“But You Don’t Look Depressed”

Have you ever played real life Where’s Wally but instead of a man in a bobble hat and a striped jumper you had to find someone with depression? Hopefully you answered no, (if you answered yes I would advise you to make some changes to games you play for recreational purposes and would suggest Scrabble as an alternative). If you did answer no though, it is a game I do not recommend because playing such a game would be practically impossible (again, maybe try Scrabble).

Despite the fact that we now live in a time where there is a fairly wide understanding that depression is a “mental” illness, I still feel like there is the idea that somehow it is as visible as a broken leg. In fact I have lost count of the number of times someone has discovered I have depression before responding in surprise with that oh so familiar phrase to anyone with depression, “but you don’t look depressed”.
To be fair, no, no I often don’t. Then again Ralph Fiennes didn’t look like Ralph Fiennes when he was playing Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films with his nose all squished out of recognition, but underneath all that make up/genuine wizardry, he was still Ralph Fiennes.
Much like Ralph Fiennes, people with mental health problems like depression are often great actors, dare I say even better than the ones you see on TV to be honest, as we don’t even need green screen or CGI fake noses.

Whenever people say that I “don’t look depressed” I almost want to ask what exactly someone who has depression should look like considering I am clearly not living up to their expectations.
I think the traditional depressed person is supposed to look like the pictures you see when you search depression on google images or look at any of the pamphlets they hand out at doctors’ surgeries. In the majority of these images, the people are curled up in a corner somewhere with their heads in their hands, but like the images you see of skeletal anorexics in the media, this is not always the case, and it is dangerous to think so.
Admittedly sometimes in my life living with depression, there is a lot of curling up in a ball for a good cry (often with Celine Dion – “All By Myself” playing in the background), yet that is not my constant state of being and not something I allow many people to see.
Inside I may feel like staying in that soggy ball all the time, but at family occasions or social events for example, I always put on my “sane” face and play the part of “human who has life together” as required by expectations upon me, much like many other people do at work or when they are in front of their children.

Contrary to portrayals in the media, often both I and other sufferers of depression really do just look like “normal people”. However well disguised a depression suffer is though, it doesn’t mean they are any less ill or need be taken any less seriously than those who are visibly struggling. Indeed, what a person looks like on the outside will tell you nothing of the severity of their condition, and you cannot compare sufferers based on the number of tears they have cried in the last fortnight.
Depression may be one illness, yet it expresses itself and feels different to every individual who suffers from it, so how one depressed person behaves could be totally different to someone else who also has the condition.
Even single individuals can present the illness in totally different ways depending on what day you come into contact with them so you can’t even classify people in groups of “loud person with depression” or “quiet person with depression”.
Like I said there are some days where my depression means that I physically cannot talk or get out of bed, and then aside from the days I have to pretend to be a certain way in front of family members, I have days at home in private where I am so depressed that I spontaneously burst out into hysterical laughter despite being alone and “allowed” to show how I really feel without upsetting anyone. It is almost like those situations in which people without depression hear a piece of bad news and instead of reacting with tears as would be appropriate, they just start laughing because their brain physically cannot cope with the shock/that amount of sadness. Truthfully I have had days where I can be so depressed that I spent half an hour hysterically guffawing (I believe the kids today call it “LMAOing”/“Loling”) at a pencil. Yes, you read that right, I laughed for half an hour at a pencil (not even a particularly funny pencil. His jokes were terrible. No idea of timing when it came to landing a punchline).

Much like the problem I discussed in my post about people with eating disorders not always being underweight, this misconception that someone must “look depressed” to be depressed is actually a mistake that puts many people at risk as well as being frustrating.
It is often due to this “depressed people must look depressed” problem that sufferers may feel unable to “come out” and be honest with family members about their issues for fear that they won’t believe them or take them seriously. Admitting to someone that you have depression is hard, often embarrassing and can take a lot of courage as it is, but to do so and then be told that you must be mistaken because “you don’t look depressed” is a sure fire way to make someone feel more devalued, ashamed and deluded than ever.
It is when people feel the need to keep their illnesses quiet and not seek help for fear of this response that they end up feeling more alone than they already did and in some circumstances take their own lives. How many articles about a suicide victim have you read where the family conclude by saying “we knew this would happen. Too much crying/head holding in the corner”? Most likely none, as usually such columns end with the far more unfortunate “we had absolutely no idea”.

