It’s 7am on a Sunday and really I should be asleep, but I have been wide awake for a while now; my mind whirring and busy as it has been all week. I’ve found myself wondering and questioning things a lot recently, mainly things that just don’t seem to sit well with me. Now, I’m sure I don’t have some sort of heightened awareness of things around me; I just seem to have developed some kind of acceptance fatigue! One of the things you get taught in various types of therapy is the need to accept what you cannot change. This is all well and good but what do you do if accepting everything starts to wear thin?
Peace is accepting today, releasing yesterday, and giving up the need to control tomorrow- Lori Deschene (Tiny Buddha)
A quick look on Pinterest reveals that the key to acceptance is acknowledging and letting go of ‘yesterday’, being content with the current and not trying to control the future. It’s a fairly simple recipe that would arguably lead to some higher plane of life satisfaction. The trouble is, as much as I would love to do what I can to feel all happy and zen inside… the reality is really hard. It’s a bit like the mindfulness exercise where you allow everything to float down the river, letting it go in the process. Whilst it’s fab in the moment, mindfulness doesn’t prevent all of the crap you have to keep dumping in the river!! And if you end up in there yourself, whilst it would be great to think ‘I’d just go with it, accepting that I’m coming up to the waterfall rapidly and could well be about to meet oblivion’; you’re probably more likely to be feeling a little dissatisfied that you’re in the river in the first place!
But, is there an answer? Do you continue along begrudgingly accepting whatever is thrown your way, or do you fight it? To me, both options sound a little exhausting and it feels like there are situations where both, either or neither would be most appropriate. I found a blog by Kirra Sherman that thinks about acceptance in a different way. Rather than acceptance being a route to feeling at odds with your ‘true self’, she describes true acceptance as embracing how you feel about whatever it is that you are trying to accept, instead of just trying to be at peace with it in your head. As Kirra says, some things are too big and horrible to ‘just’ accept, but realising that can be what you need to get to a place where you can begin to let go and move on from them.
Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of the thought or feeling, acknowledge it and let it go. Whilst this can be helpful, it feels like there is a stage missing where you really consider what the feeling or thought is. Mindfulness ‘tells’ us not to engage with whatever we are feeling; but when that’s too hard, embracing that we are feeling that way and for now that’s completely ok is perhaps a better course of action. In a way, you can shelve whatever is going on and come back to it when you’re feeling resilient enough to tackle it more, rather than trying to just let it go if that’s not something that feels possible right now. Being honest with yourself and facing that you’re responding in a way that’s probably grounded in your morals, experiences and the person you are, could be more empowering than trying to accept everything that’s going on around you.
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.
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!
After handing in my dissertation last week, I realised how little time I’d been setting aside for self care. It’s so easy when you have an upcoming deadline, an important project at work or even just other life stuff going on… to just set recovery to one side. You can do a ‘good enough’ job… and hey isn’t that what they always said to do! But you can really end up settling for a middle ground that can ultimately not be very enjoyable or helpful.
I’ve spent a few days recently, having FUN! That carrot on the stick I dangled ahead of myself as I was completing my final piece of Uni work; that THING I’d forgotten how to do. It was easy to finish my diss and get right back into exciting things at work. I’d had a bit of a debrief after my hand in, but it wasn’t much at all. As I dived straight into new projects and began picking up the slack again at work, I realised I’d really been neglecting my own self care for some time. Now the truth is, I am an A grade hypocrite at times! I work with amazing young people who inspire me so much and I frequently recommend different skills that they could utilise to help boost their mental health. They laugh at me for the number of times Mindfulness comes up in our chats, but the truth is, I know from experience that it can REALLY work! That being said, after finally stopping at the end of this week, I took stock of where I was at and all the self care things I’d neglected over the last few weeks. Self care is so easy to neglect and it can take some effort to manage to squish it back into a routine where it was so easily replaced by other ‘more important’ things to do. The number of times I tell myself or hear friends saying, they don’t have time to do the nice things they want to, is a bit ridiculous. If being in hospital for almost a year taught me anything (which of course there was lots), it was that you can take time out of life and somehow everything still happens without you giving it your full attention (thank you wise guru Gerry!).
In a sense, a little self care each day can be a sort of personal early intervention. If you top up your internal store of resilience and ‘ability to cope’, then you’ll have a good stock if something comes up in life that you need to deal with. I’m starting off slow and making sure I have at least one nice/fun thing in my day. It can be as simple as a nice bubble bath, reading a book or spending a bit of time pottering in the garden. The key is to help find my space for something good each day and firmly get it into my routine again; once it’s got a foothold and feels like the norm, perhaps I can let it blossom. I think it’s starting to help already.
I’m in my final year of University doing a degree in Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of York. Now, anyone who’s read my blog will know I’m really interested in mental health and I decided to look at how social media can play a part in recovery from mental health conditions.
I’ve felt really privileged to be able to share my recovery journey with others, but I’m really interested to see what other people’s perceptions of the use of social media are and how these come together in a wonderfully sociological/social psychological way… so my dissertation research was created!
I am doing a research project on the use of social media in mental health recovery.
The aim of my project is to explore individuals’ perceptions of the uses of social media in recovery from mental health problems.
