Born Without Marbles Is Now On YouTube!

What is this? A born without marbles post on a Friday? What is going on? I thought they only came on Mondays? Someone contact the BBC and get Fiona Bruce to report this (actually don’t bother. I already contacted them. They weren’t interested). No, this is not actually the usual Monday blog post, it is in fact an announcement to let you all know that Born Without Marbles is now not just on my website…IT IS NOW ON YOUTUBE AS WELL! Are you thrilled? Now you can hear me waffle as well as read about it every Monday! Bless this happy happy day! Anyway, this is just to let everyone know that the channel is there so feel free to take a gander and subscribe if you fancy (and by if you fancy I mean please subscribe even if you don’t fancy. Trust me, All the cool kids are doing it so it must be a good idea). I won’t post on here every time I upload a video (unless that wouldn’t be annoying/you wouldn’t mind), so be sure to check on the Youtubes for my face whenever you can.

Hope you are all having a marvellous day, take care everyone x

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Good Girls Drink Kale – Society’s Dangerous Acceptance Of The Anorexic Mindset

One of the many reasons I struggle to eat is because of the guilt I feel about it. When I am eating I feel like I am committing a crime, my mind is telling me that I am doing something “wrong”, something “bad”, and the only way to feel that I am being “good” again is to stop eating. Considering I have anorexia, none of this is particularly surprising and it is common to a lot of people with eating disorders. Recently though, I have noticed that this feeling is actually one that is generally accepted in society. I am always told that my thoughts are “disordered” and that the way I think is not normal, but it makes it incredibly hard to believe professionals trying to help me when my very thoughts are voiced in day to day life.
When I say I “can’t eat” because “eating is bad”, people call me crazy, yet then when somebody goes to a coffee shop and asks for their drink to be made with skinny milk because they are “being good” nobody bats an eye lid. BUT THEY SHOULD BE BATTING THOSE EYE LIDS. Seriously people should be batting their eyelids until their eyelashes fall off every time somebody associates human goodness with what a person is eating, because the two are not connected and the whole thing is a dangerous, disordered thought that is slipping into normal life.

I used to work in a cafe as a barista, and one of my favourite bits of the job was on the days we had a new cake in and I could wander around offering people a free sample (swear to God if you have low self esteem it is a wonderful experience to be among the masses with free cake, they will love you and you will feel like a Bakewell wielding Beyonce.) My least favourite part of the experience however, was bumping into all the people on diets, and about a million times every day I would hear the words “Oooh I would love to try but I am being good” or “Oh don’t tempt me I have already been so bad today”. On one occasion someone even said “oh no I cant, I am far too big, it is alright for you, you are skinny so you are allowed cake”. EXCUSE ME? Is there some law I am not aware of that states that people who are a healthy weight or overweight are not allowed to consume sweet baked goods and that they will be arrested and jailed for life if they so much as nibble on the edge of a cookie? Is there a clause in this law that people who are underweight are free to eat all the cakes without fear of being reprimanded for some reason? If so, who is making these laws and where can I go to demand they sort their priorities out immediately? (I myself suspect it could be a greengrocer with a deep hatred of and passion to destroy Mr Kipling and his family, but so far my research has not confirmed this).

Associating goodness with not eating isn’t even something you just hear from people on diets, it is used in adverts to promote various foods in the media. There is an advert for a “light” cream cheese that shows angels eating the product with halos above their heads, as if their choice of low fat dairy has elevated them to the heavens, and hell is actually a place filled with people who like a full fat cheddar. As someone who did a theology degree and read The Christian Bible in detail several times, I can assure you that decisions around the location in which people will spend the afterlife are not made in such a manner, nor is there a secret eleventh commandment advising on acceptable kinds of cheese to sprinkle over your pasta bake (although from a personal point of view I would always advise on Mozzarella).
Similarly there is an advert for some milk chocolate balls, and in it a woman is reprimanded in her choice of snack by a “friend” (aka rude judgemental lady who should keep her unhealthy opinions to herself) saying “ooh naughty”, to which she replies that she isn’t actually that naughty at all because the balls she is consuming are under 10 calories each. REALLY? Better let whoever decides whether people go to heaven or hell know! Appearance wise her actions make her look worryingly like those of someone who should be shoved down in the burning pits of those who can’t resist a full fat cheddar, but since they are only ten calories I guess she deserves to sit on a cloud with the cream cheese angels for all eternity.

The whole association between moral character and what someone is eating isn’t even simply annoying, it is dangerous. Not only does it condone thoughts people with eating disorders may have (thoughts they are told are abnormal, which is fine yet hard to believe when your Aunt Judith is receiving a free plastic halo every time she buys low fat cheese spread at the supermarket), but it puts the idea into the heads of people who may not have eating disorders or those that then go on to develop them. I understand the need for healthy eating and the need to promote a healthy lifestyle to people, yet I cannot see how it is healthy in terms of mental or physical stability to raise children in a society where someone in an advert doesn’t eat dessert at a restaurant because she is “being good”, unlike her friend who has decided to give in and “be a bit naughty” by digging into a knickerbocker glory. Would it then be a surprise if the child then grew up refusing to ever touch desserts because to do so is something everyone is told they must feel guilty about? Obviously eating disorders are far more complex than all of that, they aren’t about refusing dessert and are caused by a million things that are nothing to do with food. Ok, nobody gets anorexia because they fear that food will send them to the fiery pits of eternal damnation in hell. Nevertheless, thinking that food choices reflect your value as a person is not a good message to be spreading. People with eating disorders need to develop a healthy relationship with food, that is a given, but it seems that everyone needs a bit of a revamp on thoughts around food too.

Now, I will admit that if your idea of a “going food shopping” is breaking into orphanages, tossing the children into the fire and then stealing their muffins, then maybe your food choices are saying something about your moral character and you might be sent to jail for them. Aside from situations like that though, (and if anyone really is food shopping in that way please stop as there are these places called supermarkets that have a wide selection of nice muffins and orphans really don’t need that kind of treatment), eating or not eating cake says nothing about you as a person. To people with eating disorders, without eating disorders, people developing eating disorders, everyone please know that eating any food is not a crime. Food is not a situation to negotiate, it is fundamental to life, it is necessary, and in addition to keeping you alive physically, being free and able to eat a chocolate ball when you fancy one without fear of being reprimanded for bad behaviour, is fundamental to mental health. It is OK to allow yourself to eat and eating is nothing to feel guilty about no matter who you are or what your weight. You do not need written permission from Jesus to allow yourself a a doughnut.
Death row is not lined with convicts who couldn’t resist a piece of a colleague’s birthday cake or daredevils who had the nerve to have full fat milk in their latte, and saints are not simply people who drank a few litres of kale for breakfast. If you want to do something “good” today and are that obsessed with moral purity, then buy a cup of tea for someone who cannot afford to buy one themselves or help someone carry their shopping to the car. Just whatever you do, don’t judge your goodness or self worth on the weight of butter you put on your toast this morning. People who eat cake are good and people who eat cake are bad, just as people who eat kale can be good or bad, but their food choices really have nothing to do with any of it.

