Mental Health New Year’s Resolutions

Quick everyone! Get your noses out…Do you smell that? Just there?
That whiff of hope, new goals, exciting plans and new calendar pages all waiting for you like fresh, crisp bed sheets from the washing machine with just a slight undertone of possible regret for your behaviour last night and the sharp tang of cheap gin? That my friend is the smell of New Year’s Day, aka a day that is only a few hours later in time than the previous one, but a day in which we are supposed to be reborn and regenerated like Doctor Who (yes I am also thrilled that the next Doctor Who is going to be a woman but I have to admit that I’m still disappointed that the BBC didn’t go with casting a penguin in the role…Admittedly it would be hard for a penguin to hold a sonic screwdriver or operate a Tardis with flippy flappy wings but the waddling away from Daleks chase scenes would have been unbeatable).

As lovely as this whole “New year new me” idea is however, like I said in last year’s “new year” post (Oh my goodness, look a handy link to that very post:Why Baby Steps Are More Important Than New Year’s Resolutions In Mental Health Recovery), it does put rather a weight of pressure onto one’s back to make sudden drastic changes, which is why I said last year about the fact that I am very much in favour of setting smalls goals and making small gradual changes over a long period, especially when it comes to goals relating to recovery from mental health problems.
Indeed, last year I made a big point of talking about making small mental health New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I realised that as helpful as that is as a piece of advice, I did not provide any examples or suggestions to help figure out what these goals could be…Shame on you Born Without Marbles of 2017!
Thankfully though, it is, as of today, 2018 and therefore, now being a completely new and different person since midnight (please note the use of extreme sarcasm), I am here to solve that mistake from last year with this post where I am going to try and sprinkle a few ideas out there for you on the internet as to mental health New Year’s resolutions should you so wish to make any this January.

I think that coming up with mental health goals is often a tricky one because mental health is such a broad spectrum that cannot be pinned down or confined (much like a cloud, a wave upon the sand or a certain curtain sewing, puppet operating, singing nun called Maria) so to help make this whole thing a bit easier, I have divided my set of suggestions into four main categories of ways that you can make small and manageable changes over the course of 2018. Let’s go!

1. Goals about treatment – This is probably the easiest category to make mental health goals for because these are basically just goals relating to whatever mental health treatment plan you have going on. Say for example you take medication but struggle to do so, one idea could be to set yourself the goal of taking your medication every time a dose is required, with a calendar or chart to help you keep track and aid as an extra reminder or motivator. Maybe you have an eating disorder and have a meal plan set by a dietician or are working towards building a meal plan up, maybe make a goal to follow what that dietician has said or to gradually keep up with increases in your meal plan until you reach the amount that is right for you and is going to help you best in your recovery. Hate turning up to appointments with your therapist either because you find them awkward or because your local psychologist’s waiting room smells like cauliflower cheese? Make a resolution to attend all appointments or at least increase attendance over a period of time (and maybe invest in an air freshener for your nearby surgery…I recommend something with a hint of lemon if like me you are partial to a citrus tang).
If you already turn up to appointments regularly, then there are still loads of appointment related goals that are possible like doing any therapy homework on time (I think I might need to make that one of my resolutions for 2018…the ”my penguin ate my homework” excuse has not been going down well for some time now), making more use of therapy sessions by being more honest or maybe taking notes of important things that are said to take away so that they don’t get lost in the “post appointment mental blank abyss”.
Even if you have a mental health problem and are not in specific mental health treatment you can still make goals in this category especially if for example pursuing professional support is something you are interested in. Booking yourself an appointment at your local GP surgery to discuss possible treatment options, filling a form in to get your name down on one of those pesky waiting lists, making a phone call about a first appointment or setting up an assessment or perhaps doing some research into nearby therapy groups you could attend, are all awesome mental health treatment related New Year’s resolutions to get 2018 started off with a bang (and by bang I mean therapeutically supportive environment…ahem…Kapow!)

2. Goals about physical self care –  In any toothpaste or shower gel advert they always make acts of self care like brushing your teeth or showering, look like such an easy, pleasant task (to be honest some toothpaste adverts I have seen go way past pleasant to the point where someone will look so eager and thrilled about brushing their teeth in the morning that they have the deranged look of a serial killer in a horror film with minty fresh breath), but in real life those things aren’t as simple as they seem. Sometimes when you have mental health problems just getting out of bed is a task to be proud of, let alone things like brushing your hair, showering, cleaning your teeth, eating or putting something on that isn’t pyjamas…However, as hard as all of those things are to do, they are important and taking care of your physical health and physical needs, though exhausting, often helps take care of the mental side of things too. Trust me I know, I have the days where I stay under a duvet and refuse to move but as hard as it is to drag myself out of my cocoon and into the shower, I have to admit I always feel a bit better when it is done.

Similarly getting fresh air is important for your physical health as is eating which, even if you don’t have an eating disorder, can be difficult when you can barely muster the motivation to blow your nose. That said, it is bad enough being mentally ill without your body becoming physically ill and deprived of care, which will only make you feel more hopeless, so goals around self care physically are also important. Again they don’t have to be big and can start out as small as you like from “get out of bed for at least X amount of time every day” or every other day if that is too big a step. Setting yourself a goal to shower a certain number of times a week, brush your teeth every day, spend five minutes outside for a short walk and fresh air, or maybe make goals regarding eating enough proper food meals to take care of yourself properly. Whatever it is, in this category just make goals that are about taking care of your outer physical needs and hopefully they will have some effect on making your internal mental health nonsense a little better too.

