An Honest Truth: Battling Mental Illness Behind The Magazine

posted by Emma Michelle Williams August 1, 2017
mental movement magazine

I think I may have re-written this introduction at least 80 times. Conscious of the fact that this introduction should be a perfect marriage of SEO and wit, it’s most likely down to the fact that this time, I can’t actually think where to start. 

The truth of the matter is – I am heavily medicated. As a result of living with absolutely life-ruining anxiety and what was later diagnosed as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, I decided to take my psychiatrists advice and finally edge my way up to a 200mg dosage of Sertraline (although currently only managing the 100mg dose).

I’d been on a waiting list for therapy for almost two years and had extreme difficulty leaving my house. I was desperate to get to the gym but couldn’t (adding to the plate of guilt from how much money was being wasted on membership), I’d decline every offer for a meeting, coffee or hang out time with friends and started to have re-occurring nightmares about the amount of starred emails building up every single day.

A make-up obsessed and now body dysmorphic young woman – I’d managed to destroy my own face from my incessant need to pick my skin until it bled. Another email comes through “Hello, it would be great to meet you guys…….”. I’d want to smash my face into the mirror after running in the bathroom and realising how unachievable it would be to actually cover everything up. I’d set my make-up kit up, turn on my illuminating mirror and turn to my favourite beauty vloggers. So obsessed of course I’d watch Huda’s videos in english and then in Arabic. As a recovering perfectionist, nothing was ever good enough for me. No amount of illuminating Georgio Armani Foundation or Anastasia Beverly Hills brow work could shift that feeling of absolute disgust, dread and guilt I had about leaving the house and putting someone else through the nightmare of having to endure my hideous face. A chronic feeling that can make you feel extremely suicidal.

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Exhibit A: my freshly picked face

 

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Exhibit B: One Huda make-up tutorial, good lighting, 300 odd filters and one pout later but feeling no different to exhibit A.

 

By definition according to The BDD Foundation the term Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) “describes a disabling preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in appearance. It can affect both men and women, and makes sufferers excessively self-conscious”. People living with this disorder might repeatedly check their appearance or avoid it completely. We might go above and beyond to cover or alter defects seen and can get sucked into cosmetic surgery/treatments to improve the way we look. If my pain and destruction doesn’t come from my symptoms of BDD, it comes from the anger I have toward not being able to afford the many surgical operations I wish I could have. I’ve got all the books, the catalogues, the contacts to make it happen. I’ll ring and enquire about nose jobs and transplants and I’ll avoid anyone who’s had surgery themselves because it literally triggers my suicidal tendencies. One of the most infuriating parts of the illness for myself is that, to my partner or those around me, apparently I look fine. This flares my anxiety and convinces me that everyone around me is either lying or being really polite, not wanting to offend me or tell me the truth about how disgusting I may truly look. This causes me so much distress and completely impairs my ability to function. If triggered, I can completely arc out and have an absolute meltdown. I will RUN for my life if I see someone with a camera and have a breakdown at the thought of being tagged in a photograph I was unaware of on Facebook.

Picking my skin has become an obsession, a compulsion and all round bad habit. I have to get my nails done out of necessity, not vanity and have tried everything and anything to avoid picking and aid recovery. Skin picking, often called Dermatillomania is an impulse-control disorder, a psychological condition often regarded as a form of OCD. It is linked with Body Dysmorphia making it incredibly hard to stop. I’ll often go into a trance where I am completely unaware of the damage being done to my face and many mental health professionals have told me its a form of self harm. My nails make it so hard to pick, so I dig at my face with tweezers, scalpels and other sharp objects. I pick in my sleep and often wake up with blood on my pillow. It used to be strictly only my face, but in my bid to hide this issue, I’ll find new areas that are unseen so no one can ask or say anything. The most over used sentence in my life is no doubt “STOP PICKING”.

Living with BDD also means I have to take extreme precautions at all times to ensure I can lesson trigger worthy moments. As you can imagine, this alone takes a great deal of work, prep and planning and is extremely exhausting. It also means spontaneity is often out of the question too – leaving me looking like the most boring person on earth which I am most certainly not. Well, it’s not ever that I don’t want to, it’s simply that I just can’t.

If I do leave my house, I’ll usually google the shit out of the place I am to meet anyone. I need to know the place is not a bright space because for me, this is an absolute nightmare. If you host a party, I will turn up when its dark. That dentistry style lighting or complete day light is faint worthy when it comes to living with Body Dysmorphia, so the darker, the better. Always.

