Changing The World: One Book Date At A Time

PieLiving with a chronic physical and mental illness had led me to spend a lot of time managing feeling poorly and struggling. Having spent time in hospital, including a year as an inpatient on an eating disorder ward, I learnt a lot about self care and soothing myself when things are hard. Gradually I realised that I could come up with an idea that combined my love (and the boost it gives to my wellbeing) of craft, vintage and reading to come up with something that might help others who are going through a challenging time. #DateWithABook was born and it has continued to grow from there onwards.

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me– C.S. Lewis.

Illness can lead you to feel really isolated. You can face days where you are really limited in the amount of energy you have, or motivation to do the things you would love to be doing. This was one of the starting ideas for my book dates. I wanted to reach out to people who might be finding things tough and offer them something to help them through that moment. I’m a lover of everything old and vintage and the idea of rehoming a beautiful old book felt like the best way to go. Giving these books a new lease of life whilst helping others just seemed perfect! The idea is that a book date is a way to reclaim date night and rest and rejuvenate with a hot drink and a cosy homely coaster with your set.

We read to know we’re not alone– William Nicholson, Shadowlands.

So, what do I hope to achieve with my little book dates? Well… quite a lot! I believe that sharing a #datewithabook can be a huge act of kindness, offering someone who is struggling a piece of calm, distraction and an excuse to have a night off. Or it can be a perfect piece of self care for yourself, to help with the stresses that we face day to day. A date with a book can be a way of reconnecting with someone who needs some extra love or showing you care when you can’t ‘fix’ a situation someone is going through.

Praise for #datewithabook

I absolutely loved recieving my date with a book parcel in the post. Kate made one up based on my likes for me to enjoy on maternity leave. Good value for money and such a wonderful idea for a treat to yourself or for gifts to others. Will be ordering from her again in the future.- Jenny

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I received my date with a book yesterday and it’s wonderful. I almost didn’t want to open it as it looked so pretty. I’m currently about to sit down and start reading. I will definitely be using you again. It is such a lovely idea.– Lindsey

Fantastic idea. Love this. Date with a Book. Something really different, original & unique. Brought for a friend, who Loved it to & has been showing friends. Whole thing arrives Beautifully packaged in soft tissue paper. Makes a Wonderful gift for Any occasion. Or No occasion at all.. Just to say, Thinking of you. Hello. Etc.– Annette

Such a unique idea! It was very exciting to receive the package as you don’t know which book you will get and I was not disappointed! I received a book from an author who I’ve never heard of, and I cannot wait to read it! Prompt delivery too!!– Bisma

There are lots of different #datewithabook sets available in my Conscious Crafties and Etsy stores. I’m just in the process of a big restock to make way for a beautiful array of Christmas gifts, ideal for the person who has everything. Use the discount code BLOG10 to get 10% off any orders over £10. I also have a #datewithabook advent calendar full of literary themed items.

 

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40 Things To do When You Feel Dark And Twisty

So you’re in the dark place, but what can you do to pass the time while you’re there and ultimately help you to get out of it and back to an adequate level of humaning? I’ve come up with my go-to list of dark and twisty activities, that can be used at varying levels of commitment, motivation, energy and willingness to participate in any form of life. 

The feeling of ‘dark and twistiness’ was brought to us by the incredible Shonda Rhimes, the amazing creator of Grey’s Anatomy, who has also been described as a ‘life ruiner’ for her heartbreakingly wonderful yet emotionally wrecking writing. I’m a bit obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy, partly because I generally love most medical dramas, but also because the lead character Meredith Grey seems to channel a lot of the inner turmoil and deal with a whole lot of life shit that connects with me on a spiritual level.

The idea of dark and twistiness came to the world from Grey’s and explained the type of person in life who is generally dark and pessimistic but also has the ability to perceive a situation to be the worst it possibly can be. The reason for becoming ‘dark and twisted’ is having lived through difficult times that have in fact prepared you for the world, rather than being someone who is bubbly and positive and therefore clearly doomed to hit unhappiness and reality out of the blue. Ok, it may seem like it’s negative to be ‘dark and twisty’ but I see it as quite the opposite, it’s a kind of understanding that life is shit but actually you can be ok with that and sometimes allowing yourself to be in the ‘dark and twisty’ place means you can hit those feelings head on and deal the crap out of them!

