Tag Archives: compassion

What do you do if you just can’t talk about it?

A large contributing factor to why I got ill was that I didn’t talk about my feelings. Whatever I experienced I thought it was bad so I pushed it down, ignored it, pretended I was fine and put a brave face on. Even when I was getting very unwell, I had no idea what was going on, I had no language to describe my inner turmoil so I just kept quiet and things, unsurprisingly, got worse.

I have learnt, through various therapies, how to talk about my feelings in a healthy way – I don’t talk about my feelings all the time but if things don’t feel right, I have ways to communicate and talking through my struggles, this means things are easier to understand and manage.

Whenever I hear about someone self harming in some way, whether it’s cutting, over dosing, drinking to excess or disordered eating – I do my best to persuade them to find a way to talk about what’s going on. It’s often about who you talk to as well as what you say, sometimes it’s about writing things down, but I think putting your thoughts and feelings into words is vital for mental health recovery.

However, what if things are so overwhelming, words just won’t come?!

Or, what if, due to another condition, a developmental condition or learning disability, you’re never going to be able to talk/communicate the way other people do?

On my mind is a young lady who’s desperately unhappy, she has self harmed in the passed but recently felt so hopeless, she tried to take her own life – this story, unfortunately, is not rare – sadly, this young lady also has Asperger’s syndrome, which is now considered part of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). People with ASD have problems with, amongst other things, social interactions and communication.

I would always advise anyone in mental distress to seek professional help but sometimes there are things we can do to help ourselves, so here are some of my thoughts when words just aren’t the answer:

Exercise

Whether it’s anxiety, depression or other symptoms such as psychosis, some form of exercise has many benefits:

  • Grounding – it helps people stay in touch with reality, rather than spiraling off down a disordered thought stream or into a reality that causes more harm than good.
  • Endorphins – ‘happy hormones’ proven to be released when we exercise
  • Release of aggression – some people (usually females) force their aggression inward while others may express aggression/anger towards other people, either physically or verbally. Some forms of exercise, especially something like kick boxing can be brilliant for releasing pent up aggression.
  • Can be done in community or solitarily – introverts and extroverts take their energy from different sources and exercise can provide either the company or the solitude needed.
  • It can be a good distraction – taking pressure off talking and going for a walk with someone can actually make the taking side of things easier. Just being in nature, for example gardening, can have this effect as well.
  • It’s generally good for your physical health as well!

There are many forms of exercise from formal team games to walking, running or cycling on your own, or classes such as body combat, Zumba or martial arts. It may help to do something as a regular outlet or just do it when feelings feel particularly uncomfortable.

Art or creativity

You don’t have to be Salvador Dali or the latest Banksy to pick up a paint brush, some crayons, a pencil or some charcoal – people find all sorts of ways of expressing themselves through art. I’m not particularly creative but when angry it can be incredibly therapeutic to press down hard with a pencil and scratch away at the paper. Tearing paper or fabric can also be calming or helpful for a destructive mindset.

Liz Atkin uses charcoal drawing to directly manage her mental illness. Her story is fascinating and can be found here.

Adult colouring is a bit of a craze at the moment. The way I used it was as a distraction, it was something that could consume my focus and while I was doing it, it helps me stop my destructive thinking.

It may also be useful to make collages of words or pictures from magazines, this may express an acute emotion (eg anxiety) or overriding issues (eg loneliness) and this links to the next thing to try.

Use pictures to communicate

There are specific systems such as the Picture Exchange Communication System but it doesn’t have to be that formal. Use Google Images and search for what speaks to you, it may be pictures of people or landscapes but it could just be colours or shapes. You don’t have to know what it means or why it’s important but if you use this method a few times, you may get used to expressing your feelings in this way.

Punch a pillow

You may not call it anger, but if you feel like you have lots of energy and don’t know what to do with it it may be helpful to punch a pillow. This is helpful to prevent keeping energy/emotions locked up, it’s important to let it out as people have a tendency to either take emotions out on other people (through verbal or physical aggression) or on themselves (by self harming).

