Tag Archives: mental wellbeing

Is social media causing more stress than it’s worth?

The idea behind social media is brilliant, it connects us. Initially it was that simple, maintaining connections between people who’re friends in real life or building virtual relationships between people who may never, otherwise, meet.

But it seems to have taken on a life of its own, making demands on us to present a specific “public friendly” version of ourselves, we get caught up in how many ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and ‘follows’ we’ve had and it makes 41%* of us feel lonely. That doesn’t sound right!

For Mental Health Awareness Week, PushON, an eCommerce agency, conducted a survey asking all about social media, how it makes us feel and how it impacts our mental health.

In 27 – 64%* of us, social media evokes feelings such as resentment, sadness, anxiety and jealousy and it makes 48% of us feel self-conscious.#

We’ve had to invent a word for that special photo that’s usually filtered – the infamous selfie!

We’re feeling awfully confused about social media, many feel concerned about being over monitored or ‘spied’ upon in the evolving technological world, yet we worry that no-one will pay attention to or ‘like’ what we post.

I’ve had a mixed relationship with social media. When I’ve been less inclined to leave the house (as a depressed introvert, it’s an easy place to end up!) it’s been a way of keeping in touch with the world and interacting with people at a comfortable distance.

Social media is great at connecting people with similar experiences, I wouldn’t have met these people without social media but I developed relationships that boosted my recovery as we were ‘in it together’!

28% of people say they feel motivated by social media and 43% feel happy while using it.*#

As I recovered from anorexia I had amazing support from the Berkshire Eating Disorders Service and their Support, Hope and Recovery Online Network (SHaRON!). I didn’t have to sit awkwardly in a room and do ‘group therapy’ – I just logged on whenever, wherever – not only getting the support (from therapists and fellow sufferers) when battling my way through a bowl of soup but also giving support – this 2 way process was important.

But at the same time, there are some negatives! How many of us can say our facebook statuses give an accurate picture of our life? At any given time, a Facebook wall could be covered in wedding, sonogram and baby pics – giving the impression everyone is either planning babies, having babies or caring for babies and all of this is shiny and happy. We all know this is no-where near the truth! Most people aren’t thinking about babies or children at all and those that are, are stressed out about it, rather than it all being smiles and laughter!

Mental illness is great at making us feel isolated, alone and completely incapable of doing life, the biased Facebook wall can compound these feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people shouldn’t share photos of their exciting moments. When unwell, it’s important to hold onto the fact that people do not write “struggled to out of bed today” or “washed my hair then watched TV”. Like good news rarely makes the newspapers, bad or neutral news doesn’t hit the Facebook status!

What’s more, while most of us are posting the edited highlights, 36%* of people admit they’re somewhere between ‘jazzing up’ their online profile and it being a complete lie.

Although social media can have a negative impact at times, 63% believed taking social media away would have a negative impact on them (with 1% believing they would feel heartbroken!)

There’s no debate, it’s here to stay, perhaps we all need to be careful, be clear about how we use it and don’t let it become a source of unrest or unhappiness – this is our choice to make!

*All stats from a survey of 1000 adults in the UK carried out by PushON, an eCommerce agency. (# Participants could choose multiple feelings). Survey carried in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Week.

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When we stop talking about our pain

The other day, I read something that really struck home:

“You don’t learn to live with pain, you just learn to stop talking about it”

When an injury first occurs or before a chronic illness is diagnosed, we talk about our symptoms, if they’re worrying us, we have no problem saying “I’ve got a splitting headache again” or “My tummy ache’s not going away” or “The cold really affects my joints” but once you’ve got a diagnosis and are managing (with medication or otherwise) as best as you can, there seems little point to keep going on about it…this is something that seems to happen naturally but it’s a tricky thing that isn’t always the best thing.

One of my husband’s friends was having terrible back trouble a while back, as fellow Christians we were praying for him as he made decisions about treatment including the possibility of invasive surgery. After a while, I asked my husband how his friend was, he said he didn’t know – we didn’t know if that was because his back was better (unlikely) or he’d just stopped talking about it.

