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

The Importance Of Seeing Food As Fuel When You Are In Recovery From An Eating Disorder

When I first thought about writing this post, as you can see from the title, I was intending to talk about why people with eating disorders need to see food as something to fuel them and keep them alive, yet now I have changed my mind (not that I am indecisive or anything…or am I…I’ll have to get back to you on that…). Ok this post is still going to be about the importance of seeing food as fuel, but actually I feel I should address why EVERYONE needs to start doing this, as it seems that in our society, whether you are mentally ill or not, food is primarily thought of in terms of what it will do to your weight.

For example, a few years ago during an inpatient admission, I was on bed rest which meant that, as you have probably guessed, I “rested” in a garage (only joking, it was in a bed. Just keeping you on your toes). Anyway, I was lying there and I was confused as to why I had to eat my meal plan when I wasn’t “doing anything” to burn it off. In my eyes, if I ate even a pea whilst lying down all day, I would gain weight because I wouldn’t have exercised enough to burn it off. I talked to one of the therapists about this and I remember her telling me that even if I wasn’t “doing anything”, I still needed to eat and still needed to have energy just for my body to work. Ok I may not be running around anywhere, but my body still needed the food so that all the bits inside could do their jobs and she drew out this chart as to how much food is actually needed just to sustain life without all the wandering in-between. I, by jumping from “eat X” to “gain weight from X”, had skipped a massive step and had imagined that whatever I ate would make me gain weight. Nevertheless, every time I was given a meal plan increase, my first thought was “that is going to make me gain weight”, without thinking of all the reasons and uses for food that come before the body even gets around to considering weight gain. Hearing that from someone with an eating disorder probably isn’t surprising, but at the same time the idea of food as a dictator of weight and nothing more is something that I see throughout society.

These days what you eat seems to be less about giving you energy to actually help keep your liver livering so that you can live your life and more about making choices based on what size jeans you want to fit into.
It is like those articles online or segments on daytime television, where they tell you what exercises you would have to do to burn off a certain food. I am pretty sure that a few years ago they were even considering adding that information to the wealth of nutritional guidelines scrawled across any packet of Hobnobs just so that people would know that if they ate one of the biscuits, they could easily burn it off with fourteen and a half press ups and a quick run through of the Macarena.
It just makes me wonder what on earth we think food is for if all we are doing is thinking about how it needs to be “burnt off”, skipping the state where we allow the body to actually use it, like I did all those years ago. Why do we need to be so obsessed with burning our food off? Know what happens if you “burn off” and “use up” every calorie by running on a treadmill? You win a prize? No. YOU DIE.

Think about the times when there is a cake in an office or people order desserts at a meal. Usually if someone turns down a piece, you can bet a good chunk of cheddar that their refusal will be something along the lines of “Oh no I can’t join in with that because it will go straight to my love handles”. It is rarely, if ever, someone will turn down food because they “don’t want it”, and is unfortunately usually down to this idea that whatever they eat will affect their weight which of course it won’t and that immediate connection is incredibly disordered.
The truth is, the primary purpose of food and indeed the necessity of food is to keep you alive and any other consequence is only a secondary consideration, yet it is the secondary consideration that people focus on all too much. Like I said when I began this post I intended to encourage people in recovery from their eating disorders to see meal plans as things that are there to keep them alive rather than seeing them as things that are going to cause them to gain weight. Ok weight gain may result if enough calories are consumed to allow that (weight gain that if you are on a re-feeding diet I highly expect is necessary), but that is not the first thing to happen. Indeed people with eating disorders, myself included, seem to focus so much on the effect of food on weight that they forget that it has any other purpose.
Years ago during another admission, I remember following my meal plan for months and eventually I did manage to gain enough weight to get me back in the healthy range and my first thought was “oh well I clearly don’t need to eat anymore because I don’t need to gain any more weight”. When the doctor told me to keep my meal plan the same I was confused as I had imagined he would say that I could stop eating now I had gained to the point where my body was healthy, what use did I have for food? What use did you have for food past Katie? Hmm let me think…TO KEEP YOU ALIVE BECAUSE THAT IS PRIMARILY WHAT FOOD IS FOR.

Food did not originate with the sole purpose of changing our bodies like those “eat me” cakes in Alice in Wonderland or that mushroom where if she eats from one side she gets tall and from the other side she gets small (I actually have a theory that all mushrooms have that power but because we tend to eat mushrooms whole aka we eat both sides, the magic of each side cancels the other out, thus we remain the same size…maybe don’t shout about that in public though…in my experience whenever I talk about magic mushrooms someone tends to call the police and I end up with a lot of explaining to do.)
No, unlike Alice’s wonderful mushrooms (or, if I am right, normal mushrooms), food is primarily there to keep the heart beating and that is it, yet like past Katie this seems to be something we have all forgotten.

Take the hellish old saying of “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips”. This makes it sound like the second you take a bite of a tasty salted french fry (after it has been dipped in ketchup of course), that french fry immediately sets off through your digestive system until it reaches the hip, at which point it will decide to set up camp and stay there as an extra piece of flesh. No. In reality, the first thing that french fry will do is go down your digestive system and start looking for things to do. Looks like the heart could use a little energy? Awesome, then the fry will head over there and give a few beats to keep the old ticker going. Kidney need a bit of help (or kidneys if you are one of those lucky devils who still has two), fine, that fry will head off to those kidneys and do a bit of filtering or whatever kidneys do. Without food those things don’t just keep happening! What do people think is keeping us alive if food is only there to dictate the width of our thighs? Do we think livers and kidneys run on fairy dust and pixie magic? HAS THE WORLD GONE MAD?

I just think that we all need to back up out of this disordered attitude of “things you would have to do to burn off a carrot stick” thing and be reminded that food is actually fuel that keeps you alive. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, don’t get me wrong, I understand, and with every bite my head is focusing not on what that piece of food is going to do for my kidneys but what it is going to do to the number on the scales, but when those thoughts crop up remember that the whole weight gain aspect is a secondary thing and not the primary purpose of food as is made out in society. You do not need to be underweight to earn the right to eat cake on your birthday and you don’t suddenly stop requiring food the moment you are weight restored. No matter who you are or what your weight, you NEED fuel to survive like a car needs petrol. It doesn’t matter what colour the car is or what size the wheels, no matter what the physical composition of that car, it needs petrol to move just as you need food to breathe. YOU ARE THAT CAR. It doesn’t matter if you have small tyres, a huge engine, dodgy limp wing mirrors or a sizeable windscreen wiper, you need fuel to go, end of discussion.

