Tag Archives: anxiety

Surviving a festival with a mental illness

I’ve come away, for the first time, to Spring Harvest (a Christian festival/conference) with my husband. I’m very fortunate, at the moment, to be mentally well but I’m always aware of how much my mental illness impacted my life, either stopping me enjoying things, or stopping me doing things altogether.

I’m not suggesting anyone will be able to strike out to the next festival mid crisis but when on the road to recovery, we need things to challenge us and this might be just the thing…I hope this blog will help someone think they could cope with coming away to Spring Harvest (or similar) even if they are still struggling. A Christian festival is fantastic place to find support, friendship and fellowship with people who could draw you closer to the ultimate healer.
I just have a few pointers on how to ensure you get the most out of it even when times are hard.

  1. Be prepared – If anxiety is a problem, predicting that every disaster that will happen will come as second nature but a few simple plans can reduce fears. Ensure you have confirmation emails ready and/or wrist bands etc. Ask people who’ve been before how to prepare/what to pack etc, phone or email the organisers, explain you’re concerns, they’ll be more than happy to help, they’ll want to put your mind at ease. 
  2. Pack something comforting – whether your favourite food, a teddy, a cosy jumper or your iPad, have something with you that reminds you of home and you can call on to if your having a wobble.
  3. Go with someone you know well – talk to them about any apprehension and ask them to watch out for signs you’re not coping. Let them know they do not necessarily need to look after you, as you can look after yourself but if they’re there for support, it’ll help.
  4. Don’t try and do everything – when you’re faced with a programme packed full of events it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and think you’ll miss out if you don’t go to everything and pack your time but the reality is, you cannot do everything and you’re there to enjoy yourself, you won’t if you’re dashing around! Take time to look at the planner, mark what you want to do so you don’t forget, then just do it.
  5. If you’ve come in a group you don’t have to do everything with them – being in a group can be reassuring so take advantage of that! But it can also be exhausting so make sure you do the things you want to do, on your own, or just with 1 friend. Be aware of what your character needs, when recovering from depression a good balance of time with people and time alone is important. 
  6. Make sure you have food plans – mental instability plus lack of physical energy is not a good combination, make sure you have plans for regular meals. This can be tricky and depends on the exact nature of the festival. At Spring Harvest, there is a great choice of self catering, buying meals on site or a half board dining package. If you have an eating disorder, self catering is often best but recovering I have found half board really helps as it’s helped me break unhelpful disordered habits (such as sticking to salads etc). 
  7. Plan relaxation time – if the weather’s nice, go for a walk or find a safe place and just spend some time sitting reading or having some “down time”. Don’t worry about missing out, what’s the point of sitting in a seminar if you’re not really listening or listening to a band if you’re mind’s elsewhere?! Take time to recharge.
  8. Make sure you take all you treatment – if you need medication, a week before you’re due to go, make sure you have enough so you have time to put a repeat prescription in. If you have therapeutic techniques you need to practice or worksheets you need to fill in, make sure you set aside time. You may be going on holiday but recovery is a full time occupation!
  9. Have a back up plan – make sure, if things get too much, you have a plan for what you will do, will you stay in the chalet? Want a friend to stay with you? Or will you need to have a way of getting home? Often, if we have a “get out plan” we don’t need it, just having it there is all the reassurance we need. 
  10. Remember why you’re there – if you’re struggling at a Christian festival, focus on God or ask for prayer; people willing to lend an ear or a hand in fellowship will not be in short supply! At a secular festival, focus on the music, remember loving music is part of what makes you you, mental illness does not have to define you.

So, if you’ve been to a festival before or you’re considering one for the first time, be bold. Put your mental illness, where it belongs, on one side. There are many to choose from. Spring Harvest have kicked off the 17:21 campaign, a scroll is visiting 22 festivals celebrating what unites us as Christians, including:

Give it a go!

Fake it ’til you make it – does it work?

