A recent visit to a section of Hadrian’s wall left me reflecting on division and unity, both around the world and closer to home.
Hadrian’s wall, dating back to the 2nd century A.D. was built to separate the Romans from the barbarians – no matter what the reason, as its debated, the fact is, it was built to divide people, a way of saying “we do not want to mix with them”.
No matter what your opinion on Brexit, the decision to leave the European Union is a decision of division. I’m not here to debate whether it is right, wrong, good or bad, just reflecting on whether history demonstrates that division works.
Taking Hadrian’s wall as an example, although they wanted separation, there were Milecastles guarding gateways through the wall, so they expected/wanted some movement through the wall. Of course, the wall has been largely demolished and there is now free movement between Scotland and England but how long will this last? Since the Brexit referendum, the debate about Scotland leaving the UK has hotted up again; it’s odd to have to decide to leave one union in order to remain in another, of course it’s more complicated than that but on the face of it, this doesn’t make sense!
The Berlin Wall is another example of the devastating effects of division. Mayor Willy Brandt coined the phrase “wall of shame”, due to it causing restriction of movement, causing devastation as it tore close families and friends apart. Even though I was only 8, I vividly remember the Berlin Wall coming down, it was a momentous time of reunification.
So, we have learnt that division doesn’t work. Division is about considering one group of people better or more deserving than another, barriers are about keeping the right people in and the wrong people out. Instead we now have laws about equality and preventing discrimination, I think the world works better if we truly believe we are all equal.
There are still far too many people in the world who think “I have more money than you therefore I am better” or “I’m in a more powerful position than you, therefore I will exert my power negatively over you”. Surely having money should be an opportunity to give, power should present an opportunity to influence positive change?
I know not everyone thinks in exactly the same way and we’ll have different views on what money should be spent on and why, but the fundamental idea of working together should, surely, be central to everything we do??
The journey of recovery from mental illness is a humbling one. You realise you can’t do it without the support of other people. Mental illness has a way of building barriers between you and your closest friends and family but recovery has the opposite effect. Once you start opening up and saying “I can’t do this alone”, the walls start being broken down.
I have no idea what the thought is behind putting a wall up between America and Mexico. History shows that walls and barriers do not work, they are always torn down.
If we learn from the past we can see unity works better than division. It takes humility to work with others. It takes a truly strong person to be humble.
I’m currently laid up recovering from an operation on my ankle.
I’m usually a fairly active person and fiercely independent so being told to keep my foot elevated and be non-weight bearing for 6 weeks is an incredibly challenging prospect.
I’m also contending with thoughts about why my ankle’s in a bad state. 11 years ago, I broke both legs in a suicide attempt. My ankle needed this surgery due to significant cartilage damage, initiated by the original fracture. Initially we hoped the joint could just have a clean out but the surgeon found the cartilage was too badly damaged and extra work was needed. I also don’t know how much damage I’ve done having had anorexia, my body has suffered many years of malnourishment.
I’m finishing it incredibly hard how little I can do for myself. Being fit and relatively healthy does help, I can do a lot standing in one leg but as soon as I need to carry anything anywhere, a drink, food, literally anything, I’m stuck! I’m also (obviously) unable to drive so I’m having to rely on my husband for an awful lot. I’m having to ask for a lot of favours from family and friends, and I’m incredibly grateful to the unquestioning help I’ve received. But I find this really hard, partly because I’m so used to being independent, partly because I feel like no one will want to help, they just feel obliged. I fear spoiling relationships I’ve worked hard to build on a equal level, now I’m asking for help, I wonder if it will ruin the balance and I’ll be seen as ‘the needy one’, a label I’ve fought hard to shake off.
Being off work is hard, I’m missing the change of pace and environment that it offers, I feel useful and needed at work. I’ve been forced into the sick role. I am, of course, keeping up my side of the sick role bargin and I’m making every effort to get better.
I’m putting on a brave face most of the time but the truth is that I’m feeling pretty dejected. I’m not only laid up physically but my independent character is taking a hit.
I’ve written previously about how it’s important to be honest about our feelings as hiding them, putting a lid on them or pretending they’re not there will just make them worse and we end up expressing them in other (normally unhealthy) ways. For example, if I don’t say “I’m feeling pretty rubbish today” to my husband, I more likely to be short tempered and irritable with him which is very unhelpful when I need to ask for so much support.
If I notice I’m feeling sorry for myself, it’s important not to tell myself that’s bad, then I’ll get into a destructive cycle of beating myself up, not helpful for anyone!
