Hello, Mental Health Mugs community! I'm Hannah, the founder of An Ear to Hear. I created this peer support service after a time in my life when I feared I was relapsing in my anorexia recovery. When I sought help, I felt stranded from all professional support because I wasn’t deemed "sick enough for treatment." I know that one thing would have made a difference during that disillusioning time: to have someone reassure me that I wasn’t on my own. So I'm truly excited to partner with Mental Health Mugs in a story-sharing blog series around mental illness recovery. By sharing real stories from brave fellow humans, it's my hope that these articles and anecdotes spread the truth that none of us are alone. Thank you for listening!
This first story comes to us from vlogger Elle Rose. On her YouTube channel, Elle talks about her struggle with mental illnesses and the reality that, while recovery is possible, it looks very different from what people might expect.
Elle says, "This little piece is about trauma and the effects it can have on the brain, particularly how it affects the current reality of the sufferer over the long term. I wanted to write something about what I am currently dealing with and the reality I see, a reality I believe many other people live in as well. Trauma of many different kinds is very common, and one way to see its effects on people’s lives is to talk about it."
Bread and Soup
I watch as two young women, looking to be around my age, chat while scrolling through phones. There’s no pressure between them to impress each other. There’s comfort instead. The kind of comfort that comes from years of friendship, or the kind of friendship that grows very quickly and roots deeply. I wonder if they notice me looking at them, or if it just looks like I’m looking around. The air is cool, gentle. It is a nice little place, an interlude between here and the rest of the world.
I have so much to say, and I feel like there are not enough words to say it--until I sit down, and then there are too many.
So many hopes and dreams. So many goals. So little time.
My soup bowl is empty, save a tinge of red from the tomato. Little bits of onion dress the edge of my plate, little crumbs of bread dance across the porcelain. I try to pop my right thumb and must resist, not for the first time, the urge to break it and hear it crack.
There’s so much to say. So much to write. So much to do. Do do do. Go go go. Never stop, nonstop. There’s a boy I miss and a girl I like, there’s gentle music playing, and I feel like I could be a protagonist in a novel.
Time doesn’t feel real here, somehow. It feels… paused. Writing is, for me, like taking a snapshot. I used to take lots and lots of pictures and even film people regularly, but it got on everybody’s nerves. So now I sit in quiet places, watch people go by, and write. Pictures capture what the world looks like. Words try and capture how it feels. I think I’m better at capturing feelings than I ever was at taking photographs.
I remember trying to be an artist at a young age, trying to prove myself. I would take photos of insects, of my eye, of myself, because I had no model and because it felt like fun to be in front of the camera. I liked that I was thin, red haired, freckled and pretty. The moments then, between reality and some strange dream place, were more distinct, less blurred. Less figurative.
But people don’t like being on camera, not when you don’t warn them. People don’t like it when I take their picture--their real picture, a picture of what they really, actually look like. No filters, no edits, just them. They tell me to delete it, delete it, I looked ugly there, I didn’t have a moment. Don’t record this moment that you won’t remember later. Don’t record me, no, I don’t look good today.
You looked like you, I’d say.
But I delete it anyway. I’d want them to delete mine, too.
And so I stopped taking pictures all the time.
I turn to the mirror at night and in moments don’t recognize my face. I don’t see it. I press my hands into my cheeks and touch, skin on skin, and hope that I feel connected to the figure in the mirror. On the bad nights, it doesn’t happen. She exists, the person facing me. Her blue eyes look at me and I notice her makeup is running just a bit too much on one side and creating a dark circle under her eye, making her look tired. She isn’t me. I don’t know who me is.
Life is this funny, weird thing. We go to sleep by pretending to be asleep so that we can again wake in our dreams, in places far away from reality. We look at the people who cannot tell the difference between fiction and reality and laugh and say to each other that “he’s crazy,” and then we go back to our gossip and fizzy drinks.
I never understood what trauma could do to the brain until I’d been through quite a lot of it. Accepting that my brain had been through trauma was a battle in itself. It was another battle to sit down at the mirror and realize I didn’t recognize who was staring back.
I used to point and laugh. I’d been in therapy, yes, I’d been in the hospital even--but who couldn’t tell reality from fiction? What a silly notion, I told myself, turning another page in my book, looking uncomfortably away from the person making a scene. My scenes are different, I said to myself. They aren’t as crazy. They aren’t as big. I’m not like that.
No. I’m not crazy.
A week ago, before writing this, I was certain I’d lost my mind.
It’s strange how quickly life can move from reality to existing in dreams, how sometimes I cannot tell the difference between what has and hasn’t happened. It is extremely difficult to explain to others, people still fully in touch with reality, what trauma has done to you. I sit there fidgeting, rubbing my hands together to feel the bones in my fingers, trying to articulate.
I ask two people I care deeply for, who I trust deeply, “Do you ever feel like you’re dreaming, but then you figure out that you’re awake? But you still feel like you’re dreaming?”
“No.” They each, individually, shake their heads. Exchange a look of concern as I swig another shot of whiskey, desperate just to not feel the sadness I’ve been feeling for days, desperate for something that will put me to sleep, because at least if I fall asleep the strangeness of the dream might make the difference between itself and reality.
I fall asleep by them, drifting in and out of the world and wondering, for days, about what I dreamed and what conversations actually transpired. They keep me as safe as they can. I wonder, often, if what happens between us is real. But I can’t bring myself to ask. I would seem crazy. And I’m already convinced I might be.
It isn’t like that all the time, but it is hard to explain to people when it is, how desperate you are to connect with what’s happening around you. I touch the wall in front of me and feel its texture, run my finger along the sharp edge of bricks, walk in the rain just trying to feel something. Just trying to feel like the world around me is real, my brain did not make it up, my brain would not be creative enough to make something so rich and complex.
There are little moments of hyper-reality. I take out my contacts and take off my glasses and look at the wrinkles that weave in and out of my skin, nearly imperceptible, and I run my fingers over the grooves there. I wonder if other people feel like this, like they’re suddenly waking up all the time, suddenly realizing with a strange sense of reality what is and is not real.
How do you explain reality when, even as you write about it, you aren’t sure you can fully realize it’s there? How do you explain post traumatic stress disorder, or depersonalisation disorder, or disassociation in general, when language for describing absence does not exist? Some people say they are spacey, spaced out, unfocused. I feel this is not descriptive enough when your sense of reality has been so thoroughly damaged your brain has felt the need to step away from what’s near you. Trauma affects us in different ways.
I look down at my bread and my soup, and I wonder how to attach myself to the taste of it, and I realize I am beginning to understand how it has affected me.
About the Author:
Elle Rose is a 25-year-old vlogger and writer living with bipolar disorder and actively dealing with trauma. Her interests include writing horror stories, running, and hoop dancing. Someday Elle hope to give talks concerning mental Illness in young people, but for now she is doing her best to publicly talk about her own. Find her on Instagram: @ellerosetakespictures
About Hannah Brown & An Ear to Hear:
As a blogger and campaigner on mental health issues, Hannah has used her experience of suffering from anorexia to help support others through the founding of An Ear to Hear, a volunteer-run peer support service based in the UK. Now, working closely with National Health Service providers and other professionals in the field, schools, corporations, and Members of Parliament, Hannah continues to help others by increasing the dialogue around eating disorders to encourage others to speak out and reach out for the help she knows they not only need, but most importantly, deserve. Follow Hannah and An Ear to Hear on Instagram: @anearto_hear