Why Friendship Is Important When Battling A Mental Health Problem

A few months ago I read a quote stating that when “I” became “we”, mental illness became mental wellness. Now at the time I will admit I thought that statement was a nice thing to write on the wall of a psychiatric unit (as in properly artistically written as a message, purposely placed there by the authorities rather than some crazed crayon scrawl of a patient with too much time and too many crayons), but other than that I didn’t believe the statement very much. It felt like one of those things that is all well and good to say like “the sun will come out tomorrow” and other similarly cheesy phrases sung by red headed orphans who have no experience, knowledge or authority in weather forecasting to make any such predictions, but I have to say that over the past few weeks, I have realised that this quote is actually pretty accurate. Okay, it is not flawless, but there is a lot more truth in it than the words of a deluded 10 year old who thinks no outfit is complete without a smile, a very inappropriate thing to wear to a relative’s funeral.

I think I can say on behalf of many, that having a mental health problem is very lonely.
For one thing there is the actual physical distance created by mental illness. Maybe your difficulties restrict your ability to take part in life so you lose touch with friends leading “normal” lives and end up pretty isolated. Maybe you have to take time off work to go into hospital or to have treatment which separates you from the community in which you may have played a part. Maybe you fall out with acquaintances who cannot understand why you can’t “just be normal” when “it’s all in your head” and there is “nothing physically wrong with you”, but the biggest distance is the unseen emotional distance that nobody really talks about. When you are so trapped in thoughts spiralling around in your head, you feel as if you are a million miles away from people who may be sat right beside you, simply because you can’t relate to them in anyway. You watch them laugh, eat or open a door without washing their hands afterwards, you wonder how they do it, and you feel like a lesser underdeveloped species. Furthermore there are the thoughts that come with mental health problems, the low self esteem, feelings that everyone must hate you, the shame and inability to be honest with people incase they think you are crazy, and general emotional detachment from reality.

Both these physical and emotional distances can make you feel like you are the only person in the world who thinks the way you do, and this in turn contributes to the overwhelming sensation of being alone. Don’t get me wrong, being alone is nice sometimes, but when you are feeling alone and trying to battle a mental illness that is hitting you on the head with a mallet every five minutes, it can make your individual feeble attempts to fight against it weak and futile in comparison to its all controlling power. What you need is an army to help you, people on your side to support you in battle, in short, you need to call in the troops to face your demons with you, troops who will preferably bring a large number of rather large mallets with them. For this reason, friendship, community and kindness should never be ignored as ways of treating any disorder, for they are pretty much as important as all the therapy and psychiatric drugs in the world.

I guess my attitude to all this has changed fairly recently and has been during my time in hospital. When you are stuck in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar people, anyone is going to feel alone, and that in turn made me feel pretty alone with my problems. Fighting them felt futile and every second pointless. It was like I was a tortoise lying upside down on my back waving my legs around, unable to roll back over, yet being asked to wrestle with a lion, a crocodile, three tigers, and a bear who had somehow developed the use of opposable thumbs and managed to get his hands on an armoured tank complete with canon. As I lay there flailing pathetically, I couldn’t help but think “why bother trying to fight this? I can’t stand on my feet let alone battle a pack of vicious animals with the use of military style transport and machinery”. However, I then received a sudden onslaught of kindness both from friends, family and strangers, and it made me wonder whether or not there might actually be a point in giving it my best shot.
When people feel emotions caused by kindness shown by other people, they tend to say things like that they were “touched” and “moved”, but to say that is to vastly underestimate what I felt. Indeed I was so touched I was practically black and blue all over with the force of it, and so moved that one morning I actually found myself several thousand miles away in the sahara desert, where it took staff on the ward a very long time to find me again (they say they the reason for the delay in locating me was a dodgy sat nav but I am suspicious that they got distracted by the abundance of sand and started building castles…nurses love sand castles). I felt like a gigantic boob with the worlds strongest wonderbra supporting me, and though I never imagined anything positive ever coming from feeling like a boob, here I was proved wrong.

