Tag Archives: depression

How do you love someone who doesn’t love themselves?

It can be absolutely devastating to watch someone self destruct. This can be through drugs, alcohol, an eating disorder, self harm or more subtly through constant self deprecating thoughts and language. I’m not talking about someone who doesn’t like the odd characteristic in themselves but someone embroiled in these behaviours who has a deep seated hatred of themselves.

It can absolutely rip your heart out when you know someone is doing themselves harm and the way out seems painfully obvious. 

If someone is taking drugs or drinking too much, if only they would stop…

If someone is ravaged by restricting and binge eating, if only they would eat regularly…


I’ve watched close friends make the same mistakes time after time and they turn to me in desperation. I know if only they could respect themselves, they could break their destructive cycles and they’d start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But they don’t believe they deserve respect from anyone, let alone themselves.

Watching someone in pain, at times can feel like you’re grieving. Where is the person? How do they not see themselves as you see them? Why are they in so much pain? It’s important to be honest about this grief. You have not lost them but if this is how it feels, be honest, at this moment, they may still be there in body but if their mind is not all there, they can feel missing.


I have been both the person watching on and the person being watched.

Until recently, I had no idea what it meant to even feel ok about myself. I feared that if I liked myself, I would be arrogant so I ran in the opposite direction and I hated myself. From a young teen I travelled through various self destructive behaviours always with an internal self loathing running commentary. I pushed everyone away at the same time as I cried out for their help. I would say I was incredibly hard to love.

There are no simple answers but here are a few of my thoughts.

Accept that, although the answer looks obvious to you, you are unlikely to be able to, nor is it your job to fix the person. Even if the person in pain is your son or daughter for whom you feel responsible, they are their own person, you can only advise and guide, you cannot fix. When I accept this, I find I have more space to do what I can do.

Consider what you are doing, good enough. Whatever you do, you will be showing love. People show and receive love in different ways, this may not be the time to have a deep conversation about exactly what’s right for them but if you show love through words, actions or gifts, keep going. Sometimes just being there is all that is needed or possible, just keep being there.


Make sure you get the support you need. Acknowledge that you are going through a tough time too. You might feel grief or anger, fear or shear desperation, no emotion is wrong. Give yourself some TLC or ask for it from others, there’s no point in your life veering off too!

It is likely that time after time someone in self-destruct mode will push you away, this can feel like a personal attack but try not to see it that way. Give them time and space (this will show them love) but do go back and let them know you’re still there for them.

As hard as it is, almost impossible at times, remember that the person you love is in there somewhere. No matter how hard they try to push you away, no matter how much they hate themselves, no matter how destructively they are behaving, they are the same person underneath.


People do not behave destructively for no reason, they are not deliberately trying to cause you pain. Most people in this position have not been shown the love or emotional care they need, for this they will need professional help. If at all possible, they need someone to remember who they are beyond the destructive behaviour and love them for who they are. You do not have to condone or even accept what they’re doing, just love the person underneath.

Healing can and does occur.

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.

Is it ok to be a little bit OCD?

No, it’s not ok, there’s no such thing!

I was horrified recently when I saw a young girl, hold a creased piece of paper aloft and call out “you’ve triggered my OCD”.

Would anyone call out “you’ve set off my bulimia” or “you’ve sparked off my schizoid personality disorder”? No!

So why is it ok to make fun of OCD?

It seems there’s something cute or glamorous about wanting things neat, tidy and organised. But this is not what obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is about…it’s a thought disorder with devastating consequences where people have uncontrollable urges to carry out meticulous actions in order to avoid perseived disaster occurring to them or their loved ones. People can need hospitalization as short term management. Long term the condition needs therapy to understand the meaning behind the symptoms and to break the compulsive behaviors.

I’m sure this young girly meant no harm by her comment but unfortunately, language like “I’m a little bit OCD” perpetuates stigma that people with serious mental health disorders could do without. If OCD (or any other disorder) is banded about in a frivolous way, full understanding of the nature and impact of the illness is missing, people think they understand but they miss the point. Misunderstanding has many consequences including discrimination and isolation.


If person A has advertised their OCD as not wanting a crease in their leaflet, how will anyone understand that person B will always be late for meeting friends because they have to perform a repetitive ritual lasting many hours before they can leave the house or they fear for the life of their children? Everyone experiences OCD differently, it’s a highly complicated and varied illness.

