It’s OK not to be OK…

Today. Tomorrow. Any day.

This week may be mental health awareness week but that doesn’t mean we should stop speaking out when it ends.

The louder the conversations, the more likely we can incite positive change and make mental health services more accessible to the many not the few.

Keep talking and spreading the word.

G x

Why I love to journal

Going to therapy introduced the need to start a reflective diary and three years on I still love it.

Journaling is a complete blank canvas, there are no rules and you have the freedom to make it whatever you want. The only condition is…it has to benefit you.

I use mine for a range of things. Reflecting on thoughts or behaviours, noting my achievements, marking progress and struggles and jotting down things I need to improve on or reminders for appointments.

It helps me to place order on everything going on and is useful for tracking what is happening now and also learning from events gone by.

Here are a few ways I use my journal that might inspire you to do something similar…

Memories and achievements

I like to remind myself of happy times, positive memories and things I consider achievements when I’m feeling low, so I keep my books up-to-date with as many photos as possible.

Thoughts and emotion tracking

It’s good to track how you’re thinking and feeling and note any patterns that may be significant. If I feel especially upset, frustrated or anxious about something, it can help to write it all down and ‘get it out’ so that I can move on.

Worries

I’m a natural worrier so never short of things to stress about. Jotting them down can take away some of their power and how much room they take up in my head. It also makes them easier to reflect on and discuss if I need to.

Appointment reflections

Therapy sessions fill my head with lots of thoughts and I often feel like my head is full afterwards. Something that helps me with this is writing down any discussion points, progress checks and post-appointments thoughts so I can clearly see what we talked about and what I now have to do during the week ahead.

‘Inner Queen’ journal

I got this separate interactive book at Christmas and it’s fab!

It’s called ‘Inner Queen – No Ordinary Journal’ and it’s all about working towards your highest, most powerful self every day.

It lays it all out for you for to complete step-by-step, detailing your innermost desires, empowering beliefs and the barriers or negative thoughts holding you back. You can then keep a daily record of things like positive affirmations, inspired actions, reasons to be grateful and mood monitors.

I really helps me to learn about what holds me back the most in life, how to find gratitude in the everyday tasks and track any progress I make.

Positivity

Amongst all of the worry, I still like to take time out and reflect on what I’m grateful for. I write down three positive things that happen each day alongside achievements and gratitude lists so I can remind myself that it’s not all bad!

I also love wise words, affirmations and motivational quotes so print off any I see online that resonate with me.

Is this something you do? Or perhaps could start doing if helpful?

I hope so! Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts or ideas.

G x

Why we should all #DumpTheScales!

Imagine being told that your leg wasn’t broken enough to warrant treatment, despite you being unable to walk.

Or that you weren’t yet deaf enough to require hearing aids even though you could no longer make out what people were saying to you.

Eating disorders are not just about weight loss and low BMI yet people across the UK are being refused treatment for not meeting the criteria, forcing them to get worse to access much needed help.

It’s not right and action is needed!

When my problems with food started, I distinctly remember my GP saying that usually you have to join long waiting lists for therapy but given that my weight was low they might be able to see me faster.

I wasn’t yet at crisis point but I was underweight, and I had a six month gap between my initial assessment and my first appointment.

Fast forward to the present day when I sadly relapsed and went down that all too familiar path of food restriction and over-exercise, my friends were telling me to get some help quick.

“There’s no such thing.” I said, “it’s all based on your BMI and mine won’t be low enough to qualify.”

Well sadly I was both wrong and right – patients do have to meet an incredibly low BMI criteria and unfortunately I now had, allowing me to access some much needed support in a very short space of time.

Whilst there’s no doubt that the help I am now getting has been invaluable in stopping my difficulties worsening and slowly turning my thoughts and behaviours around, no-one should have to be that thin and unwell before they are taken seriously.

I know people that have long battled their eating disorders in secret and finally plucked up the courage to speak out only to be told their BMI is too high to be eligible for therapy.

