My New Diagnosis

For well over a decade, and since my very first therapy session many moons ago, (aka JUST after the dinosaurs died out and at the time when there were Tyrannosaurus Rex bones still lying about EVERYWHERE after that rather inconvenient meteor), therapists and psychologists across the country have always said that there is “something” wrong with me. Obviously they have always known about my OCD, Eating Disorder and Depression, yet still many have insisted that there is “something else” lurking within me and playing general havoc with my brain.

I have always found this “something wrong” that nobody can put their finger on, (or any body part for that matter), to be rather confusing.
When I was 15 the it was banded about that this “thing” might be bipolar disorder, but after trial and error with a few medications, that suggestion was tidied away as well as all the others and I have tried my best to forget about it. I was doing pretty well with this forgetting thing in my opinion (I had placed the “there is something wrong with you that we do not understand” memory alongside Pythagorus’ theorem in the box of “things I no longer need to know after the age of 16”), but then my forgetting box was rudely ripped open again very recently.
If you have been following this blog for a while you may remember that I had an assessment with a new OCD service in October of last year, a three hour interrogation examining all of my mental health problems and experiences of the world throughout my life. I mentioned nothing of any extra “bonus” diagnosis that nobody was sure of, so for this reason I was surprised when the psychologist I was speaking to randomly asked if I had any other diagnoses, as yet again I was showing signs of this “something else”, that something possibly being a “personality disorder”. I didn’t mention this when I had the assessment all those months ago because I imagined it would go away like all those other conversations of mysterious mental health problems in the past.
When I was told that the OCD service may not be able to facilitate my care if I had a personality disorder and I may need to see another service first however, I was unable to forget it again and became increasingly frustrated. Here I was potentially having issues with receiving treatment because of a mysterious something that I wasn’t even diagnosed with, and it was at that point that I knew I needed answers.

Like I said in my “why I like being diagnosed with mental health problems” blog post a few weeks ago, I like having the labels and diagnoses of my conditions in black and white because it helps me to deal with them and means I know what enemy I should be fighting. If you want a full understanding of why I like being diagnosed with (NOT HAVING) mental health problems, then I fully recommend checking that post out before this one (Why I Like Being Diagnosed With Mental Health Problems – it really is a great read. Trust me it involves a picture of a monkey banging a gong and singing Bohemian Rhapsody), but as a brief summary for all those with an aversion to classic song performing primates, my argument was that I like being diagnosed with mental health problems because it is only when you name a problem and pin it down that you can figure out how to overcome it. It is useless for a person working in a garage to simply say “there is something wrong with your car” because then they can’t fix it. They need to specifically identify the issue that there is a gaping hole in the front tyre, as only when they know that, do they know where they start tinkering and what equipment they will need.

Consequently, after my OCD assessment, I went to each of the three therapists I see in turn and asked them to tell me if there was something wrong and if so, what the hell it was. I can’t remember who first brought it up, but rather quickly a condition (we will call it Penguin condition for the time being), was suggested as the answer to all the questions I have had over the years. From that suggestion I had many appointments discussing the condition and as instructed, I researched it, learnt about it, and I watched a DVD given to me by a therapist, of various people being interviewed about their experience of Penguin condition.

Of course I didn’t relate to every single person on the DVD nor did I agree with some of the explanations of Penguin condition online, but on the whole, when learning about it, something clicked. As I heard people talking about what it was like I was astonished to hear them basically describing things I do/have experienced in life, and although scared and not eager to add a new diagnosis to my list, I was at least a little relieved. Finally I wasn’t just “weird”, I had Penguin condition and maybe if I started dealing with it, things would improve across the board. Perhaps the underlying issue of Penguin condition was the reason for the OCD and eating disorder, perhaps none of the treatment has cured me yet because we were actually treating the wrong parts first, like trying to eat the chunks of brownie at the bottom of a sundae glass before you have tackled the ice cream piled on top of it (ALWAYS SAVE THE BROWNIE BITS FOR LAST. ALWAYS. THAT IS THE RULE. ICE CREAM FIRST, BROWNIES LATER).

For this reason I became eager for the diagnosis to be put in place so that I could finally know where I stood. As well as answering my need for answers I also wanted it made official so that future therapists or medical professionals would know the full story if ever reading my notes, without me having to always add into new introductions the explanatory “I know you have read my notes but just so you know Penguin disorder is also on there but it is not written down”. I wanted it in black and white to be neat, to be clear, and partly because when things are in black and white, they look a little more like a penguin without the beak.

