Tag Archives: life

Think before we speak, taming the tongue

The tongue is an incredibly powerful muscle, it can discourage or encourage, praise or curse, gossip or spread rumour, express love, hate or anything in between. If you believe in creation as set out in Genesis, (God) speaking brought the world into existence!

As children, many of us were given the simple message “if you’ve not got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”, this helps us stop before we speak and evaluate whether our words are nasty or nice, mean or kind, cruel or compassionate.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’m guilty of letting my tongue get the better of me. When I’m feeling a bit rubbish, I’ll say a curt word, for some reason, want to bring down the people around me – I can be nice and polite in public but it’s my husband who gets the less than helpful comments and underhand criticism. I don’t mean to be harsh, sometimes things just come out.

We’ve all been around people who seem to just want to discourage, knock confidence and generally hinder, cause difficulty or seem to oppose everything. I’m going to be blunt and say it’s best to let people like that slip out of your life but of course, this isn’t always possible.

I was asked in some recent bible teaching (name drop alert), with Simon Ponsonby(!), “how do you respond to criticism” – my answer was that I used to take it really badly, take it to heart, I would even twist it to fit my belief that I was useless, pointless and couldn’t do anything right. More recently, I’ve noticed I’m more likely to defend myself or even shut out the criticism; this is because I’m aware my self esteem incredibly fragile so if I take the criticism as I used to, it would mean all the work I’ve done to build myself up would be wasted.

However, we discussed that criticism can help us develop and be better people. This, of course, has to be the magical ‘constructive criticism’ – to give this kind of advise is about finding the right balance.

So, when I hear criticism, it’s important to evaluate it immediately and decide if it’s going to cut me down or whether it has the possibility to help develop me. If the latter, it needs to be listened to, understood and taken on board.

In the bible teaching, Simon was looking the book of James, chapter 3, about taming the tongue.

It’s not about saying nice things or not saying the horrible things you really want to say. We all know passive aggressive people who communicate incredibly loudly with their silence or through their fake niceness…this makes for a toxic atmosphere.

It’s about wanting the best for those around us, it’s about considering what they need to hear (NOT what we think they need to hear) but making sure you communicate effectively and take time to ensure they’ve heard what you intended.

Thinking about taming my tongue I’ve looked up the definition; although many definitions of the verb to “tame” suggest, submission or lacking in something, I’ve come across one that I think is more helpful when thinking about taming the tongue:

“To harness or control; render useful, as a source of power.”

This recognises the capacity of the tongue and that it can be used to accomplish great things. I’ve been challenged to tame my tongue, to think before I speak and (not stay silent) but speak with love and compassion, and ensure what I say builds up those around me. If I feel critical or argumentative, I need to consider what is best for the other person – can I rephrase what I want to say so they benefit instead of feeling got at?

I will THINK before I speak and consider whether it is:

  • True
  • Helpful
  • Inspiring
  • Necessary
  • Kind
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Eating Disorders Awareness Week – Why Wait?

26th February this year is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Beat (the UK’s leading eating disorders charity) are asking Why Wait? So I thought I’d try and answer!

Beat’s research shows:

“On average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1,043 days.”

I’m going to be addressing this primarily from the point the point of view of having recovered from anorexia but some, if not all, of this will apply to other eating disorders too.

People with no experience of eating disorders would be puzzled by the delay in seeking and engaging in treatment but having been deeply entrenched in one for many years, I know recovery from an eating disorder involves a lot of ambivalent feelings.

The most prominent reason for waiting to recover is fear – saying ‘yes’ to treatment means saying ‘yes’ to change, saying ‘yes’ to stepping out of your comfort zone and most feared (when it comes to anorexia) saying ‘yes’ to weight gain.

Denial is also a problem, delusional beliefs about weight, shape, body shape and the extent of the problem lie square in the way of stepping up to getting help. Interestingly, I found, that even when my delusional beliefs were challenged, and I started to see and understand that my beliefs may not be entirely accurate, it was fear, again, that made me hold onto my inaccurate beliefs.

Some people hold on incredibly tightly to their delusional beliefs, no matter how gently or ferociously it’s challenged, there’s no budging it.

Fear and anxiety are helpful emotions – they tell us when something is dangerous, when something should be avoided. I’d be pretty grateful for the fear if I was being chased by a lion, my fear would be accompanied by a rush of adrenaline that would help pump blood to my muscles and help me run faster.

The fear of recovery from an eating disorder is pretty much on this level. Imagine everyday, feeling this fear, it’s not surprising that denial feels like a friend. Every time I was challenged about my weight, my restricted diet or my weight controlling behaviours, this fear and denial kicked in. It felt like I was being chased by a lion I was never going to be able to outrun, the fear was immense but accompanied by feels of hopelessness.

Fear of gaining weight is incredibly powerful – it’s a genuine belief that if you engage with professionals they’ll make you balloon to 100 stone, if you already think you’re overweight, it makes absolutely no sense that you should have to put on more weight…!