Such news often leaves them with no alternative but to lose even more weight, putting their health at further risk and causing potentially irreversible damage.

Thankfully there are third sector organisations that don’t discriminate and help anyone facing difficulties with their ability to eat, body image and exercise levels. They do invaluable work and bridge the gap that NHS services commonly leave.

It goes without saying that physical health is hugely important, and when patients are either at, or fast approaching, a very low weight they clearly need urgent care. But the treatment of eating disorders should not be solely based on someone’s BMI as it so often is at the moment.

Anorexia sufferer and campaigner Hope Virgo has long fought for fairer treatment for those experiencing eating disorders and commenced her ‘dump the scales’ petition three years ago in support of this.

She needs 150,000 signatures to encourage further debates in parliament, asking the government to ensure that nobody is turned away purely on the basis of their weight.

I fully support Hope’s endeavours and encourage others to do the same here.

Please consider signing her petition to make a difference to those suffering eating disorders.

G x

Positive affirmations for recovery

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week so I thought I’d share something positive and uplifting to inspire hope for the future.

My eating disorder support group has really kept me going through the many lockdowns of this pandemic. I’m so grateful it adapted to online delivery and continues to be a huge source of help and guidance at this very tricky time.

One of the recent group topics I attended was on Positive Affirmations and it really gave me a boost.

We explored the value of positive statements and how to incorporate them in our everyday lives to truly believe and reinforce them.

I usually write such things in notebooks or journals and others in the group said they put them on post-its around their mirror or in frames in their bedrooms. Fab ideas!

Towards the end of the session, we each had to write two or three of our own affirmations in relation to eating disorder recovery and share them in turn.

I thought it might be helpful to print them here, so you can hopefully feel as inspired as I did following the group…

My happiness does not depend on my weight or size, but on who I am and what I do

Today I will abandon my destructive behaviours and start using behaviours that are good for me

I am a survivor and I am a warrior. I don’t need my eating disorder to be good enough

I am courageous and from today I will stand up for myself

My life is just beginning, not ending

I will not define myself by my past

How I feel about myself has nothing to do with what I eat or don’t eat

The process of recovery may be challenging, but it’s worth it and I know it

I deserve to be happy and I deserve to fulfil my dreams

I deserve to treat my body with respect

I will love and appreciate myself

I don’t need to do excessive exercising to deserve food

Everyday I become stronger and healthier

I forgive myself for not being perfect because I know I’m human

The past does not equal the future unless you live there

I am more than what people think of me

Be gentle with yourself

Love yourself as you would your loved ones

I’m doing the best I can with the knowledge and experience I have so far

I’m not a victim of my past experiences

I have survived this before I can do it again

I will not be hard on myself today

I am worthy of self-love and the love of other

I am strong

Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true

My worth is not dependant on my weight

I cannot see the outcome of the journey, but I can take the next step

I do not need to exercise excessively to deserve to eat, it’s a basic human need. I deserve to treat my body with respect.

Did anything in particular resonate with you? Can you think of any others?

Do let me know in the comments below.

G x

Comparison is the thief of joy

It’s quite sad that comparisons often play a huge part in eating disorders and recovery.

Many feel unworthy of support because they don’t consider themselves to be ‘sick’ or thin enough compared to others.

They may think they’re weak for eating more or less than someone else, exercising at different levels, weighing more or being smaller than other people. They might also worry that because they’re considered ‘better’ or ‘healthier’ than someone else, they won’t be taken seriously and get the help they need.

I’m completely guilty as charged, forever comparing myself to other people and what stage they’re at in life or their recovery journeys. I put off seeking help for months, citing ‘I’m not ill enough‘ and ‘weigh too much.’

I often worry I’m too slow, too fast, weigh too much, don’t weigh enough, bigger than that person or smaller than I was a few months ago…it’s non-stop!

I also struggle with body image issues so automatically assume I am bigger than others around me. I once tore myself up for weeks because I worried my thighs were too big and began comparing them to my friend’s whose seemed much slimmer. I drove myself crazy!