When it comes to those with depression, in this post I really want to urge people to see them/us, not as head clutching Celine Dion fans, but instead as ninjas, masters of disguise who can pop up anywhere without people realising (only without the resulting violence that often ensues around ninjas).
That jolly person who served you in the supermarket? They could have had depression. That milkman that never shows any emotion at all? They could have depression. That girl you saw cycle past your house this morning? They could be a penguin in disguise, which isn’t exactly the same as depression but it just goes to show that you cannot make any judgements based on appearance alone.
Literally the only way it would ever be possible to play Where’s Wally where the aim is to spot the person with depression would be to make every sufferer of the aforementioned condition wear a Where’s Wally jumper at all times, and thankfully, that is never going to happen… At least I hope it doesn’t… I really don’t suit horizontal stripes.

Take care everyone x

dontlookdepressed

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Why I Like Being Diagnosed With Mental Health Problems

Before I get into this post, due to the potentially controversial/misleading title if people simply read that and not the rest of the blog, I really want to emphasise the fact that I am not saying in any way that I like having mental illnesses. As you all know, I hate having mental illnesses, and if I could find a magic wand to make them all go away for everyone on the planet then I would do so faster than the flap of a hummingbird’s wing (they do 50 flaps a second just incase you were wondering). That said, I have to admit that recently, at a time in which I am struggling a lot with my various disorders, the fact that I am diagnosed with such disorders, is the one positive thing I am holding onto. Confused? Allow me to explain…

Every morning I wake up exhausted from the previous day yet knowing that I have to basically relive that 24 hours again and fight the same daily incessant battles once more. Everything I do, from showering, making a cup of tea and putting on my slippers to eating a bowl of tomato soup (if Covent Garden are reading this then please be aware that I eat your fresh plum tomato soup everyday and am practically keeping you in business so please send me all the free soup available), is a challenge.
Now if I was to be told that the way I live my life is normal, then to be honest I wouldn’t want to take part in it anymore. If life is about constant fear, dread, terror and anxiety, and if it is normal to worry that your mum will die because you touched a towel wrongly, then quite frankly I would give up right now. I don’t enjoy my life as it is at the moment, I simply endure it, and the one thing that gets me through is knowing that none of what I do is normal and that none of this is how life has to be.

Of course I understand that everyone in life has a hard time. Just because you don’t have mental health problems doesn’t mean everything is sunshine and rainbows, so I am well aware that if I ever get better from any of this, life is not going to be easy or enjoyable all of the time. I do however like to think that general day to day life would be a bit less of a struggle.
It comforts me to see other people out there living their lives differently to how I do, touching doorhandles and eating food without crying, because it shows me a world that one day I might be able to be a part of. It gives me hope and something to aim for.
I like that my being told that the reason I struggle to eat is because I have an illness called anorexia, that the reason I cannot enjoy anything is because I have an illness called depression and that the reason I am compelled to perform futile routines for hours on end is because I have an illness called OCD. By identifying and diagnosing these things as illnesses, it suggests that they are things that one can get better from, just like with any purely physical illness.