Then, a few weeks ago, I had a session with my psychiatrist and it was decided that we would make it official and the diagnosis would go on my records. At first I was relieved, but then he started to warn me about the consequences of it being made official. Suddenly I wanted to forget all about it and fall back into blissful ignorance again.
Apparently this condition is one with a lot of stigma to it, stigma that can lead to some therapists refusing to see you if you have the diagnosis. This wasn’t really a problem for me. If a therapist isn’t going to see me because I have a certain mental health problem then clearly they aren’t a good therapist or a person that I want to associate with anyway, but the constant reinforcement of judgement that could potentially befall me freaked me out a bit. I am not ashamed of having mental health problems, I talk about them openly on the internet for this reason and to hopefully help others be less ashamed about their disorders, yet with Penguin condition I really was rather scared and embarressed. My psychiatrist said he could treat me for the condition and just not put it on my notes if I would prefer, yet as easy as that would be, I still felt uncomfortable. Yes I wouldn’t have the “shame” of being diagnosed with a condition that faces a lot of stigma, but on some level I would also be admitting that there was shame in the condition and that I should keep it on the down low which is not how I feel about any other mental health problem I have. I am a firm believer that if you have a problem, keeping it on the down low is only going to make it worse and will not raise any of the positive awareness that could potentially be spread with honesty. Nevertheless I am a little afraid, and so for now it is on my notes as “under revision” incase I change my mind by the next appointment and want it removed (apparently without the under revision bit this is something that once on your records, will not come off no matter how much scrubbing or Cilit Bang you apply. Bang and the dirt is gone? Yeah, but the disorder will still be there!).

I have a few days until my next appointment now, and by that next session I have to decide whether or not I want to specify that mysterious something wrong or just sweep it under the carpet again. As well as debating whether to let it on my medical notes I have been debating whether or not to bring it up or “come out” with it in my blog. Again, my initial reaction was no. Even my mum agreed that it might not be the best idea. If you google the condition or do any surface level research on it, people with this disorder are painted as crazed monsters who are unbearable to be around. Reading the articles even I admit that I started to think that I would never want anything to do with someone suffering from the condition, and that was when I made my decision to get over my fear, come clean and talk about it on my blog like I talk about everything else, regardless of whether anyone else is interested. If everyone thinks people with Penguin condition are dangerously insane, then I want to talk about it and I want to raise awareness of the fact that that is not the case and what the people with it are really like. As you can see I am still scared of saying it on here (hence the code name Penguin condition), as I do fear the judgement, but they say feel the fear and do it anyway, so here it goes.

My most recent mental heath update then? After all that waffle what has happened? Well dear friend, I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder. I am still exactly the same blogger you have been following for however long you have been, with exactly the same issues. It’s just that one of the hidden ones now has a name (sort of like when some women on TV seem to name one of their boobs…it is something that has always been there only now it can be addressed formally in a letter or serious conversation). As you can see this post is long enough as it is so I won’t go into what that means and what myths need debunking here, but for now I feel like telling you is a big enough step. (That said I know many people do not know what this disorder is or have many misconceptions so, before I can provide an explanation of my personal experience I have linked a PDF below from the charity “Mind” which I feel is the best and least stigmatised description around, so if you want to learn more, dear god please go there rather than to a general google search).
Maybe I will delete this post before I upload it but I hope I don’t, and if you are reading it then I guess I have been brave. Nobody should be ashamed of their mental health problems, and I for one am going to live by that, even if doing so is something that scares me right now.

Take care everyone x

diagnosispicture

 

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/borderline-personality-disorder-bpd/#.WLRDi7GcbVo

The Difficulty Of Losing A Therapist

Over the past few weeks, I feel that I have been going through what is commonly referred to as “a break up”, one of those horrible experiences that, in popular culture, is often portrayed as a situation that can only be remedied by much crying into tissues and several tubs of ice cream. Now I know what you are thinking, “but Katie, how can you be going through a break up when you yourself admitted the day before Valentine’s Day that you haven’t been in any kind of romantic relationship for over two years” (alright don’t rub it in guys…Jeez).
Well if you thought that, you would be right, no, I haven’t been in a romantic relationship for a very long time (aside from the one I am in wth Helena Bonham Carter that she isn’t aware of…yet), but in the world of mental health there is a common experience that is very like a break up, that being the loss of a therapist.

