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.

Diffusing pain

It is easy to lose sight of those around us, the thoughts and feelings of a disorder or illness can drive an entire existence. The brain hosts a daily war zone between negativity and attempted rationality. This battle overshadows a perspective outside a tunnel of vision, pushes aside family and friends, believing that they don’t care, that they will never understand, and cannot be allowed to cross a line of danger, into the war that exists internally.

This is something that the individual struggling must become aware of themselves, for there is truly always someone that cares. Even through a swarm of bullies, disrupted families or poor relationships, there is someone. It may be a stranger, it may be a forgotten friend, but do not forget, that although the pain felt may not be identically reflected within another, the pain does diffuse through a society. Onlookers to the destruction that loved ones inflict upon themselves, feel helpless and live their own turmoil, in a world of anxiety, stress and fear that the one they care for is endangered by mental illness.

Recovery is a long process, sometimes unbearable, sometimes it means taking a few steps backwards before leaping ahead, sometimes it involves feeling like recovery is possible, and then falling suddenly, right back into the grips of a mental illness. But recovery isn’t just about regaining a life for oneself, it is regaining a life for everyone around you. My words have no intent to place guilt on someone struggling, because not a single sufferer (or as I prefer to say; recoverer) is to blame. I simply wish to state, that even if one’s suffering only affects one person, their stress will diffuse to the network surrounding that person, which in turn affects their network and so on. A majority of humans by nature, wish to empathise and will consequentially wish to tend to the pioneering pain that the recoverer feels. Mental illness fundamentally affects an individual, but also family, friends and a society through a process of diffusion.

Recovering but not recovered.

So how does it feel to be in that limbo of ‘okay’, but not good? In recovery but not ‘recovered’ from Anorexia Nervosa? When nobody can see the struggle because you look well, yet even when you try to explain it or reach out, people turn away. When a world of restriction turns upside down, it becomes a realization that food tastes good, that recovery is worth it, but one does not know how to accept this. Food has been the perceived enemy for so long, the thing that causes the dreaded weight gain. This limbo of recovery provides sudden clarity, that an eating disorder is not about food, weight and shape, but at the same time it is all about food, weight and shape.

Recovery can occur in a variety of ways, it can include one minute of being adamant that one will lose 5kg, but the next decide to eat well, be ‘strong not skinny’. It can include a sudden gorge on all the foods that one has deprived oneself of for so long. It can include this gorge to bring up so much guilt, that one transitions to a diagnosis of bulimia.

I apologize for a more personally written post, but if one person reads it – I hope to feel some relief to finally share my constant whir of thoughts… I am recovering, not recovered.

Every day, I remember lying in that hospital bed, completely confused as to how I got there, but totally aware of my body sinking into the bed. The smell of paper towels, the smell of fortisip supplements staining my mattress and skin as I tried to hide it, the humiliation of shitting myself because I took too many laxatives. An NG thrust through my nose as I screamed and cried. Friends and family visited and left crying, but all I felt was numb. I could not cry, because I didn’t understand. I hadn’t reached my goal weight, so how could I be ill or underweight? The only comfort I felt, was that my heart rate was at 29bpm, I felt like I’d achieved something, in some sick way that I still don’t understand.

The worst memory is seeing my mums face, when she told me I had a month to live if I didn’t accept treatment. That image will never leave my memory, how much I’d hurt her, knowing now the turmoil I put her through. So I was flown to London to an ED inpatient unit. I now cannot stop thinking, how every other weekend she lost her free time off work, to fly to London and take a train to see me just for a few hours. How she lost weight herself because of stress, and how she had no time for herself, yet all I felt at the time was jealously, that I was in a unit to gain weight and she was free to lose weight. How I still returned home and put her through hell, hid food, deceived her, shouted at her, made myself sick in front of her, sat staring blankly as family members cried when I wouldn’t eat, avoided good hygiene, touching toilets in the hope of catching a vomiting bug, all for what? To lose weight. To somehow achieve the unachievable.

The guilt never fades.

Every day I’m so conscious of my body, noticing every jiggle, all the loss of muscle because my weight goes up and down like a yoyo, muscle is the first to go so I never sustain it… constantly comparing myself, never being thin, but not even looking slim because I’ve lost the muscle. Depression sinks in. I just sit or lie in my bed for hours. Even though my bmi remains on the cusp of healthy – I only see the fat I’ve obtained from lack of activity, so I just look a normal size, leaving everyone oblivious and confused by my distress.

Nearly very night for the past 3 months, I have binged and purged. Purged so violently that my throat has not stopped burning, I have grazes on my knuckles from my desperation, burst blood vessels around my eyes, under my tongue and down my cheeks and neck from the straining to get out every last morsel… my teeth are starting to recede as the acidic vomit has worn down my gums. My fingers are stained with smell as I’ve pawed through my vomit just to make sure I’ve purged everything. Further memories are triggered of going into every food shop in a train station, spending over £50 on food because my friend hadn’t turned up, knowing full well I was going to purge it all in the station toilets.

I hate myself every day. Not just for looking the way I do, but for not being strong enough to recover, for having 5 years of my life taken from me and ruled by thoughts and calculations of calories, weight, shape and body.

For what I’ve put my mum through.

I have remained a healthy weight for a large percentage of this time, yet these times have been the worst – because everyone thinks you’re over it, that you’ve come out the other side, but it’s just a hidden demon. A dirty secret that nobody wants to hear, because loving food is normal, but having a life ruled by it’s dictatorship is not. A life where the number on the scale or the reflection in the mirror each morning, is what defines whether a day is good or bad.

Each day, my thoughts are about food, weight, calories and how I look. I wander around food shops the majority of the days, just to look at food I wish I could eat, trying to tell myself I can do it but if I do, I know full well I will throw it up. In the eyes of the unknowing, I am healthy, I look like a normal 20 year old. Yet I cannot concentrate, unless it’s about what I have eaten or what I will eat that day. I cannot shift the memories, I cannot let go. Oh I so want to let go, if only my eating disorder would let me go.

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.