So, it’s pretty clear, there are some good reasons not to recover but now I’ll address some reasons why recovery could be a good idea, right now.

When I was struggling, I was advised to step back and look at your life as objectively as I could, as if looking at a friend.

Is there anything you’d change?

Do you want the daily fear to decrease?

Would you like to socialise more?

Do you want to feel less anxious?

Do you want people to stop worrying about you?

Would you like to stop thinking about food all the time?

Would you like to be able to find clothes that fit?

Do you want to go on holiday and just eat what you want?

Would you prefer not to be chained to the bathroom scales?

Do you want to enjoy exercise rather than flog yourself through it?

Would you prefer to be less deceptive and secretive?

Do you want to be free from the number on the weighing scales dictating your mood?

Do you want to try new foods?

Would you prefer to enjoy your food rather than fear it?

Do you want to stop feeling faint?

Do you want to eat your favourite food without fear of a binge?

Do you want to be free from numbers?

Do you want to satisfy your hunger rather than ignore it?

Even if it’s just one of these things, just think about it… Don’t immediately think – “but putting on weight/recovery” won’t do that for me, don’t worry about that right now. Just think, what you’re doing at the moment isn’t working, is it?!

The definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Perhaps now is the time to try something new?

Recovery gave me all of this, and more!

If you’re watching a loved one battling an eating disorder, whether they’re in denial or fearful, perhaps direct them towards this blog, this maybe the first step for them to start the conversation about recovery.

I’m not offering all the answers, I’m just suggesting, recovery is there for the taking, but it has to be an active choice, the only thing that’s going to work is to find professional help and engage with it.

When in treatment I was advised to read a book called ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ – I was very angry that I was being advised to read this book and I’m sorry to say I read the blurb and went no further. Every single day I felt fear (fear of going out, fear of being seen, fear of eating, I was afraid of everything) and I got on with my day anyway, I never let anything stop me. I was offended that this therapist didn’t have the first clue that I was ‘doing it anyway’ every single minute of every single day.

I haven’t read the book so I can’t be certain what it was about but I’ll hazard a guess that it would have challenged my way of getting through, the only way I could manage was to deny my fear. Yes, I was fearful of everything but I feared feeling that fear fully as I thought it would halt me in my tracks. I’m someone who pushes through regardless. If I’m worried about something, I don’t put it off, in fact, I’d rather get on with it, soon rather than later, I hate having worry gnawing away at me. I never avoid anything…except my feelings!

Maybe the book would have taught me that fear is ok (something I’ve grown to learn anyway) you don’t have to ignore or deny it, you can accept it, appreciate it, get to know and understand it…and then ‘do it anyway’!

Maybe we could all learn from this – if there’s something we’re fearful of, the fear is telling us to beware but it’s also giving us the energy to fight. As an eating disorder sufferer, when I worked out how to use that energy to fight, that was a big step towards recovery.

Why do we need rewards to look after ourselves?!

After my recent ankle arthroplasty I struggled with the expected pain, a lot of it but it was bearable. I was working hard at my physio and doing more, she told me I would obviously experience more pain but it really wasn’t feeling right, she told me to persevere but I don’t think she really understood how much pain I was in. I may have a low pain threshold but I have a very high pain tolerance. I experience a lot of pain, I just get on with my life but that doesn’t mean it’s ok or that I’m ok with it! It’s hard to know where to draw the line, how do you know, when you’re rehabilitating, how much pain is too much pain? I was pretty much told, I should keep exercising but absolute agony was the line at which I should stop!

Speaking to a colleague about his painful knee has had me thinking. He was injured 4 months ago and because he didn’t make a fuss when he first went to A&E he’e been through months of pointless pain, finally culminating in an MRI that concluded he needed surgery. He’s been thinking he should have made more of a fuss, if only he’d limped into A&E stating he was in agony, he would have had an MRI within days and surgery so much sooner. Those of us that don’t complain so often don’t get what we need.

I’ve been wondering if I was experiencing more pain than I should have been but my physio said it was fine, to be expected.

I was beginning to think I would be in pain for the rest of my life and I was beginning to get to used to the idea that I may never run again. Disappointed, doesn’t even begin to come close.

I saw my surgeon last week and he had a different opinion, I should NOT be in so much pain. Steroid and local anaesthetic injection on board and…I’m pain free, I can’t quite believe it!

When my physio said “repeat this exercise 20 times”, I do it 60 times and she says “good”, to be honest, I don’t think she was used to patients actually following through with their exercises but I’m so desperate to get better I thought the more I did the better…I can’t help wondering I shouldn’t have been doing so much exercise, I guess there’ll be no way of knowing.

Anyway! Today, on a totally pain-free ankle, I (with more measured advice from another physio) tried running for the first time in 5 months, it was for 1 minute at a time and I’m so excited that I didn’t feel any pain. This is the first time for many years I’ve run with no pain!! So excited, it’s unreal!

