Inspirational CEO of suicide prevention charity ‘Harmless’, Caroline Harroe has written this incredible blog about her experiences. This honest blog may help others going through similar situations and so feel free to share it with someone who you think it could help. Further help and information can be found on the Harmless website which is linked at the end of the post.
It has taken me a really long time to assemble the words for this, in both my heart and my head, and to find the courage to communicate them.
For those who know me, I’m Caroline.
To the broader world, I’m Caroline Harroe, CEO of Harmless. Psychotherapist. Leader. Optimist.
2019, for one reason and another, has been particularly difficult for me. A year ago I had twins. I already have twins (and an older child) and a second set of twins was not in the life plan, so to speak. We are very lucky, we know we are, but unfortunately due to trauma and the strike of ill mental health, their arrival has been painful. They were so wanted but their little lives didn’t start quite how we had hoped.
Like many families, the unspoken trauma of birth was their beginnings.
For the best part of the year, like many parents with young babies, I have been tired. Robotic. I haven’t really had room to the feel joy of my babies, I have just been functioning. Doing. Being. Making sure my kids are ok. And my babies are fed. And safe. And feel loved. And looking after my wife, who has been unwell. And working in between everything else to try and keep my beloved service, Harmless, ok.
And face some really terrible work situations.
And fight for funding that should never be so hard to come by.
And never quite being good enough.
And… keep… going… the rhythm of life maintained me. It didn’t sustain me in any way, but the demands kept me moving.
Like any vehicle running out of fuel, it was inevitable that I’d start to break down.
But I still didn’t see it coming.
My ‘breakdown’, for want of a better word, took me by surprise. I am a woman of insight and intellect, of heart and soul and passion. I was too busy on this treadmill of life to stop long enough to look after myself. Too busy caring for everyone else to invest in my own survival.
It started slowly, I guess. I started to fixate on my weight. Thoughts coming from desperate tiredness began assuring me that I’d feel better if I lost weight; in control, somehow.
And sure, it did help in the way any eating disorder helps. It made me feel in control when my life felt so overwhelming.
I continued to accept my failings like a sponge, taking criticisms and my sense of inadequacy inside of myself and wrapping my thoughts around them until they eroded me.
Before long this became my normal. The rhythm of life ‘keep going… keep going… get up… feed kids… be a mum… work… keep going’ was somewhat replaced with ‘eat less… eat less…be thinner..:’
For those who don’t understand eating disorders, it can be difficult to contemplate but the rumination about food took the place of the constant overwhelm of life. It gave me a focus other than the responsibilities placed upon me. It gave me a place for all of the criticism of me to be acted upon, as though every judgment (internal and external) of me became a self depreciating punishment upon my body. When you have a public profile as I do, everyone’s a critic. No matter how much good you do, there’ll always be those who doubt you, blame you, criticise you… without even knowing you, or even when they do. I have learned, as is true of all of us, that I cannot please everyone but because I was striving to I began to feel as though the world needed less of me. And so I gave the world what I thought it wanted.
Each thought about weight loss was driven by a sense of never quite being enough for all the demands placed upon me. In reality, I have come to realise that no matter how much good I do, or we do, the reality is that there will always be so much more to do… more money to raise… more people to help… more lives to save.
The greater the demands, the more my sense of inadequacy; the greater my failings, the less space I should assume and the greater the drive to lose weight because this is something I have mastered, something I CAN do well.
Soon enough the noise of this new rhythm meant I truly was out of energy, physically and mentally. My mood was low. My ability to perform against the many tasks in my life untenable. My weight loss goals not attainable (certainly at the rate I hoped for) and my sense of failure, of not being good enough, of being useless became a constant.
I stopped believing in a future.
I stopped feeling the hope that I preach so broadly about…
For a mum who’s never spent time away from her babies, a short stay in hospital was (with hindsight) inevitable but heart-wrenching and soul-destroying.
It was the ultimate failing.
What happened to me, happened. I steadily lost sight of the future. Of my worth. I was surrounded by personal and professional pressures that outweighed my own resources because I lost sight of self-care and if realistic goals.
Support was thin on the ground, though those that were there for me every day and every night sustained me, as I continued to try and keep the plates spinning for everyone I know and love. Professional pressures and scrutiny remained high. Those things hit you hardest when you have been up every night, on your own with small babies, for months and months.
When the world is sleeping, I felt my isolation more.
What happened next, you ask?
Well, that’s almost irrelevant. I wrote this down and committed my story to paper to show how easily someone of health and professional stature, someone with a home and a family and friends can steadily become unwell. How we can all be a victim of life and its unpredictable circumstances. I wrote it down so that I am living by the standards I set, that there should be no shame in speaking out about the vulnerabilities of being human. It makes us no less of a person, or a mum, a friend, a colleague, or indeed, a leader.
None of this is said with pessimism but rather intended as a lesson for us all. We must look after ourselves. We must.
We will run out of steam if not replenished.
We are all vulnerable and at times we all need help no matter what the exterior.
Seek help. From us, from anyone. I am battling my own sense of shame in breaking a silence in the hope that it reaches someone and helps them to share their truth.
No one is immune from the human experience. And no one is professional at being that human. We absolutely have to let each other know that life is something that can be survived if we help each other and let those of us who let pride dictate our silences know that there is also a room for our voices to join the many that say ‘we’ve felt that way too!’
January is often the start of New Year’s resolutions- to start doing this more or being that more … to get thinner.
For every person out there, making a decision because they don’t think that they’re good enough already, I hope that my story reaches you. You are enough. Make your resolution to care for yourself more. To take time out. To be home more with those your love. To forgive yourself more, but not necessarily to change yourself.
I hope that your New Years resolution can instead be to be kind to yourself, or to take time for yourself or to accept yourself as you are, or if necessary, to seek help for yourself.
Be healthier, sure but please don’t destroy yourself because of the pressures to be better than you already are.
Thank you to Caroline for sharing her story. If you want to read the original blog you can find it here.