The Difficulty Of Managing When Mental Health Carers Go Away On Holiday

So last week I did a whole blog about tips as to how to manage when carers go away on holiday and do you know what? I was totally unqualified in giving that advice because good lord…as of today it has been seven days since my parents, aka my regular carers, went away (with three still left to go), and boy have I not been managing to a degree I seriously didn’t expect.

I think the hardest thing about planning for your carers to be away on holiday is that until it happens, you don’t realise how much you needed them in the first place. It is easy to imagine how you will cope without your mental health carers around, but it isn’t until it actually happens that you see all the little things that they do for you that you never would have thought of.
In my last blog I mentioned the importance of writing a list of the things your carers do for you so that you can figure out solutions and alternative ways to manage those things without them, but something I have realised in this past seven days is that I don’t just need general carers, I need my parents as carers specifically, and as a 25 year old I am ashamed to admit how dependant I am on both of them. I am 25 years old so I should be living an independent life without needing family around, but as much as I hate to say it…this past seven days…I have really needed my mum, and you have no idea how pathetic I feel in admitting that.

As you know, in preparation for the holiday my parents hired a nurse to look after me, but it only took a few minutes with said nurse for me to realise that things were not going to work out. Don’t get me wrong, the nurse my parents hired was lovely. If you were to be casting parts in a play and needed someone to play the role of “extremely kind, supportive and understanding mental health nurse” you would have cast this guy in a second, no audition needed and I doubt he would even have to read the script before knowing all the lines required. In short, this guy (we shall call him Eggbert for now because I am fond of names that start with the three letters used to denote the object laid by chickens and often eaten by members of the public for breakfast), was amazing and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Indeed, I knew he was going to be lovely from the start so I expected it all to be fine but like I said, I don’t just need a general carer, at this stage in my life with my mental health as it is, I specifically and ashamedly need my mum so this guy was not going to work purely due to the fact that he was not familiar to me.

Eggbert arrived to take care of me on my very first day and was more than capable of carrying out all the tasks and helping me in all the ways that my parents help me, but there was one problem, he was a stranger, and that was where we ran into issues. Rather than finding his presence a comfort, I started to have a panic attack because all of a sudden there was this stranger in the house who I didn’t know, and even if a stranger is lovely and comes bearing bouquets of flowers and freshly baked cookies (which Eggbert didn’t do actually…if you are reading this Eggbert however please rest assured that your lack of foliage and baked goods was not the issue, rather it was my incredibly silly brain), they are still a stranger.
I tried to calm down and remind myself that this person was not a threat to me at all but a trained registered professional mental health nurse who was there to help me but the bit of my brain that controls my “panic” mode was not listening to any of that and consequently it wasn’t until I had asked my nurse to leave that I managed to calm down.

The obvious problem then however was what to do as an alternative because there was no way I could manage by myself, a point that was proven to me after I tried to survive a mere few hours alone. It is very hard to describe how those hours felt because I didn’t myself expect or comprehend the difficulties I would face and to be honest I am still left baffled by it all, but if I had to try and explain it in the simplest terms I would just say that I fell into an extremely dark pit of depression highlighted by a heart attack pang of anxiety and I became so suicidal that there seemed no way to avoid doing something rash.

Luckily, my sister is amazing and came to visit at that time and realised as well as I did that I could not be left alone. Consequently, she took me back to her house and helped me to bake blondies (like brownies but made with white chocolate and peanut butter as opposed to your regular cocoa) because apparently in my eyes when you are feeling that suicidal, it is imperative that you bake something. That was several days ago and since then I have not been alone for more than about an hour at a time because I have the most amazing friend who has agreed to come and stay with me. Like I said, it isn’t the same because right now the person I really need is my mum, but as an alternative carer my best friend is familiar and insanely amazing and doesn’t send me into panic mode like the trained mental health professional did. I hate to say that my friend has had to take some time off work to look after me because I hate to be a burden, but there has been no way around it and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t still be alive were it not for the support I am currently receiving from new alternative carers, my sister and my best friend.