I have promised my husband I won’t push it. I will stick to 1 minute at a time for 2 weeks and increase it so slowly I’ll feel like I’m running backwards! But the hope is, I will be back running properly within a year!

My husband knows I’m likely to want to push myself. For starters, I got on the treadmill earlier and said to myself I’d to 2 x 1 minute stints, I ended up doing 5… it’s not don’t any damage and I’m still pain-free but I really cannot push it! I cannot risk needing more surgery.

We started talking about whether I need an incentive…for every week I’m “good” and stick to the slow build up plan, is there anything that would help me stay focused? We discussed all sorts of things but it occurred to me, what more incentive do I need than to look after my health?

Why do we always need incentives? When people are giving up smoking, it’s suggested they put the money they would have spent on cigarettes in a jar so that they can spend it on a big holiday or some new clothes, there has to be something to aim for. It’s the same with people trying to lose weight, for every pound, there has to be some material reward. Reducing the chances of long term life limiting illnesses just isn’t enough!

Our health gains are intangible and it’s like they’re just not enough.

I’m so proud of my 60-something mum who has just completed a couch-to-5k program and has done a couple of Parkruns, being one of the fastest women in her age category! That’s what I want to be doing in 30 years time, but I won’t be if I don’t look after my bones and my joints now, what more incentive do I need?!

Seriously, if I want the best chance of avoiding further surgery and to be running in my 60s, I need to take it slow and steady so that’s what I’m going to do, no other incentive necessary!

Why body confidence is important and what we can do about it

As someone who’s suffered from anorexia, I get fed up with people thinking it’s all about vanity. Thinking you look so ugly that you want to stop existing is so much more serious than taking excessive pride in one’s appearance. Vanity is about loving your looks, anorexia is about considering your worth in relation to how badly you’ve treated yourself (ie you’re worth more if you’ve starved yourself to lost weight).

Body confidence is a massively underestimated subject.

Parents often observe their toddlers having fun with their looks, they like dressing up, putting on Mum or Dad’s shoes or having their face painted, they might look ridiculous but they also look incredibly cute as they laugh and smile at themselves in the mirror, often even kissing the mirror in shear delight at how they look.

At what age does this stop? At what age do we gradually slide down the pit into hating how we look, poking bits of our body in disgust, looking at portions of our body and planning how to get rid of it?

Body confidence isn’t about how you look, it’s about the way you think you look.

Here are a few stats about why, what young people think about how they look, is important:

  • 6/10 girls are choosing not to do something because they don’t think they look good enough
  • 31% of teenagers withdraw from classroom debate because they don’t want to draw attention to the way that they look
  • On days when they don’t feel good about the way they look, 1/5 skip class
  • If a young person doesn’t think they’re thin enough they will score lower grades than their peers who are not concerned with looks. This is data has been gathered from Finland, the US and China, and it is true regardless of how much you actually weigh. This is probably true across the world but not enough research has been done into this area.

This continues into adulthood as 17% women would not show up at a job interview on a day when they weren’t feeling confident about the way they look.

Low body confidence is known to lead to:

  • Taking less physical activity
  • Eating less fruits and vegetables
  • Low self esteem
  • Being more easily influenced
  • A higher risk of depression

People with low body confidence are more likely to use alcohol, drugs, cosmetic surgery, unhealthy weight control practices that can lead to eating disorders, unprotected earlier sex and self harm in order to make themselves feel better.

So what do we need to do about it?

1. Educate for body confidence in schools. There are 6 core themes that need to be addressed:

  • Teasing and bullying
  • How we talk about appearance
  • The influence of family, friends and relationships
  • Media and celebrity culture
  • Competing and comparing looks
  • Respecting and looking after yourself

2. Be better role models – as adults we need to be mindful about what we say and do. We need to think about how we compliment each other and in particular what we post on social media.

3. Work together – this isn’t an issue we can leave to schools to deal with, we need to work together in communities, at a government level and in the work place to improve body confidence for all.

We need to work towards ensuring we:

  • Value ourselves for for who we are and what we do rather than how we look
  • Value individuality, each one of us is unique and that’s beautiful

How do I believe in a God who allows suffering?

We are all too painfully aware of suffering and if we are touched by it we are bound to ask questions, we generally want to know why it’s happening?

If God exists, maybe there are a few possibilities, either:

  • he is not all powerful or
  • he is not all loving or
  • he just doesn’t care/can’t be bothered/is lazy.

I do not believe in a God who causes suffering, nor do I believe in a God who actively wants us to be in pain or sits back watching us in pain.

My experience

I have been to some of the darkest places on earth through suffering the torture of depression. At times, my mind was so broken that I could not see a way through the emotional pain so the only way it was going to stop was if I ended my life. Some people have experienced physical or spiritual pain that has taken them to a similar place.

I believe in a God who knows my pain, a God who experiences my pain with me. I am his child, when I’m in pain, his heart breaks.

