Hard To Swallow

This blog is not meant to be light-hearted, entertain or even raise a smile…in fact it's pretty serious and at times may get quite dark. So, if you would prefer not to read this one, that’s completely fine! I created my blog to write about humorous things, however this is something which I have wanted to write about for a while and therefore I decided to go ahead and write it. Not everyone may agree with what I am about to write about, but I feel that it's important to talk about and get out in the open.

Before I begin I would like to state that this is in no way a sob story, I haven’t had a bad childhood, I’ve never been abused or mistreated, yet I experienced a very dark time in 2014. In short…I had a mental breakdown!!

I'm not ashamed or embarrassed, although it isn’t something which I talk about very much, as it's still a bit 'raw' and it can be quite upsetting.

There is still so much stigma surrounding mental health. Many people feel frightened about speaking about it openly for fear of being judged, being labelled ‘crazy’, ‘mental’, a ‘nutter’ or even worse being told that they are ‘making it up’. Just because there are no physical symptoms, they are just being ‘soft’ and should ‘just get over it’. That is completely untrue! Mental health problems are very real and in fact should be taken very seriously. They say mental health isn’t a killer unlike cancer, but mental health CAN KILL!

Back in 2014 Robin Williams took his own life, because he was suffering from mental health issues. Robin Williams was known for being a comedy genius; he was larger than life, full of energy and will be most remembered for making people laugh. If someone was asked to describe a ‘depressed’ person then Robin Williams would be the very last person anyone would think of.

Yet he was clearly in so much pain and mental anguish that he chose to end his own life. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand and, for many, remain hidden. People become adept at hiding their true feelings and putting a brave face on it. Yet behind the smiles often lies a very different story. It's heartbreaking to think that Robin Williams and so many others choose to end their own life because depression and anxiety completely consumes them.

I am in no way an expert on ‘mental health’ issues, however I have struggled with it personally and I have family members who have also experienced it and therefore feel that I have something to say personally on the matter!

My Story

It's funny how one single event can change the whole course of your life. In fact it sounds like a line from a movie….but in my case its true!

When I was 12 I had a choking incident. Looking back I realise I didn’t even properly 'choke' rather something became caught in my throat and my 12 year-old self didn’t know how to react other than to panic!!

I vividly remember coming in from school and getting an apple from the kitchen. Whilst eating the apple, a bit of the skin became lodged in my throat and I began to have a panic attack. In short, I thought I was going to DIE! My parents weren’t in the same room and I remember pacing up and down, terror widening my eyes desperately trying to get the apple unstuck. Thankfully, after several minutes (although it seemed like a lifetime) the apple went down and I was fine...or at least I thought I was fine! WRONG!

That one event changed my life. I became scared to eat. I started to fear the very act of ‘swallowing’…in my mind I believed that I may choke again and this time die!

My parents quickly realised that something was wrong. I started avoiding eating certain foods, taking forever to eat anything and always having a drink to wash down the food. After explaining what happened they took me to the doctors to get my throat examined. I distinctly remember being told to swallow a milky, chalky substance which had traces of metal in so that they could watch it on the x-ray to see if there were any physical problems (a barium meal). The results came back fine! I should have felt reassured, but instead I felt devastated! My problem rather than being physical was psychological and, as is so often the case, much harder to treat than a physical illness.

Still being so young I tried desperately to return to normal and pretend that everything was ok. This was never the case. I spent years pretending I was fine, hiding my eating problems from friends, lying to them but more importantly lying to myself!

I became a master at hiding food by saying things like "Oh I'm not hungry" when inside I was starving for food. I can't count the times I came up with excuses to avoid eating in public. Christmas meals, birthdays, anything that involved eating out, became an absolute nightmare, so much so that I simply refused to go. But STILL I felt unable to come clean and tell people the reason for it, in truth I was ashamed! I was so worried about people judging me, people thinking that I was ‘weird’, ‘abnormal’ or a ‘freak’ that I told no one! My parents knew there was something wrong, but found it difficult to broach the subject as I would become closed off if they ever mentioned anything about eating.

Thankfully I managed fine over the years (I never lost weight), I was able to eat a range of foods (foods that I deemed safe), as long as I had a drink I was ok. People stopped inviting me out for meals probably assuming I was a picky eater and I got by. I just accepted that it was part of me and carried on with my life.

This went on for years until 2 years ago. The day before starting a new job I was naturally feeling anxious and when im anxious I find it difficult to eat…my throat tightens up and it makes things so much more difficult. I was attempting to eat a slice of pizza and as I went to swallow I couldn’t do it. I froze in panic. Then something even worse happened. My Dad started choking on his, unable to help him (I was frozen in shock and horror) my mam thankfully whacked him on the back and the piece he was choking on came up! Fine! No big deal! WRONG! This was the catalyst in my spiral down into depression and anxiety. I struggled to eat anything other than soup, even liquids became an ordeal. I was miserable and it was jeopardising my new job!

Over the years I had seeked various medical help without success. I have seen counsellors, CBT therapists, doctors, psychologists you name it but never has anything come close to helping. In fact I will never forget the one time when after spending ages explaining the problem to my doctor that I found swallowing difficult, he prescribed me the biggest pill known to man to ‘swallow’…to help with anxiety apparently. As you can imagine I didn’t go back!!