Whether people have eating disorders or not though, collectively if I could do anything in this post it would be to urge people to see food less in the disordered “a moment on the lips forever on the hips” sense and in a way more akin to “a moment on the lips and then down to the aortic pump for a good few beats to keep me alive so that I can actually get on with my day and have a life”. Admittedly it isn’t as catchy, but trust me, it is far more scientifically accurate.

FoodIsFuel

The Effect Of Mental Health Problems On Carers

A few days ago I was out for a wander with my mother and I asked to borrow her phone because my OCD fear of contamination often means that I leave my own phone at home, meaning my “mobile” is ironically rather stationary. I did not ask to borrow her phone to play a few rounds of snake as I often did as a child (God I miss the 90’s), I borrowed it because I wanted to check my emails. You see, I am a very important person and for this reason I am often swamped with a lot of very important emails and thus it is vital for me to check my emails at all times to see what exciting opportunities I am receiving/check if my online shopping order of a new penguin onesie has been dispatched yet, because one cannot wait around all day for these things. What do they expect me to do, wear normal clothes? What a hideous idea!

Anyway, as I tapped on the little email icon on my mother’s telephonic device, I was immediately confronted with a word document in which I could clearly see my name. Had I not read my name I would have perhaps realised that this document was not for me and was actually an email sent to my mother, seeing as I was using her phone which was naturally signed into her account. Having realised this I would have, of course, closed the document and signed out in order to respect my mother’s privacy, but alas I did not realise this right away as, like I said, I had read my name. Thinking my emails had somehow popped up automatically I read on, but soon enough I realised that this message was perhaps one that had not been written for the eyes I had tucked neatly behind the rims of my spectacles (top tip: when wearing glasses always make sure your eyes are tidily kept behind the lens part of the glasses rather than allowing the eyes to wander aimlessly across one’s face).
When I realised that this document was not for me I probably should have closed it right away and swiped off to check on that penguin onesie, but alas I was all too curious and without saying a word, I read all of what was on the screen…

The document it turned out, was a draft of a letter from my parents, a letter about me. I won’t go into the full details of the letter’s contents, but as a brief summary it said “Dear High up person in Mental Health services, We are the parents of Katie who is really mentally ill and we are terrified for her life right now because things are so bad, so please can you help locate some kind of treatment that is more intense than the outpatient services she is currently receiving because she is truly insane and we do not know what to do with ourselves”. Suffice it to say, upon reading that, I was a little shocked. Obviously I know that I am mentally ill and I know that this has a large impact on the family and friends around me, but I guess that when you are the one suffering with the mental health problem, it is quite easy to forget the effect it has on other people because you are so wrapped up in your own world. Seeing this was a massive reminder and realisation as to how much people with mental health problems affect the people who love them. On this blog I am always talking about how my illness affects me and when we think about a household in which someone is a little bit on the bonkers side, it is often the person who is unwell, as opposed to the carer, who is in the forefront of our minds. This really made me think how if I, as someone who has a lot of experience in mental health problems, can forget or not realise the impact of insanity on others, a lot of people out there with no experience probably have no idea at all and therefore it needs to be talked about.

Indeed it reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago when the window cleaner rang on the doorbell to collect money for his bubbly services. Months prior, had he rang the bell, nobody would have answered because my mum would have been at work and I would have been hiding under a blanket somewhere worrying about who was ringing on the doorbell. However, recently my mum has given up work for “many reasons” she says, but if we are honest it is to care for me because, to borrow a phrase of every 5 year old trying to get out of a P.E lesson across the country, I am “not very well” (Thanks for letting me borrow that phrase kids. You may have it back now. Really appreciate it.)
Naturally though, the window cleaner is not aware of my mental health problems, so he was surprised at my mum opening the door in the day time. When she explained that she had actually given up work, he jovially commented “ahh, a lady of leisure”, and to be fair to him, how was he to think otherwise. Still it was a comment that made me a bit uncomfortable because I realised that there are probably some people out there who would hear that my mum has given up a “proper job” to look after me and would think that she is indeed a lady of leisure, swanning around the house in a floaty gown without a care in the world. She doesn’t have a mental health problem and since mine are all invisible creatures in my head, it would be easy to assume that they don’t affect her life very dramatically. This could not be further from the truth, and in my eyes my mum’s unofficial job of “looking after a maniac everyday” is not at all leisurely and, if anything, it is the most physically and emotionally exhausting job on the planet.

For me, it can take hours to eat a meal, hours to perform a washing routine “correctly”, hours to put my hair into a pony tail that is “just right” according to OCD and not likely to kick off world war three any time soon. Rituals take so long that I am frequently getting to bed around 6am, just as my dad is getting up for work, and though my mum isn’t there for all of that time, for the majority of it, she is there. She is the one calming me down after I have had a panic attack, she is the one helping me to prepare food and weigh courgettes if I am too scared to go in the kitchen myself, she is the one having to answer my constant reassurance seeking questions of “did I do that right/is something bad going to happen”. Aside from those more physically demanding things however, I would say that the biggest impact is the emotional stuff that goes alongside it.

I remember a time when I was having a particularly bad day and had found it hard to follow my meal plan so I ended up accidentally fainting (I am pretty sure it is hard to faint on purpose but I want to make it clear that the fainting had not been my intention). When I came round on the sofa I did not feel well at all and I remember mum being very anxious about it, a fact which, at the time, I felt really angry about. Looking back it sounds awfully selfish but I just couldn’t see why she was making a fuss. She wasn’t the one whose heart was skipping beats like a child with a jump rope of death, she wasn’t the one who was so weak she could barely move and whose vision was fading in and out of total darkness. If she was at all dizzy or weak, she could solve the problem easily by going into the kitchen and having a few chocolate digestives to perk her sugar levels up. I on the other hand, no matter how I felt, was still too scared to eat something. Little did I think about what it must be like to watch someone you love struggling to stay alive, without being able to do anything about it. Okay my mum “has it easy” in that she can grab a biscuit whenever she wants one, but she also has to worry about the fact that I cannot do that, that I cannot take care of myself at all right now, and that is incredibly difficult.

