Back to Slaying School!

As I sit here in my favourite alcove on campus, watching over the trees as the squirrels dance over the grass at the edge of campus, I realise that I have just two years left at uni. This seems like most of the course to a lot of people but I’ve been studying part time which means my degree will take a total of five years to complete. I’m in no rush.

Call me Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Going into my first lesson of the year ahead, I walk in without worry and sit in the middle of the lecture theatre. I know what is going on just intermittently as we delve into the complexities of metabolic pathways and that’s ok. I’m more chill about no understanding everything the first time you’re introduced to it. I’m not panicked by not having the end seat on a row. I’m not concerned that people are saying about me, if they’re even saying anything at all. I’m not wishing the world woud swallow me up whole and make everything disappear or that I could immediately teleport home.

The anxiety I used to face at the start of the year, when all the freshers turn up in their hundreds and cram along the corridors to queue for lectures is no longer the major challenge that it was when I started uni in 2016. I’m pretty much at ease with myself and the situation at hand. I’m at ease sitting in a lecture theatre, I’m at ease walking around the corridors and I’m at ease finally with being in the uni environment. My anxiety has downgraded from high octane fright night levels of panic to meh!

No longer do I find myself dodging and flirting my way around campus crevices, hiding in empty rooms because the study room full of students is overwhelming. No longer do I longingly stare at the train tracks as each train that isn’t mine passes me by, wondering if I should just get it over and done with. Still, I experience The September Issues but I’m sure as hell not suicidal in any way nor do I feel paranoid, fearful or desperate to feel nothing instead of the everything that overwhelms me.

I’m a loner on campus but not a loner in life, and this gives me an extra confidence within myself. My confidence has grown so much over the last couple of years that I am very much a different person to when I started here and I still have two years to go. I no longer need weekly welfare meetings, or fitness to study meetings with the Head of College. I’m quite excited to see what I will grow into by the time graduation comes around for me.

Overall, I’ve only had one or two admissions since starting my course and I’ve got stronger and stronger with each successive year. I’ve learned the course content, alongside learning to manage more demanding workloads and how to function despite a shitty ass mood episode. I’ve managed to get myself into my lesson despite how much I’ve hated being awake or going out that day. My resilience has improved and now my life is no longer dictated entirely by my emotional state alone. I imagine that I probably still have a relatively severe case of resting bitch face, and you know what, who cares?! I’m functioning at a higher level than I ever have since the summer of 2011.

Attending uni part time has been absolutely paramount in my getting better at managing life, alongside my therapeutic input and medication alterations. It has taught me to push through when I can, to open up and be honest about needing to rest when I need, and that I can do something with my life outside of the mental health system. I have learned to play a team sport, which has an impact beyond my university life. When my anxiety makes a comeback, instead of isolating and hiding, I’m like a legendary slayer from Final Fantasy, slaying that beast, gain some XP and continue on my way. I’m surpassing levels I never thought I’d get the opportunity to entertain, and as I sit here in my favourite alcove on campus, I am proud, excited for the future and so absolutely fucking grateful for the health care and education system we have here in the UK for helping me get to this place.

Let’s see where this takes me, yeah?

Beat: The UK’s Charity Antidote to Wellness Wankery and Eating Disorders

If you are worried about your relationship with food, who do you turn to? Your mates? Your GP? Or maybe you might turn to many of the numerous blogs, instagram pages and podcasts out there #wellness? Turning to influencers to make sense, I mean afterall, they’re flawless skin, pert tits, perky bum and six pack is the picture of health, right? Surely they must know what they’re talking about when it comes to wellness, diet, and exercise, or maybe not; influencers and #wellness are in a very committed marriage with diet culture. They’re like the grandparents who have been married  since forever #adorbs. This marriage though is #toxic needs to get a divorce, but there doesn’t seem to be one on the horizon *sad face*. Wellness industries and diet culture are like salt and pepper to your scrambled eggs, left and right to your Sat Nav and milk and sugar to your coffee.