3. Goals about socialising scientific Studies show that humans are social animals and that we feel better when we aren’t lonely. My brain studies however, show that socialising with humans is nevertheless very difficult sometimes, often terrifying and mentally exhausting. Again though, like showering and all that fresh air our lungs crave, it is important so some New Year’s resolutions for your mental health could be to do with your social life and, dare I say it, talking to other people and actually going out to make friends and have “fun” (Oh God I shudder at the thought!). I know that a lot of years my goals in this category include things like “Text a friend at least once a day”, or “meet up with so and so (trusty friend so and so, she really is good to me), X times a month.” When you are getting ready to actually carry out the action part to those goals and are getting ready to see good old so and so, you might be so anxious that the meeting doesn’t feel like it will be of any benefit to your mental health, but at the same time, doing what I usually want to do and isolating myself doesn’t benefit much either. Of course alone time is important but a bit of conversation can be a nice distraction and it can be a great motivator to see and hang around with the people you care about and who care about you. Who knows, despite all the anxieties, maybe you will end up having a bit of a laugh by accident and what a happy accident that would be!

4. Goals about interests I think this category is the hardest category to make goals up for as in this one to help your mental health it is about investing time in things that are nothing to do with mental health. That may sound like trying to improve your swimming without going anywhere near water, but mental health problems tend to be all consuming and it is important to make goals to try and get a bit of space away. I know that for me, days when I have multiple therapy appointments and spend the entire time talking about all the madness in my brain are exhausting and as important as it is to pay attention to the mental health things, it is also important to take space away from them too. Again this is incredibly difficult because i know that for me it can feel like you can’t take space away from your mental health problems because they are not a separate thing to you, they simply are you, glued into your internal brain make up but the key thing to remember is that though you might have mental health problems, you are not entirely your mental health problems (even if they try to convince you that you are). Whether you see it or not, you are a person too and a person who deserves to be treated like one. You would never tell someone with a broken leg that they were their broken leg so don’t let anxiety convince you that you are just one bundle of neuroses either. The best way to make goals here is to think about your interests which once again is difficult because when you are consumed by mental health problems, you don’t really have interests and might not get pleasure or enjoyment from doing anything. In that case I set goals to do things like “try a new hobby” or “try something that I used to enjoy” to at least make an attempt at getting in contact with even the tiniest bit of you that isn’t broken. Like I said you may not feel it, but trust me it is there and making goals that pay that little part attention might make it stronger in the long run.

So there you have it! Four categories in which you can make possible mental health New Year’s resolutions and goals to try and improve your mental health and wellbeing in 2018! Maybe you will love this idea and pick several goals for each category, maybe you will just make one tiny goal in one category or maybe you just want me to shut up so that you can go and put the kettle on to make a coffee (if that third one is the case please make me a tea whilst you are at it). Either way I hope this post has been of some use or benefit to you on this fresh, January New Year’s day or has at least given you something to ponder over whilst you enjoy that coffee you are going to make now (AND A TEA DON’T FORGET THE TEA.)
Maybe if you do make mental health goals, write them down to serve as a daily reminder/keep yourself accountable but unless you know tick boxes are helpful for you to see progress, try to avoid them in the interests of the days when you don’t manage to tick any of the boxes and feel like you have failed. Mental health New Year’s resolutions are NOT something you can fail at, they are just casual things you are trying to do as best you can when you can and any progress is so flipping awesome that if you achieve so much as part of one of your goals once this year I highly encourage you to run to the nearest person and insist they reward you with a well earned pat on the back (unless that nearest person is that serial killer like actor in the toothpaste advert…avoid her at all costs).

Overall, do whatever you can to try and maybe end 2018 in a slightly better place than you were at the end of 2017, even if that slightly better place is only a little to the left or just around the corner from where you were. Any mental health progress is progress and whatever happens, I will be forever proud of you (yes even you person who isn’t making goals and just wants coffee. You just read a whole blog! That is very pride worthy…now go and make that tea!).

Take care everyone x

New Year Marbles

Is It Ok To Give Food Related Christmas Presents To People With Eating Disorders?

As soon as winter rolls around, there are certain questions that suddenly pop up every time you interact with another human. These questions vary but include things like:
“Are you doing anything nice for Christmas?”
“What do you want for Christmas?”
“Do you really need to buy more penguin themed decorations this year?” (Yes. Yes I do)…
And of course the ever sigh inducing “Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?”

Due to the birth of commercialisation and consumerism (two things that, although very much involved in Christmas, were not actually born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger), Christmas shopping is a big stress over the festive season both for money reasons and of course wondering what the hell to buy for everyone. Mental health wise however, there are further complications because sometimes there is a question not just to what you should buy a friend or relative, but whether there is anything that you should definitely not be buying…

As you may know, I have a lot of friends with eating disorders and several of these friends have come to me in the past exasperated and fed up, poised with a story to tell me about a distant relative who sent them food as a birthday or Christmas present. I know a lot of people with eating disorders might get frustrated, find the gift insensitive, rude, or even cruel, like taunting an alcoholic with a bottle of gin, and the majority of people I know have stated that “people should not give food related presents to people with eating disorders”.

I think that one of the difficulties in this issue, is trying to decide whose responsibility it is for someone to manage the whole gift giving/receiving situation. Is it the responsibility of the person who is choosing the gift to give (maybe an unfair burden considering not everyone will know every personal detail of whoever they are buying for this December and surely if it is “the thought that counts” any present is incredibly kind and generous), or is it the responsibility of the person receiving the gift, to manage what it is appropriately for them?
If you give a Dolly Parton hater (for-shame! Come on now, you have to at least like Jolene? 9-5? IT IS A SONG ABOUT THE MONOTONY OF WORK LIFE! DOLLY GETS US!), a copy of Dolly Parton’s Greatest hits, whose responsibility is it to deal with the CD? The gift giver for not knowing about a person’s hatred of the world’s greatest country singer and for not being too careful, or is it the responsibility of the gift receiver to simply donate the generous present to a charity shop where it can be enjoyed by someone else who is able to appreciate a bit of “I will always love you” blasting from the speakers? However, what if a gift is medically inappropriate? Whose responsibility is it to manage then?

