Tag Archives: mental illness

My journey through therapy

Over the past few weeks I've been publishing blogs about different types of therapy. I've been very fortunately that the NHS offered me such fantastic opportunities, each therapy helped me understand something new and helped me grow and develop. Every therapy has its pros and cons. If you want therapy on the NHS, depending on the set up in your area, you will need to be referred, either by you GP or via a psychiatrist.

Follow the links to find out more:

Let me know your experiences.

How mindfulness changed my life

I was introduced to mindfulness in the traditional way, practicing the skill with set times for doing a body scan, focusing on the breath or focusing on the dreaded raisin, but this never particularly clicked with me.

I didn't like the way I was taught it and I was very unwell at the time and it just didn't make sense. For example, we did a task of pouring a glass of water and drinking it, I was made to feel bad for daring to state that I had to judge how heavy the jug of water was going to be so that I was able to pick it up, I was told that all judgments were bad. This is of course, not the case!

What mindfulness is not:

  • A form of relaxation
  • New age Buddhist thing
  • A way to get rid of thoughts
  • A way to sort out your problems
  • Meditation
  • Boring
  • Hippy nonsense
  • A waste of time
  • Anti-Christian (or any of faith or religion)

Since I was first introduced to it, I've come a long way and I've come to love elements of mindfulness. I do not sit down and do the formal practice sessions but for me, mindfulness has become a way of life. I try to live mindfully by focusing on what I'm doing in the here and now. How often do we arrive at a destination, having driven there but we have no recollection of the journey? What I do now is concentrate on what I'm doing in the moment, this includes driving but can be applied to any task, from cleaning my teeth to eating to washing up.

What do I mean by "living mindfully"?
I mean I really pay attention to every task I do, I take in the sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes of everything. If I'm brushing my teeth I pay attention to the sound of the water running, the feel of the toothbrush on my gums, the taste and smell of the toothpaste and notice the movement of my wrist and arm as I brush.

Of course, my thoughts wonder all the time, I try to stop this happening but I do not judge myself for struggling to stay focused, if I've got a lot on my mind I'm going to find it hard, this is natural and ok. It's about being gentle with myself, if I find my attention and thoughts straying away, I gentle being myself back to the task in hand.

I hear people saying, "I'm not good at it so I've given up trying", being "no good" is a judgment, it's the judgment that's getting in the way rather than how hard or easy the task is.

The biggest change it's had for me is to stop judging myself. Of course, I still do, I may never be able to break the habit of a lifetime but I do not judge the fact that I judge myself. I know it's unhelpful but if I judge the judging, what's the point in even noticing that it's unhelpful?!

The positive effects mindfulness has had, without this being the "aim":

  • I'm more relaxed
  • My mind is clearer
  • My food tastes better
  • I'm a safer driver
  • I relish the simple things in life
  • I'm more content
  • I'm less easily distracted
  • I'm more compassionate towards myself
  • I know myself better
  • I'm more aware of my feelings
  • I notice how beautiful the world is
  • I accept the things I cannot change
  • I forgive easily
  • I appreciate new experiences


Fundamentalists may say you need to do the formal practices to gain the fullest benefit from it but I say you have to do what suits you. Maybe I don't know what I'm missing and at some point I'll try the formal practices again but for now living mindfully works for me.

My thoughts on To The Bone new Netflix movie

The much anticipated movie, To The Bone, has provoked a lot of attention from people within the eating disorder community.

I would prefer it to have caused more of a stir in people who have no experience of eating disorders but are they going to be the people who watch it?!

It’s so hard that so often, when trying to raise awareness of mental illness, we end up preaching to the converted and it ends up being more about whether it’s been a typical representation or whether anyone’s offended or triggered by it.

What I want is for people who do not know anything about eating disorders to watching this film. It doesn’t show the whole recovery story but it does show the difficulty coming to terms with needing treatment.

People within the eating disorder world are putting people off from watching it, this is probably their aim. I’m not quite sure why other people think their story “better portrays” anorexia or why it’s ok to deliberately trigger yourself and then lash out at the film’s leading lady or director.

By it’s nature Hollywood is glamorous and stories are simplified for entertainment purposes. If we want to use a widely accepted form of media to raise awareness, we have to accept these compromises.

This film will do more to get conversations going than any blog writer and I’m happy to thank them for doing it.

