Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2017 – Not your typical “before” and “after”

It is Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) this week.

Originally I was going to get people onboard to make alternative “before” and “after” images – get people to submit photographs representing before and after in a way that was not using images of emaciated bodies. This felt complicated; what images would do that? An image of someone alone, then surrounded by people? It did not feel completely right nor possible.

Then I gave up on doing anything for two reasons; number one, because I was feeling deflated. What is the point in raising awareness? It does nothing. I felt sick of hearing about mental illness. I struggle with it every day and I want it to go away. Why talk about it? I want to run away from it. Number two, what is the point of any of it? I felt like help does not help, and that all these campaigns do is glorify eating disorders and other unhelpful things. I did not see the point – to understand where I am coming from, this article is partially helpful. I really advise you read it as it makes many of the points I feel we need to become more aware of; it is a problem in the mainstream media, but increasingly more so on social media. It is what my message is for EDAW 2017 (and probably every EDAW ever).

I have also wrote three other posts – the last one being my favourite:

This year to tackle the issue I have with EDAW images I have decided to focus on making posts via graphics on social media myself. There will be two different types:

  1. Alternative “before” and “afters”
  2. “I have to learnt to…” – which talk about things I have learnt in recovery to show was recovery is really about, beyond food or weight.

To see these posts, and to share them, take a look:
Instagram
Twitter

They are also available on my personal Facebook account, and on Friday 26 March I will post a collection of them on here.

 

 

 

 

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Breakthrough! I don’t care!

I struggle immensely  with people not agreeing with me, or liking what I say. I have an intense need for approval.

I just bought the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k: How to stop spending time you don’t have, doing things you don’t want to do with people you don’t like”. It is blunt. It is extreme. And even though I haven’t started it yet, I think it is a book I need to read.

Tonight someone commented on my Instagram, disagreeing with my opinion. Not only disagreeing with my opinion, but personally attacking me.

It was not even really my opinion, it was a screenshot of a blog I read and agreed with.

For the first time ever I did not care. I do not have the same opinions as this person. In fact, she is the perfect example of what I hate about the online eating disorder”recovery” community.

I do not believe that low body weight photographs are a helpful way to represent recovery from an eating disorder. She does.

She’s entitled to that opinion and I have never, and will never, personally attack her for holding that view. It is a shame she will personally attack me, but that is her problem. I’ve realised that her approach to our differing opinions is her issue, and not mine.

For the first time ever, I don’t really give a F**k! I am not going to get personal and I am not going to argue. I never have. But what is new is that it does not bother me!

 

 

Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate, So Why Do We?

I was at an appointment the other day. The staff were aware of my mental health problems, and they asked me what I do in my free time. I said at the moment I am working and at university. She looked shocked. She then said “unpaid work, though?” because obviously us crazy folk cannot hold down a paid job. I mean, what kind of fool would pay me to work?

It annoys me. Number one unpaid work is a brilliant thing to do for experience, and for giving something. Number two, why would you assume my job is unpaid?

I was then further annoyed when she said I needed to come back on Monday to see their consultant. I told her I had work, and couldn’t make it. She looked at me and said “well, you have to have see the consultant” and then booked me an appointment any way. I was stood there thinking ‘yup, please ignore me, my words mean nothing’.

I honestly do not think that if I was ten years older, and not in for something mental health related, she wouldn’t have ignored me. But hey, I am crazy so my job cannot be that important, right?!

We think that we have progressed with our attitudes towards mental illness, and my gut reaction is to say some progress has definitely been made. I mean, we do not lock everyone away in asylums anymore, people are not oblivious to mental illness, and people know what depression is. Mental health is talked about more. Being homosexual is no longer a sign of insanity, and we do not drill into peoples brains hoping it will ‘fix’ them like we did in 1935.

My research in my undergraduate degree proved that making a definitive conclusion is not that easy. Some things have improved, some things have not. Do you know what schizoaffective disorder is? What about obsessive compulsive personality disorder? Unless you have an interest in mental illness, or personal experience, probably not. Even spellcheck does not think ‘schizoaffective’ is a word.