goodgirlsdrinkkale

Why It Is Important To Be Aware Of Your Mental Health Triggers

During every moment of every day, everyone’s experiences in the outside world trigger an inward, mental response to that event in that person’s head. Seeing a penguin could cause someone to feel happy for example, or seeing someone kicking a penguin could cause someone to feel a rage more powerful than can be possibly imagined. Either way, what happens on the outside will flip some kind of switch on the inside, and, if a person has a mental illness, that switch may be the one that controls their disorder/sets it off on a rampage. Daily life with a mental health problem is a struggle in general, but pretty much everyone will have things that trigger their disorders more than usual, and for this reason people will avoid thinking about these things.
In terms of OCD I know there are certain words or smells that make me particularly likely to engage in compulsive behaviours, and I know that hearing people talk about weight loss, exercise or calories pushes the buttons of my eating disorder. Consequently, I do my best to stick my head in the sand when it comes to things like that and I avoid thinking about those topics as much as possible. On the surface it seems like a good idea, surely if I avoid thinking about things that make my disorder worse, I will avoid the distress they cause and I won’t have to deal with it. However this head in the sand method tends to fall to pieces if I ever find myself in a situation where I cannot avoid my triggers, because by never thinking about them, I have not prepared a way to manage my response. It is all well and good to turn off TV programs about topics in which my OCD trigger words are likely to arise, or avoid people following the latest diet trend and pretend that they are not a problem for me, but say for instance I was ever kidnapped by my local troop of Weight Watchers (not that I am suggesting that people who belong to the aforementioned diet club are at high risk of kidnapping people), I would be screwed.
For this reason I would say that thinking about your triggers and planning ways to cope when confronted with them is actually vital in terms of living with a mental disorder, and if for some reason you do not believe me when I say this (which I would understand; it is after all asking a lot for you to trust the words of a stranger on the internet without explanation), then allow me to illustrate my point with a story about my good friend Bert…

Bert is a very famous athlete, his sport being the javelin throw. He is 28 years old and has been training since the age of five after he found his first ever Javelin waiting for him in a stocking one Christmas morning (this was back in the day when Santa was not very good at picking out gifts for the under tens and Health and Safety were less on the ball than they are nowadays). Due to many years of training and a natural talent for throwing long pointy objects, Bert excelled at his sport and was thus invited to attend the Olympics in Rio this year. Bert was thrilled. He immediately packed his bags, stepped on a plane and set off to Rio (I don’t know how exactly he got through airport security with a massive javelin when most people aren’t allowed more than 100ml of shampoo but just go with it).
Upon arrival, he went to the stadium in which his sport was to be held, but prior to reaching the changing rooms, a strange man in a top hat came up to him with news that shocked Bert to his very core. For some unknown and mysterious reason it was confirmed that Bert was indeed to compete in the Olympics…BUT NOT IN THE JAVELIN. No, because of some kind of spelling mistake on behalf of an overworked secretary, Bert had been entered into the dressage, an understandable error as we all know how often one will accidentally find oneself writing “dressage” when meaning Javelin. Whoever wrote the dictionary really should have made those words less similar to save us all the stress we face in daily life… ANYWAY. Bert cried out and pleaded with the top hatted man for the error to be changed but there was no way, and thus it happened that Bert found himself as a competitor in the dressage event Rio 2016 despite having no knowledge of dressage whatsoever. With two hours to go before the competition started, Bert rushed off in a panic to try and find someone with any knowledge of dressage, but alas though he looked in every nook (he forgot to check the crannies), he found nothing, and had to turn up to the event as clueless as the moment he had stepped off the plane. Only when it was his turn to perform did he realise the problem even bigger than having no knowledge of dressage. He had no horse. Therefore poor Bert had to compete without a noble steed, resorting to galloping and prancing around the paddock tossing his imaginary mane all alone. It was a catastrophe.
Now, let’s just imagine that story again, but with one very important detail changed. In this second version, instead of finding out about the unfortunate spelling error in the stadium, he found out in a phone call from the man with the top hat before he packed to get on the plane. This way the situation awaiting Bert was to be exactly as it was the first time, but in this version Bert had time to prepare. By knowing about the mix up beforehand, he was able to run to the fields prior to his flight and purchase a horse from an old farmer called Frank, to accompany him on his journey (again I have no idea how he got a horse through airport security but to be honest if the unrealistic portrayal of airport security is the only thing you are finding hard to believe in this story then I feel I am doing rather well.) When it came to the dressage event Bert still had little knowledge of dressage, but having read a pamphlet on the plane and with his horse, he was able to compete considerably better than he had in the alternate universe where he had been forced to gallop around the paddock himself. Did Bert still come last in the event? Yes. Did he score the lowest mark in the history of dressage at the Olympics? Of course he did, but by anticipating the sudden event change before getting on the plane, Bert was able to prepare the best he could for the inevitable difficulty in his future and thus able to manage the situation far better.
Now, if we read this story and interpret participating in a sudden dressage competition as being forced to suddenly face one of your triggers without ever having thought about how to deal with it first, I think we can all agree that it was better for Bert to be aware of the upcoming problem so that he could prepare, and therefore better for people to anticipate and think about ways to manage their triggers before they are sprung upon them unexpectedly.
Did Bert having a horse stop all of the distress and anxiety when performing? No, but he was at least better prepared than in the first story and was able to do all he could to make the best of that situation/gather a horse together.

Knowing your triggers will not cure you of your illness, but there are times in which it can help manage the surprise bouts of anxiety when these triggers come up in situations you hadn’t expected them to (say for example a sudden kidnapping from a band of rogue members of your local Weight Watchers).
Obviously by simply being aware of what situations or things trigger you, you are not going to change the affect those triggers may have or lessen any distress they may cause. Even when you are aware of what makes life difficult those difficulties will still affect you, but when you are aware of what sets your disorder off, you are at least able to anticipate ways of dealing with it.
Thinking about triggers is always going to be hard, yet I can assure each and every one of you out there that doing so is a lot easier than encountering them unawares, just as it is much easier to perform in Olympic dressage when you have a horse…

Take care everyone

2horse

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

How To Fight Fear With Fear In Recovery From Mental Health Problems

When you are in treatment for a mental health problem, one of the questions that comes up a lot is the query of “What do you want?”. Many people find this helpful, and in thinking about what they want from life, they find motivation and strength to recover. For example, I know a lot of people with eating disorders who want to have children, are helped to eat by the thought that they need to be healthy to have a nice comfy womb (that is the scientific term for “be fertile” I believe).
When you know what you want from life, it doesn’t make recovery easy, but it gives you a purpose, something to fight that nagging voice in your head with, an argument as to why you are forcing yourself to do things like challenging pieces of therapy that make you feel uncomfortable. With an end goal, the stress and pain of recovery make sense, like running a race and focusing on the finish line with a giant gold trophy at the end of it, whether that trophy represents kids, a passion to travel the world or a desire to pursue a difficult career that wouldn’t be possible with insanity by your side.