I’ll always make sure I get to the said place/event or meeting much earlier than anyone I’m meeting and I need complete control over where I am sitting – you’ll never find me by a window seat where the sunlight can catch my face and highlight my many flaws. I’ll wear black because, I’m still not over the fact that I wasn’t born into a models body and I’ll always be in my ‘active wear’ because it somehow makes me feel less guilty about not getting to the gym – it’s almost my way of saying – I have intentions and, intentions are good enough for now. You’re not wasting money on your gym membership Emma because you are in your active wear and that means you intend on going sometime in the near future. Good for you Emma. Moment of guilt diffused instantly.

But with all of that aside, you are probably wondering why all of a sudden the random ramblings from me. Well, I’m actually only writing all of this to avoid all of the work I have come back to. Avoid is perhaps too strong a word here, I’m fully aware of the work load ahead of me, the emails, the call backs, the meetings, the events, the blog posts to schedule, edit, publish etc but I simply cannot do it right now. I have come to an almighty halt. I simply do not care enough. I don’t feel. I do not care. I am mentally and physically exhausted and I have a memory so bad I’m convinced I have dementia/a brain tumour/possible stroke/you name it.

But, I know this is not me.

This, is my life on Sertraline and it’s REALLY starting to piss me off.

I actually bought a T-shirt not too long ago from H&M Men’s that says “I Keep Forgetting”. I felt it somewhat necessary to carry this visual disclaimer around with me because, I’m not kidding you – this memory thing is an actual joke – a really un-funny joke.

It’s actually so bad, it’s made it IMPOSSIBLE for me to push ahead with our plans for the second issue of Mental Movement Magazine, which, much to our disappointment, has been pushed back until May 2018. I’m utterly devastated that we are not able to have another magazine ready for our goal which is usually The Mental Wealth Festival at City Lit, but I am simply just not well enough to force something out of me that right now that feels as if it doesn’t exist. I’m bruised, trust me, from the amount of times I’ve kicked myself for turning down incredible help, advice, meetings and support from some wonderfully generous people – but I simply do not want to waste anyone’s time right now. I cannot predict the next two hours, let alone the next two weeks. I’ve considered lessoning my dose or coming off of it all together, but I just can’t go back to living with anxiety 24/7 as it actually ruined my life. That said, I was still able to find my passion and drive even if it did come hand in hand with frequent episodes/breakdowns. But I can’t handle the anxiety. To be honest, I’m not sure what’s worse?

It’s a funny thing Mental Illness because, as most of you who suffer will know, the medication can give you back so much of the life you’d been missing out on but in equal parts, can manage to take so much away. For me this means, on Sertraline I can actually leave my house independently, answer the phone or even dial out (revelation I know) and look people in the eyes when talking to them. But it also means I don’t feel much at all, I struggle to connect with people, I do not have a memory, I don’t know what just happened or what day it is, time stands still or passes extremely fast, I have absolutely no anxiety to the point that I could be on fire and probably not really care or do anything about it. I’m also either overly emotional and cry at everything or remain completely untouched by something that should completely devastate me. I mean, medication wise, the usual rule of thumb for me is putting on Schindler’s list (no doubt soon to be coupled with Okja for extra added measure). If I don’t completely ball my eyes out at these films then something is VERY, very wrong.

As you can imagine, trying to run Mental Movement Magazine whilst on Sertraline is bitter sweet. Thanking all lords I have Steph on this journey with me, my absolute light in the dark – even if I do manage to convince her daily the many reasons as to why I can’t do this work now or that work later. Sigh. (I’m sorry I’m SUCH a pain and so incredibly hard to work with). As if her dealing with her own mental health isn’t enough, she has me to deal with too. This really is a double effort for us both and makes the work we do both extremely rewarding and exhausting at the same time. Thankfully, where I fail, she excels and vice versa. A huge team effort amongst us and pushed out into our wider team who are equally amazing. So Sertraline means I can make the calls but I now avoid the emails. Great. I can meet you for a coffee but I won’t remember what you said. I’ll take notes but they won’t make much sense. At the end of a days “work” I’ve managed to sit in front of a computer and click between 45 tabs for 8 hours and be so exhausted that come the evening, I can’t even think how to articulate a simple sentence or bother to make myself a cup of green tea (because making a real tea requires going to the fridge to get milk and then a spoon and then omg it’s just SO much effort)!

