A girl with too many thoughts...

Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Year, New You?

Happy New Year!

I just thought I would write a quick post to mention a few things I've been thinking about over the past few days. At this time of year, there is an awful lot of talk (especially on social media) of new year resolutions and so forth. This is all great and I love the idea of setting myself challenges, but I also want to remind you (and myself) that there is no need to put yourself under tons of pressure to fulfil these goals.

Setting goals is great and it's a way that we can progress in our lives and gain a sense of achievement. However, I think there is a fine line between setting yourself healthy challenges and overwhelming yourself with unrealistic expectations. This whole 'new year, new me' ideology can make some people feel under pressure to become a brand new, better version of themselves in the new year, but nobody can change over night.

Therefore, if like me you are vulnerable to these sorts of pressures, I want you to know that it is okay if you don't miraculously change in 2017. You don't need to be cured from your mental illness, you don't need to become ridiculously toned, you don't need to stick to a strict food or exercise regime, you don't need any of that. All you need is to carry on being you and continue taking small steps in the right direction.

Also, I know this time of year can be difficult for sufferers of eating disorders. It seems like everybody is talking about going on a 'January detox' or losing weight. But you must continue focusing on what's best for you, not other people. If what is healthy for you is to gain weight and eat more, then that's what you should concentrate on in the new year. I know it's hard (really I do) but try and ignore talk of diets, weight loss and detox over the coming months and keep in mind what your goal is (which is hopefully to become healthier, even if that means gaining weight).

I hope you enjoy your evening, whatever your plans may be and that 2017 treats you well.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Going At 100mph

I go through phases where I am completely unmotivated and uninspired - I feel empty. Like these past few days, where I haven't bothered to do much apart from lay in bed all day or sleep the afternoon away. I don't feel like talking or thinking much and I'm very distant, mostly just staring into space rather than actually focusing on what is around me.

And then, in a matter of hours, I switch. I'm the opposite to this. Suddenly, I feel hyperactive. I'm talkative, I'm full of motivation, I have a drive in me to get things done which was practically non-existent before. My thoughts are racing and I have no control over them, constantly jumping from one idea to the next. They aren't necessarily negative thoughts, just thoughts. But the whole process of feeling unable to slow down is anxiety provoking in itself.

Constantly jumping from one state of mind to the other is exhausting. Not knowing how you're gonna be from one day to the next is exhausting. I feel I can't plan ahead because it's impossible to predict which person I'll be on that day: the depressed Lisa or the super energetic Lisa. The last few days I've been in a bit of a slump. Today, however, I'm unable to stop thinking. Thinking about what I could be doing. Thinking about what I need to do. Thinking about all the things I want to do in future. Just thinking! I feel like I'm going at 100mph. I am restless. Even if my body is not physically moving, I feel I can't stop.

I just can't think straight when I'm like this, because my mind has already gone ahead and moved on to the next thing before I've even gathered my thoughts together myself! I'm struggling to even write this blog post because while I'm writing this, my brain is wondering off and thinking about endless other things at the same time. I lose where I am in what I'm saying - my brain is one big jumbled mess of thoughts.

Feeling like this has its physical effects, too. My head hurts, literally as though it's spinning. My neck is all tense and sore. My eyes feel heavy. I think sleeping is the only thing that's going to make this feeling go away...

Monday, 26 December 2016

Alone Time & Struggling Around The Festive Period

There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing to spend some time alone. Everybody appreciates their own personal space, especially when we aren't quite feeling ourselves. I feel I need to emphasise this around Christmas time because there is such a huge pressure to be sociable - more so than any other time of the year.

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for some people, especially those who struggle with mental illness. The pressure to be sociable, jolly and full of festive spirit, coupled with the expectation to have the 'perfect' Christmas (as seen in the media) can be overwhelming. I mean, most people find this time of year stressful, so imagine what it's like for those who are more vulnerable to such a feeling.

Mental illness does not magically cease to exist at Christmas (although I wish it did, could you imagine?!), and nor should anybody expect it to. Those who suffer from a mental illness may feel as though they need some alone time just like they would on any other day and that is okay. Nobody should be forced to put on a happy, smiley face just because it's Christmas, not if they feel like they're struggling.