As a mental health recovery worker, my heart sank when I heard my colleague (who I respect a great deal) use the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” with one of her service users.

This was the worst thing someone once said to me during my recovery journey. I had spent my whole life faking it, and this was what was making me sick. Constantly trying to “fit in”, to be “normal”, meant I’d lost sight of who I really was and it made me more and more unhappy.


I’m an introvert and in a world built for extroverts I feel I constantly have to fake social confidence. When I say I’m an introvert, I mean I’m at the extreme end of the spectrum.

By no means do I want anyone to feel sorry for me. Now I know I’m an introvert and I’m ok with it, I love it! How lucky am I that I don’t NEED other people to recharge my batteries? How great is it that I can amuse myself with a ball of yarn on the sofa for hours without getting bored or needing attention from anyone?

Faking being an extrovert is exhausting. In a room full of people, where background noice makes my ear drums painfully contract and  the ridiculously high watt light bulbs just want to shut my eyes, I smile and nod along to the conversation. I try desperately to drop in some interesting or helpful remark now and again just so someone doesn’t ask me if I’m ok.

No, I’m not ok…faking having a great time when your heart is screaming “get me out of here” takes a lot of self discipline!

If introverts don’t fake it, they’re considered a “party pooper” or “billy-no-mates” or a “hermit”, these are not considered indearing qualities, they’re unfair derogatory insults. The truth is, I just like being on my own, I find peace and quiet restful and other people (except a select few) sap my limited energy. Why is this considered strange?


I felt angry that my colleague had no idea the pain my faking had caused me and I considered her comment insensitive. Add insult to injury she has to be the most extrovert person I know! In my anger I was wondering how she could possibly make such a rookie mistake. But, as I say, I respect her so I knew she meant well and I had to stop and think about what she was trying to say.

The context of her comment was with someone who had mild depression and anxiety. They had previously been an extrovert and were disappointed and frustrated that they’d lost that part of them. My colleague was suggesting that they do the things they knew they’d previously enjoyed. The idea being if you immerse yourself in things, you know, deep down, are part of your character and enjoyable, then, fake a smile now and again, eventually the old you will emerge. My colleague was helping her service user believe in himself again. This genuinely works provided you also address the issues that led to the mental illness occurring in the first place.


Saying this to me, or any introvert, however, would just compound the issues that led to the illness developing. When this comment was said to me, it confirmed that was the failure I felt and unfortunately led me to feel that if I had to fake it for the rest of my life (since I’d been faking it all up until now and I’d never “made it” I wasn’t going to suddenly be able to make it now) there really was no point in going on.

If you tell an introvert to “fake it” to “make it” in the world, instead of building them up, you will be smashing their self esteem to smithereens. We’re already great fakers, what we really need is to be told, “it’s ok to be you”.

For an introvert, finding recovery can be a lot more subtle than for an extrovert. When depressed, the usual reaction is to hide away from the world. Extroverts needs to get out there, find people, build their energy from them. An introvert needs to be truthful about what makes them happy, it might be about treating yourself to some luxuary bath salts or lighting a candle while doing some breathing exercises. I’m not advocating introverts continuing to hide away, we all need someone in our lives, I’m just saying an introvert needs to find balance.


When searching for freedom from a mental illness, it’s about finding out who you really are. If faking being an extrovert will remind you of how fun it is, go for it. If faking being an extrovert will just remind you that you hate faking being an extrovert, please stop!

Is it a diagnosis, a label or an identity?

I’ve had a number of conversations over the years about the language used around mental illness – it’s complicated matter, made more complicated by people not knowing the power behind their words.

“I am not my illness”

I’ve had a gentleman with schizophrenia say they detest being called “schizophrenic”, explaining this by saying “you would not say someone is a cancer”. However, we are not saying he “is schizophrenia”, we would be saying he “is schizophrenic” just like we say someone “is diabetic”. However, I think what he was trying to express was that he is not his illness, he did not identify with his illness, he did not want to be labelled in this way and this is to be respected.


