Eating Disorders Away From The Table

If I were to hand you a pencil and ask you to draw a person who, in the moment depicted, was struggling wth their eating disorder, you would probably draw an image of a person sitting at a meal table with a plate of food in front of them (Unless you are anything like my mother who instead, when given a pencil and asked to create a picture, will throw that pencil back in your face and run for the hills screaming “I can’t draw – leave me alone!”)
On one hand, drawing someone at a table would be right as it is likely that if someone has an eating disorder, meal times are going to be difficult for them. However I think there is an idea that when you have an eating disorder your struggles come into action at the dinner table and depart once the meal is over, a nice idea, though one that is unfortunately far from the truth.

For me at least, my eating disordered thoughts are there from the second I wake up and my first thoughts of the day will be about food and how much/what I am planning on eating during that day. It is silly really, because everyday I eat the exact same foods in the exact same amounts, so there is no decision to be made and any dithering is futile. There is no point in wondering whether or not I want Coco Pops or toast, I can ponder and postulate pancakes and Pop Tarts all I like but no matter what, the first thing I will eat that day remains the same as every other, in the same amounts and even on the very same plate. It is also pointless to think about this from the second I wake up as currently I am struggling with this rule that I cannot eat when the sun is up so, being summer, the first meal is usually hours away and shouldn’t be an immediate concern.
Nevertheless, every morning the thoughts and worries about what I am going to eat are immediately there, thinking about infinite options, things that might be healthier, lower calories/lower fat, before inevitably settling with the usual. It is like this for every meal no matter how far away that meal is, be it hours, days, even years.
There are several reasons why I have the same foods every day. For one thing I know what my weight does/how my body reacts to this meal plan, but mainly I stick to the same thing because it removes the need to debate the decision for hours each day.
Everything is planned down to the smallest most specific detail, I don’t just eat an apple a day, I eat a Pink Lady apple specifically to avoid the chance of spending three hours debating between a Golden Delicious or a Granny Smith, yet even if I know the debate is heading nowhere, it still arrives before every meal. I will spend the hours leading up to it debating the options and calculating various calorie amounts without ever getting an acceptable result.

Then, even when the inevitable decision has been made, the eating disorder is still there for the food preparation extravaganza, controlling every movement and weighing out ingredients to the exact gram, no matter how long it takes. I often weigh things multiple times on different scales to check that one set isn’t lying to me (I once saw a set of kitchen scales on Jeremy Kyle who failed the lie detector test. Turned out he WAS the child’s father and I have never trusted a pair of scales since). As always, the weight will be the same on every set of scales, but still I will spend time worrying that the food I was weighing was “different to usual” and that I randomly managed to pick up an incredibly dense courgette with twice the calories of a normal one.
Food prepared, there is then the obvious struggle people know about, the bit we all picture when we imagine someone with an eating disorder, the eating that takes place at the dining table. However even when I leave that table, the battle is still going on, and rather than sitting at the table politely waiting for the next meal, anorexia follows me rabbiting on about what went on at the table and the meal that, for everyone else, was over hours ago.
Did I eat too quickly? Did I eat too much? Do I feel fuller than usual, aka a sign that the scales were lying earlier and I was dealing with a magically calorie dense genetically engineered superhuman courgette? Have I gained weight that I can see? All of these questions swirl around in my brain amidst the thick soup of guilt and I replay the meal in my head over and over again incase I missed some key piece of evidence of something that I should be worrying about. I said in the part about worrying about meals before they occur that the meal can be hours or weeks away, and similarly the worrying afterwards can carry on for years after I put my knife and fork down on a plate.

Eight or nine years ago, during one of my admissions to hospital, I had a meal involving mashed potato. I had been eating the hospital mash for months and months before so I knew exactly what to expect, yet there was one particular day that the mash tasted different. They say variety is the spice of life, but as I ate that mash the difference frightened me and as someone with an eating disorder I wished that variety would keep its peppery little paws off my food thank you very much.
At first I wasn’t sure what the difference in the meal was but then it hit me that the mash tasted sweeter than usual. Immediately I became convinced that someone had mashed a doughnut into it and hoped I wouldn’t notice. Other than the slightly sweeter taste I had no evidence to support this theory, hospitals were not struggling with an epidemic of caterers with an uncontrollable urge to shove an iced ring into every dish, but that sweet taste was enough to have me convinced. It has been 9 years and yet I still think and worry about the doughnut that I am convinced was in my mashed potato nearly a decade ago.

