Losing It: Our NHS on Mental Health

We all have mental health. We don’t all have a mental illness. we have not all experienced a mental health crisis. Sometimes you hear people talking, especially online, about how they had a crisis and sometimes I wonder if the term “mental health crisis” has become somewhat watered down and overused, much like the term “trauma”. Many now refer to trauma for anything a bit significant and overwhelming. The problem with this is that the reality and severity of trauma and mental health crisis become diluted the more they are overused or, alternatively, used out of context. This is why, although difficult viewing, I was really relieved when I saw ‘Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency” listed on 4OD.

The show follows patients through a mental health trust in Nottinghamshire and shines a light on the extremes, the harsh, petrifying and heartbreaking reality of a mental health crisis. In episode 1 we met Laura and Briena. Laura was experiencing her first-ever episode of mental ill-health and was detained on Section 2 for post-partum psychosis – her illness nearly cost the lives of her entire family. Laura was super compliant with treatment in order to get better, however, experienced variations in her mood and energy states, which highlighted the subtlety that psychosis can have: the conviction in delusional thoughts, the not wanting to rest and agitation, the deadish eyes in a family photo that in hindsight give Laura a glimpse into how unwell she was, “I don’t particularly like this one behind me because I think you can see in my eyes that I’m still ill”.

Once she is well, she reflects on the experience and she really hit home. Having come out of a crisis and hospital admission, “we will never be the same people as we were before that day because of what I tried to do but it doesn’t make me feel any better by crying over it…I still regret it and I still live with the guilt” Reflecting she recalls how the realisation of how unwell you’ve been once you’ve recovered from an episode can be harder than being ill, “it’s mad how when you’re ill you don’t realise how serious it is, and then when you come out of it, it hits you even harder …it’s crazy how much… its just kind of come back”.

We are also introduced to Briena, an 11-year-old with deeply disturbing suicidal and intrusive thoughts. She sometimes struggles to articulate herself and has panic attacks so severe she looks to be in real agony. It’s heartbreaking and painful to watch. You can’t even imagine how her parents feel watching their daughter in so much pain and being essentially helpless.

The world of mental health has changed dramatically in the last decade, heck it has changed beyond recognition and even in the last 5 years everything just keeps changing. This can make navigating the system and services out there difficult. It can be more difficult when more people ask for help, because all of our campaigning has worked in de-stigmatising mental illness and mental health difficulties. Unfortunately, the system isn’t prepared for this influx of pleas for help, and so it is, in the words of my social worker yesterday, “they’re changing the system to be more streamlined, so people come in and go out very quickly in order to deal with the influx of need”. I’m sceptical; this sounds like a false economy, where people go in to the system at crisis point and come out just as quickly without the longer term input and support that helps people to get and stay well, “gone are the days when we could support someone for years, we just can’t now. We’re really looking at months”

With this new system I haven’t had a care coordinator allocated to me and I’m one of 70 in my team to have a named professional. This is apparently the worst it has ever been. I have now been told that I won’t be allocated someone new and will instead be discharged because I haven’t had a crisis for a while and although I still need medication adjustments and tweaks about twice a year, I am quite frankly not a priority. I understand this, and in hindsight despite being petrified for the future, I am so grateful I got unwell before Tory policies came into effect because a lot of the treatment and support I’ve had, the very treatment and support that has helped me to get to this point of relative stability and resilience is no longer available. So even though we have reduced the stigma of being open about mental health, and in asking for help we still have a lot more work to do in order to make sure the help and support is available to people who need it.

This is no longer a battle. This is a war. People have lost their lives, and more people will – and that’s just not acceptable. No one should be left alone to end it because the support isn’t there. I think the place to make the biggest impact is perhaps to contribute towards the charity sector who are plugging a lot of gaps as best they can – and maybe people of power with a real ability to influence legislation and funding, or perhaps help set up practical services beyond signposting to the Samaritans or an online chat forum would be good. There’s a lot of talking and celebrity endorsement going on, but for the people on the ground without privilege, where are they going to turn when they can’t get the help they need from the NHS? For as well intentioned as it has been , we have perhaps missed the mark in the context of this political fuckery we are currently in.