Even professionals use words derogatorily

If I said someone “is diabetic” I would not have any opinion or judgement on their personality or any other characteristics. However, I recently heard a paramedic say this patient “is schizophrenic” with so much power, bitterness and judgement, I could tell he was casting aspersions on this person’s character. I had presented my service users as a “56 year old gentleman with [a number of medical complaints] and schizophrenia” as information that may lead to conclusions about the current presenting complaint. While one person may be able to say someone “is schizophrenic” without any preconceived judgements, this paramedic was not one of them. Stigma in society is so strong, but it’s people who are being stigmatised that suffer, those doing the stigmatising don’t realised a subtle language change could have a powerful impact. With this small change, a person is not labelled as their illness but someone who has an illness.

“I am more than my illness”

Mental illness can have a negative impact on one’s identity. When I was diagnosed with anorexia I could have let this be my identity… i could have felt, I am not Frances anymore, “I am anorexic”. I have seen people so consumed by their illness, they may as well say “I am anorexia” – I am not a person anymore, I am an illness. But I did not want to label myself in this way, although it was true I was “anorexic” I preferred to see myself as “a person with anorexia”, then my character and personality traits could exist alongside my illness. It has been proven that assumptions about what it means to be mentally ill such as incompetence and inadequacy (commonly held) will lead to a vicious cycle of impoverished sense of self and low self esteem, ceasing to try and work or fit into society and poorer psychosocial outcomes and sustained symptom severity. (Read the full article here.) It follows that, if you identify as your illness, you identify as incompetent and inadequate, whereas if you consider yourself to have an illness, you are not your illness, you can distance yourself from these negative characteristics.

Of course, this is down to the individual and if saying “I’m bi-polar” or “I’m schizophrenic” does not impact on their ability to see themselves as separate from the illness that’s their prerogative. Or, if they want to be identified as their illness, that’s also, up to them. Perhaps I’m saying, from within a mental illness it can be very difficult to see the path to recovery, how you see yourself in relationships with your illness can be the turning point. In my opinion, recovery and turning away from being consumed by mental illness is possible for everyone (recovery may not mean cure – but that’s a subject for a different blog).

labels

When is a diagnostic label unhelpful?

I’ve had other conversations with people who think we should do away with mental illness diagnoses all together as the words can have such a negative impact on the experience. It can be very confusing when some words can be used by the general population, for example feeling depressed or anxious are valid and appropriate emotions, however, clinical depression and anxiety disorder are very different experiences, in some ways a million miles away from the basic emotion. For other diagnoses there are other problems e.g. the use of derogatory terms, such as “schizo” which has been used to mean “unpredictable criminal”. Personality disorder is a confusing term, we think (as society) we understand what is meant by personality so if someone’s personality is disordered, surely, their core being is fundamentally altered/damaged? Well, no, personality disorders are extreme complex and there is much discussion about changing the label to fit the experience better. But an individual experience of different personality disorders is unique such that everyone has a different perspective on which words would be more useful.


Of course, diagnoses are an essential part of communicating. It’s helpful if a collection of symptoms has a name so that treatment can be targeted appropriately. I have also had the experience of an inaccurate diagnosis being used which then had a negative impact on the treatment I received.

Language changes, this is normal

The word spastic used to mean “muscle spasms, a common symptom of cerebral palsy” – it is now an offensive term, because of how it was used, and has fallen out of use. The media may hide behind “the dictionary definition”, but if we follow this through, we can still use the word spastic, but we don’t. The ~”dictionary definition” of “schizophrenic” is “a person with schizophrenia” or “contradictory”, e.g. “the rehearsal was schizophrenic” could mean “frantic and disjointed” but this is as it’s at odds with the definition of diagnosis. Many people still think someone with schizophrenia has a split personality or they will definitely be violent…continuing to use the word in different contexts perpetuates this misunderstanding of the illness.