I also believe God has experienced the ultimate pain of seeing his one and only Son be put to death for crimes he did not commit. And it’s by his wounds I believe I am free (but that’s another blog).

Illness and healing

When it comes to illness, the fact is, our bodies go wrong. What’s fantastic about our bodies is that they often get stronger as they heal. Healed muscle fibres are stronger, this would not happen if little tears didn’t happen.

When my mind was sick, I could have wished (prayed) for instant healing but I never did. When I could think rationally I knew the recovery journey would be worth it and make me stronger.

Our bodies are incredibly complex machines that require very fine balances to function, things will go out of balance for all sorts of reasons, some things we can control (and we chose not to at times), others we can’t.

Perfect isn’t so simple

Some could say that God should have made our bodies perfect and that they should not go wrong. Christians believe everyone of us is made in the image of a God and that we are all perfect in his eyes. Creating a “perfect” world is not as simple as is sounds. For example:

  • Would the body contain water? Vital for life as we know it but only a small amount is capable of drowning.
  • Would the body contain bacteria? Vital for digestion but can also cause deadly diseases.
  • Do we want a body that can experience pain? If we do not feel pain we would not withdraw our hand from the hot iron, nor would we know if we’d swollowed a fish bone.
  • We’ve been given wonderfully beautiful minds that have invested medicines and make great technological advances but we also use our intelligence to make weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

If everything was good and perfect all the time we would have no concept of good or perfect. How would we know things were good if we had nothing to compare it to?

Turning despair on its head

Some people are able to look at their disability or illness in such a way that it is a gift. To some this may sound very bizarre. It is a fact that mental illness exists, if I had not suffered, I would not feel passionate about raising awareness about injustices, stigma and discrimination. I have met a whole new world of people, some of the kindest and gentlest people I know. If I had not gone through therapy I would not have developed such clear understanding of how my mind works and my relationships wouldn’t have gained the benefits.

God as a parent figure

Some people find it helpful to think of God as a parent figure. Let’s consider the parent who protects their child from everything. These children are not allowed to play in the stream, they do not tear their trousers, they never graze their elbows, these children will not develop a healthy immune system. Children wrapped in cotton wool are not allowed to play conkers or tag, they do not watch upsetting TV programmes, are protected from anything that might hurt them physically or mentally and do not develop skills to assess risk and take responsibility for their actions.

My parents gave me opportunities to make choices, sometimes I have made wrong choices and these have harmed me, I have learnt far more powerful lessons from these times than if I’d just been told what I should and shouldn’t do. My Father God has done the same, I am glad I am free to take risks, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow. He has gifted me with free will.

Free will

God has overcome evil but he has given human beings free will to follow Satan if they choose to. God asks us to choose him but he cannot force us to, otherwise it would not be true free will.

So, if we accept that stuff happens, whether it’s illness or poor decisions, surely God can just put things right when they go wrong? The way I see it is that we would not learn to look after ourselves if someone else could automatically click their fingers every time we stuffed up.

Something God does offer, to help us through the tough times, is a unique relationships with him.

Who am I to say?

When we object to suffering we are suggesting that we have the right to decide what is right and wrong. But who are we to decide that our right is right and our wrong is wrong? One person’s right could be another person’s wrong. We’re all aware of the saying that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Even between my husband and I (who agree on most things) have opposing views regarding WMD (called a nuclear deterrent when we want to deminish their destructive nature). My black and white belief is that they are evil and every single one should be (safely) destroyed, my husband has more grey views, believing they are a political necessity (but would not have them in an ideal world). Who am I to say my view is any more right than my husband’s?

Perhaps we should take responsibility

When it comes to natural disasters, have you ever wondered why we build settlements on faultlines or in the shadow of a volcano? Why, as a world, do we allow the poorest of our world to live in the most dangerous places, meaning not only their homes but their lives are at risk? Why do we jump into action when the disaster happens, running crisis plans, blaming and getting angry at God for allowing it to happen? Why do we not act before the disaster happens? Why do we not use our intelligence and moral compass to declare dangerous sections of the world uninhabitable and make sure every single person in the world has a safe place to live?

I’m not saying it’s easy, nor do I have all the answers, these are just a few of my humble thoughts about how I make sense of it.

In conclusion I believe God chooses to use his power wisely, he does not callously decide some people will be in pain while others will be spared. When in the midst of suffering we may think things are simple but if we’re able to step back and consider the bigger picture, the subject of suffering is not as black and white as it feels. My experience is that God loves us so much, he offers himself as a companion in the pain, he doesn’t just watch us, he experiences it with us and carries us if we ask him to.

A broken world will throw trials at us, we have God given freedom to choose to go through our trials with him or without him.

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

barriers#2

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? Or, are you just using the word you were brought up with, with no judgment of someone who uses any other word?!

