"I felt like I was living a double life - I knew the world needed to be different." - Cara's Story
When I saw that Cara was up for writing some guest posts for other blogs/websites, I knew I just HAD to snap her up. She’s one of my absolute favourite writers, campaigners and people. Not just because she’s so open and powerful, but also because she’s a truly wonderful human being. I was lucky enough to meet her back in November and I fell totally in love with her heart. It’s such a lovely feeling when people you meet online turn out to be just as fucking real and awesome in real life as you expected them to be, and that definitely was the case here. I could waffle for days about how incredible I think this girl is, but I’m just going to hand over to Cara now and let her speak for herself…
Cara Lisette: A story of Recovery and Resilience
I have always struggled with the space I take up – I remember feeling acutely aware of my body and the size it was from a very young age and began comparing myself to others around that time. That was where my eating disorder dug its claws in, and by the time I was 13 in was out in full force. I became incredibly depressed as a young teenager and started self harming with an ever increasing frequency to manage it. I developed anorexia and went into full crisis mode. I was always an intelligent and academic child, but I started getting kicked out of school, drinking excessively, running away from home – I was in a complete tailspin and felt powerless to stop myself from what I was doing. Eventually, after many months, I only saw one way out. Death. At the age of 15 I made my first and only suicide attempt, which landed me in a psychiatric hospital for the next six months.
Although it was a terrible thing to have happened, it was also a complete turning point for me. I was in a place where I could get the help that I needed, and I met some of the most incredible, dedicated and wonderful nurses during that time. I left feeling like a different person – I didn’t self harm any more, I wasn’t as sad, I had hope for myself.
With that said, I didn’t really recover from any of my eating difficulties, and I spent the next 7 years oscillating between anorexia and bulimia. I had treatment in the community for anorexia twice and was last discharged in 2013, maintaining recovery on my own since that time.
I was doing well and I was back on track. I was working in mental health care and had decided that I wanted to become a mental health nurse like those who had looked after me in hospital. I was in college, trying to get the qualifications I needed that I never achieved in school, when I got hit by another bout of severe depression, but eventually I came out the other side and was lucky enough to be accepted to university to study for my nursing degree. Everything seemed like it was going okay, until my second year when I had a manic episode. I had an assessment with the mental health team and after answering a few questions, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Suddenly a HUGE amount of my life made sense – there is so much of my behaviour that adds up now over the last 15 years of my life. It was terrifying and horrible and upsetting, but also an enormous relief. That diagnosis opened up a whole new world of options for me including different medication, which has hands down changed my life. I had to go through a few different options and experienced feeling completely zombified on some and completely wired on others, but eventually I got the right combination for me.
I worked hard at uni and graduated with the highest grades in my year. I got my dream job in a team working with young people in crisis, and my manager is the very nurse who cared for me in hospital and inspired me to choose this as my career.
Would I say I am fully recovered from anorexia? No, but then after so many years with it I’m not sure I ever will be. I don’t actively use any unhealthy behaviours, but that voice is still there sometimes – I’m getting much better at ignoring it though. And although I have had bipolar relapses, overall I am medicated well, I see the mental health team regularly and I am happy and healthy.
I wasn’t always this open, candid person I am today though. I spent years feeling embarrassed and ashamed of my mental health history, especially the fact that I had been in hospital. I constantly felt like I was living a double life and I was always paranoid that somehow somebody would find out and I would lose my job. However, when I decided I was going to be a nurse, I realised that I never wanted my patients to feel as I felt – I didn’t want them to be ashamed. And for that to happen, I knew that the world needed to be different. I saw a small but rapidly growing movement around me trying to fight stigma and discrimination, and I had an overwhelming urge to be part of it. After doing a bit of research and watching things from the side lines, I was lucky enough to join the team at Time To Change. I travelled the country sharing my story with people, and my confidence grew. A couple of years later I discovered Twitter and found this amazing community of people who felt the same way that I did, and that’s when I was inspired to start my blog. I realise I alone am not going to change the world, but being part of a huge group of incredible people who are makes me feel that I’m doing something worthwhile.
I don’t ever want people to feel like they can’t achieve things because of their mental health; that’s one the reasons I started my blog. If even one person hears my story and gains a little but of hope or self belief, then I’ve done my job.