Every waking hour between meals is consumed with food fears and often every sleeping hour is too. Not only does anorexia not live at the dinner table, it doesn’t live in the land of conscious thought either, and is well known to infiltrate and get its claws into the snoozetastic unconscious place known as “The land of nod”.
I have nightmares most nights, all of them with varying storylines, characters and background music, yet a lot of them have similar themes, one of these themes being food. I will dream that I have been held up at gun point and forced to eat an entire chocolate cake, before waking up and fearing that I did it for real and that I therefore have to go for X amount of time without food to make up for my behaviour. On many occasions I have woken up so convinced that I have eaten something that was actually part of a dream, that I have had to search the kitchen for evidence to prove to myself it wasn’t real. One specifically memorable dream involved me cooking and eating a gigantic spaghetti bolognese and the fear upon waking made me feel so sick that I had to go downstairs and check cupboards to see that all the pans were clean, the pasta wasn’t open and the bin was bolognese free, so I couldn’t have cooked and made it for real (apparently my brain believes I might unconsciously cook and eat a meal but draws the line at the idea that I would have washed up afterwards.)
I also dream about exercise and whilst some people have unconscious thoughts that lead them to sleepwalk, mine sometimes drive me to do sleep sit ups on autopilot so that I will wake up halfway through a set, stomach muscles aching, out of breath, wondering what the hell is going on.

For me then, having an eating disorder isn’t just about struggling at meals, it is about being constantly controlled and dictated to 24 hours a day 7 days a week, a voice that follows me no matter where I go or how unconscious I am, interfering with thoughts and my ability to function even when food is nowhere nearby. It is a nice idea to assume that eating disorders do just live at the table and that meal times are the only difficult times for sufferers, but to tell you the truth, when you have an eating disorder, that devil will stick to you like an unrelenting shadow.

Take care everyone x

EatingDisorderTable

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The Difficulty Of Concentrating When You Have Mental Health Problems

 

Today is a good day for writing a blog. It is raining outside which puts any ideas of outdoor activity out of the window, my Dad is listening to classical music in the lounge which is making me feel rather intelligent (Ok I am in a different room but in my opinion if you can hear a violin playing somewhere it means you are somewhat sophisticated), and my cup of tea is at the perfect drinking temperature. The conditions couldn’t be better and thus I am making the most of them to write this post all about…Oooh I wonder what my parents are having for dinner…I hope they don’t use my special spoon…or touch my courgettes…Sorry what was I saying? Ah yes! A post about the difficulty of concentrating on ANYTHING when you are struggling with mental health problems.

I have struggled with concentrating on things ever since I first got ill, but recently the problem has been getting frustratingly worse.The other day I was watching a film, I was staring right at the screen with no background noise or distractions, yet still after 45 minutes I realised that despite being as attentive as possible, I had no idea what was going on or who any of the characters were. In my opinion the plot was simply far too complicated and convoluted with twists and turns I was unable to follow, so I switched it off in annoyance. If the film had been something with multiple realities like Inception or The Matrix, I would have been a little more forgiving of my brain’s inability to understand but this was not Inception or The Matrix. It was Winnie the Pooh, aka a film that has little more plot to understand than “these animals are living in a wood and that yellow bear in the red t-shirt really likes honey”. It isn’t even as if the characters look anything alike, one is a freaking piglet whilst another is a donkey who is clinically depressed and in need of some serious therapy, yet to me they all blended into one, just as all characters do when I watch anything on TV.

It is the same with books. No matter how simple the book, how “easy to follow” the storyline, you can guarantee that I will not be able to concentrate or focus long enough to appreciate it properly and lately I find myself having to read the same pages over and over again before I can gleam any sense or meaning in them. Seriously it could be one of the Mr Men or Little Miss books and I will have to read a page a good ten times to grasp the facts that Little Miss Naughty is:
1. Purple
2. In need of an ASBO (for readers not in the UK an ASBO stands for “anti social behaviour order” which is what the police give you when you have been, as the main character in the aforementioned book is, “rather naughty”/a general nuisance).