To be fair I think “What do you want?” is a really important question for anyone to ask themselves in life, or indeed an important question for waiters to ask customers prior to bringing them food. Imagine if every time you went to a restaurant the chef just always assumed you wanted oranges and served everyone who ever sat at a table a bowl crammed with citrus wedges without finding out if the person liked such a thing first. WHAT A MAD WORLD THAT WOULD BE!
Clearly then, the aforementioned question is vital for sanity in the mental health world and the restaurant trade, but the problem with it is how you answer such an inquisition when you are unsure of exactly what you want, what your goal in life is, and it is an issue that can leave you feeling a bit stuck. That is how I feel, like I am running in a race where I can’t see a finish line or big shiny trophy to aim for, and considering that a loss of interest in things is a symptom of depression, I imagine it is a feeling that many are familiar with.

The only thing that I can hand on heart say that I actually have a desire to do, or a want to achieve, is to be a published author one day. That idea is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, but I am tentative to make that my overall focus for recovery. Becoming a professional author is a notoriously difficult thing to achieve and I am fearful of basing my entire recovery on such a risky goal that is really quite out of my control. Of course I realise no career or dream is straight forward and nothing anyone would ever really want is easy to reach. After all, if dreams weren’t a little fantastical and difficult, where would the appeal be? The point of dreams is that they have that element of the unattainable surrounding them to make them special. That said, wanting to be a writer is probably up there in the top ten dreams that are seldom realised.
When you want to be a writer, there are no directions, no post code to put into google maps and no yellow brick road giving you a little route to follow to your desired destination. You want to be published and can write all you want, but getting anywhere with it is a little out of your control and a lot of it is based on luck. It really is a case of writing and then keeping your fingers crossed, a particularly difficult combination of actions to do together as when one’s fingers are crossed, it makes it infinitely more difficult to hold a pen to write anything with.

In terms of concrete and definitely attainable things I want then, my pocket of ideas is empty. I suppose I should count myself lucky that I have the want to be a writer at all, as like I said, when you are depressed or caught up in a mental illness, you are so wrapped up in your mind that you can’t want anything other than for the pain to stop.
Coincidentally, when psychology professionals and therapists ask me what I want, that is pretty much my answer. I don’t know what I want, so personally I find focusing on what I don’t want is easier, as I know I don’t want to feel the way I do. I don’t want to feel the weight of sadness on my shoulders when there is nothing rational to be sad about, I don’t want to be anxious about touching doorhandles, I don’t want to shower for ages and I don’t want to care about what food I will be eating in the next few weeks. At the same time though, it has been such a long time since I lived in any other way that I don’t know what the alternatives to those things are. When you have been out of the real world for so long, how can you remember what it is like there, let alone what things you would want to get out of it?

It sounds pretty negative to focus on things you don’t want rather than the things you do, but recently I have to say that actually thinking that way has been a bigger help and more of a motivation than any potential desires on the horizon.
When in hospital and indeed now I am back home, at every meal time I am scared and I do not want to eat. It isn’t a case of not wanting whatever food has been place in front of me (please let it be known that my mother is a fabulous cook and all of her concoctions are a delicious treat for all the senses…if you don’t have an eating disorder screaming at every mouthful). No, rather than a case of unappetising culinary creations, when I do not want to eat, it is a case of feeling so sick with terror that I fear consuming the food as I know it will only make that anxiety worse which, clearly, I do not want. If anyone was placed in front of a plate of something that scares them, who on earth would dive in with joyous anticipation of the spine tingling sensations they knew would ensue?
Say someone was scared of spiders and they were presented with a plate of little arachnids performing a traditional waltz around a dinner plate (fun fact, 8 legged insects are fantastic at and passionate about ballroom dancing. You won’t find any evidence of it online or any book so you will have to trust me on that. Seriously though, they LOVE it.)
When presented with these graceful creatures using crockery as their own professional dance floor, who with a fear of spiders would offer a hand to one of the many limbs scurrying before them in the interests of dancing a jive or having a cheeky go at a tango? More importantly, who would want to? Probably no-one. The only way I can think of getting someone to want to do such a thing would be to make an alternative which they wanted less. For example, if it was a a case of dance with a spider for ten minutes or marry a spider for life, I imagine a lot of arachnophobes would want to give the insect tango a try.

That is in essence how I manage to eat at home and how I motivate myself to do a lot of challenging things treatment requires of me in terms of anorexia, OCD or indeed depression. I do not want to eat, I know that I will feel anxious and an agonising guilt just from picking up the fork, but I know that if I don’t there will be consequences I want even less and fear even more, such as my CTO having me hauled back into hospital before I can say “why are there nurses banging at the door?”.
I guess what I am trying to do is play fear at its own game. I know that I am going to be scared every day and I don’t have a positive idea of what I want in life to override that. Therefore instead of being cornered by the fear, I come back at it and use fear to make me do the things I am scared of by creating a far more horrifying alternative, by making whatever action scares me in recovery the “lesser of two evils” as it were. I am scared to eat dinner this evening, but I am more scared of being taken back into hospital and made to gain more weight, so I know I will get on and chow down no matter what.

I would love to write a Disneyfied post instead of this, one that reassures any readers out there that dreams can come true, can conquer any mental torment and that focusing on the positives like answering the question as to “what you want” in life is the key to recovery. I want to tell people who are struggling that all you have to do is find your passion as the way to overpower your demons once and for all, but answering that question as to what you want is a challenge in itself. Of course it would be infinitely better if I were able to eat a steaming bowl of spaghetti without any anxiety because I had goals and passions in life stronger than the fear flowing through my veins, but it is I suppose better to use fear to manage the scary things than to not do the scary things at all.

