When you’ve been in some sort of treatment for a mental health condition for a number of years; it can be rare to be presented with a new idea that you’ve not seen before. This isn’t to sound arrogant as if I’ve had all of the treatment there ever was… not at all. But rather, there are some similar ideas and techniques that come up more often than not. Whilst a lot of these traditional, go-to ideas are great, it can feel a bit hopeless if you’re just being given the same old. I’ve always had a belief that if what you’re doing isn’t working or really helping, then you need to keep trying until you find something that works! Sometimes it feels this is a real weakness of community mental health support. There’s a limited scope for overstretched teams to provide care that’s tailored to the individual and it can feel like professionals try and shoe-horn you into their own method of working… and discharge people who don’t progress within the parameters of what’s available.
Recently, I worked with a locum practitioner who gave me some new ideas, things I’d never tried before. I was a bit dubious about some of them, as they were out of the normal CBT based ideas I’d been given in outpatient treatment. The number of times I’ve had to write a food diary, compare it to my meal plan, write down my thoughts and then counter them with alternative thoughts; is probably too many to recall now! For so long, that has been the treatment. There’s been very little creativity. I’m not criticising the professionals I’ve worked with… totally… but I am saying there could be a little more variety in the kind of work offered to outpatients regardless of the understandably challenging lack of resources. So, back to my locum practitioner. One day we were talking about the importance of having my weight monitored. It’s something I’ve always hated and battled against. Partly due to OCD rituals surrounding getting a perfectly accurate comparative weight (yes… something I know isn’t really a real thing but that’s not the focus here haha). So being a regular argument had with the team, we began for a moment to have the standard backward and forward about being weighed. I was told why I needed it done and promptly replied with all of the counter arguments I could. It wasn’t really going anywhere and it was reminiscent of conversations already had.
So she stopped us and pulled out a piece of paper, telling me we were going to think of a different way of tackling this. I was anxious and stressed and not very receptive to a new idea. She told me that we were going to write a list of thirty reasons why it was good to be weighed by someone from the team. We titled it in a positive way, not limiting ourselves to it being ‘ok’ to be weighed but going fully for it and using ‘good’ and specifying it would be done by the team. Already my brain was feeling a little frustrated that loopholes were being firmly avoided! It was a challenge, I definitely protested that there was no way I could think of one reason let alone thirty. But gradually with a little persuasion, the list began to take shape… the options could be sensible, off the wall or completely ridiculous. Here are a few we came up with:
- People will stop nagging me to get weighed
- Meg and Bert (my labradors) get weighed at the vets and enjoy it, so I can too
- I can smash my scales into a million pieces because I don’t need them now
- It’s just measuring my relationship with gravity
- Good to give my scales a break/holiday/weekend break
- Maybe I’ll enjoy it
And so on…
The list turned out to be a powerful tool. By the end of thirty reasons, I had been through fits of laughter, completely relaxed and actually if I had been weighed straight away… I probably would have been fairly relaxed about the whole situation. By finding thirty reasons that it was good for it to happen, I had a whole list of evidence to counter the negative thought processes that were going on in my head. I had a list of reasons that were quite motivating and I had something that could make me laugh and remind me that perhaps the whole process wasn’t too scary after all. I’ve realised that writing a list to counter my fears can be used in any situation that I’m worrying about or anything I’m struggling to be able to do. And the best thing… if at thirty you still feel anxious, you can always write thirty more.
A belated entry for the 4th November!
Stormy weather is often synonymous with mental health struggles. Often images such as stormy seas and waves; are used to describe the challenges faced by people with many different difficulties. The use of these metaphors can work alongside different skills (such as mindfulness, distraction and other distress tolerance techniques) to help people to remember to hold on to hope that one day the storm will past, as it can’t live forever.
From a young age, I found storms exciting. Of course I would have to watch them from the safety of my parent’s bed… but there was something about the sheer power that left me with feelings of awe. The same can be said for the sea, especially when it is swirling and violent. Both elements of nature always have a positive impact on me and help me to remember that I am part of something much much bigger and because of that my problems can feel smaller.
