Tag Archives: mental wellbeing

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.

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
  • DValue individuality, each one of us is unique and that’s beautiful
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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

brain

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

cat 2

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.
cat 7

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?!

cat 9

It’s natural but how do we communicate it?

jim rohn communication

It is part of the human condition to need to feel loved/wanted/accepted. How we communicate this with each other is more complicated than you would think.

When mental illness clouds our mind, it affects the way we think, feel and behave. It permeates every aspect of life especially relationships.

I’m not just talking about intimate relationships. What happens when one half of a friendship/relationship struggles to know what they’re thinking and feeling? Although we may know (on an intellectual level) that’re we’re loved, actually communicating it to each other is important. We all give and receive love in completely different ways and while one person may think they’re communicating love brilliantly, the message just may not be getting through.

Words of Affirmation – this is where simply using words is best. Not just “I love you” but also “you look beautiful”, “I’m glad you’re in my life”, “I’ve had a good time with you today” are all ways of appreciating the other person.

Acts of Service – where doing is important. It may be tasks around the house such as cooking, cleaning or shopping. Or it may be watching/listening out for what the other person needs, when they shiver, offer them a jumper or a blanket. For some people these things come incredibly naturally, for others, it will need to be a conscious effort.

Physical Gifts – giving and receiving gifts for some people is the ultimate communication of love, whether it’s a few wild flowers picked from the garden or an unexpected new car, often the size isn’t important, it’s the gesture that matters.

Quality Time – easily forgotten as a form of communication. It’s not usually important what’s happening at the time but it’s the quality that matters. For Steve and I, putting our phones/iPads/laptops to one side is the key.

Physical Touch – while sex may be important in an intimate relationship, a touch on the arm, a hug or a peck on the check may be important parts of all relationships.

Trying to communicate with someone who is mental unwell can be very difficult; words may fall on deaf ears, acts of service go unnoticed, gifts ungratefully received and touch may be unbearable. It can also be very difficult to spend time with someone who is unwell. When unwell, the distorted thoughts and feelings lead to behaving out of character and rejecting any thoughtful gestures.

broken-communication-300x282

It’s important to remember there is still a person underneath (no matter how buried in illness). They still have the same fundamental needs – try to think about what they usually like. Try to ask the person what they need/want – this can be very tricky as within the gloom it’s very difficult to know. But if they say “I fancy a cup of coffee”, that’s a start, or if they say “I don’t want to talk”, perhaps say “do you mind if I just sit with you, we don’t have to talk” – at least then the silence isn’t awkward, it is the presence that is communicating “I care”.

When in hospital, my Mum cleaning my flat, taking my washing and a gift of contraband Pepsi Max went a long way to helping me feel loved. Quality time is a really hard one, I really appreciated visitors during my hospital stays but I would get incredibly tired and didn’t really want to talk, I had a friend who would bring a simple game to play, that was ideal! Cards and texts also meant a lot to me when I was most unwell. The odd arm around my shoulders from a nurse would also help me feel that they cared.

As the ill person, emotions and feelings can be very confusing. When I was overwhelmed with the thoughts that those around me would genuinely be better off without me, I thought the best way to communicate my love for them would be to remove myself from the world. When less unwell I had to remember that these people were hurting too and I wanted to make an effort to show them love and be grateful for them sticking by me. When low on money (as most ill people are) I would try to make gifts for people instead. Abstract love may be difficult but sticking to the facts can help. If someone’s visited, no matter how hard it had been, saying “thank you for coming” is important; if I found the words “thank you” were too hard, I would write a text.

For either the perspective of the ill person or those around them, communicating love can be very difficult but with a bit of insight as to what’s needed it is possible. It may be necessary to say “I need to hear that you love me”, an immediate response maybe “I love you” but what’s really important is follow this up with the love language that works for that person.

Discover your love language here. It’s important, not only to know how you give and receive love but how those around you give and receive love. If I’m running around doing acts of service because I express my love in that way, there’s no point in me doing any of it if my other half doesn’t know I’m expressing my love in this way and that I’d find it amazing to receive love in this way. Remember, even if you do not usually communicate love in a particular way, if you put yourself out and the other person feels love from it, that’s what matters!

Remember our love language can change so do the test often, the results may not be the answer to everything but if it sparks up conversation with those you want to communicate with, that’s great!

5 love languages

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?

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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 does light and colour affect us?

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A photo recently went around Facebook about stating that some areas in Scotland and Japan switched to blue street lights at night and saw a decrease in crime and suicide rates. If it’s that simple, this surely needs to be looked into…!