Definitions can be found in dictionaries, but the real meaning can only be found when considered in social context. For a lot of people, they hear “mental health” or “mental illness” 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 who has X condition?”. Common feelings are fear and worry, usually based on inaccurate beliefs. I, however, most often feel empathy.

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…a few days may be ok, but, a week? And when the darkness prevails, my gradually my level of functioning diminishes.

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 – I thought to myself “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”.

different

Me, my mental health and God

I’m not one for putting my faith out there too often but in Mental Health Awareness Week with a theme of relationships, for me my relationships with God is one that I cannot miss out.

I think it’s fair to say my mental health has been rather rocky. So has my relationship with God. I was brought up a practising Christian and this has remained constant but as the chemistry within my brain has a pronounced impact on my physical health, so too has it impacted my spiritual health.

For many years, unconsciously, I placed my relationship with food and the troubles I had with my mental health at the centre of my life. Obviously things have been a lot more complicated than that but this meant I was very self centred. It is hard to admit this. Although I had God in my life, I wouldn’t turn to him for help, it was hard to imagine how he could possibly help. I often felt (despite having much support around me) that I had to fight the mental torture on my own.

Having had a powerful spiritual experience as seen in “When my mind broke my body” it occurred to me that since my mental, physical and spiritual health are interlinked and can influence each other negatively, surely, they could influence each other positively too?!

Through research, I came across Helena Wilkinson leading a day on Insight to Eating Disorders at Waverley Abbey – this lead to me attending her week long retreat on Overcoming Eating Disorders at Nicholaston House. With trepidation, thinking I wasn’t actually “ill enough” to be attending I went and it literally changed my life. It was explained that by putting God at the centre of our lives freedom from the all consuming eating disorder could be found.

nicholaston chapel

I found myself in the beautiful circular chapel, on my own, and was overcome by a compulsion to lie flat on the floor – no idea why, but I just had to do it. Looking directly at the ceiling, the simple structure, like the spokes of a wheel demonstrated  to me how simple it was to place God at the centre. This was not going to eradicate my illness but it would be displaced into one of the areas away from the centre.

God’s made himself known in other parts of my life too. Steve wasn’t looking for a divorcee my age who wasn’t sure about children and yet my profile on Christian Connection kept being offered as a possibility. We believe God really knew what he was doing when he brought us together and yet we didn’t ask him to! I also see God in the people around me. Sometimes it’s been a small gesture but it can touch me in a really special way.

When I’ve felt distant from God, I’ve found the parable of the lost sheep helpful. Even if I’m feeling abandoned and disorientated, I know the Good Shepherd will be out searching for me. The idea of God may be intangible so, for me, visual cues are important. I see God in nature etc and during my last hospital stay I put up pictures up to remind me.

lost sheep

You don’t have to be ill to know God. I don’t just turn to God in times of need, I know he carries me when I’m weak but he also celebrates with me when I’m singing and dancing.

6 conundrums of online dating with a mental health diagnosis

find love

Online dating is now the second most common way to meet people (after meeting through friends) and it accounts for over 20% current committed relationships and this number is growing. As an introverted, bottom of the career ladder, divorcee, the  advert practically wrote itself! In a world where “women’s desirability peaks at 21” once I was ready to be thinking about dating again, I was considered over the hill! I’d been in the mental health world for many years, out of work and my self esteem was pretty low. My last relationship had ended with my mental health playing a large role. I’d been hurt when most in pain and it was hard to consider trusting anyone again. I was ambivalent about wanting someone else in my life.

1. Am I ready? I did not want my mental health to dominate a new relationship, nor did I want my unhealthy behaviours to be considered normal but I felt, for my personal recovery journey to continue, having that someone special, just might be the key. I think it’s important not to look for someone who’ll fix you, that won’t work. I was on and off online dating for over a year, tried different sites, met a few people – I just had to take it all as an interesting experience. I think being at the right point is really important. You have to be ok with “putting yourself out there”, it’s important to feel ok with who you are and where you’re at…then start looking. Having said this, if you give it a go and realise you’re not ready, you’ve not lost anything, leave it and go back to it in a few months.

2. Do I put my diagnosis on my profile? If you consider your diagnosis to be part of your identity then yes. If you want to be judged (positively or negatively) because of your diagnosis then yes. If you only want to attract people who understand mental illness right from the start then yes.

I did not want anyone to make contact with me based on my diagnosis i.e. “Ah, she has anorexia, I like skinny girls” – I’m not skinny so this would not work, or “Ah, I know about depression, she’s vulnerable, I’ll look after her” – I do not need looking after, nor is this a good basis for a relationship.

Nor did I want to scare anyone off just because they didn’t understand about mental illness. I like opportunities to spread the word that we (people with a mental health diagnosis) are not aliens or scary, we’re just “normal” people but I couldn’t do that if they rejected my profile before we’d even started chatting!

