Knowing When Not to Fight

Not Fighting and Giving Up

A battle from Age of Empires 3.
A battle from Age of Empires III.

If I was to tell you that I wasn’t fighting anymore, invariably you’d think I’d given up, wouldn’t you?  In any of the copious video games that I play – Civilisation 5, Age of Empires III, that sort of thing – if you stop fighting then you’ve effectively surrendered.  To win, you have to defeat the other players; to defeat the other players, you have to fight.  If you know the games in question, you could argue that in Age of Empires II, you can win by building a Wonder of the World or capturing all the religious relics and holding them for a set amount of time, but in order to stop the enemy from taking them, guess what…you have to fight!

If you’re like me and you play similar games, you might think it’s a bit odd for someone to say “don’t fight”.  Almost controversially, that’s exactly what I’m saying to you now.

Don’t fight.

It’s a fine line between not fighting and giving up, but it’s an important differentiation that I think needs to be established.  After all…it’s your life we’re talking about here!

The Fight of Our Lives

Depression, anxiety, bipolar and other mental health struggles have one thing in common: they’re a battle.  Whether it’s pulling yourself out of a dark pit or fighting off a panic attack, or simply getting out of bed in the morning, it’s a fight.  The worst part is that fight lasts from the minute we get up to the minute we go to bed, and sometimes even though the night.  Every minute of every day, we find ourselves fighting battles in our heads.  Regardless of what those battles are, we find ourselves embroiled in them, fighting for control.

It sounds like some kind of epic fantasy story, along the lines of the Wheel of Time or the Lord of the Rings, doesn’t it?  (Please tell me you enjoy those!)

With all those waking moments taken up in the fight of our lives, not much thought is given to the concept of not fighting.  Whether it’s stigma or whether it’s something more, this idea of not fighting is very much akin to the notion of giving up.  Giving up in a mental health battle, as I’m sure you thought when you read those words, means suicide.

Not something we want to consider.

But this notion is wrong.

Picking the Battles to Fight

When I tell you not to fight, I don’t mean give up.  Absolutely not!  Keep fighting with every breath and ounce of energy that you have.  No one deserves to lose that fight.  Instead, I’m telling you to pick your battles.  Choose when to fight.

My example?  It’s comes directly from my journey.  See, I’m convinced that my medication isn’t working as well as it should.  A lot of people would tell me that my expectations of it are far too high, that I’m thinking it will do more than it actually will.  Others will give me that classic line “you’re making a big deal of nothing”.  Charming, really!  My point, though, is that those notions can make me want to fight what my body is telling me.  My body says that the meds aren’t working sufficiently, yet my instinct would be to fight it.  Refuse to go to the doctors, that sort of thing.

But where will that get me?

Similarly, there are people who would fight the idea of going on medication in the first place.  Others will fight the necessity to take a trip to the doctor – a bit like I did originally – trying to convince themselves that nothing’s wrong.  They’ll continue fighting themselves – out of stubbornness or fear or whatever else might be motivating them – and effectively making the problem worse.

It’s all about picking the battles.

Choose Your Battlefield

You are the experts on yourselves, guys.  You know what you can do, what you can’t do and so on.  With that in mind, pick your battles carefully.  Don’t delude yourselves into believing things are fine if they’re not.  Try not to get caught up in spats between other mental health sufferers, because those realistically won’t help anyone.  If there is a treatment plan devised for you, don’t fight it.  Believe me, with only so many spoons to hand, it isn’t worth fighting it.  It will save you energy in the long run.

So pick your battles.

You’re not giving up.

You’re not losing.

Instead, you’re being smart.  Tactical.  Clever.

You’ve got this.  More than you might care to believe.

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How Can I Be More Resilient?

How Can I Be More Resilient than I Already Am?