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In Glasgow some street lighting has been altered for aesthetic reasons and some anecdotal reports indicated a reduction in crime. The research in Japan involved 71 railway stations and the blue LEDs appeared to reduce suicides by 84%. However, an article published later indicated the apparent reduction in suicide rate could have been misleading as there were additional details such as position and timing that was not taken into account. The claim is therefore unproven since in neither case was it possible to explain the mechanism by the which the lighting could work or find a definitive causal link.

However, I know that lighting and seasons affect mood so I thought I’d look into this a little further…

Light and mood

A study published in Ergonomics considered 988 people across 4 countries to determine whether mood of people who work indoors was affected by seasons and proximity to a window. The mood of people far north of the equator changed significantly depending on the season, which did not occur in people closer to the equator. The effect the amount of light had on mood appeared to be related to the individual experience (rather than objective measurement of luminescence). Mood was lowest when lighting was experienced as “much too dark”, mood was best when lighting was experienced as optimum, however, mood decreased again once lighting was too bright.

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In my experience some people like bright light and will turn an artificial light on early in the evening even when light from a window, in my opinion, is sufficient. I can feel overwhelmed and over-stimulated in a bright office. This is tricky to manage since most of us work in teams, if not in offices holding large numbers of people – lighting (and therefore mood) would be optimum for one person but not for another. If you work at home and/or alone personalised lighting should be thoughtfully considered.

Seasonal affective disorder

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Looking further into seasonal differences, the existence of Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is evidence itself that people are affected by the seasons. SAD is a recurrent major depressive disorder beginning in the autumn and continuing through winter. A study has shown that SAD is more prevalent the further away from the equator people live. This could be due to a number of factors including light, specific weathers, temperature or perhaps culture. Successful treatments include medication, indicating chemicals in the brain such as serotonin are affected and psychotherapeutic approaches provide people with ways to work through negative thought and behaviour patterns as well as alternative ways of problem solving etc. However, the most highly promoted and successful treatment is light therapy. The use of light boxes emitting the full colour spectrum, similar in composition to sunlight have been found consistently to show significant improvements in symptoms. In Scandinavian countries research into light rooms (indirect and evenly distributed) has been carried out and has proven benefits. Insufficient vitamin D is also linked to depression and can be due to low dietary intake but particularly due to a lack of sunlight since we absorb it through the skin. Light therapy can also be of use in re-setting the circadian rhythm (via the impact light has on melatonin production) in people with sleep disorders, people working shifts or to quickly correct jet lag.

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Colour and mood

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A study published in Genetic Psychology revealed that people respond differently to colours, finding bright colours eliciting more positive emotions while darker colours were associated with emotions perceived as negative. A similar study with children as subjects had the same outcomes, the brighter colours being, primarily pink, blue and red, and dark colours were brown black and grey. These studies also found that females had a greater emotional response than males. These responses make sense when considering the seasons. Winter is naturally more dull with grey overcast clouds literally darkening our world while Spring sees the emergence of daffodils and bluebells, naturally brightened by sunshine the clouds gradually part to reveal.

Biological affects of light and colour

So what effects does light have on the body? When light strikes the retina they are converted into electrical impulses, these pass to the hypothalamus which regulates the autonomic nervous system (e.g. breathing and heart rate) and other functions such as sleep (circadian rhythm), sexual functions, appetite and metabolism. Light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum so it is no wonder that inside the brain different colours will produce different responses!

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It has been found that warm colours, such as reds, oranges and yellows increase heart rate, arousal and are associated with excitement – for some this excitement may be anger or irritability, for others, cheerfulness and joy. Yellow has also been found to trigger the release of serotonin (the “feel good” neurotransmitter lacking in the synapses of people with depression). While cool colours, such as blues and purples have been found to have more of a calming affect, decreasing heart rate, breathing rate and lowering blood pressure. Sometimes this could be perceived as a good thing, at other times people may feel drowsy or sluggish.

Other influences

Some colours will simply be preferred by different people depending on their experiences (for example a particular blue of a certain logo distresses me due to the experience I had working for that company) . There are also cultural influences, for example purple has become a symbol of royalty, simply because when dying of fabrics was first available, purple dye was expensive. Green is often viewed as lucky, in, for example, in Irish culture it is the colour of the 4 leaf clover etc.

Unfortunately it is not simply a case of surrounding ourselves with a particular colour in order to feel a particular way. There are many other factors impacting our emotional state and thus our susceptibility to the influence of the colours. Mental illness and the process of arriving at suicidal thoughts, feeling and actions are is complicated and thus, blue lights at suicide hotspots is unlikely to significantly impact an individual’s actions. I have been fascinated by the amount of research there has been into light, colour and it’s impact on our health and mood. Sunlight, in particular is vital for our overall health. Individuals may find specific colours useful – for more info follow the links or just give it a “Google”!

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