Mental illness, my Dad and me
Tilly blogs about how support from her Dad helped her through depression and an eating disorder.
The sicker I got, the more I withdrew from the world and from my friends and family, so telling my parents I had a mental illness was one of the most daunting experiences ever. But looking back, my parents finding out turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. It probably saved my life.
I had suffered for years with depression and an eating disorder. I often thought about reaching out and asking for help or talking to my parents about it, but the thought of putting them through that was horrible. I felt I didn't deserve to get better.
"I would spend hours alone in my room pushing everyone away and going further and further into this black hole."
I was at boarding school. It was a fantastic experience in lots of ways but it can also be very stressful and it can make hiding mental illness very easy. I would spend hours alone in my room pushing everyone away and going further and further into this black hole. My school noticed something was wrong and although I refused to talk to anyone about what was going on, I agreed to be referred to Child and Adolescent Mental health Services (CAMHS). Therapy is a great thing but you have to want to get better and want to help yourself for it to really work and this wasn't the case for me. I was in denial. I constantly fought to be discharged and refused to comply with the treatment.
My illness worsened and it got to the point where I was too sick to go to school so I was sent home. This was when my parents found out everything. Telling them the truth was horrible. I felt like I was revealing all my secrets to them. I was worried about being judged. But this wasn't the case.
"I was so consumed by my illness at that point I couldn't see how it was ever going to be possible for me to get better"
Dad and I have always been close. We have a great relationship. We gig together in our bands and talk about everything - but when it came to mental health I had hidden everything. Dad took the news really well and I remember him saying “I will do anything to help you, I won't let you die”. These words really hit home, making me realise how loved I was and reminding me that people cared about me. I was so consumed by my illness at that point I couldn't see how it was ever going to be possible for me to get better, but hearing my Dad’s words made me want to.
Once the truth was out things moved quickly. The first priority was getting me safe of course, but I never felt like I was being restricted in any way. My parents did everything they could to keep the atmosphere positive. We spent many hours talking through everything – it was difficult but it was really important and I began to feel better, and less alone. We then spent nights in hotels so that I could have my appointments at CAMHS and go to school to attend a few lessons a week. From the second my parents found out about my illness, everything was about supporting me but also trying to get things back to normal for me, and never about holding me back. They gave me endless support.
"It was a huge sacrifice on my Dad’s part as he gave up a lot of aspects of his life"
Dad got a new Job near my school and we got a flat together. It was a huge sacrifice on my Dad’s part as he gave up a lot of aspects of his life for months and moved over two hours from our family home to help me. I went to school part time at first and would then come home and talk about everything with Dad. I never hid my feelings and it was easy because I never felt like Dad was judging me or upset about it, just that he wanted to help.
At mealtimes I would do the cooking which helped me still feel in control and we would sit on sofas and watch television or play card games to help me feel relaxed. Eating was never a forced thing – it was just me and Dad having food together like normal which made me feel comfortable about eating again. We would also do the shopping together which meant I could pick all the foods I liked and felt ok with but as I got better I started discovering new foods. Even though I still get anxious sometimes, I have re-found my love of food and started to love my own body again.
Exercise was also important. I’ve always loved sports and doing something I love gave me a new drive to continue with therapy. So long as I was eating enough it really helped with my depression and what I called my “messy head”.
When I started school full time again it was nearly exam time so my stress levels were rising. Dad helped me learn to cope with stress and to enjoy the activities that I loved before I got ill such as my music, dancing and sailing. We would go back to the family home to the rest of my family every weekend which really helped too.
For me, the support from my Dad and family and friends was the key to my recovery. I can never thank everyone enough for their patience and love through a tough time.
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