Birthdays And Mental Health Problems

When I was younger and heard adults saying things like “I just want to forget about my birthday this year”, I thought that adults were crazy and needed to seriously reconsider the way in which they were living their lives. Why on earth would anyone ever want to forget about their birthday?

For me, birthdays were something to look forward to and something I couldn’t forget about if I tried. Birthdays were about choosing which soft play area you were going to take all of your friends to for the party, buying rainbow coloured bouncy balls to fill party bags with and deciding whether you wanted a Thomas the tank engine or Spice Girls birthday cake ready to decorate with a flaming beacon of candles. Birthdays were about unwrapping incredibly exciting and complicated plastic contraptions that you would then spend the rest of your day watching your mum struggle to assemble amidst an encyclopedia of instructions in every language but English, before finally making it look like the thing on the box, only to realise that batteries were not included, causing your mother to curse the creators of Toys R Us and howl at the moon until the early hours of the morning, Barbie’s camper van standing motionless and taunting you from the corner. Birthdays were about wearing a badge with your age on it to school so that everyone would know how very mature you were and how much respect they should bestow upon you, and no birthday was complete without a trip to TGI Fridays where you would stand on your chair like a king whilst a chorus of red and white striped waiters belted out “Happy Birthday”, the performance concluding with rapturous applause from all around and, if you were lucky, an extra gummy worm in your Mississippi mud pie. With all that to look forward to, how could anyone dread a birthday?

I was sure that I would always look forward to my birthday and would never be one of these fools who looked upon the occasion with anything other than spine tingling excitement. I was wrong.
For the past few years, despite little Katie’s best intentions, I have become one of those people who wants to forget about their birthday, and I think it is because as you get older, birthdays don’t mean the same things as they used to. They become less about gummy worms and birthday cakes and more about time passing you by, life passing you by, which isn’t something you really care about when you are younger and your main focus is getting the bit of icing on the cake that has your favourite cartoon character on it. On top of that however, when you are mentally ill, I think they are especially hard because for me at least, a birthday can feel like a reminder that you have wasted another year drowning in anxiety and the older you get, the longer you have been stuck with this mental illness bothering you all the time.

That said, I guess you can sort of see birthdays and that marker of time passing as a positive thing. This year for example, I turned 25 (I did it last Thursday as a matter of fact and luckily, despite all the dreading and worrying about it talked about in this post, I really did have a lovely birthday, so if you sent me a birthday message or said hello to me at all on the 22nd June then thank you for being someone who made it special. I really appreciate you all so much). Alas! I must get back to the point!
So, turning 25 means I will have been unwell for 14 years. On the plus side, whilst a depressingly long time, it is an improvement in the sense that I can say the number 14 because it is a safe number, unlike the number I used to have to say, (the one that comes between 12 and 14), which is a somewhat difficult number for me to handle in terms of OCD (YAY SILVER LININGS).
Also there is something rather motivating about birthdays in that they often inspire you to make goals of things you are unhappy about and want to change before the next one.
Indeed, I think that as the number of years I have been ill has gone up, the more motivated I have become to fight my illnesses and push as hard as I can for recovery even when it involves doing something scary.

During the first years of my illness when I had to go back a year in school and take time out of education to go into hospital, I was motivated to fight purely because my illnesses were making me unhappy, but not so much because I realised what I was missing out on whilst stuck in my head. Ok I often couldn’t leave the house and I missed out on a few sleepovers with friends, a couple of school trips and several opportunities to share a pizza and watch a movie on a Saturday night, but to begin with, missing the odd pizza isn’t that big a deal. Obviously I would have liked to have done all the things like going bowling with friends and eating popcorn at the cinema, but for me being safe at home not having to touch or eat anything, felt a lot more comfortable. I would have rather stayed in my little bubble avoiding as much anxiety as I could, even if that meant being a little bit lonely, than go out of my bubble and cause myself a lot of distress trying to wear a pair of bowling shoes or eating a mouthful of popcorn. Staying safe was my priority, and if that meant missing out on a few sleepovers/meant less terror, that was a necessary sacrifice I would take. Why terrify yourself for weeks and weeks just trying to get the courage to see a friend for an hour? Better just to avoid it.