A recent study by Christina Sabbagh looked into the validity, accuracy and evidenced based quality of weight management and nutrition of nine influencers, defined as having in excess of 80,000 followers on at least one social media platform. By assessing each blog against twelve criteria, including evidence based information, the use of reliable sources, and clearly stating the difference between opinion and fact, only one passed each criteria – and they are a UK registered nutritionist who is degree qualified. Nine is a small smaple size, but the strength of the results cannot be ignored: there seems to be a clear trend. Especially with many of the influencers having had no accredited training or education in the advice they are pushing on their sites. [More info here]

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A lot of influencers post before and after wellness photos. Before they were skinny and weak and barely eating coupled with pubishing exercise regimes that proved detrimental to their health. So are the influencers really as #healthy, #wellness, #blessed as they seem? Maybe, but most likely not. Are they really the place to turn to if you have concerns about your own relationship with food? Perhaps you’ve been bingeing in the evening, or skipping breakfast to shed some pounds and the result is that now you are in a somehwat chaotic place with your relationship with food. I don’t have the answers and I’m not going to pretend I do, else I would be falling into the wellness wanker world, no, I’m going to tell you about Beat – a wonderful UK based charity that I have been volunteering for.

Beat is the UK’s leading eating disorder charity. They provide information and services for people experiencing eating disorders, or who may be concerned about their relationship with food – I’m looking at you, the chaotic eaters who feel lost and overwhelmed with food, the fearful who are scared and anxious about eating, and the compulsive overeater who sweats hours in spin class just to try and burn it off. Beat have a lot of helpful information on their website, which can be found here.

What do Beat offer?

  • A phone line that you can call for advice
  • Information
  • Online 1-to-1 chats with a trained advisor (that’s me), like MSN messenger
  • Online group peer support sessions – also facilitated and moderated by trained advisors (Hi again, also me)
  • An email service that people use for seeking help and advice for themselves, loved ones and/or in general. (Me again)(This list is starting to look like it’s all about me, ha!)
  • A service finder application that you can use to find other eating disorder support services in your area using your post code.

So why did I choose to volunteer with Beat? Beat was the first website I was signposted to when I first opened up about my struggles with eating to a teacher way back in 2006. At the time was called EDAUK (Eatign Disorders Association UK): yup, it was that long ago and it was pretty basic. The most useful websites were all American (they get the best of everythign I swear). At the time I was obsessively surfing online between information sites, and other sites where people with eating disorders congregated online at the time (more on that another time). With the majority of sites being USA specific and although they had a lot of information that was useful about eating disorders in general, the support at the time was quite basic and non-interactive.

Sometimes I imagine how useful it would have been to have these online services when I was struggling back then, and as I became increasibly isolated by my bulimia, if I had had somewhere to chat in a safe space about what I was experiencing. Pro-ana sites mainly gave me a space to feel less alone – it would have been nice to have a healthy version as an alternative option; eating disorders are incredibly isolating experiences, particulalry when you have bulimia because a) it takes up a lot of time and b) there is a lot of shame around it when compared to the glorification of anorexia. It is that bit more shameful, that bit infinitely more disgusting and that bit more time consuming, mentally and physically.

So if you’re struggling with any eating difficulties, whether you have an eating disorder diagnosis or not, get in touch with Beat. They offer a good variety of services, and they are all confidential. Finally, if you think you might like to also become a Digital Volunteer, more information can be found here.

Why Loving Your Reflection is Just Another Unrealistic Expectation

At face value the body positivity movement may seem like the perfect antidote to unrealistic body goals, the continuous merry-go-round of dieting and the perpetuation of thin ideals from the fashion, media, fitness, retail, and industry that uses models and their bodies to promote products and ideologies. The incessant nature is that although these images, which are often digitally manipualted, don’t cause eating disorders or disordered eating, they can instill unrealistic ideals upon which to focus on, whether you are male, female, trans, and not even preidpsosed to eating disordered behaviours. The vast majority of us don’t fit the eating disorder category, and I would argue that a lot of dieting practices that are normalised in magazines and on wellness websites are dancing on the very thin line between normal dieting behaviours and disordered eating behaviours.