For example what about Horris who is deathly allergic to peanuts? Maybe Horris didn’t write a Christmas list this year (always a risky move), and maybe his third cousin twice removed’s husband’s goldfish wants to send Horris a gift (for he is a very generous goldfish), but is unaware of Horris’ unfortunate peanut condition.
If this lovely Christmas loving goldfish sends Horris three tonnes of peanut butter, a t-shirt made from knitted peanuts and a trip to the “World of Peanut” theme park with the “Ultimate Peanut Experience Peanut roller coaster” (you ride around the track within the shell of a giant genetically modified peanut and then at the end enter a flume tube filled with peanut butter that will leave you utterly soaked upon plunging into it). If Horris uses this ticket to the theme park, surely it is partly his fault for not taking proper care of his health requirements (aka the requirement to not plunge into a pool of peanut butter at 100mph in the shell of a giant peanut). Then again, what if Horris is so allergic that the mere sight of the ticket and the tonne of peanut butter sends him off in an allergic reaction without him having any warning of the deadly gift? Who do we blame? Goldfish or Horris? Surely this is a very different kettle of ethics than the previous Dolly Parton debate? So what about people with eating disorders?

On one hand, as a person with an Eating disorder myself, I can see the point of those who say that giving food as a present to someone with an eating disorder is inappropriate or something they don’t like happening. It can indeed be frustrating to be given food presents that you fear every year and are possibly unable to enjoy due to your illness. I have heard people with anorexia say that it makes them feel more isolated from the rest of the Christmas festivities because being given, say a Christmas present that is a box of merry smiling gingerbread men with chocolate buttons, a freshly cut yule log or a batch of homemade mince pies is like being shown something “normal” about Christmas that others can enjoy and that they may want to take part in like other people, but due to their illness, feel they can’t. Some could say that getting food presents makes them feel misunderstood or like their problems/disorders have not been taken seriously, belittled and assumed to be “a mild difficulty with food” that can easily be solved if you put a nice bow on a box of chocolate penguins, rather than a fully fledged eating disorder ruining their lives no matter how many bows you stick on top of that box of rich 70% cocoa waddlers.
As well as food presents for disordered eaters being problematic in the sense the present receiver may be too scared to enjoy them, there is also the risk that food presents could trigger someone in other ways, for example someone who feels the compulsion to binge and maybe purge afterwards. Some sufferers keep certain foods that they are likely to binge on out of the house to make them feel more in control, so when that food is suddenly handed to them wrapped in glittery ribbon tied paper, they struggle to deal with it in the way they might like to when fighting their disorder.

That said, though what I am about to say is something most Eating Disorder sufferers would disagree with, I don’t think that people should put a full-on ban on food presents for people with eating disorders and I think that getting a food present once in a while is more likely to help rather than hinder your recovery.
What if one Christmas as the countdown to the 25th was underway, you went into some form of new treatment that you started to find more beneficial than any you had tried before. What if an image of what life could be like without your eating disorder started to give you hope in a positive future and what if, like a Christmas miracle, your eating disorder backed off a bit and you felt strong and determined enough to kick some ass. What if in this Christmas miracle you became so inspired to fight your demons that you made a promise to join in on all the scary Christmas food things this year, finally buy that advent calendar, make that gingerbread house with the candy cane decorations, try one of Aunt Enid’s famous mince pies and join in on all the party canapé platters at the work Christmas buffet (I hear the brie and cranberry filo tarts and chocolate penguin profiteroles are a delight). What if all of these goals arise, all this determination to fight and join in with everyone else…and then nobody gives you the opportunity to do any of it because they are all too scared to offer you that filo tart or wrap up that tub of Celebrations. To me, that would be incredibly triggering, if I were to be there ready to fight, ready to eat and join in and everyone just left me out anyway because they assumed I wouldn’t do it. This year, considering i am in hospital and not particularly well right now, that assumption might be right but in my head, never being given food presents at Christmas or any other time of year like Easter or a birthday, is simply a way of other people confirming the idea you already have in your head that you don’t deserve or need food and therefore shouldn’t eat it. People treat you like an eating disorder and you will find it hard to see another identity for yourself. Furthermore, when would the food ban stop and would it ever? How would that be decided and wouldn’t that be more triggering in itself to have food presents suddenly reintroduced? If you have an eating disorder at one point, are families to avoid food gifts even if you are recovered “just incase” which again isolates you from certain celebrations. Yes food can be triggering as a gift but wouldn’t it be more triggering to be very unwell for years and then one year to be maybe doing a little better mentally and physically, so much so that people notice, give you food and then you freak out thinking that they are insinuating that you “aren’t ill anymore” or that they think you have put on weight so are clearly fine with eating again.
Personally to avoid all of these issues, when it comes to food presents, I would rather be treated as normal, like everyone else, receiving the odd box of Quality Street and being offered the iced mince pies. Even if I can’t accept the mince pies or have to give the Quality Street to my mum, I would rather they were there to make other people treat me “normally” until I am in a place to play that role of “normal person who eats food presents at Christmas and gets two candy canes stuck in their gums by getting a bit too enthusiastic when impersonating a walrus”.

