A girl with too many thoughts...

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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