Wake Me When September Ends

For anyone who knows me well, they know that September/October is a hard time of year and has been throughout the past decade. For a long time the underlying cause was assumed to be situational stress, with something always assumed to have been bothering me: an argument with my other half; studying was difficult; work was stressful; my routine had been disrupted; this had happened and that had happened, historically speaking, like an anniversary of shite; it rained too much or it was too sunny. To be frank there’s always someone in your life that is doing your head in a bit, and in the UK there’s always always the weather, regardless of how good or bad said weather patterns are being, no matter the time of day, week or year, there is always an angle to take from which you can blame the weather for life’s woes.

This ‘something must be going on’ approach is understandable; when things go awry with your mood and mental state it seems that the most logical first step is to try and pinpoint a cause, and from there you can theoretically hatch a plan. The thing is, there is always something external to blame whether or not there is validity or truth in the reason. For ten years we’ve been fine-comb picking my life apart to figure what it is that has set me off this time. After about a decade, a pattern has emerged. I am always looking for an explanation in september and october. The chicken or the egg, the mood or the thoughts, the cognitive or the behavoural?

Now we have pinned it on the changing seasons: autumn saddens, and spring quite literally springs. I have tried to go on as if to not expect the wobble. I have tried to distract myself out of the habitual mood change with hoildays, festivals and exciting events to look forward to, just in case it was a subconscious pattern. I have tried ignoring it just in case I was placebo affecting it into effect, and I have tried to go on as if everything is just as fine and stable as it was mid-August. None of this has worked.

A breakdown in Berlin, a meltdown in Morocco, a face like a slapped arse, and difficulties in not to lashing out ensued from getting into confrontations with mates and strangers alike, particularly on public transport, inextricably blaming everyone but me for being so goddamn unreasonable. I mean sometimes they are but my patience is tissue paper thin right now, so instead of not rising to the occasion or ignoring something annoying, I snap, crackle and pop.

The difference between now and a decade ago is that I have a decades’ worth of experience up my sleeve at managing these episodes, it that CV worthy? I feel like managing this is a transferable skill? At least these episodes are no longer scary for me because they are in fact incredibly familar. I recognise and feel familiar with the feelings and the irrational thoughts of “I should just kill myself” – spoiler alert, I shouldn’t. The intrusive thoughts of just pushing, shoving or tripping people up for having the audacity to be near me in the street street are just that, intrusive thoughts. I can choose to act on them with varying degrees of self control – and if I’m really struggling to control them then I just stay close to home. I take it easy. I grab coffee and reply ever more inconsistently to my phone. I watch shit TV and let myself be. Sometimes I’ll fall into mentally beating myself up for being so useless and lazy, and then I remember that this is in fact why I am studying part-time, this is in fact why I get the financial aid that I do and this is in fact a much better option than pushing on even more so, only to absolutely lose my fucking shit completely. Top tip: prevention is always better than cure, or picking up the pieces.

This is all familiar now. When it happens I have the confidence to manage it and that it will pass. It always passes. It is never like this forever. All I need to do is call my CPN and tell her. She is arranging zopiclone for me at tomorrows meeting from a single phone call today. It’s predictable and routine. I reflect to figure out the root cause and I’m not particularly confused. I’ve got through it for my entire life, and I know that with time it will settle and pass, if I do the right things to help myself. I know what helps and what really realy does not help. So if you’re struggling with the mood shifts that are so frequently triggered at this time of year for anyone with a mood disorder, hear me out. It passes. IT ALWAYS PASSES. Sometimes it takes a really long time, and sometimes it doesn’t. Look after yourself, take your meds, and get them looked at if you can if you’re struggling an unreasonable amount.

Give alcohol a miss and sleep is a priority. Solitude in times of feeling short fused is OK and seeing people when you’re feeling alright is a necessity for our sanity. It’s OK to watch shit TV. Doing small things helps, and not having major comitments also helps. Balance. Balance. Balance and perseverence. You’ve got this, I’ve got this, we’ve got this.

N.B. Fuck that ending was cheesy!!!!! Grab a cracker.

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.

Orthorexia is the New Anorexia, and It’s Not Cool

Social Media is bursting with #BodyPositivity #LoveYourself and #ICanSoYouCan to messages seemingly aimed at the average health conscious woman. At face value it seems like a pretty brilliant and groundbreaking trend that’s taking over. People are going to fitness events more, we are health conscious now thanks to a decade of public health campaigning.

