A girl with too many thoughts...

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

New Begginings

After a lot of mithering over the decision, I've finally made the move to Wordpress. Blogger will always be in my heart but unfortunately we've just outgrown each other (it's not you, it's me). No longer will I be known as the infamous 'Above Anxiety', my new blog is going to be called 'Lisa's Reality' and I will be blogging about various things such as lifestyle and student life, rather than limiting myself to only mental-health (of course I will still be blogging about mental health, too!).

There's a few reasons for this decision:


I am more than my mental health conditions!


I no longer want to be defined by my mental health conditions. Yes, I'm wired a little differently up in the ol' noggin but my identity is more than just anxiety on legs (although that's debatable). Believe it or not, I have hobbies (yes, I do get out of bed some days!).

I want to write about everything that I'm interested in, share tips I've learnt throughout my first year of university (although good luck if you take my advice!) and talk about the things I love. Yes I have OCD, anxiety and anorexia and I still struggle with those things every single day of my life but I'm also Lisa, a nineteen year old student trying to navigate her way in adult life!

Bye bye, Blogger!


As I've already mentioned Blogger just ain't doing it for me anymore. I've had this blog for one year and in that time I have gained one follower (I'll never forget you). Yes, it's not all about followers but before you judge me, I think we all like to know that people are actually reading the blog we are putting our heart and soul into (if you disagree, you're lying). On Wordpress it just seems so much easier to discover and follow your favourite blogs.

So is it really over?


I probably won't be posting here on Above Anxiety much more (if at all). Instead, I'll be posting all of my mental-health related content on my new blog, 'Lisa's Reality'. Above Anxiety served me well when I simply needed a place to vent my feelings but I'd like to think I've grown in this past year and that means it's time to embrace everything that is me.

I haven't completely decided what I'm going to do with Above Anxiety, maybe just leave it here as some of the content may still be useful for people to read? Or leave this post here for a while directing you to Lisa's Reality before deleting this blog altogether. I have however pulled over a few of my posts from here onto Wordpress to get me started.

Who knows what I'll do. It feels wrong to delete a year's worth of my most personal thoughts and feelings and I'm sure it will be nice (perhaps not the right word) to look back on this blog.

Let me know what you think of this move and if you think it's a terrible idea, perhaps keep it to yourself because it's too darn late! (Only kidding, say what ya like).

Goodbye! (oh no I'm terrible with goodbyes typing that is filling me with dread)

Lisa :)
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Friday, 14 July 2017

Mental Health Meets Modelling

Earlier this year, I was very kindly gifted a copy of 'Washed Away: From Darkness To Light', a memoir written by former model and turned author and advocate, Nikki DuBose. Within the book, Nikki documents some of her most personal life events, from childhood sexual abuse to revealing how the model industry fuelled her all-encompassing battle with various eating disorders.

I'll admit, I was a little hesitant to read and review it at first as I didn't think it would be my cup of tea. I don't have much interest in fashion or modelling and so was quick to dismiss the book in it's entirety. The second I heard the words 'mental health' and 'modelling' in the same sentence, I couldn't help but fear that this book might glamorise mental illness and in particular, eating disorders.

However, you know what they say: 'never judge a book by it's cover' and in this circumstance, that saying proved truer than ever.

'Washed Away' explores a wide range of important topics far beyond what I had imagined it was going to and in a way that is real and honest. Nikki really does wear her heart on her sleeve throughout the book, so much so that you can't help but become emotionally invested in each and every word.

She is able to convey her thoughts and feelings in such a way that you as the reader feel as though you have a front-row seat in her mind. From eating disorders to psychosis,  her accounts of her own inner battle give a truthful insight into the harsh reality of what it's like to live with such conditions.

"...I believed that who I was as a human being was a mistake, and feelings of worthlessness replaced my natural joy." - Nikki Dubose

Suffering from an eating disorder and other mental health conditions myself, much of the book resonated with me. Many of the evil, manipulative and self-criticising thoughts that repeatedly tormented Nikki throughout her life I could relate to as if they were my own. She isn't afraid to delve into the reality of what it's like to struggle with mental illness, along with describing in explicit detail the often distressing thoughts and behaviours that accompany it.


In a word, I would describe 'Washed Away: From Darkness to Light' as hard-hitting. It deals with some sensitive subject matters that desperately need to be given more attention within society. Despite my initial concerns, the book does not glamorise mental illness in the slightest - quite the opposite in fact. Nikki's brutal honesty makes it a difficult read in places, yet at the same time it's refreshing to read such a raw account of her oftentimes unsettled life.

My favourite part of the book had to be the 'Key Concepts' described in the epilogue, in which Nikki outlines some essential lessons she has learnt throughout her recovery.  One concept that particularly stuck with me is when she explains how she 'had to get rid of the victim mentality' to progress with recovery:

"Although mental health issues are not the sufferer's fault, at some point the individual needs to take personal responsibility for his or her recovery." - Nikki Dubose

If you choose to read 'Washed Away' or have even already read it, I'd love to know your thoughts. I would advise, however, that if you have ever been affected by abuse and/or mental illness, you be mindful of your own wellbeing and any potential triggers throughout the book.

You can find out more about Nikki DuBose and her advocacy work here.

Thanks for reading,

I would like to thank Book Publicity Services for sending me a complimentary copy of the book to review on my blog. 
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Thursday, 22 June 2017

Expressing Our Mental Struggle Physically

TW: ED, self-harm

When struggling mentally, we may feel the only way convey our struggle to others is to use our body. It may be our way of reaching out - of letting people know that we aren't okay. For when it is possible to see that something is physically wrong from the outside, we no longer have to explain our mental pain because our body speaks for us.

For example, somebody with anorexia may feel afraid to gain weight in case people no longer show concern for them. When people can see that you are underweight, they treat you with care as though you are a fragile and could break at any second. So when you gain weight, you may fear that people will no longer treat you like the 'sick one' even though mentally you feel sicker than ever.

Sometimes it's therefore easier to keep on causing physical damage to our body instead of trying to get others to understand how we are feeling on the inside. Perhaps even we don't fully understand how we are feeling and so expressing our pain with our body feels like the only option.

However, using physical destruction to cope with negative emotions does more harm than good and potentially makes recovery harder in the long run. Because not only do you have to deal with your mental pain, but also the physical damage to your body. Plus, it's incredibly difficult to escape the cycle of self-destruction once it has pulled you in.

I therefore urge anybody who is struggling with any form of self-harm to seek help. Speak about how you're feeling, because there are people out there who will listen and care. Don't wait until it gets to the point where you feel the only way to express your mental pain is to inflict physical pain.

Samaritans (UK) - 116 123
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Thursday, 25 May 2017

ED Recovery: Changing Vs. Staying the Same

Today I had another appointment with my eating disorder practitioner and we did a lot of work on the advantages and disadvantages of both changing and staying the same.

Changing involves restoring my weight back to a healthy amount by increasing my food intake, and hopefully maintaining both of these things in the long-term. Staying the same, on the other hand, would mean holding on to my disordered thoughts and behaviours around food and controlling my diet so that I don't gain any weight; becoming more and more ill both mentally and physically as a result.

In therapy, there is often a lot of talking and it can bring a whole range of conflicting thoughts, feelings and emotions. It's therefore sometimes difficult to remember exactly what you worked on during the appointment, so I think it's good to be able to unravel these thoughts, as well as reflect on any progress you made or realisations you had in the session.

Something that particularly struck me in this morning's session was the difference in the advantages/disadvantages of each option (changing vs. staying the same) and the short or long-term effect each one has on my life as a whole.

All of the reasons that part of me wants to hold on to my eating disorder - gaining a sense of achievement and relief when losing weight, feeling powerful and in control, distracting myself from other negative feelings - these only ever have a short-term impact.

Choosing change and recovery, however, means allowing myself to fulfil other aspirations in life. Finishing my degree, living independently, earning money; all things I can only really achieve if I get better. These are all much more long-term goals, that will influence my whole life, not just the present moment.

It's this key difference that I must keep in mind and admittedly often lose sight of when I'm caught up in the moment or experiencing a lot of negative emotions. Every time I have the urge to miss a snack off my meal plan or put one less spoonful of yoghurt on my fruit, I have to remind myself of the longer-term implications, as opposed to only thinking of the short-term relief.

Sure, restricting may make me feel 'positive' in the short-term. It may calm the irrational thoughts and feelings for a brief amount of time and I might trick myself into thinking I feel 'good' for a little while. But when considering the bigger picture, what effect does it all have in the long-term and is it worth it?