If you listen to your honest emotions, they can tell you a lot about what’s going on. For me, right now, my (feeling sorry for myself) emotions are telling me that things are not ok, and there are things I can do to work towards things being ok. Basically:
I need to do things that will ensure I recover as quickly as possible
I need to look after myself and not do things that will jeopardise my recovery
Do as much for myself as I can – I carry things in a backpack so my hands are free to use my crutches
I need to ask for help and support when needed
If I ignored my feelings I could con myself that everything is fine and this may prevent me doing the 4 things I need to do in order to move forward, out of the sick role.
Being honest and keeping the situation in perspective helps me to keep sight of the facts of my situation, things aren’t good right now but this is a temporary position, things will get better. Pretending things are fine can get quite confusing – if things are fine, why aren’t leading a normal life, going to work, cooking dinner, why would I need to ask for help?!
I fear enjoying being looked after as it reminds me of times gone by when mental illness prevented me looking after myself properly. There have been times when I’ve had a total lack of confidence that I was able to look after myself and this perpetuated my illness. I’ve fought hard to break free from this vicious destructive cycle and I’m desperate not to go down that path again.
The thesaurus states that a synonym for “to feel for” is also “to feel compassion”. Whenever something bad happens (to ourselves or another person), it is important to feel compassion, this has a positive effect on the healing process.
It is not, however, ok for me to wallow in self pity! This is not productive, in fact, it can be incredible destructive. Self pity has no purpose, other than to turn our focus inwards. It has a negative impact on recovery as it can actually stop us reacting positively to the situation.
In conclusion, it is ok to feel sorry for ourselves but in listening to this we need to react positively.
While trying to carry a cup of coffee, I trip, causing my painful ankle to slam into the ground. At this point I step (hop) back and think, “what am I doing?!”
Having recently had an arthroplasty, I’m not allowed to put any weight on my left leg so I was doing a weird shuffly hop with 1 crutch while carrying my coffee… it didn’t work out too well! But I wanted a coffee, what was I meant to do? Stand in the kitchen while it cooled down so I could drink it where I’d made it? It’s shocking how little you can do on crutches! I’m managing to carry things around in a backpack and I can do some tasks standing on one leg but there’s so much I simply can’t do…carry a hot drink turns out to be one of them!
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m fiercely independent. I hate asking for help and will do anything to manage everything on my own. I’d rather really struggle to do a task than ask for help, even if the easier/better/safer option is for someone else to do it. When I first got together with my now, husband I had to learn that it’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to let him do things for me, even if I am capable of doing it myself! I learnt that it can actually improve our relationship if I relinquish some of my independence.
I thought everything was going well, I’d started gentle physio but I had a set back this week with one of the wounds not healing properly. This has hit me hard. I was already feeling fairly down but this has knocked me down further.
I’ve even asked for prayer – something I struggle with, partly because I do not think I deserve it but partly because no matter what I’ve been through, I’ve accepted my lot and do not feel I need to hope for things to be different.
Much as I hate asking for favours or putting people out, I’ve asked people to visit me and asked for lifts to go out. Otherwise I’d be stuck at home (mostly) on my own 24/7.
I find it so hard to rely on people but it occurred to me that if the shoe was on the other foot (not my other foot, someone else’s) I wouldn’t think twice about helping them out and certainly wouldn’t want them to feel like they owe me.
I’m really struggling with how little I can do for myself and how exhausting the simplest task is. For someone who’s had to work hard to break free of mental illness and the dependence that that caused, I hate how dependent I now am. I never want to go back down the path of being so hopeless and helpless, some of my stubbornness is born of fear.
My husband has pointed out to me that this is temporary, even if I do have set backs, my ankle will recover eventually and I will be able to walk again soon. I am normally an incredibly patient person but I’m feeling incredibly impatient just now.
While I’m hating how much help I need, doing things for myself right now is seriously putting my recovery at risk. I must look after myself in order to return to full health, and part of that is asking for help. It feels like I’m asking for help because I’m weak, as though I’m a lesser person, but I suppose it’s a sign of strength and courage to be vulnerable.
I find it so hard to ask for help but no one can mind read! If I need to go somewhere or I need help with something or I need something doing for me, I’ve had to be blunt and just say “please can someone help”. I feel like every time I say this I may as well be saying “I’m completely useless” and my self esteem is knocked a little further each time. I don’t know why I judge myself so harshly when I wouldn’t think that of anyone else making the same requests.
I feel like all I’m saying at the moment is “thank you” and “sorry”, I’m fed up and just want to be able to do things myself.
This period is being a real lesson in just accepting help and support.
I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful people who care and who want to help. I should be grateful instead of tarring the gestures with guilt and awkwardness from my side.
In the words of Nick Knowles “we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone”. I know if I was able to help someone (give them a lift or do some shopping for them) I’d feel really good that I could be helpful when they needed it so maybe in an odd way, I’m helping people by me asking for help?!