A lesson I have also learnt during the past few days, aside from the fact that I do not need simply carers but people who are familiar to me looking after me, is the importance of staying busy when your mental health carers are away. Usually I manage to do the same daily routine every day with my mum and that works just fine but with my parents away that usual routine is too placid and is not distracting enough from the onslaught of suicidal thoughts I have been pelted with ever since my parents left through the front door (and if you are wondering why those thoughts suddenly intensified the second I was left to my own devices then welcome to the club because I have no idea either.)
Still like I said, the way me and my friend and sister have been managing is to keep me busy at all times so that I have less time to think. For example one day we went to the local aquarium, on another we baked loaves of bread and on one particular day when I was feeling especially self destructive and in need of doing something rash, my amazing Auntie took me to a tattoo parlour to get my eyebrow pierced…apparently when it comes to me the way I manage in times of mental health crisis it is to look at fish, bring out my inner baker or have metal bars shoved through parts of my face (I would however ask any dear readers out there to keep that last bit on the down low though as I have not yet alerted my parents of the fact that I now have a silver bar going through my eyebrow…hopefully they are too busy on their holiday to be reading this because otherwise this is awkward…yeah…surprise mum and dad if you are reading! I have used your time away to have needles shoved through parts of my glorious visage…BUT SO FAR I HAVEN’T KILLED MYSELF SO REMAIN CALM IT IS ALL GOOD…just focus on the coping mechanisms of witnessing sea life and making yeast filled products instead…I love you…*runs away*)

Like I said it has been seven days of my parents being away with several days still to go and what I have learnt over this period of time is that surviving without your regular mental health carers around is a lot harder than I ever anticipated. Often it is not simply a case of being mentally ill and needing a general carer, but of needing a specific carer, in my case my mum, or at least someone familiar like my sister, friend or Auntie. To be honest, the thought of getting through another few days without my parents turns my stomach and I genuinely don’t know how I am going to manage it but at least I have the best people around me to support me in this situation and for that I feel incredibly lucky and eternally grateful.
How the next few days will pan out I do not know (although I do feel another piercing coming on…), but for now, that is what I have to say for the week and the latest lesson I have learned in this mad old life I am living with mental health problems. So yeah…If anyone else out there is struggling or is parted from their regular carer at the moment may I suggest a trip to look at marine life, a spot of baking or perhaps pay someone to shove a needle in your face (I AM SERIOUSLY JOKING THERE DON’T DO THAT KIDS PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT WAS JUST A JOKE).
On a more serious note however, if there are any other people out there without their regular carers at the moment then please know that I feel for you, that I understand and that as hard as it is to accept, if I am honest with myself maybe it is time to admit that it isn’t pathetic to still need your mum or other familiar family member or carer around even when you are technically an adult, and it is actually just part of this whole mental illness thing to feel this way. I feel like a burden on my parents more than ever now but I am trying to assure myself that it is not my fault, I am just ill and am going to have to do the best I can for now, as we all do in these situations. In the mean time I hope you are all well, if you are struggling I hope you are lucky enough to have amazing people around you as I am.

Take care everyone x

Loaf and fish

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 Great Eating Disorder Bake Off

If you live in England it is likely you are a viewer of, (or are at least aware of), The Great British bake off, a show otherwise known as “The Greatest Program on Television ever”. Seriously, if you don’t watch it you really should give it a go…That is unless you have an allergic reaction to the phrase “soggy bottom” or deep seated hatred of collections of people baking in tents and having their creations critiqued by a bearded man who likes to squash bread into balls and then complain about the consistency of the bread he has just mashed back into a dough…If that is the case maybe give the bake off a miss…
Luckily, none of those things bother me, so I am able to enjoy the bake off in all of its pun filled, icing topped glory. However, every time the annual bake off rolls around, it always reminds me of a certain symptom common to many people with food related mental health problems. The symptom? Many people with eating disorders are obsessed with baking.

Obviously not everyone who has an eating disorder bakes and not everyone who bakes has an eating disorder (if they did Mary Berry would be in need of some treatment immediately). On the whole though, it is a very common problem that many people are unaware of, and that rarely comes up or gets talked about other than by the people whom it affects. To some of you out there, it may sound a bit ridiculous to write a post about the issue that is eating disorder patients finding any excuse to whip out a spatula. After all what is the problem with a bunch of anorexics liking to bake a few sponges now and again? Why worry when someone with bulimia gets out a wooden spoon and starts sieving flour with eyes squinted in concentration? Why complain about someone bringing fresh homemade cookies into work purely because the baker has been diagnosed with EDNOS? Well, the problem is that often people with eating disorders who are obsessed with baking, are obsessed in a very unhealthy way that can be detrimental in recovery and serve the eating disorder rather than the baker.
Seriously, it is such a common and big issue that many of my disordered friends and indeed I myself, have been placed on multiple “baking bans” by mental health services during treatment for anorexia, an experience much like being a smoker on a smoking ban, only I was rocking back and forth cradling a wooden spoon rather than a packet of tobacco.

