“You Are A Worthless Fat Girl” – guest post by Hope Virgo

“You are a worthless fat girl”

That was the voice that resonated throughout my head as I looked at myself in the mirror in the gym. Over the last few months that voice had got louder again, shouting… that relentless voice nagging at me. It was so loud whenever I went to the gym and instead of my gym sessions being some sort of relief I would leave them feeling so ugly. I hated it. And I hated how loud she was becoming again. It frustrated me and got me down. That voice made me feel not good enough for anyone or anything. The truth is I knew I was struggling. I knew I wasn’t going to stop eating again, but I knew something had to change in me to get my mind set back to where it should be.

Over the last two years my body shape has definitely changed. I stopped running quite as much after I relapsed in 2016 and tried to vary up my exercise by going to the gym. But I then had to learn to navigate having a different shaped body; one that wasn’t stick thing, boney and one that needed a new sort of wardrobe.

The thing about recovery from anorexia is it isn’t a straight line. Over the last year I have talked so openly about my anorexia. I don’t want to speak negatively but I want to be real. I have given my complete self to so many of you, I have been opened up about my medication, about my suicidal thoughts and about the reality of living with anorexia.

I talk very openly about it and I feel completely vulnerable to judgement. Vulnerable to the comments about mental health and people’s opinions about me and as to why I share my story. And the frustrating thing is it is the negative feelings, and feelings of “fatness” that make me start to doubt myself. They start off small but slowly and surely they will chip away at me. Chipping and chipping until I feel a mess. They chip away at me so then other comments hurt even more. They chip away until I feel like I shouldn’t be sharing my story. Until I feel like this fake, standing up there…

A huge part of recovery is learning how to control those voices in your head and learn how to not let them dominate your every day. And learning where to get your strength from when they feel like they are shouting even louder than usual.

For me it can at times feel completely and utterly exhausting fighting these voices. These manipulative relentless voices that I don’t know how to stop but finding this strength is essential to maintaining my recovery. And staying strong is what we need to do.

For me I talk, I tell people how I feel. I share these feelings of failure, the fat feelings…I explain that I don’t want to get sick again and that I know fighting on is the thing I must do. I am so lucky to have people round me who take my eating disorder seriously and that I don’t have to prove a point by skipping meals.

The frustrating thing about anorexia is that when you start to fight that voice it gets louder and louder. And so you have to fight harder. But fighting harder is completely possible and when you don’t feel like you have the strength to do it please dig deep, focus on your motivations, dig deep, and stay strong as beating anorexia is 100% possible.

For me I do just this; I remind myself of my motivations and remind myself that life with anorexia is NOT worth living with. Like seriously what did anorexia ever really do for me other than pop me in hospital for a year. All the stuff that anorexia promised me turned out to be a lie.

Try and remember this, stand strong, keep fighting and don’t ever give up!

 

About the Author

Hope is an author, mental health campaigner and an ambassador for the Shaw Mind Foundation.  Author of Stand Tall Little Girl, she suffered with anorexia for over 4 years before being admitted to hospital in 2007.  Now in ongoing recovery, she uses her experience to raise awareness for mental health and eating disorders and to inspire people to get well and break the stigma that surrounds mental health.  Why not check out some of her work?

Opening Thoughts From Hannah Brown

There was a time, when fuelled by youth and naivety, I thought of anorexia as simply a silly girls desperate attempts to lose weight and ashamedly I suggested it was attention seeking.

Now, with only a few more years on me, I can say with absolute certainty that Eating Disorders are both horrendous and life changing. They tear apart lives leaving a skeleton in mind, body and soul.

I learnt this the hard way, and after starting my own diet at 19, I was eventually diagnosed with anorexia at 23, eventually being admitted to hospital twice in that same year.

Alex was truly honest when we first spoke and said that he had come to realise that he knew next to nothing about eating disorders. I am always on the look out for new people to connect and link in with as we all pledge to improve the dialogue around all mental health issues. Collectively we aim to break stigma, increase understanding and campaign to improve services and Pushing Back The Shadows is the perfect forum for that.

Knowledge is everything when it comes to showing compassion and empathy to anyone suffering with a mental illness, and that has never been more true than when helping someone who is suffering with an eating disorder. In recognition of this, Alex has dedicated a whole week to raising awareness and improving understanding and I have been given the incredible opportunity to open the week. To try and give a proper introduction to eating disorders I am going to dispel a few myths and try to get to the bottom of an illness layered with misconception and stigma.