I brought it up in a therapy session once and it helped me to slowly see sense. As my view of myself is skewed, it was likely that our thighs weren’t that dissimilar.

Yet, even if mine were bigger, why would that matter? Does that make me a lesser person? Or undesirable in some way? Would my friend be a better person if hers were in fact smaller than mine?

All of these questions led me to really think about the situation I found myself in. I realised that in becoming obsessed with my friends thigh shape I overlooked other characteristics that I did not want to share. I failed to realise my worth, my popularity, my close relationships with family and friends, my skills, my ambitions and the other elements of my appearance that I do like.

It sounds completely backward now but I thought I was somehow less worthy of being supported through an eating disorder because my thighs were bigger than somebody else’s.

It shouldn’t be like this, everyone is individual and no two cases are the same and therefore don’t deserve to be treated as such.

Different people find what works for them and their own pace to be able to make improvements.

We cause ourselves so much anxiety and depression by engaging in comparisons and it’s so unnecessary.

The world will do that for us without us doing it to ourselves!

If your body shape is different, you still deserve help. If your pace is slow or fast that’s fine. If ripping the plaster off and taking the bull by the horns works for you, that’s great. Or if you’d rather go steady and adjust to the changes gradually then that’s OK too.

You do you! No one else is living in your body or head, every path is unique.

Be the focal point of your own journey and the best version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of someone else.

G x

How to self-care in lockdown

Nobody is finding anything easy at the moment – the world feels very strange, unknown and uncertain.

Our routines have been thrown into disarray again, we’re once more having to stay at home and avoid social events or groups of people and all while vigilantly protecting the health of ourselves and our families. It all feels quite overwhelming.

Mental health issues can be very tricky to manage in isolation. We may rely on the support of friends, therapists and medical staff that we can’t meet for a while or have a strict routine around food and exercise that will now be compromised.

It’s certainly a distressing time for many of us but we’re not alone as thousands across the country can relate to our struggle.

It’s more important than ever to practice self-care in order to remain as calm and level-headed as possible at the moment, and here are a few practical tips on how to do it…

Maintain routines where possible

Even if your work or study pattern has changed, try and stick to your usual daily routine as best you can. By that, I mean waking up and going to bed at the same time, working, eating and drinking when you usually would and scheduling down time to relax or engage in safe distraction activities. You may be at home more than you’re used to, but it doesn’t mean you have to adapt to a completely new daily routine. If elements of your schedule change, adapt and build that into a new pattern that you can stick to whilst isolating.

Regulate media exposure

There are some scary stories out there again and the more time we spend reading them the more fearful we become. It’s key to remember that not everything you read is true, and media outlets are paid to shock and hook people in with dramatic headlines.

Whilst it’s important to be as informed as possible, exposing yourself to negative press is going to be detrimental to your mental health so set aside time to read news from a trusted source and then switch it off.

Meditate or be mindful

It’s not always easy to find the time, but whilst we’re cutting back on social activities and staying at home more – it can be really therapeutic to do a guided meditation or mindfulness session to calm your busy mind. Apps like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer do some really good ones that range from two minutes to an hour so fit nicely into your day.

Go outdoors (if safe)

I don’t know about you, but staying indoors all day makes me feel claustrophobic so just going out in my garden or around the park for a short while helps me to get a change of scenery. Yesterday I was struggling with my anxiety so went out for a walk in the winter sunshine and it reset my mind wonderfully. Just feeling the fresh air on my face and counting the trees along the way helped distract me long enough to carry on with my day.

Engage with people

I’m feeling really cut off from people at the moment so I’m making lots of effort to contact them digitally instead. That might be via message, email, FaceTime or a good old-fashioned phone call. I should have been meeting a friend this weekend but now that it’s not safe we had a good long phone chat instead and it brightened us both up a great deal. Humans are social beings and communication helps our wellbeing so it’s important to maintain contact wherever possible.

Re-frame your thinking

How many times have you found yourself saying you’re ‘stuck’ in the house? Why not try rephrasing that to being ‘safe’ in the house. When you substitute one word for another, your whole outlook can alter too.

