Five great things about support groups

“I think a support group could help me but I’m too scared to go” thought I, in the run up to attending my first ever group for support with my eating disorder.

Some friends had told me about this brilliant local charity that helps those with disordered eating so I researched them online and, whilst they looked like exactly what I needed, I still had doubts.

“Will they understand what’s happening to me?”

“Is my problem severe enough for me to go?”

“Will it be like Alcoholics Anonymous?!”

Yes, I genuinely did think that last one! But I needn’t have worried – it was all I could have hoped for and more and remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

As soon as I walked through those magic doors, I felt instantly welcomed and included. I had never been in the company of so many people who not only understand my difficulties with food, but who have actually experienced them first-hand. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Five years on and emerging from Covid restrictions, our face to face groups are gradually returning which is so good to see and incredibly reassuring. Some are still taking place virtually which is helpful as it makes for a good mix and something to please everyone.

Here are my top five reasons to give group support a try if you think you or a loved one could benefit…

The staff

Each group I have attended was run by a member of staff who has first-hand experience of eating disorders or caring for somebody with one. Their expertise shines through all they do and they are the best people to listen, understand and advise those in the group. Peer support is incredibly key and visible in this environment and it really helps us to feel less alone.

The topics

Each group topic is selected by staff, volunteers or service users themselves and is a relevant, important factor in the eating disorder recovery journey. They focus on goal setting, identity, emotions and relationships amongst other subjects and really help us to understand our situation more deeply. We also do fun activities like crafts and quizzes and occasionally go out to nearby parks and events.

The people

Not only are the staff great empathisers but the other attendees in the group are some of the most understanding and supportive people I have ever met too. We all listen to each other without judgement and offer tips and advice from our experiences. I’ve learnt so much from the people I have met at the support groups and best of all, made friends for life.

The positivity

You would be forgiven for assuming that an eating disorder support group could be a pretty dismal place but that could not be further from the truth. The staff ensure the mood is light and whilst each topic is delivered sensitively, they appreciate we all need some light relief from our difficulties sometimes. We always leave on a positive note, feeling motivated to try something new and really glad that we came.

The feedback

Most organisations run regular feedback sessions to make sure the support groups are in line with the service users’ needs and requirements. These can take place in the groups themselves and evaluate everything from the topics covered, the timings, the delivery and format of the groups. The staff leave the room to allow everyone the opportunity to discuss freely and without hesitation, ensuring the true feelings of the service users are aired and acted upon.

It’s completely understandable to feel daunted but I would urge anybody struggling to consider group support as an option for recovery. It may be the most reassuring, heart-warming and inclusive thing you ever do.

G x

The positive impact of employment on my mental health

It’s a well-known fact that being in work is important for everyone’s general health and well-being and is used by the government as a way of measuring an individual’s quality of life.

It promotes independence, gives us purpose, provides an income, enhances our social skills, and is a key factor in preventing both physical and mental health problems.

In contrast, unemployment can heighten the risk of developing a mental illness and has been linked to increased rates of depression and suicide as well as a greater reliance on health services.

It’s clear that employment is vital for maintaining good mental wellbeing, reducing psychological difficulty and forms a very important step to recovery. I know it’s really helped me feel better lately, after six months of unemployment last year.

Here are some of the ways returning to work has improved my mental health and become an important part of my recovery journey…

Having a sense of purpose

Since returning to paid employment, my days are much more structured which has been massively beneficial to my mental wellbeing.

I feel like I have purpose and routine to my daily life again which I had not experienced for quite some time. I am once more contributing my skills and experience in a meaningful manner daily, which provides an enormous sense of self-worth and helped to build my confidence massively.

Financially rewarding

I have always believed that money isn’t everything, however having more of a disposable income has also been a massive benefit to my mental health. It means I can spend more time socialising, pursuing my hobbies and living a comfortable life, reducing financial concerns and treating myself once in a while.

Achieving  

When I was unable to work, I had nothing that gave me a sense of achievement. Yes, I’d do house jobs and go out for a walk or coffee sometimes, but that didn’t give me a boost in confidence like working does. Now when I do something well and my boss or colleagues recognise it, it’s such a great feeling and really makes me feel like I have made a difference and done something well.  It’s really motivating.

Forming relationships

Working in a great team as I do now, means I have daily interaction with people from various backgrounds and no longer feel as lonely and isolated as I did before. It has also given me the opportunity to discuss my health background with people who understand are totally supportive of my journey to date. It’s been remarkable to be accepted and appreciated for my lived experience, and has done wonders for my self confidence too.

A positive distraction

When you experience mental illness it can unfortunately start to form part of your identity and overtake your character and personality. Working again has shown me I am far more than just my diagnosis; I have skills, I can contribute to society and use my life experiences for good. This is a great distraction from my difficulties and allows me to see a world outside of therapy, medical appointments and medication. It’s like I’m a new person and have lots more to offer the world than just my problems.

G x

How nature helps my mental health

If ever there was a time to feel grateful for nature, it’s now.