With books and films this inability to concentrate isn’t too bad because at least with a film or a book you can wind back the DVD or flip to the previous page to see what you missed whilst your brain was elsewhere. In real life however, you cannot just rewind the bits you missed because people tend to only say things once no matter how hard you point a remote control at them.
I have been thinking about this a lot recently with the summer exam season coming up because I remember being in school and sitting in lessons desperate to get educated but unable to focus or concentrate long enough to know what lesson I was in. Indeed when I first started struggling with mental health problems my grades went down and it made me feel that I must be stupid, when really it was because it is incredibly hard to focus on the world around you when your brain is on fire.

It even happens to me in therapy sessions where we are talking about what is going on in my brain rather than the teleological argument or the significance of the green light in The Great Gatsby (exam hint – it is really significant). The other day I came out of a full hour session and despite listening closely the entire time, as I left, the only thing I could remember was that my therapist had mentioned that she once nearly drove into a cow. I thought this over and over all the way home and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how we had got onto that topic or indeed how it had been relevant and what help I was supposed to have gathered from it.
Since then I asked my therapist about the “I nearly drove into a cow” incident and I have learned that it was a story about how she nearly drove into a cow at a certain bend in a road and now always slows down for that bend because she associates that bend with wandering cattle, thus making a point about how the brain interprets things and makes permanent links from one off events e.g. between cows and this bend in the road…I think that was the point anyway…or was it that she really liked cows…REGARDLESS of the point she was very understanding, as always, of my inability to concentrate so I wasn’t embarrassed about admitting that our previous session had been a total blur to me, but in real life situations if you keep asking people to repeat things you tend to look rather rude or like you are not concentrating hard enough.

In actual fact the problem isn’t at all to do with how much effort you are putting in or how attentive you are and is all about the mental illness that is wreaking havoc behind your eyeballs.
For example when I am watching a film, lets say Winnie the Pooh, my eyes are watching the yellow bear in the red t-shirt and my ears are hearing something about honey. The information from the screen goes through my eyes and ears, but then when it gets to the place where the brain is supposed to collect the information and take it to the department of comprehension, none of the little brain people are there to pick up the parcel because they are off doing other things. In one lobe OCD is counting the number of breaths I am taking and insisting that some kind of disaster is about to happen because I am sitting a little too far to the left,. A little further along anorexia is dashing about with a calculator, calculating the number of calories in 200g of courgette for the millionth time even though the answer is always the same, and yelling that I should start doing 1000 star jumps incase I wrongly measured the courgettes earlier and accidentally ate an extra gram. Next there is depression generally crying and making everything a bit soggy, telling me that it will only shut up if I kill myself because the sadness will never end, and then finally BPD is there bellowing that all my friends hate me, want to leave and that I should probably text them all urgently begging for forgiveness, texts that, if not replied to within 30 seconds, mean they have probably all fled the country to get away from me.
For people who maybe don’t understand what all those mental health things can feel like when they are all going off at the same time, listening to a friend over a cup of tea is sort of the equivalent of trying to concentrate on a mouse standing on a stage who is whispering the works of Shakespeare, with the Philharmonic Orchestra standing next to you belting out Vivaldi’s four seasons whilst your head is being pecked at by vultures, expired eggs are being thrust under your nose, there is a Scotch Bonnet chilli pepper on your tongue and a Lush employee is vigorously lathering your body with handfuls of body butter. (Again for people who do not live in the UK, “Lush” is a lovely shop against animal testing, that sells things to use in the bathroom and whose employees are highly trained in moisturising anything that moves whether that thing wants to be moisturised or not).
How is ANYONE expected to concentrate when all of that is going on?

If, since becoming mentally ill, you have suddenly become incapable of concentrating at work or in school, I hope you know that, as I have demonstrated, it is not because you are stupid and is most likely to do with the mental health problems you have raging around inside you, so please give yourself a break. Obviously it is still important to work hard, listen in lessons or to friends and try to concentrate on the things you should be concentrating on, but if you can’t don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t be afraid to take breaks and try doing things on a day where your head is perhaps a little quieter/the philharmonic orchestra in my analogy are missing a few of its trumpets.
You often hear people accuse people they don’t think are listening of being “day dreaming”, but sometimes, when mental health problems really get hold of you, it is more likely you will feel as if you are stuck in a nightmare.