Just hoping people think about what they say…

It’s not hard to change, “schizophrenic person” to “person with schizophrenia”.

Breaking down stigma is vitally important in a cruel and judgemental world. Not realising the power behind our words can have a negative impact on those affected by the illness by perpetuate societies misunderstanding, judgements and stigma. Even if you do not mean offence by the words you use it can have more of an impact than you realise.

The trauma of looking in the mirror


Who would have thought, the simple act of getting my eyes checked could be so traumatic?!

Fortunately my eye sight isn’t too bad so, although advised to go to the optician every couple of years, I push it out to 4,5,6 years until the guilt of “not looking after my eyes” gets too much.

So, I find myself here again. Not only is making the appointment hard enough but I’m now sat in the waiting room for a “test”, for which I have received no training or education. Why have I not revised? Why do I not feel more prepared?! What if I get it all wrong?

The first room is darkened and just involves looking at a hot air balloon going in and out of focus – don’t think I can get anything wrong there can I?!

Next, I appear to be greeted by someone more qualified but she didn’t tell me who she was so I have no idea! She spends a long time looking in my eyes, telling me to look at various things in the room I can’t see! And then, why do they tell you too look down? This is going to cause you to effectively shut your eye! After a while, blinking away the bright spots, she tells me that my eyes are perfectly healthy – phew! Is that it? Can I go now? Please?!


Next, I have a large contraption pressed against my face and I’m asked to look through the holes towards the wall ahead. There are a number of different lenses inside…what happened to the funky glasses we used to put on? I have to say whether letters look more or less clear with various options so I quietly voice “1” or “2” depending on which is sharper but to be honest, most are so similar I’m struggling to tell them apart. I have no idea what this is testing and I have no idea if I’m giving accurate answers or even if it matters!

Next on the screen, I do not have the familiar optitian’s chart with the big A at the top, I just have a single line of letters I’m being asked to read and I’m not sure I can. I can guess? But what if I guess right and she assumes I can read it fine? I work along the line with a shaky voice and the optitian doesn’t give anything away – did I get it right?!

Next I have some paragraphs of very small text slotted very close to my face. I’m asked if I can read the top paragraph, to which I reply “yes”, expecting I would need to demonstrate. Apparently just saying “yes” was enough and I did not have to go through the ordeal of reading out loud in public!

After what feels like a couple of hours, our 15 minute “test” is over and my “results” are printed on a little tiny card. My eye sight is a bit worse but not a lot worse. I feel satisfied that I didn’t make a fool of myself but have I passed or failed?!

Next, comes the worse part…I’m advised to buy new glasses. This involves a number of impossible activities:

  1. Looking at myself in the mirror
  2. Deciding whether I prefer how I look in glasses a or b (or c or d…)
  3. Not breaking down in tears about the whole process!


I’m greeted by a 3rd member of the team, a lovely young chap, to whom I confess my difficulties looking in a mirror. He was lovely, asking if I’d like similar glasses to those I’m already wearing, also advising me to go for slightly smaller styles, as I have a “small face” apparently! He leaves me while I try a few on and quite honestly, I just cringe when I look in the mirror – I look terrible, how is a pair of glasses going to solve that?! The young chat comes back with a couple of his favorites but I’ve already had enough! Why am I fighting back tears over such a simple task? It might sound rediculous but I have a feeling verging on panic. I hate how I look and my internal voice shouts insults at me. I explain to the assistant that I need to come back with my husband so he can help!