You may feel you are being 'rude' or 'unsociable' if you don't give all of your attention to others around this time of year, but I want you to know that you shouldn't. You shouldn't feel guilty for taking time out for yourself over the festive period. I know it feels as though you should be spending all of your time with family but you need to focus on yourself too. Do what you feel comfortable with and if you feel like things are becoming too much, take some time out. Those who really care about you will understand.

This quote was tweeted by The Blurt Foundation yesterday and I think it sums up what I'm trying to say quite nicely:

"It's not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It's necessary" - Mandy Hale 

(even at Christmas)

I've probably spent a bit more time alone and cooped up in my room than I should have over this weekend. It's the only few days of the year where all of my family are together (as my brother lives away and I've started uni now). However, I've just not been feeling all that sociable and if I'm honest, I've been going through a bit of a down patch this last week so I haven't been feeling all that festive. I'm sure I'll perk up again soon, but I can't force a smile just because it's Christmas.

Anyway, enough about me! I hope you've had a joyful Christmas, mental illness or no mental illness. You deserve it.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

My 2017 Goals

TW: Eating disorders, depression

So I've already posted about the things 2016 has taught me, but I thought it might be nice to also outline my goals for the next year. Over the course of this year, I've really learned a lot about my interests and the direction I might like to take with my future, so I'm excited to set myself some fresh goals that I can focus on achieving in 2017.

1) Blog, blog, blog!

I started this blog in July of this year in order to share my experience with mental illness, and I can honestly say that I'm so glad I did. I also set up my Twitter account in conjunction with my blog - both of which have enabled me to talk to so many awesome people who are battling their own illness. It has really opened my eyes not only to how common mental illness is, but also how it doesn't have to define you. Therefore, in 2017, I would like to continue blogging, reading others' blogs, talking to people on Twitter and speaking about mental health (and maybe even meet some other bloggers in person!). Hopefully, I can improve my blog and my writing to make it bigger and better!

2) Volunteer.

Volunteering is a really great way to gain skills and give something back. I feel I'm in a place now where I'm well enough to help out mental health charities by volunteering for them - whether that be by blogging, working on some kind of helpline or even volunteering in a charity shop such as Mind. I know they are keen for people to volunteer in their shops and even just one hour a week can make a difference. So, when I go back to university after Christmas, I'm will look into volunteering for my local Mind shop.

3) Work hard at my degree.

With everything else going on, I sometimes forget that I am actually at university to get a degree. Specifically, a degree in Psychology. Often people mistakenly assume that university only involves going out on the town and getting drunk, but there is actually a lot of work to do (if you want to do well in your degree). That's why I aim to put a lot of effort into my first year of university and (hopefully) come out the other side with half decent grades.

4) Focus on my health.

Something I've neglected far too much over the last year or two. It's time I looked after my physical health a little better, and that means taking control of my eating disorder. I'm fed up of restricting and putting my body through so much stress constantly. I deserve to treat my body better than that and give it what it needs, which is enough food!

Even though mentally I've been doing a bit better in 2016 (despite some ups and downs), physically I've been rather unwell. Around May time, my body was starting to feel the effects of months of restricting (something which I may go into detail about in a different post). Since then, I've managed to mostly maintain but I'm still underweight and feeling constantly drained of energy (which takes its toll on my mood). Therefore, in 2017, I will get my weight back up to healthy and hopefully start to feel a bit better!

And finally...

5) Appreciate things.

I'm by no means saying that I don't already appreciate the things in my life, but in 2017 I want to make a concerted effort to show gratitude for what I've got. It's so easy to fall into a mind set where the negatives cloud over the positives, to the point where you can't even see any positives anymore. So, in order to help prevent me from entering that deep, dark void again, I will constantly remind myself of the good things - my family, my friends, the opportunities that have been given to me and I should therefore take advantage of. I know that there is so much more to depression than your situation in life. Depression doesn't always seem to have a cause and just because things are good in your life, doesn't mean you're immune from developing depression - but that also doesn't mean we can't be grateful for the good.

I'd love to hear some of your 2017 goals.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

I Went On The Radio!

Back in September, I wrote a blog post for the UK charity Student Minds about the anxiety of starting university. They then contacted me earlier this month asking me if I wanted to share my story on BBC Radio 5 Live in a live interview about student mental health and university drop-out rates.