Now, before I go on I would like to preface this by saying that I do not mean for this to imply that I am caught up in any romantic entanglements with the therapist I am referring to and who is currently in the process of “leaving me” for a new job.
Indeed our relationship is very much the standard “patient/psychologist” affair (perhaps affair wasn’t the best choice of word there…). However, what I don’t think a lot of people understand is just how attached one can get to a person who only hangs out with you every week because they are paid to do so.
It a very odd situation, and whenever a therapist leaves I feel I should deal with it easily, without being particularly bothered. This is after all not a new experience for me, as I have literally lost count of the number of therapists that have left me over the years, (seriously if you rounded them all up you would have more than enough of a cast to put on a performance of Les Miserables and trust me, from someone with a theatre background, you need a lot of people to perform that show). That said I know a lot of people find this a very difficult thing to go through, and rather than it mean we are clingy or weird, I think it makes a lot of sense.

Yes, a relationship with a therapist is strictly professional and should, on paper, be the equivalent relationship to someone you have hired to be your private chef (who is paid for by the NHS because you are mentally unable to sustain yourself alone….I need to work on my analogies…)
The chef turns up at your house because it is their job just like my therapist turns up for our appointments, but when you are talking about your deepest darkest secrets and fears rather than how you like your eggs cooked, it can’t help but become more personal whether you intend it to or not.
In every other professional relationship you have with someone who is being paid to spend time with you, like a chef or a plasterer in your house, the reason for their being there is in reference to something separate, aka food or dodgy walls. With a therapist though, unsurprisingly, a lot of it is about talking about your life. How can that not be personal?
Ok other professional relationships have personal aspects to them as well, a private chef for example may eventually grow to know how much milk you like in your cup of tea without asking every time, yet with a therapist there grows a level of intuition that is less about knowing how you like your tea and more about being able to simply look at your face and know automatically that it is time to put the kettle on (although I would like to clarify that my therapist has never actually made me a cup of tea at all…if you are reading this dear therapist, maybe work on that in your new job). It is that deep connection of being understood as a person, and for that reason of course it can be like a relationship break up when a therapist retires or leaves to get a new job.

Again, of course I am not saying that it is in any way romantic and unlike romantic relationship endings we are not going to be left wondering who gets custody of the kids (we already decided in our first session that I get them Monday to Friday and then she has them over the weekend). Nevertheless I am left wondering what I will do without this person who is currently a big part of my life.
When you see a therapist for a long period of time, discussing your mental health problems/building a therapeutic relationship is sort of like building a house. In the beginning you have an empty plot of land and the patient has a hell of a lot of bricks (bricks that in terms of this analogy represent secrets/thoughts/things that make you as a person). The patient is standing in the middle of this messy pile of bricks without any idea of how to deal with it, so the therapist is there as a sort of builder/tidier to help sort it all out. Every week you both turn up at this plot of land and gradually, the patient hands the bricks individually to the builder. Together you try to construct something that is a little less of a mess, and a little more something you can work in. The more you talk, the more bricks that come out, and eventually the house is finished at which point you can go inside and start trying to make the place liveable. You try things out, experiment with fuchsia walls, checkered wall paper or new therapies and you see what works for you.
Then finally you get to the point where you can both walk into the house (aka brain), and know the insides and outs of it so well that one of you can reference something within the house and the other will know exactly what they are talking about. Refer to the “plant thing in the bathroom” and they know what that plant thing is as well as when in your life you bought it and why it is in the house, just as a therapist will eventually grow to know all about the way your mind works as well as any life events you simply reference to as “that time with the giant squid”. If anyone else comes in the house and you reference the plant thing, they don’t understand exactly what you are talking about. Even if you take them to the room to point it out they cannot have the same level of understanding as the person who helped you build the bathroom in that particular way and find that particular plant at the gardening centre. You can tell a new therapist about what happened during “that time with the giant squid”, but to them it will just be a story rather than an experience you have lived through together.
Getting a new therapist then is not as simple as the professional transition involved when you get a new plasterer for example (I have just realised there are a hell of a lot of interior design analogies in here which I think is in reference to my love of 90’s TV show Changing Rooms. I miss Carol Smiley. Where did she go. She was so Smiley). No, instead of a new therapist coming in to help you in the house you had made earlier, it is like having to smash all of that “brain internal understanding relationship” stuff to the ground and having to start again. Once again you need to start passing them all the individual bricks they have never seen before, so you actually have a long time of simply building up enough of a rapport/understanding before you can get on with any of the serious stuff.