It isn’t even as if she can get a break very often from her role as “carer” because naturally if she isn’t caring for me she is worrying about who is doing it for her or worse, me caring for myself. She can go to bed at 2am and sleep through the rituals I carry out until 6am but I highly doubt she has a restful sleep knowing that I am awake charging around like a lunatic, worrying about whether i have eaten enough or whether I am going to have one of my panic sessions which usually leads to me doing something rash and dangerous before I have time to realise what is going on.
Living with someone with a mental health problem also restricts someone’s movement and freedom drastically, much like it might if you had a Yorkshire terrier or a golden Labrador. I have never had a dog but from what I gather, you need to constantly be aware of what they are doing and where they are going. You cannot just jet off to Paris for the weekend without worrying about where the dog is going to go, and in my mother’s situation, I am very much like that dog (only a really freaking crazy dog that you can’t just send to the local kennel.) In the letter from my parents to the fancy mental health person that I had read accidentally/kind of on purpose having discovered accidentally, they spoke about how they have a holiday booked in August and are panicking because if things remain as they are, I will not be able to be left. People know that as someone who is unwell, I often feel trapped behind the bars of the mental health cage, but it is important to realise that often, those around them are caught up in that cage behind those bars too.

Reading that letter has had a big effect on me, not in the sense that I am now “trying harder” to get better as if I wasn’t trying before, but because it has made me especially aware of how mental health problems suck both the lives out of those they inhabit and any other lives that happen to be within range. A mental health problem is not a vacuum with a specifically designed nozzle that only pulls on the sufferer, it is a vacuum with a flipping massive gaping hole that hovers over a household and jumbles up all that there is inside, so that even those who aren’t “technically ill” can feel like their world is spinning.
In a way I guess this blog is kind of like a shoutout or a thank you to my parents as well as an apology at how much I am affecting their lives negatively right now. More than that though, I want it to highlight the fact that in general, life as a carer is incredibly taxing and debilitating in its own right, and that it is a serious job, the stress of which should never be underestimated or brushed aside. Raise awareness for people who struggle of course, but it is important to also raise awareness and support for the people who are standing alongside them.

If you yourself are a carer of someone with a mental health problem, please know that on behalf of all mentally ill people, I see you, and I thank you.

Take care everyone x

CarerPrison

41 Ways To Celebrate Easter When You Have An Eating Disorder

If I were to tell you that within the next seven days, a giant mole would appear in your garden and would hide chocolate potatoes amongst your shrubbery, you would probably look at me as if I were mentally ill (and you would have a point). If however we were to change that giant mole to a rabbit and the chocolate potatoes to chocolate eggs, I am sure your reaction would be a little different and more akin to “hooray, I love Easter!”.
Indeed, I would share in that hooray, as I have also always loved Easter and the whole  celebration of days that go alongside it. When I was younger, Shrove Tuesday or “pancake day” was the highlight of my year and I vividly remember having competitions with my grandparents as to who would be able to eat the most pancakes (spoiler alert, I won every year). I also loved making hot cross buns with my mother, mixing melted chocolate with shredded wheat to make “birds nest cakes”, and the annual tradition of putting Cadbury mini eggs into my plastic purple duck who would “lay” one of these eggs every time you pressed his head (please note this does NOT work with normal ducks no matter how hard you press them on the head. All you get in that situation is no chocolate egg and a very very angry duck).

Whenever I received an Easter egg as a child I remember being so excited that I couldn’t choose which one to eat first and from the age of five years old I would line them all up in order of expiration date just to make the decision for me. Even with this excitement I would make my eggs last for months and months, only having a little bit a day as a treat because I didn’t want them to disappear, so that it wasn’t unusual for me to still have an egg on the go at Christmas. In senior school they were so invested in festivities that there was even a giant egg hunt around the school grounds on the last day of term before we broke up for Easter and this was taken VERY seriously. People got into teams to compete, eggs were hidden with the utmost secrecy, and four or so teachers would even dress up as rabbits and hide in especially difficult to find spots, with bonus points going to any team who managed to find a bunny and drag them to the finish line. If you found a bunny, you were guaranteed a place in the top five teams and one of my fondest memories of my school days was watching as a hoard of screaming teenagers ran across a field in pursuit of the deputy head, who, after being found hiding in a tree, was sprinting for his life complete with bunny ears and a fluffy tail. It was truly a remarkable sight and Sir, if you are reading this, may I say you suited that fluffy tail perfectly and should seriously consider adding it to your daily wardrobe rather than saving it for special spring time occasions.

As I am sure you can see from all of those memories however, food is a key part of the Easter celebrations, so joining in with the festivities when you have an eating disorder can be quite difficult and lead to the Easter weekend being a stressful, as opposed to enjoyable time. Obviously, as I said when faced with this similar situation at Christmas, it would be great and ideal that for Easter we would all be able to set our eating disorders aside and join in. Eating disorders are horrible, potentially fatal illnesses that should not be allowed to dictate or ruin your Easter, and as my dad quite rightly says “eating a few chocolate eggs once a year isn’t going to do anything to you”. Alas eating disorders are not so easily persuaded by such demonstrations of logic and even with the best intentions and determination, they often interfere with one’s ability to join in with a lot of the “normal” Easter activities. Of course, if you are able to challenge yourself and join in with the more anxiety provoking aspects of Easter this year, then I would encourage you to go ahead and have a cracking time, but nevertheless, today as I did for Christmas, I thought I would offer you a blog post containing a few suggestions as to how to get involved and celebrate a holiday with your family in alternative ways that are not so focused on the food components of pancakes, buns and eggs…