We all know that life can throw challenges at you that can knock you off-balance. Even the most mentally tough person can be knocked sideways by events; losing a loved one, being made redundant, stress of moving home. There are a vast plethora of events that can turn your world upside down. Recently it was raised with me that I’m not coping as well as I should be, that despite all the medication and counselling, I’ve not progressed as well as expected. Looking at what’s been going on over the last six months, I can see why. I’ve returned to work, I’ve moved house, I’m battling with an ex over custody arrangements of our children. I’m still learning how to cope with dragging myself to work on days when depression wants to sink its claws in and drag me back to bed. And even though I’m doing it, I’m managing to deal with everything that has been going on, it’s still not enough. Asking for more support in certain areas has led to some questioning whether I’m well enough. It’s also led to me thinking how can I be more resilient? On the days when my ex is being a tool, or when a stranger in the street has reminded me so much of my late dad that I’m tumbling into darkness; how? How can I be more resilient to that other than through what I’m doing already and time?
Who Sets the Standard?
We are all guilty of a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality. We look at others and measure ourselves against them. Be it their success in work, the big house, the perfect children or the great figure and looks, we all do it. We set the bar so high from what we see others seeming to manage effortlessly, that we set ourselves up to fail.
But there’s a dirty little secret to all this. You have absolutely no idea what is going on in that person’s life. The shiny perfect exterior that you envy so much? It’s just that. An exterior. You have no idea what is going on beneath the surface. For those who suffer with mental health issues, a mask is incredibly important. It hides the struggle and darkness within. The death of Sophie Gradon this week, along with so many others that seemingly have the perfect life on paper, shows that a pretty smile can hide a lot.
When I spoke to a friend about the comments that had been made to me, she cocked an eyebrow at me and asked. ‘So they’re mental health experts now, are they?’ She’s right. The person who made those comments is not a mental health expert. My doctor is. And my doctor says I’m improving. Compared to where I was 6 months ago, compared to where I was a year ago I’ve come one hell of a long way. Yes, I feel I need to find ways how I can be more resilient, but when you look at everything I’ve been through, I’m more resilient than some think.
So how can I be MORE resilient?
That’s the tricky part. No-one is infallible and everyone is different. Yes, there are things we can do to improve our resilience. Taking time out, practising self-care and being more assertive can help improve resilience. They really can. But equally no-one has the right to tell you how resilient you should be. It’s that whole ‘just get over it‘ mentality wrapped up in different words. We are all different. Our resilience flexes with the stresses and strains of life, like a branch of a tree in the wind. We can help shore it up and strengthen it so that it can battle the smaller storms, but sometimes there may be a storm that causes a break. But, just like a tree we can heal, we can grow. New shoots can appear from the break and head in unexpected directions.
So in answer to the question, how can I be more resilient? The answer is this. You will be. It just takes time and no-one can know how long or in what form it will take. But when it’s there, you’ll know.

Episode 38 – Dying Light: A Life With Depression

Dying Light…a survival game full of zombies, thugs and terrors of the darkness.  You are a GRE operative tasked with retrieving a stolen file and you get caught up in the middle of the quarantined and infected city of Harran.  But…what does this have to do with mental health?  Take a walk with me as I bring a refreshing and surprising twist on this amazing video game!

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Practising Self-Care

Self-care sounds selfish but really it’s anything but! Join me as I talk about how I practise self-care in some conventional forms and why I make sure to pace myself even when on a brilliant day.

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In the Pursuit of a Cure

A Cure for an Ailment

It’s a common thing in today’s society: if we are sick then we go to the doctor and the doctor provides us with a cure.  If anything, the medical world revolves around cures nowadays.  We have cures and medicines for many ailments, don’t we?  In 1897, the first vaccine for the Bubonic plague was developed.  1899, Felix Hoffman developed aspirin.  1992, the first vaccine developed for hepatitis A.  Medicine is constantly evolving.

Cure in a bottle.Despite the many advancements with modern medicines and treatments, there is still a lot of controversy surrounding the topic.  Many people stand for medicine, many stand against it.  There are those who believe that you should accept your own fate or “God’s Will” over your life instead of prolonging it artificially.  Others would say the economic costs of prolonging our lives are too much when the elderly can’t work and pay taxes.  Others still argue on the side of animal rights.

In the world of mental health, people are similarly divided on the topic of medication.  Should you use it?  Should you avoid it?  Some argue that you should use more natural, holistic approaches, such as yoga or therapy.  Others argue that medication is the only effective treatment.  Then you have people like me who come down on the approach that you should find whatever works for you, be it therapy, medication, a combination or something else.

As I say: it’s divisive.