However the longer you live with mental illness, the more those little things add up over the years, and suddenly you find you have not just missed the odd sleepover, you have missed hundreds of sleepovers, hundreds of moments in which people took photos and made memories that they reminisce about and fondly recall with sentences beginning “Oh my goodness do you remember when…”. After several years, you haven’t missed one bucket of popcorn, you have missed an entire swimming pool worth of popcorn (not that I advise you put popcorn into a swimming pool…just trying to get the image of how much popcorn we are talking about across), and that amount of popcorn can’t be caught up on as easily as the one bucket you missed in the first place. As the days become months and the months become years, you realise just how much of your life you have missed out on because you were too scared to take part in it, and suddenly the motivation to work even harder to stop the years passing by without you noticing increases, because you finally understand how rubbish it feels to be left so far behind everyone else.

However at the same time, whilst the longer you live with a mental illness the more anger and frustration you have at it to motivate your recovery, the further entrenched you are in that illness and thus the harder it feels to get better. It is a catch 22 situation, the most vicious of all the vicious circles.

Time passes, you get angrier at all the time wasted, you become more motivated to fight but then find it is harder to fight than the first day you tried to challenge yourself because the illness has used the time wasted to dig its claws into you even further. Odd things that started out as little quirks to keep yourself safe become engrained habits and habits are a lot harder to break than things you only did a few times. I have smoked only one cigarette in my life and I will be honest, I hated it. It was like swallowing a smelly smokey fire. Therefore deciding to “give up” on the idea of smoking after that cigarette was not a challenge at all. I had spent longer as someone who didn’t smoke than I had spent as someone who did, it wasn’t a habit and I was not addicted or used to the comfort or feeling of a cigarette in my hand. Now however, I have officially been mentally ill for longer than I have ever been not mentally ill and I have dug myself into a hole so deep that it is far harder to get out of. Years ago I didn’t go to a meal out with friends because it made me uncomfortable, but that uncomfortable feeling has built over the years, and now I don’t go because I am terrified. Eating out doesn’t make me anxious, it makes me feel like I am dying on the inside. The longer you are ill, the more set in your ways you are and the harder it is to get better.

This year then, as always, though I dreaded my birthday as it scares me to think how long I have been trapped in my own mind, I am trying to see it as a positive motivation for change, an opportunity to say “this past 14 years has been hell and I am determined to fight as hard as I can to make sure that number doesn’t go up by one every time my age does”. I am fed up, truly angry every year as I see the growing list of all the opportunities I have missed out on and I really do want things to be different. It is just difficult, ageing with mental illness. As the years pass you may feel more motivated, but at the same time, you just feel more trapped.

Take care everyone x

BirthdayBlog

Why Are Eating Disorders Competitive?

Many people are aware by now of the dangers of eating disorders, the emotional inner turmoil, the isolation, and the potentially fatal consequences. However, one of the biggest dangers that isn’t quite as discussed is the fact that eating disorders can be incredibly competitive. It sounds odd and it is quite hard to explain how an illness can be competitive, but basically if anorexia was ever personified, it would be the person who becomes dangerous when playing board games and is prone to breaking valuable ornaments in the home over an unlucky roll of the dice in a game of Monopoly.

I think most people, often and unknowingly, see other homo sapiens as threats for many different reasons in every day life. At work you may feel in competition with someone to get a promotion, in a supermarket you might choose the best looking bunch of bananas so that yours will be better than those of whatever potassium craving customer comes after you, or in a car park you might discreetly race another vehicle to get the last available space. Maybe your competitive streak involves competing with your gaming arch-nemesis to be captain of the tiddlywinks championship team, whatever it is, at some point in every day, whether we realise it or not, most of us enter into little competitions with our fellow humans and in turn those people become threats.

