It’s time to talk about Mental Health | Guest Writer Kym Woolcott
Looking at these two photos side by side is really an eye opener! The left photo was taken in September, 2012, and the right was taken a few weeks ago, so approximately 5.5 years difference, but that’s not all. The girl on the left and the girl on the right are 35 kilos and four dress sizes apart. The left was a smoking, regular drinking, anti-depressant taking, confident, outgoing, happy person, even though she’d only lost her brother a couple of months prior. The right is a non-smoker, occasional drinker, medication free, often quiet, withdrawn, anxious mum, even though she physically looks her best ever. This is Mental Health!
Mental Health Does Not Discriminate
This is what mental health has done to me and my body. I am EXTREMELY proud of my body and it’s capabilities, and I’m certainly trying my best to be the most positive person I can be, not to mention I couldn’t be happier that I kicked my cigarette smoking habit, BUT I wouldn’t be this size if my mind was healthy. I get many, many compliments regarding my weight loss, which I love and appreciate, and without them I wouldn’t be able to share this with such ease, because its important, and everyone should read it.
Last year was probably the rockiest year for me. In July, a young man was killed not far from my home. He and I were friends years ago, and spent considerable time together, before drifting apart when I moved out of Mandurah in 2008. He was an incredible person, and my heart aches when I think of the love he left behind.
This man’s death was a major trigger for me. He passed away on the 8th July, two days before the anniversary of my late brother, Ben’s death on the 10th July. I distinctly remember walking past the TV set on my way out to a family dinner when his face appeared and stopped me in my tracks. I’m generally very open about the fact that my brother took his own life, but I rarely go into details, and I’m not going to now, however I will be as honest as I can about this, because, as I said, it’s important.
When I learned of my friend’s death, I began experiencing all the stages of grief for Ben’s death from the beginning, some I hadn’t yet experienced. It began with denial. Did he really mean to do it? What if it was an accident?
Then, pain and guilt. Why did he do this? Was there something I could have done differently? Did I contribute to his death? And, my lowest point, anger. This one took me a long time to come to terms with, and it took a heart to heart with my mum, with lots of tears, to verbalise WHY I was so angry, which was something I couldn’t put together in my head until that moment.
Ben and my friend were the same age, well had Ben still been alive they would have been. My friend left behind two children, and had his life taken. Ben took his own. It was so hard to come to terms with, and even admit to myself that this is what I was angry about. I thought I was angry at everyone else, and I took it out on them regularly, but I was angry at Ben. And it was literally eating me up.
Did I think Ben was selfish? Absolutely not. I never would. He was dealing with inner demons that, to this day, I will never understand. But for him to do what he did to himself has always shown tremendous strength. Do I wish he was still here? Absolutely, but I would never wish someone stay alive for my benefit. I miss him. Every. Single. Day. And will continue to for the rest of my life, but I WILL make him proud.
Some of the Effects of Mental Health
The three weeks following my friend’s death were the worst of it all. I hardly ate and lost 13kgs, almost broke up my family and experienced many disgusting thoughts. I experienced a mixture of both the anger and depression stages of grief for many months following.
My mental health was, is, affected by the changes my body has experienced. I have loose skin where I’ve never had it before. I was starting to hate the person I saw in my reflection. She was like a stranger. And for a long time I felt like she was a shell of who I once was; a carefree, happy person.
So, not only was my mental health affecting my appearance, my appearance was affecting my mental health, and I was literally going around in circles. Where I once stood on the scales and hated watching the numbers continue to go up out of my control, I was now watching the numbers drop, and I felt like there was nothing I could do to stop it. I wasn’t hungry, so I couldn’t force myself to eat, as much as everyone around me tried to make me feel like I should (which actually made me want to eat even less). It was something that had to be adjusted to in my own time.
I received comments like “you’re being silly”, “you’ve become obsessed” and “you’re loosing too much weight” – none of which were helpful in the slightest. What would have been helpful would have been to have someone sit next to me, and truly listen to what was going on in my head. I felt that the people who were supposed to love me the most in the world were making no effort to comfort oeven understand me, so why should I burden anyone else with the information? I closed up, and put on a front so noone could figure out what was going on. I put my weight loss down to clean eating, and people believed me.
Now is the time to discuss it!
I started to love my body, and remind myself everything my body had achieved. My body had carried my child for 41 weeks. My body recovered from a c-section that birthed that child. It has produced breast milk to nourish that child for two years and three months, and counting. It has recovered from illnesses, surgeries, injuries and beatings. It has stood back up every time life has knocked it down, and I knew now wasn’t going to be the time it held me there. I had a daughter and a boyfriend, my own little family, that I needed to make myself healthy again for – beginning with my mind, and following through with my body.
Now, I’m going through what is called the upward turn stage of grief, and boy I’m so glad I’ve made it to this one. I wasn’t too sure I’d get through those months, but I did thanks to the amazing people I surround myself with daily. I spent way too long receiving comments like “you look great” and responding with an ungrateful “thanks”, because I knew in myself that I didn’t deserve praise. I decided, when I was ready, that I needed to be honest about this.
While my diet is a hell of a lot better than it was 8 months ago, my mind isn’t, so it’s not fair to put my weight loss down to a change of diet, which is what I was palming it off as previously. But if you’ve read this far, now you know the truth, too. It’s important to look after our vessel, but let’s not forget to cherish the mind and soul inside it. I will never stop thanking the amazing people who stood by me during my lowest moments, who listened to me dribble, watched me stumble and fall, and who were always there to pick me up. You know who you are.
Please, please, look after you. You are important. You are incredible. And the world deserves you. Please know there is always someone who will listen, even if you don’t make any sense – trust me, I know. And regardless of what size is stated on the tag of your clothes, it does not equal your worth. You are beautiful, and perfect, just the way you are.