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So, often it seems, I reach my dark and twisty max level and want to grab Stitch and spoon under my duvet until the end of time. Whilst this is a totally good use of time to just sit with the feelings, it can also be less than ideal when you are required to be an actual human. It’s important to remember that it really is ok to have real dark and twisty moments, real life is full of difficult times and the key is to be able to get through them rather than pretend they’re not real or try to do everything you can to never have them.

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So you’re in the dark place, but what can you do to pass the time while you’re there and ultimately help you to get out of it and back to an adequate level of humaning? I’ve come up with my go-to list of dark and twisty activities, that can be used at varying levels of commitment, motivation, energy and willingness to participate in any form of life.

  1. Open the curtains– if you can’t go out, let some of the world in. Sunshine can help you feel a little more like you can do some of life and if the weather is miserable it can help give you a good reason to hibernate and focus on self-care for the day. Open them a little way if you can’t face the whole word at once. Sitting in the dark isn’t good for your mood, let in some light and see if it helps you feel a little better.
  2. Call in sick– just because the feeling is in your head, it doesn’t mean it’s not an acceptable reason to take some time off to feel better. Sometimes it’s better to give in and accept you’re feeling dark and twisty than keep pushing through until you crash. If you had flu, you would take time to recover and mental health shouldn’t be different just because you can’t see it… well I mean if you’re only able to lie like a starfish on your bed, it’s pretty obvious you’re not doing all that great!
  3. Lie like a starfish on your bed– for me, starfishing is very therapeutic. Sometimes I will set an alarm and allow myself a period of time to just feel sad, angry, frustrated… whatever it is and take up the position of starfish face down on my bed while I feel those feelings. It doesn’t have to be done in starfish form, but giving yourself a set time to be sad can be so helpful as you give yourself permission to do it, let it out, and then in some mental way can often move on from that feeling and allow yourself the brain space to do something else.
  4. Find a new project or learn something– I’ve recently taken up crocScreen Shot 2017-02-14 at 19.01.11.pnghet. Being a massive perfectionist, I tend to hate the beginning of new hobby as I dislike being ‘rubbish’ at something intensely. Thankfully a patient friend persisted with me and taught me the basics of crochet… I’m now officially hooked! The benefit of crochet is I can do it when I am lacking in brain power. It doesn’t matter if I’m not feeling great, I can get a really satisfying feeling of making progress with a project, as well as it being fantastic as a distraction from the way I’m feeling.
  5. Watch a whole lot of Netflix-of course, other streaming platforms are available! Netflix is full of all sorts of films and tv shows etc; that can be a real escape from a difficult mood or stressful feelings or emotions. Netflix can make it easy by playing the next episode automatically for you to save brain power!
  6. Spend time on Pinterest– Pinterest can be really useful if you’re struggling. It’s full of positive inspiration, interesting ideas and tutorials and general distraction. I have created different boards to suit different purposes and emotions. Pinterest is one of my go-to distractions.
  7. Turn off your phone– when the world is overwhelming, the constant ‘on call’ nature of modern technology can be exhausting. Whilst it can be great to be available, the presence of read receipts and notifications that you’re online can mean you don’t get a break from people. If you’re feeling a little peopled out, take some time with your phone turned off, or at least in another room. It can be really freeing to not feel the need to check it all the time.
  8. Avoid social media– similarly, it can be really soothing to have a social media free day. Social media is an amazing way to connect with people, but it can also be a real stress if you’re not feeling great. Feeling the need to keep up with everyone else’s perfect lives is not only exhausting, but it’s not necessarily real! People often present their lives on social media as ‘instagram perfect’ when they may not really be as happy and perfect as they seem. Taking a social media break can help you focus on you and also help you stop comparing yourself to other people.
  9. Keep hydrated– dehydration can have an impact on mental health as well as physical health; such as causing anxiety, difficulties in focus and concentration and generally cause lethargy which can lower your mood. Keeping hydrated can help you feel a little more energetic and if nothing else, may stop you feeling worse!
  10. Morning pages-a fantastic ED nurse Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 10.30.51.pngintroduce myself and a friend to