A visit to The Hawk Conservancy is a fantastic day out where you get to explore the grounds, see numerous birds of prey both in their enclosures and in flying displays. It’s educational and great fun for the whole family. Plus, you’ll be contributing to some important conservation work for these birds across the world.
Vultures feeding time
In the first event of the day, we saw Deloris and Hector showing their dominance as the biggest in the enclosure, getting their choice of food from the keeper.
There are 3 distinct types:
Rippers – they have strong bills and wide skulls designed for ripping off the skin and tendons.
Gulpers – go for all the soft bits like organs. They are usually very large vultures due to the high nutritional content of their diet.
Scrappers – they have bills designed to get every last little scrap of flesh off the bones.
Also, there is the bearded vulture or lammergeier who pick up the bones, fly up and drop them from a great height onto rocks so they break open and they can eat the bone marrow.
Vultures are vital for ecosystems, they are the dustbins that clear everything up; they stop rotting flesh building up and stop the spread of disease.
At the end of the 20th century use of diclofenac (anti-inflammatory) to treat sick Asian cattle caused the death of millions of vultures when the farmers put carcasses out for vultures to feed on. No one had any idea diclofenac was so lethal to vultures but with one carcass being food for up to 200 vultures, the mortality rate was astronomical. The knock-on effect was that feral dog packs filled the gap. Fear is that the same thing will happen in Europe as Italy and Spain licensed the use of diclofenac for vets. Eagles are also at risk. Support the call for a ban here.
Cassius and Clay are the Trust’s African white backed vultures, each weighing 9lbs with a wing span of 7ft. They are now critically endangered, which means the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified them as being at very high risk of becoming extinct in the wild. The Hawk Conservancy have overseas projects running to try and restore vulture numbers in the wild.
Wings of Africa display
Here we met Othello, the fish eagle. These birds can catch anything up to the size of a flamingo in flight but usually, as the name suggests, fishes for their food.
We were also introduced to Tolkien, a milky eagle owl. Random fact, they are the only predator of the African spiny hedgehog but they can also tackle prey as large as a baboon!
Next we were in for a bit of a laugh with Dr No, their secretary bird, also known as the archer of snakes due to the way it hunts and kills its prey. It flushes the snake out of the long grass then kicks it in the head. Dr No took his role in the performance very seriously, including showing us how he would tackle a cobra by doing a flying kick! It’s an hilarious sight! Not so hilarious for the rubber snake!
We then saw some cute sacred ibis and white storks as part of a beautiful multi-bird display. Interestingly, they’re not officially birds of prey since they do not catch their prey with their feet but with their beaks. It was lovely to see the close bond birds have with the keeper as they were hand fed at the end of the display.
Valley of the Eagles display
The saker falcon was an example of how many sayings we get through the history of falconry. For example being ‘under the thumb’ meaning to have control, ‘hoodwinked’ meaning tricked or ‘waiting with baited breath’ when waiting for something to happen. It was lovely to see some traditional falconry work with a lure, the relationship between the falconer and his bird was spectacular.
We were introduced to a new vulture, the turkey vulture which is one of the few birds of prey to have a sense of smell, and it uses it to hunt. Unusually it is actually a descendent of the stork family rather than the rapture family. I’m not sure who had to be more brave as the vultures swooped over and in between audience members, it was an extraordinary experience to be in such close quarters and even though we ducked, the wings of these great birds brushed our heads!
We were spoilt with 9 black kites who performed brilliantly catching their prey in their feet and eating it while still flying. This conserves energy as when birds catch prey and land to eat it, it’s the setting off again that uses energy. The commentator and the bird handler worked brilliantly together showing the birds off to their full potential in very comical fashion!
I was beginning to think we’d been misled by the title of the show but they’d left the best for last. A stunning American bald eagle was flown in from 1.5-2 miles across the rolling Hampshire countryside, he swooped into the arena within a few seconds. Absolutely beautiful!
Woodland Owls display
The first owl we saw was a tawny owl. Baby tawny owls are often brought into the Conservancy by well meaning members of the public having found them on the floor. Unfortunately, this is not necessary and leads to them being humanised. Tawny owls do something called branching where they climb out of the nest before they’re ready to fledge, unfortunately this leads to them sometimes falling to the ground but the parents will continue feeding them no matter where they are so they will be fine. Troy was one of the tawney owls brought to the Conservancy and he’d already been humanised so he’s now used to fly the flag for all his wild cousins. Unfortunately, when he arrived he was also afraid of heights (probably because his only experience of any height was falling from a tree) so to get him to do anything interesting in a display his trainer had to climb a tree to reduce his anxiety; he put on an excellent show for us!
We then saw Walter the great grey owl, not the most inventive name for such a beautiful bird. He displayed stunning agility, with a wing span of 5 feet, he flew between to members of the audience standing, I estimate, less than 2 feet apart by swooping and bending his wings up at the last second.
