Sarah Scarisbrick-Rowe

@sarah-scarisbrick-rowe | contributor
Sarah is a 27 year old aspiring writer from the UK. She writes about her life with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Depression, along with her recovery from Anorexia. Her experiences have taught her the value of community and the power of hope.
Community Voices

I Don’t Want to Be ‘Brave’ for Talking About Depression

I write and talk openly and honestly about my struggles with #Depression and history with Anorexia. One comment I get all the time is how strong and brave I am for talking about these things. And whilst I appreciate any encouragement or compliment, I struggle with the sentiment.

You see I don’t think there should be anything brave about talking about mental illness. Would you call me brave for informing you I had the flu last weekend? Or courageous for telling you the story of a broken leg? The way I see it, my brain is just as likely to get sick as the rest of my body. Why is it normal to talk about one kind of illness but not another?

And yet mental illness can still be shrouded in so much fear and misunderstanding. We are afraid that people will look at us differently if we are honest about our struggles. That our judgment and character will be called into question, our decisions analysed and criticised. We worry that people simply won’t understand, fearing those well intentioned but hurtful comments, the unsought advice and suggestions. We can be concerned that being open will lead to doors being closed, lost jobs, narrowing of opportunities, our paths being dictated for us by others.

It’s possible some of these things could happen, we can’t control the reactions of others. But I wonder who’s truly winning by our silence. Depression thrives on secrecy, it wants you to feel alone and isolated. Because if you feel you are alone, with these thoughts and feelings, then you believe you are far beyond the reach of those who could help. And without their help you are left to fight the hardest of battles single handed.

I believe that our strength and bravery doesn’t come from talking about these battles but the fact that we have lived through them. No words can describe the terror that comes from realising your illness is taking control and you are completely out of your depth, in desperate need of help. Or the immeasurable courage it takes to walk into you first counselling or psychiatric appointment, waiting with your stomach sick from nerves, preparing to open up to a stranger. Or the strength it takes to practice self-care even when every cell of your body is screaming that you are not worth it. That is where the true bravery lies.

And the fact I talk about it doesn’t make me any braver than the countless numbers of people who are suffering in silence, quietly and privately.

But I don’t want to be silent. I know that every day I am on this planet is a day I would not have had if depression or anorexia had taken me like they would have liked to. Every new friendship is one I only get to cherish because I’ve won more battles than I’ve lost. I am who I am now because I have been shaped and refined by my experience with . It is a part of my story, although will never define me.

I believe in a world where my future sons or daughters will be able to speak freely about their struggles mentally and physically. I hope that they will be able to tell their friends and family that they are struggling. That fewer families will find out for the first time in the heartbreaking words of a #Suicide note. I want conversations about #MentalHealth to be so mundane and everyday they even become boring, as unremarkable as talking about the weather.

And this glittering utopia of openness may be impossible. But one thing I do know: we don’t get there by staying silent. That the only way to ease the stigma around these conversations is to keep having them. Maybe today it will take a bit of courage but perhaps your words will unlock someone else’s story who will then go on to share it with another. Who knows where we can end up if we take it one conversation at a time.

Published first on my blog Hope Whispers- hopewhisperstoday.wordpress.com/2018/11/18

