Through the Hourglass

By Libby-Mae Ford (editor)

Exploring the past, present and future reflections from those recovering from a mental illness

Dear Libby,      

            How does it feel to be three years old? I don’t remember you being quite so young. What I do remember is mum telling you to behave or she’ll throw you to the gypsies and they’ll eat you. She denies saying this, but it’s etched into your brain. Strange isn’t it? The things you can’t quite remember, and the things you can never forget. You have a whole life ahead of you, this is just the starting line really. You may have only been alive three years, but it’s been free from pain and in my books, three years without pain is pretty damn good. I imagine right now you are thinking of being a dancer, or a singer or maybe even an astronaut. Your ambition and passion is precious, hold on to it. You’ve got a few tough years ahead of you, but I want, no need, you to know that you are loved. Say it with me, I am loved.

            How does it feel to be twelve years old? From memory, I imagine you’re feeling quite a lot of resentment, confusion and desperation. You’re trying to find love in the darkest of places and you’re overjoyed to have found it, even when that love comes from a gnarled, crooked tree, because at least somebody finally loves you. I want you to know that love, it doesn’t come in the form of the sixteen-year-old asking to see your webcam. Or the eighteen-year-old. Or the twenty-one-year-old. These men do not love you. These men are predators and you don’t deserve the trauma that they’ve subjected you to. I know you won’t listen to me. There is such joy in your smile when you talk to your friends about finally being in a relationship and the sting you feel when they laugh at you for only being able to get a boyfriend online will leave you feeling ashamed and you’ll run to these men for comfort. In later years you’ll feel burning rage. You’ll struggle to understand how you friends could laugh at you, instead of being concerned. Instead of telling the teacher, or their parents, or well, anyone really. Valentine’s day is going to be a tough one. Your first suicide attempt, and I’m sorry to say, it won’t be your last, but you get through it. I know the pain is unimaginable, but listen to me when I say, you get through it.

            How does it feel to be fourteen years old? I suppose you could say this is the year that changes it all for you. The first cut. The first purge. The first CAMHS appointment. The first blood test. The first monitoring. It’s a year of firsts. Thank your nan for driving you to dietician appointments and eat the Gregg’s roll that you’re trying so desperately to resist after therapy. Listen to those around you that are concerned. They are not against you, I promise. Be honest with your treatment team. I know you are adamant you don’t need help, but deep down you know that you do. Deep down you know making yourself sick, cutting your skin and trying to kill yourself isn’t normal or okay. You need to be kinder to yourself. You have a lot of hardships ahead of you, and you’re going to need to be strong, but you’re a tough cookie and the pain doesn’t last forever. Oh, and stop calling your mum a bitch. She did her best and you need to stop blaming her for that best not being good enough. She loves you, even if she struggles to show it sometimes. Show her you love her too.

            How does it feel to be seventeen? You’re probably quite hungry right now. Stop reading and have something to eat. No, not a nakd bar. I mean something proper, a meal. And keep it down. And don’t stress over exercising to compensate. You’re allowed to eat. You’re allowed to rest. Exercising from morning till night is exhausting, I know. Eating so little is painful, I know. You are convinced that you’ve recovered. You’ve reduced the amount you purge and are eating salads and exercising. You’re losing weight quickly and everyone comments how jealous they are of your new thigh gap and sharp collar bones… until they don’t. Until the concern starts. Until you’ve gone from too fat to too thin. You’re convinced you’re the happiest you’ve ever been, but it’s not real. You’re eating disorder is your crutch. Your coping mechanism. You can’t think if you’re hungry right? And if you can’t think, you can’t ruminate. The problem is, it’s a band aid at best. You’re pushing down all your thoughts and feelings with hunger and painful hours of exercise. It’s okay to feel what you feel. It’s okay to be sad, or angry, or guilty, or ashamed. Your feelings are valid, but also remember your feelings are not facts and they are changeable. There will become a day where you can eat a bite of pizza without crying and I promise, life is so much better when food doesn’t control your every moment.

            How does it feel to be nineteen? I’m not too sure if you’ll be able to understand what I am saying fully. I know that you’re unsure what’s real and what’s not. You’re struggling to feel real and alive. You’re scared of the world around you and it’s understandable. A few months ago, you experienced something incredibly traumatic, and rather than dealing with it, you dulled the memory with drugs, booze and sex and now you’re left with a broken mind. You don’t know it right now, but you’re struggling with psychotic symptoms and will be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder this this year. You will worry many people and this will be one of the hardest years of your life. Eventually your symptoms will be managed with medication and you’ll start to reconnect with the world, but most importantly with yourself. There isn’t much I can say to you that will help, but just know, you deserve to be in this world and the things that frighten you to the point of no sleep are not real. There will come a day where you won’t sleep in the communal kitchen out of fear that there are cameras in your bedroom. There will come a day where you can shower without the fear there are cameras in the shower head. There will come a day without the fear that your housemates are trying to poison you. There will come a day when you can leave the house without the fear of being hurt. I promise, there will come a day.

            How does it feel to be twenty-two? This is a big year for you in many ways. You’ll come out as gay to your friends and family. You’ll have your first girlfriend who will always hold a special place in your heart. You’ll be admitted to a psychiatric ward for your longest stay. You’ll meet two incredible and kind people who will become your best friends and you’ll finally, after all these years, decide that recovery is something worth fighting for. It’s funny isn’t it? Recovery doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Some people think recovery is a complete absence of symptoms, others think it’s learning to live with the symptoms. Personally, I think it depends on the illness and the person. There are some things you’ll never be free of. I don’t think your eating disorder or borderline personality disorder will ever leave, but other fears and thoughts and confusions? They fade with time and you’ll learn how to step back out into the world and live and function and become the magical and wonderful human you were always supposed to be. Recovery will get rocky, but hang on in there, because it is worth every second.

            How does it feel to be you? I want you to take five minutes. Close your eyes, get comfy and breathe. Just breathe. In for three, out for five, and ask yourself, how does it feel to be me? You’ve been through so much. You’ve experienced so much. You’ve lived through some of the hardest of things, but you know what? You got through it. You reach the end of that tunnel. You stop falling and start flying. You can finally swim. No matter how hopeless you may feel right now, hold on to that. Hold on to the hope of the future. I promise, you are stronger than you think.

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