Tag Archives: self esteem

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Healing can and does occur.

Why can’t I say “no”?

I’m an introvert and many people find this very difficult to understand as my inner desires are at odds with what society considers “normal”. I get tired very easily and quickly when socialising and I don’t particularly enjoy it. If I’m already exhausted before I even go to an event, I’m fighting a losing battle but my instinct is still to push myself, I know that’s what other people want, it is what society expects.

Most of my life my priority has been to fit in, to do what other people want, to try and at least look normal (even if I don’t feel it) so I’ve spent a lot of time doing things I don’t want to do. Pleasing other people has felt like the best thing to do as pleasing myself would mean I’d be labelled a “loner”, be an outcast or be judged as “abnormal”. But why should I be unhappy while I’m attempting to make others happy?

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Other examples of unhealthy people pleasing include things like:

  • Swapping shifts when asked even though it means you’ll miss out on something else you’d planned.
  • Taking on menial tasks at work because no one else wants to do them even though they should be shared out or doing all the chores at home even though you have equal amount of free time as everyone else.
  • Always doing activities other people want to do even though you’re not interested in them (e.g. going to the aquadrome even though you’d rather curl up with a book or chat over a coffee).
  • Allowing others to be promoted over you even though you’re more experienced/qualified because they were kicking up more of a fuss.
  • Backing down quickly in conflict even if you think you’ve got a good point that needs making, just to keep peace with the other person.

I really struggle to say “no”, I’m sure many people can relate, there are a number of reasons for this:

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1. I don’t want to let them down – they obviously need or want what they’ve asked for so I want to do anything I can to do it for them, even if that means putting my needs and wants to one side.

2. I don’t want to put my priorities above theirs – as above, if someone needs or wants something, who am I to decide that my needs or wants are more important than theirs? If I’m asked to swap a shift because someone has a social engagement they wish to attend, how can I say “quality time with my husband is more important than your social engagement”?

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3. I don’t want them to think badly of me – I somehow think I can mind read and that if I say “no”, they will automatically think I am selfish, lazy, insensitive, party pooper, inflexible, unhelpful etc etc!

4. I don’t want people to worry about me – having had mental health problems in the past which made me feel like I didn’t want to do any thing or see anyone, if I say decide not to go to a social event (for example) people might think I’m getting ill again.

5. I want them to feel they can ask again – if I say “no ” this time, I fear they will assume I will always say “no” and I will miss out on helping them out next time.

6. I can’t stand the guilt – once I’ve said “no” it plays on my mind for a long time!

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7. Anything for an easy life – saying” no” to some people can create a bad atmosphere and make everyone (even people not involved) feel awkward. It feel it’s best just to let people have their way and I deal with the consequences internally.

However, the negative impact of people pleasing is clear:

  • Low self esteem
  • Loss of self
  • Burn-out
  • Being taken for granted
  • Resentment

 

Image result for never confuse being loved and needed with being used and wanted

The truth is, of course, that it is not my job to make other people happy, nor do I, in reality, have much control over it!

So, if you find yourself saying “yes” all the time, putting yourself at the bottom of the pile and trying to please everyone else, perhaps it’s time for a change.

1. You cannot take soul responsibility for other people not getting what they want all the time. Sometimes we let people down and that’s ok.

2. It is ok to put you and your priorities first for once. No one can know for sure if one person’s needs are higher than another person’s so it’s ok to look at the situation from your point of view and if want you want or need is important to you, stick to it.

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3. If someone judges you harshly for saying “no”, maybe it’s them that’s in the wrong. Saying “no ” does not make you selfish, it means you’re considering the whole situation instead of one small aspect.

4. Saying “no” doesn’t mean I’m ill. Saying “yes” when the best thing would be to say “no” is a bad sign, being able to be assertive and putting yourself first for once is a good sign!

5. You can say “not this time, but do ask me again”. If they don’t want to ask you again, that’s their problem.

6. Guilt isn’t a problem, holding onto it is. If you let someone down, feeling bad for a short time is natural but you do not need to dwell in it.

7. Avoid people who deliberately make you feel bad for saying “no”. If they can’t handle you being assertive, that’s their problem.

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I’m not suggesting we say “no ” all the time, I’m just saying a balance can be found!

People pleasers of the world unite in saying “no” (sometimes)!

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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

The trauma of looking in the mirror


Who would have thought, the simple act of getting my eyes checked could be so traumatic?!

Fortunately my eye sight isn’t too bad so, although advised to go to the optician every couple of years, I push it out to 4,5,6 years until the guilt of “not looking after my eyes” gets too much.