Overall though, I guess that with this topic, it is impossible to make any conclusion because whether or not you give food to someone with an eating disorder is going to be a tricky thing to gauge and will vary from person to person. As I said, even I and my group of friends who share the diagnosis feel very differently about the topic so to be on the safe side, if you are wondering whether or not to give someone with an eating disorder a food related gift, you might want to check with the individual or maybe a relative of that individual first to see how they might react to it. There are many types of eating disorder and even people with the same one will experience them differently at different times, such as when they are going through periods of relapse or recovery, so as much as I would like to have given you a black and white simple answer (and we all know how much I love things that are black and white ahem penguins ahem), I am afraid I will have to conclude in a rather hazy grey as the answer will vary from person to person.
All I would say is, if you are the gift giver, try not to get too anxious or caught up in overthinking it because ultimately you have a 50/50 shot of getting it right and if you get it wrong, it isn’t your fault, nor does it make you a bad person. Similarly, if you are the receiver I am sorry if food present wise, things don’t go your way this year, but equally remember that other people may not be thinking as deeply into the meaning or significance of a box of chocolates as you might be and maybe it is just their way of trying to show they think you are pretty awesome. A Christmas present is a Christmas present, it isn’t a holy significant statement laden with meaning as to how someone views you or your body, it is a sign of appreciation, a sign someone cares, and at the end of the day, it is always the thought that counts.

Take care everyone x

Pudding blog

How To Get Through New Year’s Eve When You Have Mental Health Problems

If you are one of those people who really struggles around Christmas time what with all the anxiety of social interaction, disruptions to routine, pressure to be “merry” and bountiful buffets of sausage rolls and Christmas pudding…THEN CONGRATULATIONS!
If you are reading this that means it is now Boxing Day and the bulk of Christmas is over for another year (except for Boxing Day obviously but if you struggle to manage that then my advice is to hide away from everyone in a box and say that you are celebrating the holiday in the “literal sense”).
So hooray for you mentally ill winter holiday fearing person! You don’t have to go through the celebratory stress anymore! You can pack the tinsel and paper hats away now, sit back and relax into your usual routine and …wait…I have just been told that celebrations are not actually over…apparently we still have New Year’s Eve to get through…the celebration with yet more social interaction, overt displays of happiness, buffets (albeit with slightly stale Christmas pudding by now) and crowds of people disrupting day to day life…ah…well this is awkward..sorry about that…seriously who put these two holidays so close together? This is just too much pressure for the already anxious around the world! Next year I am moving to Beijing to celebrate new year in late January/February with the Chinese…

Now, with New Year, we are all forced once again to face many of the fears we already had to deal with at Christmas (aka the aforementioned necessity to be jolly and crowds of strangers/family members). However there is also an added extra stress with New Years, that being the obsessive need to reflect upon the past twelve months whether we like it or not.
For some people, with or without mental health problems, this can be a pleasant experience and the stroll down memory lane can be a nostalgic jaunt lit by sunlight and rainbows. If that is the case then that is fantastic and jolly good on you if you are finding yourself in that situation. All too often though, memory lane can be a dirty back alley scattered with garbage bags of bad days and regret that you really wish the bin men would hurry up and remove. Everyone has bad days (even Mr Happy from the Mr Men books…they just didn’t publish that story), but at New Year for some reason we don’t just look back at those bad days feeling pleased that they are over, rather we look back feeling guilty and ashamed that they happened at all and all the things that we were unable to achieve because of them.

If you have a Facebook or Instagram account it is likely that the next week or so will see an onslaught of collages uploaded displaying all the happy times people want to remember of 2016 and that is great. I love seeing all the happiness the year has brought to my friends and all of the things they have achieved. Lord knows I would be unhappy were they to have had terrible years, yet the issue with these collages is the compulsion we feel to compare our lives to them and the collages in our heads.
Many of these collages for example will involve things like images of new high end jobs, new houses, weddings and holidays abroad. I think this is hard for anyone (I know a lot of “sane” people who find New Year difficult for this reason too), but the difficult thing when you are struggling with a mental health problem is that you are more likely not to have done these things not because you didn’t have the opportunities, but because your mental health physically prevented you from reaching them. I know being mentally ill is called having a “mental disability” when I have to fill out forms or applications, yet still I think it is easy to forget just how disabling these mental health problems can be, how dramatic the impact they have on lifestyle.

My mental health is so unpredictable and takes up so much of my time that I am unable to hold down a regular “serious” job. For this reason I do not have an income or any money to rent a room in someone’s shed let alone buy a house, and unfortunately in my life mental health problems have been the ruin of all previous romantic relationships (either that or my funny looking face of course) let alone marriages/weddings. In terms of the rigid nature of my OCD rituals, fear of contamination and my anorexia driven inability to eat outside of my house, I also cannot travel on holidays in my own country never mind abroad. There is probably a very lyrical way to express how this feels, but in summary, it sucks.
This year two of my best friends went to Greece and I would have loved to have gone with them, but it was simply out of the question if thinking realistically. Seeing photos of people on holiday or abroad building orphanages in faraway lands, happily married or running their own company then can make you feel inferior, a feeling that is often exacerbated by the common question of “how was your year?”