41 Ways to celebrate Easter when you have an eating disorder

  1. Buy some of those little yellow chicks you can get to stick on cakes and instead of an Easter egg hunt, distribute the chicks around the house or garden and use them for your Easter themed hunt instead.
  2. Make an Easter decoration by doing some Papier-mâché on a balloon. Then when it is dry decorate it with as much paint and glitter as you can find to create the most fabulous egg you have ever seen.
  3. Email me a picture of your creation.
  4. Make an Easter wreath.
  5. Plant and decorate an Easter tree.
  6. Sit behind a bush with a leaf on your head and make noises like a lettuce in order to try and attract the Easter bunny.
  7. If the Easter bunny doesn’t show up, change tactics and try making noises like a cabbage instead (as we all know cabbages speak with a far lower pitch so maybe take someone with a deep voice for this one).
  8. If the Easter bunny still doesn’t show up, set off on an expedition around the world in search of your little rabbit friend.
  9. If yet again efforts fail, give up in your attempts to find the Easter bunny and simply become the Easter bunny yourself.
  10. Congratulate yourself on having become the Easter bunny and throw a party to celebrate your new job.
  11. Travel around the world as fast as possible and leave chocolate eggs for everyone who celebrates Easter (I know it is a big job but I think you will find you took it upon yourself).
  12. Rest after exhausting yourself doing number 11.
  13. Weave an Easter basket.
  14. Have an egg and spoon race (I know this technically involves an egg which can be considered as a food BUT the activity of an egg and spoon race doesn’t actually rely on consumption aka eating of the egg and is far more centred on putting the egg on a spoon and running as fast as humanly possible).
  15. Go to a pottery class and make an egg cup.
  16. Paint your egg cup.
  17. Play pin the beak on the chick (A PAPER CHICK).
  18. Buy a female chicken.
  19. Buy a male chicken.
  20. Leave both of your chickens in a barn.
  21. Add mood lighting to create a romantic atmosphere.
  22. Quietly play romantic songs into the barn (I recommend Dolly Parton. I am not sure why but I feel like chickens would like Dolly Parton.)
  23. Give your chickens some privacy.
  24. Wait until an egg has been laid.
  25. When an egg has been laid, ensure it is kept warm and is well cared for until it is ready to hatch.
  26. Watch as the egg hatches and congratulate yourself for creating a romantic partnership that has led to a new life in the form of a real life Easter chick.
  27. Realise that there is no way for you to achieve all of this in the next few days as Easter is only a week away and it takes considerably longer than that to progress from step 18-26
  28. Research how long steps 18-26 will take realistically.
  29. Check what date Easter is next year and put a date in your diary as many days/weeks before Easter Sunday needed to realistically carry out steps 18-26 in order to actually have an Easter chick born on Easter Sunday.
  30. Make pop up Easter cards to give to friends and family.
  31. Learn to knit and make some cuddly Easter bunnies.
  32. Turn those few bunnies into several hundred bunnies because as we all know, in nature these creatures tend to multiply rather rapidly.
  33. If you are religious, go to church.
  34. If you are not religious, maybe give someone without a car who is religious a lift to church.
  35. If you are not religious and don’t know anyone who is, simply kidnap a passer by and take them to church in the interests of traditionally celebrating Easter Sunday. I am sure the Pope would approve.
  36. Lie completely flat on the floor and impersonate a pancake.
  37. Plant daffodils.
  38. Water your daffodils with a watering can shaped like a bunny.
  39. Become a daffodil (please note you can only do this one if you didn’t do suggestion number 9 for as we all know it is far too much responsibility for one to be both the Easter bunny AND a daffodil.)
  40. Wear all of your winter clothes at once, get very angry and then play crazy golf. If anyone asks what you are doing answer that you are celebrating Easter by having some “hot cross fun”
  41. Roll your eyes at number 40 and wonder why on earth you are still reading the blog of someone who is clearly an idiot

So there you have it! 41 Non food related ways to celebrate Easter when you are suffering from an eating disorder! If you are a friend or family member of someone with an eating disorder, maybe suggest one of these activities to them in order to make them feel included in the festivities, or maybe ignore all of my suggestions and come up with a more sensible non food related way to celebrate to make sure that your friend/family member feels included with the holiday. Hopefully if you yourself reading this are a person with an eating disorder, one day you will feel able to participate in the more “traditional” chocolate egg/hot cross bun parts of Easter and maybe one day you will be fully recovered and able to enjoy Easter as much as you did before your eating disorder rudely entered your life. Either way, whatever stage you are at, I hope you all manage to have some fun this Easter weekend and that things aren’t too stressful. Stay calm, stay strong, and if in doubt, just become the Easter bunny.

Take care everyone x

EasterED

How To Tackle Suicidal Thoughts And The Fear That Things Will Never Get Better

So, I will be honest, I am currently in a very dark place (my parents haven’t paid the electricity bill and I ate our entire supply of candles because they smelled like Jaffa cakes…Alas they did not taste like Jaffa cakes and I am still picking wax out of my teeth. Life lesson: do not eat scented candles).
Seriously though, mentally, things with me are pretty terrible and I am on the brink of giving up entirely. I am losing hope in the idea that one day things will be better, and recently I have noticed a lot of friends or people online with mental health problems feeling the same.

I think that there have been times in my life where I have just assumed that I am going to get better, just as you grow up assuming you will naturally fall into the stereotypical life of getting married and having a few kids. When I was younger I was always watching Disney films, and when it comes to Cinderella or Snow White, there is never any doubt as to how things are going to end. When you watch Cinderella you don’t sit around worrying that she will be stuck sweeping floorboards for the rest of her life, you know straight away that the girl is going to go to the ball in a big ole pumpkin and that her poor choice of ill fitting footwear is going to result in her marrying the man of her dreams. Naturally then, I assumed that one day I would lose a shoe and automatically fall in love with and marry some Prince Charming, without realising that my mother would never allow me to buy footwear I hadn’t tried on to ensure a perfect fit, or that I was a queer little thing who wasn’t interested in princes no matter how “charming” they may be.
Similarly with mental health problems, I guess I have always assumed that somehow, no matter what happens, one day there will be a fairy godmother with a magic wand and things will get better. I do not know how or when, but I simply couldn’t get my head round the idea that this could be it, that recovery isn’t as automatic and as assumed as I imagined princes to be, that sometimes, people spend their lives as tortured mentally ill souls with no happy ending.

Thinking like this, if I am going be in this state forever, it is easy to ask myself why not just end it now? Why draw it out? Why not rip the plaster off quickly as it were. It sounds incredibly bleak, but mental health problems are incredibly bleak and I am not going to sugar coat them to insinuate otherwise. Recently I have been having suicidal thoughts every minute of everyday, and when you don’t think you are ever going to get better, it is hard to come up with a good argument to fight them.