It is rare however, for people to compete with another person’s illness, and I have often wondered why eating disorders are so different in that respect. Possible reasons I have come up with are things like the tendency for people with eating disorders to naturally be high achieving perfectionistic people, or that eating disorders are an illness that usually involve a lot of numbers and in turn, ways the illness can be “measured”. Obviously, in reality the severity of someone’s eating disorder is impossible to measure no matter how many scales you weigh them on or how many calories you see them eat, but no matter how incorrect the idea, people who do not really understand eating disorders to be a mental illness rather than a physical one, tend to measure the severity of an eating disorder by the physical effects they can potentially lead to. If people see a thin person they will wrongly assume that person to be more “anorexic” than their equally troubled neighbour who just so happens to be a healthy weight. With other illnesses though, this ability to gauge how ill someone is just by looking at them, however inaccurate the final judgement may be, is far more difficult in comparison. For example two people can have a liver disease but when they are walking side by side in a park, you cannot guess as easily who you perceive to be the sickest unless you take a few blood tests and maybe open them up with a scalpel (which would probably lead to them asking why you were wandering around a park asking people for blood tests and performing major operations).

When an illness is seen as focused around numbers then, comparison and thus competition tends to breed. Over the past decade I have met people whose eating disorders have led them (for I highly doubt someone’s individual personality would compete about such things), to compete with regards to numbers as to how much someone weighs, what their BMI is, how many calories they consume, even obscure things like who takes the longest to eat a meal, who has been into hospital the most times or who has the lowest white blood cell count. It is a disgusting, sick and twisted side to the illness since you are basically competing to see who can kill themselves the best, but I cannot deny it happens.
For this reason I actually think the more distanced a sufferer attempting recovery is from the intense eating disorder community, the better. If you are living in the middle of nowhere with a family of healthy people, you simply have your eating disorder to wrestle with (and lord knows one is still far too many). In hospital settings like inpatient eating disorder units, therapy groups, or even social media recovery accounts online, you are surrounded with other sufferers and thus other eating disorders to battle with. Don’t get me wrong, it is lovely to have people you can relate to, but the ability to relate to other people who are unwell and spending large amounts of time with them can lead to a loss of perspective.

Gathering a group of people with eating disorders together, either physically or online, is sort of like gathering a group of wild gorillas in the middle of the rainforest (I would avoid both of these gathering activities if I were you as neither are particularly safe…if you are an avid collector or gatherer may I suggest gathering stamps or Pokemon cards instead).
There are probably a hundred reasons as to why gorillas sometimes stand on their haunches and beat their chests, but from my dedicated research and observation (I watched Tarzan), when a gorilla beats its chest in front of another gorilla, it can be interpreted as “look how big and mighty I am! Have you ever seen such a fine specimen of gorilla? Look at my hairy arms! They are fabulous! I am the best gorilla in all of the world and far superior to you! I am the best! Leave my forest or I will strike your hairy behind! Back off I say! Flee! Flee!”.
All the gorillas in the rainforest will naturally want to be best gorilla around to ensure their survival, establish their right to the most attractive mate or the biggest banana. They aren’t doing it for laughs (maybe the odd titter), but they are naturally born with that competitive instinct so that they can stay alive.
Similarly, when a group of people with eating disorders gather, their internal eating disorder gorillas perk up and start beating their chests to let everyone know that they are the best and strongest eating disorder around. Ironically though, unlike the real gorillas, the “winner” in terms of measuring who is the most physically ill from their eating disorder, the thinnest or the one who has gone the longest without eating, is the least likely to stay alive the longest.