When lockdown started last year I couldn’t see anything very positive, I believed we were all living in a state of fear and panic and my thoughts became quite negative. However, I then tried to change that and see it as a period of self-improvement, reflection and recharge instead.

I don’t mean we should all be doing online yoga or re-decorating the house in order to improve, I see this time as an opportunity to evaluate what and who is important in our lives and work to ensure we take this with us when things get back to normal.

Self-care

This alters from person to person in line with how you like to unwind, relax and focus on whatever it is that makes you feel good. Now more than ever, it’s vital to set aside time each day to look after yourself and engage in something that boosts your mood and positivity.

For me this has included watching my favourite TV shows and films, listening to music, walking, writing, colouring, speaking with friends and painting my nails. It’s also good to do the little things that make you feel better – the other day I was just about to forgo washing my hair for the second time (after all, who’s going to see it?!) but I forced myself to do it and I’m so glad I did. Feeling as good about ourselves as possible is really important when you feel anxious or out of control.

Be grateful

I appreciate it’s really tough to still find positivity in such uncertainty but even in the trickiest times, there is still a great deal to be grateful for and focusing on the good is really key.

Whether it’s a small achievement that day, a caring message from a friend or even just relaxing your mind for a short time, it’s helpful to recognise the good in life.

If that feels too hard at the moment, why not make a list of things you will appreciate when you start to feel a little more back to normal, or something you look forward to doing again in the near future.

I hope this helps in some way – please take care of yourselves, and reach out if you need to.

G x

2020: the worst year ever?

“I thought 2020 would be the year I got everything I wanted. Now I know 2020 is the year I appreciate everything I have.”

A friend sent me this quote last week and it really resonated with me.

I knew it wouldn’t be the year I got everything I wanted (who ever does?), but it’s certainly given me a slap around the face and made me see how blessed I truly am.

I’ve been far too guilty of ‘why me’ syndrome this year. Why did I get made redundant in a pandemic? Why do I have to stay at home every day when it makes me anxious? Why are my parents having to shield? Doesn’t Covid know I have an eating disorder and all of these changes to my routine are making it worse?!

It certainly hasn’t been easy, rationalising all of my worries with so many terrifying headlines around. The pandemic has impacted so many elements of life I struggle to recognise our former ‘normality’. Going to shops, drinking coffee in café’s, working in a busy office and enjoying my hobby of ballroom dance. When will it ever be deemed safe to get within two meters of my partner to learn the Cha Cha together again?!

It’s so hard to deal with grand-scale change like this. Not being able to solve everything makes me incredibly anxious…but is it completely terrible? Has this year been a total write-off?

Well, no. I don’t think so, and here’s why…

Food

Managing eating disorder recovery in a pandemic is like pushing water up a steep hill. It’s not going to go well! My safe foods weren’t available in shops (cheers panic-buyers!), I had big changes in routine, there was reduced access to support services and a big dollop of inability to control any of it for good measure. It did not a happy mind make!

I managed though. I reparented myself around mealtimes at home, endeavouring to eat at least something three times a day and progress to introduce snacks. I developed a heightened appreciation for my appointments with the ED service and gained much more from them as a result. I learned that when the world around me changes, I must still prioritise food and nourishment to deal with it effectively and noticed my body function better as a result. It was quite a turning point.  

Relationships

I spent the majority of 2020 at home with family and even though we drove each other crazy at times I would not have had it any other way. I felt supported, comforted and like no matter what horrifying things were happening in the world, I was always safe and protected. My Dad has spent much of the year shielding making homelife tense but we’ve certainly come out much stronger as a result.

There was nothing sadder than not being able to meet with friends and relatives as much as I would have liked. Thankfully technology connected us when face-to-face gatherings were too risky and for that I’m super grateful. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I now value those friendships even more than I did before. I can’t wait to see people properly again!