Like I said, I am not alone in feeling this, and I have had many conversations with fellow mental health warriors who have lost hope, who don’t think there is any chance of them getting better so why carry on? Maybe you yourself reading this have resigned yourself to the fact that you are a terminal case, perhaps because a professional has given you the label of “chronic” or simply because the weight of your struggles is so heavy that trying to imagine life without them is akin to trying to imagine a penguin without the adorablessness which, as we all know, is impossible (if anyone wants to debate this issue feel free to contact my solicitor and I will happily see you in court).
There is however one thing that I do find comforting, even when I fully believe that I will be like this forever, one argument against the suicidal screaming in my head telling me to jump into oblivion and end the debates/suffering once and for all, an argument that funnily enough, comes in the form of basic mathematics (don’t panic, I hate maths too but this is cool maths I promise and you don’t even need a protractor or a calculator to join in).

If you hark back to your maths lessons at school, you may remember the point where you started learning about things like probability. The lessons get more complex as each year passes, but in the early days of primary school education, the grand complexities of probability and chance are usually explained via some kind of analogy involving a bag filled with balls, for as we all know, in later life it is an incredibly common experience to be confronted with a bag of balls and the need to calculate your chances of picking out a specific kind of ball.
In the lesson, it is likely that the teacher produced a bag to explain things, and would say something like “there are ten balls in the bag, five green, five purple” before waffling on a bit about how if you put your hand in the bag there is an equal chance that the ball you pull out will be purple as there is for it to be green. Then the teacher usually complicated matters (don’t they always), and added say ten more purple balls to the bag. This would then make the chances of picking out a green ball less than they had been previously, and you will spend the next twenty minutes of that lesson calculating chance and ratios surrounding various combinations of coloured balls in a bag.

Now for the purpose of this discussion lets scrap the balls and replace it with a bag of Smarties because let’s be honest, we are not in some official school right now, we can do what we want in this maths lesson and if we want Smarties instead of balls we will damn well have them (I told you this maths would be fun…THERE ARE SMARTIES INVOLVED).

So, picture life as a bag filled with millions upon millions of Smarties (it is a really really big bag and these are really small Smarties).
All the Smarties in this bag are pink. Except for one. One of the Smarties hidden somewhere in that bag is blue. That blue Smartie is the chance of you getting better in a world of pink Smarties telling you that that isn’t going to happen. If you put your hand in the bag you may very well be right, you may get a pink Smartie and be mentally ill and miserable forever. In your mind the chances of you getting better are as rare as that blue Smartie, but the key thing is, as long as you are alive, that blue Smartie is still there, and the only way to guarantee 100% your belief or the professionals’ belief that you will never recover and are going to be miserable forever, is for you to end it all now.

When I have days that are plagued by suicidal thoughts so loud I can barely breathe because I don’t think things will ever be better, I always remind myself that the only way to make sure they don’t get better, is to listen to those thoughts. Killing yourself is basically like pouring all of your Smarties into the ocean so that the colour washes off and they all become white Smarties with that blue Smartie existing only in the realms of myths and legend. If you hang in there, aka you keep plunging your hand into that massive bag, there are no guarantees of you getting better, but by keeping yourself alive, at least you are keeping that chance alive too, however small and insignificant that chance may be.

Now like I said, I am going to be honest in this blog, because if you are someone who reads this blog, then I consider you as a friend and friends tell the truth so I refuse to sugar coat any of this (the only sugar coated contents of this blog are the Smarties).
If you are in a dark place like me right now, and have spent the day contemplating your demise, I am not here to tell you that if you keep fighting through this rubbish it will all work out in the end. I am not a fortune teller, I do not have a crystal ball, and the only conclusion I have ever gleaned from reading tea leaves is that I seem to have run out of tea. If you keep yourself alive and keep fighting maybe you are right, maybe things will stay rubbish and maybe you will keep plunging your hand into that bag and pulling out the pink Smarties. However, no matter how hopeless you feel, if you keep yourself alive, the chance that the blue Smartie will crop up is there. I cannot tell you the probability/ratio of how likely you are to get better, but you must always remember that if you are trying, there is at least a chance. Don’t allow the fear of being mentally ill forever, convince you to do the one thing that ironically does nothing but solidify that conclusion.
Fight back, keep trying, keep safe, and even in the darkest days, no matter what, you have to believe in that blue Smartie.

Take care everyone x

SuicideSmartie

Why Praise Makes Me Panic

Whenever I am praised for something people think I have done well, I panic. Even if the Queen of England herself (Hi Elizabeth if you are reading), were to turn up on my doorstep with a party popper and a handful of corgi shaped confetti to congratulate me on achieving something, I would probably have started hyperventilating before a single streamer had hit the floor. Contrary to popular belief, this is not because I have a fear of brightly coloured canine shaped bits of paper flying through the air, but because any positive feedback from anyone feels like a terrible mistake.

Take my A-level results day for example. It was 2011 and was around the time everyone started rioting around England…remember that?..Not that they were rioting about my A-level results…I am just setting the scene…
Anyway, after months of stress and exams, I was handed the envelope that would tell me whether or not all my hard work had paid off. Upon reading the string of letters on the page presented to me, I was a little relieved. I had got the grades I needed to get to university so I thought I had no need for any immediate worry. That was until I turned the corner and bumped into some of my teachers who were all hovering around the corridors.
As I passed, each one turned to me, all of them smiling, all holding their arms out to offer a hug, and with a sinister sparkle of pride in their eyes, they all muttered those immortal words to me…”Well done”. Good lord, just the memory sends tingles of terror to my very core! Stephen King himself is incapable of inspiring such fright with so few words! Grab me a cushion to hide behind and for the love of God someone take me home!

Don’t get me wrong, if I honestly believed that I had done well I would appreciate being congratulated, but in my head I am incapable of doing anything well, so any statement suggesting the contrary is terribly confusing and thus makes me panic. People were looking at my grades and calling me clever, yet inside I knew I wasn’t clever in the slightest. I felt that any of the marks I achieved must have been down to luck.
Maybe I had a really generous person grading my paper? Maybe they made a mistake and added the total up wrong, or maybe I hadn’t taken the exam at all, had dreamt the whole thing and someone else put glasses on and took the test for me? Part of me even worried if I had somehow smuggled a textbook into the exam hall and cheated without knowing it. I wanted to cry out to all the teachers and tell them the truth, tell them that I wasn’t really clever or capable of those grades and was in fact a fraud with a lot of luck and possibly a lookalike somewhere who was the one really in need of praise for the success.
It was like in movies when someone whips out a gun and the person at whom the gun is being aimed throws up their hands and says “You’ve got the wrong guy!”. That is how I feel every single time I am told that I have “done well”, only with me it is when people start aiming trophies at me rather than a gun. I would probably react the same way if I was ever aimed at with a gun too to be fair, but thankfully I haven’t had the experience to confirm this hypothesis (neither do I want to thank you very much.)