Whisper the little boobok owl was a beautiful little thing! He performed wonderfully, landing on the benches close to audience members. But he showed us that he was boss and that even though humanised and tame, he’s still able to choose what he does and wouldn’t perform his trick, flying through a hollowed out log, until the last try when he performed it spectacularly.
Our native barn owl has showed a worrying decline in numbers as agricultural habits have changed. Not only have their possible nesting sites reduced but they have seen a decline in habitat for their prey. Fortunately The Hawk Conservancy Trust discovered they like nesting in purpose built nest boxes so their nest box project is have great success! Charlie did a wonderful display for us, circling the woodland area many times. Elder, however, decided she would only show herself as the commentator was wrapping up the display, she did, however, show us her flying style beautifully.
I cannot enthuse enough about the skills of the commentators and bird handlers, they obviously love the birds and are passionate about what they do. They truely made this a wonderful day to remember.
In visiting The Hawk Conservancy Trust you can support the local, national and international work they do. I’d highly recommend a visit!
It’s International Day of Happiness but what does that mean? Do we all have to be happy all day? Can we force happiness? How do we know when we’re truly happy? Is superficial happiness good enough?
Having suffered from severe depression I’m well versed with measuring that, rating each symptom depending on how serious it feels or how often you feel like that over a given period of time. So, recovery is measured by a lack of symptoms but a lack of depression does not mean you are happy.
Happiness can be thought of as an emotion, most people can say at any given moment whether they are happy or not. But being happy overall is slightly different. Words such as content or satisfied may be more important to consider.
So, how do we measure happiness?
Positive Psychology researchers use 3 measures:
Positive affect (mood and emotions)
Satisfaction with life
As with measuring symptoms of a mental illness, so, we can subjectively measure positive and negative mood and emotions. The Positive and Negative Affect Scale is a good example of how we can measure our mood and emotions. It can be used in the moment or over there past week.
Measuring our satisfaction with life is very interesting and full of variables. Things may include:
Have you achieved goals?
Do you have friends? Do you measure strength and depth of friendship or number of friends?
Can you trust the people who influence your life to have your happiness as a priority?
Does money factor? For some people this would be quantity, for others, having enough would be an important factor.
Have you had children? Are they happy? Do they need to be achieving to feel you’ve achieved?
How healthy are you? Have you recovered from an illness? Do you manage chronic illnesses well? What impact does illness have on your overall life?
How are the people you care about? Are they happy?
What personality traits are important? Are you kind, generous and warm-hearted? Are assertiveness, ambition and gregariousness important characteristics? Is it important that other people notice these characteristics in you?
Is a lack of greed or selfishness more important than positive characteristics?
Is it ok to put yourself first? If so, how much? How often?
Do you have enough time with the people you like, doing the things you enjoy?
When things aren’t going so well, do you feel able to change it?
How in control of your life do you feel? Do you have self-belief?
DOes a belief in a higher power impact you positively or negatively?
How much importance do you place on what other people think of you?
Is your work life balance how you want it?
Is what you do worthwhile?
ARe little things more important than the big things? Or vice versa?
Different people will leave different levels of importance on each of these and may consider other things play a bigger part in general happiness and well-being.
It is perfectly possible to be satisfied and content, even if things are not objectively “going well” as our higher functioning is able to see coping with adversity as a positive.
The government considered happiness so important in 2010 they asked the office of national statistics to survey the country’s happiness. Discussing how the survey would work, they found happiness was intangible but well-being is more easily measured. They asked 4 questions:
Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
Recent findings (up to Sept 2016) include:
Life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness have been steadily increasing since 2012 to October 2014, since then, they’ve plateaued.
Anxiety was steadily decreasing to October 2014, since then it has been increasing.
Should we strive for happiness?
In my experience, I think this quote puts it perfectly. Striving for something intangible is fruitless, you will never know when you’ve achieved it. This does not mean, sit around doing nothing and happiness will arrive. Knowing what makes you happy is important, striving to achieve goals and thinking and behaving positively will all help.
I also believe we need to have times of unhappiness in order to recognise and appreciate the times of happiness. I do not strive to be unhappy, angry, anxious or frustrated but in experiencing these things, I enjoy the relief, joy and happiness all the more having been through tougher times.
Leave sweat on machines – if you sweat, it’s going to drop off, be polite, wipe it off.
Drop free weights from a height – the loud clunk makes people’s heads turn, yes, but we do not think “wow, look at him lifting big weights”, we think “what an idiot using weights that are too heavy for him”.
Wear clothing that are too tight – it’s very unpleasant to see biceps bulging out of clothing just wear the next size up, it’s not difficult.