Losing It is a great documentary opening the doors to providing a platform for people in crisis talk about what they’re going through, but without real action and funding, it seems you have to nearly die or kill someone to get help – and if you ask me, that’s just too risky a system. I don’t have the answers, I’m just a bit petrified for my own situation and for those who have it much worse than me any time from 2017 and into the foreseeable future. We’re talking, but the conversation is bleak.

Climbing Portland, Sportland and Shitting It!

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Why do we climb? Why is there a whole sport dedicated to scaling difficult to scale walls, only to be lowered down again as if you never got to the top at all? I think climbing is one of those sports that is pure in its challenge, in it’s trying to be better than you were yesterday and in feeling a pure sense of accomplishment over an outwardly and seemingly pointless activity. There is so much more to climbing than just scaling walls, there’s the self-mastery of your fear, the people you meet and enjoy the company of, there are the adventures and trips that make you feel so glad to be alive. What could be a better way to spend your time than connecting with others, connecting with yourself and connecting with nature: and here is perhaps a core feature that makes climbing such a gripping sport.

At the weekend I experienced outdoor lead climbing for the first time. This means clipping in your quickdraws as you go to bolts attached to the wall. Between carabiners, the last point of protection can sometimes be below you, which makes falling so SO much scarier. On top rope, falling is no bother. On lead, it really ought to be no bother but it’s pretty terrifying when you’re last anchored to the wall below yourself because you have twice as far to fall, even if you’re only 4 inches above the last quickdraw – it can take a lot of deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to let yourself fall. You know you will be caught. You know you won’t get hurt. You trust your belayer, otherwise you wouldn’t have started the climb, and still, you shit it.

This kind of climbing is known as sport climbing, and I think it’s probably the most popular type of outdoor climbing. There’s something very different about sport climbing outside compared to the climbing gym. As with all outdoor climbing, the route can be less obvious, the heights are a bit more, and the scenery is second to none. We went to Portland in Dorset, which is an area of some of the best coastal climbing in the UK. On one side you are faced with dramatic wall faces that command a beauty of their own, and on the other, the vastness of the sea: so vast and so beautiful yet in the same breath, so dangerous with no fucks given about swallowing you up in its gentle gargantuan currents, just like that. Mother nature never ceases to fascinate me. Below is a list of observations from popping my outdoor sport climbing virginity:

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Funnily Enough, The Ropes Work!
  1. Limestone is sharp and hurts your fingertips.
  2. Being above the last quickdraw makes me very nervy. I need to fall more and get OK with falling!
  3. That falling on the rope is still fine, even though it’s scary – I did fall unexpectedly and funnily enough, the system worked. I live to tell the very uneventful tale.
  4. Climbing on the sun-trap side of rockface is confusing for my sense of time; it really felt like a beautiful spring day!
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    A Perfect Sun Set to End a Perfect Day

     

  5. Grades outside are much harder than their numerical counterparts in gyms – hello vanity grading! (I don’t even know if this is a thing, but I imagine so!)
  6. Deep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is your friend when you’re internally screwing and freaking.
  7. The frustration of not making a route you thought you’d flash is incredibly humbling as it is frustrating.
  8. Good company is an essential component of a great trip – this is something that Black Lizard Climbing and Mountaineering Club nail! Link if you want to come and join or try us out.
  9. I need to climb more – goals, goals, goals!
  10. Climbing is an emotional sport, much more than I ever gave it credit for when I started. I remember saying to a climbing friend years ago, that climbing was great because there no emotion involved, it was just methodical and logical. She disagreed and thought it was an incredibly emotional sport. I’m more inclined to agree with her… 4 years later!
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Mona and Rebecca from Black Lizard Climbing Club

 

Beating the January Blues

January is well and truly underway halfway point of peak wintriness (definitely!). With lengthier stints of creepy darkness consuming our hours, it’s a very natural feeling to want to hibernate a bit. I think the bears have the right idea with this one. Unfortunately, we are not bears and the world does not stop for 6 months a year for us to hibernate; the show must push on.