Another childhood storm memory came from one of my favourite storybooks; the story of Mowzer the Mousehole cat. The story is based on a Cornish legend involving a fisherman named Tom Bawcock and his cat. The tale goes that one winter, the Cornish village (Mousehole) was facing starvation as none of the fishermen had been able to go out fishing. Tom and the loyal Mowzer set out on an adventure to catch fish and turn the fate of the villagers around. In the eye of the storm, they were faced with the giant ‘Storm-Cat’ who was only quelled by the purring of Mowzer, who of course saved the day! The book is beautiful, but the idea of taking the plunge and battling out into the storm to help others really resonated with me, perhaps that sometimes in recovery we sit with what we feel is comfortable and safe for fear of being stuck out in a storm of emotion or difficulty. But, the same comparison shows that even the biggest storms can be calmed with compassion and care (and obviously a cat!!).
I wanted to write a blog today about with one of the NaBloPoMo prompts. One idea was to talk about the things you do on a bad day with your mental health to help yourself. It made me think of keeping the hope that the storm will pass, as this is something so important to remember. But like I said in yesterday’s blog about hope, it can be really challenging to think in that way when staying afloat within the storm is about as much as you can manage.
Here are a few ideas of the types of things I do, to help myself, on a bad day!
- Well, I’ve already mentioned my first coping method (go-to mantra) a little, but it’s going on the list again. I have a whole Pinterest board with all sorts of mental health quotes
ranging from those that just sum up the way I’m feeling perfectly, to those that give me hope and those that act as reminders. My two favourites at the moment are those that remind you, that storms are actually a really good place to learn lots of new skills… quotes like ‘A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’. I also like those that talk about making the most of time within the storm, such as the one to the right or my absolute favourite ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain’. Surrounding yourself with positive mantras or having them to hand can give you the boost to keep going.
- When I’m having a bad day, I try to show myself some compassion. Rather than beating myself for having a tricky day, I remind myself that it’s ok to not be 100% ok all of the time.
- The next step to conquering a bad day is to get out of bed and make it. Sometimes it can feel hard to leave the safety of my duvet, but generally my mood is better if I can make myself get up and make my bed to prevent myself getting back in to it. Sometimes it’s ok to do things in a more leisurely way or allow myself to have a lie in if it helps, but getting up and about is just as important!
- When I’m feeling rubbish, I really struggle to be nice to myself. I try hard to be compassionate, but actually being kind to myself is something I still need to practice. I have a list of different accessible self care activities that I try and include in the day if I’m struggling. Things like a soak in the bath, bit of creativity, painting my nails or going out for a nice walk. Having Stitch (my cat) is also really great as he’s a perfect self care cuddle monster!
- There is definitely strength in numbers when it comes to mental health difficulties. Whether it’s someone to sound out your negative thoughts to or support you to see something different, speaking to a someone in your support network can help you to not feel alone. You deserve the care from other people, especially when you’re feeling horrible! The support of my friends, family and the professionals I have worked with has been so helpful when I’m struggling.
- Music is a real influence on my emotional wellbeing. I have a lot of different playlists depending on what I need at the time… whether it’s something to ‘dance it out’ round the room to (much to the disgust of Stitch), or whether it’s some deep dark and twisty indie to let out the emotions I’m feeling. Of course sometimes a bit of upbeat music can get me out of a slump too!
- Finally, starting the day by setting some simple goals or intentions for things I need to get done… even if they’re small… can really help me to have a little focus or feel positive that I’ve achieved something by the end of the day.
Remember… all storms have to pass in the end!
Hope is a strange thing. It can be the motivation to keep going when things are hard or the idea that things may one day be different or better. Hope is a hard thing to hang on to, it’s not exactly tangible and it can be easily shattered. But even the tiniest amount of hope can be a really powerful thing. I’ve frequently been told to hold on, with the hope that it will get easier. But I guess I want to be told exactly when that will be… easier said than done I guess.
Perhaps, certainly in recovery, it is much easier to identify and manage if someone has lost hope, rather than working out how much hope they have! Martin Seligman found that if animals were subjected to difficult situations that were out of their control, then became helpless and passive; not wanting to try and escape the situation they were in. Perhaps demonstrating what happens when you lose hope in a situation. For people lack of hope can manifest in many different ways such as; depression, anxiety, lack of motivation or self destructive behaviours. It can be a bit of a downward spiral where hopelessness leads to individuals not wanting to try and change, and therefore the negativity is perpetuated.
Hope is not pretending that troubles don’t exist. It is the hope that they
won’t last forever. That hurts will be healed and difficulties overcome. That we will be led out of darkness and into the sunshine.
Sometimes taking the first step, especially when you feel hopelessness, can be the hardest. If you don’t believe things can change, then it’s totally understandable that it feels impossible to get started and find some hope.