If you are reading this as a healthy minded person you are probably thinking that competing as to who can lose the most weight is ridiculous and sick, and when it comes to that judgment, you would be right.
However I think people often forget how much competition there is with regard to weight loss even in “healthy” circles. On TV shows like The Biggest Loser, people compete to see who can lose the most weight with a cash prize for the winner, and though perhaps less extreme than competing with white blood cell counts, surely this is similar? What about in local weight loss clubs when people compete with their next-door neighbour to see who can lose more weight than anyone in their area in order to be awarded with the sash declaring them “Slimmer of the Year”. When you think about it, in our society, competing around food and weight is not as alien an idea as people with eating disorders can make it seem.

There is however one reason people often suggest as the answer to the “why are eating disorders competitive” question, that I strongly disagree with, and that is the idea that people compete purely because they want to be the “thinnest” and that the competitive drive is all about vanity and outer appearance. If anything, I think the drive is the total opposite to vanity, and more to do with insecurity and low self esteem regarding the internal self.
When you live with an eating disorder you basically live with a voice in your head telling you that everything you do is wrong and no matter how hard you try to please it, it will never be satisfied or see your “efforts” as enough. No matter what you eat, your eating disorder will tell you it was too much. Even if the portion was initially decided by your eating disorder, it will tell you that you could have left a bit or maybe it will tell you that you ate it wrong; too quickly, too slowly or with the wrong sized mouthfuls. Whatever you do, the voice will tell you you are not living up to the standards you should be, you are not good enough.
My drive to lose weight is not to see a nice patch of rib cage, it is to achieve something that my eating disorder tells me is “better” than my former self. Of course there is nothing “better” that can come from starving yourself and if I were talking to any other sufferer I would tell them that the “best” they can be is the healthy version of themselves who is able to nourish their bodies and enjoy a healthy relationship with food. Yet still when it comes to me, the eating disorder somehow manages to manipulate my thoughts in that direction that I am a “better” me, less repulsive, less annoying, less deserving of a punch in the face, if I stick by my eating disorder’s rules. I am constantly held up between my past self, current self and encouraged to compete against them to reach this “superior” future me. When you add another sufferer into the mix then, it is yet another person for my eating disorder to compare me to. No longer is it telling me to lose weight or starve because I am not good enough compared to the potential me I could become if I were to behave myself, now I am also not good enough compared to the person or group of people surrounding me. I don’t follow the rules to the standards my eating disorder would like in an ideal world, and when I am around other people it tells me that I am even more inferior because they are following these stupid rules better than me. I don’t feel competitive because I am vain and want people to admire my collarbones, I feel competitive because I despise myself, because behaving well and following all my rules gives me a sense of self worth, a sense that I am doing something right, so if I am not following the rules “the best”, then I am not good enough.

So why are eating disorders competitive? Well, there are many reasons from internal anorexia gorillas to self hatred, perfectionist personality traits or the ability to compare and misunderstand the importance that physical numbers have to play in a mental illness. Obviously this competitive undercurrent is wrong, needs to be tackled and is disgustingly disordered, but we are dealing with eating “disorders” so I suppose it makes sense. What I want more people to know though, is that of all the reasons, as sick and twisted and horrible as they are, they are not reasons that derive from vanity or any sense of bodily pride compared to the person in the next bed to you. If anything it is about desperation to be good enough in the eyes of a devil that is constantly telling you you are worthless, both in yourself, and in comparison to everybody else.

Take care everyone x

HairiestGorilla

The Numbness Of Depression

Trigger warning: This blog post does include a reference to self harm (a very casual one with no details), but if that would trigger you please go and read something more relaxing like a manual telling you how to grow vegetables. I hear it is the perfect time to plant courgettes…

Depression is, technically, one illness named after one emotion. For me however, what depression feels like is different every day. Sometimes having depression is the experience I imagine most people picture depression to feel like, aka some days I am depressed/agonisingly sad. Over the course of any average week though, it is likely that depression will throw up some different negative emotions picked out of its sinister collection. One day the main emotion might be guilt, the next hopelessness, anxiety, anger or even intense pain to the point that I go a bit delirious and start laughing for no reason because I don’t know what else to do. For me, depression is not simply about being depressed, it is about being and feeling many different things and sometimes, in my experience, living with depression is about feeling nothing at all. Today is one of those days.