My Mum looking wintery AF in The Lakes

Winter would not be complete without a mention of our aptly named friend, SAD. SAD is actually an acronym for ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’, which is characterised by depression that occurs recurrently and seasonally, most often during winter months. A small number of people do experience symptoms during summer months, however. There are a few contributors to the development of SAD, including affected circadian rhythms (a pattern of rhythms and motions that control and affect our sleep/wake cycles), reduced sunlight exposure meaning a reduced exposure to Vitamin D, and therefore absorption. Vitamin D, particularly D3 is very important for mood maintenance and overall happiness. It is now recommended that everyone takes a supplement during the winter months because as the winter progresses in the northern hemisphere most people become deficient of this vital and unique micronutrient and hormone precursor.

Even for those of us who aren’t experiencing SAD right now, January is still a bit of a funny month. The festive shenanigans are over, which can be a relief. For others, this means there’s nothing to look forward to for a while (debatable). Perhaps something terrible happened at Christmas because usually in someone’s life something terrible happens at Christmas (not an official statistical fact). To top it off, January hosts Blue Monday – an idea that the third Monday in January is the bluest of them all, and although I very much disagree with the sentiment that you can feel depressed for a day or a week only, the fact that the idea of Blue Monday took off indicates that January is just a bit of a shit time of year – which is kind of funny considering we start it off with the biggest bang of all the months; while being the number one most hated month (a very quick and brief google search confirms this if that’s the level of evidence we’re accepting now).

With all of this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to think of some ways to cope this January if you are feeling a bit off keel. Maybe you’re skint and want a holiday – Oh HI THERE!?! Maybe you’re feeling a bit crappy because Christmas happened and that can be a bit shit for a lot of people. Maybe you’re feeling fat but that crazy restrictive diet you started and swore would change your life hasn’t lived up to your hopes, or you didn’t stick to it (I don’t blame ya!) and the thought that having a specific quantification of your gravitational force on Earth is maybe, just maybe, not the answer to all your problems (spoiler alert, this is almost guaranteed!!) And maybe you can’t put your finger on a reason, and that’s OK too! So without further ado, I present to you the catchiest list title ever…

Things Maybe, perhaps, Worth a try This January if and when You Feel a Bit Shit

(also recommended for when it’s not January and these are not January specific suggestions – you can do them any time of year, any place, where ever and whenever you want)
Exercise
Even just getting out for a walk in the park, preferably during daylight hours if you can, will help; fresh air, trees, and a punch of nature. If you’re in the countryside, then go submerge yourself in real nature for a stroll instead of the man-made catastrophes we love in London so much.
Eat your fruit and veg
This isn’t the same as dieting, but eating a varied and colourful diet can really make sure you’re getting all those vitamins and minerals that play a vital role in maintaining your well-being. Also, the fibre and whatnot will help your gut microbiome be healthy – which is super important for maintaining your mood and mental wellbeing. Speaking of gut health.

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Don’t be a sad pumpkin, like this fella!

Take a probiotic if you can
Look for one that is general all-rounder, or perhaps more specific to what you might need. I’m currently taking one for my immune system because *cough cough splutter* need I say more?

Connect with people
See your friends. Have a real conversation and turn off the box a little bit. Netflix does not count as hanging out with a friend or partner. If real-life people contact is a bit difficult, go to the park and pet people’s dogs. Dogs love it, usually. You love it, don’t you?

Spend time with your Homies, like this Beau!

Let yourself rest
I get it, January is prime life overhauling time. You want to train for a spring marathon, you want to lose weight, you want to work towards that promotion – and go for it if you really want to – but don’t forget to rest. There’s no use pushing for goals and burning yourself out in the process because you are more likely to either fail or achieve your goals injured, battered and unable to really enjoy the glory of your hard work and suffering. Chill with a cup of tea, have a bath, read a book, watch some TV.And remember, if you’re marathon training – you really really do need more sleep in order for your body to recover from training and lay down the training gains in muscle reparation. Thisall happens mostly when you’re asleep. Early bedtime calling your name? Yeah same, I love an early bedtime!

Salem’s got the right idea about sleeping and chilling; he does nothing else!

Be Balanced in your approach
Even if you are wanting to lose weight or change your diet completely, a piece of cake won’t ruin everything. Whatever your goals, we need to move away from the all-or-nothing mentality. Have a piece of cake if you really want it, a cake can be a perfectly fine and healthy complement to our lives. Believe it or not, there are situations where eating a piece of cake is a sign of healthier behaviour – moderation is your mentor!