If it wasn’t for being able to walk outdoors, breathe in the fresh air and feel the sunshine on my face I don’t know how I’d have dealt with lockdown. Embracing nature has been a saviour.

Being outside has long been championed to reduce anxiety and boost mood, and many mental health advocates recommend it to help people feel better. It’s been proven to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate and encourages physical activity which, when done in moderation, is really good for us.

For me, it makes all the difference. It’s a brief escape from my daily stresses that forces me to appreciate the beauty all around and put things into perspective. I love it.

There are a great many reasons to get outdoors and become one with nature, and I’ve listed the following as just a few of my personal favourites:

Reset your outlook

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been worrying about something and going outside for a walk has lessened the problem. It’s acted as a pleasant distraction and readjusted my mind frame to allow me to view it differently and put it into perspective.

It could have been breathing in fresh air, appreciating the scenery or moving my body – perhaps a combination of all three, but I’ve returned to the original concern and found that it’s loosened its grip.

Boost serotonin and endorphins

Exposure to sunlight is said to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin which is associated with boosting mood and helping you feel calm and focused. Similarly breathing fresh air can raise the amount of oxygen in your brain, which in turn also increases the levels of serotonin and positively alters your mood.

Meanwhile engaging in outdoor exercise, such as hiking, running and cycling enhances the production of endorphins – a chemical produced by the body to relieve stress.  A completely free and accessible way to make yourself feel better.

Increase Vitamin D

When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D – a vital nutrient to enhance bone and muscle health and boost your immune system.

It’s been well documented that patients with Covid-19 possessing high levels of vitamin D in their systems have fought the virus more successfully than those lacking it, so it’s important to keep up your intake!

Sun exposure is thought to be the best way to increase vitamin D levels because very few food and drink supplements contain significant amounts, making getting outside even more important.

Escape the daily grind

I’m working from home and it can get very monotonous sitting in my house most days and nights. Ensuring I get that lunchbreak outdoors and a post-work walk is essential to lift my mood and get me away from my screens.

It’s also important to move and avoid being static for too long and to me there’s nothing better than walking amongst the trees, flowers and birds to get me away from the mundane and reset my mind.

Appreciate nature’s beauty

When the technological world gets too intense and complex, I love nothing more than surrounding myself in natures simplistic beauty and escaping it all.

Sometimes my problems and anxieties feel overwhelming and far bigger than I am, but then I spend time in a beautiful place and I get the perspective I desperately need.

The intricacies of a flower’s petals, a pretty blossom tree, hills and peaks or rivers and reservoirs…I just love it! It takes me away to a special place where I see a world outside of my worries and feel much freer.

Nurture something to life

As well as appreciating what already exists, I love channelling my efforts into creating something new.

I spent much of lockdown growing sunflower seeds while my friend started her own vegetable patch and herb garden and we enjoyed it so much. It gave us an additional sense of purpose and felt like we’d nurtured something that either looked or tasted lovely. It was like such a positive and worthwhile use of time, I really recommend it.

Hopefully you can get outdoors this week to celebrate Mental Health Week 2021 and the topic of nature. Why not see if it improves your mood and how it helps you to change your outlook on the situations you find yourselves in.

G x

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

My first Eating Disorders lecture

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I want to spend my time doing things that help people and make a difference. Things that are more worthwhile.

This week I got the opportunity to present to a group of Child and Youth Studies students at the University of Derby about eating disorders in young people.

It was brilliant!

I used all of my own experience and resources from the charity I work with and put a presentation together to help the group understand these complex conditions better. I learnt a lot of new facts along the way too.

We covered the visible and less common signs that someone might be struggling as well as misconceptions and created a toolkit of skills to support a young person.

The class was so engaged, asking thoughtful and insightful questions. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

It was such a rewarding experience and the feedback was really positive. Everyone learnt something from my time with them and I really felt like I had made an impact.

I love days like this!

G x

This week I was on the radio!

It’s not often you find yourself being interviewed on the radio – but not every week is dedicated to eating disorders awareness either!

Last Tuesday, I was privileged and honoured to be invited onto Derby Sounds radio station to talk about Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) and how the charity I work for is marking the occasion.

I’ll let you listen for yourselves, but I was asked all about the wonderful First Steps ED and the many services they offer as well as our campaign to highlight this year’s EDAW topic of binge eating disorder and how the community can get involved.

I really enjoyed the experience and was surprised by how quickly I forgot it was actually an interview not a general chit-chat! The presenter Jayne was lovely and so easy to talk to – she made it a pleasure of an experience.

If you’d like to hear the interview and find out more about First Steps ED then please click here to listen .

Go and love yourself this Valentines Day

I recently read a quote that really made me think…

“You cannot truly love another until you know how to love yourself.”

Seems straight forward doesn’t it? But how on earth do you love yourself?

Most people with eating disorders have huge difficulties with the idea of loving ourselves and that’s what has led us down this tricky path.