    morning pages. I’d never heard of them before, but now I’m an avid morning page convert! It’s a really simple process. All you need is a blank notebook or sketchbook and some pens or pencils. The idea is to write or draw whatever is in your head first thing in the morning before you do anything else. The benefit of getting ‘out’ what’s in your head, is it can help you to realise what you’re thinking and act as a healthy way to let out difficult emotions etc. Morning pages can be a really good addition to your routine or something you use when you’re feeling dark and twisty. The key is to not look back over the pages. Once the thought it out, it doesn’t need to be revisited as this can cause you to feel the same emotion again if you’re reminded of it.
  11. Blog or journal-another way to try and get out difficult feelings is to write in a journal or write a blog post. There are lots of journalling prompts on Pinterest and other sites, or you could free write to get whatever you’re struggling with ‘out’ on paper.
  12. Crafting– one of my favourite self-care acScreen Shot 2017-03-27 at 11.00.57.pngtivities is craft. Whether it’s
    drawing, painting, sewing, crocheting or anything that allows me a little bit of downtime, craft is so essential to maintaining good mental health. Craft can be something that’s really personal to you. You don’t need to show anyone or need it to be perfect. It can just fulfill a purpose; whether it’s as a distraction, as something you enjoy or as an outlet for the way you’re feeling.
  13. Sleep or rest– sometimes, all you can do is rest and build up your strength to fight on another day. It’s important to keep an eye on your sleeping patterns, in case you are using sleep as a way of avoiding rather than in a more positive way. Listen to your body, it’s so wise and will let you know if you need to have some rest. When you’re struggling with your mental health, you will probably feel it physically too. Listen to what you’re body tells you it needs and think about resting as a bit of self-care.
  14. Try and read something– even if you lack concentration and can only read a page (or the same page about a million times), a little escape into a book can be a way to help lift your mood or distract you from the way you are feeling. Children’s books, poetry or your favourite classics can be easier if you’re lacking concentration and still feel like an achievement when you complete them.
  15. Surround yourself with comfy blankets/cushions/snuggly things– self soothing is a key part of distress tolerance techniques. Finding things that help you to feel safe, calm and comfortable; can really help you to feel a little better or more grounded. Experiment and find the things that help the most.
  16. Put up some happy pictures on the wall– again, pictures can really promote wellbeing and remind you of the reasons you’re getting through the hard days. Photos are also a brilliant way to feel closer to people who you’re away from, such as family and friends.
  17. Get out feelings with paint– recently my life has been all about art journalling! Art journalling is a great way to express yourself, get out difficult feelings or emotions, motivate or inspire yourself… and all the while be really creative and experimental.
  18. Throw something at the wall (ping pong balls are good)– sometimes you just need to get an emotion out quickly. Often this can lead to unhelpful or harming behaviours. But a similar effect can be gained from doing something that can feel destructive but is essentially a safe activity! For example throwing a ball at a wall, shredding newspaper or screaming into a pillow.
  19. Have a mega clear out– spring cleaning and getting rid of clutter can feel really productive and help you feel like you are doing something beneficial. Getting rid of things you don’t want or need anymore can help the space around feel more calm and help centre or ground you a little.
  20. Reorganise your room– creating a nice clear space to think in can be so helpful if you’re not feeling great, once you’ve got rid of any excess clutter, perhaps have a move around and try and find a little Hygge or Feng Sui.
  21. Go back to the films and TV that give you most comfort– most people have a film or tv program that makes you feel happier; whether it’s a classic from your childhood or a series you’ve seen so many times, you know all of the words. Revisiting something that reminds you of good times, helps you to feel calmer and more content, or acts as a bit of background noise to keep out the dark and twisty thoughts can be really helpful.
  22. Listen to music– music that reflects how you’re feeling or tries to get you into a different mind frame is another way to either get the dark and twisties out, or help you feel a little better. Creating a playlist of songs for different moods can be a great bit of distress tolerance distraction and once you have them, they can be really accessible when you need a bit of a musical interlude. Explore other people’s playlist for different moods if you want to see what other people have found helpful, that might suit you too.
  23. Eat what you fancy– sometimes a little comfort food is just what you need to nurture yourself when you’re not feeling great. Tasty food that you really fancy can be really helpful for your wellbeing and giving in to a craving can feel like a real treat.
  24. Take vitamins– when you’re not feeling great, a boost of vitamins can help you feel less run down and stave off any illness when your immunity might be low. Vitamin deficiencies can cause mental health issues or exacerbate them and poor mental health can similarly cause deficiencies. The likelihood is that difficult patches with your mental health could leave your body needing a bit of help, so taking vitamins could help shorten the difficult patches or even prevent them in the first place.