What I Learned While Taking Time Off Work for Depression

I have struggled with depression on and off for the last 10 years. From the outside most people wouldn’t know — I have prided myself on managing to keep going with a smile plastered on my face. But over the last year, stressful situations at work combined with the ongoing pressure of living with chronic illness caused my mental health to deteriorate to a point where I needed to take time off work. What followed were eight weeks where I was signed off work to start the recovery process. Here are some of the lessons I learned during that time. 1. Reach out and ask for help. Being away from work can be incredibly lonely. As someone who lives alone with limited energy for social  activities, work was the place where I connected with people. Without that the weeks stretched before me frighteningly empty. People do care, they care deeply. But a lot of people will struggle to translate that care into a form that is useful for you. Thoughts and prayers of loved ones alone won’t get you through the dark days. You have to learn to reach out, to let other people walk alongside you during this time, people who can bring you hope and comfort on the days you can’t find it yourself. 2. You will have good days and bad days. Recovery from depression is a rollercoaster. One day you may be able to experience the joy in life again, the next you could be so low you’re not even sure you want to be alive. On the good days, you will feel like you should be running straight back into work, as though you are a fraud for being off work in the first place. On the bad days, you will worry you will never work again. The key is to not over-promise or overdo it on the good days or wallow in the hopelessness on the bad days. Take your average day as the best indicator of where to go from there. 3. Don’t listen to the guilt. One of the most debilitating symptoms of depression is guilt. The weight of it can make you believe you are a bad person, that you’re letting everyone down, that you’re a burden and don’t deserve happiness. You can be so overwhelmed with it that you are unable to recognize it as just a symptom of your illness. But the truth is that, whatever words guilt is speaking, it’s lying to you. It’s not your fault you are ill, the brain gets sick just like the rest of the body does. It’s not a sign of failure or an indicator of your value as a person. This may be a season where you need to lean on other people. But this doesn’t make you a burden, it just makes you human. 4. Celebrate the small things. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of setting unrealistic goals for your recovery. As a perfectionist, I wanted to do recovery “ right.” when in reality there is no right way to do it. Instead of planning too far into the future, it’s important to take each day or even each hour at a time. And celebrate the small things. It may be that you got up and dressed, it could be that you spent some time doing a hobby you would normally enjoy or it may be as simple as texting a friend. Every victory is a moment where depression didn’t get to dictate all the rules, you fought back and took care of yourself in spite of it. That takes a huge amount of energy and should be celebrated. 5. Recovery will take longer than you think. In my mind I was going to be off work for two weeks and then I would be back to my usual self. Safe to say after two weeks I was far from better and it would be another six weeks after that before I was ready to gradually start working again. It’s scary to stay off work until you actually feel better, especially when you have no idea how long it could take. I had to keep reminding myself that no job is as important as my health. Work can come and go, but we only have one body. I wish there was a magic recipe for a speedy recovery from depression, and everyone will need different things to recover. But the one thing we will all need is time. Recovery is a journey rather than a destination, it doesn’t end when we walk back into the office for the first time. However long it lasts, we need to be kind and patient with ourselves, giving ourselves the time and space to heal. 6. There’s always hope. Depression wants you to believe that the situation is  hopeless, that you will always feel this way and recovery isn’t worth it. But that’s simply not true. These feelings will pass. No matter how dark the night you find yourself in, the dawn will come and scatter the darkness. Some days hope may only be a whisper, but it’s still there in the embrace of your loved ones, in those little moments that spark joy or in the promise of brighter t omorrows. Don’t give up on hope. Those weeks away from work recovering from depression were hard, but I think every day was worth it. It made me realize that my mental health is just as important as my physical health and needs just as much care and attention paid to it. I believe giving my mind the time and space to heal will make me stronger and happier in the long run. Follow this story here.

How to React When People Say Insensitive Things About Mental Illness

Every year we seem to make a little more progress in reducing the stigma around mental illness. In the last year, there have been plenty of triggers for conservations about mental illness. It feels like discussions about mental health are becoming increasingly socially acceptable. However, I have noticed that as these discussions have increased, so has the backlash when someone says something wrong or insensitive. I was reading an article the other week about Dr. Ranj Singh who was taking part in a segment on the UK breakfast show “This Morning.” He was talking about the rise of eating disorders and said we are seeing “eating disorders becoming more and more popular.” Twitter was in uproar over the comment, that seemed to imply that eating disorders were a choice. And while Dr. Ranj took to Twitter to explain he had simply made a mistake and had meant to say eating disorders were “more common” rather than popular, it seemed the damage was already done. Here’s the thing: If we want to have more openness when it comes to talking about mental illness, then we have to be realistic and accept that people will say the wrong thing sometimes. It might be a celebrity on social media, or it could be your aunt or friend putting their foot in it. Maybe it’s a slip of the tongue or a result of lack of understanding, or in some cases it could be malicious. Whatever the reason, we can be certain it will happen. And how we react to these comments matters too. We can react in anger, taking our frustrations to social media, condemning and ridiculing the commenter. But the risk is that instead of changing the conversation about mental illness, we shut it down altogether. The next time mental illness comes up in conversation, that person may try and avoid it altogether, quickly changing the subject, increasing the stigma those of us with mental illness may feel. And it’s really hard. It’s hard because it’s never just about that one comment. Our reaction is a culmination of all the comments that have gone before, the unkind looks, the rejection and lost friendships. Many of us have been badly hurt by other people’s reactions to our conditions in the past. And that hurt makes us quick to be on the defensive when we feel threatened, firing shots over the walls we have put up. Through all of this, it’s clear what we’re seeking from those around us is more compassion and understanding. We want a world where having depression is no more stigmatized than a visible illness. But don’t we need to be demonstrating that same compassion and understanding to that person who has made that hurtful comment? Maybe what they said was a slip of the tongue, perhaps they didn’t realize how their comment sounded. This could be the first time they’ve discussed mental illness, so maybe they have no idea what someone with mental illness “looks” like. Or their words could be an indication of problems and issues going on in their lives that they’re not able to deal with yet. Mental illness could be deeply personal to them — maybe they’re thinking of that parent who was too ill to look after them or the friend they lost to suicide. In the same way they don’t know what it feels like to be you, you don’t know what’s going on with them. So perhaps instead of reacting in anger, we can try to stay calm. If we have the opportunity, we can continue the discussion, bringing our own wisdom and experiences into the encounter. We can give them a chance to explain their opinion or clear up any misunderstanding. And it’s OK if we still don’t agree — everyone sees the world differently. But it’s possible that the discussion you’ve had will have given more insight to both sides. And as a result, their next discussion about mental illness could be different. People are going to say the wrong thing. And we have no control over what they may say. Instead, we have a chance to direct where the conversation goes from there. Hopefully, with more compassion and education we will be able to build a stigma-free future for those struggling with mentally illness. Follow this journey here. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image via AntonioGuillem

