Belinda Platt has experienced mental health problems since she was a teenager. As part of Time to Change’s mental health awareness event, Time to Talk, which took place last week, the 30-year-old, of Old Town, has shared her story with EMMA DUNN in the hope it will help people understand mental health and to get people to seek help
IT STARTED with the feeling that I needed to repeatedly tap things. I would tap different objects until I got the right feeling in my head, but at just 12 years old I had no idea it was the start of a huge journey with my mental health.
My best friend Joanna, and also my grandmother had died in the space of just a few weeks, and my parents also split up which meant we had to leave our family home.
I was revising for my GCSEs when the feeling really set in, but I still thought it was normal.
As part of my condition, which I now know was Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I had to make sure everything was straight too, and say certain words in my head over and over again.
I thought that if I didn’t do these things properly something bad would happen to someone close to me.
Over the next couple of years it built up, and there was no stopping it.
I had to get dressed in the right order, touch things in the right order, and do all my routines about five times in a row.
If I did it wrong I had to start all over again.
Eventually I told my mum I couldn’t take it anymore, I needed help.
I saw the GP and was diagnosed medication. I still did the routines but the stress level lessened - it wasn’t for long though.
By the time I reached my A Levels I could hardly make it into school. I was taking time off to do the routines and then sleeping to recover.
The headteacher was so kind, permitting me to come to school on days when home rituals allowed and leave again when it got too much to cope.
Sometimes I would only be there for an hour, but that was all I could manage.
I didn’t want to tell anyone outside the family I had a problem. My mum realised but she couldn’t stop it because I wouldn’t let her. To me it was my safety.
I took a gap year after my A Levels and worked hard to get the OCD under control with the support of my family and psychologist.
My journey was far from over though.
In my final year of university in Swansea I made the ridiculous decision to stop taking my tablets because I thought I was better and I didn’t like the fact I was having to take them every day. I also partially blamed the medication for my ever-increasing weight gain.
Thankfully, I got through my exams but I became vacant and agitated and my OCD returned full force.
I had put on weight at university but I started compulsive over-eating. At my biggest I reached 20 stone.
When university finished I was distraught with where I was. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go and wasn’t even sure if I could achieve anything.
Mum desperately tried to get me back onto medication when she found out I had stopped. But the GP couldn’t do anything unless I came for help myself because I was over 18. There was no way I was going back on them so there was nothing mum could do.
I was getting worse but no-one could do anything apart from me, so they all had to just watch and hope I’d see sense.
The main part of my distress at that point was the weight.
But at this point I didn’t have rational thoughts.
I decided to go on an extreme diet, which saw me swapping meals for milkshakes.
You’re only supposed to do a couple of months but because of my OCD I wouldn’t stop. I was on it for over a year. I was living on milkshakes. I would have a week of vegetables every month or so but the rest of the time I was just having three milkshakes a day.
The weight dropped off, but I was obsessed.
I was happy because the weight was coming off and I was lighter in all respects, but I knew I was getting hooked.
I was starting to feel funny but I had to keep going.
After about a year-and-a-half I started getting pains in my stomach, chest and arms. It was agony. I had tests and was told it wasn’t gallstones.
We knew something was seriously wrong though.
We went to Ridgeway Hospital for a second opinion, where a scan showed my gallbladder was full of stones and about to perforate - which meant I had to have an operation to remove my gallbladder completely.
I knew at that point I had to give the diet up.
The first week was great, and I was eating normally again. But then I started to see the numbers go up on the scales and I couldn’t bear it.
I went into a downward spiral and stopped eating again except for the occasional bowl of sugar free jelly. I was desperate not to gain the weight back because I remembered how unhappy I was when I was 20 stone.
Weight became everything to me and I had these extreme feelings of fear.
I hit my all-time low in summer 2008. I was in complete crisis.
My OCD rituals had increased to 22 hours each without stopping. I wasn’t eating, or even drinking much, feeling that would increase the weight too.
They put me back on medication once I’d stopped resisting. However for some reason I was put on different one to the original. This was to be the start of the worse stage. I began getting this noise inside – like a train crash in front of my eyes and sounds reverberating around my head. I was terrified. This never let up for a second and I soon became suicidal.
I had lost the will to live. In my head, I thought there was no hope for me and I was only causing my family more pain being around in this state so I tried to take my own life by taking an overdose.