The Focus on the Cure

As beneficial as many of these treatments have been, however, there are still many things that cannot be cured.  Cancer, for example, is one such illness.  Many advancements have been made in that particular field of research but, as of yet, we cannot cure it.  Similarly, there is no cure for an array of mental illnesses.  Depression, anxiety, bipolar…none of these have any kind of magic bullet that can cure us from them.

Which causes a problem.

You see, people are focused on the cure.  Wouldn’t you say?  People are focused on that cure.  There are a lot of people that I come across on social media who give you the “5 step guide to curing your depression” and other such philosophies and remedies.  Even though they don’t cure people, they throw the word in because it grabs attention.  People look for that cure, they look for the answer to their problems.  After all, it’s all about the solution, is it not?

Regardless, those who are struggling with any condition tend to look towards the cure.  What can they get that will alleviate the symptoms that they’re battling?  Is it a pill?  A treatment?  Something else?  Whatever form it takes, that cure is at the top of their priorities.

Yet should it be?

In the Pursuit of a Cure

We pursue those cures like they’re the lost treasure of El Dorado or the hidden knowledge of Atlantis.  It’s become the most important thing that we can think of: curing that illness that we suffer from.  Sometimes we will try anything – conventional and non-conventional methods – to find that magic bullet.  But…what if there isn’t one?

Finding a cure.

That’s right…what if there isn’t one?

Not everything is curable, is it?  I mentioned cancer earlier which, as of yet, remains incurable.  So what if all this time, all this effort that we’re putting in, is actually for nothing?  What if…what if we cannot be cured?

Now I’m not for one minute saying don’t look for the cure.  We should all be looking for that cure.  No, what I’m saying is that we shouldn’t make that our primary focus.  We should be learning how to live with our conditions, learning to manage them without becoming desperate for that cure.  After all, it might not happen.  Our journeys have so much to teach us.  So many things we wouldn’t learn otherwise.  Does that not make the journey more important than the cure?

Find the Cure

Find the cure.  Don’t give up hope.  If you can find it, great.  If not?  Then perhaps use your condition for a different purpose.  Perhaps to help someone else.  Or to do something you wouldn’t normally do.  After all, it’s what you make of it.  But see what you can do.  You might surprise yourself.

Who knows?  In some ways, taking your illness and turning it from a curse to a blessing might be the very cure that you seek…

What do you think?

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Chris – The Interview

What condition(s) do you live with?

I currently suffer with anxiety and depression.

How long have you been living with it/them?

I have suffered for longer than I probably thought if I am honest with myself. It is probably nearly 10 years now I look back at how I acted and how I felt. I did the typical male stereotype of pushing down feelings and pretending not to have any.

How does it affect you?  What does a good day look like?

On a good day I could be the most optimistic person you could meet. I have always had a dream of having a novel published. However, I do let myself down in my belief that I can carry it out. Even when I am happy and smiley deep down I am still overthinking every person and every action through the day. Even on a good day the effects are still there but just less prominent in my mind. 

What about a bad day, what does that look like?

A bad day for me is the worst day for people to see me, even friends, family and partner. I will get sunk into a low mood that will take hours or days to get out of, whether it is how I am treated certain days or an aspect of life that I am not happy with. I become very short tempered and irritable, this is an aspect I really do not like even when I feel bad for the people I aim this towards. I will not do much on a bad day, even as a fitness instructor and someone who enjoys being active, all of that will be drained from my mind and body. I am very emotional, but I try to hide this hence the short answers and frustration towards people, not in actual anger towards them but inner anger of myself for letting myself feel the way I do. I feel some days that the problems life throws me (in my opinion) is all too much. I feel like I want to just end everything and just make it much simpler for myself. But I know that on myself, my partner and family that would be a selfish act.

How does it affect work/family/friends/etc

My condition affects my partner greatly. I don’t like to see her upset or frustrated in the fact she cannot fix the problem with me as quickly as she would like. However, I would like to say she has been my rock through all that I have gone through and would not probably be here without her. All of my family have been supportive which I am truly blessed for as I know not everybody has this support system in place when they go through something like this. But the overriding feeling of both family and my partner is frustration. They want to help and fix what is wrong it’s just human nature I feel. I do not like making them feel this way but that is the unfortunate way of this condition it makes you very selfish in terms of centring everything going on around yourself.