No it's not.

This is a realisation I must make time and time again; with every meal, snack and mouthful of food. Because I may think that one spoonful of yoghurt won't make the slightest bit of difference, but it will. It's the difference between choosing to give into anorexia, just like I have done so many times before, instead of choosing to change my ways. It's the difference between focusing only on the short-term as opposed to the long-term benefits.

Thanks for reading and please do let me know if you'd like me to continue posting about my recovery experience.

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Monday, 22 May 2017

'I Couldn't Be Anorexic, I Love Food Too Much'

You've probably heard somebody say something along the lines of: 'I couldn't be anorexic, I love food too much' before. Or how about 'I couldn't be anorexic because I couldn't cut out food completely'. Well, this type of comment has been floating around in my mind a lot recently, as I try and navigate my way through the deep, dark depths of eating disorder recovery.

As somebody who suffers from anorexia nervosa, this comment causes a lot of problems for me. For one, it makes me question the validity of my illness. I therefore wanted to write a blog post on it, in an attempt to resolve the conflict that is currently taking place in my brain.

Anorexia is not a lifestyle choice


Firstly, nobody chooses anorexia. It is not a lifestyle choice or crash diet that people decide to go on to 'lose a few pounds'. It's a mental illness, and an extremely serious one at that. Saying something along the lines of 'I couldn't be anorexic...' makes it seem that those who are choose to be, which is simply not true. 

Nobody wakes up and thinks 'Ya know what, I think I can do it. I think I can be anorexic!'.

It's often an accumulation of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that build up over months, even years. These subtle changes in one's thoughts about food and eating habits eventually take over their whole life and may become so impactful that they turn into a full blown eating disorder.

Many people with anorexia love food, too!


A key symptom at the core of anorexia for many sufferers is actually an obsession or preoccupation with food - a fact that may surprise many people. It's a myth that every single person with anorexia doesn't have an appetite for or like food. In many cases, it's the opposite.

I absolutely love the stuff. I think about food every second of every day: different types of food, foods I crave, when I'm next eating, what I'm next eating, how much I'm eating, what other people are eating. I think about food more than I think about anything else. I dream about cheese, pizza, chocolate, ice- cream, bread, cake, doughnuts - all of the foods I won't allow myself to just enjoy from time to time.

Most people with anorexia don't completely cut out food


No human can survive without food, that's a basic fact. Most people with anorexia continue to semi-function with their disorder for years and years. Do you honestly think they haven't eaten a morsel of food in all of that time? Of course not, that's impossible! 

Anorexia nervosa is a mental disorder. It's about the attitudes, beliefs and feelings that the person associates with food, rather than the amount they eat. These feelings manifest themselves in certain behaviours which, in anorexia, usually involves some form of restriction - this usually doesn't mean cutting out food entirely, though.

It often involves an extreme control over food which encompasses many different behaviours. For example, cutting out certain foods entirely or significantly restricting portion sizes. Or it may be counting calories to ensure you don't eat over a certain amount per day (which is usually below that which your body requires). Rarely does it mean cutting out food altogether.

Anything that deprives the body of enough nutrients and energy to function fully may be considered restriction, which can in turn lead to weight loss. Again though, weight is not the main indicator of an eating disorder. Rather, it is a physical symptom.

I hope this post helps to clear up a few misconceptions about anorexia. And if you yourself suffer from anorexia, I hope this can help reassure you that your illness is still valid even if you a) eat regularly throughout the day and b) enjoy food.

I'm planning on doing a post in the near future about the many other misconceptions that surround all eating disorders (not just anorexia!). So, if this is a topic of interest to you, keep your eyes peeled for that!
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Thursday, 11 May 2017

Therapy Isn't A Magic Cure

When I first started attending CBT sessions at the age of seventeen (around two years ago now) I expected it to be a magic cure. I was disappointed to find that even after a few months, nothing had dramatically changed. At the beginning, I found it incredibly difficult to engage with the therapy; I just 'didn't get it'. At that point, I was adamant that it wasn't for me and that nothing anyone said was going to change my thought processes. I realise now that I was wrong.

What I failed to realise at first is that to a certain extent, therapy is what you make it. If you want it to work for you, you have to put in effort and co-operate. It's so easy to think to yourself 'well there's no way that's going to help me' before even trying it, but that attitude will never get you anywhere. If you want to recover, you have to try. Otherwise, what's the point?

The truth is that even the best therapists out there cannot cast a magic spell that will make all of your problems disappear within one session (although, it'd be a whole lot easier if they could). Treatment is a lengthy commitment that you make, and it's down to you more than anyone else to do the things that are going to make you better! You are only doing yourself a disservice if you don't engage.

Discomfort is part of the process in recovery. It's not going to be easy (because if it was, you would've done it by now). We all would have. As human beings we want to minimise our discomfort, but you have to learn to embrace it if you want therapy to be successful. You can sit in a therapy office hour after hour, but don't expect much to happen if you don't continue to put the tools you learn into practise when you walk away from that room.

With OCD, your therapist can teach you ways in which to control your anxiety when you don't perform a compulsion. They can tell you again and again that performing compulsions only reinforces the irrational fear. Yet, if you choose to ignore that information and go back to performing all of your safety behaviours anyway, instead of learning to sit with the discomfort, your OCD is going to remain as strong as ever.

I realise that therapy doesn't work for everyone, and that's totally fine and I completely respect that. I also realise that some therapists are better than others, and it's extremely important that you 'click' with your therapist in order to engage with them. All I'm saying is don't make the same mistake I did and assume it doesn't work without giving it a proper go.

I'm glad that I decided to continue with my sessions even when I was sceptical because I use the techniques I was taught in therapy every hour of every day. Without them, I'd never have the control over my OCD that I do now. Therapy took an awful lot of time, patience, discomfort, frustration (and a fair few tears) but if I'd given up for those reasons, I would never have improved.

Thank you for reading.
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Thursday, 4 May 2017

ED Recovery: What to Expect in your First Appointment(s)

I thought I would document bits and bobs of my eating disorder recovery journey on my blog (yes, I used the J word). I hope for it to be useful to anybody who is currently embarking on the same journey and would like to read an experience they can relate to. Or, if you want to start on the road to recovery but are scared to, I hope I can help to reassure you.

Last week I had my first appointment with the adult eating disorder service in my area. I have had numerous assessments with adult mental health services before, earlier on in the year when I was at university. However, I never actually started therapy with them and they instead suggested I'd be better off recovering at home, where they referred me to my local ED service (which I explained in a little more detail in this post).

Last week's appointment consisted of yet another assessment and so I thought I would write a bit about what you can expect when you first begin to seek help for your eating disorder. Of course, this is my experience with my local service and different areas will offer slightly different services, who will all do things slightly differently. Nonetheless, there is usually a general way that they have to do things and certain guidelines to follow.

When you first begin to see a mental health service, they will often carry out an assessment so that they can plan how they're going to work with you. This may just take up the first appointment, or run over a few. Either way, it's not as scary as it sounds (the word 'assessment' makes it sound like some sort of test but I can assure you it's not).

Basically, they want to find out a bit more about you and your history, and your experience with your mental health. When did you start experiencing problems? Have you been under care of mental health services before? How long for? Did you have any other health conditions growing up?

Lots of questions.

They will then want to find out a bit more about your current experience. In an eating disorder assessment, they will probably ask you to go into a little more detail about your current thoughts, feelings and behaviour around food, self-esteem, body image etc., as well as your day-to-day mood and functioning.

Based on what you've told them during the assessment, they may give you a diagnosis there and then. They will then say whether they think their service is best suited to you and if it is, tell you a little more about what support they can offer. You may like to discuss with them a sort of 'plan of action' of how you wish to proceed with treatment and what you would like to get out of it overall.

The idea of somebody sitting there and 'interrogating' you about this stuff can understandably seem daunting and off-putting. However, it's important to remember that this is your story, nobody else's. You know about your experience better than anybody. It's okay to feel nervous, it's okay to take your time to answer questions and it's natural to feel uncomfortable when sharing things that are personal to you.

Nonetheless, it's important to remember that the person leading the session is there to help you, so it's in your interest to be as open and honest as possible. Only this way will you receive the right kind of treatment for you. They aren't there to trip you up, judge you or accuse you of anything - and they are likely to have encountered very similar situations before.

I'm not going to lie, those first few steps towards recovery are probably going to feel pretty darn scary. But it is vital that you take the necessary steps if you want to get better. Things will become easier the further along the path you go and in the end, it'll all be worth it. Trust me on this one.