Knowing I had all these people supporting me made me feel empowered and suddenly trying to wrestle all those animals seemed a lot less daunting. I had back-up, and if I joined forces with them then my beasts could be overcome. Furthermore, actually engaging in the battle suddenly seemed worthwhile. When flailing on my back (remember the analogy, I am a tortoise here), not only did I see the fight as impossible, but I saw it as something that didn’t matter because I didn’t care what happened to me. I didn’t care if the lion ripped off my head or the bear flattened me to a pancake in his armoured vehicle. To be honest, when I was admitted, I just wanted for it all to be over. With the support I received though, I realised that it wasn’t just my vote that counted in all of this, it wasn’t just a case of me not wanting to fight and that being the end of it. For some bizarre reason, a lot of other people did think it mattered. They did care, and they did want me to win the fight. There were people who didn’t want to see me torn to pieces, there were people rooting for me, people who wanted me around, so when it came to facing a challenge, lunch for example, I couldn’t help but think “Even if I don’t care and don’t want to do this right now, there are a lot of people who do care, and I am not going to let them down, so for now I will do it for them”.

The confirmation in the quote that when “I” becomes “we”, illness becomes wellness and the important message I want to get across here then, is that when it comes to fighting mental health issues, knowing you are not alone in your recovery can be as important as any other aspect of treatment. If you don’t have mental health problems yourself but know someone who does and you want to help but don’t know what to do, helping them doesn’t have to be as hard as you may think. You don’t need to study all the psychology books in the library to try and understand what they are going through. You don’t have to move in with them, rally them each morning with an inspirational speech and skip encouragingly beside them throughout the day. Trust me, just letting a friend know that you are there for them if they need, that you care about their battle and other simple acts of kindness will do more for them than you will ever know.
Alternatively, if you yourself are sitting there reading this and you have mental health problems, feel that nobody understands, are unable to talk to friends and family in real life about your struggles and feel completely alone, know that this is not the case. I may not know you personally, but I can assure you that I care about your battle and I am more than happy to support you in it. When you know you are not alone you gain power, and that is what I want to give to you. I want you all to know that I am one your side, and that I have three tanks with canons so big that those bears and lions don’t stand a chance. If simply knowing that is enough then great, but if you still feel alone and ever want someone who understands, email or message me. I may not give the best advice and hearing from a stranger may not be what you want right now, but if you need a hand to hold in this darkness, I am more than happy to lend you all mine.

Take care everyone.

Tortoise

Food Demonising And Eating Disorders

During the month of April 2016, the food company that manufactures “Dolmio” pasta sauce issued a health warning telling people that they should not consume certain varieties of their products more than once a week due to high levels of salt, sugar and fat. The next day, the newspapers were covered in ridiculously dramatic headlines like “The Bolognese sauce in your cupboard is plotting to kill you” and “Research suggests it is safer to drink bleach than creamy tomato pasta bake”. Supermarkets gathered up all remaining stocks of Dolmio sauce and threw them into the ocean where over one million fish were knocked unconscious by the sudden downpour of jarred carbonara, and people fled their homes to set up new lives abroad as the sudden media frenzy had inspired such fear in their hearts that they’d rather safely escape from their kitchens without a backwards glance, than risk having a heart attack trying to dispose of a jar of pesto they had foolishly lurking in the cupboard. Now I will admit that this is perhaps a slight exaggeration on what happened after Dolmio’s announcement, but the message I am basically trying to convey here is that some pasta sauce company said there was some sugar and salt in their sauces and absolute chaos ensued.

This chaos probably doesn’t seem worthy of a blog post, especially on a website that focuses on mental health, but the problem is that this whole Dolmio extravaganza is not an isolated incident when it comes to the fact that the world has suddenly become obsessed with “clean eating” and being healthy. Just the other day I saw a headline on a magazine that asked “Which is more dangerous: Carbs or Fat”, a ridiculous question considering the fact that people need carbohydrates and fat to stay alive. It is far more dangerous to not eat enough of those food groups than to eat over whatever amount of grams the government has said is acceptable or required for every single one of us individually, despite vast differences in age, height, weight and exercise regime across the population. Ok too much of certain food groups can be bad for you, but no individual food group is especially dangerous, they all play a part, are all vital, and this food demonising obsession of recent years is incredibly disordered and unhealthy both in terms of mental and physical wellbeing.