In comparison to many people, looking back at my year you could say that I have achieved nothing. I haven’t moved up the career ladder or taken a step onto the property ladder (the pressure to climb ladders these days is OVERWHELMING), and I haven’t found the love of my life or helped build a medical centre in Africa which will help save the lives of orphans in need of urgent treatment. If I look at it bleakly, I have simply carried out another 365 days of rituals that achieve nothing outside of the confines of my head, been hospitalised against my will again and basically carried out the same year in year out routine that I have rehearsed every year for the past decade. So what was the point? What did I achieve? Well, this is where I think all us marbleless folk need to give ourselves a bit of a break and not think about the things we didn’t do, but realise the value in all the little things we did do. If you are looking back at 2016 and are feeling that you have made no progress or step advancing you on your journey through life, I can guarantee you are wrong.
The word achievement is not limited to describing extravagant weddings, a three piece suite in your new lounge or a bungee jump across a beautiful landscape in New Zealand. An achievement can be anything.
Ask yourself, this year did you ever get out of bed even on a day you really didn’t feel able to face the world? WELL DONE YOU. Did you speak to a fellow human being even though your stomach was a mass of churning social anxiety? FANTASTIC. Did you put on clothes? Eat Breakfast? Open a door or do any little thing, despite fear in your heart and a head screaming all it could to prevent you from doing so. WHAT A CHAMPION YOU ARE. What a mental illness fighting warrior of epic proportions. What an achievement.

If you have simply managed to keep yourself alive, survive and make it through another 365 days with a disability then THAT is something worth celebrating and something for which you should be incredibly proud, even if you can’t exactly take a photo of that achievement to whack up on Facebook.
If you are reading this it is literally impossible for you to claim that you have had another year wasted or another year of not doing anything. Even if you come back at me with “I haven’t kept myself alive, I am in hospital/being held against my will with staff who are doing that for me”, I can come back at you and say without any doubt that you have achieved something because you are reading these words. Somehow you have found the strength to go onto the internet, click a link and made the decision to read it, and in my eyes, that is pretty damn fantastic. Also, if you are reading this, you have achieved the task of making me smile by listening to my nonsense and make me feel less alone, so that is two brilliant things right there in the past five minutes.

New Year’s Eve is of course still going to be difficult and no matter what I say, the parties, the crowds and the reflection of the past 12 months is going to be a challenge. Nevertheless, if all you have done is wake up today, I would say you have at least one good thing to reflect on rather than feel ashamed or guilty. When those collages pop up on social media, remember that you have every right to be very proud of yourselves, as I know I certainly am. Take care fellow warriors, I will speak to you in 2017 and again we will get through that year together. Stay safe and take care,

All my love, best wishes, hugs and Happy New Year vibes

Katie – Born Without Marbles xxx

newyeartrophy

Mental Health Letter To Santa

So, as anyone with an advent calendar will be aware (or any kind of calendar to be fair…ooh…a rhyme), it is currently six days until Christmas, meaning that there are six days to submit any Christmas lists you have out there requesting specific presents for December 25th.

Ever one for being prepared, I have had my list written for some time, however unlike the ingratitude of children out there (that is genuinely the collective term for a group of children. Whoever came up with that term clearly wasn’t a big fan of the infant population…), I will not be sending my list to Santa in Lapland. It is 2016 for goodness sake, I am 24 years old and I am certainly not that stupid/deluded.
Of course Santa doesn’t receive these children’s letters! Do people really think that Santa’s magical workshop is in a location known to human beings and delivered to via the imminently striking postal service? Let’s not be silly. Obviously the real grotto is in a magical land unreachable by the Royal mail, and being the age of technology it is clear that Santa is only able to receive Christmas lists via emails/the internet (think it through kids. Bet you feel pretty daft right now. Yeah. You should do).

Annoyingly I cannot seem to find the actual email address for the real Santa this year (he changes it every few months for security purposes), so this week I wondered if any of you readers out there would mind me being a little selfish and posting my letter to Santa here on my blog ready for when he comes to check in as he does every Monday (he is a big fan). I promise it is appropriate for my blog too as it is a mental health related present that I am asking for, so feel free to read it yourselves even if you are not Santa Claus. All that being said, here goes…

Dear Santa/Mr Claus

Hello! It is Katie again (the extremely well behaved one with glasses), and I hope that whenever you are reading this you are having a good day and that all is well with you, the reindeer, the elves and of course Mrs Claus.

I realise it is a bit unconventional for me to be contacting you via blog, but I hope it will be Ok and an acceptable way for me to request the present I would like.
For Christmas this year, if it is not too much trouble, I would like to please have the gift of five minutes without any mental health problems whatsoever.

You may be wondering what exactly I intend to do with this five minutes, yet though I have been thinking about it a lot, I haven’t firmly made a decision as there are so many options to choose from.
One of my first thoughts was to spend the five minutes joining in with a meal with my family, but then I realised that such a thing would be difficult to manage in five minutes and changed it to having a hot chocolate or Christmas drink with my mum in one of those coffee shops with a sparkly festive menu and Christmas cups. I often see mothers and their offspring taking five minutes out of a Christmas shopping trip to refuel with a steaming mug of cream topped cocoa, and I think it looks like fun/is something my mum would appreciate me being able to do. She often looks at the mothers and their children we see in local coffee shops and sighs with a wistful “I wish we could do that” look in her eye, so I would like to give the experience a go for the both of us.
Speaking of beverages I also thought of using the mental illness free time to perhaps try my first cocktail as I feel that is an experience most 24 year olds have had by now (probably several times), and because of my anorexia I have always been too afraid to try one. I don’t know what kind of cocktail I would like to try exactly, but I am thinking one of those ones that comes in a tall glass and is orange with swirly red syrup at the bottom that spirals up through the surface of the drink like a liquid sunrise. With an umbrella (and a glacé cherry if that isn’t asking too much…)

Then again aside from eating disorder related things I also thought about using my potential gift to do some things that I struggle with for OCD reasons. I have always wanted to hold open a door or open a door for someone struggling with too many shopping bags. I really do hate having to be rude and stand back as I watch them stumble under the weight of their 5p carriers because I am too frightened of a door handle. More importantly though, I would really like the opportunity to hug my Mum, Dad or any of my friends and family without having a panic. I know that sometimes I am able to hug certain people in certain situations if I have prepared/have a shower or change of clothes nearby, but I would like to be able to hug my loved ones not when it is deemed as “safe” or “allowed” by my OCD. I want to be able to fling my arms around a friend or family member just because I want them to know that I love them, and for this I feel I would need the requested five minutes of sanity to ensure I could do this without the screaming in my head that I know would occur were I to do this on any other day. Maybe as an extra “stocking filler” you could help me round up all the people I want to hug in one place so that I can use the five minutes effectively and not leave anyone out of my sudden ability to cuddle.