So how can you find hope and break unhelpful spirals?
- Break it down a little- sometimes hoping to be ‘recovered’ can be a very tall order. It can feel like you’re trying to get from A-Z without any real idea of how to get there. It’s important to try and allow yourself you work through the process, taking measurable baby steps to find your way. It’s also completely ok if your goal changes, it can be a fluid process which in itself may give you hope.
- Show yourself compassion- once you begin your steps, you make have to reevaluate and take a different approach if it doesn’t feel like it’s working or going smoothly. Of course, it’s not going to be a walk in the park, but if it’s too hard you won’t reach the other side anyway. You may just need to change your goal posts and aim for slightly simpler steps. A headteacher once told me that when you write a to-do list, you should start with 2-3 things you’ve already done or know you can complete straight away. Giving yourself the immediate satisfaction of completing something can then spur you on to manage the rest.
- Start a gratitude list- I am fairly certain you’ve already achieved a lot in your life. If might not feel it, but think about the little things you have achieved. Reminding yourself that you are in fact pretty amazing can help you to feel hopeful about the future.
- Find Inspiration- this could be from people you know, famous people or celebrities, quotes, stories or anything really. Surround yourself with your inspiration and re-visit it daily to help move your mindset on to one of hope.
- Find hope by letting go of negativity- starting to let go of negativity, anxiety or depression can set you up to find space for a little more hope in your life.
- Think your way to hope- think about the way your life is now and the type of person you would like to be and what kind of life you would have if you were that person.
- Gain support from others- if you’re feeling hopeless, sometimes you need someone to help you find hope again. This can be from friends, family or even professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Look after yourself- once again, self care is really important here. Looking after yourself can build your resilience and help you manage when you’re feeling hopeless.
- Help others to help yourself- sometimes getting a little perspective can help you find hope again.
- Be brave- ultimately, don’t give up. You’ve got this, you can do it. Maybe not right now, but you will be able to.
At the end of the day, all you need is hope and strength. Hope that it will get better and strength to hold on until it does.
I’ve decided to take part in NaBloPoMo this November, the idea is to blog each day throughout November. I thought it could be a good excuse to get back into a blogging routine and share some different mental health related content over the course of the month. If there are any topics you’d like me to chat about, just get in touch via the comments or my ‘talk to me’ page.
At the weekend the clocks went back… apart from completely confusing my body clock, cat and any hope I had of working out what time of day it is… the change also brought with it darker nights. Whilst it’s a great excuse to get snuggly, watch lots of tv (ne series of ‘How to get away with murder’ woop!) and master the art of gourmet hot chocolate making… the darkness can pose difficult mental health challenges. Dark nights can make feelings of loneliness, isolation and generally feeling sad a lot stronger as well as increasing anxiety and other mental health struggles such as SAD. Autumnal evenings can be as tricky as they are cosy!
As the clocks have only just gone back, at least we have a little time to get into the swing of dark evenings… I’ve pulled together some top tips for coping with dark nights:
- Get into a good routine– routine can be a key factor which tackling any mental health difficulty. Having a plan of what you’re going to do in the evenings, especially those that feel longer due to the lack of daylight, can help them feel more manageable. A routine can also give you a sense of purpose which can help if you’re feeling lacking in motivation or drive.
- Plan in social time– whilst socialising can feel hard when you’re not feeling all that up to it, being around people can help to boost low mood and act as a great distraction on long autumnal nights! Autumn is the time of bonfires, fireworks and nights in with a good film! Making plans in advance can give you something to look forward to as well!
- Make the most of the sun– it’s important to boost those vitamin D levels whilst you can and get out in the sunshine for as much time as possible. Heading out for a lunchtime walk can help boost your levels and keep SAD at bay!
- Make your surroundings cosy– artificial light won’t cure SAD but it can help brighten your surroundings which can improve your mood. Nice scented candles or fairy lights can help to make the gloomy evenings feel nicer.
- Eat, drink and be merry– having a healthy balanced diet and keeping hydrated can help boost your mood and improve general and mental health.
- Brighten up your walls– redecorating for the different seasons might not be wholly practical, but using brightly coloured accessories can help stimulate your mind and improve your mood. Think about your surroundings and think about ways you might make them feel happier; such as nice photographs, having a declutter or restyling your accessories.