Things had reached breaking point so much so that I left my job! I spiralled further and further into depression. All I wanted was to eat like everyone else, yet no one was able to help me! I hated myself! I felt like a freak! Even babies could swallow food, we were designed to swallow food yet my mind wouldn’t allow me to relax. It invaded my every thought, I became obsessive over it!

I spent hours researching it on the internet and finally came up with a term for it ‘Phagophobia‘. I started to trawl the internet for people to talk too, for any signs of a ‘cure’. Instead I read hundreds of posts from people in the same position who were equally miserable and had just accepted their fate. Until one day I came across an article in a magazine from a guy who had exactly the same problem. His was a success story he visited a guy who practiced NLP and in affect was cured! I spent ages deliberating on whether to contact him and eventually did. He filled me with stories of hope and for the first time I felt I may ‘overcome’ my problem.

I ended up travelling to Norwich and spending a lot of money on  seeing the very same guy that had helped him. Unfortunately it had no effect on me whatsoever. I felt completely conned….any shred of hope I felt at ever getting over this awful problem was crushed. This was my downfall!

After that I left another job and just sunk further and further into misery. I was surviving on soup and liquids and I had given up. I stopped sleeping, I started shaking, my whole body and mind broke down. But the worst thing was the dark thoughts that invaded me. At my worst I had the crisis team round every day as I was feeling heavily suicidal. I remember telling my parents I wanted to die! This is something I feel terrible about but the fact is I was no longer my self, I became someone else. My whole personality changed. I became completely withdrawn. I never left the house unless I absolutely had too, I stopped laughing, I stopped smiling and even stopped speaking. I would ring family members and friends and cry down the phone.

I would wake up each morning filled with absolute dread. I would pray that I would be involved in an accident that I could just die without having to take my own life! This may seem extreme but the thing with mental illness is it completely distorts your reality! It lies to you, it preys on your every weakness. The only thoughts I had were negative ones. I felt like a ‘failure’, a ‘freak’, a ;waste of space’. I felt completely alone! I had fantastic support from my friends and family but I pushed everyone away. No one understood what I was going through. I was different than everybody else. I wasn’t going to get better!

I was wrong! It took a long time! For 6 or 7 months I cried everyday, I was completely apathetic…I couldn’t care less if I had lived or died. Then gradually things started to improve. I did get better! Id just like to say as well as struggling with my eating problem, my Gran died and my Mam got cancer (she's fine now). I've never experienced mental health issues before and thankfully I never will, I believe mine was situational….like a pressure cooker, ready to explode!

People find it hard to understand how difficult it is to be fearful of eating! But food is such a big part of every day life! Without it we cannot survive. Having a fear of spiders or snakes is very different than having a fear of food (I have to come into contact with mine every single day and several times a day).

I have missed out on many social occasions because of it. I didn’t go to my school leavers ball and very nearly missed my graduation ball because of it. When I was asked to be bridesmaid at my friends wedding rather than being happy my first thought was how am I going to get through a sit down meal.

Today I still struggle with it…my meals remain the same. Soup, maybe some soft crisps like Wotsits, a yoghurt, perhaps a bit of chocolate that I can suck! I still avoid eating in public, but the difference is I have finally accepted it. I am open about it and everyone is aware of my situation

I no longer have to make excuses, I even can go along to meals (join in the conversation) and feel ok about just having a drink. I don’t believe I will ever win the battle. It is something I have been dealing with so long I don’t think it will ever truly go away. At one time admitting that would have been terrifying, but now I realise that I'm healthy, I'm not wasting away, I have good friends and family, but it doesn’t have to rule my life!

Sorry this post is so long. I could go on forever but I won't.

All I want to say is that depression and anxiety are REAL! Anybody who says ‘cheer up’, ‘stop choosing to be unhappy’ doesn’t understand what depression actually is! No one would choose to be miserable! For some people depression is a constant struggle, something which they may have to live with for the rest of their lives.

BUT, it can be managed and it will get better! When I was at rock bottom I never believed I would be happy again! But I am! I would never wish to go through anything like that ever again but in a weird way it has made me stronger! I hit rock bottom but I came out the other side!

So anyone who is feeling depressed or anxious (particularly those that are having thoughts of suicide) GET HELP. Talk to someone. Talk to anyone. Don’t be ashamed. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of! We all go through tough times and some of us deal with it better than others, but no one should ever feel like there’s no way out, that their life is no longer worth living!

Remember it's OK to not be fine! It's unrealistic for everybody to be happy ALL of the time. But no one should feel so desperately unhappy that they cry every day, that every thought is a negative one that they feel so utterly helpless and desperate!

So if your experiencing depression or know someone that is, remember it does get BETTER! You can be happy again, you deserve to be HAPPY!!

Laura :)

Do you, or someone you know live with an eating disorder like phagophobia? How do you manage it? Let us know in the comments below.

We'd like to thank Laura for writing the blog (and her snazzy taste in Christmas jumpers). You can keep up to date with Laura via her own blog at creativecraftsandallthingsdaft.wordpress.com (which isn't purely mental health related).