Imagine you have the flu. You cannot sit up because your whole body aches in places you never knew existed, you have a headache that feels like there is a monkey in your brain banging a giant gong and waving a tambourine (to be more specific he is trying to play Bohemian Rhapsody but it isn’t going at all well). You go from hot to cold so quickly that half the time you aren’t sure whether you want to be wrapped in a blanket or to sit in the freezer, and your nose and throat are so clogged with flu rubbish (medical term), that it is physically hard to breathe.
Imagine lying there groaning about how horrendous you are feeling, and then someone comes into the room telling you to keep it down because there is nothing wrong with you, that this is what life is like, that this is how you will spend your entire human existence, that the pain you are feeling is “normal”.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I have the flu or any other unpleasant physical illness, the comforting thing is the thought that it will go away, there is some evil germ doing something horrible in my body but one day it will be gone. It may be frustrating that I can’t get out of bed and have to cancel plans to meet a friend, but in a week or so I will feel more up to it and we can rearrange. Yes, it sucks that I cannot breathe through my nose and that I am drowning in tissues soaked in my own mucus (no need to thank me for that glorious image), but soon all the mucus will be gone and air will start flying up and down my nostrils with refreshing ease again.
When something is diagnosed as an illness, you can look it up, find cures, relate to symptoms that you thought only you felt and find inspiration and hope in people who have recovered from the troubles you are facing. Have a headache that feels like there is a monkey in your head banging a gong and waving a tambourine? Does it kind of sound like he is trying to play Bohemian Rhapsody but is failing miserably and should probably try learning to play the piano instead? Awesome, that is a symptom of an illness you have and should clear up in a few days. You don’t like having the flu, but you like knowing that there is a name for what you are experiencing and you like being able to learn that it will not last forever. It would be a hell of a lot harder for Harry Potter to destroy Voldemort had he not known who or what was the villain he was fighting, but in identifying him, he knew who the enemy was and therefore knew his target/who he should be attacking. By being diagnosed with mental health problems and by giving them names, I can therefore learn about them and work on a strategy to defeat the evil little bastards.

So as I said in the beginning, do I like having mental health problems? No,I hate their existence and whatever devilish lair they sprang from, but I still love, and it is of great comfort to me, that I am diagnosed with them. I know that at the moment I am not “normal”, that I am unwell, so like the person with the flu, I am getting through each hour by hoping that one day when I wake up, I will finally be able to breathe again.

Take care everyone x

monkeygong

Why It Is OK To Give Up On Things That Are Damaging Your Mental Health

As many of you may already know, I am an avid reader. I actually think the distraction and escapism I find in books is my key coping mechanism in living with mental health problems. It is for this “books help me feel better” reason, that a few days ago, I started reading the next novel on my shelf.
I know you shouldn’t make snap judgements with books or anything in life, but ten pages in I was well aware that this book was unlikely to be a new favourite (or to put it bluntly, I absolutely despised this book with every fibre of my being and wept for the poor tree who had sacrificed its life to become paper that was then decimated by the words comprising this hideous monstrosity). I won’t say the title of this work of fiction here because I don’t want to put anyone off reading a book that may be just what they are looking for, so for the purpose of this post let’s just pretend the book was called “The Orange Segment” (the reason being that, as people who have been reading my blog for a while will know, I HATE oranges with a passion similar to my hatred of this particular work of fiction).

Now, this was a book I was reading by choice/“for pleasure”, to relax and to try to escape a little from the confines of my head. It was not a book that I was being told I had to read for any educational purposes, and I was not being held up at orange point (very much like gun point but instead of shooting bullets at you the bad guy throws tiny clementines at your head), with the threat of being pelted with vile citrus fruits were I not to finish.
Therefore I was well within my rights to put the book down, pick an alternative, and try again. But I couldn’t.

You see when it comes to books/anything in life, I am adamant that whatever challenges face me, I will not give up. I am the kind of person who will run for a train that has already left just to stop my head beating me up that I am a failure who “didn’t even try to stop the train with their bare hands”, and this determination has served me well in some circumstances. People are always saying that once I set my mind to a task I will jolly well do it, and I have always thought this to be a positive thing. That was until I read The Orange Segment and found myself unable to put down it down, instead being forced to sit staring at an intimidating 500 pages of hell before me. In all honesty the mere thought of reading another word made me burst into uncontrollable sobs, I dreaded the next few weeks of using the tiny bits of free time I have between mental health appointments and rituals to spend time reading something that was making me feel miserable, and it was then that I realised that this internal voice of pressure in my brain yelling at me was utterly ridiculous.

