Define yourself not your worth.

The problem with low self esteem is that without the ability of confidence to pick ourselves up, we rely on other people to tell us what we look like, how good or bad we are at something or just how worthy we are of existing, if we even are at all.

Time and time again I hear people say ‘confidence is attractive’ and confidence should be and is accessible to everyone, confidence can be built so attractiveness is therefore possible for everyone… So why isn’t it in reality? What is it that kicks us down, dampens our esteem and strips our confidence?

Our own mind can be the parasite that absorbs all of our energy and confidence, constantly rethinking through what we said, how we behaved, what we did wrong, what we should do differently, the type of person we wish we could be, how we wish we could look, question after question after question because we are so unsure of ourselves, so unsure we are good enough, so unsure about why people even want our company.

If our whole existence then becomes dependent on the people that surround us, whether they pick you up or put you down then should our solution be to surround ourselves with positive people?

Even if we have a life surrounded by positive, loving people who are ready to give us love and compliments, would we listen? It’s so much easier to take in the negative words from others that are in unison with our already battered self-view and even easier for the kind words to go in one ear and out the other, or simply fly above our head as if they were never even said in the first place.

We cling to people who feed us positive comments whilst simultaneously pushing them away because if doesn’t fit in with our own view. When someone shows the slightest bit of interest in you romantically, it can suddenly lead to a spike in confidence, but yet another short-lived spike. As soon as the little parasitic creature of doubt creeps into our mind it can all fall apart. Who would be interested in me? And the default pattern of self-sabotage occurs, it’s easier to push away the good things then to challenge our embedded self-view. And with an awareness of this, an awareness that we accept the love we feel we deserve comes a fear, a fear and realisation that we are doomed to have failed relationships or no relationship at all and so; loneliness is safer.

Our social world is progressively becoming predominantly online and isolated from ‘real-life’ people. How we portray ourselves and our lives is seen through social media, our latest status updates, photo uploads and the number of likes on our new profile picture compared to everyone else. But social media isn’t a true depiction, nobody is going to post about their arguments, their tears, the hundreds of photos they took from different angles before they got that one acceptable. Our confidence is either boosted by positive comments or shattered by a lack of likes and yet we continue to portray ourselves as life-loving, beautiful people through our Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram profiles and spend more time trying to make our life look confident and rosy than we do actually living it.

So is a pretence of confidence just as effective as ‘real’ confidence? I can go out and smile and joke and say yes I’m attractive for the show, but inside my head my mind screams and laughs at me for playing such a ridiculous act. It feels like one big theatrical performance that you can almost get caught up in and believe for a second, until something brings you back to reality. Acting is tiring and it does not feel like you are being true to yourself behind this confident act.

If there is no quick fix to how we define our worth then maybe we should look at it differently, take ‘worth’ and what we deserve out of the equation and just work on being the person we want to be. Being kind, working hard, having fun, treating others with respect, receiving and giving love. Love is an unexplainable and unconditional emotion, if someone is offering love then accept it as best as you can because although loneliness is safer and perhaps more comfortable, everyone needs someone. Love and kindness is what can fend off a parasitic mind, not just from others but with self-love, it is easy to become reliant on how others respond to us as a way of measuring ourselves but life exists beyond the computer screen. Photos should bring personal joy and memories, not as a means to project our theatrical act of confidence. Why do we need someone else to define us? We are all individual and they don’t have the right to decide our value. We need to stop relying on others for kindness and start being kind to ourselves, stop wishing we could be different and act to be the person we want to be and define our own version of confidence in the person we already are.

Advertisements

A house without a home.

When does a house become a home? There has been a change in dynamics in my house; my mum’s partner moving in, my brother moving out, it’s different. I’m living halfway between a University house and a family house, but neither are home.