Like I said, not everyone who bakes has this problem and the problem isn’t within baking itself. Baking is awesome, and there is nothing like the satisfaction you get from people admiring your perfectly risen soufflé, but the issues arise and things get disordered when the baker dedicates an unusual amount of time to their pursuit, yet refuses to try even a lick of icing from the bakes they produce themselves.

For people who haven’t experienced an eating disorder, this probably doesn’t make much sense. Why would someone with a difficult relationship with food surround themselves and actively go about creating the culinary masterpieces that they themselves fear to sample?
Well, as always I can’t speak for everyone suffering from a mental health problem. Though similar on the surface, we are still all so varied inside (much like how chocolate chip cookies and raisin cookies look alike but are actually completely different). Nevertheless, I thought I would at least try to explain here why I personally love to bake, in the hopes that maybe I will provide an explanation and speak for a few others out there.

When I bake, it isn’t just about taking part in a little hobby to pass the time, it is about serving a purpose in terms of my anorexia.
Don’t get me wrong, by involving food it is still a scary activity (for example I often worry about touching fatty ingredients for fear the fat will sink into my skin or I worry that the smell of a cake has calories in it), but overall baking is an outlet, a thing I can do with food that other people can do, and most importantly, a way I can take part in the cultural aspect of food.

Normally in my life with anorexia, when it comes to food/events related to food, I see myself on the outside of things. Whenever someone has a birthday cake, a dinner party or hands round a box of chocolates at Christmas, I watch it all play out like an observer. In the room but not really involved, almost like I am in a theatre watching a scene being played out on stage whilst I am firmly seated in the audience. For over a decade I haven’t been able to join in with many food related things. I haven’t shared a pizza or bucket of popcorn with a friend, I haven’t accepted a bourbon offered over a cup of tea or indeed eaten something at a meal table that was the same as other people eating around me.
Baking then, serves as a way I can get a bit more involved in all of those things, only without the terror I would associate with joining in like a “normal” person.

When I bake a cake it is as if I can stand on the stage with everyone else rather than having to stay firmly seated in the audience, watching from afar through my little pair of binoculars (this may be an analogy but I am unable to afford good theatre seats.)
Instead, I can bring out the cake for the characters to start eating in the next scene, I have a role, a part to play in the action, I am not merely an observer but up there in the spotlight as “The bringer of cake”.
If people talk about food I haven’t tried or made I cannot join in. When people comment on something I have made however, I am involved. They can ask questions about what is in the bake and I will know the answers. Okay I may not have eaten the food myself, but in creating it, I can relate to it in a way that sounds as educated and informed as if I had. If people comment “oooh is there vanilla in this?”, I don’t have to just stand there staring at the confection trying to spot a pod of vanilla, or turning to other people to see if they can taste vanilla too, I can answer for myself that there is indeed vanilla in the cake, and for one second I can actually feel like a human being, part of something “normal”, joining in.
That is why I love baking despite having an eating disorder that prevents me from tasting any of my creations myself, and perhaps that is why a lot of other people with eating disorders like baking too.

In writing this my aims are not to encourage any disordered bakers out there to pack up the pastry or to tell carers of the mentally ill to confiscate their whisks.
If you enjoy baking and it makes you happy, do it more often, but still I have written this because I think it is important to question yourself if you are one of those bakers who would never consider having a nibble on their own Battenberg, and important for people to be aware of the fact that in some cases, a baking obsession can be a symptom of an eating disorder. If you as a reader ever feel compelled to get busy in the kitchen, my only hope is that you bake your cake and eat it too. Sure it may be nice just to partake in the creative process, to play the role of “the bringer of cake” in scenes you would otherwise watch from the wings, but the experience is a hell of a lot sweeter when you are actually able to fully join in with the eating part and share a Victoria sponge with friends. It is scary, but as a Bake Off challenge I would encourage you all to give it a go, and, if ever in doubt, just ask yourself: What would Mary Berry do?
(Answer: she would eat it, and as a British national treasure you should really follow her example).

greatedbakeoff