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Saturday, 29 April 2017

I Can't Control My Emotions

My brain is constantly on some sort of hellish rollercoaster ride of emotions which I feel I have no control over. Up, down, up down, up down - all day long. It's absolutely exhausting and I don't know what to do about it anymore. My mood can literally change at the flick of a switch: going from extremely happy and optimistic to hopeless, angry and agitated within seconds.

I'm finding it impossible to function like this. How am I supposed to plan ahead, schedule my week or take on responsibilities? I can't even predict how I'm going to be feeling from one moment to the next, let alone this time next week or in a month.

Not only are they fast-changing, but I also seem to feel my emotions so strongly. What mood I'm in will dictate every aspect of my life: my personality, my confidence, what opportunities I accept, how I treat people, how I treat myself. Everything. Catch me in a different mood and I will probably present a drastically different version of myself.

I know this can sometimes be true for everyone. We often say 'they were probably just having a bad day' or 'I must have caught them in a bad mood' when people appear a little off. But I feel like for me, the difference is not only extreme but constant.

I don't control my emotions, they control me.

I've tried to do things that might help. I started a bullet journal, tracking my mood every month to see if I could identify a theme in my mood, but no trends are apparent. Apart from, I seem to feel a lot of negative emotions during the evening/night time - something which I think resonates with many people suffering from mental illness.

When I can feel my mood taking a turn for the worst, I try to use distractions: listening to music, immersing myself in a hobby, reading, colouring, studying. And yet, my brain won't let me focus on anything if my head isn't in a good place. The only thing that sometimes works is sleeping and hoping that by time I wake up, the dark clouds would've passed.

Perhaps this is simply a symptom of my various mental illnesses that I will have to learn to accept and find ways to manage. Maybe it is due to the bouts of restricting and weight fluctuations that I have put my body through in recent years, affecting my mind in mysterious ways. Or could it be a symptom of depression (something which I'm certainly no stranger to) or a mixture of it all! Who knows...
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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

When You Wake Up Feeling Overwhelmed

Some mornings from the second I open my eyes I'm hit with a sense of panic and feel completely overwhelmed. The day already seems too much before it has even started. I think to myself 'how am I going to get through another day?!'.

I may have planned things I need to get done on that day but from the word go my brain is just not co-operating. All I want to do is wrap myself up in bed and hide under a blanket; I can't even get the motivation to get dressed or brush my teeth.

However, I'm beginning to teach myself ways in which I can better cope with this feeling, rather than just accepting my fate, going back to bed and getting nothing out of the day. I'm beginning to realise that even though these feelings are very real and overwhelming when I'm feeling them, they will pass. So what do I do when I wake up already feeling too overwhelmed to get on with the day?

Accept How I Feel


This might seem obvious but simply acknowledging how I feel is the first step towards feeling better. Denying negative feelings is not going to make them go away; there's no point forcing myself to push on with the day as normal if it feels too much, just hoping that my anxiety will magically disappear on it's own. Instead, I acknowledge that I'm feeling particularly under the weather, and try and go a bit more easy on myself on that day.

Take it Slow


So I've acknowledged that I'm not feeling my best and that pushing myself to do too much is only going to be counter-productive. But instead of going back to bed and doing nothing, it's important I encourage myself to do even little things. Perhaps the first step is just getting up and making myself a cup of tea and eating breakfast. There's no time pressure, but sometimes I find after I've done a few little things, I start to feel calmer and more prepared to face the day, which leads on to my next point...

Basic Self-care


On days like these, even getting dressed feels like an impossible task. However, I've learnt that not carrying out essential acts of self-care only leaves me feeling a whole lot worse mentally. Therefore, even on the bad days I encourage myself to get dressed (even if it's just into loungewear), brush my teeth, wash my face and eat breakfast. It's amazing how much lighter fresh breath can make you feel. I don't even necessarily do all these things at once, but instead spread them over an hour or two. The main thing is that I do them.

One Thing at A Time


You know when you look over your never-ending to do list and it's so daunting that you don't even know where to begin, so you just don't? When faced with this I think it's better to isolate maybe one or two tasks that you want to complete on that day, and just focus on getting them done.

However, it's also important to rest when you need to. Sometimes stress is a way of our body and mind telling us we're doing too much and need to take a break. Remind yourself that it's okay if not everyday is productive.

Thanks for reading.
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Sunday, 23 April 2017

You Must Take Responsibility for YOUR Recovery

Mental illness is not a choice, recovery is.

Struggling with a mental illness sucks and it may leave you questioning 'why me?', 'what did I do to deserve this?'. It's easy to fall into a pit of hopelessness and despair. You may believe things are never going to get better, so you might as well give up before even trying. You may refuse people's efforts to help you because you're already convinced that nothing is going to work.

Despite this, it's up to you to take steps towards recovery; nobody can do it for you. It's up to you to pull yourself out of this deep dark hole, nobody else.

Your recovery is your responsibility.

At the end of the day, only you can make that choice to recover and then take the necessary action. If you want things to get better, you have to be willing to work for it. Nothing is going to change unless you initiate that change.

Sure, you can spend the rest of your days wallowing in self-pity over how unfair it is that you have to put up with this shitty illness. You can be angry at the world or try and find somebody else to blame for the way you feel. You can take your frustration out on those around you; your loved ones, your friends, your dog (yes, I probably have blamed the dog for my mental illness at some point). 

But what good is that going to do? 

Even when all hope feels lost, there will always be something you can do to make things even the tiniest bit easier for yourself. Your mental illness may make you feel helpless, but that doesn't mean you are. Nobody is going to come and save you and if that's what you're waiting for, then prepare to be disappointed. 

P.S. I realise this is my first post in a few weeks but at the moment I'm having to focus solely on my recovery. I also have a shit ton of uni work that I can't find the motivation for. Plus, I've been doing the very thing I said not to in this blog post: wallowing in a pool of self-pity (and by a pool of self-pity I mean my bed) whilst wondering why I'm never good enough, why nobody seems to like me and why I can't just be a successful, confident young woman like others my age. Perhaps it's time to take my own advice..
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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

'But Other People Have It Worse'


'Everybody else has it worse than me'

'I don't deserve treatment when other people are more ill'

'I have no right to feel this way when others go through worse'

These types of thoughts regularly go through my head. It seems these are in fact common thoughts amongst those with mental illness, along with the tendency to compare our struggles with that of others. Since when did mental illness become a competition of who's is more severe?!

This thought process can be really damaging because it can leave you feeling as though you aren't as worthy of help as somebody else, whose condition is deemed 'more serious' than yours. However, this is far from the truth. It can also make you feel guilty for experiencing certain emotions, such as sadness or anger, because you think you don't have the 'right' to experience such feelings. I've therefore decided to approach things from a different angle, so that whenever these thoughts pop into my head, I can quickly dispel them.

Early intervention is key


So what if your experience of a mental health condition isn't considered as 'severe' as another person's? Why should anybody have to wait until their mental health has reached breaking point before they feel worthy of treatment? As far as I'm concerned, the earlier people get the help they need, the better.

It's not 'better' or 'worse', it's just different

I've been replacing the phrases 'better' and 'worse' in my head for the word 'different'. Each individual's experience of mental health is so unique, how can you possibly compare them to each other? It's not as simple as shoving them all on a scale and categorising this person's illness as 'mild' and that person's as 'severe'. So, instead of saying to myself 'this person's symptoms are worse than mine', I simply say 'this person's experience is different to mine, and that's okay'. Everybody is different, after all.

Focus on No.1

What use is comparing yourself to other people anyway? Most of the time, this only ever results in negative outcomes. Your main focus in your life should be you - you are your main priority. This may seem selfish to some people, but I'm really starting to believe that the key to health and happiness is putting yourself first. It doesn't mean you don't care for other people. If anything, looking after yourself makes your ability to care for others even greater. 

Therefore, there really is no reason to say 'that person has it worse than me'. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. Either way, it doesn't really matter. If something is negatively impacting your life enough for you to think 'I need help with this', then you deserve just that - irrespective of everyone else's experience.

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Monday, 27 March 2017

A Fear of Allergic Reactions?

TW: I go into detail about my experience with contamination OCD, my fear of anaphylaxis & briefly mention suicidal thoughts.

