In late October 2017, I decided that I needed to make some drastic changes in order to begin the process of recovery. It was a difficult process and, on a number of occasions, I almost went back on everything I had done. Reclaimed every string I had cut. But, with the right people in my corner and a rage that bubbled in my stomach every once in a while, I kept moving forward. I kept pushing myself. 

Instead of pretending that I was keeping people at bay so that they weren’t sucked into the darkness alongside me, I began to open up about the things that haunted me. Talking – a third of the problem solved right there. I began to understand that taking medication was not a weakness, but the act of recognising I needed help from medication was, in fact, a strength. I made sure that I was journaling and practicing gratitude and recording all the good parts of my day, week and month through photographs so that, at the end of the year, I could look back at the good and not at the bad. So that I could recognise that no matter how cloudy the sky, the sun is always there, shining. And, most importantly, I was no longer above asking for help. 

“Asking for help is never a sign of weakness. It’s one of the bravest things you can do. And it can save your life.”

I also decided that it was okay not to be sociable. To prioritise my mental health instead. To take time to myself instead of going out with others when they called. In this time, I did a LOT of reading. Those of you that know me know that I’m somewhat of a magpie. That’s not to say I’m not loyal. If I love something, I love it for life. (Even those string I’ve untethered from myself. They may not be good for me and I may no longer have them tied to me, but they still have a spot in my heart.) But, I do get distracted easily. With books, it’s hard to keep my interest held the entire way through, especially when there are new, shiny hardbacks and paperbacks coming through the post to me every month.

Back in March 2018 (which was, ironically, when I was really starting to push my own healing), Lily Collins published her first memoir: Unfiltered. No Shame. No Regrets. Just Me. It was about her own struggles with relationships, eating disorders and life as a young woman. I’ve always adored Lily Collins and I was desperate to get a copy but, as with all things, life kept getting in the way and so did other shiny books! 

Last month, I found it waiting for me in my post box. A gift from a friend, to bring a little extra love and hope into my life just before the new year began. I began reading that very night, devouring every word in two sittings and begging for more at every turn of the page. 

The verdict?

Unfilteredwas more relatable than anything I’ve read in the past few years. 

However different our lives, our circumstances, our issues – I understood. I understood the mental angst of abuse, the irrational grasp on addiction, the fear of being. I felt less alone. Less ‘f***ed up’. What’s more, I felt that I was understood too. Not just by Lily Collins, but by everyone else this book has touched. Everyone else that has read her words and understood. Because hundreds of thousands of people go through the same things every single day. Maybe not in the same way, or at the same time, but they understand.

And there is strength in numbers. We are not alone. Together, we are strong.

While a lot of writers, however unintentionally, talk to down to you, lecturing you and pushing their lessons on you as if they are your superiors, Lily Collins talks to you on your level. She is no better than you, no less than you. She is your equal and you are hers. This meant that that seed of rebellion within all of us was never watered. Instead, you find yourself learning from her. Reading her stories and picking up the lessons she has learned along the way and transferring them. Incorporating them into your own life. You may not have suffered from an eating disorder before, but you understand addiction through some other method. You may not have had an abusive boyfriend, but you have been beaten into submission by someone else. A friend. A family member. Yourself. 

As you start to connect your own life to Collins’ lessons, you find yourself realising that you are normal, whatever normal may be. But you are also unique. Every single one of your quirks are beautiful. Are special. Should be loved instead of hated. 

“The sooner I accept my story for all that it is, and let go of the shame, regrets, and fear surrounding my experiences, the sooner I can just live, love and be loved.” 

Through reading Unfiltered, I came to one massive realisation. A realisation I think I was slowly making myself throughout 2018 but have only now truly understood. My issues will remain with me for life. This road to recovery that I’m on will never end. But that’s okay. Mental illness lives with me. We share a body. A mind. But it does not control me. It controls no one. It just simply ‘is’. So I can, without hesitation or doubt, let it live with me whilst still skipping merrily through my own life. That I don’t have to wait to be happy. I can be happy right now. This very second!

No Shame.

No Regrets.

Just Me.

“I’ve found comfort in knowing that treatment is forever. I don’t have a time limit or deadline before I have to figure it all out. There is no end point, only process.”

Once again, a very Happy New Years, readers. I wish you all the very best in 2019. I wish you love, gratitude, faith, happiness and laughter. In abundance! 

Quotations from Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me by Lily Collins
Photography by Maarten de Boar (@iheartmaarten)