Body positivity on social media has come in all shapes and sizes. Some people promote the message by getting into their underwear and shaking their bellies in front of the camera, all in a bid to help you feel better about your own belly. Some people spread the message by telling you that you are fabulous and perfect just the way you are. There’s a lot of work going into challenging societally ingrained fat phobia, which is great, however sometimes I can’t help but think that the message gets a little lost and mixed up at times.

There is a common misunderstanding that if you have ever had any body hang ups, which is going to be pretty much all of us, that learning to love yourself and your body is the perfect antidote. A key tool used in hating our bodies, our reflections, is a major focus in learning to love our bodies – or so you could be forgiven for thinking. What if you have spent years and years of your life thinking of yourself as actually abhorrent? What if you have hated yourself to the point where you have hurt yourself in some way to try and fix “it”, whatever “it” might be? This could be in the shape of a number of different ways: binge eating, purging, exercising as a form of punishment, skipping meals, fasting behaviours, self harm. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

The pressure to love your body is a tall order for anyone who has struggled with their body image. How about we turned learning to love yourself on its head? What if learning to love ourselves happened by not focusing on turning the tyranny of your relationship with your own reflection 180 degrees on its heel is not the best focus. Another idea that offers an antidote to body bashing it a hashtag circulating the realms of social media: #BodyNeutrality. Body neutrality removes the pressure of having to love your body to have achieved success in not hating yourself. It means instead that accepting your body and being relatively neutral about your body image instead of trying to love what you previously thought to be unlovable. It is less extreme, less demanding and in being as such, more realistic. The pressure to always be happy and smiley about yourself is removed, but so is the need to berate yourself unfairly. The pretence of loving your belly has been removed, so if you are having an off day you need not feel like a failure for wishing your belly would just shrink. Instead body neutrality means accepting the thought, and not letting yourself be mad enough to diet over it. It offers us a middle path in a world of extremes. I think this is in fact much more empowering and I’ll tell you why.

Illustration by TheNourishmentNinja

Body neutrality means not hating your body or parts of it. It means that off days when you do momentarily hate your self are ok, and instead of havign to U-turn that entirely, into loving yourself, you can instead be neutral. You don’t love your body, but you don’t hate it either. It is very much the mundane and very boring mid-ground of body image, that is in fact potentially much more empowering. You are no longer focusing on your reflaction, or how well you take a photograph from this angle vs that angle. In fact, the mirror plays such a minor role in your day to day value of yourself that you have so much more free headspace for embracing life beyond your body, your image and your looks. Think about it. If you are no longer so hooked up on trying to turn your reflected self hate into self love, the absolute antithesis to what you know, you instead have loads of energy to instead focus on life beyond the skin you’re in, you can hit a middle ground which is in fact much more conducive to living your life away from your looks, and with all of this free energy and head space think of all the burgeoning possibilities that await you: climbing a mountain, planning trips away in nature, learning s new skill or a language, swimming in some wild waters, and baking some beautiful cakes from your grandmother’s recipe and eating them!

Go and laugh until your belly hurts, then roll on the floor clutching your middle and laugh some more. Go and challenge yourself in a way that exercises your mind and character and therefore giving you some brilliant stories to tell for years to come. Laugh at yourself when you fall over, pull a goofy face and let people learn to love you for who you are: your quirks, your mannerisms, your little weirdo ways because really, focusing on our reflections remains a narrow view of the world, of our lives and of our worth, whether we are singing our praises or chastising our very existence.

Be brave. Cover your mirror up and see how you feel only using your reflection to check you’ve not got toothpaste all over your face before leaving the house. Be brave. The greatest empowerment is to free yourself from the suffoctaing restrictions of being hyper-concerned about things you cannot and can change, but maybe your efforts are best placed elsewhere. Of course take pride in your appearance if it makes you happy to wear some make up – but don’t let it define you or how you see yourself. Our bodies are merely a vehicle through which we live, and it is the most dull thing about us as people, and eventually, if you have the privilige of reaching old age, looks fade and bodies change – would you rather be the one who was a stunner when they were younger with nothing more to offer? Or the one with banging stories of adventures, mishaps and hilarity calamity renditions of a life lived beyond the mirror, a life lived not enslaved to learning to love a reflection.

