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.

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Invisible.

‘Your condition was very acute’. The words my dad and step-mum said to me last weekend, such an innocent comment so why has it upset me so much?

Yes I want to be better. No I don’t want people to see me as disordered. Yes I’m glad people see me as a smiley person… but sometimes I want my struggle to be acknowledged. Is over 6 years of my life being overshadowed by an eating disorder simply acute? I can understand that only the beginning of my disorder is remembered by those around me who only saw the external weight loss… but does my dad not know that things have never really got better? The discomfort and hatred I feel towards my body has never faded, nor the whirring calorie calculator in my head, I have never felt fully recovered so why is it assumed that I am? The voice of an eating disorder inside my head has silenced my real voice.

The day my dad said this to me, I reacted by purging my lunch. It was almost like a vain attempt to prove that things hadn’t got better and that I am ill, chronically ill. Of course i didn’t tell him I did this… just as I won’t tell him that this evening  I have binged and purged 3 times within a few hours,  I entered a subconscious zone opening cupboards and the fridge to satisfy my unsatisfiable stomach. Then regret, guilt. Then self-induced vomit.

The problem is that this dominating part of my eating disorder is secret, I can’t admit to this disgusting habit so how  can I expect my dad to know the torment I go through. He can’t see that food is not enjoyable, it is a substance that may taste nice but it is also a substance that provides guilt.

I don’t want to be an ‘inspiration’, I don’t want to be ‘strong’ because I’m not either of these things. I have not beaten my eating disorder and if the way I live my life is what others aspire to have then that would make for a melancholy world. I am lucky to live with my mum who has been there by my side for the past 6 years, who has seen that the eating disorder’s grip still hugs me tight, and she doesn’t assume. If you know someone who struggles or has struggled with their relationship with food, don’t assume, allow them define where they are on their journey, allow them to struggle if they need to and make sure you support them if you can.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.