Sit on machines not doing anything – it’s just rude. I know people often do a set of reps and pause then do another set of reps but there’s no excuse for just sitting on a machine looking at your phone or for longer than a short pause.
Compare yourself to other people (unless it positively motivates you)
Use poor technique – injury alert! The instructors are there for a reason, follow their advice about how to exercise, they do know a thing or two! Don’t just swan about like you own the place using equipment badly, you look like an idiot!
Pose in front of the mirrors – watching for correct technique, ok, posing, not ok…
Watch other people – it’s unnerving and again, just rude.
Grunt and groan – this doesn’t help anyone and just annoys the people around you.
Join in January – New Year resolutions don’t work, if you want to get fit, lose weight, tone up, whatever, why wait for January when it’s going to be overcrowded with people who aren’t going to stick around anyway?…join when you feel motivated, Feb 16th is as good-a-time as May 27th, just do it!
Sing out loud to your music – some quiet humming for a VERY short time is kinda funny but any longer is VERY annoying!
Be put off by people who think they’re God’s gift to humanity – they’re not so don’t worry about it!
I know the guys who need to read this aren’t going to but the rest of us can have a giggle thinking about all those who make these mistakes over and over every day! It’s best to giggle, otherwise we’d get really annoyed!!
It’s that time of year again, are you someone who makes New Year resolutions? Halfway through January, have you already broken yours?
One year, I made a resolution that this year would be better than the last. This did not work out as many things happened beyond my control, the year went from bad to worse and I then felt even more of a failure as I couldn’t keep (what I considered) a simple resolution.
Of course, looking back, this was a foolish resolution as there are so many things in life we cannot control and it was not possible to measure whether I’d had a “better” year so how would I know if I’d “achieved” it?!
So, what makes a good resolution and how do we keep it?
Make sure it’s SMART: (sorry if this sounds like school but it’s basic stuff that works)
Specific – make sure you know exactly what you’re doing!
Measurable – how will you know you’ve achieved it?
Achievable – is this something you know you can achieve or is it going to stretch you a bit? Even stretching you a lot is ok, as long as it’s within reach.
Realistic – is it really some thing you want to do? Does it sound reasonable?
Time limited – when are you going to achieve it? Some things you can start straight away, others, you may do with a stepped approach and therefore you need to know when you’re going to do what.
Know what motivates you – if you can pat yourself on the back internally, well done. Most people need something external, either someone else to congratulate them or some external reward. This could be money, a new meal out, a holiday – work out what it is and make sure it’s in place. When the going gets tough, focus on the reward. If you need recognition from family and friends, tell them and be accountable.
Get the support you need – studies show people are four times more likely to successfully quit smoking with support vs doing it on their own. There must be similar success rates with other goals, make sure you get the right support at the right time.
If you slip up, call it that – you have not failed, you are not back at square one, you’ve got experience behind you now, use that experience to have another go. Beating yourself up is unlikely to help you achieve your goal!
Count your achievements – if you kept your resolution for 1 day and slipped up over the next 2, you still know you can do it for a day, focus on what you achieved that day, forget the others.
Don’t be afraid to change your goal – if it’s not working, don’t give up, just re-evaluate, think about what’s happened, is it a lack of time, a change of circumstances or lack of support? Set something more realistic.
There’s no time like the present – if you’ve not started yet, don’t wait for next year to make another resolution, 1st February is just as good as 1st January.
Just do it! Ultimately, be honest with yourself, are you making silly excuses? Your the only one who knows, do you need to “cut the c***” and just get on with it?!
If, for example, you want to “get fit” – that’s not measurable so make sure you know what you’re aiming for, do you want to run a 5k, 10k or marathon, set a date and enter a race. Or, set yourself a goal of exercising x number of times a week.
If you want to lose weight, but ultimately know that money is more of a motivator, put £x in a jar for every pound lost then make sure you know what you’re going to buy.
“Sorting out my finances” isn’t tangible, instead, set yourself a specific budget plan.
“Get a new job” may be measureable but ultimately a lot of things out of your control, instead, set the goal of applying for x number of jobs per week or make sure you get feedback from all job interviews attended.
Being honest and being positive are qualities that will help you makes goals and stick to them. So even if things haven’t gone too well so far this year, pick yourself up, try again! Good luck!
I’m an introvert and many people find this very difficult to understand as my inner desires are at odds with what society considers “normal”. I get tired very easily and quickly when socialising and I don’t particularly enjoy it. If I’m already exhausted before I even go to an event, I’m fighting a losing battle but my instinct is still to push myself, I know that’s what other people want, it is what society expects.