While general attitudes have become better, I would argue it is something we are fine about as long as we do not have to come face-to-face with it, and for a lot of people mental illness is something that affects others, not themselves. Did you know that only 46.9% of disabled people are in employment? Which is a gap 33.1% higher compared to people without a disability. The disability employment gap is one of the most significant inequalities today.

In 2015 the Conservative Party stated that to half the gap they would need to change policies, practices and public attitudes.

Not all disabled people can work, fact. That is why there is no goal to get rid of the gap completely. But some can, and some want to. It is easy for people to respond to this huge gap by saying that disabled people do not want to work, that they want to live off benefits, and all of that other rubbish that realistically applies to a very small percentage of those with disabilities, and actually also to a larger number of people without

I do not personally have much of an issue with the term disability. I would agree that I do have a disability, and that it can be extremely disabling. But it can also be worked with if I am surrounded by people who are willing to be understanding, and to provide me the right environment to minimise the impact my disability has on my ability to work, and to succeed.

Starting my recent internship has made me aware of the difficulty I would definitely have to work full-time, while juggling my medical appointments. I can see why this could be unattractive for an employer, and even for me; even if I managed to find an employer who was happy for me to take time off work for appointments, it would mean that my disability would still be impacting my ability to work full-time, and receive full pay. But this is the thing. I would not think about that; that is something I have to live with, but being discriminated against, is not.

I would be overwhelmed by the amazing support of my workplace to enable me to work. I would arrange my appointments as best I could to avoid interruption. I would stay late at work if I could, or arrive early. I would give everything I could and more, and being able to have my necessary appointments would actually boost my productivity at work, compared to if I was having to delay them, hide them, or become stressed at managing them.

The thing is, people can discriminate against people with mental illness, but mental illness is never going to discriminate against you. You might have a negative attitude towards those with a mental health problem, but they are still going to come into your life. It is going to affect your colleagues, employees, friends or family, whether you like it or not. Whether you think it is something that happens in your life or not.

More scarily perhaps, is that one day it might be you. You could be the top dog in a major company who does not take particularly take an interest in disability in the workplace. You might be a bit irritated that your PA, Janice, has to take two hours off on a Wednesday afternoon because she has a one hour appointment with her community psychiatric nurse, plus has to travel to and from the clinic. You will forget Janice stayed at work for an extra hour on three days last week. You will forget Janice doesn’t take lunch breaks, and always emails back at weekends. You will forget that since Janice started her role, she has made your day-to-day life easier, and taken on many extra roles that you never expected her to take.

You will be reluctant to hire the best applicant for your new events manager because she disclosed that she has physical health problems that will mean she has to take some time off work once per month to travel to a hospital out of the local area. You will think that you need someone who does not have these needs, and that they are not suitable for your company, just like the principal that once said to my support worker that students with severe mental health problems are not going to achieve A-Levels, so why support them in trying to do so?

And then fast forward, it is 2027. You have been getting very stressed at work. Janice left, and her replacement is struggling. Your wife has been working away a lot, your kids have left home, and it is like you never see neither them or your wife any more; she admitted a few months back that she is not happy in your marriage. Your mother has Alzheimer’s (which is a mental illness too, but for some reason that doesn’t count) and she is deteriorating. Last time you saw her she did not know who you were. You have begun thinking a lot about your childhood growing up, and how she used to be. You keep remembering things you had forgotten; maybe your childhood was not as rosy as you had convinced yourself. You remember your father being very violent to your mother, and having to witness that. Bit by bit it is coming back to you, like a tap that no matter how hard you tighten it, it just will not stop dripping.

You feel low. You know you do. You say low, because you do not want to say depressed. Men do not get depressed, not strong men like you. Not top of the company men. Not men who earn £100, 00o per annum. Not men who are well educated, and whose parents were too. You tell yourself you will ‘snap out of it’ soon. Maybe you just need to work harder. Only weak people take a step back, take a break. But it is getting worse, and you end up going to see your GP. I mean, he will just say you are fine.

Well, apparently not. Apparently you have signs of depression, but mental illness is not something you will ever experience, right? He must be wrong.

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#TimetoTalk 2017

It is #TimetoTalk day tomorrow.