If you have a mental illness that is taking over your life and you don’t feel a burning desire to dance like Billy Elliot or paint like Van Gogh pushing you forward, don’t let that lack of knowing what you want hold you back and don’t let the fear of making changes bind you in chains. Play fear and lack of interest at their own game, take advantage of them. Rather than being dominated by an OCD or anorexic fear of touching a door handle/eating pasta, think of the alternative to challenging that behaviour and find a fear of living your whole life being controlled by your neuroses that inspires a greater terror than any door handle/Italian carbohydrate ever could. I can’t promise it will work and I can’t even be sure whether or not this will make sense to anyone out there, however this post is at least an attempt to explain how I am dealing with the fear and apathy involved in the struggle for sanity.
Nobody ever wants to feel fear, but often when it comes to mental illness, fear is all you have, so I for one am going to use what I have got until I can find something better.

spider1

Six Tips For Going Home After A Hospital Admission For Mental Health Problems

You know that feeling when you go to the cinema, watch a film, then leave the pitch black room of the movie theatre and step out into the light? Usually, if you have been seeing a film in the day time, the sunlight outside will be such a contrast to the dimmer environment you inhabited previously, that you end up blindly staggering around in a daze wondering where you are, how to deal with the situation, and why on earth that small bucket of popcorn you purchased cost £50.
That overwhelming sudden change in environment and resulting confusion is pretty much what it is like when you leave inpatient treatment in a mental health hospital for the real world after several months (though I admit, in that situation, you are a little less concerned about the price of popcorn in cinemas than the analogical version suggests), and this is one of the reasons so many people relapse the moment they leave 24 hour care.
In hospital, you are helped to manage your mental health problem in a very specific environment which, once changed, can make someone feel like they are mentally back at square one, home in the house with the same ghosts that haunted them prior to admission. Everyone knows that going into hospital is hard, but at the same time, there are moments when leaving and going back home doesn’t feel any easier. There is a lot of support out there for people who are due to be admitted, but not a lot of help for those on the brink of freedom, and when on the brink of anything (e.g a cliff or freedom), it is vital to have a parachute, a safety net, a plan, and that is what I hope to help you lovely people with in this post. So as someone who left hospital a mere six days ago themselves (it is a very long story that I won’t bore you with here, but in summary I kicked up a right fuss about being in hospital and have been allowed home on a Community Treatment Order, a full explanation of which can be found via this link to my post about the Mental Health Act…https://bornwithoutmarbles.com/2016/07/11/demystifying-the-mental-health-act-with-penguins/) here are a few nuggets of advice for how to deal with leaving inpatient treatment after a lengthly admission:

1. Make a plan and stick to it: When you are in hospital, there are usually a lot of rules and staff who enforce them. Your days are structured, and going from this very regulated, controlled environment to total freedom where you can do as you please, can be a frightening shift in responsibility. Therefore it is vital to make a plan and rules to stick to at home so that the change is less dramatic and you still have boundaries, rather than the secure bars of safety falling down around you and allowing your mental illness to run wild. Create a basic timetable to follow (not religiously, just to give you a sense of how to structure the days you are suddenly free to spend as you choose), and implement any non-negotiable rules from the ward at home. Follow the plan of recovery that you have been working on in hospital and don’t let your days be filled up by the to-do lists scribbled on the walls of your mind by your anxieties.

2. Take it one day at a time: Before going home it is important to acknowledge that making the transition is never going to be perfect. There are new challenges to face, and with that it is likely there will be little slip ups along the way (If you watched hurdles at the Olympics this year you will know exactly what I mean. Seriously those people were professional hurdlers and they still kept falling over and sending hurdles flying all over the place). The key however is to not see every set back as permission to revert to relapse or give up the race. If you mess up one day, start afresh the next morning and don’t let a bad hour spiral into another bad year. Treat mistakes like sand castles, make them, acknowledge them, whack a shell on top, and then watch the tides of time wash them away.

3. Keep Moving forward: Whenever I leave hospital I often find myself feeling that the geographical move signals a mental move in terms of recovery. When inpatient you are constantly being pushed to move forward, but when you go home it is easy to halt all progress and remain static because your head tells you that you are “not in treatment anymore”. The truth is, wherever you are, you are in treatment and progress in recovery is possible, so to avoid getting stuck, make a list of goals or challenges for each month to keep progress going.

4. Ask for help: Bottling up thoughts and keeping how you feel a secret is a lot harder in hospital than at home because in hospital there are people constantly following you around and shining a torch in your face at night to check if you are sleeping, which, funnily enough you were until someone rudely shone a torch in your face (if you have someone doing that at home then you should probably bring it up with your landlord). Asking for help when inpatient then is not really necessary, because help is often following you around even when you don’t want it. At home however, it is easy to isolate yourself, pretend you are ok to please others, and fall down a slippery slope greased with eels and vaseline because you fear letting others know that you need a little assistance in scrambling back up aforementioned eel ridden slope. Admitting you are struggling is tough, but it is tougher to fight your battles alone. If you can call the hospital to speak to staff from the unit you were in, do that. If not, call a friend. Either way, reach out, be honest and don’t be ashamed of needing people to hold onto.

5. Use your imagination: Whenever I have been in hospital, then go home and struggle, I often find it helpful to imagine I am back in hospital. It doesn’t sound like particularly great advice to help someone in their journey to mental stability by telling them to imagine they are in a psychiatric unit (in terms of signs of insanity that one sounds pretty high up the list), but I like to remind myself of the fact that though things feel so different and so much harder at home, really the only difference is location. If you have managed to eat your meal plan/not self harm/resist compulsive behaviours within hospital walls then going home and doing the same is, in practical terms, no different. The hurdles as it were have not got higher, they are on a different track, so if you can leap them in one place you can leap them in another. Don’t let your head spiral out of control and make you believe that doing what you have been doing for months is as drastic as it feels.

6. Acknowledge that you are still unwell: One of the biggest mistakes when leaving inpatient treatment is to see yourself as “better” and able to thrust yourself back into hard core “normal life”. Just being at home will take a lot of energy and mental effort, so don’t force or pressure yourself to going straight back to a stressful job full time when you have been out of action for a while. Allow yourself to still see the journey to recovery as your full time occupation and ease yourself back into things gradually. If you have a job, maybe go back part time at first so that you still have time to look after yourself, and find your feet back home. Then when you have found your feet (and we all know how much easier life is when one is aware as to the location of all body parts), you can try full time again, but take it steady and prioritise mental health.

So there you have it! Six delightful tips to help keep you on track when making the difficult transition from hospital to home. Maybe calling them delightful is a bit of a stretch, but they are at least what I am trying to use to help me as I find myself suddenly back in reality after several months of being locked away behind a very high and unscalable green fence.
On a more personal and honest note, I know that discharging myself from inpatient treatment six days ago was probably not the best idea, and I know I did it for the wrong reasons, but hopefully it will work out OK in the end. Whether or not these tips are any good of course will be determined by how things go over the next few months of me carrying them out myself back at home.

I guess that is something we will find out together…

Leaving inpatient tips

Preparing For University With A Mental Health Problem

In a few short days it will be September, aka the month in which all of the leaves turn orange and everyone takes this as a sign that everyone should probably go back to school, or, potentially, to university. What with leaving home, meeting new people and learning to use a frying pan, going to university for the first time is stressful for anyone. With mental health problems however, the experience can be a whole new level of terrifying, and although your chosen institution may provide a handy welcome pack with maps and phone numbers of who to call when the oven explodes, they never seem to offer any advice on how to deal with the whole thing when you are a new student without marbles, a situation I found myself in several years ago.