Again I don’t want this to come across as the idea that I panic because I don’t want people to think good things of me. Even if people are mistaken I have no problem in being thought to be good at something. My teachers could have followed me around for the rest of the day with a brass band trumpeting my success if they wanted (for some reason they didn’t want. I blame the recession). No, what I fear is the consequences of someone holding that belief and the weight of expectation that goes alongside it. If you do well in education, sport or anything else that can be ranked competitively, you are branded as good at that sport or subject and are therefore expected to perform well the next time, which might not be possible. That is what I fear.
I fear that people will mistake any success I have in life for talent and that they will then expect me to carry on performing at whatever level, when in reality I am incapable of doing anything well and doomed to let them down.
I don’t fear them thinking well of me, I fear the inevitable disappointment when they realise they are wrong, the chance of being discovered as a fraud and made to stand up in court to defend myself against a judge with a hammer and a silly little wig. It is a problem I even struggle with on my blog, as if anyone gives me a nice comment about a post I am initially thrilled, yet at the same time worried that I have misled people into thinking I can write. After every good comment I wonder what the hell I am going to do and how I am ever going to write another post without exposing myself as an imposter.

The other day however, I was so fed up with feeling like this, scared that I was genuinely crazy or just ungrateful when people are nice to me, that I decided to google it to see if anyone else felt like this. They say you shouldn’t google something you think might be wrong with you because if you type in “I have a headache” the internet will automatically diagnose you with some horrendous disease/convince you that you somehow have a badger lodged into your temple which is causing all the pain, but this time I have to say that I am glad I did google this because it has made me feel so much better.

It turns out that this whole feeling like a fraud when praised is an actual thing, and was named as “imposter syndrome” by some clinical psychologists in 1978. Upon this discovery I set about scouring the internet on a grand research quest for knowledge (by which I mean I read some articles on Wikipedia), and it turns out that a lot of people feel like this! Apparently two in five people struggle with it, and though not a mental illness itself, more a psychological phenomenon, it is one that can in turn lead to genuine mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Therefore, knowing that others experienced this problem too, I looked to see if there was a solution or way for people to manage this “imposter syndrome”, and there is! According to some professional psychologist people out there, the main problem is that people who experience imposter syndrome are unaware that others feel inadequate in their achievements as well. However, “once the situation is addressed, victims no longer feel alone in their negative experience”, so talking about it openly with likeminded people is a key to “overcoming this burden”.

Basically then, what I learnt is that a lot of people feel the way I feel, that any success is luck and that they are a fraud undeserving of real praise, and the only way to deal with it is to talk about it. Upon my discovery I immediately wanted to grab a megaphone, climb to the tallest tower in all the land and shout this message to all the other people out there who feel like a fraud, in order to let them know that they are not alone in hopes that it might help. Unfortunately though, I was unable to find a megaphone and there aren’t many tall towers about where I live, so I thought it might be better if I wrote a blog about it instead, which funnily is the blog you are reading now. WHAT A COINCIDENCE.

Therefore I wanted to use this as an opportunity to write a message to anyone out there who has related to this in any way whatsoever, to let them know that feeling this “imposter syndrome” way doesn’t make you weird. More importantly though, the fact that a lot of people feel like it suggests that if you feel that everything you achieve is luck, you are probably wrong.
Ok, luck has it’s part to play in life and the opportunities available at a certain time, but “luck”, by definition isn’t a thing that happens all the time to everyone in every second of every day. The thing that makes finding a “lucky” four leaf clover so exciting is that doing so is rare, and that is what “luck” is about. It isn’t about a common occurrence in the general mundanity of day to day life, it is about those special unlikely moments that pop up infrequently and out of the blue. You cannot put everything good that you have ever achieved down to luck because it just doesn’t make any sense, and if a lot of people feel this way then we can’t all be this lucky, nor can we all be imposters.I know that people out there will probably read this and think the classic “I am the exception, I really am an imposter” but the truth is you are wrong. If we were all imposters and frauds where the hell would all the real people on whom we are basing ourselves be? Either way, the fact that this imposter syndrome is a common experience has made me feel a little less alone, so I have written this in the hopes that someone who also struggles with it will read this and experience the same reassurance I did on Wikipedia. None of you out there are “freaks” or “ungrateful” for struggling with praise, it happens to a lot of people, and hey, if we are all freaks together, then I feel I am in some damn good company. Well done us!

Take care everyone x

Imposter

The Mystery Of Hunger When You Have An Eating Disorder

Whenever I play Cluedo, (or Clue to any American readers out there), I am confused as to why anyone would ever choose to commit a murder in a library with a candlestick. You are supposed to be quiet in a library, not create a racket bashing someone’s head in, and how are people expected to read if they are being plunged into darkness because someone was foolish enough to break all the candles?
Whenever I play Monopoly, I am also confused. I do not understand why I am repeatedly being thrown into jail when I have done NOTHING wrong, especially when, ten minutes prior to my unfortunate detainment, I was allowed to roam freely around the planet with no consequences, even after the discovery that I had beaten Professor Plum over the head with a piece of lead piping in the Billiard room (where I was courteous enough not to disturb anyone. Nobody was playing Billiards. They were all trying to read in the library and I allowed them to continue in peace because I am a good person).
When it comes to games however, there are none I find more confusing than that classic joy of “Hungry hippos.” Are these hippos actually hungry, and if they are hungry, what exactly does that mean?

Multiple times during my life with an Eating Disorder, I have had people offer me bits of advice that they think will be the key to my recovery. One of the more common pieces of advice is that I should just “stop listening to the anorexia and eat when I am hungry”.
On paper, I suppose this is fairly sound advice. Eating disorders want to kill you whereas your natural body impulses are there to keep you alive, so it makes sense to listen to them. The problem is, when you have had an eating disorder you spend your life trying not to listen to them, and eventually the mutual understanding and connection you had with your body is diminished. Indeed, your disorder actually spends every day purposely trying to suppress all natural instincts that were built up during the cave man days so that it can be in charge of what food is consumed, how much and when. You don’t “eat when you’re hungry” as you are supposed to, rather you eat when, or if, you are allowed.