But most upsetting of all for me is that right now, I can’t find my passion or drive. I can feel that it’s in me but its a numb feeling – a bit like that thick layer of paper over a pot of greek yogurt, that layer is Sertraline and my passion is the yogurt inside the tub. For such a long time (the past 6 months anyway) Sertraline has really helped me. It’s been amazing in fact! But most recently – I’m wondering when I’m gonna come back? I know in my heart of hearts I will not be able to dedicate myself to a project this huge, you know, the same one that has fundamentally saved my life, simply because now I feel quite dead inside. I feel somewhat lifeless. Numb. Unmotivated. Exhausted. I am almost empty – a constant state of 5% battery (if I were a phone, oh how I wish I were a phone right now).

I guess I am writing this because one thing I will always carry through Mental Movement is my desire to be completely honest and utterly transparent with you all. Mental Illness didn’t really care that Steph and I tried to turn it on it’s head and create a blog/magazine out of it. It didn’t give me a hug and say “Well done mate, you turned a negative into a positive” or reassure me at any one point that everything will be alright in the end. But so long as my illness tries to remain my enemy, that’s enough for me to continue using that pain for something that will hopefully inspire and help someone else see that – it is a shit ride, this stuff is really draining and it does feel like it’s never ending. But you know what, it makes you your own kind of beautiful and it builds you up to hold tighter, fight longer and live more authentically. If you are reading this and you can relate to anything I’ve just rambled on about, please don’t be afraid to speak out about how you are feeling, tell those you love what’s destroying you or making you feel numb. Reach out, connect, set up a blog, an instagram, empower yourself in little ways and take your time. If we can do it, so can you! Time is your friend, not your enemy and recovery is possible. You have got this. Completely. Always. Got this! Let this be proof, that at one of my lowest moments, I’ve managed to find some purpose in sharing this truthfully – we may look one way to you, but actually, we suffer too! Anything is possible and you can be or do anything you put your heart to.

TIP: If your meds are numbing you a bit like me, do one simple task each day. Focus your energy on that task and find ways to achieve it. Wake up and write on a post-it note ONE thing and ONE thing only. Start with small tasks and build your way up. The limit is 3. I say this because, you’ll end up like me – 1 million post-it notes later and another excuse to call yourself a failure, feel awful and potentially comfort eat. No. Do not fall into this trap. One task only, One task only! Tick it off and congratulate yourself once you’ve managed it and feel good about it. Let that moment last. Breathe and move on. If you don’t manage it – do not beat yourself up! Screw it up. Throw it in the bin and say to yourself – ‘you got tomorrow’ and look forward to writing yourself a new task.

So, I usually like to end my posts with something really epic but, I’ve forgotten how I was going to finish it (this sentence was sponsored by Sertraline) So I’ll finish by saying this … Don’t think about what can happen in a month. Don’t think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be. No pressure. No stress. Just breathe and allow yourself that time to accept yourself, what you are going through and know wholeheartedly that even though it feels shit now, it DOES get better, it WILL get better – and you absolutely hold tight onto that and never let it go!

For those of you STILL waiting for a reply from me via email – I’ll hopefully get back to you at some point in the next century but until then, thanking you so kindly for being SO patient, I love you for it!

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If you or anyone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article or is struggling with their mental health, please see a list of resources, hotlines and help sites below.

If you don’t feel you can keep yourself safe right now, seek immediate help.

  • go to any hospital A&E department (sometimes known as the emergency department)
  • call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you can’t get to A&E
  • ask someone else to contact 999 for you or take you to A&E immediately

If you need some support right now, but don’t want to go to A&E, here are some other options for you to try:

Worried about someone else? See Mind UK’s pages on supporting someone else with suicidal feelings. For a list of support hotlines and websites globally, please see our ‘I Need Help’ page.

More specifically, if you want to read further into Body Dysmorphia, Dermatillomania and OCD I highly recommend the following sites. 

www.bddfoundation.org – A fantastic resource for those wanting to learn more about the symptoms, cause and affects of BDD

www.skinpick.com/dermatillomania – Face, Scalp, Lip, Acne, Nails and Cuticle picking – everything you need to know can be found here.

www.ocdaction.org.uk – The UK’s Largest OCD Charity

If you are currently dealing with mental health struggles and want to write about your experience to help yourself and others you can become a Guest Contributor for Mental Movement Magazine. All you have to do is email us at hello@mentalmovement.co.uk and our one of our team will guide you through a step-by-step process to publishing. To read more about this, please see our write for us page.

Emma Michelle Williams
According to google, she should be dead! That's right. #MentalMovements Co-founder has lived, many times, as though she was dying due to the severity of her health anxiety. If it hasn't caused her to feel the sensation of sinking into the ground, it's seen her trying to convince her Doctor that she has prostate cancer. Yes. That's right. She almost fainted when her Doctor told her, she didn't actually have one.
Emma Michelle Williams

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