Is a fear of having an allergic reaction a specific phobia? Has it got a name? If so, I think I might have it. This isn't something I speak very openly about with anyone (online or offline) because, if I'm honest, I'm quite embarrassed by it. I more than anyone know how completely irrational it is. However, this is a fear that has had (and still has) a significant impact on my life and has accompanied my experience with mental illness for some time. Therefore, it only seems right that I'm honest about it on my blog.

When people think of contamination OCD, they instantly assume a fear of germs. Yet for me, it wasn't bacteria that I saw covering every surface - it was potential allergens. My life revolved around a fear of going into anaphylaxis; the thought of it plagued my mind every waking hour. I was so petrified that it was going to happen that I developed relentless rituals to try and prevent it. It took over every aspect of my life, to the point where I could no longer function.

I soon began to avoid all foods that are well-known for causing severe allergic reactions; all types of nut (particularly peanuts, something which I still fear to this day), egg (who knew egg could cause anaphylaxis? I didn't, until I devoted my entire life to avoiding it), certain types of seafood and even specific materials such as latex gloves. Any food that possibly contained these substances in any way, shape or form were out of bounds.

I obsessively checked food labels, scanning the back of packets until I found the 'allergy advice' section and instantly putting it back down if there was any mention of nuts, sesame seeds or egg. The phrases 'May Contain...', 'Not Suitable For...' or 'Made in a Factory That Handles...' soon became a great source of dread for me. In fact, these foods were forbidden from entering the house altogether and just to be sure, I would open all of our kitchen cupboards with a piece of kitchen roll to avoid potential allergens transferring onto my skin.

This wasn't enough to reassure me, though.

I began to take it even further when presented with the realisation that, in theory, absolutely anything could cause an allergic reaction. Therefore, the only things I could consider truly 'safe' were the things I knew for certain (or as certain as I could be considering that with OCD, nothing is certain) wouldn't cause me a reaction; the foods that I ate and clothes that I wore every single day. And so the obsession, along with the tireless compulsions that accompanied it, spiralled.

My diet became limited to a few, very specific 'safe' foods (namely coco pops, pasta and cheese...not all together, that would be too far). I wore the exact same items of worn out clothing every day, and these would have to be be washed several times per day as they easily became 'contaminated'. I had to shower if I thought any allergens had come into contact with my skin, my hair, my mouth. This meant that if I left the house, no matter how briefly, I would have to shower when I returned. In the end, I barely left the house to avoid spending most of the day in the shower.

I could no longer sit downstairs with my family; the sofas were covered in far too many potential allergens. I wouldn't let my family (including the dog) come too close to me or my possessions. Not even my Mum, the person I trusted the most in the world, was allowed to hug me. My bed became a safe haven free of contaminants and so I would spend the majority of my time there (only if I was 'clean' enough, of course).

I would wash my hands until they bled, getting through an entire bottle of soap in a day or two. I would get stuck in what me and my Mum deemed a 'hand-washing loop', where I could wash them 30, even 40 times at once to the point of tears. Every time I attempted to stop washing my hands and get back into bed, something would contaminate them again. Did I touch the door handle on my way out of the bathroom? Did I touch the door handle on the way into my room? I couldn't use any cream to heal them, however, as this was also a potential allergen.

I started to severely neglect my appearance. Everything could possibly cause a reaction and so shampoo, shower gel, deodorant, toothpaste, skincare products and make-up became too 'dangerous' to use. Basic self-care went out of the window, along with any shred of dignity I may have had left. I can't even begin to describe how embarrassed I am to think back to the state I was in, or what those close to me must have thought of me. By this point, it was too much for my family to handle alone and it started to seem like the only option would be for me to receive inpatient treatment.

I had become unrecognisable - a ghost of my former self. I had no personality, I didn't care about anything (apart from fear) and the only way I could express this was through constant outbursts of anger and crying. Living in a constant state of terror completely destroys you from the inside out and to be quite honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to live anymore - not like that, anyway.

On that note, I'm going to wrap things up. If I was to describe any more of my rituals, this post would quite literally be never-ending. It was a real eye-opener for me to go into that much depth about my past experience with OCD. It tends to be a period of my life I try my best to block out - mainly because I'm so embarrassed by it, but also because it's not particularly something I wish to remember.

Writing this post is the first time I've admitted to myself just how bad things became. I've since undergone CBT and still take medication to control my symptoms and so, even though they still affect me daily, they aren't anywhere near as severe. I can function now.

If anything, I hope this post will make more people realise just how detrimental OCD can be to a person's life. Many people continue to ridicule this illness, whilst remaining completely ignorant to the awful impact it can have.

OCD is a serious mental health condition, and it destroys lives. So please, don't make it even harder for sufferers to access support by making light of it.

Thanks for reading (and congratulations if you made it to the end).
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Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Physical Consequences of Eating Disorders: They Will Catch Up With You

Eating disorders such as anorexia are mental illnesses. They are often a result of negative emotions, thoughts or feelings that the person is experiencing and finding difficult to manage. The individual may therefore resort to using food as a coping mechanism, in order to gain a sense of control over these feelings. However, although the root cause for eating disorders is psychological, they bring with them many adverse and even life-threatening physical effects.

If you engage in disordered eating for a prolonged period of time, these physical consequences will be unavoidable - no matter how much you think you are immune to them. Often, eating disorders provide the sufferer with a false sense of security, fooling them into believing that what they are doing is 'healthy'. They may fail to recognise just how damaging their behaviour is. Or, even if they are aware of the potential impact it can have, they may mistakenly think to themselves 'it will never happen to me'.

Some people continue to 'function' with their eating disorder for years and years. They may think that because their blood results or other health checks have repeatedly come back normal, there is nothing wrong with them or they aren't ill. However, just because you may have gotten away with it up until now, doesn't mean it will remain that way forever. Sooner or later, you will be caught out. Our bodies work in incredible ways and will do all they can to keep us going, but you can only push it so far. Very suddenly, you may find yourself rather physically unwell and sometimes there's no going back, the damage can be irreversible.

My intention in writing this is not to scare anybody. I simply want anyone who is suffering with disordered eating to realise the seriousness of the situation. When it comes to eating disorders, there really is no such thing as 'not being ill enough'. If you're struggling with any sort of unhealthy thoughts surrounding food, that is ill enough in itself. If is something you are going through, please seek support as soon as possible. Don't wait until the point of no return to get help.

You can read more on the health consequences of eating disorders here and if you feel in need of further support, check out the B-eat website.
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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Commenting on Others Food

TW: Eating disorders

So I hadn't exactly planned on writing this post, nor does it have any real purpose to it (other than to vent my frustration over a comment I came across on social media this morning...petty, I know). The comment had absolutely nothing to do with me and wasn't aimed at anybody I know particularly well. Nevertheless, it irritated me.

To sum up; somebody had posted a picture of their dinner (I'm not exactly sure why but whatever floats your boat, right?) and in response to said picture, there was a comment along the lines of 'you're going to eat all that?!!'. Now, I'm no expert when it comes to social interaction but what I assume they meant by this was that they thought it was too much food for this girl to be eating.

The majority of people probably wouldn't think twice about this comment, but to me it seemed so unnecessary and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. I just don't understand how somebody can make a judgement on the amount of food somebody else should be eating from one picture posted on social media. Not only that, but to then actually comment on it, on a public platform for everybody to see?

They have no idea how the girl who posted the picture might interpret their comment, or whether there is a reason she may need to eat a higher intake of food than your 'average' person. Perhaps she is recovering from a restrictive eating disorder and therefore requires a high energy intake so that her body can repair itself and function properly again? In that situation, such a comment could be detrimental to her recovery.

All I'm saying is that you can't possibly know why somebody may need to do certain things 'differently' to what you consider acceptable. We are all unique, we all have our own bodies that work differently from each other and require different amounts of food. A number of things can alter the level of energy intake that our bodies need - from illness to how active we are throughout the day.

I'm aware that I'm taking this completely out of proportion but that's because as an anorexia sufferer, I know the damage this kind of comment can have. Food is a very sensitive subject for me and if somebody was to imply that I was eating too much during my recovery, it would cause me tremendous amounts of guilt, shame and disgust in myself - to the point where I would feel the need to restrict again.


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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Time Away from University

I mentioned in my previous post that I was currently experiencing what I can only call a relapse of my mental health issues (although, does it count as a relapse if you've never really recovered?). I'm particularly struggling with my anorexia (it still feels odd to say that I suffer from anorexia) and this has caused my health to decline pretty rapidly over the last month or so.

I also mentioned in my last post that I was facing somewhat of a dilemma as to whether or not to return to uni after spending a few days at home and realising just how bad things had become. To sum up: I did go back for one week, where I attended appointments with various medical professionals. They suggested that it may be best for me to take some time out of university to focus on regaining my strength. 