Lately in life, I have noticed that society seems to have some kind of obsession with persevering. WITH EVERYTHING.
They say that if you live in England you are never more than 20 feet away from a rat, but to be honest I feel it is more a fact of you are never more than 20 feet away from some poster telling you something “encouraging” like “Quitters never win”, “Keep calm and carry on”, “Just do it” or the ever popular “Never Give Up”.

To an extent I agree with this “just keep going through the hard stuff” attitude. Without perseverance we would probably all still merely be a sperm cell snuggled up under a blanket somewhere watching repeats of Friends on a very tiny television with no interest in swimming in search of some much discussed “egg”. However, lately I think this obsession with perseverance has become a little overwhelming and the pressure people seem to feel to succeed and not “be a failure” is not helping anyone, especially when you have mental health problems making you miserable and leaving you feeling like a waste of space who can’t achieve anything anyway.

Indeed, mental health issues or not, I think this craze of never quitting anything and quitting being seen as “weak” or “easy” is a lot of pressure for anyone, with nobody offering the possibility that sometimes noticing that something isn’t working and changing your course of action is actually a very strong and difficult thing to do.
Why should people always have to run themselves into the ground in every task they try to accomplish no matter what the consequences? What the hell is wrong with giving up on something, quitting an activity once in a while if it is not helping your emotional wellbeing or making problems you already have worse? Cheryl Tweedy/Cole/Fernandez Versini/Whatever her name is has always told us that in relationships we feel are breaking down we must “fight fight fight fight fight for this love” but does that mean there is no excuse for giving up on something that no longer makes you happy? Do two people have to stay in a relationship that is making them both miserable because to give up is weak? ANSWER ME THAT CHERYL. ANSWER ME THAT.

What about hobbies? What if you decided to run a marathon and then six months into training realised that you had a deep hatred of long distance running (I don’t know why it would take you six months to learn something I grasped in five minutes of cross country at school but I suppose we all learn at different speeds). Should you keep running regardless because in life you should “never give up?”. I am all for perseverance and determination but if something is making you miserable why the hell is it so frowned upon to walk away (at a glacial pace as we have already discovered that we do not enjoy running).

Had I listened to that pressure to not give up, I would have forced myself to read The Orange Segment for no reason other than to shut up this horrible voice in my head telling me to keep going, but after my realisation, I actually challenged myself to put down the book and never to pick it up again. Immediately I was overwhelmed with guilt. I felt I had to pick the book up and finish no matter what, or else I would be some weak and terrible person. It was then that I decided that I needed to write this post for people who struggle with a similar “YOU CANNOT GIVE UP” dictator who is damaging their mental health.
To all of those people, I simply want to let you know that as great as persevering is, sometimes quitting is pretty ok too, and if you need to quit something, be that a job or a damaging relationship that is having negative effects on your mental health, that is ok and does not make you weak.

Now, I do not want this post to be interpreted as a call for everyone to stop doing every activity in life that doesn’t bring them joy and benefit their mental health. If we never did things we didn’t want to do, none of us would go to the dentist, have jobs or meet the in-laws for Sunday lunch (I don’t have in-laws personally but I hear that this kind of thing is something few people look forward to). No, I am not telling you to give up everything that makes you miserable, I am saying give up all the unnecessary baggage and things you put yourself through like bad books or horrendous jobs that are doing nothing for your mental health other than make it worse. If you are similar to me in that you have internalised this pressure to “never give up” to the extreme, when you find yourself doing something you hate, to see whether or not it is a good idea to quit, I would say you should ask yourself one thing, that being:

“Is this going to benefit me in the long term”