When Depression Makes You Mistrust Happiness

Depression was a big part of my teenage and early adult years. There were years when the one thing that seemed certain was that the good days would not last and the next episode of depression would always come. Most of my memories from those times are still fuzzy. But I can’t forget the weight of the darkness and despair. The excruciating pain of trying to get through a day, when it felt like my mind was being tortured. How there was a black hole that opened up inside me and sucked all the color and happiness out of the world. Now those years are part of my past rather than my present. While there are good and bad days, mostly my mood is stable. However, I am noticing that as someone who has lived through depression, my outlook is different from those who have never experienced it. Depression has changed me. I can’t deny my periods of depression have made me who I am today. The parts of my character I love and those I don’t have been molded by those times. I am the product of all the days that have gone before. Depression has made me wary of looking to the future. I have learned to sunbathe with one eye on the horizon, watching for the storm cloud that is surely coming. I find it hard to be entirely present in the moment, because I know how fast the weather can change. One minute all is well and the next I’ve tripped and fallen down the rabbit hole. I struggle to trust happiness, because it has been a fleeting and fickle friend to me. You also wouldn’t describe me as a positive person. It’s not that the glass is half full or half empty. But more that at times, the glass has been jagged and drinking from it has cut my lips. And after that experience, it doesn’t seem to matter how much water is in it. But before you dismiss me as negative, please remember I chose to stay. Chose to keep pushing through and clinging to hope, even on the days when life felt like nothing more than a cruel joke. I chose to keep showing up for each new day, even when I wanted nothing more than to give up. That takes a strength and determination you cannot fully understand until you’ve faced it yourself. And it hasn’t been all bad, experiencing depression has deepened my empathy. It has meant I am someone who can sit with another in their pain, without platitudes just the knowledge they are not alone. I know how to keep loving someone even when you can’t fix what has broken inside them. I have seen that sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is your time, walking with them through the darkness. Depression has made me fiercely passionate about hope. Hope has been the voice that has kept whispering in the darkness, the flickering flame that refused to go out. I will not forget the people who held onto hope for me, on the days when depression was shouting too loud for me to hear it. And surviving those dark nights has given me a wisdom that comes from seeing that all pain passes eventually. Maybe laughter is sweeter when you’ve been caught in the teeth of despair. And there is a pure beauty in those flowers that bravely turn towards the sun, despite the shadows that surround them. Perhaps it’s not naive to believe that my pain will serve a greater purpose. Or foolish to continue to hope there are greater things ahead than those I’ve left behind. I am not the same person I was before depression came along. I cannot turn back time. And whilst I would not wish this journey on anyone, I am proud of the battles I’ve fought and won. I am choosing to believe it has made me the person I need to be today. That the story I’ve been given is one another heart needs to hear. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know I have the strength and hope to face whatever comes. Follow this journey on Hope Whispers. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via kevinhillillustration.