Mindfulness/meditation

Mindfulness can be a complex concept to understand but at its most basic level, it’s about being aware and then sitting with how things (feelings/situations/thoughts) are, as they are, without judgment or desire to change them. If we manage to do this, we can learn to manage all sorts difficult or uncomfortable feelings.

Meditation takes a number of forms and may include elements of relaxation techniques as well. This link to YouTube may be a good place to start.

Even if it doesn’t sound like ‘your thing’, sometimes it’s worth trying something new, just to see what it’s like. Type, mindfulness or meditation into YouTube and have a look at what’s out there. The most important thing with this is not to get cross, upset, angry or to judge how you’re doing with the exercises, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Talk to yourself with compassion when trying something new.

Pets as therapy (PAT)

Spending time with animals can be an amazing healer for some people. A loved family pet can evoke calmness in any situation. There are also special animals trained for therapy and horses are used in some specialist centres.

No matter what the situation, there is a way through, some times we just need to be a little more creative with how we get through.

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Is it ok if I feel sorry for myself?

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:

  1. I need to do things that will ensure I recover as quickly as possible
  2. I need to look after myself and not do things that will jeopardise my recovery
  3. Do as much for myself as I can – I carry things in a backpack so my hands are free to use my crutches
  4. 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.

 

Low self esteem: The hidden condition

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
  • Media messagesself esteem boxes

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.

self esteem not good enough

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:self esteem don't compare

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.self esteem be careful
  6. 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!

self esteem you are good enough

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 illness better – 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.

self esteem just be yourself

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.

9 truths #WeDoAct

WEDAD

2nd June 2016 is the first World Eating Disorders Action Day. “They” have put together “9 truths about eating disorders” so I thought I’d share my reflections on each of them:

  1. Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill – this prevents people getting the help they need for a variety of reasons. I looked “normal” so I didn’t think people would believe me if I said how much I struggled with food or how little I ate. I also struggled to be around people who did look ill as I didn’t think I belonged there or deserved help as I wasn’t “ill enough”. This misconception needs to be broken down in order for people to receive the help they need.
  2. Families are not to blame and can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment – I know my family have found it hard but they have stuck by me through all sorts of mess. Some people are not as fortunate as me. Sometimes guilt can be an unhelpful barrier to working through the difficulties.
  3. An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal and family functioning – when I first asked for help as a teenager I did not receive a diagnosis, maybe it would have been helpful to have addressed it square on at that point. By the time I did receive a diagnosis my functioning was already disrupted but I was in denial as to how unwell I’d become and it didn’t seem real
  4. Eating disorders are not choices but serious biologically influenced illnesses  in truth, at times, I perpetuated my eating disorder by making the wrong choices but I was not being deliberately awkward or manipulative; my mind was sick. Some people get caught up in the “pro-ana/mia” influences but no-one chooses to be caught in the swirling hell that is a true eating disorder.
  5. Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations and socio-economic statuses – I was one of typical ones at onset a female teenager but I’ve met males and females of all ages from the UK and abroad. All affected differently, all requiring unique understanding but all struggling with the same basic issues – eating disorders do not discriminate.
  6. Eating disorders carry an increased risk of both suicide and medical complications – alongside a diagnosis of depression my life has been at serious risk of ending a number of times. Even in recovery I continue to have to come to terms with the long term medical complications.
  7. Genes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders – it has been shown that a genetic predisposition may be present but as with all illnesses, how the individual interacts with their environment will play an important role. Some people say stick thin models are a bad influence, others say constant “diet talk” is unhelpful. I think talking from a young age about how to look after our mental/emotional well-being and how to be compassionate to ourselves and others is vital – whether buzz words such as “body confidence” are used or not, just raising the issues so it can be talked about openly will break down the taboo and stigma.
  8. Genes alone do not predict who will develop eating disorders – there may be no hard and fast way of predicting eating disorders but this does not mean they cannot be prevented. Raising awareness and education will enable people of all ages to spot early signs and seek help before developing a full-blown eating disorder.
  9. Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are possibleI did not receive the early help required and only received the right help after years within mental health services but this does not need to be everyone’s story. I am proof that even over rocky road, recovery is possible.

Resources:

World Eating Disorders Day

B-eat

Anorexia and Bulimia Care