I have chronic pain in my neck, back and shoulders and have done for many years. This is due to spondylosis in my spine and fibromyalgia affecting all joints and soft tissues. Spondylosis is diagnosed with MRI and is a degenerative bone condition causing pain, including periods of inflammation and osteophyte (bone spur) growth, which press on nerves etc. Fibromyalgia is a condition diagnosed by ruling out all other connective tissue disorders which causes tender/trigger points and generalised pain and fatigue. I also have arthritis in my ankles which causes pain with every step I take.

I used to complain quite a lot, the conditions I have are difficult to manage, especially in someone “so young”, as my orthopaedic surgeon told me! I take regular pain killers, do physio, do regular exercise, get regular sleep and do relaxation techniques.

The other day my husband asked how my pain was, commenting that I’d not said anything about it for a while. I said that it was ‘as usual’ – I hate complaining, and I hate lying so it just is what it is!

I have come to realise I may have a low pain threshold (ie I feel pain sooner than someone else) but I have an incredibly high pain tolerance – I can put up with a lot of pain and still go about my daily life, not that it doesn’t bother me, just that I don’t let it stop me. This, of course, take a lot of energy which contributes to the fatigue I get anyway!

I find it difficult to talk about my pain as most people, when they hear about it, want to help in some way, or at least say something useful, sympathetic or supportive. But there isn’t really anything anyone can say or do to help. If I do mention it, it generally feels quite awkward and I defer to lying, along the lines of “it’s fine, I’m managing ok” or “I have good days and bad days” – which is technically true but my good days are still about 5-6/10 on the pain scale…

Normal for me is pretty bad but who wants to hear that every time I see them?!

If I don’t talk about it, people don’t realise that I’m suffering, assume I’m fine and don’t understand when I need to leave events to go to bed, if I’m distracted or if I don’t offer to help (set up tables, move chairs etc). I worry that people won’t believe me because I ‘look normal’ or they will just think I’m lazy or a flake!

The thing is, I can act normal, as I did the other day in breakaway training at work, but I pay for it afterwards. That evening, I could hardly think, my head felt like it was completely split open, my shoulders and arms were stiff and I coulnd’t move them without excruciating pain. Hot pokers and crushing vices could probably reproduce the pain fairly accurately.

I have read some fabulous books by Paul Brand and Philip Yancy about how we’re meant to listen to our pain, not get angry about it or wish we didn’t have it – it tells us something is wrong, if we didn’t feel it we wouldn’t pull our hand away from the flame or take care of a brewing illness.

Unfortunately when it comes to fibro, the thing that’s wrong is the pain communication system – this means, I feel pain when I shouldn’t. Pain from spondylosis is due to physical degeneration or deformities – I listen to my pain and do not push my body beyond it’s limits too often but it’s incredibly frustrating when my brain is active and wants to be doing, but my body just can’t.

I’m not looking for people to feel sorry for me (that’s fairly pointless!) – I’m just saying it how it is.

So it’s a difficult balance, talking about the pain doesn’t solve anything and makes other people feel helpless or awkward, not talking about it means people don’t know the truth, may think I’m rude or acting strangely.

So, perhaps we should try to remember, if someone has a chronic condition, no matter what it is, diabetes, arthritis, mental illness, bowel or kidney disorders, they are managing it every single day. They may not talk about it but that doesn’t mean they’re fine, it doesn’t mean they’re not suffering just as much as when they do talk about it, all it means is that today, they’re not talking about it.

Sometimes I wish my conditions were more visible but most of the time I’m glad I can choose who I tell. I guess, my health is my business and I maybe I shouldn’t worry about what other people think.

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

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 get to the point where I want to recover?

Having written about being ambivalent about eating disorder recovery, this is a natural question to ask.

