Chance of fulfilment

Many of us can reflect on what would have happened if we had made a different decision at important points in our lives. I have been considering this question in identifying two turning points in my life.

At 17 I was thin. I had been dieting to try to get to a smaller size and felt satisfied when I attained this at seven stone. But my GP referred me to a consultant gynaecologist to investigate my absent periods. The consultant knew my being underweight was the problem. I agreed with him to eat more and acted on this. But at my next appointment the reading on what were faulty scales was six stone. The consultant, registrar and nurse told me I was anorexic. The next time I went to the clinic my true weight was shown on different scales. I was embarrassed and felt too big, as though I had deceived the professionals who admitted the scales must have been incorrect. I also missed the concern they had previously shown. After this incident I restricted food until I could be medically classed as anorexic.

The following six years were spent receiving, avoiding and sometimes embracing as a last chance, treatment for my anorexia. I wouldn’t drink the day before being weighed in case of not giving an accurate reading of my weight. I was transferred from general to specialist services, treated in different settings and moved from my home area.

The next defining moment happened when I was in a residential project. Residents had eating disorders and self-harming behaviours. Those who injured themselves were treated in a local self-harm unit. Visits to accident and emergency department were frequent. I became used to hearing about treatment in A&E and how close residents had come to bone or muscle when cutting. Overdoses were common and staff would round us up to discuss how we felt about what the resident had done. This environment normalised self-harm. Until then I had only made scratches on my arms, I learned about razor blades from other residents.

The first time I tried harming with a blade I was shocked but afterwards I wanted to cut deeper and to need more stitches. Today self-harm remains a large part of my life but lower down my list of priorities.

My scars are like a map of the distress I have been through. I don’t want them to be erased by plastic surgery because they are part of who I am. They are battle scars. I don’t wear short sleeves in public since I don’t need other people’s negative reactions. However, my scars are fading and becoming less noticeable.

Without self-harm and anorexia I still think I would have had underlying difficulties such as a low mood. I may also have met the criteria for borderline personality disorder. After years of trying to understand my problems and deal with them better I think I have a greater chance of a more fulfilled life, even though it is delayed.

Alex Williams is a volunteer and uses mental health services

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