At first, this felt like a pretty big deal. What about my accommodation that I am paying a bucketload for? Will I keep owing money until the end of my first year, even though I'm not living there any more? What about my degree? Can I continue with my studies even though I won't be attending lectures? What about my friends? Will they forget about me because I'll be too far away and won't see them for months? 

Despite these anxieties, I knew deep down that I wasn't well and urgently needed to take a break to focus on my health - so that's what I did. I moved back home last weekend and don't intend on living away again until the beginning of my second year (around late August/early September). I'll still be studying for my course as normal, but I live too far from my university to commute and therefore will have to access the lectures online and self study.

I don't quite know how the next few months will pan out. What I do know, though, is that I'm fed up of being too exhausted to socialise with friends. I'm fed up of feeling light-headed every time I do something that exerts the tiniest amount of energy. I'm fed up of being so spaced out that I can't focus on anything for any considerable length of time. No longer do I want to deal with dry, cracked skin, purple nails, weak muscles and chest pains every day.

I'm viewing this time away from university as a chance to properly attempt recovery. Things have been very up and down with regards to my mental health throughout the past few years, but I've never reached a place where I can say I'm content with myself and my health. I want this to be the turning point where I can say things finally started to change for the better.

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Sunday, 5 March 2017

Life Update: Relapse

TW: Eating disorders

These last few weeks at university have been tough for me (as you may be able to tell from my more recent posts, such as this one and this one). My mood has been low, my anxiety has been through the roof and I've been helplessly losing the battle against my eating disorder. I'm not afraid to admit that I've been struggling a little more than usual lately but to be quite honest, I'm at a loss with what to do next.

I desperately needed to get away and so I arranged to go home for half a week. Only once I was home did I realise how bad I'd actually let things slip. My weight has only been this low once before: when I was at my most unwell with anorexia. I failed to realise that things had become so severe once again because, at university, there is no way of consistently keeping track of my physical health.

It's not like before when I was constantly monitored by CAMHS and the GP - when I'm away it's simply a case of trying to manage things by myself whilst I wait for adult mental health services to finally get around to seeing me. For a while, I was half-functioning and doing just about enough to get by, but more recently things have become too much for me to handle alone.

Tomorrow morning I'm supposed to be returning to uni and I'm dreading it. When I'm alone at night and I start to get chest pains, it scares me. I live in constant fear that my body is giving up on me and I won't have anybody around to help me. Of course, it may just be anxiety causing me these symptoms but either way, it's a horrible thing to go through alone.

I'm lucky enough when I'm at home to have my Mum supporting me as much as she possibly can and I'm not quite sure how I'm going to cope without this now. However, the adult eating disorder service back at uni have decided they can see me and this week I'm supposed to be having two appointments with them - one with a dietician whose input I could really do with.

So that leaves me in a dilemma. Do I stay at home and put my health first, bearing in mind that appointments can be rearranged? Or do I force myself to go back, even though I'm physically rather unwell?

If the decision was mine, I would spend more time at home trying to rest and rebuild my strength somewhat, as risking my physical health seems more detrimental right now than rearranging a few appointments. However, I also have my parent's input to consider, who are quite adamant that I should go back even if it's just to attend the appointments.

I could really use some advice from an objective viewpoint, so if you have any thoughts or solutions that I haven't yet thought of, don't be afraid to talk to me (please, I beg you!).
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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

#EDAW2017: Before & After Photos

This week (27th Feb - 5th March) is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Having struggled with an eating disorder for little over a year and a half now, this topic is a very personal one to me. Therefore, I would like to discuss it further in today's 'Topical Tuesday'.

I began developing an eating disorder at the age of seventeen, in the midst of studying for my A-level exams and applying to university. At the time, I was inundated with feelings of inferiority and anxiety - restricting food and losing weight became a coping mechanism for this. All the while, I failed to realise the damage it was having on me, both physically and psychologically.

Now nineteen, I've been unable to pull myself out of this dangerous mind set of using food as a way of gaining (a sense of) control over my life, my thoughts and my feelings. I moved out of my home to study at university despite my eating disorder, but every day feels like an uphill battle. Most days I struggle to attend lectures, let alone find the energy to have a social life on top of this.

I desperately want to be healthy again and actually start enjoying university life, but I'm afraid it's not that straight-forward. There are many hurdles during recovery, some of which are harder to jump than others. I personally find that the media has a very negative influence on my eating disorder, along with it's obsession with diet culture and the quest for the 'perfect body'.

And that brings me on to today's topic. When reading people's success stories on how they overcame their eating disorder and went on to live a happy & healthy life, I often come across the dreaded 'before and after' photos. Whilst I'm sure these are posted with good intentions, it often leaves me wondering whether or not it is really necessary.

Of course, I am all for people celebrating their achievements when it comes to recovery from mental illness, but is posting a photo of yourself at a dangerously low weight absolutely essential in highlighting this victory?

Eating disorders can be very competitive in nature. Sufferers may feel as though they have to look 'ill enough' in order for their emotional struggle to be taken seriously and in my opinion, these photos can fuel this harmful mind set even more. They provide a point of comparison for those who are still struggling to measure themselves against (I know I certainly do this).

An individual's physical condition is not a reflection of the severity of their emotional struggle. Just because somebody looks more ill from the outside (i.e. a lower weight) does not mean they are automatically more mentally ill than somebody who looks perfectly healthy.

To reiterate: I believe that everybody has the right to be proud of their recovery, I'm just not so sure what purpose a 'before and after' photo serves in this. How far you've come in your recovery is a very personal matter to you. Only you know the full extent of what you've been through emotionally - do you really need a picture to validate this?

I'd be interested to hear other people's opinions on this so please, leave a comment detailing your thoughts!
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Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Accepting Your Illness

I think a really important and maybe even the first step towards recovery is accepting that you have an illness. After all, how are you supposed to recover from something that you don't fully believe you have?

I ask this because it's a thought process I struggle with a lot when it comes to my eating disorder. I've spent over a year in this kind of limbo where I am just about functioning, but not actually getting any better when it comes to my eating habits or health. I've never made much progress towards fully recovering since I first started suffering from an eating disorder at the age of 17.

Perhaps a big contributor to this is the fact that I don't fully accept my illness - I kind of deny that I have an eating disorder at all. In my head, I don't fit the 'description' of somebody with an eating disorder and therefore convince myself that I'm actually fine and don't have anything to recover from. I've been officially diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and yet to me, I am so far from anorexic. At first, I couldn't even imagine applying that label to myself.

When I'm struggling to walk up the stairs without getting out of breath? I'm fine. When I wake up after 12 hours of sleep and still feel exhausted? I'm fine. When I barely have the energy to make it to lectures, let alone socialise with my uni friends? I'm fine. I'm fine, I'm fine, I'M FINE!

And yet, I've come to realise that no matter how ill I get, I'll always deny that I have a problem. I could keep losing weight and chances are, I'll never see myself as anorexic. So surely the better thing to do would be to listen to the professionals, the ones who see this kind of thing every day, and accept that maybe (just maybe) I have an eating disorder. Rather than putting so much energy into denying this fact, I should be putting that energy into focusing on recovery.


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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Topical Tuesday: Why Speak About Mental Health?

I can't quite believe it's Tuesday again but apparently it is and that means it's time for another Topical Tuesday. I don't know if anybody actually reads this little blog series that I started about a month ago, but I'm gonna continue to do it anyway because I wanna!

You may be wondering why I never stop jabbering on and on about mental health on my blog and Twitter account. That's why I thought I'd dedicate this Topical Tuesday to explaining why I think it is such an important topic to talk about.

Everybody has mental health


Surprise, surprise! Even if you don't suffer from a mental illness, you too have mental health. Just as we all strive to look after our physical health, we should be taking steps to look after our mental wellbeing also - it's just as important! Mental health is not an 'us and them' issue. It isn't something that effects some of us and not others: it effects everyone. Just because you don't have a diagnosed condition, doesn't make your mental wellbeing any less important.

Mental illness does not discriminate


No matter your age, race or gender: it is possible you may one day suffer with your mental wellbeing. Maybe you already have a diagnosed condition, or maybe you're lucky enough to have never experienced mental illness. Either way, you are not exempt from potentially struggling with your mental wellbeing at some point in your life. 

That's why it's so important that we take steps now to look after our mental health. It's vital we familiarise ourselves with the early warning signs of when our (or somebody else's) mental health may be suffering, so that we can take action before things progress further. 