For people who don't understand why someone with an eating disorder wouldn't want to recovery, please read here.

It was my ambivalence to eating disorder recovery that got in the way of a lot of therapies that I tried. I would put all my energy into the therapy but recovery just wasn't happening because, underneath it all, I didn't want to recover.

I was very fortunate to come across a therapist who asked me "do you want to want to recover?" No-one had ever asked me this, no-one had ever said, no matter how long that sentence is, if you want to want to want to want to recovery, that's a good enough place to start.

So many people find themselves in limbo, they have a sort-of-life mixed with sort-of-functioning-anorexia. But still they wonder about recovery, what it is and what it could look like but remain stuck.

Ok, so if we establish that there's a small bit of you that's interested in getting to the point where you want to recover, it's about looking at what makes you want to get to that point?

I can only talk about my experience. I'll be honest, every minute of every day, while I was unwell, my interest in recovery fluctuated. It wasn't a smooth linear progression and there's no point in pretending it was, this wouldn't be fair.

I did a few things throughout my recovery:

I was honest about why I was holding onto my eating disorder:

  1. I rated thinness over everything else in life.
  2. Getting fat (restoring my weight) felt impossibly terrifying.
  3. I kept me "safe" – I could avoid social events etc.
  4. I could be excused from life whenever I wanted.
  5. It gave me a framework for making decisions (i.e. choosing foods on the lowest calorie content and doing activities that used the most calories).
  6. I liked the identity and I didn't know who I'd be without it.
  7. Recovery looks too hard.
  8. I'm such a bad/evil/fundamentally flawed person, I don't deserve recovery/happiness/freedom.
  9. I thought I'd done too much damage to myself and my life to bother trying.

Once we're honest with ourselves, we can start to be curious about what it all means.

I looked at the negatives of being unwell:

  • I wasn't taking a full part in life.
  • I was letting people down.
  • I experienced poor physical health (tiredness, coldness, lumbago, anaemia, aches and pains).
  • The only thing that made me happy was the number on the scale going down.

I thought about what professionals were telling me:

  • I was unwell (even if I didn't think I was).
  • I was damaging my body.
  • I was putting my life at risk.
  • Recovery was possible.
  • A better, more for-filling, happier life was possible and I deserved it.

I thought about how arrogant it was of me to rate my thoughts and beliefs above those of the professionals. If I ever didn't think I was sick enough or thin enough to deserve treatment, I thought of all the people who were sitting on waiting lists and realised the professionals wouldn't waste their time on me if I didn't need or deserve their help! I often checked out with professionals if they wanted to see me, probably sounds hideously manipulative but I needed to know they really wanted to help.

I imagined some positives of recovery:

  • I'd discover who I really was.
  • My physical health would improve.
  • I could enjoy "bad foods" – actually, maybe no food would be bad!
  • I could go on holiday/eat out and fully participate without fear.
  • I could help other people recover and believe what I was saying.
  • I'd choose a life I wanted rather than one anorexia dictated – this was really scary since I had no idea what I wanted but I had to have faith this would come

I looked at whether my reasons for holding on were valid:

  1. I'd be happy if I could rate something else over thinness (I didn't know what it would be but the possibility of valuing something else was appealing)
  2. The reality is, weight restoration is not about getting fat (even if Ana screams this everyday). Weight restoration is purely and simply about nourishing my body adequately for health
  3. What is "safe" about starting myself? (Yes, it feels psychologically safe but in reality it's killing me)
  4. I could learn assertiveness so I didn't have to use my eating disorder as an excuse.
  5. Learning my likes a dislikes could be exciting! Instead of choosing an apple due to it's calorific value, I could choose chocolate, just because I fancied it!
  6. As scary as losing the 'ill' identity was, the reality of people feeling sorry for me or treating me differently was tiresome. Recovery could give me the opportunity to choose an identity. I could be defined by my job, my achievements or my hobbies.
  7. Yes, recovery is hard but I had people offering help and they were telling me I was strong enough to do it.
  8. I had people telling me I did deserve recovery. If I was such a bad person, why would anyone stick by me?
  9. Continuing to think "what's the point of trying" just isn't sustainable. I tried this a few times, i.e. Disengaging with services etc but it doesn't have a happy ending.