 

Eat Your Food, Take Your Meds

Have you ever thought is strange or inconvenient that you need to eat every single day, multiple times a day? Think about it for a moment. Every day we need to eat. What would life be like if we didn’t need to eat every day, multiple times? More convenient? Time saving? Resource saving? Picture this.

You wake up in the morning, pop the kettle on and make your breakfast. You sit to the table as you do every morning, and you stare. You are staring at your food wondering why on earth you need such sustenance to survive, pondering the meaning of this breakfast before you. You flirt with the idea of going without the food. The idea flirts back. You think “fuck it!”, pinch your nose, screw up your face and close your eyes. You jump feet first into the deep waters of curiosity to see whether or not you swim. It doesn’t kill you immediately but you don’t quite glide through the water either. It makes you uncomfortable but still you tread water, keeping your head bobbing beyond the surface. You are surviving. It makes you feel a bit queesy, a bit confused and a bit off. Perhaps you need to just muscle through? Brute use of sheer willpower is definitely what is needed. You knuckle down and do some problem solving, still bobbing. Maybe you just need to learn how to survive and thrive without the food, just as our ancestors adapted, you can too.

Missing one breakfast won’t have a huge effect on your health. It certainly won’t kill you. Perhaps you peruse, eating is a habit that can be changed. Are you addicted to food? The phrase is currently brandished across headlines after all. You continue with your plan to keep missing food at more meals and subsequent breakfasts. It starts to wear you down. You feel rough, you feel edgy, and very much unlike yourself. This is when the going gets tough. This is your time to rise up and adapt as your ancestors did.

With time you begin to realise that thriving this way is absolutely impossible. The next day at breakfast you pop the kettle on and prepare your food. You sit down and feel grateful for having changed your mind about eating your food at breakfast. You are relieved that you can sit down and eat your food, comforted by the knowledge that you have tried and tested the curious alternative. You eat your breakfast. This experience does not make you immune from dabbling your toes into this pool of ponders again because always, what if? Do I really? And is it so? Float around our mind.

I wasn’t talking about food very much at all; this is an experience I have with my daily medications, particularly my main Quarterback, Quetiapine. Quetiapine is an atypical antipsychotic that is pretty nifty medicine. A common occurrence in those living with Bipolar Disorder is that once feeling well and stable for a while, we wonder if we are ready to come off of our medications and manage without them. Sometimes we’d wonder if we were ever unwell at all, is it all a fallacy.

It makes sense that we experience these episodes; when you feel well why would you continue to take medicine every day? The catch really is that we are well because we take the medicine every day – and that can sometimes be a difficult idea to hold on to when you think about how well you are now with your healthy coping mechanisms and social support network, your backlog of lived experience and a well stocked kit bag of coping tools.

Every single time my Quetiapine goes below a certain level I become unwell. I am familiar with the territory because the ways in which I become unwell are ways that I have spent years of my life living – the same symptoms and experiences relapse into the forefront of my life and very very quickly I lose my ability to think, be rational, function, get up, be motivated, tolerate people and annoyances, or stay very much with it at all. I descend into a foggy and slow confusion, much like living in sludge. I stare at walls for hours, if not days, at a time. I watch TV without really watching it. My memory stinks and so does living like this. Essentially, I am very disabled without this medication at the right dosage.

For those living with bipolar, it can take years and years to get an accurate diagnosis. Afterwards, it can take years and years to find the golden snitch of which medication combination and what dose works for each person. I am hopeful that we have finally found mine, alongside my extra nifty and extensive tool box of coping mechanisms. There is no shame in relying on medication to be well and healthy; these tablets save lives.

How To Get Rich and Thin in 2019

Endings and new beginnings can be emotional times, whether it’s excitement for the future or sadness for the end of a really good chapter. There’s no time of year when we communally experience this sensation as a planet more than the turn of a new year. Cue the dieting, resolution-ing and lists of life vows that make wedding vows look like a pinky promise in the playground.

For as easy as it is to be over ambitious the key to success is to be realistic; instead of loading up the 1st of January like a mountain mule to only be disappointed when the mule collapses from exhaustion, go small, regular and achievable. The very edge of your comfort zone is ideal, not the oceanic depths beyond the void.