So, a little while later, husband in tow, I step over the threshold again. We look over the offerings, noticing that “fashionable” now means quite bold. This is not going to suit me so my choice is quite restricted – maybe this is a good thing! I try on a few pairs, again, it’s a disaster when I look in the mirror. The kind shop assistant says they can take photos so I can look at them on an iPad (this would be useful if you need your regular glasses to look at what you look like in your new glasses) but that sounds like my idea of a nightmare…looking at numerous photos of myself in different glasses that all add to my ugliness, while some kind person adds their opinion…hummmm, no thanks! I know the assistants are only ever trying to be nice but when I already have a negative commentary in my head, I’m afraid they just add, “I’m just being nice to make a sale” plus, “I’m being nice cos we need to get you out of our shop as quickly as possible, you’re a terrible advert for our glasses”.

Eventually…shop number 4…Steve’s trying to reassure me that there isn’t a budget, what’s most important is that I’m happy, or at least satisfied with how I look. I finally find some that don’t make me want to vomit when I look in the mirror, I manage to say “these look ok”. I then have a few measurements of my face taken to ensure my prescription can be added to the frames. I’m not really sure what made those glasses ok over any others, maybe I’m just getting used to my image but it’s such a relief!

Of course, this is a 1st world problem and we are incredibly lucky that we have access, not only to people who can check our eye health but also we can have glasses of an accurate prescription so we can perform any everyday task we wish. People in developing countries rarely have access to glasses, let alone an accurate prescription glasses… Next I’ll be taking my old glasses to Vision Aid Overseas

Self harm – friend or foe?

(TW) Some people may find the content of this blog upsetting and/or triggering

Self harm is a controversial subject and I’m hoping that being open will break down some of the stigma and misunderstanding.

As a fairly intelligent rational human being, I would frequently step back from my self harm behaviour and think “what the heck am I doing?!”. So, why, when in a highly emotional state did reasoning fly out the window and it become the “only thing that works”?

I think self harm is primarily about 2 things:

  • Transferring emotional/mental pain into physical pain
  • A lack of compassion/respect for yourself

I first discovered self harm as a teen when I found the world an overwhelming place. It was very superficial at first but I learnt that it helped to ease the discomfort I was feeling. I’m not sure what led me to think that it might work and to try it. I can speculate that it was linked to the natural occurrence that when we physically injure ourselves (by accident), after the initial pain, a wave of endorphines bring a sense of calm and an ability to cope with the injury. It therefore makes sense that, to produce that sense of calm and empowerment (to cope with the situation) I turned to harming myself deliberately to achieve the same effect.

Self harm is when someone intentional injures themselves. Examples include cutting, burning, hitting and poisoning. It could also be said that alcohol and drug taking as well as eating disorders bare similarities to self harm. For me, cutting was a release, I did not do it for attention, nor did I do it because I particularly wanted to. At the time it felt like I had no option.

Depression is a sinister illness that ultimately tells you that suicide is a valid option, in fact, an appropriate reaction to the given circumstances. When overwhelmed by the world and overwhelmed by these thoughts and feelings, it’s natural to look for a way out. 1 option is to follow through with a suicidal act, but if part of you is still thinking rationally, another way out is to find a way to relieve these feelings. For me, I genuinely believe, harming myself (without suicidal intent) kept me alive.

Although it kept me alive it actually represented the depths to which my self esteem had sunk. Every time, I knew I was adding to my scars, I knew I was putting myself at risk of infection etc but I cared so little about myself and my body, this was irrelevant. It provided the relief I needed but after the event I would feel guilty and angry. Although, part of me also gained something from the care I needed to give myself.

Unfortunately, for a period, for me, self harm became a habit. Instead of considering what options I had, I would turn to it like an old friend. It had worked in the past, why would I not continue?! It gave me what I needed, it relieved the pressure in my head, gave me a way to express myself. But, although a friend in the short term, ultimately, longer term it is not a helpful way to deal with feelings.

Self harm is often a way to manage our emotions on our own. Few people who self harm reach out for help and it is certainly not a way to deliberately manipulate or gain attention. The way out of self harm is to realise we are not alone. Other people can help us to manage the distress we’re feeling.