I think trying to explain what it feels like to be numb is one of the harder aspects of depression to express because…well…it doesn’t FEEL like anything…that is the point…
If I had to try to describe it I would say it’s like you turn into a robot or someone who is sleepwalking. I can walk, talk and carry out mechanical actions when instructed, but I am not really there, sort of the classic the lights are on but no-one’s home because the occupants have decided to go on a Mediterranean cruise for a few weeks (they went waterskiing and had ice-cream on the beach. It really was a wonderful holiday).

When I feel numb I am technically alive in that I am breathing, but there is no real life there, it is just a body on autopilot, a tin man who hasn’t yet been given a heart.
There is no passion, no want or desires. There aren’t even preferences, because when you don’t feel anything, everything in this world is the same so there isn’t anything to choose from.
For example, if you have taste buds, buying a tub of ice cream involves making a choice because all the flavours taste different and will therefore be experienced differently. The tub of vanilla will taste of vanilla, the chocolate of chocolate and the strawberry ice cream will taste of pistachios (there was a mix up at the factory).
If however, all the ice creams were to taste the same, there would be no choice to make, you cannot choose one thing over another when everything tastes of cardboard.
On these numb days, days like today, you could honestly walk up to me and give me the options of either a hug or a punch in the face and I would be indifferent to both of them. Logically I can see that it is nicer to have a hug than a punch in the face, so rationally I can understand that the hug should be my choice, but that choice has no feeling. I don’t want the hug nor do I dread the punch in the face, I just know the one to go for through the same logical process you might use to tick a box in an exam paper of non-verbal comprehension.

On the one hand you would think it might be nice to not feel anything, and you could say that it is better to feel nothing than to feel heart aching sadness. I do not agree.
When you are angry or sad, you get through that emotion by feeling it and living out the experience.
When you are angry you can ride that wave by shouting into a pillow to get the frustration out (be sure to apologise to the pillow later), and when you are sad you can cry until you run out of tears. I actually think that the feeling you get after a really good cry is almost worth all the crying it takes to get there.
When you are numb however, you can’t scream or cry it out because there is nothing there to get out. You can’t whip out some techniques you have used in therapy to calm down, there is no proactive action you can take, you just have to stand there staring into space (you can stare at a TV screen or a tree instead but it won’t make any difference because everything looks the same, like all of the ice cream tasted of cardboard). You just have to sit with it.

If I am feeling numb I often try to motivate some kind of feeling or life back into myself by looking at one of my lists of reasons to stay alive. Sounds a bit dramatic but these days suicidal thoughts are so frequent and loud that I have to have at least one list on me at all times to provide an answer to the question of “Why not just end it now?”.
I have lists on my phone, lists in my diary, on my wardrobe, lists of the people that I love and any possible goals or aspirations for the future.
For example I know that one day I want to be a writer, I want to go to Disneyland, I want to have a cat and a dog, I want to read all of the books I can get my hands on and I want to have a house with one of those bookshelves that has a ladder attached so that I can swing between F.Scott Fitzgerald, Harry Potter and the Bronte sisters like Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

When I am numb however, the lack of desires, want or interest in anything makes these reasons that I hold as fundamental to my survival, redundant. They don’t mean anything. They are just empty words. It makes me sound like a terrible person and there are probably people out there who think I am a terrible person for what I am about to say but the truth is that on days like today, I even look at reasons like “You need to keep fighting for your Mum and Dad” and I feel nothing towards it or my parents.
I know logically that I love them more than anything and I know they are the most wonderful, caring and supportive parents in the world, but I don’t feel that love, I don’t feel that “I love you”, it is merely a factual statement. I can read the words “You need to keep fighting for your mum and dad who you love very much” but that’s all they are. Letters. Words. A variety of marks and symbols made out of ink on a page, words with no more weight, depth, significance or profound importance than a casual offhand comment someone might make about how much milk they like in their tea. “I love my family” should have far more passion in it than “just a splash of milk please” but again, I am numb, the feelings are on mute, everything is the same. Everything is cardboard.