My instant reaction was obviously 'no way on earth can I do that'. I'm terrified of embarrassing myself in all situations, let alone on national radio. However, deep down, I knew it was an incredible opportunity and that I would be silly to pass it up and give in to my anxiety (once again). After all, the whole point of my blog and Twitter account is to open up the conversation around mental health, so being able to talk about it on the radio seemed an ideal way to do this.

So, after much consideration and encouragement from my parents over FaceTime, I decided to just go for it. I mean, what's the worst that could happen? I say something absolutely ridiculous on live national radio for my family, friends and thousands of strangers to hear and feel so embarrassed that I never leave the house or show my face in public again? Ah well, life moves on.

And that was that. This time last week, I travelled to my nearest BBC studio, stuck a pair of headphones on and took part in the hour long radio show (yay me!). I must admit, it wasn't exactly the glossy studio with lots of high-tech electrical bits and bobs that I had in mind, but it did the job.

The show was introduced with a short clip about a new wellbeing scheme being set up at Kings College London, which focuses on providing over the phone peer-support to vulnerable first-year students who may be in need of further support. It was all rather exciting, and I even got the chance to share some of my own personal experience with mental health problems in that crucial first few months at uni.

I'm really proud of myself for pushing through and doing it, especially since I was so convinced beforehand I'd be way too anxious to go ahead with it. Of course I listened back and cringed, because like most people, I hate the sound of my own voice. Yes, I was nervous and maybe that came across a bit when I was speaking, but who cares? I proved myself wrong and gained an incredibly valuable experience in the process, and that to me is the main thing.

And remember, you are capable of so much more than you think, even if your mind tries it's absolute hardest to convince you otherwise.

Thank you so much for reading. :)

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Things 2016 Has Taught Me

Congratulations to all of us for making it to the end of 2016! Although many people will probably be glad to see the back of this year, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on some important lessons I've learnt and will take forward with me into the coming years. Brace yourselves, this is probably going to be my longest post yet! So, without further ado...

1) Everybody is fighting their own battle.

Where to begin! One thing I've learnt this year is that despite what they choose to reveal, everybody has something going on in their life. Often people like to give out the impression that they've got their shit completely together and have the perfect life, but this is very rarely the case. When I started university I felt like I was the only one dealing with 'issues' and isolated myself because of it, but as soon as I started speaking to people I quickly found out this wasn't the case at all. It seemed like everybody else was having fun 24/7, but who was I to know what they were dealing with behind the scenes. Just because they chose to put on an act most of the time, didn't mean they weren't going through stuff. 

In 2017, I will continue to remind myself of this. For one, I shouldn't be so hard on myself and fear that people will think I'm 'weird' once they find out my insecurities, because it is more than likely they are too busy dealing with their own to even notice. But, at the same time, I will be careful not to judge others too quickly, because I have no idea what they might be battling.

2) Some people are really good at masking their true feelings.

This kind of leads on from my previous point, but something else I've learnt this year is that some people are really, really good at hiding their feelings. That's why it can be so difficult to tell when somebody is struggling. Personally, it's really obvious to others when I'm not quite right. I'm no good at putting on a face and pretending things are okay when they're not, but this isn't the case for everyone. Sometimes you need to look out for subtle signs that something is wrong and put in a lot more effort to get somebody to open up to you about how they are feeling.

3) I'm capable of more than I think.

I have the tendency to put myself down and instantly think 'I can't do that' whenever I'm met with a challenge. However, if 2016 has proved nothing else to me, it has proved that I CAN challenge this self-doubt. I AM capable of things that I always assumed I wasn't. This year I got my A-levels, I moved out and went to university, I met new people and made new friends and I spoke on live national radio, all the while telling myself I wouldn't be able to achieve these things. 

Don't put yourself down so much, you are capable of so much more than you know. 

4) You can often find a positive within all the negative.

Sometimes it seems like everything has turned to shit and there is no way forward. I've been there. A year or two ago I was convinced that life and everything in it was meaningless, and that I would spend the rest of my days living at home too afraid to do anything, with my Mum still caring for me at the age of forty. I mean really I could look at the past few years and say that nothing positive came out of any of that, but I would be wrong. 

If it wasn't for 'the great nervous breakdown of 2015', I would not be sitting here writing this on my blog right now. I would not have started up my Twitter account which has led me to so many inspiring and strong individuals. Reaching that low has made me realise what I really want to do in life, and that is help people who are in a similar place to me and share my experiences with mental health. I never used to know what I wanted to do with my life and now I feel like I have some idea, and that's something I've come to realise in 2016.