So, I find myself here again. Not only is making the appointment hard enough but I’m now sat in the waiting room for a “test”, for which I have received no training or education. Why have I not revised? Why do I not feel more prepared?! What if I get it all wrong?

The first room is darkened and just involves looking at a hot air balloon going in and out of focus – don’t think I can get anything wrong there can I?!

Next, I appear to be greeted by someone more qualified but she didn’t tell me who she was so I have no idea! She spends a long time looking in my eyes, telling me to look at various things in the room I can’t see! And then, why do they tell you too look down? This is going to cause you to effectively shut your eye! After a while, blinking away the bright spots, she tells me that my eyes are perfectly healthy – phew! Is that it? Can I go now? Please?!


Next, I have a large contraption pressed against my face and I’m asked to look through the holes towards the wall ahead. There are a number of different lenses inside…what happened to the funky glasses we used to put on? I have to say whether letters look more or less clear with various options so I quietly voice “1” or “2” depending on which is sharper but to be honest, most are so similar I’m struggling to tell them apart. I have no idea what this is testing and I have no idea if I’m giving accurate answers or even if it matters!

Next on the screen, I do not have the familiar optitian’s chart with the big A at the top, I just have a single line of letters I’m being asked to read and I’m not sure I can. I can guess? But what if I guess right and she assumes I can read it fine? I work along the line with a shaky voice and the optitian doesn’t give anything away – did I get it right?!

Next I have some paragraphs of very small text slotted very close to my face. I’m asked if I can read the top paragraph, to which I reply “yes”, expecting I would need to demonstrate. Apparently just saying “yes” was enough and I did not have to go through the ordeal of reading out loud in public!

After what feels like a couple of hours, our 15 minute “test” is over and my “results” are printed on a little tiny card. My eye sight is a bit worse but not a lot worse. I feel satisfied that I didn’t make a fool of myself but have I passed or failed?!

Next, comes the worse part…I’m advised to buy new glasses. This involves a number of impossible activities:

  1. Looking at myself in the mirror
  2. Deciding whether I prefer how I look in glasses a or b (or c or d…)
  3. Not breaking down in tears about the whole process!


I’m greeted by a 3rd member of the team, a lovely young chap, to whom I confess my difficulties looking in a mirror. He was lovely, asking if I’d like similar glasses to those I’m already wearing, also advising me to go for slightly smaller styles, as I have a “small face” apparently! He leaves me while I try a few on and quite honestly, I just cringe when I look in the mirror – I look terrible, how is a pair of glasses going to solve that?! The young chat comes back with a couple of his favorites but I’ve already had enough! Why am I fighting back tears over such a simple task? It might sound rediculous but I have a feeling verging on panic. I hate how I look and my internal voice shouts insults at me. I explain to the assistant that I need to come back with my husband so he can help!


So, a little while later, husband in tow, I step over the threshold again. We look over the offerings, noticing that “fashionable” now means quite bold. This is not going to suit me so my choice is quite restricted – maybe this is a good thing! I try on a few pairs, again, it’s a disaster when I look in the mirror. The kind shop assistant says they can take photos so I can look at them on an iPad (this would be useful if you need your regular glasses to look at what you look like in your new glasses) but that sounds like my idea of a nightmare…looking at numerous photos of myself in different glasses that all add to my ugliness, while some kind person adds their opinion…hummmm, no thanks! I know the assistants are only ever trying to be nice but when I already have a negative commentary in my head, I’m afraid they just add, “I’m just being nice to make a sale” plus, “I’m being nice cos we need to get you out of our shop as quickly as possible, you’re a terrible advert for our glasses”.

Eventually…shop number 4…Steve’s trying to reassure me that there isn’t a budget, what’s most important is that I’m happy, or at least satisfied with how I look. I finally find some that don’t make me want to vomit when I look in the mirror, I manage to say “these look ok”. I then have a few measurements of my face taken to ensure my prescription can be added to the frames. I’m not really sure what made those glasses ok over any others, maybe I’m just getting used to my image but it’s such a relief!

Of course, this is a 1st world problem and we are incredibly lucky that we have access, not only to people who can check our eye health but also we can have glasses of an accurate prescription so we can perform any everyday task we wish. People in developing countries rarely have access to glasses, let alone an accurate prescription glasses… Next I’ll be taking my old glasses to Vision Aid Overseas

Self harm – friend or foe?

(TW) Some people may find the content of this blog upsetting and/or triggering

Self harm is a controversial subject and I’m hoping that being open will break down some of the stigma and misunderstanding.