Actually no…wait…I think I have decided what I would like to do with my present should it be possible to be delivered this year (you don’t need to dress it up or anything as I know “time” is notoriously difficult to get wrapping paper around). Okay so were I to be given my five minutes without mental health problems, I would like to spend it doing absolutely nothing. I just want to sit there and know what it is like to experience silence.
I don’t want to have my brain yelling at me about calories, germs or potential suicide plans, I would just like it to shut up for once and allow me the privilege of thinking nothing at all. I know that after the five minutes all the noise would have to return and I would go back to the constant screaming voices in my mind, but still I think it would be nice just to see what life would be like without them. Who knows, maybe not being terrified all the time isn’t all it is cracked up to be and maybe I will be disappointed, but I would still like to experience it just so I could know for myself.

So yeah…that is what I would like for Christmas this year, simply five minutes of life without mental illness. Obviously I understand this is quite a difficult present to construct and not something the elves can whack up in a few hours with a hammer and few bits of plywood, so if it really isn’t possible then I would like to please ask for a penguin instead. I don’t mind which species, just as long as it is a happy penguin who likes spending time with me (and who can waddle. The ability to waddle is imperative).

Anyway I think I have taken up enough of your time making my demands so I will leave you to get on with your December preparations. As always I promise a mince pie, glass of almond milk, carrots for the reindeer and cookies for the elves will be left on my doorstep come December 24th in anticipation of your arrival. Send my love to all the family and have a Merry Christmas.

Yours gratefully,

Katie Simon Phillips (again, the extremely well behaved one with glasses) xxxx
There we go! Christmas present all ready and requested for the year! Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed that my wish will be granted but I suppose that even if it isn’t I will potentially be getting a penguin in six days which is pretty cool too. I really hope that everyone out there is having as good/manageable a festive season as possible and that your heads are kind to you over the next week. Kind heads is the present I would give all of you reading this if I could, as lord knows you all deserve them. I promise I will be thinking of each and every one of you next Sunday. Remember you are never alone and that together we can get through this.

Take care everyone and Merry Christmas x

santaletter

Managing Christmas With Depression

In day to day life, I think there is a certain pressure to be happy.
People are always singing about looking on the “bright side of life”, and whenever it is time to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s birth we tunelessly make our way through the all too familiar song that usually comes prior to the blowing out of some candles on a cake, a song that urges the person to feel joy that they are no longer entrapped by the walls of a womb. Even at Easter or New Year the pressure to have a “Happy” time is plastered into the holiday by cards and pictures willing joy at that time of year (this is why I like Lent. There is no pressure to be happy at Lent. Good for you Lent.)
Obviously, this is all makes a lot of sense as people want other people to be happy during celebratory times or indeed all year round. It would be a pretty miserable world if every birthday we received cards that said things like “I hope you have a horrendous day and that everyone forgets to buy you a cake” or “I hope you spend the day wishing you were back in the womb as I have since the day you were born”, and it certainly would make party hats and balloons look a little out of place.
Nevertheless, of all the times we are told to be happy, there is no holiday with a greater pressure for merriment than the month long December festival of Christmas. If you can be happy then that is great, but when you have depression this pressure for jovial smiles and antler hats can be incredibly difficult and is one of the reasons I think people with mental illnesses often find Christmas to be one of the most difficult times of the year.

Seriously, the pressure is everywhere, both from fellow humans and even foods that pop up in the bakery aisle at the supermarket, grinning at you from their cellophane packets like it is the easiest thing in the world (yes gingerbread men. I am talking about you. Smug bastards…On another note can someone please tell me why gingerbread men have buttons…as far as I can see they are naked little creatures and without clothes I cannot see the necessity for holding those non existent garments together with bright Smartie buttons…are their clothes invisible? In which case why can I see their buttons…or is the gingerbread man actually a biscuit version of a normal man in a gingerbread suit of which the buttons are a part…Oh my goodness I bet that is it…the outside of a gingerbread man is actually a costume to disguise the nature of the fact we are all eating standard biscuit men instead of these fictional gingerbread creatures…we have all been lied to…TRUST NOBODY THIS FESTIVE SEASON).

There is even pressure to laugh at meal times what with the compulsory paper hats and jokes fluttering from the folds of exploding crackers, although I do have to admit, I rather like the prizes you get in crackers. I swear every box contains at least one cracker with a bag of marbles in, which is odd considering nobody plays marbles these days…suffice it to say I have not won a stash myself yet (I do however have a life time supply of tiny playing cards and mini screwdrivers.)
Nevertheless, all this forced joy makes it seem as if people see December as a time we can all put aside our difficulties for the month just so we don’t ruin carol singing around the tree, or setting fire to a Christmas pudding with our miserable faces in the background of every photograph.