Please don’t watch it if you think you may be triggered, it really is that simple. I know it may not be easy as in recovery we’re all ambivalent but it is a simple yes/no desision about whether to watch it. Maybe shut off social media for a few days to let the hype die down and every time you’re tempted to click yet another To The Bone link, say “no”.

Read more about my thoughts on my Metro blog

The ambivalence of eating disorder recovery 

It’s really hard for people who’ve not experienced an eating disorder to understand the pull towards destruction.

Ambivalence…the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings towards the same person, object or actions, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.

When your life’s completely falling apart, you’re not able to hold down and job, you’re losing friends and you’re feeling physically unwell, how could anyone not grab hold of recovery with both hands and run with it?!

If, however, you’ve lost everything else, the only thing you have left becomes your identity and a place of safety. If you feel like your eating disorder is the only thing you have in the whole world, how could you possibly consider letting it go?

Eating disordered behaviour not only becomes habitual but it’s a compulsive addiction.

Weight restoration is a significant part of anorexia recovery and this, for me, was terrifying. Having spent years trying to lose weight, put my body through all sorts to try and obtain the unobtainable skinny body of my dreams, thinking about throwing all that work away is unbearable. All the professionals who claim they have my best interests at heart are trying to make me fat, how could they not understand that’s the one thing I can’t do?!

It feels impossible to understand when you’re told “you have to put on weight before you can engage with therapy”. Once your weight is below a certain level and you’re body is malnourished, your brain is not receiving enough energy to function to do everyday tasks, let alone process and absorbed any new understanding in therapy.

“But I can’t gain weight unless my head is straightened out”… this feels like an obvious plea as multiple professionals are telling you your medicine right now is food. “How am I mean to eta when every fibre of my being is telling me not to eat?”

That is what anorexia does, it takes over every fibre of your being, it infiltrates every cell and permeates every breath you take. It feels like you become anorexia. I didn’t feel like I existed beyond my anorexia therefore doesn’t it make sense that I wouldn’t want to let it go? That’s the impact it has, that’s what it makes you believe, anorexia is your identity, without it you are no one, you do not exist… 

Now, I didn’t want to exist, part if my anorexia was about losing so much weight that I would disappear but there was a tiny part of me hanging onto life. In an odd way, although anorexia was killing me, it was also enabling me to hang onto life. When i stopped and thought about my life and what a mess it was, ending my life was an appealing option but focusing on avoiding food and losing weight gave me a purpose.

The first step towards recovery is putting more faith in the people around you than in the anorexia that’s been with you for many months and helped you cope with all that life throws at you. This is quite a tall order. The leap of faith feels impossible.


As I started making progress towards recovery, it felt like the anorexia fought back, as though, it felt threatened. The voice I heard in my head began shouting louder, it continued to tell me I had to lose weight. How do you keep following the meal plan when day in, day out, you’re being told how fat you are, you’re eating too much, your greedy and you should engage in all behaviours to lose weight?

I had so many questions, if let go of my anorexia, who will I be? What will I do? What else will I think about? It felt like I would be nobody and I would be completely empty but as my recovery journey developed, I learnt who I was and things naturally became part of my life. 

How could I stop weighing myself multiple times per day?…then I wouldn’t know how much I weigh

How could I start eating chocolate?…what if I enjoy it?

How could I eat food if I didn’t know how many calories were in it?…then I wouldn’t know how much to restrict the next day

How could I stop exercising?…how would I know how much food I’d earnt?

I confess, when I was in a full blown eating disorder intense recovery programme, I would engage in searching for the web for hints and tips about how to “stay anorexic”, how to stop the hunger pangs without eating, what foods had the fewest calories, how to exercise when exhausted and on the verge of fainting, it’s all there and it’s down right dangerous.

The ambivalence is unbearable, desperately wanting to recover but also, desperately not wanting to recover. I could see the pain I was causing those around me, I honestly did want to recover so I could live a “normal” life but at the same time, I wanted to lose more weight and cling onto certain aspects of my anorexia.

The lack of energy you have when starving yourself makes the fight even harder. The recovery journey is tough and the tougher it gets the easier it feels just to stay indulging in anorexic behaviour. It gets even scarier when you get to the point when anorexic behaviours arent second nature anymore, what now? I thought, “if I’m not anorexic but I’m not recovered, what am I?”. At this point the feelings of failure are rife. Feeling like a “failed anorexic” is all too common but feeling like you’ve failing at life is also a tough obstacle to overcome. At this point, it feels like there’s no way back but the way forward feels equally impossible.