Mental illness is not uncommon


Wake up, mental illness exists! (And not only in books, films and on TV). Mental health impacts our lives and the lives of those around us every single day - that isn't something that can be ignored. It's non-sensical that something so very common is so misunderstood and treated as a taboo subject in our society. 

It's important people feel able to reach out when they are struggling with their mental health, and as mental illness affects so many people, this is more important than ever. 

Having a mental illness does not make you 'weird', 'crazy', 'odd' or 'different'. Yet if we don't speak out about it, people will continue to view it as such. 

So there are just a few reasons why I think it's crucial we speak openly about our mental health, and why I started doing it publicly online through my blog and on Twitter. 

Can you think of any? Let me know in the comments below!

(Alternatively, leave a comment if you just feel like reassuring me that people do actually read these Topical Tuesday posts and I'm not just talking to myself every Tuesday evening...). 
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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Loneliness

Loneliness is a weird emotion. It's also one I experience often, especially at university. When I talk about loneliness, I don't mean physical loneliness. There are loads of people around me here (sometimes too many). I live in student accommodation and so I'm constantly surrounded by the noise of people moving around, talking and playing music.

When I speak of loneliness, I mean mental loneliness. Emotional loneliness. That might not make much sense to some people, but if you often feel like this too, you'll get what I mean. That feeling of being completely and utterly disconnected from others - like you're in your own little bubble. Completely wrapped up in your thoughts and unreachable to the outside world.

I find it difficult to relate to people. I find it difficult to express myself around people. I realise now that this is something I've always struggled with. The only difference being, I'm more aware of it now than I was before. I never feel like people really get me, and I don't really get other people. This leaves me feeling quite alone.

Why am I sitting here writing this now? Because this is how I feel tonight. When my mood gets low I become even more sensitive to loneliness.

This isn't how it should be at my age. This isn't how I'm supposed to spend my years at university. I should be out. I should be socialising. I should be having fun. And yet here I am tonight, consumed by feelings of isolation. Hit with the realisation that I am truly alone and always will be.

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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Topical Tuesday: Supporting Others

On my blog, I often focus on mental illness from the perspective of the sufferer. However, I also think it's important to explore the impact it can have on those around us. Therefore, for this week's Topical Tuesday I want to discuss the topic of supporting others.

It can be difficult when somebody close to you suffers from a mental health condition. Obviously, you want to be there for them and support them as much as possible. However, it's important to look after your own wellbeing, too.

This is especially true if you suffer from a mental illness yourself. Being able to speak to others who share similar experiences to you is invaluable. After all, nobody quite understands what it's like to suffer from a mental illness unless they have lived through one themselves. But it can also create many challenges.

How do you find a balance between supporting somebody else, whilst ensuring you are still looking after yourself? At what point must you take a step back and realise that everybody else is not your responsibility? Offering support is one thing, but if it becomes overwhelming, it will not be healthy nor beneficial to anyone involved.

I'm not a medical professional or an expert in mental health by any means, but what I do have is experience. Experience with suffering from a mental illness myself, and also experience with supporting others with a mental health condition. Therefore, I can only discuss the things I've found to be true myself. Of course, I will always encourage people to seek help from professional services wherever possible.

Let them know you are there


Sometimes, just knowing that somebody will always be there is enough. You aren't obliged to offer advice or be the hero in every situation. Simply letting somebody know that no matter what, you are there to support them, can go a long way in their recovery.


Give them space


It may sound like I'm going back on my previous point with this one, but giving each other space is equally important. Yes, it's good to let somebody know you are there to support them. However, that doesn't have to mean checking up on them 24/7. It's vital that both the supporter and supportee (is that even a word?) are given the chance to breathe every now and then.

(Obviously this doesn't apply in a situation where the individual is at risk and are therefore in need of constant observation).

Direct them to appropriate services


Whilst you may not be able to give somebody direct advice yourself, you can point them to alternative services that may be of help. That may mean encouraging them to go to the GP, where they can access community mental health services. Or you could make them aware of other services, such as Samaritans, who they can contact if they need somebody objective to speak to.

I've gathered a few useful resources myself here.


All in all, it can be really difficult to figure out exactly what your responsibility as a friend/relative is. In general though, I think it's important to realise when helping somebody else is causing you to put your own wellbeing at risk - and it's probably better to establish the boundaries before it gets to that point.

What's your experience of supporting somebody with their mental health? What impact did it have on you? How did you deal with it?

Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading.




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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Time to Talk Day 2017!

Today is Time to Talk Day, created by the mental health charity Time To Change!

Time to Change aim to end mental health discrimination by encouraging the conversation around mental health and hopefully, ending stigma. This is something I'm obviously passionate about too, so I wanted to contribute to the day by writing a post for my blog.

Since today is centred around the topic of talking, I thought it might be useful to speak about how I came to talk openly about my mental health difficulties - both with those close to me, but also on my blog and on social media.

Understandably, talking about our mental health can be extremely difficult and many people are therefore reluctant to do so. However, I personally believe the more we open up about our experiences, the easier it becomes for ourselves and others to do the same. Talking is essential in ensuring sufferers receive the support they need.

Firstly, a bit of background.

I think I've displayed symptoms of anxiety throughout all of my childhood. I would worry excessively about people breaking in, to the point where I was afraid to sleep alone. I would sit on top of the stairs in the middle of the night watching the front door, just to ensure there was definitely nobody coming through it.

It's safe to say I was an anxious child, but only now do I realise I was displaying symptoms of a disorder.

At age thirteen, I developed symptoms of OCD. I would repeatedly experience intrusive thoughts about death, violence, murder. I started carrying out compulsions to control the thoughts. Tapping my foot on each corner of the kitchen every time I went in there for something. Flicking the light switch on and off until it felt 'right'. Endless rituals that took up a lot more of my day than I even realised.

It was in my teens that I started to suspect maybe there was something more going on. Surely, it's not 'normal' to think that if you don't step over the door frame in a certain way, then you are going to be the victim of a horrific crime. Surely, everybody else my age doesn't constantly argue with themselves in their own head - almost like there exists an evil, manipulative person who torments you with your greatest fears.

I was too embarrassed to reveal to anybody the hell that was unfolding in my mind. I kept it to myself for years, carefully covering up each compulsion so that others wouldn't notice them. I was ashamed. I was afraid. I didn't understand what was happening to me and I thought I was the only one experiencing this. If was terrified that if I told anybody, they would think I was crazy.

It wasn't until I was in sixth form that I couldn't hide it any longer. My symptoms exploded in ways I couldn't have imagined and I lost all ability to function. I became withdrawn from friends and at seventeen, was completely dependent on my Mum to carry out even the most basic tasks. I was marched to the doctor where I was referred to CAMHS to undergo CBT.

Ever since then, I've been pretty open about my mental health difficulties. I'm lucky in that my Mum has always been supportive and understanding. I can be honest with her about whatever I'm going through with the knowledge that she'll always be there for me. For that, I really do owe her everything.

If you are going through a difficult time right now, please tell somebody. You don't have to suffer in silence and you are never alone - there will always be somebody who listens. There will always be somebody who cares.
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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Topical Tuesday: Managing A Job With Mental Illness

At the age of nineteen, I feel like I should be supporting myself financially. Most people my age at least work part-time, and yet here I am, still relying on my parents to fund my entire existence. I'm almost embarrassed to admit to people that I don't have a job. I'd even go as far as to say I'm ashamed by it.

Why? Probably a mixture of the expectations I have of myself and the values that society places on its members.

People can be quite judgemental towards the unemployed - as though not working makes you a less worthy person or just 'lazy', and perhaps some people are just that. However, before jumping to such conclusions, I think it's important to bear in mind that there are many different reasons why some people are unable to work. It's not fair to tar everyone with the same brush.

Mental health conditions can have a massive impact on an individual's overall wellbeing and functioning. They take over so much of your life that it becomes impossible to focus on anything else. That's why managing a job can be so much more difficult when suffering from a mental illness.

Many people fail to realise this because they can't see the illness on the outside, but that doesn't make it any less debilitating. Not to mention that many mental health conditions also cause physical symptoms anyway, fatigue for example.

If you could see that somebody physically couldn't work, you wouldn't tell them to 'just get over it' or 'stop being lazy'. And yet when it comes to mental illness, that's exactly what we tell people.