I had to learn that it was ok to feel bad. Anxiety and anger are acceptable, distress is bearable and instead of punishing myself I needed to be kind to myself. This took a long time, and I “gave up” self harm a number of times. Because self harm works as a coping technique, I was lured back many times. I’ve spent many hours distracting myself with numerous activities, desperately trying not to self harm. There is no one technique I’d advocate but overall most important factors are:

  • Express emotional pain more helpfully – sometimes this involves expressing it to either privately or to someone else, either verbally or written down. Using words is important but sometimes just venting it is important, maybe through exercise (moderate) or art, for example.
  • Learning self compassion is key. I have always known it’s right to be kind, caring sympathetic and show sensitivity to other people but I had to learn to treat myself in the same way. This does not mean I now love myself in an arrogant way, I just respect myself and believe I do not need to punish myself for being human.

I know it is hard to watch a loved one self harm, I am saddened when I hear someone uses self harm as a coping technique. But I understand how and why people do it. However, I am proof that there is a way out.

I am very sad to have so many scars but they represent a very difficult time in my life that has made me the person I am today.

For more information or if you need to talk to someone, please contact:

Or contact your GP and support team. Please do not suffer in silence.

10 reasons why cats are essential mental health recovery companions

cat 2

I cannot get through a Mental Health Awareness Week themed on relationships without talking about the miracles that pets perform! My cats have got me through some difficult times, here’s why:

1. They reduce stress – The physical act of stroking or grooming a cat is comforting. It has been found that when you connect with your pet, oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief, is released, helping to reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol levels. Cat owners have been found to have a 40% reduced risk of having a heart attack.
cat 7

2. They help with mindfulness – while stroking a cat, you can concentrate on how the fur feels, follow the contours of their body etc. This helps you stay in the present and remain grounded.

3. A playful cat is a great distraction – cats are natural hunters so even older cats love pouncing on little toys, every cat is unique in their play technique. Try a laser pointer on the wall, this will keep you both amused for hours. Who hasn’t had a good giggle at those cat videos that do the rounds on facebook?!
Cat playing with a toy mouse

4. They reduce loneliness – when it’s hard to connect with humans, a cat will always be there. Cats seem to know when you’re feeling low, they will just come and rest their head on your lap or lay down next to you, they just want to be with you.

5. They give you a purpose – when you become aware, through bleary eyes that your cat is pawing and licking your face for their breakfast, there’s no ignoring them. You have to get out of bed and start the day!

6. They make you smile – whether it’s the cute meow, that look they give you or when they roll on their back, when they make you smile, serotonin and dopamine are released – neurotransmitters associated with calmness and happiness.cat 8

7. They set a good example by taking adversity in their stride – my deaf blind Rosa was an inspiration. Her world was silent and dark, should could have been depressed and scared but she had such a gentle character and was very content. Cats also manage well with if they lose their tail or a leg, they just adapt and get on with life!

8. They accept you just as you are – you do not need to put on make-up or do the laundry to impress them. They love you all just the same.cat 1

9. They bring you presents – it is essential that a cat is able to come and go freely from their home. They love to be outside. And as a reward for being an awesome parent, occasionally they will bring you a little gift…alive or dead…a shrew, mouse, bird, their talents are endless. (hummmm, I can see some people are not too keen on this one but number 10 is a clincher!)

10. Dogs may get you out exercising in the fresh air but…a cat’s purr has actual healing properties – The vibrations enable healing of ligaments, tendons and muscles, infection and swelling. The frequencies of the purr promotes bone healing. How awesome is this?!

What more is there to say?!

cat 9

It’s just attention seeking

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Most of us have heard this phrase used in relation to someone one with a mental health condition. When someone self-harms, they’re “just attention seeking”, when someone attempts suicide but doesn’t complete or attends A&E, they’re “just attention seeking”. It is used in a derogative way and has an undertone of “don’t give them attention”, “they’re time wasters” and “make sure they understand how inconvenient they’re being”. I’ve heard it used by many different people including doctors, nurses, police and MPs.