Rugby
If you’re feeling really radical, maybe try a new sport: Rugby England are currently doing their Inner Warrior Campaign for womens rugby, or maybe there’s a sport club near you offering try-out sessions to have a go and have some fun? Rugby is great fun (I may be slightly biased but, if you’re feeling brave enough give it a try! YOLO and faces can be restructured by plastic surgeons really well now so that’s not an excuse!)

Inner Warrior for Beckenham Ladies RFC

I hope these are some helpful ideas. If you’re really struggling and think you might actually be depressed or suffering way more than what you think you should be, then book an appointment with your GP and talk to them about how you’re feeling. They can assess you a little bit and figure out what the right steps might be for you.

What’s Wrong With WW Kurbo’s Approach to Childhood Obesity?

Weight Watchers, who are now rebranded as WW, Wellness that Works have launched a new app under this new branding for children as young as eight… as Young. As. Eight. It’s marketed as a potential solution to the childhood obesity crisis in America. However, a lot, and by a lot I mean, basically everyone who is an eating disorder advocate has lashed out online about the Kurbo App.

America is not the only country where childhood obesity and associated lifestyle diseases are high on the public health agenda. In the UK we have a Childhood Obesity Plan which has been associated with sugar reduction campaigns. With childhood obesity so highly on the public health agenda in the UK and USA. In the last decade, obesity amongst infant school aged children has dropped, whereas for year six children, obesity has risen. There is also a very strong correlation with social deprivation and obesity, which seems like it should be the other way around, that having more would mean you eat more. It isn’t, and so beyond calorie counting, we have to take into account social status and level of deprivation. Childhood obesity is a social class disparity – which will not be addressed solely by calorie counting on apps.

Source: https://digital.nhs.uk/

I would be curious to see if there is a similar chart to represent diagnosed eating disorder prevalence across social deprivation status’. Does it really mean that children are healthier just because they are not obese? Are there more underweight children in either end of the spectrum? Are there more mental health problems and what kind? Are there accessible facilities for exercising in the community? Where I live in SOuth London you pay £5 to access the tennis courts. This seems perfectly reasonable to those who an afford it, but what about all the children living in poverty in the area? Whereas in Surrey where social deprivation is not so much of an issue, the tennis courts in the park are free to use for everyone. As you can see, the picture is not so straight forward as calories alone.

Children being incredibly overweight, to such an extent that their quality of health and life are negatively impacted is a problem. I will not sit here and pretend that it is normal or healthy for a child to be unable to play and run around with their friends. It is not normal or healthy for a child to be limited by their body, or to be in pain when they try to play catch with their mates, and it’s not fair either. By over feeding our children, we are neglecting their holistic needs, and depriving them of a lot of what childhood has to offer for the ease of not managing their diet appropriately. Now I’m no sugar police, have some cake, have an ice lolly, heck, eat ice cream in the rain if you want to – a little bit of sugar here and there, and a child’s natural propensity to be drawn towards super sugary sweet foods is not the issue. It is the abundance in which these foods become a dietary staple, and in depriving children of attention and freedom to be kids in the streets safely (looking at you gang culture!!), we limit their potential coping mechanisms and potential social development. It is much more complex than diet alone. It is much more complex than calories in and calories out – although this is a suitably reductionist prophecy to sell to the general public because in being so reductionist it is also very easy to explain and sell.

As adults we have no right to deny children of the childhood freedoms of running around with their mates playing catch and relevance 40-40 in for days on end. As adults we have no right to either to instill pathological dieting practices into the young and impressionable under the guise of “this is for our health”. It’s not. Let’s not pretend for one moment that WW Kurbo app is for one minute about healthy relationships with food. In the same breath, we need to stop reducing the idea of health down to a BMI chart number, which is incredibly outdated now. Placing utmost importance on the weight of a child will mean that in a child’s mind, the idea of health can be measured easily and singularly in one arbitrary measure, the number on the scales. A very accessible number with which an obsession can easily be built. A very unreliable number with which our sole judgement of health should not be placed upon. What about getting their blood pressure down, and their glucose sensitivity up? What about a way to do this that doesn’t mean scanning every food and counting calories because equating losing weight with success very quickly equates not losing weight with failure. Why would we put such a bullshit task that’s easy to fail at the definition of daily failure for young children.