Indeed the difficulty of Christmas with mental health problems is evidenced by the fact that suicide rates go up around this time of year. I don’t know why exactly this is, but if I had to hazard a guess I would say that it is this pressure to be happy that is the cause.
Having depression and admitting to having spent three days crying into a pillow is hard all year round, but at least all year round it is more acceptable. At Christmas any sign of negativity is immediately rebuked with the instruction “cheer up! It is Christmas”, as if a bit of tinsel and a few fairy lights should be enough to cure any depression. You can’t even cancel plans at Christmas if you are too unwell or anxious to leave the house, without being charged with the accusation that you are a “party pooper” (when really it is your mental illness that has been doing all the pooping on the party rather than something you have decided to do for laughs).

At Christmas then, the pressure to be happy means that people feel more unable to talk about the negative things going on for fear of bringing everyone down. Every time you are greeted by a family member you haven’t seen in a while for one of the annual gatherings they will ask things like “how have you been?”, a difficult topic to discuss when “Pretty suicidal and this is the first time I have got out of my duvet fort all week” is not deemed an acceptable answer. For this reason, many people feel the need to lie about how they truly feel and have to grit their teeth, lying about how they are “not too bad” whilst simultaneously having to swallow the lonely truth that they wish they could reach out to someone with for comfort rather than suffer in silence, and If there is one thing guaranteed to make a mental health problem worse, it is suffering in silence. Maybe suicide rates go up then not just because of the stress and debt as postulated in the papers, but because this pressure to be happy leaves people more ashamed than usual and unable to ask for help.

Perhaps another reason as to the rise in number of those who feel there is no escape from their pain other than to end their existence, is that everyone else in the world always looks especially happy. Of course there is a good chance that they aren’t happy and we are all hiding the truth behind toothy grins together, but seeing everyone around you feeling something and being caught up in a merriment your brain will not allow, can make you feel just as lonely and isolated as the inability to speak out honestly.

Obviously I am not criticising the general population for being happy at Christmas, nor am I blaming the rise in suicide rates on the smiley faces of ginger spiced baked goods (those would be some pretty powerful biscuits), but I guess I just want people to know that if it were possible for the mentally ill to set aside our aching emptiness of depression for the festive period, every sufferer would do just that. When we are miserable at Christmas it is not because we haven’t got into the Christmas spirit or because we want to ruin cutting the Christmas cake. I personally wish I could buck up and ensure my family have a “happy Christmas” but I can’t, and it is hard to feel guilty about it every year.

Similarly, if you yourself are a sufferer and struggling with the need to be merry and bright this winter, I wanted to write this post to let you know that not being happy and able to throw caution and anxiety into the wind so you can enjoy yourself, doesn’t mean you are a bad person nor does it mean that you are alone. As you sit there grinning at the dinner table holding back tears you know rationally have no right to be there, as lonely as it feels, you are not alone. If you are struggling please do not feel such a pressure to be silent that things end up getting worse. More people need to speak about living with depression as Christmas if the problem is ever going to be solved, so admitting that you need help is not a sign of weakness or shame. Instead it is admitting that things are not as simple as checking the date on the calendar to see how happy you should be for the day, and that depression is not easily solved by a bit of festive ribbon.

If you are reading this with or without mental health problems I of course wish you a fabulous Christmas, but then again do not feel any pressure. Maybe this year is just about having an “alright” Christmas or simply getting through Christmas at all, and it is a bucket full of “have an OK Christmas” wishes that I am sending to you now. However you feel, it is ok, you have every right to feel it, and you are certainly not alone. Take care everyone. x

depressedchristmas

52 Non-Food Related Ways To Celebrate Christmas When You Struggle With An Eating Disorder

If there is one group of creatures on earth who find Christmas dinner more stressful than all the turkeys out there do, it is people with eating disorders. Actually scrap that, when it comes to having an eating disorder it isn’t simply Christmas dinner that is stressful, it is the entire build up over the festive season when suddenly it feels as if EVERYTHING is about food.
There are Christmas meals out with friends to attend, boxes of chocolates being thrust under your nose at every turn, Christmas puddings, mince pies, Christmas cake, chocolate log and mile upon mile of buffet tables. You can’t even look at a calendar to see what the date is in December without it trying to throw a chocolate at you!
Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the Christmas food traditions we celebrate with in order to make the season extra special and I do not want the food aspect of Christmas to be banished forever. Indeed I love the idea of building gingerbread houses, opening the door on your advent calendar to see what shape chocolate you will find that day and the tradition of turning all the lights off, setting fire to the Christmas pudding and sitting for several moments “oohing” and “ahhing” at the blue flames waltzing across their dried fruit dome of a dance floor. Nevertheless, as fun as all the food aspects of Christmas can be, with an eating disorder they can be incredibly stressful and thus make December a particularly difficult time of year, especially if you find yourself unable to join in with the traditions your loved ones are carrying out and thus feeling more isolated than usual.

For this reason then, I thought I would use today’s blog post to offer a list of suggestions of ways to celebrate Christmas that aren’t food related. Obviously if you find you are able to join in with the usual food activities then by gum join in and have a jolly old time (does anyone say “by gum” anymore…I quite like it…screw it I am bringing it back), but if you can’t, allow me to offer up some new potential traditions that will hopefully get you into the festive spirit without all the festive anxiety…

The Official Born Without Marbles List Of Alternative Non-Food Related Ways To Celebrate Christmas