My work place has been very hard to be around during this low period as it is a lively place where people expect you to be up and energetic. Again, the unfortunate part of this is you do not feel like being that person on a bad day. It is hard to focus on daily tasks and being around so many people during a work day makes me even more conscious. I had to take a 16-week absence from work to try and fix myself and get the help I needed. I do not feel workplaces are equipped to deal with this issue in house and I did not feel able to open up and carry on working during this hard period around 4 months ago.

What kinds of methods or treatments do you use to cope?  What is most effective?

The simplest method I use is straight forward. I talk. My partner is so understanding and such a good listener to everything I have to say. Even when I feel I may be sounding like a broken record with the same issues repeatedly. I know I am lucky again to have this close support by me and I know it is not available to everyone. I realise I am more blessed than others to be in the situation I am. Another method I find helpful is writing out the issues I had each day. This helps me to pour out all that is rattling around inside my head. This allows clearer thought which is what I need when I am having a bad day, and everything seems to be piling on top of me. It can be any issue however bug or small, I just jot them down in my pad and get all my moans out for the day.

What is least effective?

The least effective method I used was prescribed to me by my doctor. He could not prescribe me anti-depressants any quicker if he tried when I explained what was wrong. That was after he belittled me and said how can young, good looking (not sure if he was being sarcastic) man be depressed about anything. That straight away put my barriers up towards him and stopped all forms of communication with him. The medication may work for others but for myself I found no benefit. I think everyone must be treated as an individual and not just tick boxed a pill and hope for the best.  

If there was one thing you could say to someone going through the same condition(s) as you, what would it be?

My advice to anyone suffering with this horrible condition is please do not suffer in silence. Somebody cares, and somebody will help you. It may not feel that way some days and I know that all to well. The worst thing you can do is ignore the way you feel and hope that it will go away, it won’t. Like I said before I am no expert in this field and I will never claim to be, but I know what worked for me. If that could work for someone else, then fantastic. There are services out there that I have used provided by the NHS for counselling and advice on how to cope, or even if you need someone to lend you an ear for your problems. Use everything possible to try and resolve your underlying issues as that is the only way that you will ever be able to break free of pain and become more like the you, that you used to know.

What would your advice be to people trying to support people with your condition(s)?

First off, anyone trying to help someone in this condition, well done. Without those who try to help, the one’s who suffer would be left in a pit of despair. Again, I can only use my experiences to guide my answer. I would say just be there, it’s that simple. If the person wants you to listen to sit and listen they don’t always want advice they just want to know that someone cares enough to give their time to listen to them. Patience is a virtue, if you have it then again that is a bonus. Listening to someone that has the same issues day in and day out could be exhausting to listen to. Please don’t get frustrated with those suffering as these issues are the crux that holds them back to being themselves. I know it will be hard to watch and hear someone you love or care about dwell and stoop into a pit of unending light. You can bring them back. If you struggle, I would advise again to use the NHS services provided as they helped me when I had no one around to talk to.  

Have you got any final thoughts?

I feel that men’s mental health has too much stigma around it. It needs to be treated as a seriously as an illness would, however I do see any mental issues as an illness. The suicide rate in young men scares me, the fact that so many young men feel an easy way out is better than trying to work out their issues. I think it’s time for men to drop the bravado of having no feelings and see it is acceptable to struggle with daily life. The phrase ‘man up’ is thrown around all too much as it is seen as weakness to have any issues. Shut up and carry on culture is far to dangerous now. It’s time that people spoke to each other, whether virtually or over a coffee. Drop the act and be human beings, we’re not the machines we use daily we are people with feelings and problems and there is nothing wrong with that. More coverage and exposure need to happen around men’s mental health issues, I am just using my own point of view and experiences. It was hard for me to find the right channels and to build the courage to ask for that help but once I did I found it far much easier to cope. YOU CAN DO IT!

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The Dreaded Question

Question After Question

Questions.  Our lives seem to revolve around them and be driven by them, don’t they?  Job interviews, health checkups, shopping visits, even some of the ordinary conversations we have; there are questions.  “Where can I find…?”  “How do I do this?”  “Would you like fries with that?”  OK, that last question might not be such a frequent occurrence but it still crops up every now and again!