I took the chance that I might get to know someone and then be rejected, but online dating is about being open minded, giving things a go and just seeing what happens. I am so much more than a diagnosis, it was fun (but really hard!) putting a profile together, it helps you think about what’s really important to you, what makes you tick. I would suggest a mental health diagnosis does not need to define you, it can be something you talk about later (like a cantankerous aunt you have to visit weekly).

3. Would I date someone with a mental health diagnosis? I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I said “no”! But it’s an interesting consideration because 2 people with mental health problems would be a lot harder to manage but we’d certainly have a lot more understanding and empathy for each other. I had to think carefully about people I came across who put their diagnosis in their profile, I wondered whether they considered it part of their identity or whether they were just trying to avoid starting to get to know people who would judge them for it. It did not stop me connecting with them per se but I knew I would only want to get to know someone if they had a similar attitude about their mental illness and recovery as I did (i.e. it did not define them). Of course, someone can become mentally ill later down the road so it’s worth considering when you get into a relationship with anyone – can I stick by this person, no matter what?

online-dating-accounts

4. Do I talk/write about mental health before meeting? I wrote some hints on my profile, such as “has been through some difficult stuff”, so people would know there was more to me than met the eye but I decided not to bring it up unless asked. I would exchange a few emails before meeting just to check out a few basics but to be honest, once the internet has done its thing of enabling paths to cross, I’d say meet asap – ultimately a relationship is in person so why put it off?!

5. Do I talk about mental health at the first date? I did not want to avoid the subject for too long, nor did I want it to be this massive “I’ve got something to tell you”. I decided I would look for opportunities to drop it in. I’m very fortunate that my job is mental health related so it’s a very helpful “test” conversation. Another way to drop it in might be to say you’ve just spend an afternoon with a friend who has depression/schizophrenia or whatever, this way you can gradually gauge the reaction and see what conversation arises. I’ve been pleasantly surprised people have often come out with “yeah, I had an episode of depression a couple of years ago” or “yeah, my uncle has schizophrenia” – obviously their previous positive or negative experience will influence how they feel about you sharing your story but there’s nothing you can do about that, you can only be honest about your experiences.

I’d always say it’s important to be open. If you’re asked a straight forward question, answer it! Living with mental illness, it’s easier to hide the truth when stigma and discrimination are rife but if you’re considering a committed long term relationship, this is not the time to keep secrets. 

6. What if I’m rejected because of my mental health? Stuff ’em – they’re not worth it. It’s painful but if you’ve done everything you can to make it work and if they choose to go, let them.

In case you’re interested, I met my husband on Christian Connection and you can read our stroy here

How do you marry someone with a mental health diagnosis?

meant to meet

Dating is tricky, but add the complication of mental illness and it’s even harder! On the road to recovery, while considering dating etc I’d decided I did not want my illness to be part of my future relationships but I also thought that dating and entering into a relationship couldn’t necessarily wait until I was fully recovered. During my recovery I dabbled in on-line dating, it was fun but nothing much to report until I met Steve.

On our first date, an informal drink at a pub, Steve and I agreed to go on a second date, out for a meal. I was desperate to look normal. One big problem – I’d not been out or eaten with anyone but my family for years. I fought with myself because I wanted to challenge myself so, in trepidation (I really liked this guy) I wrote a carefully worded email entitled “In hope I won’t put you off” and explained I’d struggled with anorexia, although most of it was behind me, I have a few hurdles to overcome. I wanted to “be normal” but asked if we could dial it down and if he could pick a restaurant where I could have a salad. That way the actually eating wouldn’t be as tough and I’d just have to tackle the eating out with a relative stranger aspect!

How Steve reacted to this email and therefore our future was in his hands:

How did you feel when you received the email? “It was a mixture of feelings. On one hand, there was the “poor girl, she’s been through so much” reaction. There was the feeling of shock, “could I handle this? How ill is she now? How to I treat/behave around someone with these conditions that I know NOTHING about (especially the anorexia)?”. Then there was the, “stuff it, I can’t be arsed” thoughts (these lasted about 2 seconds). Then, there is the fact that all relationships, especially romantic ones need a lot of hard work and graft (of which I was no stranger to, considering a previous relationship I had been in) and I was prepared to do it, because we had a right giggle on our first date (my fault!)”

“So going forward, I thought I would try and support her, by helping her take baby steps in facing challenges. I think I compared it to a marathon runner, they don’t start by running a marathon, they’d just fail, they start by running around the block. So we changed the plan. I said I’d cook some nibbles at my house and we could watch a film (hoping to take the pressure off the eating side of things). (I cremated the bruschetta, though I still think it was her fault….she kissed me whilst they were cooking!)”

I was used to taking baby steps, hence why I’d suggested a low key restaurant but Steve seemed to instinctively know that even smaller baby steps would help! I’m glad he still agreed we could eat since I didn’t want my old behaviours (of avoiding eating with people) to impact a new relationship.

What resources did you use to react to the email? “Firstly, the reason (in my mind) we didn’t have food at the first date, and only a couple of drinks, was because I was en route to visit my best friend, Tom and his family. I had no idea, she hadn’t suggested food for her own reasons. How stupid did I feel now?!”