It's very common for people with anorexia to feel they're not sick enough to start recovery. Sufferers feel they've not been a "good enough" anorexic if they've not been tubed or not reached a certain BMI, but everyone's experience is different. It's always worth considering what you'd say to friend in this situation. If they were saying "I'm not sick enough", would you say "yeah, you need to lose more weight, eat less, exercise more, then you could consider recovery"???

It's not simple or easy but going through this sort of process might help when trying to get to the point of wanting to recover. Everyone's different and will have different motivations so it's important to go through the process for yourself, not comparing yourself to anyone else.

I found I had to choose recovery everyday. Some days this was harder than others and some days I chose to be ill but every new minute gives us an opportunity to choose recovery, to choose wellness, to choose to definite ourselves differently.

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.

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

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

It’s all in the mind

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If told you have a condition that manifests in the mind, why do some people take this to mean “you’re making it up/putting it on” or “it doesn’t exist”? And why do they then extend this to mean “you’re malingering deliberately”, “stop pretending” and “there is no pill, you’ll have to just get over it.”

I’ve just watched a video of a lady “fighting for answers” to a syndrome causing a range of distressing symptoms from limb weakness to a change in her speech. She has had numerous tests, scans etc and many doctors have concluded that the origin is psychological. But she’s dissatisfied with this answer, determined there’s something “physical going on”.  She said she just wants to get on with her life so I’m wondering why she is spending so much time going from specialist to specialist? They are all giving her the same answer, yet in not accepting the psychological origin, she’s denying herself access to the treatment that could enable her to manage her condition? Why is she (and so many other people) adamant a diagnosis of a psychological condition is dismissing her (their) symptoms in some way?

I find it astonishing that people do not seem aware the brain is the most powerful organ in the body but we know least about it. It is not surprising that it can produce the most bizarre symptoms but we do not yet have the ability to pin point how the brain is producing these symptoms.

If the brain controls our breathing, it follows that things can go wrong with our breathing that are not detectable on x-ray. If our brain controls our digestion and how our intestines moves, it follows that things go wrong with our gut that is not detectable by scans or scopes. I’m left pondering the conscious and unconscious control we have over various aspects of our body. Perhaps when our brain just does something on it’s own, without our say so, this can leave us feeling helpless.

It probably doesn’t help that many psychosomatic conditions (psychological origin for physical symptoms) are a diagnosis of exclusion – i.e. “if we rule everything else out, it’s probably that.”. Are people left feeling the end condition is less valid? If we cannot measure a chemical or see something on a scan, does that mean the legitimacy of the condition is brought into question? This should not be the case. Just because it cannot be detected and the doctors say this, they are not saying it’s not real! Perhaps some people hear the doctor saying “we cannot prove that you are ill”. But, I say, if it is experienced, it is real!

Psychological therapies are not a way of pretending everything is ok, ignoring symptoms or proving the symptoms don’t really exist. We can explore ourselves, our mind and body and find ways of coping, managing and possibly recovering from any range of issues/symptoms/disorders.

Are people afraid of the stigma that comes with psychological conditions? I fear the denial (such as that of the lady I saw in the video) perpetuates that stigma.

I speculate that if we had more compassion and understanding for psychological conditions, a diagnosis of this type would be a hopeful one and people would instead think “my mind is unwell, I need to get help to take care of it and I will be able to control or manage my condition better“. Is our reluctance to take care of our minds because it (managing our thoughts, emotions and behaviours) is harder than popping a pill? Perhaps it would be more helpful if we treated the mind and the body as one, no matter what the condition? Therefore psychological and physical treatments could always go hand in hand (not considering one as more or less important than the other).

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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