This way I think it helps avoid what some people could assume to be a blog post about never doing anything. Indeed, this whole “it is ok to quit” attitude could be used by people to justify giving up on mental health recovery for example. As we all know, recovery is not all jolly fun and challenging yourself to face your greatest fears is not something that makes anyone happy or feels any benefit to mental health…in the short term.
In the long term however, as painful as it is in the moment, challenges in recovery like eating a scary plate of food or touching a door handle are beneficial to your future mental health and are overall good things to persevere through for the pay off, just as revision for exams is worth it when you get the results you achieved by working so hard. Asking this question also avoids “well I hate my job so I am leaving today” issues but it also allows for that too. If you are stuck in a job you hate and have no legal obligation/monetary need to continue, why do it? Just so you can not be seen as not quitting what most people would see as a wise career choice? If you have a job you hate and there is an end goal in sight or a long term benefit of “if I just get through this placement I can advance to a level I actually want to be in”, “I will just keep going until I get another job” or “if I just stick out another year I will have the money to take that course I want to attend” then by all means, keep going.
However, if it is a job you hate, that will only get you a career that will be damaging to your mental health without looking for an alternative, all because of this mental pressure yelling either “it is a good career most people want so you must want it too” or “giving up on my job because of depression means you are weak and a quitter” then dear Lord my friend quit right now. Much like I shouldn’t feel shame for not reading that godforsaken book, nobody should be ashamed for giving up on something if it is bad for them just because the act of “giving up” is bad in itself. If you need to quit your job or quit a hobby that you cannot manage anymore, do it, and don’t ever feel weak or ashamed for taking control and doing what is best for your mental health and wellbeing.

Overall then, if you are reading this and don’t hate anything in your life, then I guess you don’t have to do anything with this post (though thank you very much for reading anyway and feel free to share this with all your friends and family incase they are struggling with mental pressure not to quit too). If you are reading this however, and you can think of something you are doing, whether that be continuing a damaging relationship, something big like a career that is damaging your mental wellbeing, or something small like reading a book you hate, then I would like to challenge you right now/give you permission to quit that detrimental thing and move on to something else that is more worth your time. Not giving up on things at the first sign of trouble is a valuable quality to have, but it is also important to acknowledge that in life, when it comes to finding happiness, sometimes quitting a trip in the wrong direction is the only way to discover the path that is going in the right one.

nevergiveup

How To Deal With People On Diets When You Are In Recovery From An Eating Disorder

When it comes to treating an eating disorder, there are about a million ways out there that people go about it. It is like the overall goal of recovery is the Triwizard cup from the Triwizard tournament played out during Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and all people with eating disorders are standing inside this perilous maze running down various paths to try and find their way to victory in recovery (and hopefully not a surprise encounter with Voldemort as happened to Harry. By God that was unfortunate). Some people take the path of medication, others attend groups, try various different kinds of therapies, visit hypnotists, but of all eating disorder recovery journeys you can guarantee they will all, at some point, share something in common: a meal plan. Sometimes people construct these meal plans themselves, others are prescribed them by therapists or dieticians, and some have their meal plans dictated by doctors and nurses in a hospital setting.
Obviously eating the meal plan is hard enough in terms of having an eating disorder and the thoughts that go alongside that, but one thing that can make following your meal plan a hell of a lot harder than just carrying out the basic set of instructions, is the almighty trigger of people on diets.