“I was with Tom when I received the email and mentioned it to him and his wife. They didn’t really know anything about either depression or anorexia but we bounced a few ideas over together. Other than that, maybe due to the taboo of mental health, I Googled it and came up quite frankly, blank. There was a forum, where I registered and asked the question “how does one cope in this situation?”. They were as good as they could be, ramming home the idea that each situation/diagnosis was as unique as the person who has it. Totally! They also said how good it was I wanted to be with, and help this girl, I’d just met, and not in a patronising way. (The way I saw it, wouldn’t all people do this? It’s just human to want to help the person you like/frankly, want to impress)”

Not everyone is like this – many people would be put off by something they don’t understand. Steve genuinely has no idea how amazing he’s been at helping me (a relative stranger as I was then) through so much.

Why did you not run a mile? “On our first date we had a giggle together. She was (is!) also cute, and seemed keen to go one a second date with li’l ol’ ugly me. I’m not afraid of hard work, and in hind sight those first few months (arguably are the hardest of any relationship) I had lots of emotions ranging the full spectrum, but we grew through it, and learned to communicate early on. Pen and paper worked best for us, I think it started with a letter posted under the toilet door. This set, in my mind, a brilliant foundation for our relationship (if you want to know more, comment below and I’ll elaborate – it’s not anything dodgy!)”

When most distressed I’ve always struggled to talk, I don’t know why, there’s some sort of block. Steve and I realised we could write to each other – might sound odd but it worked 🙂

So, moving on, Steve and I decided we’d give a relationship a bash, this turned into marriage. We’ve dealt with a few issues relating to my health:

What’s been the hardest thing about being in  relationship with someone with a history of depression and anorexia? “Other than eating 2 entire pizzas in Italy in one sitting because she got stressed out in a restaurant?! It’s the helplessness I feel when she’s upset. We started very early on going to her therapist together, something she was keen for me to do. This obviously involved a lot of emotions, and I will never forget one of the very first ones where afterwards we sat in the corridor, her crying inconsolably in my arms for over an hour. I am a man, we are famed for wanting to fix everything, and although I’ve learnt I can’t fix everything I still want to. I’m working on it, but when I can’t do it, I feel helpless, useless, a failure. That’s the hardest thing.”

I hate that my issues impact Steve, I’d rather manage my stuff on my own and prevent it affecting other people but that’s just not feasible! Letting Steve in (to my head) has been so important to our relationship.

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What’s your worst fear and how do you manage it? “The unknown. Frances has had multiple hospital admissions, and some very intense treatment in the past for her illness(es). I’ve not seen her at her worst in this aspect. I’ve seen little dips here and there, but never hospitalisation. I treat every new expression of emotion with suspicion, is she getting ill again? If she is, how will I manage it, what if we have a child (the grand plan) and she gets ill and goes into hospital. How will I cope with that? As Frances will tell you, I am GREAT, the world’s best, at worrying. I worry about everything. To deal with this, I have to simply ignore it. There are no answers. She may not ever get ill again (woohoo!) but she may. I can’t fix it, so I beat it down and ignore that fear, and will have to cross that bridge when we, IF, we get there.”

If Steve’s concerned, he tells me. I’m honest and mostly try to reassure him. For me, I know how hideous being ill is so I’m not afraid of the unknown, I’m afraid of the known! We are doing everything we can to avoid me getting ill again, we talk about everything. If it does happen, I know we will tackle it together.

When considering to marry Frances, did you consider her mental illness? “Yes, when I started thinking about marriage I thought about Frances being ill, being vegetarian and the fact she’d have to put up with my farting in the middle of the night (seriously, I feel sorry for the girl on this one!). I just saw her illness as another thing that needs to be thought about.”

Have you had doubts about marrying Frances? “If I hadn’t, I’d argue I wasn’t human, or honest with myself. The first few months after marriage I felt trapped. Why? Who knows. Truth be told, having lived together for a year before hand, the only thing that had changed was having a piece of paper saying we were married. That was it. So I knew it was just me being irrational. I did some research as to why I’d be feeling like this and apparently it’s very common. So I thought I’d just move on.”

“If you asked me if I’d had doubts due to Frances’ mental health? Not once. It can be a challenge at times, it can be a fear, it can be a pain in the backside. But not a doubt. It has shaped Frances into the woman she is and the woman I love.”

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How will you cope if Frances relapses? “As I’ve said before. I’ve no idea. I have our friends, my family, Frances’ family (who’ve been there before) that I can glean comfort, wisdom and strength from. I have my motorbike that always helps clear my head when I need it to. We have 2 cats who never fail to make us laugh. I know Frances has been to hospital before and has always been discharged so there’s always a light. She is a survivor, not a statistic. She doesn’t want to be ill. All of these things I can hang on to.”