For the money minded there’s big business to be done, where capitalising on insecurities, steroid jacked hopes for huge lifestyle changes and pipe dreams are a cash flow wonder. Weight loss warriors and life coaching gurus start popping up all over the shop, trying to sell to us an intangible and unrealistic expectations for in which the failure of realisation and execution keeps the profits turning. They’re business counts on you failing. You are a cash cow, who can be guided via raw diets and zen retreats to a whole new sparkling version of you at a price. The price isn’t always monetary though, often times the price paid is sanity, happiness and self worth. The irony is astounding.

Those trying to capitalise and gain from your outlandish goals and their subsequent failure “make 2019 your year”, they’ll say, as if every other year in your life up until this point has been of much less value. Of course next year 2020 can be your year and then 2021 too. You are not limited to having and making the most of any one year over another. Some years are good and some are not so good, we have control over how we perceive these experiences but very little in the way of controlling what happens around us. Some years will just be a series of unfortunate events and a life coach or diet won’t and can’t fix that.

My point here? Don’t let your failure become someone else’s profit to exploit. Especially if your failure is of attaining the unrealistic standards that are sold to us via our subconscious. Shut that shit right down right now; ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!

Giving up on setting goals though is the least likely avenue to reap any results or success, but a good ~40-something % of us make resolutions at new year and of those roughly 40% see results and effort beyond 12th of January. When we shift the focus from January the 1st as being a deal breaker, and from setting enormous unachievable goals, we can move towards the idea of gentle progression and change with consistency.

This can save ourselves from the emotional rollercoaster that comes with getting our hopes up about exciting new changes and results we are going to see very soon, and then the disappointment of failure softened by the comfort eating everything in sight, which is even more counterintuitive to any dieting and health goals if that’s what you’re after. However, when you skip the restrictive dieting practices and make small sustainable lifestyle changes in any area of your life, the rewards you will get won’t be as drastic but they’ll also not be as temporary.

Push yourself and learn to respect your limit, be kind and comfortable with being uncomfortable. As Alex Honnold says about his feat of conquering a first in climbing history, “No one ever achieved great things being cosy in their comfort zone”.

He is the first person to free solo El Capitan, the biggest and most epic centre of the climbing universe. It was first ascended in the 50s, and when they ascended it they pulleyed up instead of climbing all the way because they just couldn’t do it. We live in an incredible world with a lot of people doing incredible things. We can’t all be Alex Honnold, but we can all push ourselves slightly beyond comfort and apply our energy to reaching our goals.

A good starting point would be to dare to make goals that go beyond attempts to control your body size or appearance. Go climb a mountain, start a project, try a new sport or apply for that promotion. You don’t need to diet, transform your body or only eat “clean” to do this.

“We could die any day so why not spend the time we do have here doing something we love, even if the potential consequence could be death” – Alex Honnold

P.S- I have no useful advice for getting rich and thin in 2019.

How Gratitude Can Help Improve Body Dissatisfaction

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The power of practicing gratitude has the potential to be something quite incredible. Culturally in the West we are conditioned almost to always want for more, or with our bodies ironically we want for less. Less waist, less weight, less is more when it comes to beauty and looking good, or so we are told. We are primed to be perpetually discontented, dissatisfied and looking to others who always seem to have more of whatever it is we want: friends, tech, clothing or, ticking more beauty standard ideals with their appearance.

Like any other skill in our tool box of tricks to get us through our days reasonably content and in one piece, it takes a bit of practice in order to change our thinking patterns. The good news is that it can be done and that it can be an effective tool to develop a healthier relationship with your body and body image.

In a study conducted by Armstrong State University, USA, gratitude and cognitive restructuring were compared for effectiveness in reducing body disatisfaction amongst college age females. The group studied had not sought clinical help for body disatisfaction and eating disordered related issues. The importance of body image and dissatisfaction is that the feelings we have towards ourselves often permeate other areas of our lives: body disatisfaction has been associated with depression (Jurasico, Perone & Timnko, 2011) and social anxiety (Cash, 2011) for example.

