention services and the youth support of the Action for Children community. I spent the next 3 years under CAMHS community treatment.
In November 2013, I was discharged from treatment altogether. I felt in a great place back at work and college, where life felt more stable despite my tough and challenging times. I started to feel in control, having learnt positive coping strategies and skills from treatment, family and social services, Beat and Action for Children.
In March 2014 I went to live with Action for Children in a training flat, returned to work, and rebuilt family relationships through Action for Children and social care services. This all helped stabilize my anorexia recovery to what felt like a fairly normal life before moving into my own independent flat.
However, in the following year, I had a massive mental health breakdown. My anorexia behaviours returned and things spiralled rapidly with my physical health and disabilities. Things began to fall apart around me again. At the time, I was giving evidence in court for my history of abuse and domestic violence. Getting into contact with my father who I hadn’t seen in 3 years was distressing and traumatizing. This, coupled with working long hours made life feel impossible – I couldn’t cope. I made an attempt on my life. I was then sectioned once more and had two inpatient admissions over the next 10 months.
In December 2015 things deteriorated rapidly for me again. I was rushed into hospital, tube-fed, then transferred back to an inpatient facility where I remained from in January – June 2016. I began eating disorder day treatment and tried MANTRA therapy.
5 and a half years of coming and going from inpatient treatment, I was finally diagnosed with autism. This was after being reassessed. I was placed in a learning disability, mental health and ED service, where I have remained since.
Emily is a motivational disability, children, young people, families and homelessness campaigner and advisor with Action for Children. Emily is also an incredible mental health and eating disorder campaigner, champion and speaker, disability sports coach with Guernsey Mobility Let’s Go, MOE foundation coach, an entrepreneur and inspirational co-author for the books. She is an active fundraiser, campaigner, speaker and media volunteer for Beat, the UK eating disorders charity.
Emily is all about empowering people and inspiring long lasting change.