5) I'm my own worst enemy.

The only person putting me down is me. I have a lot of support around me, whether that is from my family, my friends, even on Twitter, and yet I continue to put myself down and basically think I'm a piece of crap. People in my life are having to repeatedly encourage me and remind me I can do things and yet I never listen, I constantly feel worthless. A lot of the time I try and convince myself that it's other people that don't believe in me, other people hold these negative opinions of me, but I realise now that it's not. It's me. In 2017 I really want to work on my opinion of myself and stop disliking myself so much, blaming other people for my insecurities isn't going to help me, it's time to face up to my worst enemy (i.e. myself). 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Food Is Stressful

TW: Eating disorders

I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed right now because my thoughts are so conflicted when it comes to eating and gaining weight - I don't quite know who to believe anymore. Hopefully writing them all out in a blog post will help me to make sense of them. I thought being at home would make managing my eating disorder easier (it usually does) because I'm no longer surrounded by other people my age commenting on their body/weight/food and there are less people to compare myself to. However, since getting home last week, I feel as though I'm struggling more than ever.

When I'm at university I find it so difficult to control my eating disorder thoughts because it's impossible to escape comparison. When my friends start talking about how much they've eaten (or how little) I find it quite frustrating because I then compare how much I've eaten with how much they have, and feel guilty if I've eaten more than them. When I walk around campus and see girls with thinner thighs than me I get so envious of them.  I think to myself how unfair it is that they are naturally like that and I'm not. Then I have to remind myself that maybe they aren't naturally like that, and that perhaps they have just as much of an issue with eating and weight as I do.

That's one reason why I was so desperate to come home for Christmas. I needed a break from all of that to focus on my own weight, my own health and get myself back into more 'normal' eating habits. However, I should have known it was never going to be that easy and that the thoughts wouldn't just disappear as soon as I got home. I guess because there are so many factors that go into an eating disorder (as I mentioned in my previous post), eliminating one thing was never going to cure the problem completely. 

I'm constantly torn at the moment. One side of me wants to feel and look healthy again. I want enough energy to do things and I don't want to feel weak and tired anymore. The problem is I can only achieve that by gaining weight and that's where the other side of me comes in, because I also want to be thinner and lose weight. I spend hours watching eating disorder documentaries just so I can compare myself to other sufferers: do I look as thin as them? Do I eat as little as them? Do I even look like I have an eating disorder compared to them? I'm tired of it. It's not only about being thin, though, I also can't deal with the disgust/shame/guilt that comes with feeling full.

My mind changes so much and I feel I have no control over it. One minute I think I'm too thin, I don't look nice, I need to gain weight. The next, I'm not thin enough, I don't look nice, I need to lose weight. I'm weak for letting my eating disorder control me but I'm weak when I 'give in' to food and eat 'normally'. I'm stupid for making myself unhealthily thin but at the same time I haven't made myself thin enough. I can't win.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Why Anorexia Sufferers Can't 'Just Eat'

TW: Eating disorders (Please also note that I am aware there are many different kinds of eating disorders, not all of which involve restriction, but I am specifically referring to restrictive eating disorders in this blog post).

I've been watching a few eating disorder documentaries on youtube recently and when scrolling through the comments, I can't help but get frustrated. Clearly there is still little understanding of eating disorders and this can lead to extremely ignorant and misinformed comments telling sufferers to 'just eat' or accusing them of being selfish, spoilt, stupid, ungrateful etc. Telling an anorexia sufferer that they are a bad person because there are people starving in other parts of the world is not going to help them. In fact, it's going to do quite the opposite.

However, I don't necessarily blame the general population for this lack of understanding. Before I developed an eating disorder myself, I couldn't comprehend why somebody would want to actively restrict their food intake to the point where they put their own health at risk. I too questioned why anorexia sufferers wouldn't 'just eat'. The whole concept of wanting to be underweight didn't make sense to me. I mean, looking unhealthily thin doesn't look attractive, so why would anybody strive for that? (That's what I thought, anyway). Only now do I realise that this is an incredibly narrow minded view of eating disorders such as anorexia, because there are far more complex mental processes behind it than simply wanting to be 'skinny'.