The Symptoms of My Chronic Illness My Coworkers Don't See

I am lucky enough to be able to work part-time while managing my chronic illness. To do so means I must keep a lot hidden from view, behind a more presentable mask. I do my best to smile through the bad days and to not let my symptoms show. If you catch me at the right moment I might give you an honest response when you see me at work and ask “How are you?” And I see confusion cloud your face when my answer doesn’t match up with what you were expecting. Sometimes I have to hold my tongue as you correct my response or offer your own assessment of how I am doing. I can see how easy it is to imagine that the me you see here at work extends beyond 5 p.m. into my evenings and days off. That this put-together, functioning person continues into an active social life. To think that this elaborate façade is all there is to me. But what I need you to understand is that you only see the very best of me. There is much more I will never let you see. You don’t see the isolation, the days spent propped up on my bed desperately trying to refresh my weary body. When no amount of inactivity can make my body remember how to store energy. You won’t know just how boring and frustrating rest can be, when it is forced upon you. When your companions are headaches, muscle pain and the characters on the television. On those days you try not to open Facebook because seeing all those happy smiling faces leaves you feeling horribly alone. It is as though you are moving in slow motion, while the rest of the world is speeding past. I don’t let you see the fear. How terrifying it is to have a body that is seemingly out of control. To not have any idea what the future holds and watch you life deviate from what you had planned. I get worried when each new thing I try to help, doesn’t make my symptoms better. Or panic when my memory fails and important things like my postcode slip out of my mind. You don’t see how afraid I am that there will come a day when I can no longer force my body to go into work. That this job may be another thing that my illness will take from me. I don’t let you see the times when tears fill my eyes at my desk because my brain is so tired and so full of fog that the noise in the office feels like a special kind of torture. Or the days where I don’t leave this floor because stairs would just be a step too far. Or when I have had to stand up longer than my muscles could cope with and I sink into my chair, my body shaking from the effort of it, all the time knowing I’m going home to a flat that I will be too tired to clean and to food I don’t have the energy to cook. And when you see me at a social event, you don’t see the careful planning that has gone into minimizing the damage. How I’ve tried to ration my energy all day to save it for this. You won’t see the inevitable crash afterwards, because no amount of preparation ever prevents the fallout. You can’t know that I will be paying for this outing for days or even weeks to come. That sometimes the worry about how high the cost will be, can stop me from enjoying whatever it is I’m doing in the first place. And I don’t expect you to know all this. I know there are many parts of your life that I also don’t see. I don’t know what your smile is covering. But I would ask that you stop for a moment when I tell you how I’m doing. Before you dismiss my words and give your own opinion on my situation. Stop and remember that there are parts of my life that you don’t see. And I will try and remember the same for you. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by KittisakJirasittichai

Why It's Hard Not to Blame Myself for My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

On the surface, I look like I have come to terms with my chronic illness diagnosis. I have learned how to advocate for myself and found words to explain my illness to those around me. I have found some ways to cope and am adapting  to live my life around it. However, there is one part of accepting my illness that I am still struggling with. I am finding it hard to accept that it is not my fault. I know I am not supposed to blame myself. I would never dream of blaming someone else for their illness. I would be the first to correct anyone else in my position. I know the blame I carry is neither rational or justified. So why can’t I shake the feeling of guilt? Having a chronic illness feels like being set up to fail, and I have never been very good at failure. A diagnosis doesn’t come with an instruction booklet. No one tells you how to manage your days, what to do and what not to do. But people around you expect you to have all the answers. It’s like being forced into a tournament, but no one will tell you what game you’re playing or what the rules are. Every time you think you’ve got it and start to believe you’re winning, the rules change and you’re back to square one. And it seems you are only competing against yourself, the better, healthier version of yourself, trying to get back to who you used to be. Yet even my best efforts cannot keep my symptoms at bay. A good day for me is still not as good as I or others would like it to be. I am learning to cope by trial and error. And a year post-diagnosis it still feels like my errors are more noticeable than my successes. I blame myself for the days I don’t succeed in managing, thinking,“Surely by now I should have got to grips with this.” I feel responsible for every day off work, every canceled plan, every time I hibernate and abandon communication. I feel guilty for the times I push myself too far and experience the inevitable crash. Or for the days when perhaps I could have pushed myself further but was too afraid of failing. I blame myself for every missed target at work. I am critical of every time the brain fog rips myconcentration to shreds. There seems no one else to blame when every change or concession I make, yields no improvement. I am constantly comparing myself to everyone around me and finding myself lacking. It doesn’t help that I have an illness that has become increasingly shrouded in controversy. Half the medical community still seem determined to treat myalgic encephalomyelitis as a mental illness. It is an illness still so poorly understood, under-researched and under-funded, despite the thousands of people affected. Whilst there have been some advances in research to show a biological basis for this illness, this is having little impact on local treatments options. There are still many doctors who would dismiss me with “it’s all in your head.” My diagnosis came with a course of cognitive behavior therapy, and once that is finished there will be nothing else they can offer me. They believe my debilitating fatigue is a result of my body being de-conditioned, having too much rest and unhelpful thought patterns. I worry how many people in my life think the same. I am being taught not to trust what my body is telling me. It’s hard to know who I am supposed to be listening to. In such a climate, it is difficult to validate your feelings and to ask for the help you need. I can fall into the trap of over analyzing every feeling, to fear I am misinterpreting every ache and pain. I would give a great deal of money to swap bodies with someone else for a day. I long to have someone else confirm my experience, to see my illness through their eyes. And I would love to remind myself of what healthy feels like, to experience a day without fatigue. It has been so long now that the goal, of a healthy life, gets harder and harder to picture. I don’t know what the road ahead looks like. The future has become hard to predict. Some days it feels like improvement is just around the next corner, other days it could be a million miles away. The truth is I am so very tired. I know I am carrying a weight too heavy for my weary body. I cannot do anything about my diagnosis. But I think it is time to learn to lay down the burden of guilt and blame that is pulling me to the ground. I know it won’t be as simple as saying a few significant words and leaving that suitcase of guilt behind me forever.  I know every time I set it down I can choose to pick it back up again. Maybe it will always be there, tempting me on the bad days. However, at those moments I will try to hold out kind and compassionate words to myself, rather than blame. I am human and flawed, I will make mistakes and get it wrong. But every fall will be a chance to get back up and try again. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by borojoint