There is a massive difference between disordered eating and eating disorders, most importantly is that the latter is of course a very severe mental illness. It is however important to recognise the spiral that can occur when disordered eating takes hold and the person looses their sense of control.

Anorexia, very commonly starts out this way. It certainly did for me, as I said I started that diet, cutting out more and more, restringing my life more and more until my whole existence had been defined by meal times and exercise. All consuming, all encompassing and all dominating. There were rules that I placed on myself that were both unrecognisable and incomprehensible to those around me, but to me they were my everything, my security and my comfort.

For others however, being able to control their food and calorie intake forms their relenting attempt at coping with inner turmoil or external pressures. It’s a terrifying existence and one that the sufferers will find themselves consumed by

So recovery- “just eat”. Because it’s that easy? I recall days as an inpatient where I could eat a meal without almost a thought, but then hours later, after a difficult and painful family session, I would be begging for the food to be taken away, the struggle being just too much.

I used food as the thing that I could control, the thing that kept me safe and it became a comfort blanket. The restriction made me feel powerful, looking back the reality was that my illness was in total control. It harboured itself in my body and it pained every part of my existence.

“Well you can’t have an eating disorder because you don’t even look that skinny” and “surely you’re all better now that you’ve weight restored”. Let me tell you, eating disorders don’t actually care- once they infiltrate the mind they take a powerful grip which can only tightens as ones weight initially starts to increase.  Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and whether the person is underweight, normal weight or over weight they can still be diagnosed with an eating disorder. Lets not forget the complexity of eating disorders, a combination of medical and psychiatric illness that is not going to be “cured” through the attainment of a goal weight. Food has been used as some sort of crutch, coping mechanism- it is indicative of a repressed issue that underpins the illnesses existence, recovery is about uncovering everything, recovery is from the inside out and then the outside in.

The next myth that is far too commonly heard is that eating disorders are somehow selective in the people that they effect. It seems that the white females, from a middle class background of high mental aptitude are more likely to become unwell with a form of eating disorder- APPARENTLY.

Now I am no expert and nor do I have statistics in front of me that might collaborate me but I am almost 100% sure that there is no selection process for eating disorders. There is no discrimination, and whilst it is true that there may be certain predispositions to becoming unwell, these predispositions are not found in demographical variables. This means that men, BME groups and even the working class can and do develop eating disorders.

I could go on into so much more detail on all the horrendous myths around eating disorders that require dispelling, that need smashing down and breaking through.

I’ll be brief though;

Eating disorders are not for life, recovery is possible. If you are suffering from this horrible and debilitating illness, please know that if you want to recover, if you are willing to put your heart, soul and courage into making yourself well, using the people around you for love, support and guidance then yes, yes recovery is possible.

There is no one to blame- parents aren’t to blame, loved ones and family members are not to blame. Undoubtedly they may be contributing factors, they may have triggered but they are not in isolation to blame. To suggest so is not conducive to recovery, to assert blame to anyone but the illness will not help through stages of recovery. We all need to acknowledge that sometimes people do things that hurt, that cause anxiety and so much more but individually they do not cause eating disorders.

And finally, all eating disorders are serious. Anorexia kills, we know that. But Bulimia and all the other variants of eating disorders have associated health concerns in equal measure, the effects of the behaviours on the body can be damaging, long term and devastatingly fatal.

An introduction to eating disorders in 1000 words is simply impossible. To dispel rumours, raise awareness and increase understanding takes time and an army of people to speak out and do so with courage and tenacity. There are not enough resources available to fully and comprehensively give this mental illness the exploration that it requires. Layers upon layers, complexities in complexities- there is so much- too much.

If you take one thing away from this article- take the learning that eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, forms and variants. They do no discriminate, they’re not a phase or a habit that’s become out of control. It can’t be “fixed” and just eating won’t be a magic cure.

Enjoy this week, learn and comprehend. Be kind to yourself and those around you but most importantly open your mind to an illness that is almost unexplainable and yet provides so much to those it holds in its manipulative grips.

And if you, or a loved on is struggling please get in touch- because everyone deserves an ear to hear.

About the Author

As a blogger and campaigner on mental health issues, Hannah has used her experience of suffering from Anorexia to help support others through the founding of her, own recovery peer support service- aneartohear.co.uk, working as a voluntarily organisation. Now, working closely with NHS providers, other professionals in the field together with schools, corporations and MP’s-she continues to help others by increasing the dialogue around eating disorders and encouraging those to speak out, reaching for help that she knows they not only need but most importantly deserve.

