Mental Health Q&A: Abbie’s Story

Just start.There’s boldness in beginning. Make progress over perfection. Everything is figure-out-able.

Alisa Vitti
  1. Tell me a bit about yourself….

Hey Adam! Sure, I can share a little bit about me. I’m Abbie, I’m 20 years old and I live pretty much smack bang in the middle of England. I am very fortunate to have the beautiful Peak District right on my doorstep! The outdoors is something I absolutely love, and it’s vital to maintaining my mental wellbeing. I’d say Dancing must be my main hobby as I have been doing it pretty much as long as I have been able to walk. Although, who knows, maybe baby Abbie was striking poses in a seated position before that!

2. What is your diagnosis; how does it make you feel?

Hmmm an interesting question with a complicated answer… here goes. Last year I was diagnosed with acute Anorexia Nervosa. Prior to that and persisting throughout, I live with anxiety and depression. The diagnosis of Anorexia was a day that I, nor anyone close to me, could have ever anticipated. Not me, I have always loved food, had a more than substantial appetite, and have a lifelong love affair with baking. I have certainly never been concerned with my weight. Unfortunately, these factors mean nothing when faced with this deadly mental illness. If anything, they may even help to drive it. How I feel about it, I’m not sure. Accepting my diagnosis allowed me to begin the first phase of my recovery. For that I am truly grateful!

3. Have you ever experienced mental health related stigma and discrimination?

I cannot say that I have confronted any intentional discrimination. However, I have definitely experienced a lack of understanding and assumptions due to common misconceptions. There is an idea that all those suffering with Anorexia fall into a certain category, which is simply not the case. I don’t think I’d be incorrect in saying that the general consensus around Anorexia is that it appears in underweight teenage girls trying to conform to ‘model-like’ expectations. This illness impacts both men and women of all ages and those suffering may not be underweight- although unfortunately this is a common side effect. Food restriction is mostly due to cognitive and emotional triggers, not necessarily a desire to be thin. Here are some of the rather ‘interesting’ questions I’ve been asked before:

Don’t you not get hungry? Do you not like food? Why would you want to be that skinny?

My answers? Yes, I am bloody starving! I absolutely love food with a passion, it is a problem. I don’t want to be this skinny, but it is really not that simple.

4. Is there any particular conversation with someone about your mental health you’ve had that’s really helped?

Oooh tough question! Over the last 2 years I have learnt a great deal about myself, mental health, and I have had the pleasure of meeting many incredible, inspiring individuals. During my stay in hospital I met some of the strongest, bravest, most resilient people I’ll ever know, many of who are now friends for life. I truly could not be where I am today without all their love, encouragement and support. Although I couldn’t pinpoint one moment, I must say that I always felt listened to, understood and not judged. It is remarkable how they could pick me up when I was down despite their own struggles.

5. What’s one thing you wish people knew about your illness?

It’s not as simple as ‘just eat’! There is a huge amount of rehabilitation and neural rewiring involved in recovery from Anorexia and weight restoration may only be one part of that journey. Just because I may look healthy on the outside it by no means proves that I am recovered. Please remember that Anorexia, along with all eating disorders, is a mental illness and its impacts on the physical body are simply side effects.

6. What’s the biggest problem in mental health and how can we improve it moving forward?

Definitely the lack of awareness and understanding. It is vital that we can educate the population and reduce the stigma as much as possible. Mental illness is not weakness and it takes a huge amount of courage to share how we feel on the inside and even greater strength to even understand it ourselves. If we can remove the judgement and encourage compassion, we have the potential to save thousands of lives. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and a massive feature of them is secrecy. Without the fear of scrutiny and misunderstanding this could reduce. I feel that mental health awareness should be taught alongside mindfulness from a young age, in the same way we teach about physical health and wellbeing. Mental wellbeing is not simple, and it takes practice and experimentation, just like anything else. If we support and educate children from a young age, we might aid a more open minded, benevolent future population.

P.S. Thank you so much for speaking with me Adam- and for listening to my story. Keep doing what you are doing, spreading awareness, and encouraging others.

Keep safe everyone and remember to be kind to yourselves ALWAYS!

Abbie x

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