- Sleep well– getting into good sleep routines can be another helpful way to sort out your circadian rhythm and manage autumnal darkness.
- Get active– regular exercise can help release endorphins which can boost your mood. Anything that gets your heart pumping can work!
- Celebrate the season or start something new– think of ways you can celebrate Autumn or try something new, that can keep your mind occupied and give you something to get good at over the darker months! Maybe teach yourself to knit or crochet… or learn an instrument.
- Avoid alcohol and stimulants (like caffeine)– alcohol and stimulants can exacerbate anxiety and low mood, so limiting them can help improve things!
- Boost your vitamin levels– multi vitamin supplements that include vitain D and B12 can help boost depleted stores over the darker months, you can get cereals fortified with these minerals and vitamins too.
- Work on your self care daily– self care is something that needs practice. You can get really good at it if you keep trying to fit it in to your normal routines. /having lists and ideas of different things you can try can be a helpful reminder to do something just for you, especially if it doesn’t feel like it comes naturally.
- Dance it out– for me, a sure way to pick up my mood is putting on a happy playlist and dancing it out around my room à la Grey’s Anatomy. Maybe dancing it out isn’t for you, but find whatever it is that helps! It might be regular soaks in the bath with smellies or a good dog walk with a friend. It’s ok to experiment until you find what works.
- Lean on your support network– friends and family are there for you, but often won’t always know they need to be there for you unless you let them know you’re going through a hard patch. Speak to them, let them know what’s going on and ask for their help.
- Get some professional help-it’s ok to not be ok! But if you identify yourself as not being ok, then there’s no shame in asking for more help or support. Sometimes this can come from professionals whether it’s through therapeutic support or medication. If you broke a leg, you’d accept a cast… so if you need some support with your mental health then treatment is ok too!
Come back tomorrow for more NaBloPoMo fun!
If there’s anything that being in recovery from a mental illness has taught me, it’s that recovery (probably of any sort) is not a linear process.
I feel like the world of popular culture (films, tv and books) kind of oversimplify the process. Of course it would make for pretty monotonous viewing if we were faced with the ups and downs of the process, but to be shown that people get sick… find something to help and get better… kind of leaves us to expect it to be easier than perhaps it might be. The other important thing I begrudgingly note, is that actually, the blips and dips are the struggles that enable us to recover! If recovery were to be the picture perfect ideal we perhaps would prefer it to be, we wouldn’t develop the skills, strength and resilience to get better!
I guess the issue is, it’s all good and well trying to hold on to the fact that the dips in recovery are beneficial… but it can be hard to remember that when it feels like you’re not making progress or for the ten steps forward you make, you take a few back. But finding ways to remember you’re still making progress, even if it doesn’t feel completely linear, is so important.
Some of the ways I’ve tried to keep motivated is by thinking about the longer term achievements I’ve made and the big things I’ve done as well as looking at my overall progress. Where it can sometimes be hard to compare yourself to where you were a year ago, I’ve found it to be really motivating and helpful. I’ve also broken down some of my bigger goals into the smaller bite sized achievements that are ultimately getting me towards the bigger goal. Last but not least, talking about the ups and downs has also been really helpful. Having a compassionate awareness that this process is not linear has really helped me to keep my eye on the prize.
I’m attempting to blog every day this month for NaBloPoMo… follow me for daily ramblings throughout November…
Autumn is hands down my favourite season. The crisp frosty mornings, crunchy leaves, beautiful colours and opportunity to wrap up in lots of layers; never ceases to make me happy. The only issue is that it brings with it Halloween… which I meet with an equal amount of excitement and trepidation.
Wednesday Addams is clearly my spirit animal. Those who know me, understand that my dark and twisty soul has a lot in common with her. In theory… Halloween should also be up there with Autumn on the list of best times of year! I mean… dressing up… good… get to wear black… also good… and get to demonstrate your passion for death and doom… perfect! However, it’s fraught with all sorts of things that can make it an anxious persons nightmare. I already had a mini panic yesterday where I feared trick or treaters may be upon the house over the weekend, due to Halloween being on a week day… which meant I was not prepared! Thankfully, we’ve so far not received any early birds… but the anxiety is still there.