As a fairly intelligent rational human being, I would frequently step back from my self harm behaviour and think “what the heck am I doing?!”. So, why, when in a highly emotional state did reasoning fly out the window and it become the “only thing that works”?

I think self harm is primarily about 2 things:

  • Transferring emotional/mental pain into physical pain
  • A lack of compassion/respect for yourself

I first discovered self harm as a teen when I found the world an overwhelming place. It was very superficial at first but I learnt that it helped to ease the discomfort I was feeling. I’m not sure what led me to think that it might work and to try it. I can speculate that it was linked to the natural occurrence that when we physically injure ourselves (by accident), after the initial pain, a wave of endorphines bring a sense of calm and an ability to cope with the injury. It therefore makes sense that, to produce that sense of calm and empowerment (to cope with the situation) I turned to harming myself deliberately to achieve the same effect.

Self harm is when someone intentional injures themselves. Examples include cutting, burning, hitting and poisoning. It could also be said that alcohol and drug taking as well as eating disorders bare similarities to self harm. For me, cutting was a release, I did not do it for attention, nor did I do it because I particularly wanted to. At the time it felt like I had no option.

Depression is a sinister illness that ultimately tells you that suicide is a valid option, in fact, an appropriate reaction to the given circumstances. When overwhelmed by the world and overwhelmed by these thoughts and feelings, it’s natural to look for a way out. 1 option is to follow through with a suicidal act, but if part of you is still thinking rationally, another way out is to find a way to relieve these feelings. For me, I genuinely believe, harming myself (without suicidal intent) kept me alive.

Although it kept me alive it actually represented the depths to which my self esteem had sunk. Every time, I knew I was adding to my scars, I knew I was putting myself at risk of infection etc but I cared so little about myself and my body, this was irrelevant. It provided the relief I needed but after the event I would feel guilty and angry. Although, part of me also gained something from the care I needed to give myself.

Unfortunately, for a period, for me, self harm became a habit. Instead of considering what options I had, I would turn to it like an old friend. It had worked in the past, why would I not continue?! It gave me what I needed, it relieved the pressure in my head, gave me a way to express myself. But, although a friend in the short term, ultimately, longer term it is not a helpful way to deal with feelings.

Self harm is often a way to manage our emotions on our own. Few people who self harm reach out for help and it is certainly not a way to deliberately manipulate or gain attention. The way out of self harm is to realise we are not alone. Other people can help us to manage the distress we’re feeling.

I had to learn that it was ok to feel bad. Anxiety and anger are acceptable, distress is bearable and instead of punishing myself I needed to be kind to myself. This took a long time, and I “gave up” self harm a number of times. Because self harm works as a coping technique, I was lured back many times. I’ve spent many hours distracting myself with numerous activities, desperately trying not to self harm. There is no one technique I’d advocate but overall most important factors are:

  • Express emotional pain more helpfully – sometimes this involves expressing it to either privately or to someone else, either verbally or written down. Using words is important but sometimes just venting it is important, maybe through exercise (moderate) or art, for example.
  • Learning self compassion is key. I have always known it’s right to be kind, caring sympathetic and show sensitivity to other people but I had to learn to treat myself in the same way. This does not mean I now love myself in an arrogant way, I just respect myself and believe I do not need to punish myself for being human.

I know it is hard to watch a loved one self harm, I am saddened when I hear someone uses self harm as a coping technique. But I understand how and why people do it. However, I am proof that there is a way out.

I am very sad to have so many scars but they represent a very difficult time in my life that has made me the person I am today.

For more information or if you need to talk to someone, please contact:

Or contact your GP and support team. Please do not suffer in silence.

6 conundrums of online dating with a mental health diagnosis

find love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

online-dating-accounts

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just attention seeking

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Most of us have heard this phrase used in relation to someone one with a mental health condition. When someone self-harms, they’re “just attention seeking”, when someone attempts suicide but doesn’t complete or attends A&E, they’re “just attention seeking”. It is used in a derogative way and has an undertone of “don’t give them attention”, “they’re time wasters” and “make sure they understand how inconvenient they’re being”. I’ve heard it used by many different people including doctors, nurses, police and MPs.

If you actually step back and think about this…when a baby cries, they are asking for their needs to be met, we do not blame a baby for causing a scene, that is the only way they are able to get their needs met…if, at that point, their needs are not met, they are likely to develop other coping strategies – some will scream and cry more or bang their fists on the side of their cot while others will shut up and never expect their needs to be met. The care giver has the control over whether they receiving the attention they need. From the minute babies are born, they seek attention, they need attention. This does not disappear as babies grow into children and then into adults, we learn to satisfy ourselves, yes, but we still need attention in a variety of ways, it’s natural.