Take care everyone x

CowTrumpet

Embarrassing Incidents Caused By Mental Health Problems

I talk a lot on this blog about what it is like to live with various mental health problems, often waffling on about how exhausting, traumatic, frustrating and upsetting it is to have a brain that doesn’t want to co-operate with your goals in life. What I rarely talk about though, is that sometimes, as well as being all those serious things, living with mental health problems can just simply be damn embarrassing and leave you in awkward situations that you later look back on and feel like a fool.
Indeed, every time I have played one of those truth or dare games and the question has been “what has been your most embarrassing moment?” the first answer that has sprung to mind has been something related to mental health. It is also a question that often comes up when playing getting to know you games in any team building exercise you have found yourself roped into, yet every time I am asked such a question I never feel able to be honest because admitting to some of the nonsense you can get into when battling a mental illness, to a bunch of people who don’t understand such things, can sometimes be more embarrassing than the situation you are meaning to describe.

When it comes to picking an embarrassing mental health situation I have a bag full of examples to chose from (the one with the fireman or the “box of soggy kale in the cinema” incident are particular gems), but for today I think I am going to go with one of my more recent exploits that occurred during what I thought would be an innocent little trip to the supermarket.
As always mum and I were doing the food shop together and I was, as always, sticking right by her side, the childhood lesson that you should never run off on your own in a supermarket still burned into my brain as well as the fear of such a thing happening (when I was younger I lived in terror of the idea that one day I would have to have my name read out by some lady on a tannoy as the idiot who got lost and was found sobbing in an aisle of loo rolls. The shame of it!)
There is, however, one aisle in the supermarket that I am not a fan of, that being the meat aisle, so when my mum wheels her trolley down there I often hang out in the adjacent aisle and wait very patiently without panicking about my name being read to the entire shop over any tannoys. As I was waiting in the next aisle during this particular expedition, I noticed a woman enter from the other end, her arms extended out wide to carry a large pile of groceries.
To be honest, this woman (lets call her Bertha), really should have had a basket, but I think she was doing one of those whip rounds where you only plan on popping in to get a pint of milk and end up leaving with some Bombay mix, three jars of pickled onions, and a birthday cake in the shape of a caterpillar. I ignored dear Bertha in the beginning, and each of us continued along our merry ways without taking much notice of each other…

Then it happened.

Disaster struck.

Bertha, dropped her yoghurt. *Clashes cymbals for dramatic effect*

It was like watching a car crash in slow motion only with fewer screeching tyres and more rapidly descending low fat dairy products. Now, Bertha, aka dropper of the yoghurt, would have probably liked to have reached down to retrieve her shopping herself, but as I mentioned, Bertha was carrying a lot of groceries and in her defence was rather incapacitated (again, this woman really needed a basket). Had she bent down to retrieve the yoghurt herself, she would have risked an overflow of all of the other food items she had clasped to her chest, smashed jars, broken Bombay mix, wonky caterpillars, aka, total disaster.
As I looked at her carrying those groceries and saw the yoghurt fall to the floor, I instantly knew what was going to happen next. I was the only other person in the aisle. Bertha was going to ask me to pick up the yoghurt. *Clashes cymbals again as a blood curdling scream is heard over some hidden speaker system*

To most “normal” people/sane people, the idea of being asked to pick up a yoghurt is probably not that terrifying, but to someone with OCD who fears touching anything that has been on or near the floor, it was a nightmare. If I had to explain it, someone asking me to pick something off the floor gives me the anxiety someone would feel were they asked to pick up a rattlesnake carrying a machete…in its non existent hand…(note to self, next time when trying to think up an analogy, think of an animal with hands…)

The second that yoghurt hit the floor, I immediately set about looking like the busiest person ever to exist, in the hopes that Bertha would not ask me for assistance out of awareness that I was on a very important mission of my own. I snapped my head away from the yoghurt to the shelves and feigned a deep interest in a bottle of olive oil (rookie error, nobody is ever interested in olive oil. I should have gone for pasta but alas, retrospect is a wonderful thing). I stared at this bottle of olive oil and peered at it so closely you would have thought the meaning of life was inscribed in tiny letters along the side of the label, as if this olive oil was the most fascinating and wonderful thing I had ever seen. My acting was impeccable, several people from the frozen section even applauded despite their distance from my performance, and sent fan mail which I received a few days later. Bertha however, did not take the hint. Despite my acting performance, Bertha saw me and my bottle of olive oil and said in a voice that sent shivers down my very spine “excuse me can you please pick up my yoghurt?” *clashes cymbals so violently that they break into a million pieces and the very centre of the earth explodes*