We often don’t deem ourselves worthy of love, care and nourishment because we don’t feel comfortable in our own skin.

We might punish ourselves for not being perfect, not looking a certain way or sticking to the strict rules that we set. We may also spend so much time fixating on what others think about us that we let their opinions define who we are.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about the notion of people loving themselves, it conjures up images of arrogance and self-importance and other undesirable traits I try to steer clear of.

So how can we strike the balance and learn to value ourselves and start the journey to self-love?

Here are some of my top tips to help boost our self-value and worth…

Write down each time someone pays you a compliment

Even if we struggle to accept them, we all get paid compliments by those around us at one time or another. They might be about our character, our appearance or something that we did which others noticed and wanted to acknowledge and appreciate.

When this happens I try to make a note of it so that I can remember them all when I’m feeling low. I have a book full of the nice comments I’ve received over the years and I also screenshot any complimentary messages I get on my phone to go back over and give me a boost.

It really helps me to realise my true worth to others and I very much recommend it – after all they can’t all be wrong!

Ask a friend or relative to name all of your qualities

That may sound like a slightly odd (and potentially risky) thing to do but I can almost guarantee you it will lead to some very positive outcomes.

The first step is identifying a friend you trust or a relative you’re close enough to that you feel able to ask. Give them time to think about it and preferably ask them to send it to you digitally or write it down so that you can keep it and refer to it whenever needed.  

I bet you’ll be surprised just how much people think of you and how many great traits they can come up with.

Allow yourself to indulge in treats or hobbies

We often deny ourselves the time and opportunity to engage in things we enjoy.

It might be because we have busy lives and demanding jobs or perhaps we spend so much time helping others we forget to look after ourselves.

It doesn’t matter if it’s twenty minutes a day or half a day per week but it’s so important to allow ourselves the time to enjoy something that makes us feel good.

Personally, I love colouring, writing and walking so I try and walk around the park every day, colour in the evenings and write blogs and articles at weekends. Nothing major – but a few pleasant activities to distract myself from the real world for a short while and boost my endorphins.

Think of all the ways you’ve benefitted others

Have you ever seen the film It’s a Wonderful Life?

I won’t spoil the plot but in short it’s about a man who is down on his luck in many aspects of his life and it’s not until he’s forced to realise how many people’s lives he’s benefitted that he realises his true self-worth.

Have you ever stopped to consider your own self-worth? Or how much you’ve enriched the lives of your family and friends by being you, and being there for them when they needed you?

Think of all the times you’ve been thanked for doing something or appreciated for your kindness. I bet you can think of examples that hopefully make you see how truly valued you are and the impact you have on others around you.  As I said before, they can’t all be wrong…

I hope some of these ideas strike a chord with you and make you realise just how valuable you are. It’s all about focusing on the positives and strengthening the belief that we are all great people in our unique, special ways.

Well done, congratulations on being so treasured and in the famous words of Justin Bieber, you should go and love yourself…

G x

Thought of the day…

You can’t heal in the same environment that made you sick.

I recently heard this quote and it really struck a chord with me. How true is it?!

I think so often we wonder why we get stuck in a cycle of poor mental health and can’t break free from it.

We try therapy, mindfulness, self-care, distraction techniques and even medication to rid ourselves of our demons but we don’t look at our immediate circumstances to spot the problems.

I remember once saying to a friend that whilst all the things that caused my difficulties were still there I couldn’t ever get better. Not properly anyway.

It wasn’t ever going to be possible to change my habits and coping strategies whilst surrounded by the situations that started them.

I stand by that. I was in a toxic work environment with challenging people around me everyday. I had some triggering friends, hardship at home, a deliberate lack of professional support and secrecy weaved into my daily routine. I had to break away from all of those things before I could even start to make improvements. It just wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

So if anyone feels that they are static, unable to progress but wishing they could…maybe think about whether you can truly make changes whilst remaining in the same environment that caused you problems in the first place?

#WorldMentalHealthDay

Elvis Presley had the right idea when he sang: ‘A little less conversation, a little more action please.’

I doubt he had World Mental Health Day in mind when he penned the lyric but nevertheless it’s very appropriate.

I’m in huge support of anything that raises awareness of mental health problems and it’s great that days like this get people talking and sharing experiences.

But do these conversations ever get us anywhere? Do we make a difference on days like today? Do services improve so that people get better treatment? Do waiting lists shrink in length? Are we healing the many sufferers of these cruel, relentless conditions?

It’s true we have to speak out before anything will change, but with mental health problems on a steep upward trajectory we need to see improvements in care now more than ever.

It breaks my heart that people are left to decline on long waiting lists and some haven’t heard from their care providers in months.

You wouldn’t leave someone on the ground with a broken leg, but too many with mental health issues feel abandoned for too long.

It’s just not right 😔

So whilst I love seeing solidarity at times like this, what would be even more incredible is if we could see some change. I pray we can use our collective experiences this year to boost services more than ever before.

We’ve got to keep going! 🙏🏼

G x