Change

‘I don’t like change, I’m rubbish at it’ I would often say. I’m a creature of habit and live a very routined life to keep my anxiety at bay.

If you’d have told me a year ago that 2020 will see a killer virus sweep the world, forcing us all into our homes, meaning I wouldn’t be able to go out anywhere for fear of catching it – I’d have had a meltdown there and then. Nevertheless I’ve survived it. I’m still here and still (mostly) smiling. Everything has changed and it’s been completely terrifying but I’m proof that it’s possible to get through it. I’m so proud of my resilience. I didn’t know I had it in me.  

Lack of direction

I believed that losing my job to a Covid restructure was a one-way ticket to hopelessness and ‘what-the-heck-now’ land. I’ve worked since I was 14 (before it was even legal to be paid!) so how on earth would I cope with being unemployed?

Well, pretty wonderfully as it turns out.

I realised my job had become a noose around my neck and kept me rooted in ED behaviours. Without it I felt free, like I had a chance to really explore my options and work out what I’d truly like to do in life. I turned the empty days into opportunities to write, become a freelance blogger and communications project manager from home which gave me more fulfilment than I’d had in years. I also got onboard the online course hype by enrolling on a counselling skills programme which taught me so much about myself and helping others. I’m absolutely loving it!

I don’t know what’s going to happen long-term, but instead of being terrified I’m surprisingly excited!

2020 has taught me that I can deal with change, don’t need a job to feel valid and have so much good in my life that I needed six months of sitting at home to fully appreciate it.

I couldn’t see my friends, so I realised how much they meant to me and valued our precious meet-ups even more. I feared for my family’s health and wellbeing and grasped the huge importance of their presence in my life. My therapy became less frequent so I truly understood the positive impact it has on my well-being. I didn’t need to buy clothes, gadgets or beauty treatments because life’s about so much more than that. I swapped shopping trips for walks in the countryside and gained a fresh appreciation for nature and all of it’s wonder.

It wasn’t easy, far too many tears were shed and frustrations acted upon. I felt whole new levels of hopelessness and like giving up on various occasions. But I have honestly never learned so much about myself, the true meaning of happiness and being grateful for the little things that mean a lot.

And for that, 2020, I thank you.  

G x

A week in lockdown V2

Monday

It may be a new week but I find myself lacking in #MondayMotivation today. I woke up feeling empty and like I wasn’t sure what my purpose was. I’m working from home during lockdown but have today off so don’t have that to get out of bed for.

I lay there awake, watching TV for a further two hours, still unsure what to do with the day. The news channels are quite negative and frightening this morning so I turn over to a funny panel show to make myself feel happier.

My favourite time of the day is going on a walk at the moment so I decided to finally get up, have a shower and get outside. It always makes me feel better to move around, feel the sun on my skin and fresh breeze on my face so walking resets my mind frame and I feel more motivated and positive.

Last week I made a distraction box full of things I can do to occupy my mind so I reach in and pull out a piece of paper that says: ‘call a friend’.

FaceTime decided not to play ball tonight so instead I have a great hour long chat on the phone with one of my best friends and it cheers me up so much. We laugh, talk about good times and vow to make exciting plans together in the future.

I realise that I haven’t really eaten very much today, mostly because of low mood so I make a stir fry for my family tonight and it tastes amazing!  A tricky start to the day, but grateful that it improved.

Tuesday

Today I’m back to working from home and have a video meeting on Teams so get up early to be ready for it.

I feel more motivated and productive today and have some tasks to be getting on with following the meeting which helps keeps my mind active.

I’m conscious that we’re running out of some of my safe foods at home and it’s making me anxious. My family and I are trying to only go food shopping once a week as we have a vulnerable person in the household so minimising trips to busy places like supermarkets is important.

It can make it hard when running low on supplies and having to adapt meal plans to fit in with availability, and I struggle with being out of routine and eating different things. I made a list tonight of the things I need to get and discuss items that would be ‘second best’ should stocks be low.

Hopefully we can go shopping tomorrow and find the items I like to eat and feel comfortable having.