I’ve had anorexia and depression, at various times I’ve been more or less ill but at all points in my illness it impacted my ability to function. Yes, it can appear that some illness are on a continuum with neurotypical individuals but there is a line where you fit the criteria for diagnosis and it’s at that point, life is severely impacted. Anorexia is not losing a bit of weight, depression is not feeling a bit sad. Mental illness is complicated, sometimes not even fully understood by the individual who’s suffering.

We must stop this unhelpful language around mental illness. Talk about it, yes, if you suffer, talk about the triggers and how it impacts you but if you do not have a diagnosis, more sensitivity is needed, it is not ok to poke fun at or making light of something you don’t understand.

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.

If we’re “other”, are we mad, bad and dangerous to know?

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When considering language, my first port of call is a dictionary to make sure I understand exactly what the word means. But language is complicated by the fact that we use words in different contexts and will mean different things as we try to communicate from our unique set of experiences. For example, do you say “loo”, “lav”, “toilet”, “bathroom” or even “restroom”? For some would consider one more posh than another but if you use the more “posh” word, are you placing yourself above someone who would choose the more “common” word?

Definitions can be found in dictionaries, but the real meaning can only be found when considered in social context. When I hear that someone has a mental health condition, to be honest, not much happens in my brain as I know everyone’s story is different and I do not know someone until I hear their story (once I hear this, empathy is the most usual emotion I experience!). But for a lot of people, they hear “mental health” and a torrent of assumptions and questions will cascade through their mind, “are they dangerous?”, “will they be weird?”, “are they going to cry all the time?”, “are they going to be off work sick all the time?” or maybe “will they be like my friend I know has X condition”.

Stigma and discrimination in mental health are rife due to misunderstanding and the presence of barriers. Our world is full of boundaries. It is interesting to observe that social boundaries e.g. “who’s in, who’s out” are harder to shift than physical boundaries e.g. a garden fence.

Is it helpful to consider mental health conditions and continuation of the norm? This could enable people to develop a degree of empathy with those who have a diagnosis. It could, however, have the opposite effect as it is difficult for people to understand that one person can cope with anxiety, while the next person cannot and, where is the threshold for a diagnosis? “If I can cope with feeling down now and again, why can’t you?”.

Do we call it “mental distress” so that people can relate to the words? Or does this diminish the experience?

Is it more helpful to set mental illness apart from “the norm” and consider them “other”? Unfortunately, history has shown us that this leads to high levels of stigma and discrimination as being “other” is associated with being “bad”, “mad”, “imperfect”, “uncontrollable”, “unpredictable” and generally not fitting in, which is just inconvenient!

At times during my illnesses I can see quite easily that my symptoms have been an extension of the norm, a continuum. For example when my mood has been low…how many days is ok and when have I slipped into not really functioning anymore?

But at other times, I’ve definitely felt “other”. For example, I would hear a voice tell me not to eat the yolk of an egg because it contained cholesterol and I obeyed the unquestioning compulsion to only eat the egg white. At the time, I knew it was healthy to eat the whole egg and that I actually needed the nutrients but it was impossible for me to consider this. At times I felt so alienated and “other”, I was crying out (literally) to be “normal”, the only problem being, I had no idea what normal was! Now recovered, I feel my brain works in a completely different way, I still know that the yolk of an egg contains cholesterol but I never question eating it.

There was also a point in time when I decided suicide was not an option. Before this point, I was told it was important to get to this point but I couldn’t understand how this was possible – surely for every human being on earth it’s an option? Maybe not a serious one, but it’s there?!  Once I did  get to the point where I decided it wasn’t an option, I began to fight for a better life. There is no continuum, suicide is either an option or it’s not.

So what’s the answer? Education! The problem is not whether we’re the same or different, the problem is the value we attach to the differences. In truth we are all different and it’s far more fun to celebrate those differences than set up barriers and fence people into categories.

So how do we view people with mental health problems? Is it a continuum so we’re all the same and this keeps everyone safe from prejudice? or can we tolerate difference?

There’s nothing wrong with trying to relate, empathise and share experiences but what if “other” just means different and doesn’t mean mad, bad or impossible to understand? What’s so scary about different?

What if “other” just means “I have a different story to share”.

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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

10 reasons why cats are essential mental health recovery companions

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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.
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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?!

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