Eating healthily is great, but being obsessed with what you eat and counting every calorie, every fat gram and every grain of sugar is not normal and is something that, prior to recent years, I had only seen in fellow people with eating disorders. Food demonising and counting “macros” is such an issue in the eating disorder community that groups are offered to try and challenge these behaviours, which would be a hell of a lot easier if the rest of the world wasn’t suddenly condoning the thoughts and fears around a potato that you have been told are unwarranted.
During one of my hospital admissions there was a brand of cereal bar that we had as part of the meal plan every day. It came in a variety of flavours but I always went for the blueberry one, because it was the lowest calorie option…However, one fateful day at the hospital, disaster struck. WE HAD RUN OUT OF BLUEBERRY. I suggested we should call the police immediately to deal with this heinous crime of cereal bar deprivation, but for some reason the staff thought this was not the way to respond and told me I would have to have another flavour bar. And they call me crazy? Still, as they were the staff, I had little choice in the matter and ended up having a different flavour that was a mere one calorie more. The next day I gained weight at weigh in and I put all the blame on that different flavoured cereal bar. I did not think of all the meals I was eating in the hospital, the fact I was on a weight gain diet and an eating disorder program designed specifically for weight restoration, no, all I thought about was that cereal bar, and I immediately decided that that flavour was dangerous and never to be eaten again. In my eyes that bar had caused my weight gain and I demonised that bar so extremely that I pictured Satan as that cluster of oats and honey I had consumed, presiding over the underworld with an iron fist and chunks of real fruit (Gosh I shudder at the memory). Hopefully anyone reading this will see that demonising that particular flavour of cereal bar was ridiculous, clearly irrational and that obviously there were many other things influencing the number on the scales at that time. Yet still the message is being spread that we should demonise and run from certain foods (like Dolmio pasta sauce) in the name of “health”, without remembering that health is another thing influenced by hundreds of complex variants and not determined by the macaroni cheese you had for dinner.

In the mental health world, being obsessed with “clean eating” is called Orthorexia, a term coined in 1996 to address the unhealthy fixation on healthy eating suffered by some people with eating disorders and it is a big problem. I myself have been obsessed with government guidelines when it comes to food intake, and due to all the scare stories I have developed a fear of salt. At times I have been so afraid of salt that I have avoided eating a single milligram, because low salt diets are “healthy”, but it has never done me any good. In fact I have ended up in A&E multiple times due to this lack of salt causing low sodium, a key electrolyte that people NEED in order to keep the heart working.

We really need to stop avoiding food groups or labelling them as “dangerous” when it is so much MORE dangerous to become obsessed and potentially develop a fatal eating disorder. Ok if we ever discover crowds of potatoes rallying in secret, plotting to take over the world, then maybe we can see a danger in the carbohydrate department, but until then can we all just sit down and eat some damn pasta like we used to rather than this spiralised courgette nonsense that suddenly seems to be so popular.

I suppose that the message I really want to get across here is that in no circumstance is a food or a food group to be considered a danger in itself, as the real danger here is actually food demonising that condones and can potentially lead people into serious eating disorders. Obviously you should still eat your greens at dinner and whack a banana on your cereal, but you should also be able to eat a bowl of actual spaghetti rather than a courgette that has been cut to ribbons. Take government warnings with a pinch of salt (literally, remember, sodium is important), and stop seeing any food as the ruler of the underworld. It isn’t just an apple a day that keeps the doctor away, sometimes you also need a piece of good old chocolate cake.

Dangerous potatoes

Why “Self-Care” Is Important And How To Get Better At It

Pretty much every time I part from someone who knows that I have mental health problems, they will tell me to “take care” of myself. It is a lovely thing to say, and an instruction I very much wish I could follow, but for some reason I, much like many other people with mental health problems, find the act of self care incredibly difficult.
It isn’t a matter of being incompetent, if you asked me to take care of someone else I could do it very well, but being kind to myself is another story.