Regardless, we come across many questions in our lives.  Some of them are easy.  Others…not so much.  That being said, it’s a normal part of life, to question.  One of the things my partner’s toddler often does is practically interrogates us.  I’m sure parents are familiar with the word “why?”  Combine it with “but why?” or “OK…why?” and you’re got a recipe for a headache!!  Children are inquisitive by nature though, aren’t they?  It’s how they learn, how they grow.

As we get older, though, those questions become less inquisitive and more practical.  We ask how to do things, what kinds of specifications there are and other such things.  Sometimes it can lead to secrets or to the latest gossip, but we can be just as curious as those children.

An Uncomfortable Question

Not all questions are good questions though, as I’m sure you’d expect.  If I was to ask you all what your least favourite, or most uncomfortable question, I’m sure you would all the say the same thing…

“How are you?”

Yikes!

What do we even say in response?  For the majority of us, we’ll put on a smile and say “I’m fine”.  Even if we’re not fine, we’ll say that we are anyway because if we don’t, we unleashed a tidal wave barrage of more questions.  No one wants that, aside from masochists!  Why would we want to be asked more questions on top of the uncomfortable “how are you”???

But that’s just an uncomfortable question.  I believe there is one that’s even worse…

Intrigued?

Want to know what it is?

The Dreaded Question

So here it is, the dreaded question.  Personally, I believe it to be a horrible one, though admittedly it’s one that I use loads, especially when talking to others who are struggling.  Have you guessed it?  The question is:

“What can I do to help?”

That’s right: I asked “What can I do to help?”  On the surface, it might not seem like that bad a question but really it’s probably one of the most frustrating and exasperating questions ever asked!  Or is that just me and I’m overexaggerating it…?  I’m never sure!

See, people ask us this question when we’re struggling and it seems like a perfectly innocent question.  Yet…what do we say?  Just like “how are you”, we have no idea what to say.  Most of the time, we don’t have an answer we can give to ourselves, never mind anyone else!  How do we answer that question when we don’t even know what would help us?

Now, it’s not that people are being mean when they ask this question, as really they’re asking because they care.  Yet sometimes it’s one of the most awkward things that we can be faced with.

So how do we deal with it?  What can we do?

An Alternative

As difficult as it is, an alternative is possible.  One of my favourite suggestions is, instead of asking what people can do, simply come alongside them and try this:

“I know you’re not particularly good at the moment, so I just wanted to remind you that I’m here for you.”

It’s simple, it’s reasonably succinct and it gets the right message across.  There’s no pressure, then, to figure out what’s wrong, no obligation to give a truthful answer if we don’t really want to answer the question in the first place.

Believe me, it takes a major retraining of the brain because it’s almost human nature to ask what we can do to help, but it will be worth it.

So why not try it?

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Looking Back – Eating Disorder Awareness Week

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

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A Frank Discussion feat. Hope Virgo – Eating Disorder Awareness Week

We are very pleased to welcome Hope Virgo, author of Stand Tall Little Girl, to our podcast to have a discussion about eating disorders.  For our Eating Disorder Awareness week, we are looking at the issues surrounding anorexia and bulimia, what people who suffer with them go through and much more!  In this episode, Hope talks about her own struggle with anorexia and has an important message for others who struggle.

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Hate What I see in The Mirror

Mirror, Mirror. On the wall, why do I hate me most of all?

This week we’ve been putting the spotlight on eating disorders, with podcasts, vlogs and more. If you haven’t already, I urge you to check it out. The reason we wanted to cover this was because of the number of people getting in touch with us via Twitter who have issues with eating disorders. But for me personally I really wanted us to look into this area because of the impact body image has taken on my mental health over the years. Like many people with depression, I have very low self-esteem. I also hate what  I see in the mirror whenever I look at myself.

A mirror with the words "mirror mirror on the wall..." Theme: hate what I see in the mirror.First thing I want to make clear. I do not consider myself to have an eating disorder.  I am stupidly overweight. But I do have an extremely unhealthy relationship with food. When I was younger I used to joke I was a bulimic with commitment issues, because I had the bingeing part down but struggled to commit to the purging part. A joke I used to cover the reality.

That I have an unhealthy cycle when it comes to my body image.