I am hoping to collect as many responses from individuals who do and do not use social media who have an experience of having a mental health condition. If you have a spare 15-20 minutes to complete the following questionnaire, I would be extremely grateful. Please do share this opportunity with anyone you know who might be interested in taking part.
The study questionnaire can be accessed via the following link:
If you have any questions, please do get in touch via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and please do share this opportunity far and wide to help me get as many participants as possible who have experiences of mental health problems/conditions.
The UK Blog Awards 2016 are now open for voting! I would really appreciate it if you could just take a moment to vote for me by clicking on the picture above or on this link. You can vote twice per day… so the more votes the better… I will be eternally grateful!
I had a really fantastic named nurse when I was in inpatient treatment. I met him on my first day… well night; he was working the night shift and woke me up to take my obs. I was a bit sleepy and overwhelmed by the whole process and for a moment was wondering why a giant was waking me up in the middle of the night (he’s really tall). Anyway… he turned out to be the best named nurse I could have hoped for and he really helped me with my recovery journey.
Around a time when was fairly convinced that this recovery malarkey wasn’t for me, he suggested we thought about my values and how they were impacted by my current eating disordered, hospitalised, ill situation. I came up with ideas about the type of person I wanted to be and my writing was mentioned. Before I had become really unwell, writing was a real passion. By the time I went into hospital, however, I was convinced that I was a terrible writer and that no-one would ever want to read anything I had created. Plus I had no concentration or energy to spend any time putting something together, and if I managed it was rarely very reader friendly. So anyway… my named nurse and I spent a lot of time thinking about getting back into writing. At the same time, the wonderful hospital Quaker Chaplain was also encouraging me following my offer of help with the hospital newsletter. Gradually, with lots of amazing support, I came up with a graded plan to get back into writing… with tiny baby steps along the way to challenge my fears and inner demons.
A few months down the line and I’m so happy I persevered with my graded plan, and those supporting me didn’t give up on me. My writing has become such an important part of my recovery journey and I enjoy it so much. I hope I’ve been able to help others along the way too.
I guess the moral of this story is that you will succeed if you work at something long enough and it really is possible to overcome perfectionist fears. It’s also ok to not believe any of that for a while, as long as you don’t completely give up or lose hope.
The public vote is now open for the UK Blog awards so please please vote for me by clicking here.
The tree is up, presents wrapped, cards sent… It’s definitely looking a lot like Christmas as the festivities approach at quite some speed. It’s a wonderful and joyful time of the year but maybe it doesn’t have to be completely perfect. Christmas is a time to celebrate, spend time with loved ones and take part in all the quirky traditions we have. It’s a time to be reflective and thankful but also to have a really good time.
For that reason, it can feel like a bit of a kick in the teeth when it doesn’t feel quite so perfect. The fact that we’re socially expected to be enjoying ourselves and being happy can make it feel all the more wrong if you’re not quite feeling that. Struggles can seem to battle with the festivities and I think it can make those negative feelings feel even worse. Mental health problems aren’t all that simple, it’s not always a case of just being able to put everything on hold and feel fine for one day, even if that’s what you want to be able to do to keep those around you happy. Hell, I would love to way up on Christmas Day and be completely cured… That kind of Christmas gift or even perhaps a miracle would be immense but unfortunately it’s probably not that realistic.
I was talking to some young people at work who were a bit stressed about Christmas and they seemed so shocked at the idea that my Christmas wasn’t going to just turn out like some kind of ideal homes perfect picture of a happy festive British family. I will be having a lovely time but there will be moments where I have a panic about how much I’m eating or feel sad for those who aren’t with us for Christmas… But rather than trying to block out those thoughts (which shocker… Would then probably jump out at me later on)… I will be mindfully noticing them and remember that Christmas is truly about spending time with those you care about… It’s ok if it’s good enough rather than Christmas card perfect! I am so looking forward to having a nice day with my family and pets and enjoying their company above all else.
I recently braved going to Church on my own, something I had been avoiding but wanting to do. Then over the following few weeks I proceeded to not only attend on my own, ask to join the choir, attend choir practice and then to top it all… This weekend I sang in my first service, stayed for tea and biscuits (where I made friends and mingled) AND offered to help wash up at the end! I feel a little like I won’t need to challenge anything again for a while and have felt like I’ve needed to sleep for at least a week. But other than succeeding over my anxious mind, I proved to myself that not only could I fight my fears, but I could jolly well enjoy it too. Perhaps a sign that when I put my mind to it, I really can challenge those inner doubtful demons and connect with the scariness they make me feel.
Going back to Church has helped ground me in some of the meaning behind this time of year. Really when you think about it, it’s not about scary indulgence (something my eating disorder likes to tell me!), it’s not all about the food! It’s about being thankful (whether you are religious or not!) and doing so with the people who matter the most. Of course it’s a time of year that really does make you miss people who should be with you but aren’t, but I think the sadness I feel helps me feel so much more thankful. There’s a lovely Winnie The Pooh quote that talks about being thankful to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. So I am even more thankful that I have people in my life and have had the chance to have people in my life that matter enough that I feel sad I won’t be sharing Christmas with them, they’re with my in my heart and memories. And I will be enjoying making more memories and of course a lot of time cuddling my cat.
Christmas is just a day, it’s a lovely time of year but it doesn’t need to be scary or stressful. It will be good enough and I’m very thankful for that!
Stay strong everyone! You can do it!