A child does not need to count calories to be healthy. Kurbo is a reductionist approach to nutrition that undermines the complexity and importance of a varied diet to support the very varied systems inside our bodies upon which our lives rely. Weight is not everything, if it is to be very much at all. A quick anecdote from a children’s weight management programme I worked with: His mum was using it as child care during the easter break and he qualified via BMI. He had an overweight BMI. He played sports, enjoyed sports and was a picture of health for a young boy with a tall athletic build. He was fast and very competent beyond his years in sports, and our nutritionist was quite stunned that he met the admission criteria for the programme. The admission was based solely on BMI and waist measurement. His waist measurement was not “concerning”, just his weight according to our guidelines. Neither his weight nor waist circumference were “concerning” in the slightest. Two words: MUSCLE. MASS. He shouldn’t have been on this particular programme and learning to eat less food, although I can entirely understand why his mum took the opportunity for free childcare during the Easter break.

The solution is not simple or straight forward. An app in principle is perhaps not the worst idea for a health tool, but basing results and goals on weight numbers is plain lazy. Reducing health to calories in vs calories out though, and encouraging children to count calories is dumb at best, and downright fucking dangerous at worst.

 

What Respecting Your Body Might Look Like

What does it mean to respect our bodies? If you follow me on Instagram, then you may be painfully aware that I’ve developed infection action a week before Ride 100. In the end, I realised the right thing to do for my self and my body, was to defer until 2020 and this got me thinking about what it means to respect our bodies.

So often you see and hear of people who have injuries yet persevere without any let up on their bodies, in order to achieve the goals they set for themselves. The thing is, the more broken your body becomes the less able you will be able to achieve those goals and challenges that your heart is so very set upon. Resting and not exercising can be pretty rough when you’re used to being active and you enjoy being active, but in the long run, treating your body well and knowing when to rest, knowing when to take it easy, and when to not push on through with brute determination can be just as important as being able to commit to any form of training plan at all.

How we relate to and treat our bodies really affects our performance and ability to achieve. Instagram is littered with stories of injuries, permanently damaged ligaments and sad stories of people who fell in love with running until it destroyed a part of their body, usually in the lower limbs. It’s great that the love of running has become a popular love to have, but overdoing it only shoots yourself in the foot; rest, as uncool as it may be on Instagram, is essential. So back to the original query, what could respecting your body actually look like? Here’s a list of what I personally consider to be essential components in treating your body with the respect it deserves.

1. Listening
You know when you have a plan but your body aches with tiredness? Or when you feel so hungry after increasing your training load, and it goes against your planned intake? This could be an ideal time to practice listening to your body. Sometimes you need to eat more, and at other times you need more rest. It’s very easy to schedule plans without forethought to how your body might respond, or need. Just remember, our bodies are not computers or robots that can be mathematically figured out in an absolute formula. Sure there a formulas in nutritional science for guidance, but these are really for guidance only – so treat them as such!

2. Nourishing
Sometimes when you’re training you may have a dietary plan that you’re following. Maybe you are trying to gain muscle, or lose fat mass for your sport. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nourishing your body looks like choosing a varied diet, plenty of fruit and veg, some good quality protein and plenty of carbohydrates. Yes, carbs! We need carbs and the occasional treat. Don’t forget to have your cake and eat it!

3. Resting your body
You may have heard before that when you’re training for a marathon, ideally you need closer to 10 hours of sleep than the original 7-8 recomended in The Sleep Foundation guidelines. Sometimes you’ll be feeling fine on less sleep, and sometimes you will need more. If you’re feeling sluggish and a bit out of it, maybe it’s time to hit the sack for a nap ,or even better, an early night?

4. No Pain, No Gain? Within reason
Sport doesn’t come without its risks of injury and a good session lifting weights can leave you sore for days with DOMS. However, there is a difference between DOMS and an agonising cramp in your Achilles. A lot of people push through and persevere despite their bodies telling them to stop and attend to a niggle or injury. It isn’t heroic to persevere through your pain at the expense of your body. So when you’re calf is giving you grief, or your knee feels a bit knackered, instead of seeing it as something to push through, how about seeing it as an opportunity to care for your body and show yourself some love?