Shamelessly Me

Shamelessly Me

My life is good. I have a loving network of family and friends around me. I love my work. I manage financially. I am fit. I have hobbies. I write. I have a full life. I am healthy. But am I?

This is what my anxiety is about. Health. This is what happens to me. I have a symptom; racing heart, tingling on my tongue, lump on my toe, pain around my ribs. All symptoms that can be attributed to something innocent, but not for me, MY symptoms are serious, probably life threatening.  I then dwell on these symptoms, imagining the worse. As my anxiety increases, unsurprisingly, so do my symptoms. This then becomes the next 4,5,6,7 or 8 days worrying about what’s wrong with me, until the symptoms just disappear, or I give in and go to the GP for reassurance.

In some ways I am lucky with my anxiety (I’m writing this on a good day!!). I manage to function normally, being a Mum, being a partner, working, running the house (though maybe not cleaning, but I can’t blame the anxiety for that!). Anxiety doesn’t stop doing things; I generally don’t let it. I know for some anxiety sufferers that this is a place they’d love to be with their anxiety; I know how debilitating it can be. So for that I feel grateful.

In my head, although on the outside I am functioning well, a lot of the time on the inside it’s a different story.  I obsess. I worry. I spend a lot of time being frightened. I fear the worse. I catastrophise. It’s tiring! I also struggle with the selfishness I perceive that I have; it’s all about me after all!

I do have my ways of coping and helping to alleviate my anxiety.  If I don’t exercise, I feel worse. I think this would be one of my biggest positive step tips to others suffering with stress, anxiety or depression. Get out there and exercise.  A walk, a jog, the gym, a team sport; anything physical that you enjoy. For me it is being outside, running or walking.  My state of mind is totally different after I’ve exercised. Truly, you must try this if you haven’t already.

My other coping strategies are yoga, meditation, practising mindfulness, practising gratitude, writing a bullet journal. I also started blogging about my anxiety in June 2016.  The thing I have realised is that these strategies should become day-to-day activities, just part of normal life.  I think that helps to alleviate the frequency of bouts of anxiety, and keep everything in check.

One of the main reasons I started blogging was to try and help others. When I woke in the middle of the night with an anxiety attack, and couldn’t calm myself down, I’d head for my Ipad and write in “helping anxiety”, “how to get rid of anxiety”, I found that not a lot came up that helped me. I needed something immediate to try, something to ease my panic NOW. So I started writing about the things I have found help me. None of them have “cured” me, but it helps, and I hope by writing my ideas and thoughts that I might help maybe one person to get some relief.

My last piece of advice;

Be gentle with yourself, you are doing the best you can, and that is enough.

Amy BlytheAmy Blythe is the author of Shamelessly Me, blogging her journey with anxiety.  She uses it to help herself, in a cathartic way, to live with the anxiety that she faces but also to help others.  For more information, check out her website!

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Pushing Back the Shadows – A Supporter’s Thoughts

This is a post written by one of our supporters.  We would be quite interested to hear your views on this so please leave a comment, let us know what you think.  Let’s get a discussion going!

Although the symptoms of depression are relatively universal, each person’s experience is different because each person is unique.  To dismiss a professional’s help because your depression is different is not saying that the symptoms are different, but that their manifestation is different in each individual.  This then makes the task of professionals challenging when faced with each person who, quite understandably, are focussed on their own signs of depression.  What works for one may not work for another, but the challenge is to not let personal depression manifestations to simply dismiss something before due consideration.

As I think about this title, “Pushing Back the Shadows”, I initially understood it as pushing back the stigma, the lack of understanding that depression is an illness – like physical illnesses – except there are no “plasters” or “bandages” evident.  It is therefore dependent on the explanation of the depressed individual to a professional to obtain the treatment that works best for that individual.  It is hard enough to explain depression without having to do so when you are already depressed!  Therefore, “Pushing Back the Shadows” gives opportunity for people to share their personal experiences in the hope that someone reading it may have that moment when they recognise themselves in the descriptions.  However, is there not a danger of focussing on depression so much that you become the slave to depression and no longer able to look for the next step?

This leads to another viewpoint on “Pushing Back the Shadows”.  If depression is the shadow, then “Pushing Back the Shadows” can be understood as the battle against depression – pushing the dark cloud of depression to the point where daily life can function.  This takes effort and energy, which Alex has already identified, is not necessarily available, making it difficult.  Those who are surrounding and supporting the person want to fight that battle for them and will encourage them to fight, but the battle is for the person alone – only they can take each step, like a young baby learning to walk.