A Letter to My Younger Self After My Depression Diagnosis

Dear Brave One, I know you are scared. A doctor sat across from you and gave you your first label to carry. You don’t yet full understand what depression means, but you know enough of the weight of the word to figure out it could set you on a different course. The temporary relief at being given a name for what has been happening to you is outweighed by the fear of what the future may hold. Your mind used to be your safe place, a place only for you. Your imagination could take you on endless adventures. You could store all the knowledge and memories you wanted. Your mind was where you built your sense of who you are. But now this place is no longer safe and no longer just yours. There is a darkness living there that scares you, a darkness that seems to have leached all the happiness out of the world. You no longer recognize the place that used to be your home or the person you have become. And now there are doctors and concerned family and friends all wanting access to your mind. They want to know your thoughts, the exact landscape of your thoughts. They want to throw open doors to rooms you are not sure you want others to see. Please hear me when I say: depression is not your fault. I know you blame yourself. I know this feels like a weakness or failure on your part. You feel like if you’d just been “stronger” or “tried harder,” you would have been able to prevent this. Some days you have a hard time separating the illness from who you are. It can feel like depression has infected your character, made you less of a person. You struggle to escape the stigma around mental illness, because you carry a part of it within yourself. I wish I could tell you getting better will be easy and in a few short months all this will be behind you and life would be recognizable again. But I won’t lie to you. Recovery will be a long and difficult road. Sometimes you will take one step forwards only to take another two steps back. There will be nights where all you seem to have is the pain inside you, where all you can feel is the black hole like an open wound in the center of you. You will have days where just existing feels like more than you can bear. When all you want to do is give up, to not have to wake to another morning. You will wonder how the future can ever be anything but darkness. But little one, those days will pass. The emotions will fade and the pain will start to heal. You will find medication that helps and healthier coping strategies. You will discover you have a strength inside of you greater than the darkness. You will keep showing up for each new day until one day the thought of tomorrow won’t fill you with dread. There will come a day when the hope you have been fighting to find in the darkness will ignite like fire within you. You will realize it is only through the cracks in your heart that light can show through. Don’t try and do this on your own. You will need other people. You will need the friends who aren’t scared to ask difficult questions, the people who accept you as you are and love you even when you don’t love yourself. Let them in, let them love you. You will need the help of doctors and health professionals, you will need medication and therapy, you will need their care and advice. Trust them, they are there to help. You will need those people who say in quiet voices, “I’ve walked this road too.” You will need a community of people who have fought the darkness and come out into the light again. You will need to know you are not alone. You won’t believe me now but depression will leave behind some valuable gifts. You will come to understand yourself and the way your mind works better than you ever thought you would. You will grow a wisdom and a perspective on the world that comes from surviving those dark nights. The good times, they are coming. They will be richer because you have known despair. You will learn that hope can be a powerful force for change. And when depression has become part of your past rather than your present, you will have a choice to make. You could choose to stop talking about it, to omit it from your vocabulary and tear the chapter from your story. Or you could choose to share this chapter to bring hope to others and fight the stigma. We both know which one you’ll choose. I am proud of you. Proud of who you are and who you will be. This will be the fight of your life, but if you take it one day at a time, you can do it. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Image via Thinkstock