I did make it though, I did put faith in the professionals, I started listening to my body, when it was hungry I would feed it, when it was tired I let it rest. The signals are mixed at first, hunger pangs are confused with feeling full, tiredness gets confused with a lack of motivation. I found it really hard, I’d spent so long ignoring my body I had a brain-body disconnect so initially trusting the professionals and going through the motions was all I could do. I had to trust that they’d been through this more often than I had! It does help when you hear it from people who’ve actually lived through it, when recovering I found it helpful to speak online to people at various stages of recovery.

For me, therapy was the most important part of my recovery but it couldn’t have engaged fully in it until I was nourishing my brain fully. I tried to kid myself that I could sort my brain out while still starving myself but I was wrong.

I may not be totally happy with my body but now I nourish my brain I’m able to think more objectively about it and see that now, my life is full of all sorts of other things that wouldn’t have had space if I’d not let go of my anorexia.

Me, my self harm and my scars

I feel incredibly strongly that self harm is an important topic to talk about. Not only because it is on the increase in schools (and talking about it is the only way to prevent it) but I wish to break down the stigma, misundstanding and controversy surrounding the topic.

Don’t get me wrong, I find it a very difficult topic to open up about, I feel sad that I’ve used it as a coping mechanism and I’m gutted that I have to live with my history on show but we have to start talking about it somehow!

Read more about my story here: http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/19/my-history-of-self-harm-has-left-me-with-scars-but-i-see-them-as-a-mark-of-my-survival-6686564/ 

This is my dream

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is Surviving or Thriving. I absolutely love this, to me it’s making the point that so many people miss. Getting through a mental illness is all about surviving, surviving the illness itself, surviving what the illness takes away from you, surviving the mental health system and more. 

But once on the road to recovery (which I truely believe is possible for everyone) it really is about finding how to thrive. Many people get stuck in survival mode and I want to cry out to them, you can do better, there is more out there for you, I promise.

I want to be an example, dare I say, an inspiration, that survival in possible.

When your mind is sick and all around you is black, it can feel like there is no hope, like you’re all alone and no one has ever felt as bad as you feel before. I have been there, I have been in deep dark depression and debilitating anorexia. At times I’ve been so stuck in my head my behaviour has made no sense at all. I’ve been in that place where you make the same mistakes over and over again, desperately hoping something will magically solve itself.

But I survived, I fought my way to freedom.

It is wonderful to be positive about the possibility of freedom from mental illness but sometimes there’s an added dimension that makes recovery far harder than just taking medication and forging a few new neural pathways (if that wasn’t hard enough!).

Eating disorders, in particular, are incredibly difficult to recover from because as they are a coping mechanism and therefore there’s a big part of the sufferer that does not actually want to recover. This can be really hard to admit, and nearly impossible for other people to understand. I argued with myself, I was going through hell, I hated what was going on, so, of course I wanted to get better but a big part of me was holding onto (what felt like) a safe coping mechanism.

So, I want to be a warning.

I have recently spent some time thinking about what my mental illness took away from me.

Sufferers are all too aware of how much we lose to our illness but at times we can be so embroiled in the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we become blind to the scale of the impact.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. – Beat

I’m fortunate that I’m here to tell my story, however…

I have problems with my bones, colon and stomach, I have fibromyalgia and could be infertile. I have to have frequent blood tests which often show deficiencies and I continue to take medication and undergo other treatments including operations to manage the various conditions. Consequences other people face include ongoing liver, kidney or even heart problems, with eating disorders, no body system is left untouched.

If you or someone you know is struggling to break free, I implore you to do everything you can to find that tiny part that does want things to be different and hold on tight! Things will only be different if you try something different. 

Surviving mental illness takes effort, thriving takes something else!

Thriving at life isn’t easy, the truth is, life’s hard – I don’t think anyone would deny that! I have to work hard at the little things, being spontaneous, using the phone, knowing how to take care of myself, smiling when I have no energy and being socialable when I don’t want to. That feeling “stop the world I want to get off!’ – I get that a lot! But I’ve discovered the things I like, I know what makes me happy and I make sure I take time out of life.