As one who is permanently on anti-depressants to deal with a life-long medical condition, I can identify that the daily battle to “push back the shadows” is faced by more than people diagnosed with depression.  When getting out of bed and getting dressed for someone with a life-long medical condition is achieved – it would be a reason for celebration, a sense of achievement, a battle won.  But in the great scheme of life, such an achievement is not seen as that great – people get out of bed and dressed every day so what is so special in that.  “Pushing Back the Shadow” is a personal achievement in the privacy of an individual’s life and not one where congratulations will be ringing in the ears.  In the perspective of normal life, each battle won is normal – not news-worthy.  Unfortunately this is a fact that has to be accepted – one person’s health battles are not the centre of the universe so will not be high on the radars of many people’s hectic lifestyles and priorities.

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Yet, I suppose the key to any health battle – whether it is mental or physical – starts with understanding.  What are you dealing with?  Unfortunately “Google” will give you loads of information from professional and “wacky” sources.  Unfortunately this is the first search we make in seeking to understand.  But, as academia will remind you – check your sources – anyone can write anything and post it on the internet.  As Alex quite rightly states, this blog is not from a professional basis, but from a personal experience and a desire to help others – it is not of great academic worth but simply an insight – “Pushing Back the Shadows” of understanding.

In seeking to understand, the medical profession have access to tried and tested resources and will happily point you in the direction you need to understand what you are dealing with.  The libraries in the UK are also a great untapped resource that can help as well without the cost of purchasing a book.  However, if you find one that helps you could always invest in your own copy.

When you begin to understand what you are dealing with, you have already achieved the first battle to “Pushing Back the Shadow.”  The first battle, yes, but each day will continue to be a challenge which, like learning a new skill, will get easier over time and practice.

As a supporter, it is never easy to “say the right thing” or “give help at the appropriate time”, especially when you do not see the person every day to be able to gauge where they are on their challenge.  It can also be hurtful when your support is denigrated by a comment or reaction that bears no resemblance to the last contact you had with that individual.  However, “Pushing Back the Shadows” I believe takes understanding, where this blog is only one resource – not the ultimate resource; and takes that desire of the individual and their supporters to want to push against the shadow of depression rather than remaining trapped by it.  It is not a smooth path, but one that has many pitfalls and obstacles to be overcome.  BUT you don’t have to achieve release all at once – it is simply just one step (one day) at a time. This is what each professional and supporter will be encouraging you to do – take the next step – it’s not as big as “the shadow” would try to convince you. They are on your side, even when they say what you don’t want to hear.  They are trying to help you win today’s battle and take the next step to “Push Back the Shadows”.  

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How to Help Friends and Family

There are times in our lives when we are called upon to do things that we never imagined. It is during these times that we find out just how strong we are.

That time for me came when my son fell into a deep depression and began to self-harm. Parenting can be difficult enough if your child is healthy, but if they have a mental illness it can be life altering.

When my children were young I read parenting books; the ones that explained how to train your child to sleep through the night and offered strategies for dealing with temper tantrums. When my children entered adolescents, I studied parenting books that demonstrated how to talk so they would listen and how to cope with angry outbursts while staying calm and maintaining my sanity. When my son suffered from severe depression and starting self-harming, I couldn’t find parenting books that provided me with skills, practical information, and therapeutic tools to help him. I felt frustrated, alone, and helpless.

It took a lot of time and effort to find the right course to help my son, and along the way I was able to help myself and others.

So, how can you help friends and family who are living with a mental health disorder?

Know the signs and symptoms

Knowing the warning signs for mental illness can help you to be a better parent and friend. There are multiple signs such as: excessive worrying or fear, feeling excessively sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks, extreme mood changes, prolonged irritability or anger, changes in sleep and eating habits, extreme difficulty concentrating, reckless behavior, and trying to harm or kill oneself. [i]  This is not a comprehensive list and some of these might be subtle, but knowing this information could be the difference between life and death. 

Set clear boundaries

Setting clear guidelines, rules or limits with friends and family can keep you from becoming overwhelmed. Make sure that you take time out for yourself. Be aware of enabling or repeatedly “rescuing” him or her, this can lead to a codependent relationship.  When my son was experiencing depression, I did everything for him because I wanted him to feel better and this over-protective parenting led to an unhealthy relationship. During that time, I often felt helpless and without a choice. After speaking with a counselor, I realized that my bond with my son was no longer safe or healthy for me. I slowly let him handle decisions for himself, allowing him to feel pride in what he did, and then I could validate and praise him. Over several months our relationship changed from an enabling one to a nurturing one.