Similarly, there are many reasons as to why I struggle with self harm. Sometimes I do it because I feel that I need to be punished, need to release some built up anxiety rushing through my veins, need to make an invisible pain visible so that I can understand it, and sometimes on numb days, I do it to try and get myself to feel something. ANYTHING, even if that feeling is unpleasant.
Today I self harmed to try and inspire the life back into me, shock the system from robot mode to human just as you might pinch someone to wake them from a dream. I thought that if I caused the body pain, my mind would come back to feel it and then maybe I could cry and feel better, but even though I could see the damage on my body I couldn’t feel a thing. It was like harming a very lifelike mannequin.

Today then, that is what depression feels like for me. It feels like nothing. I feel numb. Everything is cardboard. Today, I have no passion. All I have are these words, so that is what I am giving to you. I hope you find some meaning in them.

Take care everyone x

RobotKatie

Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill?

Since his inauguration in January 2017, there have been a lot of articles written about Donald Trump and considering he is now President of the United States (feel free to cry uncontrollably about this), that is not a surprise. The job of President of the United States is not exactly one you apply for if your goal in life is to keep a low profile and avoid people noticing you. Of all the articles I have seen there have been serious statements about his political endeavours as well as more lighthearted comments about how his hair always looks like it is trying to escape (and who can blame it), or a more recent movement talking about how much his chin looks like a frog. Lately though, more than people comparing the lower part of his face to a tadpole laying amphibian, people have been writing about the fact that Donald Trump is so outrageous in his running of the country that he must be mentally ill.

Now, I am not denying the possibility that this is the case and that Donald Trump is indeed suffering from a mental health condition. I am not a psychologist who can make a statement either way on the matter and funnily enough I have never met old frog face (sorry, “President Trump”), as he lives in America and he doesn’t tend to hang out in the places that I am frequently found (aka my nearest Eating Disorder support service and my local Co-op.) For this reason I cannot meaningfully make accusations either way with regard to the accuracy of these claims. Maybe he is mentally ill, maybe he is not, but my issue with the whole thing is the fact that Donald Trump is only one in a long line of outrageous unpopular characters who has their persona explained away by the idea that they must be mentally ill. You hear it all the time from the newspapers to day to day conversation. If anyone ever says something ridiculous or if you ever hear about some murderer on the loose, people make comments like “they are clearly mad”, “they ought to be committed” or, as my Dad says, “their mind’s addled and they ought to have their bumps read”.

Of course, I understand that in some cases criminals are mentally ill and are therefore sent to psychiatric hospitals rather than prison, so I am not denying that diagnosable madness is never the cause of a crime or a foolish opinion. That said, this is not the case for EVERY crime or every stupid statement made and stating this idea over and over again, always explaining a murder or Donald Trump with the label “the person is mentally ill”, does nothing but perpetuate the mental health stigma that already exists and that damages the general “crazy” common folk like myself. I am always saying that nobody should ever be ashamed of being mentally ill and a lot of charities and celebrities have lately been supporting this message, coming out with their stories to encourage others to speak out and seek help. Is it any wonder people are afraid to say that they have a problem though, when the word “crazy” has become synonymous with actions or opinions that people think make someone a bad person.