Picture the scene. You are sitting there at home, ready to eat your healthy balanced lunch prescribed by your dietician. All your basic food groups are present (protein was a little late to the table as he got held up by a tractor on the motorway but everyone is there now). You are anxious but determined to soldier through the meal in your journey to recovery. Then a member of your family comes to join you. You smile and wave, grateful for the company, anticipating a nice bit of conversation to distract you from the eating disorder screaming at you not to pick up the fork, but then the family member sits down. Glancing at their plate, your face falls. All they have is lettuce. THE NERVE OF IT.
If you are anything like me it is around this point that you will start to feel very angry and indignant, and your already difficult task of eating lunch becomes a hell of a lot harder. Suddenly your recovery meal plan lunch looks like it has doubled in size like some unwelcome food multiplication miracle in the style of Jesus and all those loaves and fishes. The already intimidating quantity feels even more excessive and unnecessary than it felt before and the thoughts are churning. “If I eat this when they are just sitting there with a salad I will be greedy”, “clearly I don’t need this much for lunch if that is all they are having for the equivalent meal”, “why should I eat this food when they are allowed to eat lettuce” etc etc. Then things escalate, and before you know it you have hit your lunch time companion over the head with the left over half lettuce in the kitchen, torn up their copy of Slimming World magazine and crumbled any diet pills they were taking to dust, dust which you then sculpt into a giant sand castle prison to lock them in until they agree to eat normally again (not that I have ever thought this through in detail prior to writing this post you understand). Basically, it sucks, but for all you people out there who struggle with this trigger, never fear, for I have words of potential wisdom that I hope will help, as there is a key thing to remember in all of this.

The most important thing to remind yourself when you are at that table, eating your recovery meal plan around potentially salad chomping dieters, is that you are in a completely different situation to that person, so different and far apart in fact that you are actually not even on the same table.
If you are in recovery for an eating disorder and have been prescribed a meal plan to follow, that meal plan is your medicine, and the nonsense in your head trying to tell you not to eat it because someone else is eating less than you, is a voice that makes as much sense as someone with an ear infection refusing to take antibiotics because nobody else in their household is.
Who knows? Maybe that person on a diet has been prescribed their low calorie meal plan by a doctor because their previous diet was giving them health problems, or maybe they are just doing one of those silly fad diets for a few days after an advert they saw in a magazine. Either way, that does not mean that automatically you should not follow the meal plan that is prescribed/necessary for your body, and following it does not make you greedy simply because you are eating “more” than someone else.

When you are at the table trying to eat your meal plan and you are with someone who you know is having less than you, the most helpful thing to focus on for me is imagining the distance in your situations (aka a person with an eating disorder and a body damaged by the effects of starvation and malnutrition vs a person without an eating disorder who is not malnourished), as a genuine distance in physical location.

For example, imagine an explorer standing in the Arctic as representing a person with an eating disorder (for the purpose of this example we will call him Eggbert because I would imagine that people called Eggbert are rather adventurous/like the cold). Eggbert is surrounded by a blizzard, a glacier is rapidly approaching from the North and a polar bear to his left is giving him very funny looks (even the polar bear looks a little on the chilly side despite being designed as fluffy enough for these conditions).
Now picture a holiday maker on a beach in Barbados as representative of people without eating disorders. Doreen, for that is the name of our sand loving pal (actually that’s a lie…her real name is Doris but she had to change her name because she is on the run from the law…SHHHH!), is on a beach in Barbados with temperatures so hot that the local chicken eggs are laid hard boiled.
Now imagine the food aspect of things as a giant pile of coats and blankets.
Eating disorders aside, I think we can all agree that in these circumstances, Eggbert who is shivering with the polar bear in the Arctic, is definitely in need of all the coats and blankets and hot water bottles available to him. Indeed it is vital for Eggbert’s survival for him to take those things on board and snuggle up regardless of what Doreen is wearing on her beach in Barbados. By keeping all of the blankets to himself and not sharing some with Doreen somehow, Eggbert is not greedy, he just is at a place in life where he has different needs to Doreen to keep him alive. It is a situation in which Eggbert is using necessary resources to keep himself safe, and he still needs all those blankets and hot water bottles even if Doreen is lying elsewhere on a beach towel fully nude (AVERT YOUR EYES CHILDREN).