Dig a little deeper and there’s another layer to this trend. People who have recovered from eating disorders posting transformation pictures from then and now. They’ve usually managed a level of good weight restoration – which is great. They often claim psychological healing from the eating disorder too, and who wouldn’t believe that when someone has restored and maintained their weight? That is what eating disorders are all about right? Weight. No, nope, nada, that statement couldn’t be any more wrong. Eating disorders are a psychological illness and mending the mind takes much longer than weight restoration.

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Especially when those same people are posting comparison shop of body shape and muscle with their weight displayed in numbers on each picture to prove that you can be smaller and leaner at a higher gravitational mass. The point seems to prove that weight loss doesn’t always count for stronger and weight gain can mean a leaner body. I don’t know when it was discovered hat muscle is more mass dense than fat. I think it was a long time ago. The proportionate representation of a Kg of each next to each other send this message home enough. I don’t know about you but I don’t need six packs and weight numbers emblazoned across two pictures to show me as well.

Back to the #BoPo trend, why am I sceptical of the complete recovery claims and love yourself campaigns by some influencers? Because the same woman pushing these messages of self-love seems to have migrated from one way of obsession over her body and food to another. I know, it sounds hypocritical considering my ED past and that I’m now studying nutrition, but hear me out on this.

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I’ll be frank, seeing your perfectly lean body, with no cellulite or wobble with a six-pack and long blonde hair (Why are so many successful influencers white and blonde?) does not encourage me to feel all #bopo about myself. The lack of diversity amongst the influencers is a whole other matter but in this instance I think what has really occurred is a shift from one beauty ideal to another in the last decade. This woman has successfully transitioned with the trends, from skeletal to sculpted. I further this stance by pointing out the body positive and self love messages still all revolve around “I love what I see in the mirror” or how they look clothed, barely clothed and basically it all revolves around reflections. Self love isn’t found in your reflection, it is deeper than that. Imagine a couple who are shit hot, heck, I hear this is what Love Island is about – what happens when they irritate each other or age, or sag – will they still be in love if it’s all based on a skin deep love? Anyone will tell you these kinds of relationships are shallow and won’t last at the very least.

Going back to the body trends. In the 90s we had heroin chic, then that was deemed too dark so we transitioned to 2006 with Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Mary-Kate Olsen who could be summed up at the time as bones, bones and more bones. They were idolised as the beauty ideal, put on a perfection pedestal that translated to being as skeletal as possible without being sectioned or dying because then you kind of lose by default. Thinspo became a thing, and sometimes the ones who did die from their eating disorder were further idolised by many as being the ultimate goal. These people were as unwell as it sounds. Many were genuinely unwell, how do I know? I was one of them. However, the mass media (this is pre-social media boom) perpetuated these images, this ideal and humiliated any celebrities who had cellulite by blowing the picture up in their magazines and encircling said fault with a fat red circle.

We’ve moved on from that. Its been 10 years after all. However, the retaliative movement was health and fitness: strong is the new skinny, suns out guns out and all that jazz. It’s not all bad, but there is a dark under layer of migration of pathology with food, body image and exercise emerging in the surfaces of popular media, magazines (ahem, Women’s Health) and social media platforms (Oh Hai Insta!). During the process super foods became a thing thanks to clever marketing and buzz words. Paleo, veganism and the ultimate heathen of ‘healthy living’ that we all utter under our breath as if he who should not be named, clean eating. We bought it. We buy it every time and in a capitalist society why are some people pushing these ideas? Obviously, there is dollar in health. There always has been and always will be. Each trend earns some people big bucks.

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Most of them have a singular continuous trend threading throughout them since the thinspo days of 2006: restriction. Each fad is a new way to restrict the diet, introduce vast numbers of rules around eating and achieve beauty ideals. Except in 2006 we knew being so thin meant an anorexia/eating disorder epidemic, not the trends and trend setters are more sinister; they’re disguising their restrictive eating and compulsive relationships with exercise and their reflection as health. We’re buying into it, they’re getting paid for it. the difference since 2006 here is that making money from social media didn’t really exist then. If it did I think a lot of people would have made a living from being anorexic and online; just like hoards of people are now for being orthorexic or an over-exerciser. We are paying them for their compulsions, and they are lying to us and more importantly, themselves. Evidently, I have a massive problem with this.