If you actually step back and think about this…when a baby cries, they are asking for their needs to be met, we do not blame a baby for causing a scene, that is the only way they are able to get their needs met…if, at that point, their needs are not met, they are likely to develop other coping strategies – some will scream and cry more or bang their fists on the side of their cot while others will shut up and never expect their needs to be met. The care giver has the control over whether they receiving the attention they need. From the minute babies are born, they seek attention, they need attention. This does not disappear as babies grow into children and then into adults, we learn to satisfy ourselves, yes, but we still need attention in a variety of ways, it’s natural.

If an individual is in emotional distress, anxious, depressed, frightened, paranoid or confused they have a need to decrease the distress – this is a natural human desire. Some people will find it easier than others to manage their emotions. Most people will need to express their emotion and may need support from others. If, for some reason, they are unable to express their emotion appropriately or rationally, or their needs are not heard, they are likely to express the emotion in an unusual way, this can be known as “acting out”, they will seek behaviours that satisfy their natural human needs. Once this happens, is it right that they are then told they should not have attention? Surely the earlier they receive attention, the quicker their needs will be met and the unhelpful behaviour can be altered. These people need support to ensure they are able to express and relieve their emotions in a healthy way – how can this happen if people turn them away and they are told  they are an annoyance or an inconvenience?

At times, when mentally very unwell,  I’ve been distressed by voices in my head shouting hurtful remarks at me, I didn’t have the language or understanding to explain what was happening but I  wanted them to stop (I think this is a reasonable desire!). Having tried every healthy coping mechanism I could think of and nothing having worked, at times I’ve banged my head against a wall with such repeated force I’ve ended up with severe bruising. This would go some way to relieving the voices. But I would then need assessing for concussion, fractures etc. The last thing I wanted was to sit in A&E for hours but there I was left, well past the target waiting time… at the time it made sense to me that I was being punished for my bad behaviour, after all I had done it to myself. The doctor then looked at me with such disdain, I was left with no doubt I was below dirt on his shoe. Being treated with contempt confirmed my belief that I was worthless, pointless and not worth helping.

Often people who self harm or act out in other ways do not want attention for that behaviour, I have always been embarrassed and ashamed and done my best to hide what’s happened. I have not wanted attention but I’ve needed attention (both for the physical injuries and) to understand what was happening so I could learn how to express my needs and emotions in a healthy and understandable way.

Some people worry that giving this “bad behaviour” attention, it will just continue. Believe me, if you’ve reached the point of acting out your emotions, it’s going to continue. Giving the right support and attention will ease the situation not compound it.

The state of the child and adolescent mental health service scares me. Reading this account from the Guardian saddens but does not surprise me. If children are left in mental distress, rates of child suicide will increase and those who do survive will end up in the adult mental health system – a very undesirable place, best avoided!

Next time you here someone say “they’re just attention seeking” with a derogative tone, say “yes, that is because they need attention”. They may not be asking for it in the most healthy way but that doesn’t mean you deny them the help and support they desperately need to work out how best to aviate their distress in the short and the long term.

Thank you anger, thank you anxiety

For a long time I thought anger and anxiety were bad things. Looking back I can see that this negative belief led to me losing sight of appropriate anger and I turned it into sadness. I didn’t understand my emotions, I didn’t know what to do when my body felt a particular way – it felt out of control. Bung puberty and hormones into the mix and my brain didn’t know what to do!

Feeling hot and sweaty, tense and alert with an increased breathing and heart rate etc. we are probably experiencing anger. To most people this is obvious but I didn’t used to understand this; these feelings felt dangerous and I would automatically feel sad and even tearful. I came to understand that tears are more likely to be comforted, angry outbursts were not appreciated by anyone! The numbness that resulted from pushing down my feelings and converting them into others became clinical depression – the anger, dealt with by self-harming. It is common for females to turn their anger inwards… “everything bad that happens is my fault”.