5. Showing some appreciation
Without our bodies we wouldn’t be able to do anything. We wouldn’t be able to run, play our A-game on the pitch, or travel easily from A to B. Our bodies fight infections and repel illnesses, they make babies from two cells, and they maintain a very delicate and complicated balance within our bodies called homeostasis. If we had to think about all of the mechanisms that our body does to maintain this balance, we’d not have much time for anything else.

6. Trusting our bodies
By not undermining your bodies’ ability to do what it needs to in order to stay well, as is assumed when going on a detox diet or cleanse we allow our bodies to get on with what they’re designed to do. Sometimes things go wrong and eventually we all die, but in the meantime, put faith in your kidneys and liver, because detoxing sends you the message to yourself that your body isn’t capable or adequate enough already, and usually it is.

7. Wearing clothes that fit
Feeling comfortable in your clothes, instead of trying to fit into a specific size can make a real difference in how fat you feel, from anecdotal experience. Anyone wearing clothes 1-2 sizes too small is going to feel out of sorts, lumpy and frumpy here, and spilling out of your clothes there. Just wear whatever fits irrespective of the clothing size label. To put this in perspective I have clothes from a 10 (apparently), up to a 14. I’m more a solid 14. This means I don’t look at or buy clothes in a 10-12 anymore, and I have passed all of these sizes in my wardrobe onto the charity shop. As soon as I stopped trying to squeeze into these sizes, or trying to lose weight so I could fit into them again, I started to feel more comfortable and at ease with my body.

8. Tend to your illnesses
Getting the right help and treatment if you are unwell is a great way of showing your body some love. Sometimes they can’t fight illness on its own, and a little help is needed. Maybe this is via using antibiotics for a nasty infection, such as the one that inspired this post, or taking antidepressants to manage a depressive episode. This might mean visiting the pharmacist, who are very highly trained medical professionals in their own right, or your GP. Don’t try to muscle through without advice or try to outdo an infection if it gets ya; modern medicine is wonderful at helping us to overcome such ailments as they arise.

 

What’s quetiapine gave me

Although scientists do not fully understand the ways in which quetiapine works, the trade off is that it is a very versatile drug; it can be used as an add-on treatment for treatment resistant depression, it can be used as an anti-psychotic for those experiencing psychosis such as hearing and seeing things that are not there, it can be used to treat and manage mania or hypomania alone, or with another medication. Ultimately it seems to have the ability to do a bit of everything in regards to managing the symptoms of severe mental illness. Quetiapine is an atypical antipsychotic that also has the properties to effective act as a mood stabiliser. The difference for all of these uses is the dosage, release profile and tolerability to the person taking the drug.

Even if you are convinced that a drug will work in treating mental health, it is not so much selecting the right drug that is the difficulty in prescribing. There is getting the correct dose, and taking those doses at the right times in the right format. Sometimes you need a couple of drugs, at just the right doses, in just the right formats, to be taken every day at just the right times. It is no wonder that finding the correct medication regime for severe mental illness is such a drag. This process can take numerous years, crises and adjustments, often alongside psychological and emotional intervention.

Quetiapine saved me and gave me so much. It saved me from additional lost years to being a non-functional person floating endlessly around Lewisham Shopping Centre. It has saved me from not being able to keep friendships because I am now more than a shell of myself overrun by mental illness. It has saved me from continuing the string of many suicide attempts and ever escalating self harm, all of which arose from an inability to cope with unmedicated bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder all mashed together into an ugly chaos. It saved me from sleeping my life away because leaving my bed every day isn’t an act of mild torture. It saved me from wasting my working years not tapping into my talents. It saved me from a life void of purpose. It saved me from myself. It saved me from my illness. Yet it was the first drug I was prescribed in 2011 by adult mental health services.

What stopped me from reaping the benefits of the drug back then? I was not ready to accept the weight gain side effects, and learning to overcome this fear took years of hard work and treatment. The dose was not right. I was out of control and without the input of such extensive therapies targeting my behaviour, past traumas and screwed up way of interacting with the world that had developed from trying to raise myself in a chaotic home environment. Without these therapies, schema, DBT, and psychoanalytic therapy the medication would have never worked alone. I needed the input and nurturing obtained from my therapists, social workers and doctors.