I think part of the problem is that before people have even stepped onto campus, they have built up an image of what their first year at university is “supposed to be like” and anticipate having to be involved in various situations they may not be comfortable with.
People expect that they will have to drink copious amounts of alcohol, attend wild house parties where somehow everyone ends up naked, make best friends with everyone living in their accommodation, share a kitchen with people who never wash any dishes so that by month three the sink is covered in plates that have rapidly been growing some kind of blue fungus, carry out crazy pranks with their hilarious roommate Colin, get entangled in a passionate one night stand with a mysterious moustachioed stranger, live off kebabs/Pot Noodles/Pizza, experiment with drugs, and capture all hilarious moments on a polaroid camera to place carefully in a scrapbook which will then provide unforgettable memories of the university experience that will forever be heralded as the best three years of your life.
That university image, so often portrayed on social media, is understandably a nightmare concept for various mental health conditions. People with depression and social anxiety may fear attending all these wild parties when they are often unable to get out of bed, let alone party and interact with strangers. People with OCD may struggle with the wild unstructured “anything goes” attitude and questionable hygiene or lack of ritualistic order associated with student living, or people with eating disorders may fear having to drink alcohol and eat pizza to fit in at any social gathering.

Well, if that wild carefree party life described above matches your expectations as to what you think university will be/require you to live up to, I would like to invite you to place those expectations or ideas of things that are “supposed to happen” in a box, and then smash that box with a fairly large mallet. Nay, lets go wild. With a flipping colossal mallet.

Admittedly, my description of what people envisage before they go to university, really is the experience had by some students (bar the bit about hilarious pranks with roommates called Colin…people called Colin don’t tend to like pranks), but it isn’t the experience that you have to have or feel pressure and stress to be involved with. I would love to say that going to university with a mental health problem is easy, and it is true that some people find the new environment beneficial to recovery, but that doesn’t happen for everyone and it is important to acknowledge that so we can deal with it.

Indeed, when you embark on your university journey whilst dealing with a mental health issues, it is likely that it is not going to be straight forward and you may not have the same experience as everyone else. It isn’t pessimistic to think this way, it is realistic, and being aware of potential difficulties from the outset is a far better way to go about things than charging forth unprepared with deluded optimism, pretending you don’t have mental health issues in hopes that they will just go away. Denying them will not make university any easier and not dealing with them could make difficulties you thought wouldn’t be an issue come as quite a shock. The key is to accept early on that you are going to university in perhaps a different situation to most people (after all it isn’t every student that goes to get a degree whilst fighting an unrelenting mental health gremlin), and that is ok, not something to feel ashamed or guilty about.
You don’t have to pressure yourself to live the “expected” university life of gay abandon if that is something you cannot manage right now…

…That said, I am not trying to tell you all to go to university and allow your mental health issues to take over entirely, as whilst you must acknowledge the issues are there, it is good to challenge yourself and try new things. TO AN EXTENT.
University can provide opportunities for millions of new experiences, and though you may not be able to join in with all the things that are on offer, if there is something you would like to try that challenges your mental health problem in a manageable way, (whether that be going to a society, or saying hello to someone in your accommodation), go for it. I know I avoided all challenges in the early weeks by totally isolating myself (aka I lived under my desk for a month covered in a blanket in fear another student might see me through the peephole in my door and want to say hello), and it made things a hell of a lot worse for me in the long run.
Eventually however, I came out from under my desk, and over the three years I managed to go clubbing/ to a party a few times and live with some lovely girls in a shared house. I didn’t want to do any of these things and was terrified for various OCD, anxiety, ED reasons, but on days where I felt a little stronger, I pushed myself to try and join in with others. Of course it was difficult and I can’t say it always went to plan, but by dipping my toe into the waters just outside of my comfort zone occasionally, I managed to have some fun that I would have missed out on had I kept myself locked away in my rituals and bubble of safety.
What I mean then by saying you should challenge yourself to an extent, is to be aware of your difficulties and know when a challenge is manageable and when one is not. It is great to give scary things a go, but do not blindly leap so far out into the waters of your comfort zone that you end up drowning if you are not ready, just because you feel you should/feel pressured to. It is not weak or boring to say no to things everyone else is doing, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Nobody “fails at life” just because they didn’t manage to go to that foam party with UV paint being splattered into the crowd and needed to spend the night curled up under a blanket for a good cry instead.

It really is key that people remember the fact that when going to university with a mental health issue, you are ill, and have to put as much time into prioritising care for your mental health as you do for prioritising attempts at socialising or writing essays.
For example, if you have an eating disorder, it is important to make time to eat, follow any prescribed meal plan you have and not let things slip just because you are away from people at home who “know”, so if you miss bits nobody will notice. If you have depression and can’t get out of bed for a few days, take care of yourself and keep yourself safe rather than beating yourself up or feeling guilty about it. Prioritise taking your medication, make time to go to the Doctor, seek out mental health services available to you and take up offers of appointments. Equally, inform lecturers of your issues so that they can support you if you miss a lecture or require essay extensions, as although scary, being honest with staff and the support I received in return was vital for my experience.

Most importantly and the most difficult thing to accept though, is to know when enough is enough. It would be great to go to university with mental health problems and for it all to go swimmingly, but if that doesn’t happen and if you going to university has such a dramatic impact on your mental health that you find yourself becoming increasingly unwell, accept that this might not be the right time for you to be there. Allow yourself to drop out or defer until another year. Maybe in a few years time when you are in a better place you can try again, or maybe university just isn’t right for you, but either way it is fine, not a sign of failure, and no degree is worth sacrificing your health for.

There are a million other things I could probably go into when it comes to university and mental health or more specifics in terms of how to deal with it with specific illnesses, but I have waffled on too long and as a basic overview, I guess this is my advice:
It will be hard, it will be scary (much like an old toffee wearing devil horns), but the most important thing is to just try your best, take care of yourself first and never give yourself a hard time for being unable to live the “typical student” lifestyle.

That said if anyone would like more specific information or tips on managing university with certain illnesses or situations, feel free to comment or message me privately and I will do my best to help. To all those going to university in a few short weeks, good luck, I will be thinking of and supporting all of you. Take care.

University

Why Gyms Need To Be More Aware Of People With Eating Disorders

Recently, I have noticed that gyms have been popping up all over the place, and it is getting to the point where I would not be surprised if I went down to the bottom of my garden one day to find that a new branch had set one up in my shed between the empty plant pots and the lawn mower. Obviously I understand the benefits of the gym, getting a bit of exercise is important to keep healthy, and it is nice to have a place that allows you to look sweaty and tired whilst exercising without the potential judgement one would receive were you to start doing press ups in the cereal aisle at your local supermarket. The problem is that while gyms advocate health and fitness, there is often far too much emphasis on the idea that both are achieved by losing weight, which of course, it isn’t. For some people maybe, but the generalisation that weight loss will improve your health is a dangerous one, especially for people with eating disorders, and in my opinion it needs to be addressed by gyms immediately.