Choosing Hope in the New Year as a Person With a Chronic Illness

Another year is drawing to a close. For me, like many others, this year has had its fair share of disappointments. I thought 2016 would be the year I got my life back on track. It was a year where I took difficult decisions to try and get my chronic illness under control. I reluctantly reduced my hours at work and started a new treatment. I was expecting to see an improvement by Christmas. If I’m honest, I was already making plans for what I might do in the New Year with my new-found energy. But the reality is the improvement thus far has been so fractional I’ve barely noticed it. I’m faced with the disappointment of another year with the uncertainty of an illness that I still struggle to understand and manage. All the hope and aspirations I went into 2016 with feel naive and foolish now. Disappointment can be crushing. It leaves behind its own scars on our hearts. Scars that make us reluctant to hope again, unwilling to open our vulnerable hearts to the possibility of further pain. Our instinct is to harden our hearts, to build walls around those vulnerable parts of ourselves and lower our expectations. If we don’t hope for better things, then we can’t be disappointed again. If we expect only more trials and difficulties, then we won’t be let down. It feels safer not to choose hope. At this dawn of another year, it would be all too easy to cross it off already. To abandon all my dreams and hopes here, accepting they have no place in this new life. But I can’t live this life without hope. The kind of hope I need isn’t ignorant of the hard realities of chronic illness. I know that no amount of hope will make this new year trouble-free. There will be hard days ahead, days that will take more than hope to get through. But I have to keep trusting that even on the difficult days there can be golden moments that make the struggle worth it. I have to keep remembering that I am and always will be more than an illness. I have to believe that some of my dreams for the future can still be fulfilled. Hope reminds me that while the past is now set in stone, the future hasn’t been written yet. I cannot control what comes to pass. But I can choose the way I approach it. I will choose hope again in the new year. Maybe I will be disappointed again, but I think it will be worth the risk. Follow this journey on Hope Whispers . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