For people who are anxious, or struggling with many different elements of their mental health. Halloween can be pretty tricky. If you spend your ‘regular’ days on the look out for doom and the probable terrifying situations your brain invents for you; the addition of actual monsters, witches and zombies (eugh my least favourite) can suddenly make fears seem all the more real. When I am struggling with my OCD, I tend to have ‘lovely’ dreams about horrible and scary things. It’s not ideal to have some of those facing me if I want to head out after dark tomorrow… ironic coming from the girl who watches a lot of CSI and murder mystery… but hey perhaps I’m just trying to be totally clued up, in expectance of an imminent axe murdering!
Halloween has always been an interesting concept for me. When I was little, we were discouraged from trick or treating, with the explanation that it wasn’t really very nice to go around threatening people for sweets and chocolate. Whilst this is perhaps a movement away from the intended fun spirit of the holiday, there’s a grain of truth in there. Last year, despite dutifully opening the door throughout the night and attempting to identify the costumes of small children who appeared at the door (apparently ‘what a lovely dead thing you are’ doesn’t quite cut it!); our house was still egged! For those who feel too anxious to go to the door, it’s really not fair to punish them for not wanting to be involved.
Halloween comes from an ancient festival that celebrated the day of souls crossing over and people would knock on doors asking for food in return for prayers for the dead. The idea of tricks was something that became of Halloween later on. Over the years Halloween has become more of an event, but of course it’s not a compulsory celebration!
I’ve already spent time worrying about whether or not to let Stitch out, after seeing animal activists sharing information about cats being injured or attacked over Halloween; I’ve worried I’ve not got enough sweets and perhaps we may fall victim to tricks regardless; I’ve worried that actually I might not feel up to getting involved and want to just get a chilled early night and pretend I’m not in!! I’ve spent time reading articles about this years array of insensitive ‘crazy person’ costumes… and overall I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps we all need to be a little more sensitive this year over Halloween! Sensitive that some people might not want to get involved or may feel scared by some elements of the celebrations and that’s totally ok. It’s ok to not actually scare people during Halloween but still have a great time!
Recovery from a mental health condition is a complex and difficult journey that can be a full time endeavour. It’s not a a linear process; but full of blips and struggles as well as triumph and success. Recovery can be hard enough without unhelpful (even if well meaning) comments or conversations. Here is a collection of the types of things people in recovery wish you wouldn’t say to them! This list was compiled initially thinking about recovery from an eating disorder, but a lot of the comments apply to other conditions as well.
- Aren’t you better now?– Recovery isn’t a simple process with a clear beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately a course of therapy doesn’t mean you’re fixed and it can often be hard to tell where a person is in their journey by just looking at them. Recovery takes time, try not to assume that because someone has been doing better for a while, it doesn’t mean they’re ‘fixed’ now.
- You don’t look like you have an eating disorder (insert other condition here too!)- mental health conditions come in a variety of shapes/sizes and presentations. Try not to invalidate someone by telling them they don’t look like they have that condition. It’s just a bit offensive!
- You look fine/healthy/well– telling someone they look fine can be a real challenge to someone in recovery who is battling to come to terms with a new recovering body. It can be a really distressing comment that is often used through habit without any real thought or meaning behind it.
- OMG my cousin/aunt/hairdresser/a lady down the road had an eating disorder/the same condition as you– a list of all the people you’ve ever know with a mental health condition can feel a little insensitive. It’s human nature to make comparisons and find similarities in conversation but it can also feel a little invalidating to for the person who has felt able to talk about their own experiences.
- General morbid curiosity- sometimes there can be a sense of feeling like a bit of a spectacle with some of the types of questions you’re asked about your illness. My personal favourite was being asked what I ate and if I ate anything when I was unwell. The intimate details of eating disorders are kind of like sexy underwear… We all know it’s and it’s great for anyone who needs to know about it and be involved with it…. But at the same time, you don’t need to discuss it/flash it around. There is a time and a place for intimate details… Perhaps leave it to the person with the condition to guide you on their level of comfort when discussing it.
- I totally know what you’re going through, I had depression (insert time since/duration)– mental illnesses are really complex. It can be comforting to know that someone has an idea of the type of situation you’re in, but there’s a difference between empathy and complete understanding. People are all really different so try let the person with the condition explain their situation rather than your experiences getting too involved!
- I’ve been in hospital 50 million times more than you– perhaps 50 million is a slight exaggeration but mental illness isn’t a competition to see who’s’ been more unwell. Inpatient stays aren’t a badge of honour that demonstrates to the world that you were the most unwell. Often people suffer from eating disorders in the community and lose their lives, demonstrating that those in hospital aren’t always the sickest.