I really want to hear your views on this topic. Do you find it more difficult to manage a job because of your mental health? Have you ever been stigmatised because of it? Let me know below.
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Saturday, 28 January 2017

Becoming a Press Ambassador for Student Minds!

So something very exciting is happening this weekend: I am going to be attending Story Sessions as part of my Press Ambassador training for Student Minds. There will be a group of us coming together from universities all around the country, in order to learn how we can share our mental health story in a sensitive and helpful way. It will be such a great opportunity to encourage conversations around student mental health, something I am particularly passionate about (you know, being a student with mental health difficulties 'n all).

Of course, I'm feeling a mixture of emotions about it...

Nervous. I can find social situations especially challenging at times, and so the idea of spending a day with a group of new people and talking about something extremely personal to me makes me ever so slightly apprehensive. More than anything, I just want to make a good impression. I put myself under a lot of pressure to present the best version of me and appear as though I have my life 'together'. What's important though is that I'm just myself and I can only do that if I relax and worry less about what people think of me (easier said than done!).

I've never done anything like this before and the unknown obviously brings with it a sense of fear and uncertainty (something I don't deal all that well with). It's the sort of opportunity I definitely would have shied away from in the past, but I now appreciate just how rewarding pushing myself out of my comfort zone can be and so I wasn't going to turn it down! Fear is a powerful force, but it doesn't always have to be a negative one. Sometimes, it can be the very thing that drives us to our greatest achievements.

And then there are of course all of the other little worries I have. Eating in front of people - something I detest doing. At one point I even refused to eat in front of my group of friends at sixth form, and so would go through the school day eating nothing in order to avoid it. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to overcome this at Story Sessions, but I'm sure I'll find a way. Then there's the 'what ifs'. What if I embarrass myself? What if I panic and have to leave the room? What if I do that thing I do where I get really socially anxious and start going all red and sweaty? What if, what if, WHAT IF?!

Excited. When I started my blog, I felt quite isolated. Everybody around me was enjoying being a teenager. They were confident, clever and talented. I was none of those things (or so I thought). And so, I started a blog in the hopes of connecting with people. Attending Story Sessions means I get to meet like-minded people in real life, who have been through similar experiences to me. I'll discover things about their own mental health story, and hopefully be able to relate to a lot of what they've been through.

So there we have it. This weekend is going to be a challenge for me but an exciting one, and one I am determined to face head on. I'm planning on writing a blog post about how I found the day, so look out for that over the next week!
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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Topical Tuesday: The Effects of Labelling

For my second Topical Tuesday, I would like to discuss labels. More specifically, I would like to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of being 'labelled' with a mental health condition.

Perhaps a good way to begin this post is by first explaining exactly what I mean by a 'label'. When I use this term, I'm referring to being given a diagnosis of a particular mental health condition by a medical professional, such as 'OCD' or 'depression'. For example, I have been diagnosed with OCD, anxiety and an eating disorder - so I guess I am labelled with these conditions, so to speak? Or at least, I identify as suffering from these specific mental health conditions.

But what are the benefits of being given diagnoses such as these? And can it have any damaging effects to either the individual diagnosed or how society views mental health as a whole?

As usual with Topical Tuesday, I posted a poll on Twitter asking other mental health sufferers to vote. I asked:

'As a mental health sufferer, do you find being 'labelled' with a condition beneficial?'.


I was actually quite surprised by the results of this poll. For some reason, I was expecting more people to vote no, they do not find being labelled beneficial. However, only 5% actually voted in this way. Instead, 40% said do in fact find being 'labelled' beneficial, and the majority (55%) answered with 'sometimes'. This got me thinking about both sides of the argument...


Positives


1. It's comforting to know there is a name for what we are going through (it is not made up, it is a real thing!)

I don't know about you, but the irrational voice in my mind likes to try and convince me that I'm a fake. I worry that I don't actually have an illness, rather I am just an attention seeker. However, being able to give a name to my mental health difficulties is reassuring. This condition exists, I am not making it up.

2. There are other people out there that feel the same!


If we can identify ourselves as suffering from a particular condition, then we can also identify others that suffer from that same condition. It can be comforting when we come across somebody else with the same diagnosis as us and helps us to feel less alone in our struggle. Talking is powerful, and so being able to share experiences with those who suffer from the same condition can be extremely helpful.

3. Others might recognise our struggle is real

Not only is it reassuring for us to know that what we are experiencing is actually a real thing, but it might also help others to understand. Being able to explain to those around us that we suffer from this condition or that condition, and that is why we may behave in a certain way sometimes, helps them to understand as much as it does us.

4. Finding appropriate treatment

If we know what we are suffering from, we are more likely to be able to treat it. Different mental health conditions react better with different medications and therapies. What might work well for one condition, may not be so effective with another. Therefore, it's important to know what it is we are experiencing in order to find the best treatment for us.

Negatives 


1. Stigma/stereotypes

Being able to identify a certain disorder is all well and good, however there are often negative stereotypes that come attached to these labels.

For example, OCD is often mistakenly seen as just being neat and tidy. Depression may be viewed as nothing more than being 'sad', when in fact it is so much more than that and involves a whole array of emotions. We may have an expectation for somebody with an eating disorder to be very underweight. When in reality, there exists a whole range of eating disorders, not all of which involve restriction.

Such stereotypes can have a detrimental effect on the sufferer, but also how others view that person - including teachers, doctors etc. Stereotypes can lead to very limited knowledge on the actual reality of these conditions and can fool us into thinking that any one experience is the same, when that is not the case at all.

2. Attributing all behaviours to that one disorder

Just because somebody suffers from a mental illness, does not mean everything they do is as a result of that condition.

For example, I am quite a tidy individual. I like to keep things organised and neat. I also suffer from OCD. Put two and two together, and you may conclude that my tidy personality is a result of my OCD. However, I would actually disagree with this. I do not view my preference for organisation as a symptom of my OCD at all. I just like things tidy, this does not cause me distress and I do not recognise it as a compulsion.

People with mental health conditions also have personality traits that are separate to their illness (everybody has a personality, after all). This is why some people prefer to use terms such as 'I have depression' as opposed to 'I'm depressed'.

Mental health sufferers are not defined by their illness.

Overall, I believe that being 'labelled' or diagnosed with a mental health condition is a positive thing (due to the benefits I mentioned above). Of course, everything is going to have it's drawbacks - that's something you can't really escape. I think the term 'labelling' often has negative connotations, especially when it comes to mental health. However, this is largely due to the stigma that society has created around them, rather than the labels themselves.

Hopefully, as more and more people get on board with spreading awareness of mental health, we can work to change the negatives that are associated with such labels.

What do you think? Do you think labelling people with certain mental health conditions is positive, or is it damaging to the sufferer and how society views mental health? If you can think of any more positives/negatives, I'd love to hear them.

Let me know by commenting below!

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Thursday, 19 January 2017

I Wish I Could Let Go

TW: Eating Disorders

I wish I could let go of my control over food. I wish I could snap out of my eating disorder and make it disappear with the click of a finger. But I can't. I keep holding onto it and I'm not even sure why, all it ever does is bring me sadness. Then again, that's not all it brings me, is it? Otherwise I wouldn't listen to its lies. I wouldn't fall time and time again for the false sense of security it provides me with.

I think back to why I started losing weight in the first place. I was in sixth form, everybody around me was achieving things that I never thought I'd be capable of - writing a personal statement, applying to university, achieving good grades. I felt worthless in comparison. I started on medication which initially made me lose weight and that's when I realised...this is something I can excel at. 

I felt envious of everybody else all of the time, and it was time they were envious of me for something. People would say to me at lunchtime when I would repeatedly refuse biscuits, chocolate, cake, 'I wish I had your will power'. I thought to myself, they could only ever wish they were as skinny as me and that they had my level of self-control. Finally, I had something about me that others could only dream of.

It spiralled from there really, almost like an addiction. I was addicted to the sense of euphoria restriction gave me. I was addicted to seeing the number on the scale drop and drop and drop. Comments about my weight loss or lack of food intake would only fuel my addiction. I thrived off of people's concern.

I realise how twisted that sounds, but eating disorders are just that: twisted. They are manipulative, deceiving, irrational. How else do you think they manage to completely take over a person's mind? They creep up on you when you are vulnerable with the offer of comfort, a solution to your problems.

What starts off with just one thought quickly multiplies until your entire life is ruled by a chaos of disordered thoughts...