If an individual is in emotional distress, anxious, depressed, frightened, paranoid or confused they have a need to decrease the distress – this is a natural human desire. Some people will find it easier than others to manage their emotions. Most people will need to express their emotion and may need support from others. If, for some reason, they are unable to express their emotion appropriately or rationally, or their needs are not heard, they are likely to express the emotion in an unusual way, this can be known as “acting out”, they will seek behaviours that satisfy their natural human needs. Once this happens, is it right that they are then told they should not have attention? Surely the earlier they receive attention, the quicker their needs will be met and the unhelpful behaviour can be altered. These people need support to ensure they are able to express and relieve their emotions in a healthy way – how can this happen if people turn them away and they are told  they are an annoyance or an inconvenience?

At times, when mentally very unwell,  I’ve been distressed by voices in my head shouting hurtful remarks at me, I didn’t have the language or understanding to explain what was happening but I  wanted them to stop (I think this is a reasonable desire!). Having tried every healthy coping mechanism I could think of and nothing having worked, at times I’ve banged my head against a wall with such repeated force I’ve ended up with severe bruising. This would go some way to relieving the voices. But I would then need assessing for concussion, fractures etc. The last thing I wanted was to sit in A&E for hours but there I was left, well past the target waiting time… at the time it made sense to me that I was being punished for my bad behaviour, after all I had done it to myself. The doctor then looked at me with such disdain, I was left with no doubt I was below dirt on his shoe. Being treated with contempt confirmed my belief that I was worthless, pointless and not worth helping.

Often people who self harm or act out in other ways do not want attention for that behaviour, I have always been embarrassed and ashamed and done my best to hide what’s happened. I have not wanted attention but I’ve needed attention (both for the physical injuries and) to understand what was happening so I could learn how to express my needs and emotions in a healthy and understandable way.

Some people worry that giving this “bad behaviour” attention, it will just continue. Believe me, if you’ve reached the point of acting out your emotions, it’s going to continue. Giving the right support and attention will ease the situation not compound it.

The state of the child and adolescent mental health service scares me. Reading this account from the Guardian saddens but does not surprise me. If children are left in mental distress, rates of child suicide will increase and those who do survive will end up in the adult mental health system – a very undesirable place, best avoided!

Next time you here someone say “they’re just attention seeking” with a derogative tone, say “yes, that is because they need attention”. They may not be asking for it in the most healthy way but that doesn’t mean you deny them the help and support they desperately need to work out how best to aviate their distress in the short and the long term.

Something new this year

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At this time of year many of us have fought with ourselves about whether to set New Year’s resolutions. Statistics show that of the millions of resolutions made, 80% will end in failure. Mostly, this will be due to unrealistic expectations; we unwittingly set ourselves up for failure.

In 2008 I pledged to make the year “better than the previous year” as 2007 had been a disaster, suffering from mental illness I’d been in and out of hospital with relationships and job prospects falling along the way. So, I thought the resolution couldn’t go wrong, things couldn’t get worse! Unfortunately 2008 was worse, I will not go into details but I was very unwell and not getting the support I needed. Since I’d obviously failed what I thought was a very simple new year’s resolution, come the eve of 2009 I wasn’t celebrating, nor did I think there was any point in looking forward to a “better year”, that hadn’t worked last year! As the New Year chimed in, I was in yet another hospital receiving treatment for a near fatal overdose. A few days into the New Year I reflected on the past few days and realised how powerfully unhelpful the sense of failure is, my belief that I was failing at life made me give up. I decided to turn things around – I did not make a new year’s resolution I couldn’t measure or one that I had limited control over. Instead, what I pledged was “I’ll take each day as it comes and manage as best I can”, with a couple of important additions “I will not beat myself up”, “I’ll notice the positives” and “I’ll put some faith in God”. When it comes to mental health, thoughts/feeling/circumstances are a bit complicated, some things you can control and others you can’t. I learnt:

  • There are good and bad days, both varieties come and go
  • Bad things happen, they are not always my fault, I do not need to beat myself up and start down a guilty spiral, I can just chalk things up to experience and move on
  • Something positive happens every day, you just have to look for it
  • Fully relying on God can be a relief, he does answer prayer and he’s always available (you don’t have to call, text or wait for him to be free!)

The bible tells us: “Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new… I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19. This says to me do not compare last year with this; look forward, God will guide, even when lost in the wilderness, there will be a way forward, even when thirsty the desert, there will be water.