There are no home comforts at University, the walls shake as neighbours play their music and fire doors slam. As I lie down in my room and hear the sounds of happy, laughing students outside, without close friends I feel so very alone and unsure of belonging. Yet at home, I can no longer spend my evenings curled up on the sofa with my mum because she has new company and I am no longer needed. So I take my place lying down in my room there, hearing the sounds of happy, laughing parents downstairs. Where is my home?

There are so many people across the world who don’t have one secure place to call home for an abundance of reasons. Some don’t even have a roof over their head. Very few people like change and it is even harder when it is a change that upsets the majority of your existence. When the rest of your world throws difficulties at you; work, assignments, friendships, finance, illness etc… it is nice to have somewhere or something secure and reliable to fall back on. So what if that disappears?

As my recovery has progressed, I have found it less and less necessary to fall back on my eating disorder or to spiral into depression. Yet the change and challenges in life are making it more and more difficult to resist, it’s important to have a support network but I’ve never found it easy to make friends because I retreat too easily, I protect myself from inevitable rejection, I know I’m not the nicest person or the funniest person and I’m definitely not the prettiest person.

Finding a sense of belonging is in line with finding your identity, knowing who you are can lead to finding where you want to be. When you are yet to find out who you are or who you want to be, the belonging part becomes all the more difficult.

Perhaps a sense of belonging lies within oneself, in order to take on new things you have to be comfortable in yourself because your body is your mind’s home. They don’t always match up,  certainly my mind doesn’t want to live in my body because my mind has not yet accepted it; it still wants a smaller, skinnier body, one that doesn’t disgust my mind. Body’s change too, but they are always there, they need to be accepted and cherished, we are lucky to have a body to live in and the majority of us are lucky to have a house to live in too. To accept yourself means you can accept opportunities, welcome the outside world and be stable in yourself in order to take on the ever-changing world.

So you think you’re special?

It’s within human nature to want to stand out. Even through the need to fit in, there emerges a desire to have some personal quality or achievement that is special, above all those around you. After reflecting on a difficult couple of weeks, I come to the same conclusion I have before, time and time again. One overriding barrier to my own recovery is this need to excel or stand out somewhere or somehow. Society puts pressure on every young person and adult to talk about qualities of themselves, to talk in a way that puts them above the rest. But what if you have never found that thing that puts you ahead?

Being average in intelligence, average in personality, average in socialising, average in looks, average in sports, average in arts, average in drama, average but never outstanding. The list of mediocre qualities never ends. So perhaps this sense of never being good enough is the weight that forever causes doubt in the ability to recover, to find oneself, to feel confident to face demons. Yet mental illness is debilitating, scary, and just as fatal as any physical illness, so why would I, or anyone want to hold onto it?

I think too often, that an eating disorder is the only thing that makes me different to anyone else, even as weight restored – somehow I want it to be ‘my thing’, to the extent I almost self-sabotage my recovery, so I don’t lose the safety net of my identity. It can be the same for depression, having changed my nature and outlook so much, that I fall back on it as ‘who I am’, in comfort of a fear that I am not enough to be ‘me’. Perhaps mental health and talking about it is all I have to offer? But one should not forget; mental illness is not unique, it is not special, in fact it’s one of the most prominent and common factors in society. The reality is, there will always be someone better than us at something, one cannot strive for perfection, but instead can strive for progress. Our lives aren’t meant to look like anyone else’s, our journey is our own and that journey in itself, with all it’s paths, obstacles and goals is what truly makes us unique.

For so long, I have hidden behind my diagnoses, identifying myself by their name and not my own. I think it’s time to change.

Alone or Lonely?

In depression, there is a limit when it comes to convincing yourself that you’re isolated because you like being alone, being left alone is all you want. All you need to carry on is your own company and being alone is always preferable. The need to be alone leads to a constant insistence to push away those around you, push away the very people who are openly offering to help you and to lend a listening ear. Yet, all the while there is a persisting fear of loneliness. So why do we insist on pushing others away? When it’s inevitable that we’ll return home to an overwhelming sense of loneliness, further sinking us into depression, believing we have nobody to support us, forgetting that it was in fact us that rejected and ignored those whom tried to reach out to us in the first place.