Most of my life my priority has been to fit in, to do what other people want, to try and at least look normal (even if I don’t feel it) so I’ve spent a lot of time doing things I don’t want to do. Pleasing other people has felt like the best thing to do as pleasing myself would mean I’d be labelled a “loner”, be an outcast or be judged as “abnormal”. But why should I be unhappy while I’m attempting to make others happy?
Other examples of unhealthy people pleasing include things like:
Swapping shifts when asked even though it means you’ll miss out on something else you’d planned.
Taking on menial tasks at work because no one else wants to do them even though they should be shared out or doing all the chores at home even though you have equal amount of free time as everyone else.
Always doing activities other people want to do even though you’re not interested in them (e.g. going to the aquadrome even though you’d rather curl up with a book or chat over a coffee).
Allowing others to be promoted over you even though you’re more experienced/qualified because they were kicking up more of a fuss.
Backing down quickly in conflict even if you think you’ve got a good point that needs making, just to keep peace with the other person.
I really struggle to say “no”, I’m sure many people can relate, there are a number of reasons for this:
1. I don’t want to let them down – they obviously need or want what they’ve asked for so I want to do anything I can to do it for them, even if that means putting my needs and wants to one side.
2. I don’t want to put my priorities above theirs – as above, if someone needs or wants something, who am I to decide that my needs or wants are more important than theirs? If I’m asked to swap a shift because someone has a social engagement they wish to attend, how can I say “quality time with my husband is more important than your social engagement”?
3. I don’t want them to think badly of me – I somehow think I can mind read and that if I say “no”, they will automatically think I am selfish, lazy, insensitive, party pooper, inflexible, unhelpful etc etc!
4. I don’t want people to worry about me – having had mental health problems in the past which made me feel like I didn’t want to do any thing or see anyone, if I say decide not to go to a social event (for example) people might think I’m getting ill again.
5. I want them to feel they can ask again – if I say “no ” this time, I fear they will assume I will always say “no” and I will miss out on helping them out next time.
6. I can’t stand the guilt – once I’ve said “no” it plays on my mind for a long time!
7. Anything for an easy life – saying” no” to some people can create a bad atmosphere and make everyone (even people not involved) feel awkward. It feel it’s best just to let people have their way and I deal with the consequences internally.
However, the negative impact of people pleasing is clear:
Low self esteem
Loss of self
Being taken for granted
The truth is, of course, that it is not my job to make other people happy, nor do I, in reality, have much control over it!
So, if you find yourself saying “yes” all the time, putting yourself at the bottom of the pile and trying to please everyone else, perhaps it’s time for a change.
1. You cannot take soul responsibility for other people not getting what they want all the time. Sometimes we let people down and that’s ok.
2. It is ok to put you and your priorities first for once. No one can know for sure if one person’s needs are higher than another person’s so it’s ok to look at the situation from your point of view and if want you want or need is important to you, stick to it.
3. If someone judges you harshly for saying “no”, maybe it’s them that’s in the wrong. Saying “no ” does not make you selfish, it means you’re considering the whole situation instead of one small aspect.
4. Saying “no” doesn’t mean I’m ill. Saying “yes” when the best thing would be to say “no” is a bad sign, being able to be assertive and putting yourself first for once is a good sign!
5. You can say “not this time, but do ask me again”. If they don’t want to ask you again, that’s their problem.
6. Guilt isn’t a problem, holding onto it is. If you let someone down, feeling bad for a short time is natural but you do not need to dwell in it.
7. Avoid people who deliberately make you feel bad for saying “no”. If they can’t handle you being assertive, that’s their problem.
I’m not suggesting we say “no ” all the time, I’m just saying a balance can be found!
People pleasers of the world unite in saying “no” (sometimes)!
As some of you will know I’ve written about my experience with anorexia and I’d like to share with you a recent hurdle I overcame and hopefully give people a little insight into the continuing recovery journey.
I’ve been “weight restored” for a few years now but the battle doesn’t end there. I’ve spent the last few years continuing with the challenges of eating different foods, eating in public, wearing different clothes and gradually I’ve accomplished each step, some falteringly, some more naturally with a lot of support. I would consider myself recovered but I had one thing left to do that I didn’t want to force, I had to wait for it to come up naturally and for me to be in a good place when it did come up!
Last night, I ate a main meal in public with people who aren’t close friends and/or family (it was a work social).
To a lot of people this is fairly standard and wouldn’t faze them but to an introverted recovering anorexia sufferer, this is the ultimate hell…but it wasn’t!!
I’ve previously done this with Steve (my husband) by my side. He provided a safety net should I struggle in any way. I know he would be there if I asked him to be, whenever I needed him. But last night, there was no safety net.