It started off with viewing weight loss as an achievement. I then reasoned that if not eating was good, then eating was surely bad? That's when the feelings of guilt/disgust made an appearance. I felt weak for giving in to food, like I was doing something very wrong by simply giving my body the energy it so desperately needs. I'd made so much progress with weight loss and eating 'healthily' (I put that in quotation marks because my idea of healthy is definitely not healthy). I couldn't bear to ruin my achievements by gaining the weight back/eating 'normally' again.

As I look back, I can understand why I was so easily fooled into thinking weight loss was in fact a good thing to do. But what I can't explain is why I still hold onto it now? It's been a year and a half since then. I DID write a personal statement. I DID apply to university. Not only that, but I've done a few more things I'm rather proud of in the past year (starting my blog, for one). And yet, nothing comes close to the sense of achievement I gain from restricting...and I fear nothing else ever will. 

I now recognise that every thought I have about food is wrong. Yet, no matter how much I want to, I can't change them. I still listen to them. I still believe them (however briefly). I still hold onto the idea that being underweight makes me good. I want to view food normally again. I want to eat what I fancy and not feel like I deserve to be punished for it. 

More than anything though, I want to let go...but I just can't.
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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Topical Tuesday: Independence & Mental Illness

I want to introduce some consistency to my blog posts and so, I am going to start a blog series entitled 'Topical Tuesday'. Basically, every Tuesday I will aim to publish a blog post discussing an important topic within mental health and sharing my views on such topics. I really hope people decide to join in and voice their own opinions, either in the comments or on Twitter. My first 'Topical Tuesday' post is on mental health and independence, following on from a Twitter poll I posted a few weeks ago...

I think we all get to a certain age where we begin to appreciate a level of independence and control over our lives. We want the space to live our life how we see best.  Having said that, when living with a mental illness, this sense of autonomy can be taken away from us to some degree. We may be more reliant on others or not trusted to be left to our own devices as much as the next person. I'm not for one second saying there is something wrong with this, rather just pointing out that this is true for many people with mental health conditions (of course not for everybody).

Take me for example. When I was in the grasps of severe OCD, I relied on my Mum heavily for help and support. I'd even go as far to say I was completely dependent on her for a while. I needed her help to do the most basics of tasks: eating, drinking, the list goes on. I was seventeen years of age but I relied on her as if I was a young child. It's not like that anymore, but even now I still rely on those close to me for emotional support, as well as receiving a bit of extra support from uni and mental health services.

Sometimes however, it can start to feel suffocating. Having people check up on me all of the time can get frustrating, especially when I just want to be left alone.  I do not want to feel as though I'm less independent than others just because I suffer from a mental illness - and it's not just me who can feel this way. I ran a poll on Twitter and around half of the people who voted agreed that as a mental health sufferer, they are given less independence than others.

It's a tricky one and there are many important aspects that must be considered. Of course I fully acknowledge that some individuals' welfare may be at risk and therefore, as frustrating as it may be for them at the the time, they can't be given full independence. However, at a certain stage in recovery there needs to be a balance between having suitable support in place without it being overbearing. I think it's essential when you are getting better to learn how to take responsibility for yourself again and not rely on others too much.

Of course this is my standpoint on the topic and yours may differ, in which case I'd love to hear what you have to say! Everybody's experience is going to be different and what's good for one person may not be good for another, but that is the nature of mental illness: no two experiences are exactly the same.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you feel you are given less independence because of your mental illness?

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Thursday, 5 January 2017

Six Tips on Studying With Depression

Some common symptoms of depression include: lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating and fatigue. So, it's barely surprising that studying whilst simultaneously struggling with depression can seem an impossible task. Nonetheless, just because you suffer from depression doesn't mean you get excluded from responsibility and that means you are still expected to sit your exams in January, get your essay in by the deadline and keep up with your work - whether that be at school, sixth form or university.

I'm experiencing this problem at the minute. Next week is exam week at my university and I'm struggling to find the motivation and focus to sit down and actually read through my notes. At times like these I prefer to bury my head in the sand and ignore all knowledge that I am actually going to be sitting these exams in no less than one weeks time, instead finding numerous other irrelevant and pointless tasks to invest my time into. I think this is what they call 'procrastination', something I am somewhat an expert in.

Just now I sat down to start revising, switched on my laptop, my revision notes are laid out right in front of my face, and yet somehow I've ended up writing this blog post...

So, how do you muster up the motivation to get something productive done when your brain is doing it's bloomin' upmost to prevent it? I will attempt to share with you some tips which sometimes help me when I'm feeling this way (and then I will proceed to not take my own advice).

1) Begin


Often, the hardest part is starting. I know I have the habit of putting things off until it creates a much bigger problem than it needed to be. So, get over that first hurdle and encourage yourself to just start. You might find that things flow on from there without too much bother. 

2) Break your work up into manageable amounts


There's no point overloading yourself with work or telling yourself that you are going to get all of it done in one single sitting, you will basically be setting yourself up to fail. Because, the fact of the matter is: nobody can maintain focus on their work for hours on end without needing a break. Instead, try and set yourself manageable amounts of work to complete at a time. Tell yourself you will spend 20 minutes revising and then take a break, or you will get one paragraph of your essay done and then have a rest. It may feel like it isn't worth it but trust me, it will probably be far more useful than forcing yourself to study until you burn out. 

3) Take breaks


I sort of mentioned this in the previous point, but remember to give yourself regular breaks when you are working. This will give you a chance to refresh and make it easier to focus again when you return to whatever it is you were doing. Make yourself a cup of tea, have a snack. Do whatever it is that you need to do to keep you going, which leads me on to my next point...


4) Look after you


Basic human needs don't become any less important just because you have an essay in for tomorrow or an exam to sit next week. Remember to stay hydrated, eat enough and get enough sleep even when you are in the midst of revision. How can you expect yourself to be able to concentrate if you aren't even looking after your basic health?

5) Remove distractions


I will always find an excuse to not sit down and revise:

'I need to organise my stationary first, how can I work if I can't find my pencils?!'

 'I need to clean the sink before I can revise, else I obviously won't be able to focus on anything but the sink!'

'Now is as good a time as ever to reorganise my wardrobe by colour and clothing item! :)

It's impossible to remove all distractions but if there are certain things that you know will draw your attention away from your work, remove it from sight. Turn off your phone and put it in a draw. Whatever it is, try and make it so that the only thing you can focus on is the work that is in front of you.

6) Give yourself some credit


Your depression is not your fault. Feeling unmotivated and therefore struggling with your work is not your fault and it doesn't make you lazy. I know how it feels and if you're anything like me, you still have high expectations of yourself and desperately want to succeed, yet do not have the energy to revise as much as you'd like. Rather than focusing on how little work you're doing, focus on what you have achieved. Even managing to do a bit of work whilst battling with your own mind day in, day out is a huge achievement, and don't forget that.

I hope at least some of these tips were helpful. I am now going to try them out myself and hopefully get some revision done! Good luck if like me, you have exams coming up or if you've got essays to do. Depression can make everything seem a great deal harder, but there are things you can do to make things even a tiny bit easier for yourself.

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Sunday, 1 January 2017

Alcohol & Antidepressants: A Bad Mix?

This post is a reminder for future Lisa: never drink again.

For me, drinking is all fun and games whilst I'm doing it but give it a few hours and you may find me crying on the bathroom floor. So why do I drink then, I hear you ask?

Alcohol makes it easier for me to be myself around people. Ask any of my uni friends and they'll tell you they like drunk Lisa (I like drunk Lisa too). She's more carefree, talkative, confident and funny. It makes being in social situations more bearable and allows me to express myself when I otherwise wouldn't feel comfortable doing so. When you are around your friends, you don't want to be the miserable one bringing everyone down, so a few drinks helps me feel more...cheery?

However, alcohol and mental illness don't always make a good match, especially if you are taking medication for your mental health. I've been reminded of this today because, after a few drinks this afternoon, I feel like shit this evening. Sure at the time I felt great without a single care in the world but now I'm paying for it. I feel depressed and anxious and like I cannot cope anymore.

I should have seen it coming really as I'm taking antidepressants and the leaflet does warn against drinking alcohol whilst on the medication, but give me a break it's New Year's Day. And yes a few people on Twitter reminded me that alcohol is in fact a depressant (so I can barely be surprised that it makes me feel depressed) but sometimes I conveniently forget that fact and just want to enjoy myself like every other nineteen year old. I'm only human, after all. So if you are sitting there condemning me and thinking to yourself 'this is all your own fault for being an irresponsible idiot', then go ahead, I am thinking it too.

What is your experience of mixing alcohol & medication? Does drinking have a negative effect on your mental health?
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