For Molly x

I am not one for speaking publicly or drawing attention to myself and the things I go through but there once was a girl who inspired and encouraged promoting this and was the champion of change for mental health. This beautiful girl, both inside and out, was sadly taken from us and all my thoughts and prayers go out to her family and best friends every single day. I will never preach that Molly and I were best friends but we connected on a level that no one else around us understood and I will truly miss her positive outlook on life and her words of wisdom and support through hard times.

Molly quickly became my pillar of strength in hard times and even when we did not speak much, she would always be the first to comment on a post to make me feel better and if I felt down I would often read through her blogs on Facebook or her little positive posts on Instagram and immediately I would start to feel better about myself and realise I am not alone in this. Everyone who goes through some kind of mental health illness will agree that they need someone around them to be that strength through hard times and to know someone else goes through similar feelings is always a comfort. These illnesses can make you so alone in the world and often, speaking out, brings people together and so often people find comfort in your words to know they aren’t the only ones that are in this world fighting something they often cannot control. Molly was that person for me, we found comfort in each other and I am completely heartbroken that she has now been taken from us – but again, as her family and best friends would agree, to remember Molly in the right way is the only way to make this feel like it is worth it, so I too feel I need to speak out and promote mental health problems in the name of Molly, and I hope she will be looking down proud.

My story

In 2011 during my adolescent years, I was diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Imagine experiencing pervasive and perpetual sensations of dread and shame, the sort of visceral response that you might have when your body reacts to a physical threat. Envision how distressing it would be if you experienced these exact same feelings after viewing yourself in a reflective surface or a photograph. Imagine what it might be like if your body was the source of extreme feelings of anger, disgust, anxiety, fear and hopelessness. Try to visualise how it might be if viewing your outward appearance triggered a reaction usually associated with a perilous situation, and how disconcerting it would be if every time you looked at yourself you experienced primal feelings of terror. If you have not had such an experience, it is probably quite difficult to comprehend how it is possible to have such a react to one’s body. This though, is the very tormenting reality for individuals who suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

I had been going through symptoms of this for a few years and it was starting to take control of my whole life. During my teenage years, I was probably the curviest of my friends in my eyes. In my younger days I never took too much notice of my weight, what I ate and was never bothered about having my photo taken, there was no reason to think too much into it. At the age of 15/16, I started going out a lot more, got a boyfriend and my body image became a far more prominent worry in my life, as with most girls. Going to parties meant there would be someone taking photographs and having a boyfriend meant I had someone to look nice for/something to lose in my life. I began to make a lot of changes to try and make myself feel better but no matter how hard I tried, I never felt good enough.

I suddenly became obsessed with weighing myself, the gym and I was starting to look at the nutrition labels on food excessively to the point where I lost a lot of weight, very quickly. If ever I missed a gym session (I used to go everyday) the guilt that I had controlled me and I would make up for the missed session the next day on top of the workout I had planned already. Although I had lost weight I always wanted more and was never happy when I had my photograph taken. I craved to look like the girls I envied and in my mind – I would never get there.

I would obsess over a photograph and my eyes would immediately be drawn to the parts of my body I was not happy with, especially my arms. I got to a stage in my life where I stopped going out completely at the fear of somebody looking at me funny or having a photo taken that would ruin my mood. I would get ready in my room for a night out, try clothes on, look in the mirror and break down into tears and be too scared to even entertain the idea of going out. This soon became a regular occurrence and a vicious cycle I got myself into. All that used to go through my mind is “How can someone be so unhappy with themselves to the point where they feared going out?” I could never understand it and felt so alone in my own thoughts.

I got to a stage where everything in my life was starting to become unbearable and lonely, I would not be able to sleep at night, I would go to college and not be able to concentrate where I was exhausted, and I would get home and be so lethargic that I did not want to go to the gym. I avoided my friends and family as I felt like I should not be having fun if I cannot go to the gym. As you can imagine, for someone who felt like the gym was the only way I could get skinny, I started to self-loathe even more so than before. This vicious cycle carried on until I had felt like I had lost myself completely.