  25. Spend time with your pets or with animals– Animals can be really soothing and the links between animals and improved mental health and wellbeing are widely discussed.  It can be helpful to observe that animals live in the moment, they don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow, they are content with the here and now, perhaps showing us a different way of being. Pets can reduce stress and anxiety as well as be a comfort on a difficult day. They can be a real motivation to get up and look after them and them are good reminders of the simple things that are required in life such as food and water.
  26. Have a shower and get dressed– when you’re struggling to find motivation, self-care can fall by the wayside. Sometimes having a nice relaxing shower or bath can be another way to soothe your dark and twistiness.
  27. Take a trip in your mind– your imagination is a really powerful thing. When your head is in a difficult or negative place, doing a little mindfulness or using your brain in a more creative way can be really helpful. Take a trip in your mind to a place that feels safe or special to you, or even choose somewhere you would like to go to. Remember or imagine as much as you can using all of your senses. The more detailed the image, the more distracted or calm you could feel.
  28. Spend some time in nature– finding a way to connect with nature around you can help you find some stillness and beauty within a difficult day. Find spaces of natural beauty around you and enjoy the smells, sight and feel of the nature around you. Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 11.18.37
  29. Look for inspirational quotes, literature or poetry– looking for some inspiration from others can help you feel more positive or help you find some motivation. Collect positive quotes etc in a journal or on your phone so you can refer back to them at times of need.
  30. Do some yoga– the process of learning and practicing yoga has lots of benefits for mental and physical wellbeing. The idea is to do what you can and not push yourself past your limit. A big part of yoga is focusing on breathing, which can really help if you are feeling anxious.
  31. Take a gentle walk– A nice calm walk to see something nice, visiting someone you care for or doing something like feeding the ducks can give you some respite from the difficulties you’re facing. Take a friend or go alone with your camera and make sure you notice the little things as you go along.
  32. Have long gaming sessions– whether you’re a seasoned gamer or have a copy of the Sims from when you were a teenager; gaming sessions can act as a real escape from difficult times. Getting stuck into building the best Sims palace you can, you might find you get sucked into playing which gives you a break from your head.
  33. Treat yourself– a little treat can help to pick up your mood, or act as a tool to manage your struggles.
  34. Allow yourself to not be human for a while without feeling guilty about it– it’s ok to not feel ok. Some days are a real challenge and can feel impossible to get through. It can be helpful to allow you to feel the way you feel without trying to fight it. Curling up on the sofa for the day and watching reruns of your favourite tv is often as good as a proper break. You don’t have to feel guilty about it, if you had flu you would take a day off work. Mental health struggles are still illnesses, just invisible ones.
  35. Reach out to friends who can support you- friends can be a really useful support network who can provide company, advice, distraction and understanding. It can be hard to explain the way you’re feeling to friends. But once they know what you’re going through, they are a great source of love and hugs which can help you feel better.
  36. Get some fresh air– even if it’s just sitting in the garden doing nothing, fresh air and a little change of scenery can help you feel a little better than staying cooped up at home.
  37. Make something with your hands to get out of your head– like baking, knitting or colouring. Keeping yourself busy can give your head a different focus. It can be really distracting to learn something new to keep you head extra occupied.Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 12.37.25
  38. Eat something really nourishing and tasty– A simple recipe with some mundane chopping will give you a good meal and help you feel like you’ve done something for yourself.
  39. Invite over some company– sometimes being alone when you’re not feeling great is not the most helpful thing to do. Time alone can be good, but isolating yourself can make ruminating on the thoughts and way you are feeling worse. Finding friends who understand what’s going on for you can be really helpful, but sometimes just having someone with you as a distraction is enough.
  40. Ask for some more support– it’s ok to not feel ok. Sometimes you need a helping hand from someone who cares about you and can support you. Support can come from friends or family members, but sometimes you need a little more than friendly people around you. Your GP can be a good start to getting more help, they can prescribe medication or refer you to secondary mental health professionals. Sometimes it can be hard to communicate the way you’re feeling, writing it down or using a different medium such as art can help you to explain.

