Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Lucy Hancock is a British poet, who works as a copywriter and lives near Milton Keynes. She has a life-long love of words and writing, and graduated from the University of Birmingham in English and Creative Writing in 2018. She likes big books, big words and the colour yellow.
I caught up with Lucy for an interview based on her mental health experiences, and it went a lot like this...
1) Hi Lucy, how are you?
Hi Jemima, I'm well thank you. I hope you are too!
2) How are you really?
Honestly, I'm a bit up and down at the moment with everything that's going on in the world. Life feels different and I worry when things will feel normal again, or if this is what life will be like for a good while. But equally, I don't want to complain because others have had it much worse during the pandemic and I know everyone has struggled at times in recent months.
3) Are you happy to answer these mental health related questions today?
Absolutely - I love raising awareness for mental health issues and fighting the stigma around mental health.
4) What made you reach out to be a part of this project to raise awareness?
Exactly that - to raise awareness! Mental health conditions can feel isolating and at some point, everyone has felt alone in what they're going through. I used to really struggle to talk about my mental health and felt ashamed in talking about it (for fear of looking like I was attention seeking or saying too much) but I know that had I read about others' experiences when I was struggling, it would have felt very comforting. The quote I live by is 'just because something isn't physical, doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.' - I hope that in talking about mental health, over time mental health conditions can be treated with the same empathy and acknowledgement as physical health conditions. I hope in talking about my own struggles, I can help others who are struggling or just raise awareness to those who haven't struggled with their mental health but can learn more about it!
5) What are your mental health diagnoses?
I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and depression, aged 14-15. I remember having my first appointment with a specialist the month before turning 15, but wasn't diagnosed until the following year. I think it's a struggle for teenagers to be diagnosed because mental health struggles in teenagers are often mis-classified as hormonal struggles! Aged 18, I was diagnosed with disordered eating which I needed therapy for too.
6) During the worst part of your disordered eating, did you know you needed help?
I think so, but it was more that I wasn't ready yet. My eating disorder gave me a sense of control and the disordered thoughts, to begin with, felt like good ones! Perhaps, given that my eating disorder was so linked with depression at the time, I may have been asking for help for that, with my eating disorder, if that makes sense. They were definitely linked.
7) How important is professional help when it comes to recovering from disordered eating?
Getting professional help for disordered eating is so important, because it can spiral out of control SO quickly. With eating disorders, and weight loss, it all starts with compliments to begin with. Unfortunately, in our society, weight loss is so often seen as something to be proud of and praised. 'You've lost weight, you look so slim!' is often seen as the ideal compliment to receive. But you never know what someone is really going through, and weight and body image is such a personal thing. Professional help meant I could talk to someone about how I was feeling, however irrational it was, and not be judged for it. I could tell someone how terrified I was of eating a biscuit, because at that time it felt like the world would collapse if I did (as crazy as that may sound!), and not be judged for it. Had I not sought help, I genuinely don't think I'd be where I am today.
8) How long before being diagnosed would you say your disordered eating actually started?
I think I knew I had a problem, but I didn't know how bad it had gotten. Disordered eating is a very competitive thing and you're always looking at other people and how 'thin' they are, how much they're eating, what you're not eating, if you're eating too much. It's a big obsession and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. My disordered eating was a form of control and a coping mechanism when everything else around me felt out of my control. But ironically, I thought I had control, but the disorder was controlling me. I was sitting my A levels and under immense pressure, and as my mental health was deteriorating, the one thing I could control was what food (or lack of) I was putting in my mouth.
9) Have people ever said things to you with regards to eating where they've thought they were being supportive but actually they're counterproductive to your recovery?
One-hundred percent yes. But I don't blame them. It's really complicated to know the right thing to say to someone who is struggling. I remember a friend at university say when I was eating dinner 'Luce, you eat so much for someone so tiny!' and that was completely counterproductive for me. The same with a family member saying (after I'd gained some weight) 'You look much healthier.' Because when you have an eating disorder, being healthy is not what your mind wants you to be. I only saw 'healthy' as synonymous with 'fat.' It's such a complex thing to address.
10) Would you say your different mental health diagnoses link together in any way?