There are many, many factors that contribute to a person developing a restrictive eating disorder - none of which are a choice. Feeling guilty or ashamed for eating. Not feeling worthy of food or not deserving of it. Low self-esteem. Getting a sense of achievement from restricting. Needing to have control over food intake and weight. An obsessive compulsive personality which can lead to specific rituals and 'rules' about food. There is no one single cause and as I said before, it isn't as straightforward as 'wanting to be skinny'.  That is why telling a sufferer of anorexia to 'just eat' is not going to work (and is instead just extremely unhelpful!). 

Even I didn't used to understand this because back then I did not suffer from irrational thoughts surrounding food or weight. I just saw food for what it is - food, energy. In fact, I loved food (and still do) and could pretty much eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight, so I never even considered that one day it might be me suffering from an eating disorder. I enjoyed eating, I was happy with my weight (it was one of the only things I didn't actually mind about my body in secondary school) and calories didn't mean anything to me. 

It's all too easy to negatively judge others based on something that we ourselves are not personally experiencing and therefore do not fully understand. This is why it's important that we are willing to listen to others' perspective and inform ourselves of what they are going through before making brash judgements or blaming them for something they have no control over. Eating disorders are not a choice, they are serious mental illnesses that require medical treatment. What I've mentioned in this post is only a tiny insight into the possible thinking behind an eating disorder, but my point remains: sufferers of eating disorders do not choose to suffer from eating disorders and making them feel guilty for it or simply telling them to 'eat' is of little use. If they could, they would.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

I Feel Guilty For Being Okay

I have said this before and I will say it multiple times again: the symptoms of any mental health condition can (and most likely will) fluctuate in severity. Sometimes, you feel fabulous - as though you are on top of the world and can conquer anything that life throws at you (why can't I feel like this all of the time, I ask?). Other times, well...not so much. These up's and down's are something I deal with regularly and after the last month of constant lows, I have finally reached a more stable, rational mind set again.

So this is all well and good and I should probably just enjoy these rare, fleeting moments of clarity, right? But let's be realistic here, my brain would never allow me that luxury...

You see the thing is, when I'm generally feeling pretty good and managing my mental health conditions, I start to feel guilty. I feel guilty because I question whether I really had a problem in the first place or if I was simply exaggerating it all along. I feel guilty because mental health services have invested their time and money into helping me cope when I am now coping perfectly fine on my own (couldn't I have just done this all along instead of wasting precious resources?!). These 'symptoms' that I complain of that are no more than a distant memory now could surely never have existed if I no longer feel them?

I mistakenly assume that since I have been 'officially' diagnosed with a mental health condition, then I am obligated to show obvious symptoms of that condition 24/7 (I may as well walk around with a post-it note on my head explicitly stating my diagnosis). It's as though if I was to have a few weeks of normality in my life, then people (i.e. myself) may accuse me of a) faking the condition all along or b) being absolutely, 100% cured (and then act surprised when the symptoms return with a vengeance no more than two weeks later).

Here is an example: I suffer from a restrictive eating disorder, more formally known as anorexia (but I prefer not to use such terminology as I do not believe I am anorexic). This leads me to go through periods where I may considerably restrict my food intake, in an attempt to maintain or achieve an underweight BMI. It also means that I have a lot of (mostly negative and irrational) thoughts surrounding food. (As always, this is just my experience and not everybody with an eating disorder will experience the exact same!).

However, just because I have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, does not mean I suffer from said eating disorder to the same degree all of the time. Now and then, I might actually have 2 weeks of eating a pretty normal diet (whatever that means) - to an outsider it may even appear that I am perfectly 'normal'. However, that doesn't mean that I am magically cured (or was faking it before), it simply means I am managing my symptoms more effectively at that particular point in time. However, I will likely go through the stages of restriction and then eating 'normally' again and again and again and again and again (and so the cycle continues...).

All I'm trying to get across is that I often feel a lot of guilt when my mental health conditions aren't affecting me so severely. I feel like in order for my illness to be considered 'real' and 'valid', I must be constantly struggling. It's like I have to prove to myself and those around me that my mental illness is in fact real. However, I am slowly coming to accept that I shouldn't feel this way. I must realise that sometimes my mental health is going to be worse, sometimes better, but at the end of the day it is still something I am constantly having to manage.
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