Like the end of any romantic relationship you find yourself wondering if you will ever find someone you will get on as well with or who will understand the way you work in the same way, and the first sessions with a new therapist are very much like all the first dates you have to go on to try and find a new partner. Conversations go from deep personal investigations into the meaning of life to the cookie cutter “so what is your job”, “where do you live” standard statements that you have to go through before you can get to anything of real interest or value.
Unlike a first date of course, a new therapist will probably have all of your notes from the previous one and thus a rough knowledge of your history, but nevertheless, with or without these notes they will always say that they want to hear about your history “from you”. Admittedly this is a good idea. Obviously I can explain something that happened to me when I was eleven better than a therapist was able to jot down in a word document, but having to go through all that stuff is exhausting. Maybe if you don’t have a huge mental health history this “tell me about you” question can be answered relatively quickly, yet for me it is a question that is incredibly daunting. Tell me about your experiences with mental health services?! How can I do that? We have nearly 14 years of appointments to catch up on! I can’t get through all that in one hour!? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW EXPENSIVE HOSPITAL PARKING IS?

This entire blog is probably just one long incoherent ramble so half of you reading will be probably wondering what the hell I am talking about and who the hell Carol Smiley is. I guess I just wanted to raise some awareness of how difficult it is when a member of your therapy team has to change and why it feels so much more impactful than a change in any other strictly professional relationship. If I was ruler of the world I think I would probably make it law that therapists are unable to ever get new jobs, retire, change jobs or go on maternity leave (sounds ridiculous I know but in terms of fair/rational leadership I would still be doing a better job than Donald Trump.)
Luckily as you will know if you have been around my blog for a while, I do have a whole team of therapists so it isn’t a total break down of my psychological support and only one person is changing. I also know and like the replacement very much so it is as “good” and manageable a “break up” as it can be. Nevertheless I can’t help but feel as though in a few weeks when it is time for our last session (on the 21st of March, put that in your diary folks), I will be losing someone very important, someone who I can trust and rely on, so naturally, this isn’t going to be easy.

Take care everyone x

therapistchange

The Difficulty Of Dating When You Have A Mental Health Problem

If you have walked into any shops or restaurants in the past few weeks, you may have noticed a lot of brightly coloured hearts in various shades of fuchsia splashed about all over the place. Cards with hearts on, posters with hearts on, even giant teddy bears holding hearts (which is biologically confusing as without the heart how is the bear able to breathe and thus hold the heart at all…unless he is holding someone else’s heart in which case that is pretty damn sinister if you ask me). Funnily enough this is not because February is a month in which humans feel the need to celebrate the life giving aortic pump caged within our ribs (or in the hands of a rather terrifying and possibly murderous teddy bear), all this heart shaped nonsense is because tomorrow is Valentine’s day. Personally I have never understood why you should need a holiday to remind you to let your partner know that you love them, but I suppose it is better to have a day dedicated to love than something horrible like punching puppies in the face. Nevertheless, I still find it quite a difficult holiday as it is one that reminds me all too loudly of the detrimental effect my mental health has on my love life.

To sum up my current “love life” I guess you could simply say that it is non existent and has been this way for several years. During my life, in times in which my mental health has been better, I have somehow managed to have two “proper” relationships thus far, both of which it can be argued ended either because my mental health problems were actively getting worse or because they simply became too overwhelming for my partner (which was totally understandable in both situations.)
I guess in a way it is good that the main reason for both of my relationships collapsing is centred around an illness because at least an illness can be cured and could potentially disappear one day. Had the problem been a weird habit of belting out ABBA’s greatest hits in my sleep, that would perhaps be more frustrating, as to my knowledge there is no cure for that kind of thing. When it comes to OCD, depression and anorexia however, I know there are people who have got better and hopefully one day I will be able to count myself among them.
Truthfully though, I cannot see that happening. I would love it if it did and I will never stop working towards that goal, but realistically the chances are pretty slim, and even professionals have admitted that I am going to struggle with my illnesses for the rest of my life, maybe not to the same extent as I do now, yet chances are they will always be there. Assuming these predictions are right then, any relationship I ever have is going to involve my mental health problems having some kind of an impact, and that is the kind of thing that inspires the classic “I am going to die alone” worry considering my mental health problems have been the destruction of all former attempts at having a partner. I can’t even do what most people who fear this do and resign myself to the identity of being a “crazy cat person” because I don’t think I could handle four little paws spreading potential bacteria around my house let alone a whole litter’s worth… What back up is there to the “crazy cat person” back up plan? The only option is to be simply “the crazy” person…That doesn’t sound fun…