Depression is a selfish illness, a self-centred world of dark and negative thoughts, emotions and behaviours, all leading to perpetual sense of being lost, lonely and hopeless. There is no room for anyone else because the mind is clouded by this self-focused cycle. It’s not to say that being alone is always a bad thing, we all need to time to ourselves, it can be refreshing and it’s healthy. But just like it does with everything, depression exaggerates this need to be alone. A swarm of fear is created, that one will be made to face the real world, a belief that one simply doesn’t have the energy to engage with others or leave the safety of being under a duvet. All of which are methods of faulty thinking, but very real and unavoidable concepts for the sufferer. This response is reflected in many from a young age- in the face of difficulty the response is to hide away, to suppress emotions in fear of making things worse, or to act out through aggression or other behaviours to separate oneself. This mechanism to shut others out should be challenged across all of society, both in the well and unwell.

The evidence shows that by having more social connections and networks, a happy life is much more likely, whilst being alone and without social contact can lead to lonely, unhappy lives with a much shorter life expectancy. If you have a friend with depression or whom appear withdrawn, don’t be disheartened if they are not in contact. Reach out to them, persist with it and offer kindness not rejection, visit them if you can – we visit and encourage the physically ill, it should be no different for the mentally ill. They are the ones who need contact but are too afraid or unknowing of how to reach out.

And if you’re the one in the thick of depression; don’t give up, make a change and try to face the world, face your demons, face everyday life and allow yourself to express your opinions and feelings, both to yourself and to others. Avoid shutting others out, being honest about your true feelings can go a long way to helping you and others understand. The need for some time alone is not something to be ashamed of, and those who are true friends will understand if you say that’s what you need. Set yourself goals to get in touch with others little by little, you can still have time alone without being lonely.

Wandering through life

There is an awkward stage between being entwined in a diagnosable illness, and what can be considered a ‘recovered’ person. The stage of mental health limbo, where symptoms are residual, bad patches still occur, thoughts and emotions are at times overwhelming, and slip ups are inevitable. But it’s presumed you’re ‘better’, you’re ‘strong’, because you’re over the worst of it. However this to me, is an incorrectly black and white illusion of mental health, as I’ve previously written; mental illness occurs along a spectrum. Similar to this recovery is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ prospect, it is a journey with ups and downs, and although I’m not entirely convinced there is any such thing as a ‘full recovery’ from mental illness, I do believe it can become ‘fully manageable’, with room for dips and highlights along the way.

In this limbo stage of recovery; where can you go for help? and how does one refer to oneself? A recovering alcoholic still has an addiction, they still need to work on their recovery, still need to work hard every single day and minute of their waking hours to avoid the liquid that could send them back down a slippery slope. They may not be drinking, but they are still fighting hard as ‘recovering alcoholics’. This in between stage can feel quite lost, an undefined category between health and ill, it is conflicting and scary to reach out for help, for instance something I found from my experience, is that reaching out is incredibly difficult in this stage, you don’t want to say words like ‘I’m depressed’ or ‘I’m anorexic’, because without the severe and obvious symptoms, nobody can see the internal struggles. It’s like giving yourself a name you are somehow not worthy of, for not being ‘ill enough’ or for not being ‘strong’ like others say you are. Yet when it comes to trying to express yourself, just saying it’s ‘a bad patch’ or ‘I’m just feeling low’ doesn’t express the utter and complete turmoil inside, saying you feel ‘depressed’ doesn’t even carry the impact it once did, it is unfortunately, an overused term.