Looking back, you may ask me why I didn’t just say that I had OCD and couldn’t help, before venturing off to find someone better suited to the needs of someone who needs their yoghurt risen from the ground like some 21st century Lazarus. If I had had a leg disease or something, I would have had no problem in saying “sorry I am currently disabled because of my leg disease” yet for some reason it seemed unacceptable to say “I am currently disabled because my brain is broken”. It doesn’t make any sense, both are a disability and both physical and mental illnesses impact and interfere with your life, but still I couldn’t be honest because saying I had OCD felt a million times more embarrassing than saying I had a leg disease. This sounds especially weird for someone who is able to speak openly about their mental health problems online without shame, but then again I think that is because I don’t really believe that anyone is reading my blog and if they are (hello you), I know they can’t see me hiding behind a cushion in the corner as they do so. For some reason I found that I couldn’t tell Bertha the truth, provide her with an explanation as to why I was scared to pick up her yoghurt, so instead I did the next best thing. I ran away. As I sprinted off into the distance I didn’t look back, but in my mind I can still see the imagined image of Bertha standing there over her yoghurt, Bombay mix tucked under her chin, staring after me and wondering what on earth was going on.

I grabbed my mum and dashed us out of the shop before we could buy anything (we were all very hungry that week), and by the time we got home I felt terrible. Ok I was embarrassed but I also felt incredibly guilty. Here was this poor woman asking me for yoghurt help, and I ran away.
It just makes me wish that there was less shame and less embarrassment over disabilities caused by mental illness, so that people could be honest in that kind of situation. I truly dream to live in a world where one day it will be possible to say “I am scared to pick up your yoghurt because I have OCD” without looking like a lunatic and whilst being taken as seriously as anyone with a physical and more visible impairment. Maybe I am underestimating Bertha and maybe she would have been understanding, but still you have to admit it is more likely she would have raised an eyebrow at the mental illness excuse as oppose to the leg disease thing.

If any of you out there have found yourselves in similar embarrassing situations in which your mental health problem made you feel like a fool, I hope you see this post as a comfort. Remember you are not alone in feeling like a bit of an idiot because there is someone out there who left a woman with her yoghurt on the floor, but more importantly, remember that when in the supermarket, one should always remember to pick up a basket before heading for the yoghurt.

Take care everyone x

Yoghurt

The Problem With Before And After Photos In Eating Disorder Recovery

A few months ago, towards the end of February, it was Eating Disorders awareness week, so naturally I did as I always do on this occasion and buried my head in the sand for the duration of the week (I also allowed children to use the remaining sand to build sand castles atop my hiding place because I am such a lovely person). This may sound like odd behaviour for someone who is constantly talking about mental health problems like eating disorders in order to raise awareness and for someone who has a strong disliking of sand, but then again odd behaviour is what I am known for. Literally.

The reason that I avoided the internet during that week, and indeed avoid it every year, is that it is a week in which social media is filled with “before and after” pictures, aka photos of someone taken during the depths of their illness, compared to a later photo taken post/during recovery. Don’t get me wrong, these photos certainly have their place and I would be lying if I were to say that I have never been inspired by any of them. Often these pictures will come with an empowering and motivating story of someone’s journey in recovery and triumph over anorexia, and that is brilliant. That is something that should be celebrated, and those stories  are shared throughout the Eating Disorder community to encourage others to fight their illnesses and to give hope to those who doubt recovery is truly possible. I love these stories but it is not the stories of recovery that I have a problem with, rather I have a problem with the “before and after” photos that are often involved in telling the triumphant tale.