As you are all probably aware, I am currently in hospital trying to battle anorexia, but this week on top of all that going on in my head, I have the added joy of having developed shingles. To be honest when I was first informed of this I was rather excited, for it is not every day one is diagnosed with an illness that rhymes with jingles. As an impulse buy I ordered four large boxes of bells to be delivered to the ward because I really wanted to be referred to as “the patient with shingles who jingles”, but since they have arrived the novelty of shingles has very much worn off and I have lost the ability to go anywhere or do anything discreetly around the hospital anymore, because every time I move it sounds like the ward is being invaded by a troop of morris dancers or Santa’s reindeer.
Practically every hour staff are telling me to sit down, rest and take it easy, when I am anxious or upset and struggling they advise me to do something they know I used to and sometimes manage to enjoy like watch a film, read a book, play a video game or draw, but allowing myself to do these things feels selfish, indulgent and like a waste of time. It is like I always feel I have to be doing something productive, no matter how I feel, something of use to someone else or something to tick off of a to do list, for the act of “relaxing” serves no tangible purpose that I can use to justify it. This problem of self care is especially apparent here in hospital because I can see it in all of the other patients I am surrounded by, they all feel the need to do “something”, without realising that relaxing is “doing something”, it isn’t wasting time but is something vitally important that everyone should do a lot more often.

Whether you have mental health problems or not, everyone in this world has some level of stress and needs to allow themselves a bit of self care and a break for their overall wellbeing. Maybe one of the many reasons the number of people developing mental illnesses is on the rise, is because we are all so busy these days that we have forgotten the fundamental basics of taking care of ourselves. Doing things you enjoy (or if you have depression and find enjoyment difficult, doing things you used to enjoy/not giving yourself a hard time for lying on the sofa when thats all you feel able to do), taking time out, resting and, in short, being kind to yourself, is as important for your wellbeing as all the other crazy things people do in the name of healthy living, like getting enemas or taking cod liver oil tablets.

For this reason then, I have come up with an ingenious piece of advice to all people with mental health problems who struggle with self care, whether that be not allowing yourself to sit and rest because it feels lazy, not feeling worthy of taking a shower/getting dressed/putting on make up/ decorating your room to make it a little brighter, or even letting yourself take a nap. Actually even if you don’t have mental health problems and struggle with allowing yourself to slow down from the hectic stress of daily life in any sense, I would like to urge you in the name of both your physical and your mental health, to do one very important thing for me. That thing? To treat yourself like a puppy. I will even allow you free reign on the decision as to what breed of puppy you would like to treat yourself as (I would say the fluffier the better), and that is not a decision I would trust everyone with, so please, handle the responsibility wisely.

Now of course, by treat yourself like a puppy I am not advising you trot off to the vet to be neutered, microchipped, nor would I suggest entering yourself into Crufts. Trust me, it doesn’t work. (I tried to convince them I was a cocker spaniel to get into the agility round but they didn’t believe me. Told me that I was clearly a poodle and I was so offended I left). No, what I mean when I tell you to treat yourself like a puppy is to do for yourself and be kind/take care of yourself as you would do for a puppy. If you need to rest, allow yourself to nap, if you are hungry, allow yourself to eat, if you are dirty, allow yourself to wash, allow yourself to just sit, to be, to play, whether that be with a rubber ball, some sticks you found in the garden, or the human equivalent in recreational entertainment. Every time your head tells you not to do an act of self care like resting, washing, eating or playing because you don’t deserve it, take the former concept of you and remember that you are a puppy, and if you had a puppy, what would you do? Leave it to starve and force it to round up sheep without a break or rest or play? (For the duration of this post you also might want to imagine you are a shepherd with sheep to herd). Would you treat it so badly that the RSPCA were forced to come round, seize your canine companion and put you in prison for puppy cruelty of the first degree, never allowed to own a dog again in your life? No! You would let it rest and play and eat and wash without even thinking it was indulgent or selfish to do so and it is exactly the same as the right and need to take care of and be kind to yourself.