When making my way back into the world of work I did some volunteer work to a) find out what I was good at and b) find out what I liked. Trying new things with no strings attached is fun and liberating! It became fairly obvious that my forte was going to be in the mental health world, my personal experience built on my background education. Since then I’ve been gaining experience in a variety of settings and more than anything I’m enjoying writing 🙂

There is no definition of thriving, you are not going to know when you’ve ticked that box and that can be tough! It’s a journey not a destination!

My dream is that people can see that I can recovered and have hope that they can develop their own version of recovery, I want those struggling with the pull of addictive behaviours to find the desire to break free and I want those stuck in survival mode to break free and find how to thrive in their unique way.

What’s the point of raising mental health awareness?

I’m really excited to see the The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge and The Prince of Wales heading up the Heads Together mental health campaign. Only good can come from talking more about mental health and ‘celebrity’ status can aid this.


They’ve brought together The Mix, Place2Be, Contact, Mind, CALM, Best Beginnings, Anna Freud and Young Minds so let’s hope this campaign does the business and gets everyone talking about mental health the way us Brits talk about the weather! (Maybe not, that would be weird!!)

It is great that Heads Together is the charity of the year for the London Marathon and I’m really excited everyone is wearing the #HeadsTogether headbands but will anyone know what it’s all about and why we need to get everyone talking about mental health? What are we actually going to talk about when we get started? Here’s what I want to say, I’m sure many others with mental illness would echo my words:

  1. My mental health diagnosis doesn’t mean I can’t work. Everyone has skills and experience to offer the work place, it is an employer’s duty to offer reasonable adjuastments to enable people to work despite a diagnosis. Please do not discriminate against me, I am not my illness.
  2. Just because my illness is hidden I should not be made to feel ashamed or guilty nor should I feel I have to prove or justify my illness because people assume I’m making it up.
  3. Sometimes my mind makes me behave out of character, please forgive me, don’t judge me.
  4. It’s ok to talk to me about mental health, it’s not catching, it does not make you weak. The only way we’re going to reduce stigma is if we make it a normal and natural thing to talk about.
  5. Caring for someone with a mental health diagnosis is tough, carers need support too.
  6. Mental health education in schools is vital, early diagnosis means recovery is more likely.
  7. Recovery is different for everyone. Some people need to stay on medication for life, some people need therapy on and off for life. Not everyone will be in full time paid work but striving for recovery means an illness can be managed and a meaningful life can be found.


So, however we do it and whoever does it, raising awareness of mental health issues is important and these are some key messages. We can use all the gimmicks and celebrity endorsement we like but we must remember key messages we’re trying to communicate!

Survey reveals referral rates need to improve

As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorders charity, asked nearly 1700 people, (1420 of which had an eating disorder, the others knew someone close to them with an eating disorder) about their experience with GPs.

I took part in this survey to get my voice heard and it seems many people feel the same way I do…

The survey revealed that half of sufferers rated their experience as “poor” or “very poor”. Of people who would have benefitted from immediate psychological support 3 in 10 were not referred to specialised services.

More than half of the sufferers felt their GP didn’t understand them and only one third (34%) thought their doctor knew how to help them.

Only 20% of patients came away from their appointment with information about eating disorders and services that could help them.

It will have taken many of these people months if not years to have reached the point of asking for help, the courage to make the appointment, get through the door and start talking about their problem would have taken such courage, to be turned away with nothing is very worrying.



Why is early referral so important? Simple – recovery rates improve.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses and currently, of those who live, many remain chronically ill. The sooner someone is referred for specialist support the higher their chances of full recovery.

It is important to work out why these vital referrals aren’t happening…

I do not want to come across as GP bashing, there is no way that some of the most caring people in our society are deliberately denying people the support and treatment they need. Andrew Radford, Beat’s Chief executive believes medical students, hoping to become GPs, need more training. I went to medical school, the shear volumes of information you need to absorb is vast. Maybe it’s not just about “recognising the signs and symptoms” as Mr Radford put it, maybe there’s more to it.

When I went to the GP as a 15 year old, I was not referred. I was not given any information. I did not receive the help I needed. It was hard enough just getting through the door but there is no way of turning back the clock to find out why. Maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough? Maybe there should be more eduction in schools so I was more equipped when I went to my GP?