- I have a stomach ache… well I have reflux… well I have IBS… well I have gastro paresis… OH well I have had my bowel removed… WELL I was pronounced dead!… Well I AM ACTUALLY DEAD/chronically and severely dead. Did you have a glucose level of 0.00000001 and get resuscitated?!- again perhaps a slight exaggeration… But battles of the sickest can also take place through unhelpful oneupmanship, where it can feel competitive to have received the most dramatic treatment or diagnosis. In reality, it’s probably not helpful for anyone… So could be another good area to avoid!
- Start exercising… it’s healthy for you– for people in recovery, diet as well as exercise is normally controlled and managed in terms of what is appropriate for that individual. Diet and exercise advice is probably left for the professionals to deal with. You never know, you might be suggesting exercise to someone who is not physically well enough to take part in it or could make someone in recovery feel really guilty about their exercise regime and potentially trigger them to feel compelled to do more.
- Be naughty, have a slice of cake or saying ‘OMG we’re so fat’ whilst eating something ‘unhealthy’– now… Repeat after me… There is NOTHING naughty or bad about cake or foods that are deemed less healthy than others. Thee secret to a health diet is to have a balance of food groups including those that have fat in them. Cake is good and tasty and something to be celebrated, if you think it’s naughty then perhaps you need to think about your own relationship with it!!
- People telling you about their diet and then remembering and saying… oh but not you– diet talk is really challenging. In my experience my ability to cope with that conversation depends on how I’m feeling at the time; generally it doesn’t bother me. The thing that does is people following it on with judgements about my body or whether I should or shouldn’t be dieting. When my eating disorder is strong or my perception of my body a little out of whack, the last thing I want to hear is people telling me I don’t need to diet whilst telling me about all the dieting they’re doing. Think about your audience.
- People stopping to ask if you’re ok because you look healthy or assumptions that eating=healthy- sometimes the hardest part of recovery is the point where you look a lot more ‘fine’. Recovery starts the moment you’re free in the real world with real world problems and stresses… that’s the point true recovery starts. Just because people look healthier, it doesn’t mean that everything on the inside is hunky dory and it’s quite sad to feel like you got more support when you were the most unwell… it kind of perpetuates some of the underlying issues with different disorders.
- Saying ‘you’re fine now right’?– fine is a really tricky word! What even is fine?
- People saying ‘I’m glad you eat now’ –I know for a fact, my family were very relieved to see me eating more normally and healthily. But constant reminders that I was eating ‘now’ were excruciatingly difficult and had the potential to make my head go wobbly. It was just easier to change the topic away from the food. Food and eating is just a symptom of an eating disorder, it’s much nicer to talk about normal mundane things around meal times rather than dwelling on the thing I found tricky!
- Telling you an ED is just about eating– the above leads on to this suggestion too… in recovery, you are told often, that eating disorders aren’t simply about food or eating. They are complex and challenging mental health conditions and moving the focus away from the food can allow the real psychological work to begin. Reinforcing unhelpful stereotypes of eating disorders isn’t the most helpful way to approach them.
- ‘Just eat healthily’ or ‘just get over it’ or ‘it’s all in your head’– of course… if recovery was as simple as just getting better or just being healthy, a lot of people wouldn’t get so stuck within the cycles of eating disorders… much the same as pulling yourself together or just getting over it, it’s much easier said than done.
- It’s ok to lose a bit of weight as long as you control it/stay within your healthy BMI/just a little– This is another example of leaving the judgements to the professionals. Any form of weight-loss for someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder needs to be managed really carefully as it can be a strong potential relapse trigger.
- When you eat in front of someone and they instantly think you’re fine now or you refuse something as you genuinely don’t want it and they act like you’re dying– it’s normal to have a differing appetite at different times, whilst keeping an eye on someone recovering from an eating disorder and supporting them with their intake is really helpful, jumping to conclusions can cause stress and tension in your relationship. Rather than casting a judgement, perhaps be curious about what’s going on and check they’re doing ok.
- When you genuinely have allergies and people think its just an excuse to not eat or not being able to eat certain things because of health issues and people think you’re not doing too well at the moment– this kind of statement belongs with other aforementioned comments that should be left to professionals to discuss. It can be easy to jump to conclusions about choices a person is making and whether or not they are eating disordered… but it’s definitely better to be curious and ask rather than assuming.