Obviously in an ideal world you would tackle your issue with self worth so that you felt able to be kind to yourself without having to pretend you were a cocker spaniel, but self worth can take a long time to develop, and it is important to have a way of managing a little self care whilst that self worth is germinating. No matter how low your opinion of yourself, you deserve to be kind and take care. Even the declaration of human rights states we have the right to be treated to a certain standard, and that includes the way in which we treat ourselves. It is illegal for someone to imprison someone without food or shelter, or to keep them from the things they love and hobbies that bring them happiness (that is my interpretation of “The right to your own things” anyway), so don’t let a voice in your head neglect you and treat you like some evil dictator.

One of the groups in the hospital I am in at the moment is all about learning to be kind to yourself and self care, so this isn’t even me telling you to try to experiment living in this crazy way of treating yourself nicely off the top of my head, taking care of and being kind to yourself is officially NHS approved and declared as important. Yes ok the group at the hospital isn’t telling me to pretend that I am a cocker spaniel, but for now that is how I am trying to manage self care until I have worked on the ability to be kind to myself as the mentally troubled, shingles ridden human that I am. So, for now, if you struggle with self care and find the concept of it too hard because of low self worth, please don’t be so hard on yourself. Join me, be a puppy, and treat yourself as such, with love, care, and maybe even with a little belly rub thrown in.

Self care puppies

Demystifying The Mental Health Act…With Penguins

If there is ever a widely reported act of violence on the news orchestrated by a single individual, the majority of the time it will be equally widely reported that said person was mentally ill and most likely “detained under the Mental Health Act”. Understandably then, when people hear of people being detained under the Mental Health Act, they associate the Act with danger. To be fair I can understand why people may jump to this conclusion.
If every time I heard about some violent crime I simultaneously heard that the perpetrator was addicted to coco pops, I may naturally make a connection between violent knife attacks in the street and coco pops. When the coco pops are simply mentioned as a “thing” and there is no explanation to tell me that coco pops are actually little puffs of cocoa sugar covered wheat based cereal with the key ability to turn the milk chocolatey, how am I to know any different?
Therefore, seeing as I am currently “detained” and have recently been given a load of forms explaining the official legal terms of it all, I thought I would do a post to clear up any confusion and to give a purely factual explanation of what the Mental Health Act is, what it does and what it means.
I don’t however want this to turn into some boring school lesson, so to liven it up I am going to provide my explanation via little examples involving “Patricia the penguin”. You know what they say: “When life gives you lemons you make lemonade”, so when life sections you under the Mental Health Act, you use the lump of paperwork dumped on you to make a post explaining what it means, with pictures of penguins to help clear up confusion and reduce mental health stigma. I think that’s the saying anyway…so here goes…

What is the Mental Health Act?: It is a law that enables professionals to admit and detain patients for a compulsory admission to hospital. It doesn’t have to have involved any incidents of violence, much like the consumption of coco pops does not have to be involved with criminal activity. Alas, unlike coco pops, the Mental Health Act does not turn the milk chocolatey, for there is rarely any milk involved.

How does one come to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act?: This is a question that will vary between the sections of the Act and individual circumstances, but as a basic principle a Mental Health Act Assessment will be called by professional people (I am not sure what they are professionally qualified in exactly, but they are usually people holding clipboards, stroking their chins, squinting/looking thoughtful), and they will interview you and ask questions in order to assess your health.

Are there different sections of the Mental Health Act?: What a marvellous question dear reader and one I can respond to with the knowledge that indeed there are several, the differences between which I will explain below with the help of Patricia…

Section Two: Recently, Patricia the penguin has been acting unsafely (skating on thin ice as it were), and is suspected to have a mental illness without the capacity to see that she is putting herself in danger. She is not however diagnosed with one, nor has she been in hospital before, so a group of professional penguin Doctors with specific training may place her under a section two, aka a legal detention to hospital for an assessment of her mental health, in order to establish whether or not she needs treatment. It can last up to 28 days and in that time they aim to discover if she has a mental disorder. Under this law she can be treated against her will if it is deemed in her best interests, and discharge or transfer to another section can happen during, or at the end of the 28 days.