As a life long (there isn’t any other kind) introvert I’ve learnt how to manage social situations by putting on a bit of an act. As a child and young adult I would do this naturally as I’d automatically learnt to pretend I was someone I’m not to try and vaguely fit in. Once I realised I was doing this, I went through a bit of an angry stage, feeling annoyed that I had to be someone else to please other people. Now, I have peace with it – most of the time, I’m myself (quiet, reserved, choosing to listen rather than talk) but if necessary, I can use other skills (that are still part of who I am) to be a bit more “life ‘n’ soul”.
So, putting the introversion to one side, a short list of challenges lie ahead:
Choose from a menu in a restaurant I’d not picked
Engage in conversation (with people I don’t know very well) about food
Not make any disordered comments
Eat (a vaguely “normal” portion) while other people ate too
Sit with any feelings that come up and not react unhealthily
I’m starting to enjoy going out for dinner with Steve but I’m usually at least 50% responsible for picking the restaurant. I’d had no say in this work social but no. 1 on my list wasn’t too hard as vegetarian options were limited (which I find helpful!) and they had a clear description of what they were under each heading. I still have calories, fat and sugar content swimming around my head but just picking something was the objective and I managed this. Engaging in conversation
No. 2 isn’t too hard but combining it with no. 3 is tricky. It seems “normal” for women to be on diets and men to joke about it. I’m afraid I’m never going to be happy joining in with that sort of banter. I have 2 colleagues trying to lose weight and therefore avoiding carbs. At what point in history did carbs become “bad” and cutting out an essential nutrient become “good”? And I had a male colleague trying to get everyone drunk. I could join in the diet conversations with comments such as “you have to push past the hunger and see the pain as a good thing” but I think I’d get some funny looks! I work hard to join in other conversations and my imminent Kenyan safari holiday comes up. I’m very very happy to talk about that!
Portion size and eating
Food arrived in separate bowls and it was a case of serving yourself. Portion size is really tricky when you’ve had a voice yelling at you about individual granules of sugar or gram of fat and hunger signals have become unbalanced for many years. 1 table spoonful of rice can look like an overwhelming large portion to someone with anorexia so I still tend to glance at what other people are doing to judge what’s a “normal” portion. This doesn’t always work as normal doesn’t actually exist! But, fitting in with an average portion was possible! I sometimes struggle eating with other people if they’re particularly messy, or eat particularly fast, or slowly but I sit with these feelings and it’s ok. I didn’t have a voice yelling at me I wasn’t allowed to finish my dish (as that would be greedy) or social etiquette yelling at me it’s rude to leave food. I just ate what I wanted and left the rest. No. 4 executed while sustaining numbers 2 and 3!
Sitting with feelings
Feeling exhausted by this point but a very good sign is that my cheeks are aching from laughing and smiling so much. I’m not too full but I’m very glad there isn’t the shall I/shan’t I? question over dessert as my colleagues are going on elsewhere to continue drinking while I go back to work so the evening, for me, draws to a pleasant close. I’m please with how the evening’s gone so I can tick off no. 5 too!
Low self esteem can be a painful condition and many of us suffer in silence, unaware of the damage being done, unaware that there is a way out.
Throughout my mental health journey, I was asked numerous times if I had low self esteem, I would struggle with this question. The definition of self esteem is:
“Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect”
Since I did not believe I had any worth or abilities, how could I possibly have confidence in them? I did not believe there was anything about me to respect. Therefore, the question baffled me because if there is nothing to feel good about how could I rate it as low or high? It’s only since my self esteem has improved have I realised how rock bottom it was and I had previously been viewing myself through a distorted lens. Once the cycle of low self esteem started, add in mental illness and you soon reach no self esteem!
We build a picture of ourselves and our self esteem grows from a combination of the following:
Experiences at home, school, work and in the community
How other people react to you and treat you
Illness, disability or injury and how those around you cope
Your own thoughts and perceptions
Culture, religion and societal status and role
Problems associated with low self esteem include:
Feelings of fear and anxiety – an all consuming fear of doing something wrong, looking stupid.
Isolation and avoiding new situations – these things can feel too overwhelming when you assume you won’t be able to cope.
Staying quiet and not sharing thoughts or ideas, not initiating conversation – anything to avoid looking bad, stupid of inept and avoiding rejection.
Underachieving and lacking ambition for fear of not coping or being rejected,
Or overachieving – constantly working inordinately hard to prove worth and competence to self and others, striving for perfection and perceiving failure if it’s not achieved.
Seeking or remaining in destructive relationships through fear of not managing alone.
Depression – persistent low self esteem with negative self-talk can lead to other symptoms of depression such as low mood, not sleeping, poor appetite etc
Hypersensitivity – assuming negative thoughts from others leads to being on the look out for these signs that confirm these fears. These could lead to acting on a sign that wasn’t perceived accurately (for example a compliment will sound sarcastic). Sometimes people will throw out “tests” to see what people think of them.