To all the body positivity social media gurus with six packs, steel thighs and a built derrieré from going to the gym more times than I blink in a week, I’m calling you out and I’m hoping that more people see through the rose-tinted veil of beauty you show to us. Orthorexia is the new anorexia, and it’s not cool.

Brighton Marathon: The Unlikely Road To The Satisfaction of Socks & Sandals

Marathon running is more of an exercise for the mind than the body. Making your body run 26.2 miles in one go without stopping is tiring work, don’t get me wrong. The real task though is how much can you endure on the day? How much can you dig deep and keep going when the sweeper bus stops to ask if you want to climb aboard the not-so-fun bus. Through the window you can see tired broken people, tears, distant stares and silver blankets prematurely adorned.

You may have seen in the media recently the upset caused by London Marathon for the 7:30 pacer and her fellow backpackers, recruits on the day to finish the route in a requested time frame – and even so, they received hurtful words, and constant goading for 26.2 miles. Like I said, a marathon is a mental game of keeping going enough as it is, so for the people who held their chins up and refused to give in – fucking well done! I was offered aboard the sweeper bus three times, on the last coming dangerously close to caving.

It has now been a while since I ran Brighton, fully recovered and got back into the swing of normality without marathon madness, and had time to reflect on what went better than last year, not so much and lessons learned. I got a 20 minute PB on London last year. Brighton is not an overall PB kind of course; it’s hilly, windy, bleak, lonely, miserable and undulating in the most undulating sense of the word undulating. Did I mention it was uncomfortably undulating? I got a PB for half marathon distance, which now stands at a 2:51:44 according to my Garmin.

When Dad and I crossed the start line we were amongst the final handful at the back of the pack, even further back than Dave the Running Samaritans Phone. The course doubles back on itself a lot, which can be motivating and soul destroying in equal capacities. Some times it gave me the illusion that people were not all that far ahead so keep running and that’ll be you on the other side of the road soon. In the same breath, seeing people running the final kilometres of the race as I was just crossing halfway was a very bitter moment for me.

For the first few miles dad and I took it in turns to over take one another, back and to back and to. I took off. (This sounds much faster than it really was.) We thought we had said our goodbyes for the rest of the course, until I stopped for a toilet break. This is all well and good except there was a few of us, and as I waited my dad caught up to me. At the time this was a relief because his phone had pocket dialled me a number of times. I had phoned him back to no answer and consequentially in true anxiety girl style, I jumped to worrisome conclusions of heart attacks, rolled ankles and muscle cramps. He catches up to me and he’s just fine. His version of events is that I keep calling him. He had no idea he’d been phoning me so all was well. Not far behind my Dad though was the sweeper vehicle.

The sweeper vehicle is not for road sweeping; it is for people sweeping. Slow people sweeping, injured people sweeping, poorly people sweeping, the sweeper bus of broken hopes and dreams chased me from that moment in the race right until the end, threatening to gobble me up in a sorry mess. This shit me up. I won’t lie. So I bloody well got a wiggle and a wriggle on to try and make some ground on the sweeper bus of broken people.

With my London Marathon experience having been such a dreamboat, I do wonder if perhaps Brighton was a bit miserable because I had a normal marathon experience. When you hear about people with Bipolar, a classic “mania story” is of someone running a marathon without training. I am by no means special, others have done it including Jedward (way to put myself down there), and I”m sure many other idiots like myself. I’m not sure everyone who commits to such an act of stupidity however has such an epic day out with it. The power station miles in particular were just horrible.

Each time I was running towards the town centre I realised that the view and sightings of Brighton pier were very much deceiving in how close I really was, or was not to the half way point, and on the way back in from the other side, from the finish line. The second half of the race has since been very much talked about as being a wind tunnel of misery amongst fellow Brighton runners on social media. The power station miles provided very little to look at and very much to overthink about, like the pain emanating from my lower half of my body. It was grey. It was cold. It felt more like the march of the hobbling zombies than a marathon at this point. Eventually, the 23 mile marker came and i could finally, finally say to myself “it’s just a park run to go”. It was around this point when i was kidding myself that I saw my Dad on course for the last time before the end. Up until this point, every time we had seen each other we high fived, did a thumbs up and beamed a smile at one another, evidently pleased with the results of our high hopes and poor training. Not this time; I needed a hug.

