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Lemon and Pea Risotto: A trigger to change

Author: Billi Allen-Mandeville
Year: Future

Oh my goodness, it was one of the hottest summers. The kind of hot which makes you feel like a waterfall of sweat is falling somewhere in between your butt and your thighs. I was in the car, listening to some obscure show on Radio 4. The car has always been a safe place for me, a place of comfort from all the travelling I did as a child, going off the beaten track and finding the most obscure sounding places like 'East Quantoxhead' and 'Wet Wang'.

The feeling of comfort was more than just a fleeting memory of the past. You see at that point, I had spent two years in and out of hospital. When you've been locked in a secure unit for months on end, just a light breeze on your cheek or the sun's pure heat landing on your face feels something like a miracle. That hasn't really gone away; whenever the sun hits my face, I still experience an urge to close my eyes, breathe and soak it in whilst I can. I was at a point in my illness where it was safe for me to take leave with family, almost like tester breaks before you are discharged and return home.

To be honest from nine up to fifteen it's all a medicated, sedated, trauma blocking blur so I cannot remember the details however much a collection of therapists, or I, have tried. I had witnessed a series of abusive events, and obviously I had no real idea how to articulate what had happened, especially as the perpetrators were people I was meant to trust and love. Fear is such a powerful thing; it is a signal from your body telling you to protect yourself in whatever way it can. Not telling anyone meant that I was holding everything in-my feelings, thoughts, tears, personality - which is something we, as humans, are not built for. There is only so much room in which your mind can hold a traumatic experience until cracks begin to show and manifest in unhealthy ways.

My unconscious expression of the fear I was feeling was to stop eating and not live. It all seems so absurd and surreal to me now. Today, I am an extrovert, chatty and determined to live life to the fullest, however cheesy that might sound. Looking back, my illness(es) had so much power over me, they were a weight, a dark cloud and a bully all at the same time and I had no energy or want to fight and stand up against them because, well, I didn't think it mattered or that I mattered.

The annoying thing is that I can't put my finger on what made me want to be myself again. There wasn't one moment but a culmination of them: I think I got bored of being nagged at by support workers to eat and it taking hours before I could allow myself a bite of food. Mental health hospitals are horrendous places to grow up - surrounded by sadness, crying and physical restraint. it got to a point where getting out into the scary real world was less terrifying than being around such broken, hurting human beings; and the more time I was allowed to spend with my family, the more I missed them when they dropped back in again.

I guess I worked at getting better and challenged myself to ask for help. My final hospital noticed that I was crying all the time, not talking to anyone and wearing the same clothes every day. I had no idea why. It turns out that the worst thing in the world can be a blessing in disguise. Being diagnosed with depression made me feel awake again. It was as if my body had been glazed over in grey Perspex and it was finally peeled away. The hospital was so far away from our home, or anything remotely related to civilisation, that my Mom ended up paying a massive amount of money to stay near me whenever she could.

In a hotel in the middle of nowhere, we decided to eat dinner in the restaurant downstairs. Before this, eating, let alone eating in public, would have me disappear like a cartoon with only a caricature wisp of smoke left behind. Mom was watching me to catch any glimpse of Tom and Jerry-ness but I wanted to do it and I wanted to do something vaguely related to normal. I ended up picking the lemon and pea risotto from the menu. Chosen because it was easy, something not daunting to my still somewhat fragile mind.

You know that feeling when you eat forkful of food, and everything about it makes your brain and body go 'Wow'? The feeling when you want to savour each bite in the hope that it never ends? I hadn't felt that in over three years; I think I'd forgotten about it. The risotto reminded me how to enjoy food again, and then go on to eat some more. It's not something you think about, but now I know you can lose a whole feeling, I never want it gone. I was so scared of life for so long that I hadn't let myself feel the beauty of the little things. Where my brain had been so preoccupied with protecting itself from trauma it was stopping me from fully living and realising the world's potential.

This meal triggered me to change and realise that there was more for me than living in a hospital. Now, this is an extremely shortened description of a painstaking process called recovery. Occasionally I remind myself to get out of bed to enjoy the day or that I'm worth it and I matter or that I should eat that slice of birthday cake at the party. But that's okay, and it's okay if I keep working at it throughout my life because I am worth being healthy and happy, and I do and will continue to matter.