Firstly, these images will usually show the person in the depths of their illness as an incredibly underweight individual, with ribs popping out so far all over the place that you could easily use them as a xylophone. Regardless of the inspirational intention with which they were posted, there is always the risk of these pictures going on to be triggers for other sufferers or, dare I say it, “thinspiration” for all those misguided souls who think that anorexia is something to aspire to. They can also make sufferers who are perhaps not as underweight (or who are unable to see themselves as that underweight) consequently see these images and feel that they cannot seek help because they aren’t “thin enough” or “bad enough”, when encouraging people to seek treatment is supposed to be the whole point of a week dedicated to educating and raising awareness of eating disorders. Similarly, in their representation of someone with an eating disorder and someone without, they encourage the myth that eating disorders are about being thin and that eating disorders can be seen, (a myth I have tried to tackle here: Why it is physically impossible to “look anorexic”.)
For people who do not know much about eating disorders and who do not have the time or interest in reading full accounts of recovery journeys, these snapshots may be the only experience they get of someone with an eating disorder, so the risk is that the stigma and lesson of “ill is underweight”, “well is a healthy weight” will be perpetuated without taking into account the far more complex and important internal and mental struggle that is having an eating disorder.

Similarly, as an image to summarise recovery, I feel it is problematic in that the main difference that is visible between the two pictures is weight, which implies that the main difference one goes through is the difference of the number on the scales. It suggests that in recovery, the biggest thing you “gain” is weight, when really weight is probably the smallest of all the things I have seen people gain in recovery. I may not be able to speak as a recovered person myself, but of all the friends I have watched beat their eating disorders into a soggy pulp on the ground that is no longer able to control their lives, the change in their weight has been the least significant change of all. Okay there is a change in weight and perhaps clothes size, but when I see my recovered friends, I do not see the change in their BMI, what strikes me most is the change in their lifestyle and their overall presentation as a person. To me they have not gained weight as much as they have gained themselves. When you are in the depths of your eating disorder, as much as you fool yourself, you cannot maintain a normal life. Your ability to have a job, have normal relationships with people, be happy or even function are seriously compromised, and these things are all aspects of life that can be improved on with recovery. I have seen friends go on to study medicine at university, have romantic relationships, give birth to children, climb mountains (I am talking proper big mountains like Kilimanjaro), and travel the world. They have regained their ability to properly smile, to laugh without having to fake it, and to me seeing all those photos of them skydiving in Australia or getting married and having babies have been far more significant and noticeable changes than what size jeans they wear. It is these aspects of recovery that are the really important reasons that people need to fight and it is these changes in lifestyle that are the really inspiring stories. Yes weight gain is a part of the journey, but what is more important is the places that weight can take you, for example to medical school or up a flipping huge mountain.

On a similar note, my other issue is that I feel before and after photos simplify the process of recovery. In one picture you probably have someone who is underweight and either looking miserable or faking a smile out of dead eyes, and in the other you have someone who has gained weight and perhaps, is beaming at you with genuine joy. This then makes recovery very straight forward, “Being underweight make you unhappy and thus gaining weight will make you happy”. It automatically assumes that the happiness comes as the weight increases, without highlighting the far more complicated journey in getting that weight to be there.

It is hard to explain exactly what I mean, but it is like looking at a picture of someone standing in a field looking miserable, and then another photo of them smiling in the same field but with the addition of an ice cream. At face value then, you can look at these pictures and think “well a person was sad because they didn’t have an ice cream but then they got an ice cream and they were happy” , simple. What the picture will not tell you however, is how that ice cream got there. Little would you know that the person had not simply walked up to the nearest ice cream van, asked for a 99p Mr Whippy and walked away smiling, just as the person in recovery had not simply gained some weight, and in turn, a smile (side note did you know that they don’t even do 99p Mr Whippys anymore? They are now at least £1.50! How do those ice cream men still have the nerve to play jolly tunes as they patrol the streets for customers now that they are basically performing daylight robbery rather than offering a merry treat. You can play Greensleeves all you want but that doesn’t change the fact you are making me re-mortgage the house to buy myself an ice cream. SHAME ON YOU ICE CREAM MEN. SHAME ON YOU.)