Through a lot of support and therapy I have developed a language to explain (at least to myself) how I feel, I can step back and consider the situation rather than letting my thoughts, emotions and behaviour run away without me!

It’s been a long journey but I can now see that a full range of emotions is ok and even good! I have learnt to recognise anger for what it is…

An appropriate emotion that says “this is important”.

It is appropriate to get angry when someone wrongs you, if you are blamed for something that isn’t your fault or if someone you love has been hurt. I used to think everything was my fault but now I recognise the feeling and I am now able to say “thank you anger, I recognise the importance of this and I want to respond with words” (not actions that will hurt). I have spent 16 months in a job that has damaged my health, I am rightfully angry about this and I am directing this at explaining to my ex-employees what has been going on and asking for an explanation, assertively, not aggressively or threateningly.

My weight has been a great source of anxiety. An appropriate worry/concern/anxiety about our weight is to feel concerned about the risk of heart disease or cancer if we eat too much, don’t exercise and are too heavy. This concern enables people to find the motivation to eat more healthily/eat less and move more. But (put very simplistically) I took this too far and equated weight with everything being ok or not ok! If, when I got on the scales, the number had increased, this was bad, this caused high anxiety and resulted in behaviours to ensure the number went down tomorrow. The double whammy was that if the number went down, it hadn’t gone down enough so weight reduction behaviours followed anyway! I believed an increasing number, or a number that didn’t decrease enough meant that people would stare at me, everyone would think I was greedy, no-one would like me and I would generally fail at everything thing I tried. Of course, a life consumed by eating disordered behaviour is generally a cold and tired one with low confidence, poor concentration and low self-esteem so my fears of general isolation etc. were realised (not by my weight but by my beliefs about my weight).

I have a voice, a girl my age, who tries to protect me, she is called Ana (she represents anorexia). She has been so intense at times she has told me if I walk down certain aisles in the supermarket, I will put on weight. For a long time I just did as she said, I felt anxious and she provided answers to get rid of what I felt was the unbearable, dangerous anxiety. But I have learnt to recognise her, say “thank you”, take a deep breath (to consciously lower the anxiety) and consider the situation rationally. For example…

Day 1 – we choose pizza for dinner – Ana is not pleased, she raises my anxiety levels and tells me I am lazy and will get fat. I do not need to listen to her because pizza is ok once in a while.

Day 2 – we are late in from work, very tired and we choose pizza again. Ana gets angry, saying I am already fat and I’m useless, especially since I did not listen to her the first night. My anxiety rises, I even ask Steve if it’s ok that we’re having pizza again. I take a deep breath, calm the anxiety and decide on balance, pizza is ok.

Day 3 – we have a vet appointment after work and consider pizza again…Ana says “you shouldn’t have had it the 1st night, let alone the 2nd, a 3rd would be unforgivable, you will end up the size of a whale, you won’t get through the doorway and your life will be over…you’re lazy, greedy…” etc!

“Thanks Ana for trying to help me make healthy decisions but I do not need to blindly give in to you…”

Deep breath…do I need to feel this anxious?

“I’ve already eaten pizza for 2 nights therefore I cannot do anything about that…” there is no point in feeling anxious about that…

Deep breath…it is ok to be concerned about my health, it’s important,

“I could have pizza again, but it would probably be a good idea to eat something healthier tonight, a veggie chickpea salad will be just as quick and easy to prepare.”

(”and by the way, 1 more pizza would not make me too fat to fit through the doorway, it doesn’t matter how loudly you shout!”)

Thank you anger, thank you anxiety – you are not bad emotions, I do not need to fear you, I can listen to you, learn from you and respond appropriately and healthily.

I didn’t make it to the cinema but I can’t wait to see Inside Out when it comes out of DVD!