Know how to make symptoms better

There are many ways to help with the symptoms of mental illness. These range from traditional (cognitive behavioral, group, and medication) to non-traditional (art, pet, meditation, music, and movement) therapies and everything in between. The most important thing to remember is to choose a positive method.  My son chose self-harm to help with his suicidal thoughts and depression. The self-harm worked in the moment, but it did not make symptoms better, in fact, in the long run, it made things worse.  The earlier someone living with a mental health condition seeks treatment the better the chance of recovery.  Include your friend or family member in your plans, help them stay positive, and encourage them to follow their treatment plan.

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Talk about it

Not only is it important for treatment that someone who lives with a mental illness talks to others about it, it is equally important that friends and caregivers talk too.  Parents, caretakers, siblings, and friends want to discuss the mental illness in their lives. They want to know that others are going through similar difficulties; they want to know that they are not alone. If those who are directly living through the mental illness of a loved one would be willing to talk about it, then maybe those who are physically experiencing it would be inspired to seek the help they need. If we take away the shame that goes with discussing mental illness and understand that it is an illness like any other, we open a door to real progress and improvement for mental health care.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. It’s scary, I know I kept the secret of my son’s mental illness hidden from just about everyone in my life. Why? Fear, shame, and embarrassment, all words surrounding stigma. Looking back now, I wonder why I was so afraid. Since I have “come out” about my son’s mental illness everyone I know has been supportive and encouraging, but such is not the case for many. I remain in the lucky few. It wasn’t easy for me to discuss my son’s illness. There were many awkward conversations, but the more I talked about mental health, the more comfortable I became and the more people I found who understood, empathized or were going through a similar situation. And these individuals wanted to talk about it openly and honestly. They wanted information, guidance, or just someone to listen.

Remember to validate

Validation is one of the most important elements to learn before helping anyone.

As humans, we want to “fix” problems. Often the best thing to do in a situation is to validate feelings, not diminish them. Validation does not mean you agree with someone else’s choice or even their feelings, instead it’s telling them that it is okay to have these feelings and that you still care about them. This will help your friend or family member feel seen, heard, and accepted and to know that what they say matters and is understood. Everyone deserves to be accepted without judgment.

Help to reduce stigma and take action

Each and every one of us has the power to help eliminate the misunderstanding, lack of acceptance, and the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. [ii]

Share links to resources on social media. Don’t stereotype or label others. Use people first language. Wear a mental health awareness bracelet-this can be a great conversation starter. Become a volunteer and a mental health advocate.

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This is nobody’s fault

There is a propensity in society to blame people for their mental illness, as if they had a choice in the matter. We also tend to blame the parents for the “faults” of their children.

 You wouldn’t want this for yourself, your child or another family member. Do not blame yourself or anyone else. Mental illness is just an illness of the brain. It is just like any other physical illness. Mental illness is no one’s fault.

 

The daily energy spent on helping someone who lives with a mental illness is enormous. Don’t give up hope, savor the good times. If you are struggling and drained of energy and life-force you can’t help anyone else. It is impossible to do it all yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help in your community.

It takes a village…. The time-honored African proverb speaks of the importance of community. Some say it originated from the Nigerian Igbo culture and proverb Ora na azu nwa, which means, it takes the community/village to raise a child. [iii]

So, use your village or community and get the help you need and deserve.

[i] https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs

[ii] https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/NAMI-Ending-the-Silence

[iii] http://www.coseealaska.net/files/alaska/Ittakesavillage.pdf

 

Theresa Larsen graduated from Florida State University with a degree in elementary education and a minor in psychology. She taught school in England, Wales, and the United States for over twelve years. She is a trained presenter and coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Ending the Silence”-a mental health awareness program for youth. She is also a writer and her writing credits include a Welsh children’s book, an educational article published in the Cardiff Advisory Service for Education, parenting and mental health articles published on Yahoo,  PsychCentral, The Mighty, The Stigma Fighters Anthology Volume 2, and her award-winning memoir, Cutting the Soul: A journey into the mental illness of a teenager through the eyes of his mother.  

Learn more about Theresa at http://www.theresalarsen.com/

Cutting the Soul at Amazon  https://www.amazon.com/Cutting-Soul-journey-illness-teenager/dp/1502933101/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496436594&sr=8-1&keywords=cutting+the+soul

Why not subscribe?

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.