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

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?

The limbo of quasi recovery

Have you ever heard the phrase: “I’m not where I need to be, but at least I’m not where I was.”?

That’s the current definition of my life in recovery from an eating disorder. And it’s really tough!

Last year my food restriction was the worst it’s ever been, my thoughts were incredibly distorted and my weight was the lowest yet. I was truly in the grips of my battle with anorexia.

I was losing around a kilo every week, too underweight to legally drive, having bi-weekly appointments and calls with the ED team and supported meals with a wonderful eating disorder organisation in my city. It was intense but it was necessary to turn things around and stop me getting into dangerous territory – hospital.

Fast forward a year – and a crazy year at that – I receive less support and am no longer in the danger zone weight wise. My relationship with food is better, I can manage three meals on certain days, I exercise less obsessively and don’t feel as tired and weak. On paper I’m doing much better.

But that only tells half of the story. The rest isn’t so rosy.

One of the most difficult things about trying to beat an eating disorder is quasi recovery – a limbo-like state where you aren’t relapsing into your illness but you aren’t experiencing the benefits of true recovery either.

My weight may be higher, but my thoughts are still plagued with food and exercise routines, awful body image and the daily longing to be back in the driving seat – restricting my intake and feeling less heavy!

It’s pretty exhausting and can make me feel very hopeless. Like having an angel and a devil on each shoulder.

Each time I feel motivated enough to improve, it’s accompanied by an awful sense of guilt for defying the disordered voice in my head and desperately unhappy about my increasing size. I then revert to compensating by reinstating some of my old rules and curse myself for thinking I could ditch them.

It’s like the physical progress is not matching the mental progress leading me to feel that my weight is spiralling out of control and my head isn’t catching up. I’m still over a stone away from my healthy weight but I worry I’ll reside in a weight-restored body yet keep my disordered mind which frightens me.

I know it’s common and I have been told by both professionals and fellow ED sufferers that the discomfort of progress can be drawn-out and unpleasant. I have been supported to find coping strategies and distractions which, whilst helpful, don’t always mask the torment.

The solution?

I guess I have to keep going in order to get to a point where the daily stresses around food loosen their tight grip on me and I find a way to make peace with my body again.

I tell myself:

It’s like pulling a plaster off – peel it back slowly and you drag out the pain, but rip it off and whilst it hurts more at least it’s over quicker.

I’ll keep going, because I didn’t come this far to only come this far, but it’s a huge challenge and I have great sympathy for others who are in the same boat.

We’re all in this together x

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

Dealing with anxiety

Anxiety and I have a colourful past.

It first noticeably impacted my life aged 14 when I found my nervous system going into overdrive at the smallest of things. I remember offering to cook dinner for my family and feeling so panicky that I had messed it up and was going to make everyone ill.

I also got very nervous at the prospect of going to parties and social events and had a big anxiety attack at my own birthday meal in front of all of my friends. It was horrible!

It came to a head during the dress rehearsal for a school play when mid-performance I completely froze. I couldn’t speak, the lights made me so hot and the faces of the other students watching me became a blur. I managed to utter that I felt unwell before running outside with palpitations, struggling to catch my breath and an overwhelming numbness in my hands.

My friends came to find me and brought our teacher who managed to slow my breathing down and get my fingers moving to get the feeling back. It was such a frightening experience and I went home in tears, unable to do the actual show.

My Mum took me to the doctors and I was referred to CAMHS for CBT which helped me to understand what anxiety was, what triggered it and how to re-train my brain so that I became less fearful.

Fifteen years on and it still affects me daily. Some occasions are easier to rationalise than others.

I’ve worked with multiple therapists for various difficulties over the years and anxiety always crops back up as it lies at the centre of so many different mental health problems. It’s still hard to nail even all of these years later, as it sneakily creeps up on you faster than you can tell yourself there’s no major threat.

If this sounds familiar and you struggle with anxiety too, I have put together a short list of five key tips that have helped me most over the years. Please read on and comment some of your own below if you would like…

Breathe

Breathing techniques are incredibly helpful in lowering the heart rate and preventing the panic from taking hold.

When I feel my anxiety levels rising I kick start my slow breathing and find the process of exhaling at a reduced speed really calms me down.

I don’t know the medical technicalities but I believe that hyperventilation (the act of breathing very fast and not taking in enough oxygen whilst gasping) can exacerbate an anxiety attack so making sure you take long, deep breaths helps to counteract that.

Another major plus is that you can do it very subtly in public too, without those around you noticing what you’re doing.

Educate

Something that has helped me enormously is learning what anxiety is and how it actually benefits the body. Yes, benefits!

I’m sure we all know the basics – the ‘fight or flight’ response from the caveman days and how adrenaline prepares us to either face our perceived danger or run from it…but when you truly drill down into the effect it has on the body it makes so much more sense.

I don’t know about you, but I find the physical symptoms of anxiety pretty scary. My heart races, I feel sick, I get flushed, my tummy starts to flip, my fingers tingle – none of it is at all pleasant and adds to my fears. It’s a vicious circle.

I’m still not brilliant at it, but now that I understand what is happening and that it’s origins are actually to HELP not hinder me I can rationalise it more and relieve some of the fear.

I tell myself ‘anxiety is not harmful, just very unpleasant right now.’

Self-care

Anxiety is relentless and exhausting, so it’s important to take some time to look after yourself when you’re struggling.

When I’m apprehensive about something, my nerves will be elevated so I have to use calm distraction techniques to settle myself back down. For me that’s walking, yoga, breathing techniques, meditation and guided relaxations or speaking to family and friends. Keeping my mind occupied allows less time for the negative thoughts to creep in.

It’s also a priority to take care of yourself when you’ve recently experienced an anxiety attack as you’ll be feeling vulnerable, tired and low in mood. I always feel a little sad once I’ve calmed down (and a tad emotionally battered and bruised) so simple things like having a hot bath, early night and listening to music I enjoy helps me to recover. You deserve to focus on feeling better when you’ve been through a traumatic ordeal.

Meditate

Now, this one doesn’t work for everybody but I find it really helpful and calming.

Meditation means something different to each individual, but for me it’s phsyically stopping still, practising breathing techniques, focusing on the present moment and listening to guided imagery and audio relaxations.

This isn’t always possible in the heat of an anxiety wave and actually, it was never intended for that purpose either. Meditation practice is most effective when you have time to yourself, away from your stresses and usually in the comfort of your home or in an instructed class.

The more you are able to gain the benefits of this chilled downtime the lower your general levels of fear and tension will become.

Many people find it helpful for them to meditate first thing in the morning as it makes them calmer ahead of their busy days. Personally I find it more restful to engage in at night but whatever works best for you is fine. I really noticed a difference.

Monitor triggers and patterns

When you make a note of your anxiety triggers you will begin to see patterns of thoughts that lead you down the panic path.

Whilst attending CBT sessions, the therapist tasked me with the below exercise to track my anxiety levels and identify the key events that activated the ‘alarm response’ in me.

It was very revealing, and I noticed a few trends – mainly in the cause of the anxiousness and the negative thinking that prolonged it. I also couldn’t help but spot that I usually always recovered from it and noted that I was catastrophizing each time, fearing the worst and realising it didn’t happen.

Once I was able to learn from this, the anxiety lessened in severity and the perceived threat diminished.

I hope that helps. Please leave me a comment if you have other techniques that work for you.

G x