If it is you in this stage of despair, then don’t forget you have as much right as anyone to reach out for help, get someone to fight your corner and get that help. Your journey is your own, no one else’s, don’t compare what you perceive as ‘less severe’ compared to someone else get in the way of your recovery. The fact you have realised you need that support and are willing to expect it, is something professionals need to recognize. That kind of attitude is hard to come by but it what makes therapy successful. We need to remember that these wandering, recovering bodies should not be forgotten, not by the family and friends surrounding them, healthcare professionals or even oneself. It may not be immediately life threatening, but a full blown mental illness is easy to fall back into. Don’t assume that someone out of hospital or presents themselves as healthy is ‘recovered’, mental illness is secretive, so keep in mind those who are recovering. A life of being residually unwell is no life at all.

Location Location Location

One thing I’ve learnt, which retrospectively I should have realised earlier, is that a mental health condition doesn’t disappear or improve by simply moving location. Whether it be moving house, going abroad, starting University, a new job or living with different people. A mental illness is firmly manifested within the mind and body of an affected individual.

Taking someone out of a triggering or stressful situation from a temporary spell of anguish, is definitely a helpful action to take within that moment. However avoidance of a problem or assumptions that by moving around, the problem will disappear, is unreasonable and flawed. A temporary relief can be felt, surrounding oneself with new people and environments can influence a different self-reflection and world view, but ultimately the sly ways of a mental illness will not be fooled by a new setting.

Triggers, factors or causes of mental illness may lie within a given location, but that also doesn’t mean that ridding of such a place will provide a permanent cure. In reality, if the root of illness lies within a location, then everywhere you ‘run’ to will hold direct or indirect reminders of that place. Without dealing with real issues embedded within, the problem will reoccur and perhaps, with an almighty bite.

Christmas cheer & tears, chaos & calories

Christmas is upon us, a day known for merriment, family, laughter and food. It marks a special occasion not only for religion but for bringing a society together, where our charitable inclinations increase and acts of kindness are abundant. However, behind all this, there is a hidden world, where the idea of Christmas can represent an occasion of fear, anxiety and ambivalence. For those with autism, the lead up to Christmas can be a bizarre concept; for not everyday is Christmas so why are we decorating, advertising and exciting ourselves? For those with social anxiety, the idea of a room full of people, shops swarmed with the last minute purchasers can initiate the physical and emotional feelings of panic. Depression has leached the enjoyment out of life, and that doesn’t change for this one day out of 365. Christmas may evoke feelings and memories of pain, loss or abuse, everyone has an individual story to tell and it cannot be assumed that this festive season is jolly for all.

The intense focus on food is particularly challenging for one with an eating disorder, the fear of family members piling calories onto your plate, adding up to what is no longer a serving of nourishment or pleasure, but a numerical, quantitative pile of anxiety. Eager family members laughing around the table, looking expectantly for satisfied faces and yet the disordered response is a tentative one, avoiding complimenting the food due to an infestation of guilt that one could simply allow or accept that they can enjoy this nutritional necessity. The whole day becomes a nightmare of thoughts- resulting in tears, binges, purges, restrictions, anxiety and self-doubt, to a point that the very acceptance of presents becomes a guilt-driven activity. After the mechanical action of eating, the anxiety doesn’t dampen easily, the day will hold fears of having eaten too much, gaining weight, continuing to eat uncontrollably and results in a day lost in a world of clouded vision, an unintentional, self-centred bubble of worry and rumination.

Even if someone is struggling, people can be helped to find enjoyment from Christmas. If you have a loved one who is struggling in any way with this holiday- talk to them before the day. Put a plan in place. Whether it be discussing the meal with them, choosing certain foods, firming a safe place they can go if it’s overwhelming and reassuring them that it’s ok to need to ‘escape’ the family laughter and loud jokes. Make sure that person knows who they can talk to on the day, make sure they feel safe, that they know they are cared for and that even if they just show their face for a short while, they deserve to enjoy Christmas. Whatever an individual likes about Christmas, get them to focus on that and even if it’s just for a moment. Christmas holds some universal enjoyment, and please remember if someone is withdrawn at Christmas time due to mental illness, it is never their fault.