Obviously I know what it is like for the body to go without food. I am familiar with the light headed tingliness, head aches, dizziness, chills, fainting spells and the pains in ones’ abdomen that occur when your stomach hasn’t seen any tasty morsels for a while, but I am unsure as to at what point all of these feelings constitute “hunger”. Does hunger start from the moment your tummy utters its first inquisitive growl or is that just being “peckish?” Is hunger what you feel when you see a chocolate doughnut with rainbow sprinkles or is that just curiosity…or being peckish? What even is peckish? When does hunger become starving? Is ravenous worse than starving? WHAT DO ALL OF THESE WORDS MEAN?

I know some people will probably say that you can’t think of hunger in such rigid terms and it is more of a sliding scale, but I am just so confused as to how people know when to eat if it is a sliding scale and not a case of two opposites. If we all had little signs on our heads that flipped from “not hungry” to “hungry” when it was time to eat it wouldn’t be a problem, yet people seem to just understand their bodies in a way that is completely baffling to me. All of my meal times are rigidly planned out, I know it is time to eat by my eating disorder giving me a time and then I simply watch the clock. Is it time to eat? I don’t know, lets see if the little hand is on the right number and if it isn’t we will give it a few more hours.

My parents, aka people without eating disorders, do not have strict rules on dinner time and they are two of those mysterious people who I often observe knowing when to eat by knowing when they are hungry. It makes no sense. Sometimes my mum’s stomach will growl and she will say something like “I don’t know why it’s making that noise, I am not even hungry.” What? I thought a growling abdomen was the universal sign for hungry? Does it only mean that sometimes? At other times does it growl to test its abilities in lion impersonations? How do you know which is which? Some evenings my mum will ask my Dad if she should put on the dinner and he will say something like “in a bit, I’m not hungry yet”. I will then spend the next however many minutes watching him, and at some point, with no signal from any outside force and no noise from his stomach he will announce, “Ok, might as well put the tea on, I’m hungry now”. HOW DID HE KNOW THAT? When did the switch flip? When did “not quite hungry” become full on hungry in a way that needs to be satisfied? I was watching him closely the whole time and I saw nothing! Not a single rhino burst into the room wearing a sign declaring “Now is the time for food”, there were no fog horns, smoke signals and no morse code (I was watching him and listening very very closely).

Even in hospital settings, it is an alien concept to listen to your body and adhere to hunger cues. In every hospital I have ever been in, you know it is breakfast or lunch time because the clock tells you it is so. The nurses don’t rally up the patients, ask who is and who isn’t hungry and stagger the meal accordingly, it is just time to eat so you do. More than that, the clock tells you when to stop eating rather than you deciding that you are “no longer hungry”, and portions are equally dictated by how many ladles of pasta bake is on the nutrition guidelines rather than “how much you fancy”. You can’t even forget the “eat when you are hungry” bit and skip to the “stop when you are full”, because again in hospital, what your body feels has nothing to do with what you eat. When at home you may stop mid meal because you are no longer hungry, but in hospital your allocated portion has to be eaten, so you often have to keep eating rather than stop when you are full because the dietician and meal plan has stated that is so. Full of cottage pie and not “hungry” for apple crumble? Tough, nutritionists have stated that your body needs apple crumble for medical medicinal reasons so you are going to eat it anyway, and you simply listen to their hunger cues and portion sizes instead of your Eating Disorder’s or your body’s. Natural impulses and intuition have nothing to do with it.
I honestly cannot remember a time when I just ate a meal because I knew I was hungry or stopped because I was full, for years I have simply followed the instructions prescribed much as someone else might follow the instructions on the back of a packet of custard (sidenote: Isn’t custard awesome?!)

It is even the same for me when it comes to using the bathroom. Not to overwhelm you with “too much information”, but as much as I do not understand people knowing when to eat, I do not comprehend how they know when they need the bathroom. They say “when you need to go you go”, but when is need? Is it at the first sign that your bladder is a little on the full side or do you wait until you are so desperate that you are hopping from foot to foot like Michael Flatly performing the River Dance? Somewhere in between these two points? Cool…BUT WHERE? WHEN? Again my natural impulses haven’t been in control of that kind of thing for over a decade as it is my OCD/eating disorder that tells me when I am allowed to pee even if I may not feel the need. When it comes to following my body’s impulses then, I find it impossible not just because I have an eating disorder or OCD screaming in my head, but because I have lost sight of what those impulses are by forcing myself to ignore them for so long.

Perhaps I have just waffled on in an incomprehensible meandering mess in this blog and once again none of you have any idea what I am on about. In writing it I have definitely learnt how hard it is to explain something you cannot get your head round, much like it is trying to ask someone to explain something invisible like air or untouchable like a rainbow.
Still I hope I have at least explained in some sense yet another reason as to why recovery or living with an eating disorder is so hard, and not something you can get over by “just eating” like everyone else. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions you can want to “just eat” as other people do, deciding it is lunch time based on an intuitive flicker of the gut or portioning your roast potatoes out based on how many you think you can manage rather than how many are on your meal plan. Nevertheless, intentions or not, to me it still remains an unfathomable mystery of just how in the hell all these people do it.

Take care everyone x

Hippo

Why We Need To Keep Talking About Mental Health

Tomorrow is a very special day for this blog that you are oh so kindly reading in this moment (cheers for that), for tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of Born Without Marbles being “a thing” on the internet as opposed to an idea in my head that I was too scared to carry out.
That means that I have been harping on about mental health, whether you have liked it or not, for an entire year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people out there wondering why on earth I am still waffling on about illnesses that the majority of the population are well aware of by now.
Ok the general public may have misconceived ideas and perceptions as to what an illness may really be like, but everyone has a rough idea these days as to what things like OCD and Anorexia actually are, so why am I still talking about these things and why do I plan on continuing to talk about these things for the foreseeable future? Newton isn’t still harping on about the time that apple fell on his head (partly because Gravity is old news that doesn’t own the headlines these days and partly because he died in 1726 which somewhat limits his abilities to “harp on”), so why do I keep talking about what it is like to be mentally ill when the existence of mental illnesses is no longer breaking news. Well friends, whether you have been here from the beginning or whether this is your first experience of Born Without Marbles (Welcome. Please excuse the penguins I have left lying around in each post. They are kind of important), today I am going to answer that question and tell you why, even after a year of weekly waffling, I still feel that we all need to keep talking about mental health.