I had started taking a few pills when I heard my mum clink a dish downstairs as she was doing the washing up.
Suddenly I started thinking about her and my family and I thought what this would do to them. The pain this would cause, much more than how it was currently. I was making a mistake, even for me.
I yelled for my mum, screamed for her, and she ran upstairs and held me. I don’t know if she knew what I was trying to do but I didn’t mention it - however after that day she took over my pill duties.
I had told her that the voices in my head were telling me if I swallowed those pills there would be peace, finally, some peace. I don’t think she did know how close it came to me doing something about it that day though.
She rang the GP who came and talked to me. She was lovely and kind. I started to let her in on my thoughts, and on what I needed to do. It was then she called the Swindon Crisis Team and they came to help me.
It turned out that the medication I had recently been put on wasn’t right for me, and I was put back on the one I was on as a teenager.
Things were still tough, and my obsessive side was still prominent as was my lack of eating. By 2010 I’d reached six stone.
I was referred to Cotswold House anorexia centre, but just seeing the inside of the place and meeting like-minded individuals in there I knew I just couldn’t face being that person anymore. It shocked me to the core.
I finally allowed mum to start cooking for me again, very small meals, but still – food.
I regained the weight, a healthy weight, and by 2011 I was celebrating reaching the eight stone mark with my mum in Rome, somewhere that has personal significance for me.
That year I was also referred by Richmond Fellowship to Swindon-based mental health charity, Twigs, as a service user, and sometime later started volunteering at their Olive Tree Cafe.
Last year I also completed an abseil in Northampton to raise funds for them. There was a group of us and we raised more than £2,500. It felt so good to be able to repay them, just in a small way, for all they had done for me and others there.
Alan and Phyllida at Twigs and the Olive Tree Cafe work tirelessly to help vulnerable people and they gave me the confidence in my ability to realise I can do something.
They allowed me to take part in fundraising, event organisation and funding research, and they, along with the others, helped to restore my long-lost confidence and self-worth.
Seeing the work they do every day ignited a passion in me to join that fight for change.
In 2012 I was diagnosed with Bipolar II, and now that I have the correct medication, unfailing support from my psychologist and my family beside me, I feel I am on the road to recovery.
I have always strived to be perfect and I realise now you can’t achieve it. Nobody is perfect. You just have to try your best in this life.
I am going through an enlightenment phase at the moment, which is great. It’s all about trying your hardest and believing, especially in yourself.
I want to help people who have been through mental health issues like mine or are still going through them, and as a result of my experiences I have started an initiative called Just a State of Mind together with my friend, Jessica Heggs.
We are organising a Mental Health Film Festival to take place in Swindon and are currently in talks with MIND. We hope to raise awareness, break-down misconceptions and get people talking about mental health issues on a community level.
With the fantastic backing of Sir Tom Shebbeare, director of Virgin Money Giving and former director of the Prince’s Charities, I am hoping to make a real difference to people’s lives.
The State Of Mind Festival, with talks from well-known speakers also on the agenda, is in the early stages of planning, but it is envisaged to take place in next year’s Mental Health Week (May 2015).
We hope to raise funds, dispel myths about mental illness and open lines of communication - all through the medium of film and the creative arts.
I have had a lot of people private messaging me on our Facebook and Twitter accounts about what we’re doing and I feel that our efforts are already encouraging people.
If I can help just one person in the world get through a difficult time then I will feel I have done a good job.
I still have a long way to go personally, I’m not where I want to be yet and I am never quite sure how any of my days will turn out, but my family are my absolute rocks.
Without their love and support I would not have survived.
- BELINDA’S group, Just a State of Mind, is looking for contributors to help continue their fundraising for the film festival. This could be money from businesses, individuals or organisations, both locally and nationally. Frances Mayes, senior public health manager at Swindon Council, said: “Any initiative that raises awareness of mental health in the community is very welcome and film is a powerful way of raising awareness and understanding and challenging preconceptions of mental illness.
“One in four of us will be affected by mental health problems over our lifetime and at any one time one in six will have a mental health problem. Stigma and discrimination is a real problem for those experiencing mental health problems and can lead to individuals delaying seeking help, which can make the situation worse.”
To enquire about how to help this cause please contact Belinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
To get involved with “Just a State of Mind” search for the group on Facebook or follow @just_state_mind on Twitter.