Anyway, what the picture doesn’t show is that to acquire their ice cream they were forced to go on a perilous test of their endurance, that pushed them to the limits of mental and physical strength. To get that ice cream in the picture, that person had in fact had to walk across continents and cross oceans to America, the largest producer of almonds in 2014 I will have you know, and then had to hand pick hundreds of almonds ready to blend into a creamy milk worthy of a tasty frozen dessert (this person was lactose intolerant so almond milk was the milk required for the job.)
Then, exhausted from months of trekking, nut picking and milk making, that person had to swim across even more oceans into the freezing cold pole of the Arctic where they stirred their almond milk with a wooden spoon atop a large glacier that acted as a natural freezer for their ice cream churning process. Even when the ice cream was made it didn’t get any easier as they had to then wrestle with a penguin who had cheekily tried to steal the ice cream (I don’t blame him to be honest. I would steal ice cream if all I had ever eaten was raw fish), and then they had to get the ice cream all the way back to that field in their country of origin, back through the hot climate of almond fields in America, without the creation melting. Clearly that is a far more character building excursion to get to that point of “person with ice cream in a field” than the picture initially suggests, and I didn’t even tell you the 5 month side trip it took to make the cone in which the ice cream was to rest (it would take too long to tell you fully but as a brief summary it involved a very angry rhino and a lot of waffles).
The person worked hard to get to the point where they were standing in that field with that ice cream, and all that hard work is eradicated, as it is in recovery journeys, when all you see is a simple before and after shot.

Obviously I am not saying we should stop people from sharing their recovery stories and indeed, if you have recovered from an eating disorder, then I am OVERWHELMINGLY proud and impressed by your determination and strength. If you were here with me now rather than wherever you are reading this, I would give you so many rounds of applause that my hands would fall off and I would be left clapping stumpy wrists to show appreciation of your achievement. What I am saying is that maybe, more often we should be celebrating and telling these stories without the underweight photos that go with them. A story is still a great story without pictures. Hell, look at Harry Potter, that story changed and continues to change generations of people, it has grown theme parks and movie franchises, careers and other astonishing things, all from a pile of words cobbled together with no images at all (For the purpose of this post can we please just pretend that the illustrated versions that are currently in production don’t exist.) Still, even when pictures are added to the Harry Potter books, it will still be the words that are doing all the talking.

So that is why I have a problem with before and after photos when it comes to eating disorder recovery, not because I don’t like inspirational stories or don’t want people to celebrate their achievements, but because those pictures don’t really do anything but diminish and reduce the value and greatness of what has been achieved. As a snapshot ok, a picture may say a thousand words, but a recovery journey is made up of millions of them.

Take care everyone x

BeforeAndAfter

The Pressure Of “Perfection” On Mental Health

World War 2 started in 1955.

See that? That statement is wrong. It is a mistake, an error, and you know what? I am going to just leave it there for us all to deal with together.

It is fairly well documented that people with mental health problems like anorexia and anxiety are perfectionists, and I can certainly say that I am one of them.
To be honest the whole population is a bit obsessed with perfection, and magazines are constantly splattered with articles on how to get the “perfect body”, “perfect life”, “perfect relationship”, even “perfect eyebrows”. Seriously? Who needs perfect eyebrows? What even is a perfect eyebrow? I keep seeing loads of people shaving their eyebrows off and drawing them on again with pencil but how is that perfect? THAT ISN’T EVEN AN EYEBROW! It’s a line of charcoal or whatever the hell they put in make up these days. It can’t be the perfect eyebrow at all because it isn’t an eyebrow! The real eyebrow was shaved off! I can’t just doodle a nose on my arm and start sniffing through my elbow! Anyway back to my point…

People want perfection, most people fear failure and we all want everything to go smoothly, a nice idea, but not exactly a realistic one because perfection does not exist and I think it is time we all tackle it before our brains explode from the mental health damaging stress caused by trying to reach something unattainable.

Being a perfectionist affects my mental health on a daily basis in a variety of ways. With OCD I am always washing until I feel “perfectly clean”, with my eating disorder I am weighing myself or food to a “perfect” number and when it comes to the fear of abandonment caught up in my personality disorder, I am always writing and rewriting text messages or emails until they are “perfect” because I fear that one wrong word will make the recipient of my message hate me forevermore.
Being a perfectionist has also stopped me from doing a lot of things in life, from serious things like certain choices at university, to unimportant hobbies in my free time. I used to play video games all the time and found the act of roaming around fictional digital landscapes helpful in giving me a break from real life problems that were bothering me. Because of this obsession with perfection however, even that coping mechanism has been tarnished and I rarely ever pick up a control these days because the perfectionist in me found the pressure too hard to handle. When I was a kid, playing Pokemon on my original black and white gameboy was easy enough. I knew I could catch the required target of 150 Pokemon if I tried, but these days there are 802 Pokemon in total which makes it infinitely harder to “CATCH EM ALL”. I fear starting up the new games purely because I worry that I won’t be able to complete them “perfectly”, so for this reason I don’t play at all, don’t end up catching anything, all because I am scared of not living up to the task and hating myself for it.