Lack of assertiveness – anxiety and fear can lead to difficulties sharing feelings and asking assertively for needs to be met. This can lead to people being passive and being “walked on”, which can lead to a build up of pressure and aggression being expressed as being defensive, sarcastic, brusque or even rude. Putting other people down (not necessarily deliberately maliciously) may be a way of covering up a low self esteem. Being passive-aggressive is common, examples include being manipulative, planned tardiness, throwing out cues for others to pick up on and gossiping.
Obsessions or addictions can be a way of coping or covering up. From workaholic behaviour through to developing serious mental illness such as anorexia or obsessive compulsive disorder with intrusive thoughts etc
Behaving in a needy way, relying on others for direction and trying to please others.
None of these are meant to be criticisms but it’s helpful to know that people behave in all sorts of ways, unintentionally, in order to manage such a negative feeling. It may be helpful to realise that you have low self esteem and that how you’re managing it is having a negative impact on you and the people around you. If you notice other people’s behaviour is annoying, unhelpful or irrational, this may be the tip of the iceberg and it might be worth thinking about whether their self esteem is playing a part, the real root may be hidden.
My lack of self esteem was mostly internalised and exaggerated as I turned to self punishment.
I became depressed, used self harm to manage my emotions and hid inside anorexia to manage strong negative feelings about myself. Once I was on my road to recovery and I was able to reflect on some of my unhelpful thinking I became very aware of my fear of arrogance – my overwhelming fear of my head being too big had pushed me so far in the other direction I was suffering for it! A balance is important. (Arrogance is unattractive, and while some people may think it’s got them places, I never want to venture down that path.) I can be assertive while using humility to keep arrogance at bay!
It is really important to boost your own self esteem and the self esteem of those around you and to avoid unhelpful coping patterns. Here are some tips:
Stop comparing yourself to others – a trap a lot of us fall into, thinking it helps us know where we stand but it’s unrealistic as we’re all unique with different abilities and strengths. Get to know yourself rather than thinking you need to be the same as someone else.
Don’t strive for perfection – some people believe only God is perfect, others believe it does not exist. Being OK with “good enough” was one of the best things I ever did for my recovery. Don’t get me wrong, I love my perfectionistic streak (it’s part of who I am) and I can turn it on if I want to but I keep it in cheque!
Make mistakes – it’s natural, it’s the way we learn and it’s fun! They will happen, there’s nothing we can to avoid them so we may as well enjoy them! Apologise if necessary, learn what we need to, treat yourself with compassion and move on – that’s the most important bit!
Focus on the things you can control – focusing on our worries and the things we can’t control leads to a downwards spiral of negativity. Instead, if we look at what we CAN change not only will we feel better but we’re more likely to actually achieve what we want.
Talk to yourself in a positive way – imagine recording a repeater tape with “I’m no good, I can’t do this, I’ll never achieve anything” – if you didn’t believe it in the first place, you will after a very short time! This is what goes on inside the head of someone with low self esteem. Instead, we need to replace it with “I can do this, I’m an OK person” etc. Work out what you want and tell yourself you can do it! If someone you know has low self esteem, make sure you are their positive repeater tape – without prompting tell them they are lovable, tell them what they’re good at, tell them they’re unique.
Do things you enjoy and help others do the things they enjoy – having low self esteem makes you focus on the things you’re no good at. For once, just relax and do something you know you’re good at – go to the park and read a book, spend some times stroking your cat, make a smoothie, do some weeding. Anything! Helping other to find something they enjoy has its rewards – it will improve their self esteem and you might find something new and fun too!
Breaking out of low self esteem can be hard. It’s especially hard if its become habitual to behave in these ways over years and years. But improving self esteem will improve every aspect of your life! Feeling better about yourself will mean you will be able to:
Communicate better, which in turn improves relationships, from intimate relationships to work colleagues to acquaintances.
Manage challenges better – challenges come along, they can defeat us or make us stronger depending on how we approach them.
Managing illnessbetter – one of the biggest improvements I’ve seen is that when I’m unwell I’ve started asking for what I need instead of assuming I don’t have a clue and hoping other people will know better than me!
Get what you want out of work – being honest about whether you want to achieve highly, be a CEO or whether you want something else – don’t let your self esteem dictate whether you over or under achieve!
Have a healthy work-home-life balance – everyone’s different and needs/wants different things out of life. We should not allow our self esteem to allow us to be dictated to by others. Working out what works for us as a unique individual is vital for a healthy life!
If low self esteem is caught up in mental ill health, external support will be vital, recovery is tough but I wouldn’t give up my journey for anything. I’ve learnt so much about me and those around me, my life has been enriched by the experience. Wherever you are on your journey or whether you’re journeying with someone else, I hope my blog has helped in some way.