So this year, what will it be? Most people set a traditional one along the lines of giving up smoking, losing weight or to do more exercise. These are all admirable and I praise anyone who wants to be healthier. I’m posting this blog mid-January because many people will be struggling with their resolutions and I wonder, is there something more fundamental that needs healing? Do you need to improve your self-esteem? Do you need to lead a calmer life? Do you generally need to be kinder to yourself? How about one of these:

  • Start a positive/thankful/gratitude/praise diary. Each day write one positive thing or something you’re thankful for. My first diary, I started in the depths of depression, my first day I wrote “Minaise smiled at me” – she was a nurse in hospital who had hope in me even when I didn’t; this proved to me that positive things happen even when it doesn’t feel like it. Since that first day I have filled many diaries. Truly miraculous things happen every day; you just have to notice them!
  • Put a notice somewhere you will see it every day (maybe by your bed) saying “I am loved” – read it twice every day, make it part of your routine, eventually you will believe it!
  • Make time for yourself. Soothe yourself for 10 minutes per day. For some this may be stroking the cat, listening to music, a warm shower, colouring, a short walk or maybe some prayer time; anything that calms your mind and body. Perhaps try downloading the Headspace app or download some self help.

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  • Tell someone every day that you love them. Ask someone to make it their resolution to say they love you every day.
  • Laugh every day – even if you have to type “funny cats” into YouTube, it’s well worth it!
  • Learn and practice mindfulness
  • Stop caring what other people think…some of us are paralysed by fear of judgement from other people. Instead, whenever you feel judged or put down, tell yourself “God loves me just the way I am”.
  • Whenever possible, accept help and help others. Life is about relationships, we do not have to do anything alone. I am fiercely independent, it’s in the nature, but when I let other people in my life is enriched beyond what I can imagine.

Just pick 1 or 2, do not set yourself up to “fail”. If you do not manage your resolution every day, tell yourself “it’s ok” and try again the next day. If by the end of January you’ve lost momentum, try something else in February, then something else in March etc. Let me know what’s working for you by commenting below 🙂

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Acceptance of being fearfully and wonderfully made

Jae West

A little while ago video passed across my facebook page of a very brave woman who stripped to her underwear in Piccadilly Circus, armed only with a blindfold, some marker pens and a white board reading “I’m standing for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder or self-esteem issue like me… To support self-acceptance draw a [heart] on my body.” The video takes you through the initial agonising moments as there’s an air of confusion but gradually one by one complete strangers took the pens from her hands and draw a multitude of hearts on her body. I am moved to tears because it’s a powerfully beautiful statement. Her vulnerability was striking, not only was she naked but she was asking for something from the strangers she could not see walking by. How often do we chose to stay quiet, afraid of being noticed, afraid of judgement or ridicule? But Jae West didn’t stay quiet, she had a very simple message she communicated in a silent yet striking way. She says,

“With the growing prevalence of eating-disorders and self-esteem issues around the world, this public act of self-acceptance aims to get people to question the true relationship that they have to themselves and body-image.”

I am reminded of various relationships I’ve had with my body; mostly negative. I am tormented by areas I consider “fat” and “disgusting”; when my joints ache I’m reminded of the punishment I’ve inflicted on my body; when I build up muscle through healthy exercise I am distressed by the increase in bulk; at lower weights I’ve been pleased with how I look but still the clothes don’t fit right – it doesn’t matter what weight/shape I’ve been, changing rooms, mirrors and photographs remain my enemy. I try to remember when I’ve felt proud of my body’s achievements, it’s run half marathons, it’s climbed mountains, it’s survived everything I’ve thrown at it!

I feel pained when I hear the negative relationships people have with their body. I look at other people and I can only see beauty. I believe we are all fearfully and wonderfully made (fearfully = with respect and reverence and wonderfully = to be distinct and unique). So why does my brain, so often, dismiss this belief and look disdainfully upon my body? I try to remind myself I’m “healthy” but no rational thinking will shift my juxtaposed beliefs. I’m sure I am not in a unique position. Why do we hold onto the beliefs that will only knock us down? My husband is saddened, as the compliments he wishes to bestow cause me pain; thinking about my body is hard enough, hearing what someone else thinks feels intolerable. I feel sorry about the sadness I cause by my lack of acceptance, it is unfair on him that my insecurities get in the way of him expressing his love. Why do so many of us find it hard, if not, impossible, to hear compliments?

I believe I am a survivor of an eating disorder, I do not suffer any more (I struggle but I do not suffer). My last hurdle is to come to terms with my body. I wonder what it is going to take. I thank Jae West for standing up for us and I dream of being able to fight the fear of judgement and ridicule and having her courage.