Not Just for the Young

Even now, I go through phases of starving myself, taking appetite control pills and laxatives in a desperate attempt to get slim. As I sit writing this, it’s with full knowledge that breakfast was a biscuit and a cup of coffee and I disguised that fact by giving my partner his breakfast in bed while I ‘ate’ in the kitchen. My head is in that place of utter self-loathing, but I won’t openly admit to it. I’ve even hidden the appetite control tablets I’m taking from my partner as I don’t want to admit that I’m that desperate to change how I look.

This is a long term thing. I’ve been exhibiting  these behaviours since I was a teenager. When I was first diagnosed with depression at 15, the referral to a mental health counsellor was expedited after my doctor discovered that in addition to going to Weight Watchers and following a strict diet, I was also routinely making myself sick.

My natural body shape is curvy (big boobs, big bum). Unfortunately currently everything is big. But no matter how lovely my partner says he thinks I look, I hate what I see in the mirror.  I always have.  Even when I was 16 years old with a size 10 dress size, I hated myself.  Even with a figure I’d probably now do anything to have, I was routinely self-harming.

It’s hard to explain that level of self-loathing.  Now, when self-harming becomes  an issue it almost feels even more justified because I am overweight. I deserve it because of how disgusting I am.

As a mum to a little girl, I know how toxic my thinking is. I recognise it. But I do struggle to deal with it. My body type is never going to be super-skinny, but I cannot seem to break the cycle. When I’m unhappy, I eat. Food is a comfort that I’ve turned to time and again. Then I feel awful for doing it and the cycle spins back the other way, so I won’t eat or I eat like a sparrow.

The Media Mirror

So much importance is placed on appearance nowadays it isn’t surprising to see how we are as a country seeing unprecedented levels of mental illness, especially in the young. So many young people of both sexes who tell themselves ‘I hate what I see in the mirror’.  It’s everywhere,  the constant objectification of people down to how they look, not their achievements.  I’ll give you an idea of what I mean; if you read the Daily Mail online on the right hand side of the screen there is ALWAYS a long list of mini-articles, usually celebrity focused. But what you’ll notice is the wording they use, it’s so-and-so shows off their slender pins, their pert derriere, their ample assets or how their body has snapped back in some ridiculously short time after giving birth.  It’s insane. Amal Clooney, an extremely successful human rights lawyer, is often reduced to just being slender, shapely or leggy. She gets snapped by paparazzi in New York leaving the office and is anything said about what work she’s doing? No, it’s comments about how she’s putting on a leggy display in a fetching red dress.

They are not the only culprits. We see it everywhere. As a culture we are entirely too focused on what people look like, judgement is passed on body shapes, choice of clothes, tattoos and piercings. We look and we assess the quality of the person before they’ve opened their mouth.

I Hate What I See in the Mirror, but I’m Learning to Love who’s Inside

When I say that I hate what I see in the mirror I am not referring to the person inside. I hate my packaging. Sometimes that hatred can be turned against the core of who I am, when depression is in full control I believe my failures are every part of my life. I will evaluate myself as a poor mother, a flawed human being with little to offer the world.

This is not true. It is the lies my own version of the ‘dark passenger’ tells me. In the same way a person suffering from anorexia is led to believe they are overweight when they are not, depression convinces that we are totally and utterly worthless in every arena of our lives.

"Dear you, make peace with the mirror and watch your reflection change." - Theme: hate what I see in the mirror.With all these mental health conditions we are battling an incredibly powerful and devious enemy: our own minds. To fight back against that voice is incredibly difficult, especially alone. Which is why we ran this eating disorder awareness week.  Too many people are struggling alone, believing the voice in their mind. But with the voices of Hope Virgo, Elle Rose and Hannah Brown and ours I hope you will have a greater insight into how that voice lies.

You are more than your packaging. If the voice in your head is not showing you some love, is evaluating you just by what it sees, remember there is always someone who loves what you see as flaws.  My daughter and son love me, they just see their mum who will do anything for them. They don’t see the flubbery mess I see myself as.  EVERYONE has beauty to them, we are unique, creative and wonderful creatures, we just need to learn how to love what truly matters and quieten the voices both inside and out that tries to convince us otherwise.

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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.