That may sound a bit of a drastic difference in situation to illustrate the point, but it is vital to acknowledge the difference in situation between you and the person you are eating lunch with if they are eating less than you. You are not on a weight loss diet because you do not need to lose weight, their diet magazines do not apply to you, and if you tried to attend their weekly weight loss sessions for more weight loss tips you would be turned away. As hard as it is, you really do just have to cut that person’s weight loss mission, diet and exercise out of your life and not allow the voice to trigger you to use someone else’s behaviour as a reason to avoid doing what you need to do. As with needing jackets in the Arctic, you need the food, even if the person sitting next to you is as naked as the day they were born and munching on lettuce. What a lovely image to end a post on. I really hope you enjoy it.

Take care everyone x

newyeardiets

Why Baby Steps Are More Important Than New Year’s Resolutions In Mental Health Recovery

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who like and make New Year’s resolutions, and those who think that New Year’s resolutions are pointless and should actually be renamed as “things you try to do all year but give up on by February”. I myself however, am somewhat in the middle of these two kinds of people (much like I am on the whole Marmite debate. I don’t love it, nor do I hate it. I am truly indifferent…WHAT DOES THIS MEAN).
I actually like the idea behind New Year’s resolutions. I think it is good to see the new year as a chance to improve on whatever happened in the previous one, see it as a fresh start and a clean slate without all the baggage you have dragged around for the past twelve months. That said, I have not made a New Year’s resolution myself since 2010, and that is because I feel that when people make these promises to change, they are far too ambitious and unattainable. They set themselves tasks like “fly to the moon” or “play tennis at Wimbledon” when they haven’t yet thought to apply to astronaut school or pick up a racket. Back in 2010 I made three new years resolutions, those being:

  1. Be happy all the time
  2. No anorexia
  3. No OCD

As midnight approached I felt a surge of excitement. The moment that clock chimed (lets pretend we still live in a time where it is common to have a grandfather clock that chimes..it is a nicer image than me staring at the digital numbers on my phone waiting for 23:59 to become 00:00), my life was going to change, I was determined, and I had made a promise to myself that 2011 was going to be better. Then it happened. The clock struck midnight, and suddenly my carriage that had brought me to the party turned into a pumpkin and I lost a glass slipper!…Wait..no sorry…got mixed up in the life of someone else a little…no, what actually happened was the clock struck midnight and I felt a weight fall from my shoulders (much like a glass slipper was slipping from the sole of a future princess…)

Finally 2011 was here and I was recovered, I never had to do an OCD ritual again, I could eat and I would be smiling for the rest of my life. Looking back I can’t believe I was so deluded, but the first thing I did in 2011 was to run to the bathroom to wash my hands once, just to prove that I was in control again and could stop easily after one squirt of soap. But I didn’t stop. After the squirt had been collected in to my hands my thoughts immediately burst in and I found myself rubbing my hands together vigorously with the same urgency as I had done in 2010. I became incredibly stuck, thoughts flying so rapidly that before I knew it a significant amount of time had passed, over 100 squirts of soap had been used and the only thing I could see through the tears of despair and frustration was a basin full of bubbles. As I went back downstairs to join the others still milling around drinking champagne and watching the odd late firework banging about in the distance, I felt totally defeated. I had failed. I hadn’t even kept my resolution for 24 hours before engaging in the behaviours I told myself I was finished with, and my hopes for change fizzled out like an old sparkler. Granted I was being a bit dramatic by seeing the whole year as ruined and giving up because of one ritual, but logically because of the strict boundaries of “No” OCD, I had in essence failed, so what was the point carrying on? Clearly recovery was impossible.
It is only now looking back that I realise that the problem with my resolution and the reason I had “failed” was entirely the wording and dramatic nature of the resolution I had made. I didn’t set myself a manageable goal of trying to reduce the amount of time in the shower over the course of the year or anything reasonable, a goal that would focus on steady progress with potential slip ups yet still a continuous effort to push forward. Instead I had set myself the impossible task of transforming from a person who had been dominated by mental health problems for the last 7 years to a “normal person” in less than 7 seconds, which is pretty much like someone setting the goal of “flying to the moon” without realising all the steps it takes to get to that point.

