I have never found it easy to open up about my feelings let alone the fact that I had anorexia when I was 13 years old and admitted to hospital aged 17. I guess I struggle with coming across as weak, or people looking at me differently. Instead of showing who I am I used to hide it away. I used to put a mask on and pretend that I was fine; and this definitely felt like the easy option.
But that option that I thought was the easy one to take ended up with me spending a year in hospital after nearly losing everything. I spent that year not only learning how to eat and the importance of eating but also about the importance of talking. I learnt that it was okay to talk about how you felt and okay to not be okay all the time. I learnt how to eat a meal and then turn around after it and say I hated it and I wasn’t okay. It was hard work and the biggest challenge ever. Since coming out of hospital when I was 18 I didn’t share my journey with many people. The odd person and when I did that it took all courage to do it.
But something changed last year and I wrote a book about my recovery. I was so scared about doing it at first, I didn’t know what people would think but the response I got was very positive and as I opened up more, people began to open up to me too. It was amazing seeing so much support in place and having so many people who wanted to help. Before then I had always been too scared to open up, afraid that it would impact my career or that people would look at me as if I was weird. But they haven’t.
The funny thing was when a few people that I work with found out I had mental health problems they were so shocked. They couldn’t quite believe it; bubbly, chatty Hope Virgo… she wouldn’t be someone who has a mental health problem. And yes from the outside I look completely fine. But the truth is I had an eating disorder from the age of 13. I was admitted to hospital when I was 17. Discharged a year later and have been managing it ever since. Looking on you never would have thought any of this. And I am happy about that. I am happy it isn’t obvious but it also worries me the number of people who may be struggling out there.
If 1 in 4 people have a mental health problem, it means that there is most likely someone you know who will be.
I am not going to lie to you and tell you it has always been easy. And there are still times I struggle to open up but deciding to write a book and sharing my experience was one of the best decisions I made.
The conversations I have had since opening up have been great and I have enjoyed sharing my experiences in the hope that I will help others struggling and those who are supporting.
What I wanted people to realise is that just because you can’t see there is something physically wrong with someone, it doesn’t mean that they are fine. Mental health is scarily secret. And when you have a mental health problem you have no idea when it will pounce. It could be hiding for years and years, you defeating it and then suddenly… out of nowhere… it creeps up. Slowly. Pulling you down. Pulling you closer to you. Eating you from the inside out. At first it’s easy to ignore, easy to shut up and easy to forget. But as it beats you, further and further down, the mask gets harder to cover it. There are days when you can’t laugh, days when you don’t feel like getting up and then days when you just want to give up fighting.
I had one of those days last summer and I still have them from time to time. I have days when I wake up in the morning, I try on my entire wardrobe and don’t know what to wear.
The battle is hard work but it is well worth it.
- Hope Virgo
To see more from Hope Virgo follow her on Twitter here, Facebook here and you are able to buy her latest book Stand Tall, Little Girl here.
Big thank you again to Hope for sharing such an open and honest account of your experiences, every story shared makes a huge impact!