When I first joined my local gym I was 16 years old and in my preliminary session with a member of staff I stated that my goal was to lose weight. This member of staff then took my height, weight, and calculated my BMI to discover a number that I will not post specifically, but let’s just say it was towards the lower end of healthy. Despite this information, the personal trainer happily agreed to set me up with a meal plan and exercise regime to achieve my weight loss goals, without any debate or suggestion that my intention to “shed the pounds” was unnecessary and actually detrimental in terms of fitness.
A few months after that preliminary session, I was admitted to hospital on an eating disorders program where I stayed for ten months, gaining back all the weight I had lost on the treadmill.

The day I was healthy and had been discharged, I went back to the gym, not with the intention of losing this time, merely “toning” my new healthy body, but soon enough it became an obsession again and I was there all the time exercising until I was about to pass out. One morning I went to the gym at 6am, the moment they opened. By 9am I had been admitted to hospital again due to my eating disorder and exercise addiction, which combined had made me rather underweight and not “fit” in any sense of the word (unless your sense of the word fit is that it means “to be a weak, dizzy mess on the brink of collapse”, in which case I was REALLY fit). A mere three days before that day, I had been approached by a personal trainer who offered to work with me and help me to lose weight.
Annoyingly, this being a blog post constructed of words rather than expressions displayed on my spectacular visage, you can’t physically see me right now, but as you read that last sentence, please just picture me throwing my hands up in despair and shaking my head at the ridiculousness of that situation.

Now, I understand that personal responsibility for one’s self and one’s actions is important. After all, gyms cannot be asked to dictate the lives of their members, weigh them upon entry, demand they get off the treadmill if they didn’t finish their bran flakes that morning, and cook them a hearty balanced stew for dinner each night (although I would not be adverse to any of these ideas), but when an eating disorder really takes over someone’s mind, that person can have no control, be unable to take responsibility for their own safety, and need people to step in. In part, this is because they may not realise that they are even ill, denial and distorted perceptions being a massive issue in people with eating disorders. The other and in my opinion bigger issue that can result in a lack of control over one’s behaviour however, is the feeling of a lack of permission to look after oneself.

Every time I went to the gym I was terrified and certainly didn’t want to be there at all. I had been told multiple times by doctors, my eating disorder service, nurses in A&E, that I could have a heart attack at any moment, but not going simply wasn’t an option. My head told me I wasn’t allowed to make that decision.
If I pleaded with the eating disorder that I was scared and couldn’t go to the gym, it would scream so relentlessly that I felt I had no choice but to give in, and I would end up on that treadmill whether I wanted to be or not.
Furthermore, the fact that I was continually let into the gym despite being so underweight almost supported the voice of the eating disorder. I had doctors telling me I was physically unwell and looked awful, but when I went to the gym and started rowing on one of those damn machines that is nothing like a real boat experience whatsoever (6 years at that gym and I didn’t see a single duckling), nobody batted an eyelid, so I assumed the doctors were lying and that I must look fine. If I was clearly “so underweight”, then why on earth would a gym let me in and offer me a personal trainer to lose more flab than I had already? Surely this meant they thought I was overweight too? Not saying anything to people who are clearly unwell is one thing, but asking if they want help in making themselves even more unwell in the interest of “fitness” just to make money is a whole new kettle of fish, a very dangerous hot kettle with sharks in it who are able to withstand shockingly high temperatures.
What’s worse is that my experience is by no means unusual or a sign that I clearly had a bad gym, as it is something that happens to loads of people in loads of gyms all across the country.

Now again, I am not asking gyms to approach skinny people in the gym, catch them with a giant net and fling them violently out of the window. Such a code of practice would be futile due to the important fact I have stated in previous posts, that not everyone who is skinny has an eating disorder and not everyone with an eating disorder is skinny. Indeed, someone could be severely unwell, on the brink of death or a heart attack and look a healthy weight or overweight. What I am asking for, is personal trainers and other staff to be made more aware of people with eating disorders, and how to support or help them when they are in a destructive relationship with the gym. They need to be able to spot various symptoms or unusual behaviours, be trained to have a grasp of eating disorders and exercise addictions, or be aware of someone’s motivations in losing weight if there are signs of any underhand eating disorder suspiciousness going on.
At the very least, if they measure someone and know someone is already a healthy weight or underweight, they shouldn’t give them a weight loss meal plan or ask if they want to pay you to help them shed the non existent rolls of fat they are complaining about just to make some cash in the name of “fitness”. When someone has an eating disorder, such suggestions are more like offers to assist in suicide for the price of £20 an hour. BARGAIN.

I know that it is a massive pain to say gyms have to spend extra money on funding training, especially when it may be that such training may be irrelevant for the majority of the time when it comes to healthy members.
Nevertheless, I would still say that it is less of a pain to be aware of sufferers and deal with them whilst having slightly lower profits, than to have to deal with a law suit and a hell of a lot of guilt when someone who clearly shouldn’t be exercising dies on one of the treadmills. I may not be a personal trainer, but that certainly doesn’t sound like fitness to me.

Treadmill

Unveiling The Secrets Of Life As A Mental Health Nurse

As you are probably all aware, this blog is a blog about mental health.
If you weren’t aware and thought this was actually a blog offering gardening tips, then I am sorry to disappoint you, but I really have no advice to offer in that department so you may want to look elsewhere for tips. All I know is that you should water your plants…but not too much…and plants need sunlight…but then some like to be in cool dark cupboards…yeah like I said I really am not qualified or experienced as a gardener…ANYWAY, browsing the titles of my current collection of posts I have noticed that most of them are aimed at people with mental health problems, but what about a post centred around the people who spend their lives trying to treat those without marbles? How do they feel about working with the mentally ill? What do they like about the job and which parts make them wish they had steered clear of the anxious and the depressed inhabitants of this godforsaken planet, to pursue a career in fish mongering instead? What makes them dream of swapping therapy for cod and medication side effects for a nice piece of haddock? What advice do they have for people thinking about becoming a mental health professional and how does one go about following that dream? If the mentally ill are plants, who are the gardeners providing enough warmth for seed germination and growth? (Please note I just used the word germination…that is a gardening term…maybe I am more qualified in that department than I realised). Well, if you have wanted to know the answers to any of these questions and even if you haven’t, I am here today to give them to you anyway in a hard hitting interview with a real, qualified mental health nurse working on the ward in which I currently reside. Prepare yourself for the secrets of the mental health professionals, the story behind the shift work and a very confused nurse wondering what on earth I am talking about…

LIGHTS GO UP.