Perfectionism is even slowly making it difficult to post anything on this blog, as with every Monday that arrives I am worried that what I am planning to post for the day won’t be good enough and that everyone will think that I am an idiot, hate me, refuse to ever read my blog again and send round a crowd of people with pitch forks and flaming torches to destroy the fool who dared post such nonsense to the internet.
I can guarantee that after I have put this blog up I will be reading it again and again, worrying that it is rubbish, seeing all the flaws, all the imperfections, hence why I made that initial mistake on purpose about World War Two. Yes it is there, I do not like it and there are probably many others, but I am trying to fight this neurotic need to make everything perfect so I am going to damn well leave those errors where they are! Queen Elizabeth is my sister and I turn into a saucepan at nighttime. YEAH. That’s right, two more errors (I actually turn into a teacup), LOOK AT THOSE ERROS AND DEAL WITH IT.

The really ridiculous thing about it all and the thing that makes the quest for perfection so futile is of course the fact that the “perfect” anything doesn’t even exist. The only thing close to perfection is Helena Bonham Carter and even in her case I am sure she must have a flaw somewhere (if you are reading this Helena please forgive me for making such an assumption but I am trying to make a point).
The word “perfect” itself is an idea, a concept that simply cannot be in the real world because what it represents is utterly subjective. A spatula is “a thing”, so we can all talk about spatulas collectively as a society (and oh how we love to talk about spatulas these days), because when two people say the word spatula we know we are referring to the same item. When it comes to “the perfect…” however, everyone is referring to something different so we cannot relate or talk meaningfully about it as a solid thing or goal to aim for.

It is like when I watch the Great British Bake Off (before Channel 4 rudely stole it and destroyed a summery British tradition whose absence will forever leave a doughnut hole deep within our hearts). Whenever it used to be pie or pastry week, Mary and Paul would often use the word “perfect “ to describe the base of a tart if it was crisp and there was no sign of “a soggy bottom”. To them, a crisp base was the epitome of pastry perfection, but that is the complete opposite to how I would see a pie as perfect.
When my grandma used to bake apple pie, I would have a sizeable bowl full of it, drowned in thick yellow custard. Had I ever found the base to be crisp I would have been very disappointed. I liked it when the pastry was all gooey, had soaked up all the apple juice and custard and turned into a mushy mess with no crunch or chewing required whatsoever. That was my perfect apple pie, and I would pick a pie like that any day over these crisp bottomed tarts I see praised on cookery programs like Bake Off, tarts with pastry more suited to building a house than squishing about on a spoon for a bit of deliciousness. Aiming for perfection in anything is therefore like trying to make a universally acclaimed “perfect apple pie”, a futile pursuit because it is searching for something that doesn’t exist.

Ok being a perfectionist can be good in some settings. If I undergo surgery I would very much like a surgeon with a perfect success rate rather than one who has been known to give people a few extra lungs or a bonus forehead nostril, but in life on the whole this quest for perfection is nothing but an unnecessary strain of pressure on our mental health, with anxiety so crippling that it leaves you unable to do anything for fear that something will go wrong.

If you are reading this as a perfectionist like me, and if you find that perfectionism is leading you to avoid something or you are buckling under pressure, sadness and anxiety, scared that you won’t do something perfectly, I urge you now to go ahead and do it anyway, just as I am uploading this post now, knowing that as a perfectionist, I will NEVER be satisfied.
Let the anxiety come and fight against it by knowing that if you are a perfectionist, no matter what you do, you will never feel your performance is good enough. Do what you are avoiding and make mistakes, revel in them and appreciate them being there. They are important and more real than any perfection you are chasing because mistakes can exist and be found in the real world, unlike a concept like the “perfect” apple pie.
Make errors and leave them in as I have done with this bog (OH LOOK ANOTHER ERROR), and fight this building pressure and anxiety provoking burden of perfection in everything you are and everything you do.
Don’t keep all your eggs safely in the basket for fear of making a bad omelette and end up starving to death with no omelette at all, crack the little buggers and get whisking before they go stale because ANY omelette, just like anything you could possibly do in life, is better than not making or doing anything at all.

Take care everyone x

Perfect