 

The irony is, this blog took me a number of weeks to complete because of my own dark and twistiness. My way of managing it was to think of some of the ideas within this blog as well as reaching out to those around me to help. The feeling of overcoming a patch of greyness is amazing. It’s hard to imagine getting through it, but when life begins to brighten around you, you may not even remember the depths of where you have climbed from. 

Lists Against Fears

THE NEW YOU.jpgWhen 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.

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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.

Recovering Through Creativity

It feels like a lot of people are growing frustrated of limited mental health services. There always seems to be unnecessarily specific criteria to be seen, and even if you are, the waiting times and the treatment available is often really limited. I’ve found that using my creativity has been really beneficial for my mental health and helped me in my recovery journey. I’ve often joked with friends and professionals that people with eating problems often seem to be really creative, recently I laughed at this and said it was probably because we don’t have much choice when we are restricted in our normal activities!

I’ve wanted to do a series of blogs for a while, and a lovely friend finally helped me to see the theme and work out how they could all fit together. I’m going to write a series of blog posts that look at lots of different creative ways to support recovery from a mental health condition. I’m a firm believer that there is a way for everyone to recover and improve their mental health and unfortunately, current mental health services often don’t allow for this. There seems to be a current system where, if you don’t show improvements with whatever treatment you are given, it can feel like you’re ‘given up on’ and discharged. Rather than the services stopping and thinking… what could we do differently to support this person, it often feels like a one size fits all approach is offered and if it doesn’t work for you then sadly there’s not much else they can do.

Of course, this is a fairly simplified view that doesn’t take into consideration the areas in the country where there are some really fantastic resources and the professionals who pull out all the stops to offer you the treatment that you really need. But it’s not a view that appears to be uncommon amongst individuals I’m in contact with who are experiencing first hand the issues with cuts to mental health services. Unfortunately, it feels like services are often doing the best they can on minimal budgets, but the patients are the ones who suffer. Often they are left feeling hopeless and beyond help and resigned to the fact that perhaps they will be unwell forever. It’s not a nice place to put people, especially when treatment can be littered with threats of discharge if you don’t ‘comply’ with the support that isn’t really helping. It feels like it’s a bit of a mess really.

 

But alas, I could continue to rant and vent about services. Or I could share some ideas for some alternatives methods that might help with recovery. Some of these will be ideas I have used and had from wonderfully helpful professionals, some are from across the internet and some are ideas I’ve come up with along my own journey.

As part of this mini-project, I’ll be starting a new recovery art journal and a bullet journal and sharing any progress or ideas I get from these! I’ll also share some bits from my old inpatient art journal and my relapse prevention work.

If you have any ideas or thoughts… or you want to share your attempts at some of the ideas, please get in touch through the comments or my contact page. I might even think of a hashtag if I’m feeling really technically minded!

 

 

Remember that these ideas aren’t a replacement for professional and medical help, it’s important to be under the care of health professionals who can help monitor your condition and support you in whatever way they are able to! 

 

 

Finding Hope In Unexpected Places

bestHope 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Help others to help yourself- sometimes getting a little perspective can help you find hope again.
  10. 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.

Things To Avoid Saying To People With Mental Health Problems

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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!!
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Saying ‘you’re fine now right’?– fine is a really tricky word! What even is fine?
  14. 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!
  15. 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.
  16. ‘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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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!
  23. 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!
  24. ‘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!
  25. ‘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!
  26. ‘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!
  27. ‘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!
  28. ‘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!!
  29. ‘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!
  30. ‘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!
  31. ‘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.

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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!

Breaking The Avoidance

353aad1ef4e8029ad92a66931546e982I’ve definitely been avoiding blogging for a while. I’ve had ideas and at times even made a start on a blog; but then the avoidance breaks have jammed back on again! I don’t think it’s even been intentional, life is just very very busy at the moment.

I’ve completed my second week back at Uni and so far it’s been good… hard and weird but good. It’s funny, I was so stressed with all the what if’s of going back to studying that I lost site of all of the positives. It’s been an anxiety filled whirlwind but I *think* I’m on top of everything… I’m working part time alongside Uni, so I’ve had to juggle my workload and try and keep some time free to destress and really focus on my self-care. I was cycling home yesterday thinking that maybe… just maybe… it’s going ok! I think the negative stressy part of my head is waiting for me to start to really struggle, waiting for the inevitable time when it gets too much. But the reality is that it’s going well and I’m really enjoying it!

Perhaps I’m working towards being in a place where I can let go of that negativity or just notice it as my anxious inner self, acknowledge it’s there and let it float off in a mindful way.

Today I’m aiming to finish my first draft of my ethics form… watch this space for exciting mental health research hopefully coming soon!

I’m not sure what I was aiming to get out of blogging today… I guess I’m hoping to break the back of the writers and perfectionist block so I can get back into the swing of things.