Every time I read a headline that says “Donald Trump is like someone who is mentally ill” it feels like someone is instead saying “Donald Trump is like Katie Simon Phillips”. Obviously I realise it isn’t personal to me specifically but the comparison of Donald Trump to someone with a diagnosed mental health problem does lead to a large group of people who are unwell and who have no similarities to our floppy haired President, being lumped in the same category of some horrible Venn diagram. It just doesn’t feel fair. Why do I have to be shoved into the same category as Donald Trump? I have never threatened to build a wall (much to my Dad’s disappointment, he really needs help building our new conservatory), I have never stolen anyone’s health insurance and though I admit to having insecurities and am not the biggest fan of my appearance, I don’t think that my chin is particularly reminiscent of a toad. Admittedly I walk like and have similarities to a penguin, but a toad? Seems a bit harsh if you ask me.

Like I said, I know that whenever anyone makes statements like these they are not meaning to speak negatively of the mentally ill people of our world, but I think that it is because it is so unintentional and “unmeant” that it is such a problem. Mental health problems are so synonymous with criminal acts or outrageous opinions that you don’t even have to make an effort to draw a connection, it is automatic. I have personally found it particularly frustrating with Donald Trump especially, because one of the main things people accuse him of is having some kind of personality disorder, a diagnosis I have myself. This specific correlation seems even more personal than “he is mentally ill like you” because it lists a specific condition I am familiar with and I am sure it feels personal to many people out there.
“He needs serious therapy”, “he needs medication”, “he needs to be hospitalised” the people cry, and I find myself wanting to wave my arms about and cry back “yeah. a lot of us do, but that doesn’t mean that we are bad people or power hungry tyrants who discriminate against a variety of genders, sexualities and races that don’t fit into his perfect ideal of the “straight white male”. Not everyone who needs medication wants to build a wall, not everyone who needs intense therapy has got to that point because they have committed a crime and not everyone in hospital is roaming the corridors with ridiculous hair (although to be fair to people I do at least fit into that one.)

In a sense I suppose it is good that there is more of an awareness as to the things that could influence a person’s behaviour. These days people are seen less in the black and white “heaven or eternal damnation” terms than they were in the middle ages. People don’t see others as simply “good” or “bad”, even villains in movies tend to get backstories these days and are rarely the two dimensional moustache twirling creatures of pointless evil, with no more desires or motivation than those who used to tie people to train tracks in silent movies. They say every Saint has a past and every sinner has a future and I fully agree with that as well as the ideas that human actions and behaviours are often far more complex than they appear on the surface. Nevertheless, why can’t we accept at the same time that as complex and intricate as minds and motivations are, sometimes there are still things that are random, things that don’t make sense and that how things look on the surface may occasionally be a good representation of what is underneath. Why do people have to see the morally questionable things Donald Trump says and does and explain them as a sign of a diagnosed mental illness that needs therapy and emergency hospitalisation. Why can’t we see things he says or does that we perceive as idiotic and explain them simply as due to the fact that he is indeed a bit of an idiot. Maybe this sounds incredibly politically incorrect, but to be honest as someone who is frequently likened to and lumped in the same pile as Donald Trump, I am bored of being politically correct. I just think that people we decide are bad people and moustache twirling villains, did not all disappear the day we discovered the explanation of mental illness. Mentally ill people exist, but so can complete and utter plonkers who have nothing to do with mental health problems.

So back to my original question and the title of this blog. Is Donald Trump mentally ill? I DON’T KNOW (bet you are glad you read all those words to get to that groundbreaking conclusion). Maybe he is perfectly fine in the head and maybe he is totally off his rocker, but either way can we please stop with this need to compare anyone who commits a crime or has a political stance that many regard as offensive, to people who are mentally ill. I am mentally ill but I am not Donald Trump and neither are a lot of people out there who I have met in psychiatric units, passed in the therapy waiting room or stood behind when queuing up for their latest prescription of anti depressants. Like I said mentally ill people exist, idiots with mental health problems exist, but sometimes, if someone is behaving like an idiot, maybe they are just an idiot.

Take care everyone x

Trump

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

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