I think relationships are actually one of the biggest struggles faced by people with mental health problems but it is a struggle people rarely talk about because admittedly it feels a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, it is because nobody really talks about it that I think it is so important to talk about it. If I struggle with and worry about this kind of thing whilst feeling totally alone in it, amongst other people my age who are doing things like getting married and giving birth, then there is a high chance that there are other crazy people out there who feel the same and need to know that it isn’t abnormal. Indeed, I think the impact mental health can have on relationships is seriously under reported. The instability of my mood, the inability to touch most things, the compulsion to clean obsessively, body image issues blocking the way to physical intimacy, trust me, the list of obstacles in my way is endless, and those are the problems you face when you have actually managed to get into a relationship in the first place.

Nowadays before you can even get to that stage you have to go through the terrifying minefield that is otherwise known as “dating”. I know that a lot of my friends have been on these “dates”, but mental health wise I cannot get my head around the idea. For one thing, where are they meeting all these people with whom they go on dates?
Usually people come into contact with potential romantic entanglements during social events or hobbies, but because of my mental health I am rarely at social events and my only hobbies are things like repeatedly tapping doorhandles which is a relatively solitary pass time. The only places I tend to go regularly when I leave the house are therapy appointments, so the only people I meet are mental health professionals, and I think it is pretty frowned upon to start dating your psychologist.

Considering we are currently in the age of internet dating you may think that my lack of social skills in real life are no longer an issue as I could easily meet someone on one of these websites like match.com or an app like “Tinder” (WHAT THE HELL IS TINDER. Everyone has it and from what I gather it is just a lot of swiping…what are we swiping…where are things going when we swipe them out of view…should I want to be swiped? WHAT IS GOING ON).
Thing is, though I have never been on any of these websites myself, from what I gather they involve putting pictures of yourself online as well as a brief description of your personality. A brief description of my personality? What the hell can I write there? “Totally bonkers”? Who would look at that and think “well I want to spend the rest of my life with that insane creature”. Of course I could easily lie and write something like “I am a totally sane and calm human who is not crazy at all and likes long walks on the beach” (massive lie. I HATE the beach), but that seems far too much like false advertising. Ok, people false advertise in adverts all the time (like with that mermaid Barbie I wanted when I was 7…she wasn’t a real mermaid! I threw her in the bath and she didn’t even float let alone swim. What kind of mermaid sinks? LIES I SAY), yet despite its acceptability in general life the idea of putting myself online without mentioning my mental health issues isn’t just false advertising, rather it is dishonest. The truth is that at the moment there is no aspect of me that does not involve some kind of mental health complication, and were I to ever get into a relationship again, that would be something that I would have to be open about from the start.

Then even if you have mental health problems and manage to somehow get a date with your restricted daily schedule and unattractively marble free online profile, how the hell do you actually go on the date you somehow acquired? Usually a date will include something like a meal, but with my eating disorder a meal out is basically impossible and in terms of OCD any other activity like bowling is ruled out too. YOU CAN’T BOWL IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO TOUCH THE BALLS. Then there are the obvious issues caused by general anxiety, social anxiety and depression making everything more complicated, as well as OCD worries like the fact I wouldn’t be able to hold open a door for anyone which would look very rude, and that isn’t getting into the inability to hold someone’s hand or touch their skin without panicking. How can you advertise all that on an online dating profile or ask someone on a date in that situation? “Hi, my name is Katie, I would love to go on a date with you…but there can be no food involved or if there is food I will just have to watch you eat…also we can’t do any activity that involves touching objects in public or each other…and I need you to be aware that I might cry at random moments without warning…yeah…thats about it…CALL ME!..but not on my phone…phones are scary…CONTACT MY MOTHER.”