To the Tabloid Editor Running Eating Disorder Recovery Cover Stories

I have been reading your articles about anorexia for a while. You know the ones I mean — they have shocking headlines like “Girl nearly dies after living on just X calories a day.” The first picture is always an emaciated girl or guy. She’ll be dressed in clothes that looks about ready to fall off her. It’s a picture printed to shock the reader and hook them into purchasing a magazine to find out how someone can survive being that thin. I have read these stories from different places in my life. I read them when I myself was in the throes of anorexia, trying to feel less alone. I read them now, from a place of recovery, wondering when the stigma will disappear. On the surface your articles look like a simple story of eating disorder recovery, a much needed exercise in raising awareness. But every time you focus on weight and calories, I fear you may be telling a more dangerous story. I wish you would stop showing us before-and-after pictures — displaying his skeletal form just to prove he was really ill, as if the severity of a mental illness is directly linked to the amount a person weighs. Please don’t describe to me her diet and how many calories she ate. I don’t want to know what she allowed herself to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I also don’t need to know what he’s eating now that he’s “better.” Please don’t make this about food, as though this is just a diet gone wrong. Tell me about her. Tell me who she is. Tell me the things he loved to do before he got sick. Tell me the stresses and factors that brought her to this place, where this need for control came from. Help me understand that anorexia does not discriminate, that it happens to anyone for a vast number of reasons. Show your readers that anorexia is not really about food or weight, that deep down it is not about wanting to look like the most fashionable model or celebrity. Don’t paint these people as selfish and narcissistic. This isn’t a diet or a self-obsession. This is a mental illness. Tell me what it felt like for him — not what it looked like from the outside, but the agony of living through it. The torture of watching yourself fade away and being replaced by someone you do not recognize. To become a person who will lie in a heartbeat as though it’s second nature. Someone who feels utterly powerless to stop the heartache he is causing his family. Tell me what it was like to no longer be able to feel anything but the elation of not eating and the guilt of eating. Tell me how she lives with the contradiction of being absolutely terrified and completely unwilling to stop what she’s doing. Maybe you think the shocking photos will scare some people into asking for help. But for others your photos become triggers with darker results. There are people who are reading your article backwards. They start at the recovered picture and believe themselves to be much “bigger” and “fatter” than the man or woman in the photo. And then their eyes move back to the “before” shots. They see that skeletal figure and see how far they can go. They take note of the weight the girl in the picture was and the calories she was consuming and see this as a recipe to follow or a challenge to take up. They may believe they’ll be able to stop before it gets that bad. By printing weight you are potentially showing your readers how thin they could get without (immediately) dying. Or they may believe that weight is the exact weight a person would have to reach to be “worthy” of a newspaper article. A reader may believe that whatever weight they are now doesn’t qualify them for help. That, by comparison, they aren’t really sick. These people I’m talking about are likely already in the grips of the eating disorder, so you could say they are not your problem. Leave them to doctors and stretched eating disorder services. But you see, Mr. or Ms. Editor, you do have a chance to draw them in — not with shocking photos and calorie intake, but with hope. Instead of telling me what dress size or weight your subject is now that they have recovered, tell me what recovery feels like to her. I want to hear about the first time he enjoyed food again with friends, the freedom that brought. I would love to hear more about the things she is able to do now that she couldn’t do when she was sick. The dreams he is now able to chase. Tell me that life in recovery is worth the battle to get there. Show me what inspires her to keep going on the difficult days. Paint a picture of life after anorexia, not just another diet or meal plan, but a fulfilled and rich life. I need to hear that he can and will be so much more than the person who had an eating disorder. The truly beautiful thing about recovery is that your life can stop being about food or weight. That wonderful moment when you have gone your first hour, day or week without worrying about food. When you realize you can harness those traits and tendencies that made you ill and use them to succeed in life. Recovery means your life can tell a different story — a story that may have had some dark chapters but can continue on into the light. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that you are publishing stories about anorexia and raising awareness. You could be helping to start conversations and end the stigma that surrounds mental illness. But there is power in how you tell a story. Is it perhaps time we tell our story differently? If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . Follow this journey on Hope Whispers. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Being Tired With Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Since being diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, “tired” has become one of my most commonly used words. It’s a word we all use. Everyone gets tired. Whether it’s at the end of a busy day or as you drag yourself out of bed early in the morning, we all experience it. But the more I use the word the more I realize that what I mean when I say it can be very different to what other people mean. For me it has almost become a code word, or shorthand, for the millions of other words I keep trapped in my mouth. It’s as much about what I am not saying as what I am saying. To me those five letters are so much more than an adjective. It’s the ache in my muscles that weighs down my body until it feels almost too bruised and heavy to move. It’s the sadness and guilt I feel when I have to cancel something I really wanted to do. “Tired” is the thing I see when I look in the mirror. It is the paleness of my skin and dark circles around my eyes. “Tired” is the darkness and weariness that sometimes creeps into my spirit, making me wonder how many more days like this I can take. When I say, “I’m tired,” I mean this day will be hard. I will ride the roller coaster of being happy one hour and sad the next because my emotional regulation has given up and gone home. My head will be filled with a fog so dense that forcing my brain to concentrate feels like a particular kind of torture. I will be irritable and say things I don’t mean; the words I want to say will get mislaid somewhere between my brain and my mouth. I will be endlessly frustrated with myself and my inability to “cope better,” when really I am frustrated with the direction my life has taken. “Tired” is the black hole I am being perpetually pulled into. The opponent I have to fight, who has a fondness for changing the rules of the game whenever they feel like it. It haunts my good days and my bad days. It is the monster I will sometimes let you catch a glimpse of, but will mostly keep hidden away. Some days I worry it is all I am and ever will be. But while “tired” is more than a word to me, I am also more than those six letters. I believe I have a value that comes not from what I do or how I feel, but from who I am. I have no less worth on the days I can’t get out of bed than on the days I can pretend all is well. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend and I am loved. I am creative, clever, empathetic, thoughtful and strong. I am so many other things before “tired.” There will be days when I will need reminding of that fact. I may be tired today, but I refuse to give up on the hope that tomorrow will be better. Maybe there will come a day when energy is no longer a distant memory. In the meantime, I still have dreams to chase. I’m not done yet. Follow this journey on Hope Whispers Today. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Image via Thinkstock.