- Saying “no she wont eat this” without evening offering– these kind of comments or situations can make it obvious to a group that you have problems around eating; not only can it be embarrassing, it also sets up a perfect opportunity for eating disorders to take advantage of the situation. It’s much better to offer anyway, you never know, ‘she’ might decide to be brave and participate in whatever is being shared and will feel more included at being able to have a choice.
- When someone says “I haven’t had an appetite so I haven’t been eating much, but at least I’m losing some weight”– weight-loss conversations are often best avoided with someone who is in recovery, as it can feel quite upsetting. If it does feel ok to talk about weight-loss, it’s perhaps better to stick to healthy methods rather than taking pride in having lost weight through illness.
- Pointing out people around you and commenting on how small they are– comparisons are often a big fear of people with issues around body image… if you’re pointing out other people and making judgements about them, imagine how that could be impacting on a friend who assumes everyone does it about their weight or body!
- Saying”you’re eating french fries?!” “You should eliminate X from your diet”– whilst fad dieting tips and ideas are common in conversations, it’s not healthy to eliminate entire food groups from your diet. It’s especially unhelpful to suggest this to someone with an eating disorder as it can really give their illness room to get creative!
- ‘You are useless’ or ‘no wonder your manager doesn’t like you if you act like this’– mental health conditions aren’t a measure of your worth as a person… and it’s really unfair of someone else to comment on you in this way. Telling someone who is struggling with a mental health condition that they’re useless is often reinforcing the way they already see themselves and really isn’t helpful… to then apply these unhelpful judgements to other people… well that just feels pretty out of order regardless of your mental health!
- ‘Grow up’– Unfortunately eating disorders and other mental health conditions aren’t a sign of immaturity and don’t just disappear as you reach a certain birthday… maybe if you feel like saying this, you could do with a little growing up yourself!
- ‘Everyone finds things hard, you just give in’– life and being a human is really complicated. Unfortunately combinations of events, feelings and other elements such as illness or even the weather; can impact on our ability to cope with what’s happening. We all have those days where you end up in tears because you dropped a plate and it was just the final straw to a bad patch! Having a mental health condition isn’t a sign of giving in, often it’s a mark of someone trying to stay strong on their own and not asking for support from those around them!
- ‘Those pills are fake’– generally people don’t take medication without a good reason for it, especially for mental health conditions; it can feel embarrassing or shameful to admit to having medicinal help for a condition… but you wouldn’t question someone with a physical health condition taking prescribed medication for it!
- ‘It’s sad you need to write things down to realise what’s going on’– if someone has a coping method, try not to destroy it with your words. If it’s working… then does it matter if it seems ‘sad’ or ‘silly’… I like to blow bubbles when I’m stressed. It harms no-one and immediately reduces my anxiety… taking the place of unhelpful eating disorder behaviours. Don’t judge and perhaps give it a go yourself, you never know it might help!!
- ‘You don’t look anorexic’– If I had a penny for every time someone has said this to me! Coupled with ‘you look fine now’, it probably tops my list of the most unhelpful thing someone can say to someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder. Firstly, eating disorders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes… but secondly, the goal of recovery is to not look skeletal but to restore a healthy weight. Being told you don’t ‘look’ like you have an eating disorder can be highly triggering and stressful, it’s just additional unnecessary fuel for a nasty ED!
- ‘You’re eating loads’– In recovery, prescriptive meal plans are given for a reason. They’re worked out on the basis of the amount of food the person needs. It’s really hard to have that questioned by other people… it’s the amount it is for a reason!
- ‘Your problem is that you’re just over-sensitive’– being sensitive is such a positive quality… but over-sensitivity isn’t really a DSM-V criteria for a mental health condition. Often people with eating disorders have very selfless personalities and worry about impacting on others… but it isn’t a single reason for their difficulties.
Sometimes what people do say isn’t the difficulty. Mental illness is complicated enough but often it becomes a barrier meaning people avoid saying something or doing something but the person with the mental illness or difficulty wishes they hadn’t.
One way of tackling difficult conversations is to take a lead from the person with the mental health condition. They can guide you to the right balance and level of discussion. If you are able to promote open conversation that’s respectful and compassionate, they’re more likely to feel more able to be honest with you whilst feeling safe to do so. The moral of the story is… don’t NOT speak to someone with a mental health condition, but perhaps think before you speak and take a little time to judge whether what you’re saying is appropriate.
Thank you so much to all of the wonderful contributors who made this blog possible and not a rambling list of purely my own experiences!