Maybe I am panicking a little too much about all this as I know everyone worries about the whole “dying alone” thing, but I have to say that with mental health problems the whole dating world and romantic stuff does get a lot more complicated. If I put on my optimist’s hat (it is purple with a penguin on), I like to think that in the end I will read this post back one day with my future wife and laugh at what a fuss I made worrying about something that really will be ok in the end.
Reading this back I now realise that I haven’t actually given helpful or constructive advice on how to date or manage a relationship with mental health problems. Instead I have simply splurged my anxieties all over you (apologies for splurging), but I hope that I have started some kind of discussion or raised some awareness as to the impact mental health problems can have on one’s love life. Right now I don’t think I am qualified to give any romance advice anyway, yet if ever I find myself able to manage the dating world rather than panic at the thought, any tips I do learn will be passed on to you. For now at least I have helped my fellow relationship worriers out there know that they are not alone and not a freak for being unable to go on Tinder or go on dates and have fun like everyone else this Valentine’s day.
Even though none of you are my other halves I still send each and every one of you a lot of love this Valentine’s day and every day of the year…You can thank me by getting me a date with Helena Bonham Carter, or at least getting her to call me (and by me, I mean my mother).

Take care everyone x

datingmhproblems

10 Ways To Support Someone With An Eating Disorder

Living with an eating disorder is hell, but I think it is underestimated just how horrendous it can be for the people living with people who have eating disorders. I know many parents, families, partners and friends tend to feel pretty hopeless when watching someone they love slowly drowning, without knowing how to stop it. Almost every day my mum will ask me what she can do to help, like there is some problem solving action she can perform as easily as changing a lightbulb.
I know for a fact that if there were an action she could carry out, my mum would do it in an instant no matter how inconvenient or unpleasant (I think she would even play Pictionary and she HATES Pictionary…weirdo). Unfortunately, eating disorders don’t have quick solutions and no matter how much a loved one wants to help, they cannot fix the problem. They can however support the person, and often these little offerings of support are nowhere near as dramatic as people seem to think. Supporting someone with an eating disorder doesn’t require grand complicated acts of kindness, often you can support someone with little things that don’t take much time or effort at all. So today, I am going to share with you a list of things that I find help me at home aka 10 simple ways you can help someone with an eating disorder.

1. Don’t get angry with the person, get angry with their disorder – When you have an eating disorder in the house/in any relationship, you can guarantee it is going to cause some conflict. I have lost count of the number of arguments I have had with my mum with regard to eating disorder issues like what I am eating for dinner. I honestly don’t think we have ever had an argument about anything that wasn’t mental health related (bar one argument we had in 2002 because she wanted Will Young to win Pop Idol when I was firmly on the side of Gareth Gates. I would like it noted that I can now lift my hands up and admit I was wrong on that one). Just yesterday I am ashamed to say I had an argument with my mother and yelled at her for about half an hour because she tried to help, and unknowingly put my kidney beans in the “wrong pan”.
Afterwards I felt incredibly guilty/like the worst person in the world. This guilt would have eaten me up and is the kind of thing that makes me feel that I don’t deserve food, but after we had all calmed down and I had apologised, what I found helpful is the fact that my mum made it clear that she understood that I hadn’t meant to yell about a bean pan. She knew it had just been the eating disorder taking control, and though I need to work on managing that myself, the acknowledgement that I wasn’t this terrible person who worried more about what pan my beans were in than my mother’s kind attempt at assistance, made me feel more able to continue with the meal.

2. If you are eating with someone with an eating disorder, keep them distracted and don’t make the food the sole focus of the experience – Meal times with someone with an eating disorder are not the most relaxing of situations and can be pretty intense (like one of those awkward dinner parties you see on Come Dine with me only less bitchy and without a voiceover man commenting on every little thing that occurs). For this reason, when I have to eat a meal with someone, I find it really helpful for them to help keep me distracted and not make it all about the food. Silence allows thoughts to creep in at the table, so I would recommend conversation if the person is able or, if they are unable (sometimes I cannot talk very much/think of words because I am so anxious), have the radio on in the background or play a game. Sometimes in hospital we would even do things like crosswords or little quizzes which really helped keep your mind occupied by working on something else (my favourite thing about this was that when there were bank staff they would go through the pile of quiz questions without realising which ones we had already done so we were all able to provide correct answers instantly and looked like geniuses.)

3. Allow them to take baby steps in their recovery rather than expecting miracles overnight – When people are in recovery from any mental health problem, there is often a lot of pressure for progress to be quick so that the problem can be solved and forgotten about as soon as possible. However, recovery is a very slow process and this pressure is often detrimental as it can make a sufferer more anxious and stressed. To help someone who is struggling, allow them to make progress at a steady pace they are comfortable with rather than forcing them to make dramatic changes which ultimately will not be sustainable.