Section Three: A section three is a detention in hospital for treatment, so if Patricia were to be put under this section it would mean that she were well known to hospital services, would have a diagnosis and not require assessment. In the section two admission, the focus would have been more about finding out why Patricia was found skating on thin ice in the middle of nowhere and deciding whether or not her reasons were rational, but for the section three they already know why she was skating in such a reckless way, for she has a diagnosis of “Skating on thin ice syndrome”, a common mental health problem in penguins that requires treatment when severe. On this section Patricia can be held for up to 6 months, but may be discharged sooner, or later if the section is renewed for further treatment. Again under this section it is possible for Patricia to be treated against her will (e.g. in her case, forced to skate on thicker blocks of ice even if she doesn’t want to).

Section Four: Section four is pretty much like a section two in that again it is a detention for a short period of time (72 hours) for an assessment of one’s mental health. This is more commonly used in emergency situations as you only need one special doctor to enact it, unlike a section two which requires two. For example, if Patricia is skating on thin ice at 5am in the middle of the arctic and two doctors with the ability to enact the Mental Health Act have been sent for, but one got lost by turning left at the second igloo (use your imagination kids), the doctor with superior navigation skills could potentially hold Patricia under a section four for 72 hours until the other Doctor hurries up to give his second opinion, which then may result in her being placed on a section two.

Section Five: In this circumstance Patricia has realised she may have skating on thin ice syndrome and has voluntarily admitted herself to hospital. However, twenty minutes into her admission she is overwhelmed with the desire to skate on thin ice and asks to discharge herself. The Doctor does not think this would be a good idea in terms of Patricia’s safety though, so he can put her on a Section 5(2), aka use his “Doctor’s holding power” for up to 72 hours. If there are no doctors available at the time Patricia is asking to leave however, a nurse can enact a section 5(4) which lasts for 6 hours or until a doctor arrives. This section will be used if there aren’t specially qualified doctor/doctors around to enact a section two/four available and can take place in general as well as mental hospitals.

CTO: This isn’t technically another section it is tied up in it all, as a CTO is a community treatment order that it’s possible for someone who has been detained under a section 3 to be discharged on to. Basically, it’s a legally binding order of conditions someone has to meet in order to be allowed to remain in the community (e.g. Patricia must attend weekly appointments/hand in her ice skates, cancel her membership to the local ice rink and take her antifreeze medication.)

And there we have it! Now of course this is a very brief explanation as to what the Mental Health Act is and there are far more details and legal jargon/complexities that go into each section, but hopefully I have demystified The Mental Health Act somewhat, albeit with a very basic, penguin centred outline. Hopefully if you are reading this you will never have to have anything to do with the Mental Health Act personally, but at least you will know what it actually is that is being referred to when an article brings it up in relation to something unpleasant that doesn’t put any effort into explaining the Act itself.

Finally, I just want to let everyone know that if anyone is concerned, I can confirm that Patricia the penguin is merely a fictional character created for the purpose of educating and reducing stigma, so please do not go away and worry about how she is doing after having been through all these sections. As a product of my imagination, I can assure you that Patricia is just fine, and I hope you all are too. Cheerio.

Patricia
(I hope the above picture serves as enough evidence that Patricia is safe and sound/not in any danger. As you can see she is merely enjoying a bowl of coco pops in her safe ice igloo and has not been ice skating, nor will she be doing so in the near future.)