Definitely. My eating disorder and depression/anxiety worked alongside each other, in very toxic ways. My depression was spiralling out of control during my school years, and my eating disorder stemmed from that as something to control. I remember my therapist explaining it to me like a circle, that they all bounce off each other. I felt anxious and couldn't leave the house/pay for things in shops/socialise with anyone - which made me feel depressed. But then, if I did do those things, I would feel awful. So, sadly, they do work hand-in-hand a lot of the time!
11) For someone who has never experienced depression, how would you describe it?
For me, depression felt like a dark, black cloud in my mind. Depression isn't just 'feeling sad', it's an all-consuming illness that doesn't let you feel happiness. At my worst, when I had a good day, I would wait for things to feel bad again. I didn't feel like me anymore, I felt like a black cloud. That's the only way I can describe it, as metaphorical and wacky it may sound!
12) What has been the most difficult part of experiencing depression for you?
The all-consuming part of it. It was all or nothing. I remember feeling physically sick, because I was that unhappy. The other difficult part is that nothing really causes that unhappiness, it's just permanently there.
13) What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety, for me at least, is 'social phobia.' It's an irrational, intense fear of social situations and social interaction. Not nice!
14) Can you tell when anxiety is setting in or does it creep up on you?
For me, anxiety is a lot more physical now than it used to be. I get tight-chested and breathless, kind of like someone is sitting on my chest.
15) Is it easier to be around people who know that you suffer with anxiety?
Definitely, particularly during university. My uni were great at the support side of things, and offered me extensions on assignments, the opportunity to sit exams in a separate room rather than the big hall (in three years of university, I never had to go into the exam hall, which was fantastic for me!) and I had a key worker who I could email if I were struggling or worried about anything at all. A huge thing I struggled with was presentations and talking aloud in front of groups of people. But at university, I didn't have to present anything and got to send my presentation straight to the tutor to read through instead, whereas at school I would be forced to do those things which was horrible. I can't recommend it enough, how valuable it is to have people around you who understand.
16) What can someone else do to help you if you're in a social situation and you're experiencing anxiety?
If I'm experiencing anxiety of any kind, it's getting me out of the situation, or talking about how I'm feeling. Usually, I don't know straight away what's causing me to feel anxious, but talking through possible contributors is so helpful. If it's a panic attack, it's the same thing. Getting me out of that situation, focusing on my breathing. Having someone there to talk through it with and helping me catch my breath is super helpful.
17) Do you have any coping mechanisms that work for you with regards to feeling in control of any of your diagnoses?
Writing, for sure!
18) Tell me more about your writing...
Poetry is everything for me. It's my escape, my way to be creative, the most eloquent way I can express myself. I've written creatively, both poetry and prose, for as long as I can remember. I then went on to study English and Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham, and to be taught creative writing professionally, as an actual subject, was absolutely amazing. Poetry is my 'voice.' (https://www.lucythemermaid.wordpress.com)
19) If someone is reading this today and can relate to your struggles but has not yet reached out for help, what would you say to them?
If you're struggling and can relate to what I've gone through, I would stress how valuable it is to seek help. You may feel that you're not 'ill enough' or you're over-reacting, but that absolutely is not the case. There is support there, and professionals whose job it is to help make things that bit better. For me, Mind (the mental health charity) honestly saved my life and I don't know where I would be today without mental health services. And if you don't feel ready to talk to a doctor, talking to a friend or family member is an amazing first step. They may be able to seek that help for you if you don't feel up to that. It's going to be okay, and it gets better with time, I promise you.
20) How do you feel after answering so many personal questions?
It feels really cathartic to talk about my struggles, so thank you so much for asking such thoughtful and insightful questions! I feel quite proud of how far I've come in my journey. I hope my story can help others feel less alone.
Thank you so much Lucy for answering these questions so openly and honestly today. It's great to hear you're proud of how far you've come, I'm proud of you too and inspired by your story. Hearing your experiences will no doubt reach others who are going through similar and encourage them to reach out.
If you are reading this and you are struggling with disordered eating please talk to someone you trust, visit your GP, or visit one of the websites bellow for more information:
If you are struggling with your mental health in any way, please visit the 'support' page on this website where you'll find contact information for numerous organisations that are here to help you. You are worth it.
And don't forget to go and check out Lucy's fantastic poetry!...
We're in this together, friends! You are not alone.
To share your own mental health story on this blog, message me via the 'contact' section on this website.