All of it together has given me the ability to think. Without quetiapine, I am pretty useless at thinking clearly. I just cannot. With it I have the ability to be creative and coherent. Quetiapine gave me the opportunity to respond appropriately to emotional circumstances. It gave me the assurance and confidence in my own thoughts and feelings that I am not being mad or irrational. It has given me the confidence to socialises because I don’t feel or seem inherently mad. It has given me a drive to make something positive from these experiences. It has given me a sense of where I have come from and what I have gone through to get to where i am. It has given me gratitude, to the small moments in life, the scientists who made the drug and the wee animals who underwent horrible experiences and death so that I could have my life back. It has given me hope and stability.

Now when someone asks me how I have been, I can answer that I have been well and it’s much less likely to be a lie than ever before in my life. If I’m honest, sometimes things are so stable and well that I can start to feel an inane boredom creep in. It’s not the type that creeps in and I stare at walls because there is no joy to be hard from even my favourite activities. It is the kind of boredom that blesses those who are not living from crisis to crisis. It is the kind of boredom where I look at myself and think, “yeah, I’m ready to take on a little more, bring it on”. The kind of boredom that gets you out of the house in the morning to see the world and be busy. The kind of boredom that lights a little fire in your belly that could well be described as a lust for life. Now there’s something I haven’t felt for very long at a time for years and years. I may even start thinking about my next birthday celebrations because I am convinced I will be here, alive, and well. This is something that could not be said for a long time before. I feel privileged to be feeling bored with stability. What an absolute privilege it is to have a sense of normality.

The Face of Diet Culture: The 10 Year Challenge

The 10 year challenge shines a light on how much we as individuals have changed but how much has the face of diet culture changed in the last 10 years? In 2009, the same year that I left home to go to fashion school in London, starving yourself skinny was still cool. The severity of health implications related to the thin ideal came to a spearhead in 2006 when fashion model Luisel Ramos collapsed and died whilst participating in a fashion show. She died from heart failure related to malnutrition and ultimately anorexia. 6 months later her sister, Eliana Ramos who was also a model died due to complications related to malnutrition and anorexia nervosa. The same year, Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian fashion model also died due to complications from Anorexia Nervosa. The size 0 debate was started and the fashion world came under the spotlight – and this wasn’t a case of any press is good press. Many government and health bodies made the call for a minimum BMI requirement to be implemented for all models participating in fashion week events. In research links were drawn between the portrayal of excessively thin bodies as desirable, and the social pressures this placed on women to conform [2]. Size 0 was sold to us and we bought it with dire consequences: thin was in.

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During my 2 years at fashion school I remember hearing club kids talking about how many drugs they were doing and how long they’d managed to not eat for, with the aid of said drugs. Cheekbones and collar bones were in, even if that meant looking gaunt.With the rise of mephedrone at the time whilst it was legal, this wasn’t a difficult feat to be achieved. There were numerous times people weren’t in the studio from dealing with the aftermath of having taken mephedrone (Meow meow/Mcat) [3]. In fact, gaunt was good and not eating was cool. Some tutors would joke about how the cheesy carb fest the canteen was bad for your waistline. Thin was in at whatever cost, health was out.

Needless to say, in this environment I relapsed into my eating disorder and I relapsed hard. At my lowest weight, whilst I was an outpatient at an Eating Disorder Service I received the most praise for my appearance I have ever received to date: “you’re so beautiful”, “how do you do it?”, and on Facebook photos, “OMG gorgeous

This trend is evident beyond the realms of my fashion school anecdotes and misadventures with anorexia; a lot of people are reminiscing about similar changes in their 10 year challenge posts. It turns out that a lot of people in 2009 were skinny and in retrospect, feeling weak, unhappy and generally like a bag of shit. That’s how forcing your body to weigh much less than it is wants to be feels, like an absolute huge bag of shit. Fatphobia was high, and even healthy weight individuals were deemed as “curvy” or “plus size” – I mean honestly, just fuck right off.

These social pressures and appraisal did nothing to help me towards recovery and subsequently a few years later I left the fashion world pretty much over night. Size 0 sucked and the fashion world soon realised how much it sucked for business due to the public health, government and public backlash to promoting such severe thinness ideals. Surely this was a good thing? We were moving away from aiming for waists comparable to the average 7-year-old.