4. Praise them…or don’t praise them at all – I have many friends who appreciate a little “well done” or similar nudge of encouragement after a meal to make them feel supported and like their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed, so offering those words of praise can be a great way to support a loved one. That said, I know there are others, (me included) who actually find this more unhelpful, as they like to leave the table and forget everything rather than acknowledge the meal that has just been consumed. Denial may not be the best way to deal with mealtimes, but at the moment denial is how I cope, so I am helped by nobody commenting on how fantastic it is that I have cleared my plate. For this one then, maybe ask the person you are supporting to see whether praise would be helpful to them before whipping out the party poppers to celebrate an empty bowl of cereal.

5. Try to be as relaxed as possible at the dinner table – When I sit at the table, I am always anxious, and when I can see that other people are anxious, it makes me more anxious. This then makes them more anxious and before you know we are left with a table of people panicking about a meal that hasn’t even happened yet. For this reason when supporting someone at a meal time, if possible try to be calm and relaxed to show that the situation isn’t anything to be afraid of, rather than freaking  yourself out and condoning the “THE TABLE IS A SCARY PLACE” fear.

6. Seek support for yourself – People with eating disorders need support and so do the people around them. As important as it is for carers to have an outlet somewhere to discuss their concerns and worries though, it is helpful to make that outlet someone other than the person who is struggling. When you feel that you are a terrible person who is ruining everyone’s lives because you cant eat normally, emotional outpourings condoning that are only going to make things worse. Ultimately then for this one, support someone by finding support and seeking help for yourself too.

7. Keep diet talk to a minimum if you are on a diet – Obviously when you have an eating disorder, people being on diets can be rather triggering. That said you cannot dictate that nobody who lives with someone who is struggling is allowed to have any say in what they eat. Naturally we all have needs and some people may be prescribed special diets from a doctor which of course they should follow. If this is the case however, the best way to help the sufferer manage the situation is to not make a song and dance about it (aka no conga lines for the fact you have switched to low fat yoghurt and if possible none of those “I LOST THREE STONE” certificates which diet clubs award people plastered all over the fridge).

8. Know their meal plan – Again this one depends from sufferer to sufferer but personally I find it helpful when those around me know what is on and what is expected of me in my meal plan as it makes me accountable in some way. Obviously the goal is to get to a point where I don’t need people to know what I should be eating and am able to be responsible myself, but right now my mum having a copy of my meal plan supports me every day. That way, when I am struggling and want to miss things out, I know that it is not a case of “nobody will notice so just throw the bread out of the window” as my mum would immediately wonder where the soft wholemeal has gone (and why there is half a loaf of Hovis stuck in the garden hedge)…

9. Don’t treat them like a disorder – When people see or think of me, I always feel they think of me as “the one with the eating disorder” and that I have no other identifiers to me as a person. It is therefore helpful when living with someone with an ED, to treat them as a normal person with other interests and hobbies so as to remind them that they are more than their disorder and will ultimately still have an identity left, even when the disorder is gone.

10. Do not comment on their meal plan or their body weight – This last one is probably fairly obvious but nevertheless very important so I had to include it. Whatever you do and if you only follow one of these tips as to how to support a loved one, make it this one and for the love of all that is holy NEVER comment on how much weight someone has gained on their recovery meal plan and NEVER comment on how big someone’s meal is. Eating disorder recovery meal plans may look totally normal but there are some that may perhaps be bigger than normal. Whatever the meal plan though, the person will need all the food prescribed to treat their malnourished body and repair all of the damage that has been done internally. If someone is soldiering through their meal plan trying to reassure themselves of this, the last thing they need is a comment like “blimey that is a lot of food, I couldn’t eat that”. Hand on heart a bank HCA in hospital with no experience in eating disorders sat next to me one meal time and after I had finished my main/was picking a spoon up to dive into my rhubarb crumble with custard, they commented “I don’t know how you can eat that. My main course was half the size of yours and I am already too full to eat another bite”…THAT IS NOT HELPFUL INFORMATION.

So there you have it, ten ways in which family/friends can support people with eating disorders (at least in my experience), without actually having to do much at all. Being desperate to help a loved one and wanting to support them doesn’t have to be carried out in dramatic acts like white water rafting or playing Pictionary, Sometimes all you need do to be the most helpful and make the biggest difference, is the little things like asking them for help with a crossword over their cornflakes or giving an encouraging nod at lunchtime.

Take care everyone x

supportsomeonewithed