[The nurse and I are seated in blue chairs in a place known as “the quiet room”. The conversation begins whilst the sound of the cleaner mopping slops rhythmically in the background]

Me: Hello Nurse Gertrude Potatobucket, thank you so much for joining me today for this interview.

Gertrude Potatobucket: What interview? Who is Gertrude Potatobucket?

Me: This interview. I want to know about the life of a mental health nurse for an article on my blog. Also you are Gertrude Potatobucket for the duration of this interaction because I am hiding your real name in the interest of confidentiality, so you can be brutally honest as nobody will know your true identity.

GP: I will agree to the interview but can’t I pick another name? Why does it have to be Gertrude Potatobucket? That sounds ridiculous.

Me: I will have you know it is not at all ridiculous but is an underused name that deserves more recognition, so no, you cannot pick an alternative. Anyway, I’m supposed to be the one asking questions here so please just accept your new identity and lets get to the good stuff.

GP: Katie I really think…

Me: [In a loud and interrupting manner] QUESTION ONE. WHAT DOES BEING A MENTAL HEALTH NURSE ENTAIL?

GP: [Sighs…there is a long pause during which the sound of mopping appears to increase in volume until Nurse Potatobucket realises that she is going to take part in an interview whether she likes it or not and gets on with answering the question at hand]. The role of a mental health nurse is different depending on what kind of service you are working for but in terms of my responsibilities on this Eating Disorder Unit, I am in charge of co-ordinating health care assistants on shift, running support groups, working with patients in 1:1 sessions, supporting them at meal times and I am in charge of handing out any medication prescribed by Doctors or psychiatrists.

Me: What a busy bee you are! I can almost hear you buzzing, your face is practically aglow with black and yellow stripes. So tell me Gertrude, how did you earn such responsibility? How does one go about becoming a mental health nurse? What training is required?

GP: To be a mental health nurse you need to have at least 5 GCSE’s including maths, English and Science and then go to university for three years to study mental health nursing. You don’t have to go to university to work in mental health though. If someone wanted to be a Health Care Assistant they would need to have something called a care certificate, but it is possible to get a job as an HCA without any official training. If someone has experience in mental health and does a good interview for a job, they may be offered a position and then have the opportunity to do the care certificate whilst working.

Me: Well to qualify alone sounds like a lot of fun but how about the job itself? What would you say is the best thing about being a mental health nurse?

GP: Supporting people and helping them to make positive changes in their lives.

Me: How nice. I don’t want to paint a misleadingly fluffy picture about the job though so tell me, what is the worst thing about being a mental health nurse?

GP: You see some really sad and upsetting stuff. Also shift work can be difficult as you never have a fixed schedule or routine and can be working at day or night depending on your rota. That said I know that “Bertha Potatonose” likes shift work as it enables her to be flexible when looking after her children, so it is different for everyone. Oh God I have just used her real name, can you cut that bit out?

Me: No need, I will simply hide her identity by replacing her real name with Bertha Potatonose.

GP: What is it with you using the word potato in fake surnames?…

Me: [Even louder and more interrupting than the first time the interviewee started to question the interviewer] QUESTION FIVE: HOW DOES BEING A MENTAL HEALTH NURSE AFFECT YOUR DAILY LIFE AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO BE A MENTAL HEALTH NURSE?

GP: [Sighs. Despair at the situation is visible. The cleaner is still mopping in background]. First off I would advise someone to get some life experience or experience as an HCA. Secondly I would say that in terms of daily life you really need to learn to leave work at work and look out for your own wellbeing at home. You can’t look after someone else unless you have first looked after yourself.

Me: Does this mean there any people then that you would advise to avoid looking into being a mental health nurse? Are there any people you feel would be particularly unsuited to the role?

GP: No. It can be a difficult job but anyone can be a mental health nurse. Different people bring different life experiences, skills and character to the job and I think that is important. Mental illnesses don’t all fit into a neat box and neither do the people who are able to be great Mental Health Nurses.

Me: Inspiring. Truly inspiring.
Now Ms Potatobucket, I know that the people at home often worry when speaking to a mental health professional in candid honesty about their condition that they will be thought of as “crazy” or “weird”. Answer me honestly, do mental health nurses ever judge patients regarding what they say in a session?

GP: No, there is never any judgement. All I feel towards people talking about their difficulties is empathy and I want to show compassion towards the difficult time they are having in life.

Me: Well that is a relief. I am sure we will all rest easier in our beds tonight knowing that we can spill our inner most thoughts without fear of being thought to be “weird”. In addition to worries like that, a lot of people in treatment out there may also be struggling at the moment and feeling like things will never get better. Do you think recovery from a mental illness is ever really possible?

GP: Definitely. All mental health nurses hold the hope and belief that the people they are treating can get to a better place. I think everyone is capable of building the strength and determination not to let their mental health problem rule them forever, and in learning skills they can gain confidence they may not have had initially in fighting their issues.

Me: Fascinating stuff Gertrude. Truly fascinating. Now finally. The question everyone at home has been waiting for and the most important piece of information in all of this. Tell me, has being a mental health nurse in any way altered the opinion you hold with regard to penguins?

GP: What does that have to do with working in mental health?

Me: [Incandescent with rage at being asked a third question during the interview] MS POTATOBUCKET

GP: Oh for goodness sake ok, yes, being a mental health nurse has given me a new found appreciation for penguins.

Me: Aha! Just as I expected! Gosh! Looking at my watch it appears we are all out of time! Thank you so much for answering these questions Nurse Potatobucket. Your honesty and words will touch millions. On behalf of all my readers please know that we are eternally grateful.

GP: Can I go now?

Me: Absolutely

[Interview ends. The sound of mopping in the background has stopped. Upon leaving the room the cleaner is nowhere to be found and only a mop lies in the corridor. The cleaner has not been seen since…]

FADE TO BLACK

Well there you have it! The hard nitty gritty truth about what it is like to work as a Mental Health nurse, how to become one, and how such a career can affect one’s opinion on monochrome birds who refuse to comply with society’s expectations and use their wings to fly. I really hope that this helped people out there either if they are thinking about becoming a Mental Health Professional or those in treatment worrying about what carers in an inpatient setting may be thinking. It appears there is no judgement when it comes to working with the marble-less hoards and no matter how it feels at the time, it seems there is always hope and the potential to recover.
Now if you don’t mind me I am going to abandon my job as journalist for the day and turn to a little detective work. I really am getting worried about the case of the mysteriously disappearing cleaner that took place during this interview…any witness statements would be appreciated in the comments.