‘Time to Talk’ day is held by the mental health movement ‘Time to Change‘, which aims to change how people think and act about mental health to reduce isolation, and feelings of shame or worthlessness.

‘Time to Talk’ day tackles the difficulty of being able to be open about mental health problems by supporting people to be able to take the time to talk and listen.

For someone with a mental health problem talking can be a complicated issue. There is wanting to be open and honest Vs the fears of being judged and treated differently. There is wanting to share your struggles and experiences Vs wanting to maintain privacy. There is wanting to raise awareness and reduce stigma Vs not knowing what, nor how much, to say.

Talking is important. Being able to talk if you want to is particularly important; but I have to highlight that it is OK for you to choose how you approach this. Some people are private, some people are open, and many are somewhere in-between. There is no right or wrong way to talk about mental illness. We all share different things with different people; some people find strangers easier to talk to, some people prefer to talk to a select few. Some people talk online to raise awareness, but do not talk about it in their day-to-day lives.

Talking to raise awareness is incredibly important, but this does not mean you have to talk about anything you do not want to. The point of this campaign is to help people, not pressure them. You might just want to raise general awareness, rather than divulge personal information. Finding how you want to use your experiences and voice is a journey that takes time.

The reality is though, that despite amazing improvements in public understanding of mental illness, there remains stigma attached to having a mental disorder. There can still be feelings of shame attached to struggling with something that is both extremely common, and also not the your fault.

The biggest thing we need everyone to understand is that nobody is immune from mental health problems. The chances of you knowing a friend, family member, or colleague with a mental health problem is high. One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Not having a mental health problem right now does not make you immune. Having a great career, great family, good income, or anything else does not make you immune neither. Just become someone “looks fine” does not mean they do not have a mental health problem.

Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect everyone. 

Sadly it often takes personal experiences to fully understand the impact and reality of life with a mental illness. It often takes having, or knowing someone with a mental illness, to make people take an interest – but mental illness should be something on everyone’s agenda.

“The way you act towards someone with a mental illness can change their life: by opening up to mental health you can make a real difference. ”

Time to Change

Mental illness is a disability, but with the right treatment, understanding, empathy and adjustments, it does not have to be disabling.

For ideas on how to get  involved with #TimetoTalk visit the website here.

If you have not yet signed the ‘Time to Change’ pledge and joined the 96675 other peopple who have, do so now!

 

 

 

 

 

It’s update time again!

I started my six week internship on Monday. I was meant to start two weeks ago, but unfortunately ended up in hospital twice.

I had no belief in myself that I could work. I thought that there was no way I am confident enough…no way I was going to get myself there. The two hospital admissions served as further evidence of this. Fast forward to Monday 8:20am, leaving the house to get there…and it hit me…the “normal” worries. Can I do the work? What if I can’t? What if I make them regret taking interns from my university? I had been so worried about not being able to even get myself there, that I had somehow forgotten about the more important worries.

Well, it has been fabulous. I am fortunate that both my university, and the place I am working for, have been very accommodating, and although they do not know it, have helped me stop myself from self-sabotaging.

I am working for a charity, as a Campaigns and Communications Officer, working primarily on one campaign. Everything is good. The routine and structure is good for me. The people I work with are lovely, the charity itself is amazing. When I applied for this intern scheme, I never expected to be so lucky to get the perfect match; not only am I doing a role I would love to do in the future as a career, but I am also working for the kind of place I would love to work for.

My work is especially geared around social media – scheduling posts and analytics. As well as drafting emails, promoting our campaign strategies etc.

My normal life is quite unstructured, especially as I do my own research at university, and therefore have minimal contact time. My sleep routine is less than healthy, and my iron levels dropped in December to borderline transfusion level. I felt like the odds of coping with working were against me. And yet the hours go SO quickly. I would work here part-time for free, without a doubt. I am so interested in what I am doing, I find myself researching and keeping an eye on one of our campaign strategies as soon as I get home. Heck, I check one right before I go to sleep!