My experience was 20 years ago but the Beat survey reveals this is still happening today. Is it the “old school” doctors who aren’t keeping up to date with training? Do newer GPs need more training? Are GPs/secondary services using out-dated/overly stringent criteria as referral criteria e.g. BMI? Is there an inaccurately held belief that if you refer someone there’ll develop an eating disorder where there wasn’t one? Are GPs so overworked, although they know the signs and symptoms to looks out for, they miss them? Do they think, “if it’s that serious they’ll come back”? Do patients go with too many problems and the GPs are distracted by other issues they consider more important? Do doctors not have enough times to refer people? Are doctors unaware of what secondary care is available? Do GPs think the secondary care is inappropriate/unhelpful? Is the mental health stigma still getting in the way?

We really need to get to the bottom of what is going wrong in the consultations where people are not getting what they need.

Perhaps some positive news is that once some of the sufferers swapped GPs (as nearly 1 in 6 did) they reported receiving the help they needed. When I approached a GP in my 20s I’m very glad to say I’ve had much better support. By this time I was a lot sicker, my GP had to persuade me to access the secondary and then tertiary services, she was excellent. Since then, I’ve moved a couple of times and each time, I’ve had a mixed experience with GPs. It’s been very difficult to find what I need but each time, with some perseverance I’ve found a GP with the right skills and experience to support me. Maybe I am a tricky/difficult patient but I’m definitely not alone with these feelings as the Beat research reveals.


Somehow we need to make sure that every single one of the 725,000 people in the U.K. affected by an eating disorder gets the support and treatment they need to recover.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more information:

Independent.co.uk

Full results of Beat survey

Back on medication – have I failed?

Some of you will know, this time last year I was gradually coming off my psychiatric medication. I’d been on medication most of my adult life, I was still in therapy but I felt it was the right time to give it a go. If you’ve been on medication a long time it can be hard to tell if you still need it. The only way to be sure is to try coming off them in a controlled way and see if symptoms return. I did this, I came off everything very gradually, keeping a careful track of how I was feeling and what thoughts I was having. Soon after, my therapy came to an end and all seemed to be going well.

Unfortunately, my physical health in 2016 has taken a bad turn. I’ve had to see specialist after specialist as one organ system after another started going wrong. I was having numerous tests, appointments and procedures. For a time I was managing to keep positive and take it in my stride but there was only so much I could take and I started noticing symptoms of mental illness creeping back in. In an appointment with my GP I was updating her on all the hospital appointments I’d had and talking about test results etc, I was trying to hold it together but eventually the tears started falling. I then explained the other symptoms I was struggling with.

zebra

We had both been keeping an eye on my mental health as it’s common for physical health problems to take their toll on ones mental health and so at this point we discussed going back on medication. I felt disappointed about the prospect but I made the tough decision to give it a go and see if it could help. Starting on a low dose, of course, and stepping it up gradually until I felt a benefit.

woman-with-head-in-hands-e1449085629223

Initially this felt like a failure, I’d worked so hard to remain stable but I’ve managed to re-frame how I see it and I now don’t see it as a failure. In fact, noticing my symptoms and flagging up the problems earlier rather than later is an achievement for me. If the chemicals in my brain are out of balance again, surely it’s sensible to try and put this right? My old habit was to ignore it for as long as possible and hope it would sort itself out but this landed me in hospital too many times! If someone breaks their leg, you don’t expect them to walk around on it, ignoring the pain, we’d all advise them to have it x-rayed and put in plaster. It’s the same with mental illness, it’s important to find the right treatment.

Fortunately, this time, it seems we’ve spotted the signs early enough and the medication is helping.

Like all medications it’s important you’re not on them if it’s not necessary. We’ve all heard about the antibiotic crisis, over treating can have a devastating effect. It is important that anti-depressants and the like are not taken lightly without thinking about therapy and lifestyle changes as well. Also, we need to give careful consideration to any unwanted side effects. It’s also been much trickier for me this time as we’ve had to consider the interactions with all the physical health medication I’m now taking.

tablets

I do not want to be on psychiatric medication longer than necessary so when things settled down I will consider coming off them again. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. But, I’m not going to beat myself up or apologise for putting my hand up and saying “I need some additional support just now”.

shutterstock_104302670

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!