I eventually sought for help with the help of my wonderful family and went to the doctors. As I was a minor at this point in time, the first port of call was to have counselling sessions without medication. These sessions taught me the use of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and taught me all the tricks people need and use in order to get themselves out of these vicious cycles life can throw us into. At first I thought these sessions helped and I felt like I had convinced myself and others around me that I was better. This though, of course, was very much not the case.

I finished my counselling sessions and went through a stage where my boyfriend and I broke up. For the first time in my life I had nothing to worry about and no one to “feel good enough” for…I felt… happy. I started going out and enjoying myself, felt confident (to an extent) and thought to myself that the past few years had been part of growing up and that everyone goes through a stage where they are not happy with themselves. A few years passed and overall, I was happy with my life. I had a great family, great friends, an amazing job and nothing was getting in the way of my happiness.

This soon changed when I began to start dating again. I would get ready for a date, look in the mirror and cry with worry and fear. Maybe I was not cut out for this love stuff? Maybe I was a happy person by myself and did not need anyone else in my life? I would start to see boys and then make up excuses as to why I could not go out. I was happier and safer in my bedroom away from the world, until one boy changed it all.

After a summer of giving me attention and me brushing it off, it got to a stage where he was asking to take me out. After multiple times of me cancelling plans or “re-arranging” in the hope that I could just stay happy by myself he eventually got his way and took me out. The date went better than I ever imagined but as soon as I got home the anxiety kicked in. I spent the next day wondering why someone like him would want to take me out and the “not good enough” feeling all came rushing back. I spent the whole weekend after that in bed crying to myself, avoiding friends and talking to people and this feeling was all too familiar.

After a bad weekend I brushed myself off and got up for work, little did I know this boy wanted to take me out again that week, not once, but TWICE. I eventually began to have a glimmer of hope that maybe I am loveable and maybe I am not hopeless? So… off we went on our dates and I had the best time and for the first time in my life I came home happy and not overthinking, just completely enjoying his company. This carried on and a few weeks later he broke the news that he was moving away for good – in one week…..

My heart completely sank, as for the first time in my life I had felt good enough and I wanted to hold on for it as long as I could. For the next week, we spent as much time as we could together and eventually we had the dreadful goodbyes at Heathrow airport. Travelling home, the feeling of loneliness rushed back to me. Was I ever going to find that happiness again through someone else? Or was I destined to be the one to make myself happy?

As some of you have probably guessed, this story had a very happy ending and I am now 3 years into a relationship with this boy, the boy who has changed my whole life for the better. He brings nothing but happiness into our lives and I will be forever grateful for having him and for him choosing me.

However, moving away to a different country brought a whole new feeling of loneliness to my life that I can never begin to explain. You have to be a certain type of person to move to a new country and start up a new life – and this type of thing does not come naturally to me. Meeting new people for the first time heightened my anxiety levels. I wondered how they were perceiving me, how I was talking and analysing the way they looked at me and yep you guessed it…my body. This in turn, began to start the cycle I had been familiar with years before. I would get ready, feel good, look in the mirror, analyse myself and get into a state where I would not want to go out.

For someone that had just moved to a new country, the only way I was ever going to get over this loneliness barrier and feel comfortable with this situation was to go out and do it. Scott was great and always encouraged me to get out no matter how I was feeling. I believed in him and his views and forced myself to get out there. This though, began another habit. I would go out, worry about what people were thinking of me, have a panic attack, feel I need to go home, escape and get back to my comfort zone. Another vicious cycle began to take place. Each time I would go out I would panic about having a panic attack, force myself into such a state where the only escape I could see was avoiding the situation and going home. At this stage, I began to form a social anxiety.

I got to the stage where life was becoming unbearable. I was lonely but did not want to meet people feeling uncomfortable so I forced myself into a dark place. I soon went to the doctors to seek further help. I had explained what had gone on in the past and she immediately put me on antidepressants and started a course of counselling (as most doctors do). Towards the beginning I was very afraid, you hear so many stories about people putting on weight or the horrible side effects of these tablets and I was very reluctant to start taking them. I quickly became a guinea pig for all things tablets. Nothing was working, it was either making my anxiety worse, keeping me awake at night, making me sleepy or making me hungry. I hated it and I felt like the counselling was just not working for me.