“My biggest fear is about how Frances will feel about me. I will do the only thing I know how to. Be myself. But if she’s that unwell, will she still be able to look me in the face and say “I love you”? If ever she can’t say that due to the numbness of depression, then I will struggle. But I have made sacred promises to Frances, and I am a stubborn ass, and she will break her promises to me before I do (but I know she won’t, because she’s even more stubborn  than I!!)”

I know I will always love Steve but he’s right – mental illness messes with your emotions so there’s no way of knowing (if I get ill) how I will feel or what I will think. If the illness takes over, I hope he can remember that it’s not me. He has my promise that I will fight to recover and I will never break the vows I made before God.

depression nest

What advice would you give anyone in a relationship with someone with a mental illness? “Have ‘you’ time often. I go down the pub most Fridays with my friend Phil, or play xBox with/without my friend. I talk to them about things I’ve found hard. Whether it’s been that Frances hasn’t eaten because she’s feeling fat or she’s come home from work in tears every night (thankfully a new job solved this!). I’ve spoken about it all. I’ve expressed my fears, I’ve not bottled it up.”

“THE bit of advice. The bit that works for mental health, physiological health, relationships, even cooking. Communication! Talk to each other. The “you” time lets you unwind from the stress of things. But doesn’t sort it. Why do you think you are fat even though you fit into clothes I thought small enough to give to a child? Communication isn’t just about the listening, its about the talking too, and about the working through things together. As a junior software engineer, I had the phrase “root cause” rammed into my head, over and over again when bug fixing. Something is wrong, don’t worry about what is broken, worry about what has broken it. (E.g. Bike engine not getting any petrol, you don’t put petrol in the engine, you trace the fuel lines all the way back to the empty fuel tank). Maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t need fixing and just needs to be expressed and WE have to learn how we can enable that expression in an appropriate way. If it can be fixed, often, the only way to figure out how to fix something, is to approach it from a different point of view.  How do you find those points of view? Explore it, with each other, with friends, with professionals, with family, and see what you come up with.”

Final word? “If, like me 3 years ago, you have come across this blog/interview looking of help and advice and/or answers to a new relationship with someone who’s just dropped this bombshell on you (and yes, it is  bombshell the first time of the 20 or 30 times you’ll read that email) ask yourself this. Why are you entering this relationship? It’s hard work. Take the usual hard work of a relationship, and add more into it. I count myself lucky, I entered into the relationship knowing about these illnesses. I’ve had friends who have had these illnesses thrust upon them after marriage. Some are still going strong, some have ended the relationship. It effects everything. Whether it be the knowing what to do about taking meds abroad, or the phone numbers of the CMHT in your phone. To knowing how to comfort this person when they are in tears for seemingly no reason. Everything will change, and your way of thinking will change too, be prepare to get offended by Halloween costume names that normally you wouldn’t think twice about! BUT, and its a huge but, if you stick at it, learn to identify the help your significant other needs, the help you need from both them and the people around you. You build the strongest foundations for the relationship. I love Frances, through and through, and whilst I have had nightmares about what might happen in the future, I wouldn’t change a thing about her. Except maybe persuade her to eat meat, oh and let me have a dog :P”

When my mind broke my body

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TW (some may be adversely affected by the contents of this blog)

10 years ago an illness took me to the darkest place on earth

10 years ago I believed I would be better off dead and suicide was the only option

10 years ago my Dad answered his phone “hello sweet-heart” but a policeman had used my phone to call him, he was told his daughter had jumped off a bridge in an attempt to end her life and was lying broken on the ground

10 years ago my parents drove 30 miles, feeling numb with no idea what they were going to find at the end

10 years ago the surgeons said I should have died

10 years ago I lay broken in a hospital bed, I needed a bone graft to repair my sight, a metal fixation to prevent permanent paralysis and months of bed rest to allow my fractured legs to heal

10 years ago the psychiatrists wanted me to go straight back to the psychiatric unit

But something inside me had changed…my mind was broken, my body was broken but I realised the spirit inside me was still alive…

I had survived when I should have died, I’d been given a second chance, my story wasn’t over…

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In the last 10 years my relationship with God has deepened

In the last 10 years I’ve learnt to live with the consequences of my actions and I manage the chronic pain

In the last 10 years my family have gone above and beyond in the support they’ve given me and some amazing friends have stood by me

In the last 10 years I’ve been through more emotional pain but I’ve learnt how to cope with it, I’ve learnt that crying and being angry are important parts of life

In the last 10 years I’ve been to a therapeutic community, day care, had more hospital admissions and over 100 individual therapy sessions

In the last 10 years I’ve discovered who I am and developed a sense of identity

In the last 10 years I’ve been out of work, in voluntary work and in paid work

In the last 10 years I’ve found my soul-mate and married him

I have no idea what the next 10 years has in store, we may start to build a family in our own home, or these things may not be possible but whatever happens I know the person I am now is equipped to deal with life’s challenges head on!

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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.