  1. Buy a live Christmas turkey and take care of it
  2. Go carol singing (if you sing like I do your neighbours may not be thrilled about you knocking on the door whilst belting out “Good King Wenceslas” but if you do it with enough enthusiasm I am sure they will enjoy it in the end. Maybe include hand gestures to go along with the lyrics or a intricately choreographed dance routine.)
  3. Make Christmas wreaths
  4. Buy an entire supermarket’s supply of crackers and have an evening of cracker pulling madness
  5. Perform a fashion show wearing all the paper hats you earned in your cracker pulling evening
  6. Perform a stand up routine of all the jokes you earned in your cracker pulling evening
  7. Stop performing and take a break by watching a Christmas film (I am a sucker for “Love Actually”…until the part where Emma Thompson cries to Joanie Mitchell because Snape bought a necklace for a home wrecker…OH GOD HERE COME THE TEARS)
  8. Dry the tears you have cried watching Love Actually and read a Christmas book instead (my personal favourite is the classic Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.)
  9. Dress up as an elf and dance around the streets
  10. Play Monopoly and get into an argument with a family member about who gets to be the silver dog (nothing says Christmas like a board game argument involving statements like “No, I am the dog. You can be the iron!’)
  11. Plant a Christmas tree
  12. Decorate a Christmas tree (hint, it is has been scientifically proven that the beauty of a Christmas tree increases dramatically when decorations are penguin themed)..
  13. Find the machine they used in the film “Honey I shrunk the kids”, miniaturise yourself, whack on some wings and a wand and then sit on the top of your Christmas tree to be the family fairy on top (maybe take a cushion to avoid spikes. Fir trees can be prickly)
  14. Make a Christmas present filled shoe box and donate it to a charity who send out gifts to those who need a present
  15. Grow a beard
  16. Dye beard white
  17. Stroke beard and shout “Ho Ho Ho” at passers by
  18. Hang out with a reindeer
  19. Put fairy lights all over the front of your house and enjoy the groups of strangers that gather at your doorstep to appreciate your display
  20. Volunteer with a charity to help take care of those who are alone at Christmas
  21. If you are a Christian/fancy something a bit traditional, go to church
  22. Invite burglars into your household and then take them down with paint cans and tarantulas in a re-enactment of the classic Christmas film Home Alone with Macaulay Culkin
  23. Come up with a good explanation as to why the house is a state and why there are two unconscious burglars in the basement for when your parents/house mates return home
  24. Find snow
  25. Go sledding
  26. Go skiing
  27. Build a snowman
  28. Direct your own one man nativity play (I will leave it up to you to decide how to simultaneously play a sheep, the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus…you are the director after all)
  29. Tie a carrot to your nose and stand in people’s gardens pretending to be a snow man
  30. Make Christmas cards
  31. Knit your own Christmas stocking
  32. Find Santa’s workshop and offer to help making all the presents this year
  33. Make your own advent calendar and hide treats that are not food related behind all the doors
  34. Go and watch a pantomime (if you find it hard to find the theatre on the night of the performance just turn around. Chances are it’s behind you)
  35. Stand under the mistletoe and wait…
  36. Keep waiting…
  37. Keep waiting…
  38. Just a little longer…
  39. Give up standing under the mistletoe and run to a mirror. Stare at your reflection and then compliment yourself out loud with the utmost sincerity because you are beautiful and if people don’t kiss you under the mistletoe then it is their loss/a sign of their bad taste/not a reflection on your personal levels of fabulousness.
  40. Tinsel. I am not sure what exactly you can do with tinsel but it is christmassy and not food related so do something with it.
  41. Find a pregnant lady called Mary and ask if she would mind coming with you to give birth in a barn where the cattle are lowing
  42. Lie any babies born in a manger
  43. Offer the baby Frankincense
  44. When the baby turns its nose up at frankincense (literally…that stuff STINKS), offer it a rattle instead
  45. Play pin the tail on the reindeer (WITH A PAPER REINDEER PLEASE)
  46. Go ice skating
  47. Sit under a fir tree with a bow on your head and pretend to be a present
  48. Laugh at all the fools who actually mistake you for a present
  49. Jingle some bells (jingle them ALL the way)
  50. Find loved ones
  51. Hug loved ones
  52. Scout the supermarkets from the 22nd of December onwards to see which one starts selling easter eggs first. The first place winner gets nothing at all as a reward and should be ashamed of themselves for perpetuating consumerism/the capitalist agenda.

So there you have it! A list of fifty-two alternative ways to celebrate Christmas when you have an eating disorder. Of course part of me hates writing this post and in an ideal world I would simply tell you all to just join in with everyone else and the “normal” food related activities rather than having to follow any of my suggestions (fabulous though they may be).
As any sufferers out there will know, eating disorders are soul destroying, potentially fatal illnesses that should not be allowed to dictate and ruin your Christmas. They shouldn’t dictate your behaviours, interfere with your ability to be “Merry and bright” and make social interactions around a crowded dinner table utterly terrifying, but unfortunately, a lot of the time, no matter how hard you try, eating disorders do all of those things without caring as to whether they should or shouldn’t.

That is why I have made this list. It is not because I agree with any of your eating disorders telling you that you can’t join in or that there is anything wrong with the food celebrations at Christmas time, but because this is not an ideal world (remember, this was the year Mary Berry left The Great British Bake off), and as much as I wish I could wave a magic wand and banish your eating disorders to enable you to have the ED free christmases you deserve, I know that such a dream is vastly overestimating my abilities as a magician.
Hopefully one day there wont be any eating disorders so this post and these alternative Christmas celebration activities won’t be necessary anymore, but until then I just want to try and help you come up with ways that you CAN join in at Christmas regardless of your eating disorders so that you don’t have to hide all December and become lonelier than the last toffee penny in a tin of quality street.
I have every faith that we will all eventually get to the day where the highlight of Christmas is a roast dinner and flaming pudding with all the family. Until then though, let’s just find fun where we can, knit our stockings and look forward to a time when all of this mental pain is a thing of the past.

Take care everyone x

snowmaned