The hardest part has to be managing my medical appointments. At the moment I have no contact with mental health services, other than the crisis team which is due to end tomorrow (and they can see me late evenings, so outside of office hours), but I am seeing two outpatient clinics for physical health problems plus another service. I feel like I live in hospital at the moment. I was at the hospital yesterday, and the day before, and two days before that. I finished work just after 5pm today, and went straight to the hospital. Tomorrow I am back at the hospital again for an X-Ray and then for a fracture clinic appointment. Then I am seeing my support worker at university, followed by the crisis team. I want to fit the gym in somewhere, but I am not sure where!

I am kind of relieved that my referral to CMHT is being messed about with. Every week I am told this is the week I will hear from them, and every week I don’t. I’m not sure I have the time for them right now, nor do I particularly want to engage in mental health services anymore. I was discharged from the two services I was under in November and December. The November one was due to being classed as “too high risk” for what they offer, and the December one was because the person I saw retired, and I no longer required help for that aspect of my problems – it was the Anorexia Nervosa service from where I am originally from, and I am doing well in that respect. I must admit it is nice not to travel back home every week! I’m finding I prefer not being under anyone at the moment. It’s a nice break from 10 years of mental health services. Whether it’s a good thing, or a bad thing, is debatable.

The service I was discharged from in November want me to consider returning there in a years time, when I am more stable. But it’s a three day per week day programme, for one year. Plus a prep group before you do that for a maximum of 6 months, and an after group as well, for six months. As a member of the main programme you are also expected to run the prep group in blocks, increasing it to four days per week at times.

I’d rather not go back to a place that made me feel the way it did, with people I would honestly rather never see again in my life. I’d rather do my PhD full time without juggling therapy, or get a full time job in the field I am passionate about.

Right now, I am focusing on managing this internship and my medical appointments, and I need to make sure I get on top of my MA work. I will re-assess after the internship.

For now, I’m going to focus on the fact that I am doing this, and that I am more capable than I realise. I don’t know how many positive experiences it is going to take for me to learn this!

Protected: Things I said I would never do.

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No, I do not wake up at 6am.

I do not get up at 6am. I do not start my day off with a coffee followed by a yoga session. I do not eat overnight oats made with almond milk and topped with chia seeds.

I lay in for as long as I can, and stay up as late as I can. I plan to try yoga, and never do. I’ve got chia seeds in my cupboard and I have absolutely no idea what to do with them. I am not an early bird. I waste a lot of time doing not a lot. I work better at night.

And that is ok, and it has taken me a long time to feel ok about it.

There appears to be an installed belief that certain things make you a better person. For so long I have wished I was a morning person. That person who wakes up and exercises before breakfast, has managed a gym session before work. That fills their time efficiently.

I am not that person. I need food as soon as I get up. I prefer going to the gym late afternoon. I procrastinate. I do not drink coffee and if I want a packet of crisps, I am having a packet of crisps. The chia seeds are probably going to remain in the cupboard.

Spending so long wanting to be different, wanting to be what I feel I should be, has done nothing but make me worse. It has done nothing but make me feel bad, guilty and wrong.

I am awful for not doing work for ages, and then doing a heap of work at once. And I say ‘awful’ because people do not see it as the best way to be – but now I am asking why is it not? I get my work done. I produce good work. Just because I work differently to what you do, or differently to what is apparently ‘ideal’, does not make my way wrong.

No I do not eat chia seeds. I eat far too much peanut butter. I have crisps with my lunch everyday and I do not measure out everything I eat. I eat the way I always have. I eat what I want, when I want, making sure I get everything that I need. I am at a healthy weight, I exercise regularly. I do a lot of the things we are told not to do. I eat sugar. I eat ‘junk’ food. I skip the gym because sometimes skipping the gym is good for my soul. I always eat after 8pm. I am sat typing this at 00:19 in the morning.

Finally I am at peace with this. Right now, this works for me. I am sorry if you think this is bad. I am sorry that my way of working is not of the standard you expect. I am sorry that we live in a world that makes people think they are better than someone else because of the way they live their life.

But I am here telling you it is ok to be the way you are, if it is working for you. And it is also ok to be working on things. I want to start yoga. I want to meditate when I wake up, and when I go to bed. I want to start lifting heavier weights at the gym. I am a work in progress and that is ok.