Cognitive restructuring is a CBT technique. CBT is an established treatment for many mental health and well-being complaints including: bulimia, anxiety, depression. SOURCE THIS. By comparing a gratitude based intervention to an established intervention such as cognitive restructuring, the effectiveness of each intervention on body dissatisfaction can be compared.

The strength of using gratitude based interventions for body dissatisfaction is that it increases appreciation for non-appearence based aspects of one’s self and life: gratitude interventions have been found to be causally related to improvements in intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of well-being including: increased happiness, decreased depression, improved pro-social behaviour, decreased aggression, improved sleep and concentration (Watkins, 2014).

There does need to be more studies in order to confirm or dispute similar findings. However, with this in mind gratitude is a promising intervention for people experiencing body dissatisfaction without a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder.

Gratitude works is by changing perspective on what is important in life and how and what we judge ourselves and ourl ives to be worthwile. This study illustrates the potential effectiveness that can be had from introducing and working on gratitude in order to improve well being and happiness.

With this. Line of thought fresh in my mind, and my own practicing of gratitude lately I will be exploring some personal experiences of gratitude and how practicing gratitude has helped me alter my automatic thought patterns over time. As a disclaimer I am not suggesting gratitude is a cure-all, but more of a handy tool to help contribute to a changing way of relating to the world around us.


References:

Cash, T. F. (2011). Cognitive behavioural perspectives on body image. In T. F. Cash, & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image, A Handbook of science, practice and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 39-47). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Juarasico, A. S., Perone, J., & Timko, C. A. (2011) Moderators of the relationship between body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Eating Disorders, 19, 346-354. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2011.584811

Watkins, P. C. (2014). Gratitude and the good life: Toward a psychology of appreciation. New York, NY: Springer Science

Wendy, L. Wolfe & Kaitlyn Patterson (2017) Cpmparison of a gratitude-based and cognitive restructuring intervention for body disatissfaction and dysfunctional eating behaviour in college women, Eating Disorders, 25:4, 330-334, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080.10640266.2017.1279908

Hey! London Marathon, I’m Coming For Ya!!

Earlier this week, which day precisely escapes me, I had a sudden change of heart. I tried to defer my London Marathon entry until 2019. I had it in my head until this week that I was definitely going to cheer and not run this year. What I do remember about this decision making process is that it was at some odd hour of the night and I woke up friends and family to inform them of my sudden change in life choices.

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The next day, I honestly have no idea what day these events occured on, I decided to start pushing on the fundraising. I also dug around in my e-mails and realised my place hadn’t been officialy deferred. This seemed to be somewhat of a message from the nuiverse guiding me towards realising my personal legend (more about this later). It is my part in realising my personal legend to heed the signs laid before me – and so with confidence that the universe is colluding to guide me on the right path I decided to grab me confirmation email with my number on it and head over to the ExCel centre to collect my race pack and bib.

It’s been somewhat of a hectic week since. The excitment since going to the expo hasn’t really left me. I went back to my crew last week, another guiding message from the universe, and have been really welcomed back into the crew. (Honestly, there’s no love like crew love!). Everything was pointing me towards getting to that start line and that’s where I’m at right now. I have my race pack, bought a few essentials (read: high SPF bodyglide!!!) and everything is working out nicely. So what do I hope for on Sunday?

I hope I see more messages in the language of the universe because since embarking on my personal legend and listening to the language of the universe I feel more powerful than ever. I hope to enjoy the day and that it becomes the second day of 2018 to make the Top 10 of the year. I hope I am aligned with my feelings and let myself cry when i need to, laugh when i want to and generally have a bloody brilliant day. I hope I don’t cry so much that I can’t control my snot emissions. I hope I don’t get heat stroke and over heat. I hope I find the balance of hydration. I hope I can walk to the pub across from my home for the free Sunday Lunch they’re offering up.

Of course there are fears roaming around my brain’s white matter but right now I firmly believe that naivity is my friend. Let’s keep it that way until I hit the docklands part of the route notorious for breakdowns and seriously questioning life choices.

To sponsor me either follow this link;

virginmoneygiving.com/Monandthemarathon

Or text MVLM69 followed by the amount in £ to 70070

Example “MVLM69 £5” to 70070 to give £5

Thanks so much to everyone supporting me on this venture.