Heroin chic of the 90s had gone and pro-ana sites, blogs and forums were easily found and plentiful online. Entire communities gathered amongst the anonymity of the online world. Safe havens to encourage the pursuit of thin, and the glorification of such ideals became known as thinspiration, or thinspo for short. Fast forward a decade and strong is the new skinny; thinspo has been replaced with fitspo. Instead of collar bones and rib cages we now idolize sculpted bodies, low body fat percentages and big muscles. On the surface it seems health driven but when you get down to it, maintaining such low body fat percentages and building such quantities of muscle mass is just as difficult an ideal to work towards: it is also big business. It costs to get those muscles, cue the introduction of “clean eating” instead of dieting, phrases like “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle choice” and the rise of the social media influencers. Now people are paying crazy amounts of money to try to achieve a particular aesthetic. When you dig deep, it’s not all that much different, but instead with the introduction of classism – not eating is essentially free whereas superfoods and trendy gym classes are in the KERCHING!  regions, cue M.I.A. “I just want your money” (song title ‘paper planes’).

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The rise of visual social media platforms and smartphones making everyone a photographer, instagram has been a mass playground and propagator for fitspo, clean eating and ultimately a shit ton of social comparisons based on these visuals. Does my smoothie bowl look Michelin start enough? Are my abs clean-cut enough? How about in this pose? Additionally there are apps to add abs and change your photos to be who you want to be – so god knows how much of this stuff we see online isn’t even real, and here’s the catch, we compare ourselves anyway; it’s natural. Of course, we’re always going to come up short in such comparisons. Just as we always came up short to the photoshopped thinness of models in magazines and on billboards.

There have been associations made between exposure and engagement with healthy eating communities on Instagram and orthorexia tendencies [4]. Orthorexia is an obsession with eating clean foods, without impurities. It manifests as an obsessive preoccupation with eating perfectly and results in the cutting out of food groups deemed not pure enough [1]. In the rise of clean eating and the idea of purity invading in on our eating practices it’s a wonder of whether we are eating something because we like it and it tastes nice, or whether it’s trendy, seen as the new cult super food or looks good on Insta? The social pressures amongst these online communities is high, and food shaming is definitely rife like a plague amongst these online circles. Just as with starvation practices, this takes us away from listening to our bodies and their needs because external forces are dictating what, how much and when we eat.

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Although we might not be starving ourselves, models might not be collapsing and dying at fashion shows and smoking cigarettes instead of eating lunch the question lies in really contemplating just how much has really changed? How much of this change is a mask of the same old issues? The same motivations, feeding into the same desires and issues around controlling our bodies, minds and emotions? When we are so focused on our bodies and controlling them down to every minute detail, we do not have the energy to focus on bigger things. Being super lean and strong is not empowering if you’re obsessed with what you can and cannot eat. Fitspo is not empowering if it makes you feel like shit. Being enslaved to your reflection and how you look is not empowering. It might feel as such sometimes but if it’s taking away from your life in any way then it’s time to reconsider how we relate to fitspo and slogans such as “strong is the new skinny”.

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The irony of a lack of focus on holistic health in the health and wellness industries is laughable at best and shameful at worst. Are we really progressing away from hyper-vigilience around what we put in our mouths and the impacts this ha son our body shape in the pursuit of health, or is this a new era of diet, health and wellness fuck uppery? My advice for seeing between the lines? Be critical, be analytic and if an image is prescribing an aesthetic ideal get the fuck outta there quick sharp. Being pained by attaining a certain look is not progress, but instead the falsification of progress. For real change we need to call this shit out and disempower the hold they have over us as individuals, communities, men, women, and especially for our children. We need to learn to know better.


Sources:
[1] Beat (2017) Orthorexia. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/types/orthorexia .
[2] Costa-Font, J. & Jofre-Bonet, M. (2011) Anorexia, Body Image and Peer Effects: Evidence from a Sample of European Women. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.
[3] Rebekah Brennan, Marie Claire Van Hout, (2012) “Miaow miaow: a review of the new psychoactive drug mephedrone”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 12 Issue: 4, pp.241-253, https://doi.org/10.1108/17459261211286654
[4] Turner, P.G. & Lefevre, C.E. Eat Weight Disord (2017) 22: 277. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2