At the age of 14, I began self harming. At 17, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. At 19 I was sectioned on a mental health ward where I 'celebrated' my 20th birthday. It's safe to say, my wellbeing has not always been top notch.
I will forever be grateful for the care I received. There's no question that without forced nutrition, years of therapy and the support of my family and friends I would not be here today.
But, I also wouldn't be here without myself. When I left hospital for the third and final time, the question on everyone's mind wasn't whether I would be back. It was when I would be back. My section remained in place for a further 6 months to ensure that I could be swiftly and suddenly re-hospitalised, which everyone presumed would, at some point, be necessary.
I don't hold any grudge for that presumption - in fact I believed it myself. I was in a cycle, and sadly have witnessed too many others caught in that same cycle.
I went back out into the world knowing I was returning to uni but with few plans beyond that. My studies that year changed something though. I discovered my values, and the personal passion that enabled me to take control of my mind and channel it towards something other than self-destruction.
A few months ago, while writing in my journal, I identified my three core needs. The things that give me happiness and satisfaction, the things that allow me to cope in a scary and overwhelming world.
Those three needs are: Identity, Purpose and Acceptance.
While we all have different personalities, priorities and experiences - I'm willing to bet that these three things are important to your mental wellbeing too.
Identity; an understanding of who we are and where we stand in relation to the world around us.
Purpose; A reason for being and doing what we do.
Acceptance; the affection and appreciation of those around us.
These are three things I subconsciously thought could be gained through my self-destruction.
I identified as the poor, sick, starving girl. I put all of my energy towards controlling my food and weight, allowing it to become my sole purpose in a desperate attempt to avoid the feeling of having none. And, much as I hate to admit it, the care I needed and anxiety I caused gave me some warped feeling of acceptance.
Now I find these three things elsewhere. Now I have discovered my true values; justice and harmony for the Earth, it's environment and its inhabitants. I found my passion in my belief in and excitement for the potential of ethical business in building and innovating towards a better future.
My values and passion shape every aspect of my life. The way I treat people, the conversations I have, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, and my up and coming business venture…
Identity wise, being sure of my values allows me to know myself through what I agree and disagree with, the awareness I believe worth seeking or sharing, and the way I make my choices.
I have a sense of purpose in the development of my passion, the goals it drives me to make, and the future I envision myself building around it.
While these things don't necessarily provide acceptance - they allow me to present an authentic version of myself for others to form their opinions of and relationships with me. While it might sound scary to allow people to judge you, the fact is that people are people and that's what we do. At the end of the day, you are less alone those judgements and relationships are based on you rather than with a false or suppressed version of yourself.
This is the importance of finding your true values and passion in establishing the identity, purpose and acceptance that are so crucial to your wellbeing and the ways in which you cope with inevitable bumps in the road.
I never did return to the mental health ward, and I hope that I never will. While I still have my ups and downs, I also have coping strategies, ambitions and a solid support network which I have built for myself through finding and staying true to my values and my passion.
This can work for you. We may be completely different, but I truly believe that it can. My story is unique to me and involves several occasions of privilege and luck. But you don’t have to share my story, my values or my passion to take advantage of this lesson.
Say your value is that all food ought to be delicious, and you have a particular passion for pizza. Eat pizza, invite your friends for pizza, start a blog reviewing local pizza parlours - or even open one yourself!
I don't want to imply that this strategy will solve all mental health issues and create everlasting happiness in your life. What I hope to have shown is that you have it within yourself to take some control over your wellbeing. To introduce a source of happiness to your life. To find a sense of clarity among the fear and confusion.
We’ve all heard the cliché that “it gets better”. Believe me, I’ve heard and rejected that same sentiment many times myself.
The truth is, it doesn’t always get better.
But the more important truth is that - by embracing your true values and passions and allowing them to provide you with identity, purpose and acceptance – you can, at least in some small way, make it better.
I'm a long-time environmentalist with a passion for social justice. Having just finished my Master's in Social Development, I'm now building an online membership site providing conscious entrepreneurs with the confidence, clarity and connections they need to start or grow their ethical business through expert-led resources and community support.