Just passed 23 miles I could see the pier in the distance, which signified the finish line on the horizon, much like a mirage in a desert, but it wasn’t sunny or sandy, it was grey and concrete. The joy soon wore off as the sighting became a torturous tantaliser of the end that never seemed to come. I kept going and kept going, catching up to the team pushing a dying man in a wheelchair, and eventually saw a friendly face. Jarnail from Chasing Lights was cheering and despite having not seen him for months I dramatically threw myself at him for a hug, and to snatch a brief moment of less gravity on my feet. He ran the remainder with me until he was ushered off the course. It really helped me to have that someone running with me. No amount of sugar, or electrolytes, or sports drinks could have rivalled the support of finding a friendly face in the crowd who is willing to jog along side you. Then another friendly face shouted me, my friend Maryke then joined us too, and then another, Elle. Then the finish line set up came into view, and I could not have been happier tho see the finish I’d been so patiently awaiting to arrive on the horizon since mile 23.

As soon as I sat down on the other side, having survived my second marathon, I put on my socks and sandals. I felt like a very stiff and rigid champion wearing the footwear of dreams: socks and sandals after a long race are indescribably wonderful. When I saw my Dad coming out of the finishing area we had another longer hug. I think he was a bit broken because we don’t do long hugs very often, but after gruelling distances and challenges when he admits he’d like to cry and doesn’t, we instead have a long hug.

In the end, I feel blessed to have the privilege to run a marathon for the sheer challenge of it. I felt blessed that my friends had come to support me, eat food with me, and that my dad was there too. After all the life difficulties I have had with my dad, I think running sickly distances together has really brought us closer together – and that is as good a reason as any to keep doing them. It was hard, and I probably won’t be doing Brighton again next year but never say never.

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

The Importance of Talking About Mental Health

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Heavy with lead through every morsel of torso and limb she tries to carry herself tall. Heaving an impossible weight and pushing on she gets by, dragging what may fall behind along the way. A fog has descended and thickened, clouding her vision, judgement and perception. A thick rain cloud of anger hangs over her head, a relentless thrashing of her senses persists. Hearing anything clearly becomes impossible and coping with daily life is an overwhelming task. Her thoughts are foreign to her previous self, morbid, dark and terrifying. Through her diminishing abilities she becomes frustrated and deflated, hopeless and surrendering. She is vulnerable, but not weak. This is no personal flaw and through no personal fault of her own; she is experiencing an invisible illness, a mental illness.

“Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses” – The Mental Health Foundation.

Those around her, loved ones, colleagues and friends may notice a change. Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown. Frustrations can rise, “she’s just not making an effort”, “she’s no fun anymore” and “you just have to get on with it” are all too easy a response, but ask yourself, is it the right response?

As tempers turn into turmoil, frustrations grate and ties wear thin she may start erupting into sky-high emotions, hearing voices or facing difficulties with food. What do you say then? Is she a psycho? Does she need to go to the loony bin and get out of your hair? Or is it just all in her fucked up head and she just needs to sort it the fuck out and stop it, this instant, right now? Believe it or not, these are the nature of responses I have received throughout my own journey and experiences with mental health difficulties. Dare I ask it, would this have happened had my illness’ been physical? I doubt it.

It is an abhorrent suggestion of absurdity to march into a cancer ward and demand that this has to stop, they have to stop their tumours and bodies from being affected by the illness, they must stop making a fuss of it, and they must stop dying from it – and that if they really must continue with this being ill from cancer thing they’ve got going on, could they please do it quietly, out of sight and act as if nothing is happening?

It is a despicable suggestion; cancer and mental illness alike need care, support and treatment yet mental health remains subject to negative attitudes of stigma, discrimination and invalidation yet the remarkable fact is that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Every year 1 in 4 of us will be affected, that’s 25% of the population, a whole quarter. Yet the experience of a mental health illness is often one of isolation and shame. The effects of which can be worse than the illness itself.

The invisibility of the illness does not equate to a lack of debilitating effects such illnesses can have on a person’s life: mental illness costs lives, it can diminish lives to a mere state of existence and make every day functioning a seemingly impossible feat. It can be overcome for many, and many people do recover or learn to manage their conditions whilst living fulfilling lives that are worth living again. There is hope, but in order to achieve that people need support, to be listened to, and acceptance.

This is why it is important that we talk about mental health; it affects every aspect of our lives: in how we function, enjoy and cope from day-to-day, and that instead of meeting these conditions with hatred and hostility, they are met with the care, compassion and support that these individuals need.