Wednesday

Today I feel anxious – it’s food shopping day.

Not only do I worry how busy it will be, I’m nervous for what we will be able to buy. If the foods I want aren’t available I find it hard to compromise and adapt my routine to accommodate the changes. I know we’re all in the same boat and I’m fortunate to have any food at all but it is a struggle.

The experience wasn’t too bad – I managed to find 80% of my safe foods and even though we had to queue I felt calmer once we got in to the store.

Tonight I made myself a new meal plan for the week ahead based on what we bought. I always feel so overwhelmed by all the new food in the house because it feels too much but I have to remember that it’s not all for me and it’s not all for now!

Thursday

I’m grateful for sunshine and a countryside stroll today. It makes such a difference to my mood when the weather is good and I can walk outside instead of feeling stuck in the house.

I enjoyed logging in to an online mental health training session this afternoon and sharing tips on anxiety management. It’s really helpful hearing how to control my mood levels whilst knowing there are others feeling the same as I am at the moment.

I also felt very calm tonight doing my yoga class via Zoom so I end the day on a positive note and notice that I am less restrictive and guilty over my food intake as a result.

Friday

A day of two halves – an anxious morning followed by a better afternoon.

Rubbish weather has resulted in me being inside all day and I’ve felt very restless and struggled to concentrate. I had to have regular ‘breathing breaks’ several times to stop and focus on slow breathing techniques. The simple ‘in for four, hold for four and out for four’ works best for me today.

This afternoon my ED therapist phoned me. I’m so grateful for the telephone appointments I’ve been having since lockdown restarted and they help me a great deal – but I do find it tough not being able to attend in person. It’s just not the same.

We had a really positive chat and she shared some helpful tips with me including finding motivation in the mornings so I know straight away what I’m getting up for and methods to distract my mind from periods of anxiety. Planning is key, and she would like me to try creating a daily plan this week and see if it helps. I feel better for talking about how challenging I’m finding things and receiving some caring advice in return.

Tonight a friend messages me and suggests avoiding the news, both online and TV, so I’m going to try that this weekend and see if it helps improve my mood.

Saturday

Yet again, I wake up lacking motivation as I’m not working today. But I remember my therapist’s advice from yesterday and decide to get out of bed and vacuum my room this morning for distraction. It helps me feels better having a sense of purpose and achievement.

This afternoon I went on a slightly longer walk along a different route which was helpful. It’s good to see sights that make a change from the usual routine!

I had that familiar feeling of uncertainty and uselessness when I got home so went to the distraction box again and decide to do colouring and crafts. It’s quite exhausting having to keep my mind constantly occupied to avoid it racing but at least I enjoy doing the activities.

Sunday

When lockdown was reintroduced I signed up to an online course but haven’t made a start on it yet so decided to get going on it this afternoon.  

My family decide to make tonight’s dinner together and as I’ve not really eaten much today I’m quite hungry now.

I definitely feel better for avoiding the news, even though I’ve still caught sight of a few unnerving headlines on social media.

I end the weekend on a positive note and decide to write a list of things I’m grateful for. I know it’s a scary time and I often find myself spiralling into negative thinking, but I must also remember that I’m very fortunate too.

What better way to do that than to make a note of everything I appreciate at the moment so I can refer to it each time it all feels too much?!

Five lessons I’ve learned from therapy

I’m very open about my positive experiences with therapy for my eating disorder.

Some people turn their noses up at the notion of telling your innermost secrets to a stranger, but I feel it has benefitted me massively.

The biggest challenge is finding the right person for you, someone who can listen, empathise, challenge you and ultimately gain your trust.

It may have taken me a few years and various attempts with different therapists, but I feel I have met my match and it’s amazing to experience the difference it makes.

To truly release your inhibitions and reveal your biggest fears is the first step to altering your mindset and that’s where I currently sit.

This week, I wrote a blog for The Recovery Club about the top five lessons I have learned from therapy so far.

I would love for you to take a look and see what you think.

Read the blog here.

G x