I will speak to you all next Monday, take care x

 

Gertrude Edited

Delayed Maturity In People With Mental Health Problems

In a few weeks time, my parents are flying to Malaysia for a fortnight’s holiday whilst I stay in my slightly less exotic summer holiday home of the English psychiatric unit (note I say only say slightly less exotic. Malaysia may have rainforests and tropical climates but I will have you know we have pineapple juice in the fridge here as a breakfast beverage option). The prospect of two weeks without my Mum and Dad here is terrifying. As a 24 year old I feel I should be past such anxiety when separated from my parents, but I can’t help it. In terms of maturity, I am ridiculously behind other people my age, in terms of development into an adult (whatever the hell that is).
Rationally, I suppose most people would miss their parents whilst they go galavanting off around the world and I know nobody feels prepared for becoming an adult. A lot of my friends for example are a rather taken aback with things like moving out or paying electricity bills, and like me often very much feel like retreating into a blanket fort to watch a Disney film. That said, because of all this mental health nonsense, I feel I am so extremely behind that it is as if I am in a giant swimming pool with all the other people my age, and that I am the only one who still has arm bands on. Heck I am not even in the pool with them, I am sitting in a paddling pool on the outside, splashing about and wondering how on earth these people are performing the front crawl with such ease.

This feeling of being behind my peers in terms of growing up used to worry me a lot, but “delayed mental ageing” or “stunted development” is very common in people with mental health problems. I have no idea why exactly this is, but if I were to guess I would say it was because when you are riddled with an illness of the mind, you kind of step out of the world and get lost/trapped inside of your head. Your neuroses and anxieties become your universe, they consume your entire being in terms of thoughts and behaviour, and it is very easy to forget that there is any other planet out there at all.
With things like OCD, your world is your rituals, every action requiring such concentration and focus that you have no senses spare to be receptive to anything else. When you are depressed you are too busy trying to motivate yourself to keep breathing to have time for real life stuff, and then there are eating disorders where your entire universe is food. No wonder then that people often describe people with severe mental health problems as “totally out of it”. Sometimes, they really are holidaying on the outward planet of insanity with whatever anxieties that involves, and in being this way they miss a lot of what is really happening in the real world, not because they are self obsessed, but because they are not there.

This wouldn’t be as big an issue as it is, and it wouldn’t potentially “stunt” or delay development and maturity at all if the world would just stop spinning whilst us marble-less creatures were otherwise engaged. If the world waited, people could just get better and pick up their lives and development from where they left off before the insanity creatures whisked them away, but that is the problem. The world doesn’t stop turning (sometimes Earth can be so inconsiderate). Even if you are living on a different planet, time in the real world still passes, so when you try to recover and return to normality it can be quite a shock to the system.
This shock is a really difficult thing to explain to people who haven’t experienced it, so in classic Born without Marbles style I am going to try to make some sense of it via some kind of analogy. The analogy? That coming back into the real world after being trapped in a mental illness is sort of like the feeling you get when you watch a TV program for several months, miss a few years, then try to pick it up again only to be baffled and confused as to what on earth is going on.

In this analogy, sane people have been watching a daily television show, lets call it “The Life and Times of Percy The Penguin”, a soap opera style show about a community of penguins living in the Arctic (think Coronation Street with more waddling). The sane people have never missed an episode, so they have seen the story grow over the years, and learnt things about the world that have changed and enhanced their lives. Each episode actually helps people develop in life.
Now, the person with mental health problems starts off watching this program too, but then, just in the middle of an episode in which Percy is getting married to his childhood sweetheart Patricia, the mental illness kicks in and whisks them to a world where there are no televisions. Whilst they have the illness they are trapped in this other world, anxious, alone, repeating rituals, hearing voices and experiencing a whole other load of things that most people never do. Despite their absence however, in the real world, the television show continues on without them.
Say they are then stuck in this mental world for a decade but then finally break free, back to reality. One may assume that they can join back in watching the program, understanding life in exactly the same way as everyone else, fitting in just like before, but unfortunately that is not the case.
They turn on the TV and are immediately confused by the image that confronts them on the screen. Where the hell is Patricia they wonder? Why does Percy have a wooden flipper? Who is this Polly he is married too? Why are Percy and Polly crouching in a bunker looking terrified and why have all the other penguins in the village been replaced by seals? It makes no sense.
To everyone else the answers are obvious. By staying in the real world they never missed an episode and have grown up over the years alongside the program, their understanding and knowledge continuing to grow as the program progressed. They are all well aware of the fact that in “The Life and Times of Percy the Penguin”, Patricia actually turned out to be an evil seal in disguise who ripped Percy’s fin off in the middle of their wedding, resulting in the rather splinter ridden replacement. They all saw every other penguin in the village reveal themselves to be evil seals working for Patricia, with the only real penguin other than Percy in the area being a hidden gem named Polly, who Percy then fell in love with, married, and is now hiding in an ice cave with planning how on earth the pair will overcome the wrath of Patricia the dictator and her fin flapping minions. The mentally ill person can try and catch up, scrabble around for any video tapes or use Google to find out all the things they have missed, but it isn’t the same. The lessons learnt over the missed years and development in everyone that the program inspired, happened in a time that cannot be retrieved, leaving the mentally ill person understandably behind and immature in comparison.

That is how I feel right now, and considering I first got ill when I was 11, I feel that mentally I am still that age, not even a teenager, yet in recovery everyone is trying to force me into this world of the 24 year old. It is terrifying. “Getting better” from any mental illness is quite a challenge as it is, but getting better AND trying to cram 13 years worth of growing up into a couple of months is a bit much to ask. I am just not ready to be 24 yet, I haven’t had all the years leading up to it to prepare myself and I haven’t learnt the lessons you are supposed to learn alongside friends who are going through the same thing, friends who are now rather far ahead of me.
Whilst all the other people at school were leaving the beanie babies behind, hitting puberty, getting hormones and falling into relationships, I was too busy calculating the calories in an apple to join in with all the developing. When they were learning to drive, I was off counting the number of times I had washed my hands, and when they began to move out of their family homes I didn’t notice because I was too upset or anxious to come out from under a blanket.

I feel silly and embarrassed by these things, but at the same time I want to talk about them openly so that more people can understand and fewer people have to feel ashamed. It is easy to judge someone for living in their parents’ house past the age most people have moved out, but I think it is important for people to be aware of the fact that this whole stunted development thing is a real issue and yet another complex reason to add to the list of what makes recovery from any form of insanity such a scary, and difficult process. Maybe one day if I “get better”, spend long enough in the real world, then I won’t feel so alienated and distant from friends my age living adult lives. Maybe one day I will understand the friends I have who are considering getting a mortgage (what the hell is that?), whilst I consider which starter Pokemon to pick (Squirtle every time), and maybe one day I will have the answers as to how to sort your life out when your mental age feels so disconnected and underdeveloped compared to everyone else. I certainly hope so, and as soon as I find those answers, I will be sure to let any of you others out there who are struggling with this issue know exactly what they are. Until then, I guess I will just have to keep my arm bands on as it were. Force myself out of the paddling pool, keep jumping in the deep end where the other 24 year olds are, splash around a bit and hope to God there are some good life guards or at least a rubber ring floating around.

Stunted