Of course there are all the obvious things like the fact that the more we talk about mental illness, the more research there will be and in turn the more likely we are to find a cure. To explain why I personally have such a passion for the subject however, I need to take you back to 2003, and, more specifically, eleven year old Katie (to set the scene I looked exactly the same as I do now only shorter).
As the name of this blog suggests, I can see that I have shown signs of mental illness from the moment I was born, but it was in 2003 that things really began to become a problem, that I became afraid and ashamed for the first time of the thoughts going on in my head. It was the first time that I didn’t feel normal, and feared that I was different from everyone else.

Every day at school I would watch other pupils in awe. I would see them eating school dinners, opening doors and shaking hands with each other as if it was the easiest thing in the world, and I would wonder how on earth they did it all. For some reason when I tried to open a door, I would find myself frozen in fear, unable to touch the handle as if someone was holding my arms behind my back. When I was in the queue for school dinners, my head was screaming at me to run away because I wasn’t allowed to eat, and no matter how hard I tried to concentrate in lessons about ox bow lakes, all I could see in my mind were images of terrible things happening to all the people I loved, and hear threats that the only way to stop those things happening was to repeat some kind of ritual. This would have been rubbish enough, but the worst bit was that I had no idea what this meant or why this was happening. I thought long and hard, trying to come up with an explanation but the whole thing made very little sense to me. What was so scary about the germs on a door handle when I had evidence all around me showing that nothing bad was happening to people “contaminated” with them? Why couldn’t I go to lunch, even on pasta days? Logically I knew that I loved pasta (pasta is flipping awesome), so why did the idea of eating a steaming bowlful topped with as much cheese as I could get away with before a disapproving dinner lady grasped my cheddar filled palm, scare me so much?
These things went on for months, and I said nothing to anyone because I was too afraid. Maybe mental health wasn’t as widely discussed in 2003 or maybe I was just unaware of what mental illnesses were, but I had never heard of anyone experiencing these things so I kept silent and hoped they would go away. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. Of all the awkward situations I found myself in however, there is one in particular that sticks in my mind and one that continues to motivate me and my dedication to this blog today.

“It” happened at the end of a music lesson. Now, in my school, music was taught in a separate building to all others, ditto art, drama, and DT who all had their own individual buildings (something tells me the staff members of the more creative subjects did not get on well…this explanation of the separate buildings certainly correlates with the time I saw the head of drama pelting the art teacher’s studio with water balloons anyway…)

On the day in which our story occurred, our class had been taken to a room on the top floor of the music building where there were a lot of computers and keyboards set up for us to spend a few hours learning how to play the theme tune from Titanic (a vital part to any eleven year old’s education). Then, the lesson ended and we were dismissed, a fact that meant we were going to have to leave the room and therefore, someone was going to have to open the door. Usually I was very good at avoiding such a responsibility, and at the end of every lesson I would fumble around with my bag until someone else had done the job so that I could scoot on after them without touching anything. This technique worked perfectly for every lesson, but today, for some reason, the teacher wanted us to lead out in single file from the nearest computer to the door. I think maybe someone had been messing about with a keyboard, playing Celine Dion’s soundtrack with a little too much gusto, so in the exit of the classroom, the teacher wanted to establish some serious authority. I felt sick. I was at the computer nearest the door. I was to be the first to leave, I was to lead my fellow students to freedom. I was to open the door. When I saw that it was a push door then, I was thrilled. Happily I nudged the door with my foot and led my classmates out, but the relief was short lived as I realised we were headed for another door, a pull one with a handle…AND AN EXIT CODE KEYPAD.
I thought about pausing in the corridor to let someone overtake but the corridor was too narrow, it was single file, there was no escape, and as I walked down the stair case to the door I genuinely felt like I was walking to the gallows. This was it. I was going to have to touch a door handle, and it was going to be the end of the world. When I reached the door I stopped. The time had come to raise my hand, but I couldn’t move. Instead, I just found myself stuck, panic building as the queue of students eager to go home started forming behind me. Luckily everyone was talking about the day too much to notice my embarrassing situation at first, but after a few minutes of standing in a line waiting, understandably, people started wondering what the hell was going on, and from the back of the line I heard a voice ask perfectly reasonably “is there something wrong with the door?” From then it went silent and all I could hear was the response in my head of “no actually, there is nothing wrong with the door, there is something wrong with me and I have no idea what it is”.

Eventually, after what felt like 34 years, the person behind me became impatient, reached around and opened the door, and from there I ran sobbing to the medical centre with shame, fear and embarrassment. I didn’t want to see anyone ever again, I had to hide, so I decided to take refuge in the sanitarium. When the nurse asked me what was wrong, I lied and told her that I had a tummy ache. I spent the rest of the day curled up on the sofa with a hot wheat bag watching episodes of the Simpsons, feeling more alone than I knew it was possible to feel. There were hundreds of other pupils in the school, but for some reason I was different, I couldn’t open doors or eat meals like they appeared to, and there was nobody, least of all me, who understood why.

It is for that Katie sitting on that sofa with that smelly hot wheat bag that I started this blog, and it is for all the smelly hot wheat bag holding people out there pretending to be fine, pretending to have tummy aches to cover up the fact they are terrified of their own minds and too scared to speak out for fear that other people won’t believe them, that I write this blog. Had I heard about mental health problems sooner, maybe I would have asked for support sooner, but what I would have found more helpful than any of the symptoms listed in the millions of health care packs, would have been the knowledge that there was at least someone out there who struggled with the same things, who let me know I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t alone. It is for that reason that, no matter how much awareness there is about the existence of mental illnesses, I will keep talking about my experiences with mental health problems in public spaces. This isn’t a blog to just give information, in my eyes, this blog is a friend, both to me, to the readers and to anyone out there who comments to say that they can relate to my problems and thus remind me once again that none of us are alone.

So happy birthday Born Without Marbles, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support anyone reading this has ever provided. Here’s to another year, another 52 weeks of my ramblings, another 365 days of friendship.

Take care everyone x

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