I got myself into such a state that I had to take a period of time off from work and take some much needed time to begin to self-love again. Being off was the opposite for me though, I began feeling like HK was not the right place for me, questioning what was the right thing to do and as much as I loved Scott, I felt that my anxiety was heightened by being in a relationship and not feeling good enough. This made me feel that this was always how my brain was going to work and I was never going to get any better.

Eventually, things, as they do, began to get a little easier. I found my little groove and began to meet people and not get anxious around them. Life slowly and surely was becoming more enjoyable but there was always a dark cloud over me with regards to how I looked. Being in a hot country is always going to be bad news for me personally – there is no way to cover up, its hot, people wear bikinis and in this country, girls are naturally petite. Constantly surrounded by people you crave to have the figure of is mentally draining and I began to stop eating properly. Since I left the UK I eventually ended up losing a stone in weight within the first year due to being scared that my tablets were making me fat and being paranoid about what I looked like. At this stage in my life was when Molly decided she would speak out about her problems and what she went through. I knew Molly quite well but we never spoke all that much but as soon as she posted about her fight and promotion of mental health awareness I was immediately drawn to her and we used to confine in each other a lot from that day and always posted something positive on a photo either of us shared. If ever there was a person who made me feel less lonely and more human, it was Molly. She was the only person who really understood life’s battles for me and I will be forever grateful at how positive she always remained despite her demons. She encouraged people to seek help and speak out and that’s exactly what I began to do.

I went back to the doctors and got a referral to a new psychiatrist and psychologist who I have now been seeing for the past 2 years. She is absolutely amazing and each session fills me with different kinds of emotions when I leave. I eventually began to feel more stable with my body and my anxiety had decreased a lot. The psychologist and I decided I had made a good recovery from such a dark place in my life and she suggested we finish our sessions but if I ever felt like I needed to speak to someone, I would go back to her straight away.

A few months passed and I decided I was feeling better so I stopped taking my tablets. After this I felt that I was actively forcing myself to be happy every day, fighting the deep feelings and trying to pretend they were not there. This went on for months and eventually one night everything took its toll. I got to a stage in my life where I felt like I would always feel like this. I felt like I would always consciously pretend I was happy, even though I was not and I began to feel hopeless and alone. This scared me because as much as I had been down before I had never got to that stage of hopelessness. The next day I went to see my doctor who referred me straight back to my psychiatrist with BDD and Manic Depressive Disorder. We chatted for hours and she immediately made me take my medication and upped my dosage. Due to the upped dosage, I went through periods of nausea, vomiting and paranoia and needed to take time off from work again to get myself better.

This is still an very much an ongoing battle and every day has its new challenges and feelings. All you have to remember is, if you are going through any kind of mental health illness, it will get better. I absolutely promise. There will always be bad times but there will always be good too. Please remember that it’s just a wave and soon you’ll be back to yourself and you’ll be stronger than ever for overcoming these issues. I am now at a stage in my life where I feel I am strong enough to get through this battle and I am making good progress, albeit slowly and surely.

A lot of people close to me, know the things that I go through, although I do not like openly talking about it and for me this note is a big and scary thing to do. Bringing it up in conversation is never on the cards for me and I try not to speak about it but Molly was a big advocate for speaking out about life and trying to be the most positive person as everyone well knows. Recent events have now made me have a new perspective on my life and I would like to be that person to someone that Molly was for me. People would say when I am at my best that I am the most confident and bubbly person and to some extent I would agree, but in the back of my mind I always have this little cloud over me worrying what people think and sometimes when I am not feeling myself I just want to talk to people and explain why I am acting the way I am but it is still such a taboo subject. This is why I encourage people to donate to the Molly McLaren Foundation and also do something like this and speak out. Speaking helps and this will do wonders people who suffer with anxiety, eating disorders and other things that form a part of this horrible battle a lot of people secretly go through without seeking any form of help. Molly, you were truly magic and thank you for having a big impact on so many people’s lives with this. You will never know how much your positivity impacted mine.

There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upwards; and easier day; a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.