Admittedly, I have always struggled with people telling me to “take things steady” and “take baby steps” when it comes to recovery. I am a very black and white person, either I am better or I am not, “baby steps” and little goals like “exercise for five minutes less per day” do not help me. I want total freedom from this mental health cage, not just the same cage with an ocean view.
However, my attitude to all this recently underwent a bit of refurbishment when I was glancing through pictures on Facebook and stumbled across a photograph that I posted online in 2014 to commemorate the fact that I had graduated from university, and for the first time, as I looked at the picture, taking “baby steps” made some sense.

babysteps
As you can see this picture is a comparison shot between little 4 year old me on my first day of school, and 22 year old me graduating from university after a rocky 18 years bumbling through the education system (I look pretty happy in that picture but that was because my mum took it before I found out I wasn’t allowed to keep the funny hat and gown. That was a major disappointment. The only thing I got out of that day was a piece of paper saying I had a theology degree. Who the hell wants that? I didn’t go to university to be educated, I went for the damn hat!)

Looking at these pictures it is very black and white. In one I have a degree (and a marvellous hat), and in the other, I have no degree (and no hat. 4 year old Katie had a hard life). That said, though there is a stark difference in achievement between those two pictures, it isn’t because I made a grand resolution at the age of 4 that changed my life in a second. When I was 4, the thought of getting a degree one day had not entered my mind.
Imagine if someone went back in time now, found little 4 year old me and said “go and get a degree in theology this year”. I would probably have cried (and asked what the hell theology was). When I was 4 there was no way I could just go off and get a degree. I had birthday parties to plan for my teddy bears, letters to write to Santa and hopscotch competitions to attend! I couldn’t tie my shoes yet let alone write essays on Saint Thomas Aquinas or Augustine of Hippo (genuine name…Hippo…it has been years but I am still amused), so setting that goal for me at age four would have been overly ambitious and basically would have set me up to fail.
Had this time travelling person told me to go to school that day however instead of getting a degree right then and there, I would have probably looked at them, nodded and then got on with it. When doing so I wouldn’t have realised that me turning up for a morning of finger painting was actually the first part of my journey to that oh so lovely yet tragically temporary hat (and a degree I am now stuck with forever), but it was. Without achieving all those little steps in-between, the sports days, the story books and the words of wisdom over the years, I would never have got that degree (actually maybe cancel the sports day bit..I don’t think they were particularly important…).

My 2010 new years resolutions to totally recover in the blink of an eye then, were basically the equivalent of me telling 4 year old Katie to go and get a degree before the little tike had learned to read, and it is in realising this that I can see the value in making new years resolutions, as long as they are the baby steps to get you to your goal rather than a leap to success that no Olympic long jumper could make even with a springboard.
If you want to set yourself a resolution for 2017, make a resolution that you can do over time, that allows for mistakes and gradual progress rather than instantaneous results. If you want to recover completely from OCD, make your goal to try and reduced the number of times you get caught in rituals over the course of the year. If you want to recover from depression don’t set the goal of being happy all the time, simply think about the things that could one day make you happy and go out trying to achieve them, even if that goal is just phoning up to enquire about a course. It is the same with progress in eating disorder behaviours as well as any other mental health condition, and though admittedly it takes a lot longer than the midnight miracle method I wished for in 2010, I think it is the only way to make it through this journey.

My hope in life is that one day I will be able to take a picture as someone who is no longer struggling with mental illness and to see it alongside that 4 year old me as a sign of how far I have come in ways other than education, and working towards that is my goal for the next twelve months. 2017 is not going to be “my year”, the year I change, recover totally and get a brand new life, but it is another year in which I will continue my 2016 resolution of doing all I can, listening to professionals, talking and attending all appointments, to one day make that massive goal of recovery. Taking my medication this morning has not made me better, but hopefully it is a baby step along the way.

Happy New Year everyone x

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