The Problem With Eating Disorders And The Desire To Achieve

In life I think it is safe to say that most people are born with a desire to achieve, a need for purpose, for something that they feel will make their life worthwhile. If you are an expert in biology as I am, with many qualifications in human body expertise (I did biology GCSE), you will know that this space that craves a sense of achievement comes in the form of a little hole that is located just below the liver, and when humans are born, it is empty. Naturally people want to fill it in order to feel complete, and the way in which to do this is to fill it with achievements, achievements like getting a good grade in an exam or breaking the world record for the number of potatoes you can balance on your head at one time, whilst enthusiastically taking part in a salsa class with a lady who keeps clacking maracas. The difficulty comes in finding what it is that fits in your hole (by which I of course mean your sense of achievement craving space and no other hole in the body), because when that hole is empty it can get awfully draughty, especially if you are wandering around the blustery moors like Cathy searching for Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
Unfortunately, a lot of people with eating disorders somehow manage to wedge an almighty bout of anorexia right in their sense of achievement space, and this is in no sense as good an idea as filling it with a world record relating to salsa and potatoes.

When you have an eating disorder, you automatically obtain goals, and purpose (dangerous horrible ones that are no good to achieve, but when you are caught up in the illness they feel as important and legitimate as someone else’s goal to become an astronaut.) There are always rules and things you are striving for or you are trying to beat, a new number of minutes on the treadmill, a lower number of calories than before or a new target weight, and achieving these goals fulfils that need for purpose. Ultimately each goal you set and then achieve can feel like validation that you are doing something with your life, making your existence meaningful and making life worthwhile.

I know that personally I struggle with this a lot, especially as I appear to be friends with a lot of people who all seem to know what they are doing with their lives and are very successful. On countless occasions I have been to parties with these friends and in the general “catch up” chatter I have heard them talk about all of the fantastic universities they have got into to do their masters, all the plans for their PHD dissertations on complicated topics I didn’t know existed, and the fantastic relationships they are all happily involved in, already planning to move out of their family home, elope to New Zealand and get mortgages on houses with their partners.
Meanwhile at these parties I tend to stand there looking a little bewildered and feeling incredibly inferior. I have not been to Oxford university, been to New Zealand (or Old Zealand come to think of it), and the closest I have got to moving into my own house so far is my attempts to build my own pillow fort under my bed, which isn’t going well because planning permission is a nightmare and I am struggling to sort out the plumbing situation. Does anyone have any advice for supplying a pillow fort with running water, when the only materials you have at your disposal are a few cushions, a blankets and giant cuddly penguin who has a surprising lack of DIY skills? Even if that works out, this house is being built under my bed within my parents house, so I wouldn’t really have moved out, even when I do get things up together. I know it is disordered, but in these instances at these parties, my eating disorder is of great comfort to me, because when I am feeling like a hopeless failure, I can comfort myself with all the things I have “achieved” through my anorexia, all the hard work and goals I have reached, even if in the real world things like “only ate X calories for lunch and have a BMI of Y” means very little.

This is but one of the many reasons I find the act of challenging my eating disorder and overall recovery so difficult, because in doing so I am carving out the well crafted plug filling my sense of achievement space and leaving it empty again with the gale whistling through my abdomen.
I know that the key to all of this is simply find another thing to fill that space, but it is a lot harder than I ever anticipated because when it comes to making new goals or setting out on new pursuits that you are not very experienced in, there is a high chance of failure, something that is reassuringly lacking when it comes to the world of having an eating disorder, as I have had it for so long now that I know the rules and I know that when I put my mind to it I can achieve the goals it sets. Setting my hopes and dreams on becoming a lawyer or something is a lot more complicated because it relies on so many outside influences and there are so many places for error. What if I don’t get into law school? What if I fail my exams? What if I manage to make it as a High Court judge and then at the biggest case of my career I lose my big hammer thing that judges use after they have announced their verdict, and the jury and I are left until the end of time unable to put a murderer into prison because I cant bang my hammer on the table? With eating disorder goals, I have to rely on nobody but myself, and I don’t need to be mindful of where I am keeping my hammer.

From speaking to other people with eating disorders I know it is fairly common to use anorexia to serve your sense of achievement, and in a way it is great. The anorexia or whatever else serves the function of filling that sense of achievement and blocking that gale, but it isn’t a particularly healthy filling, because once lodged in there the eating disorder grows bigger, spidering slithery tendrils away from the hole in which is was originally placed to take over and kill the whole body altogether. Therefore when it comes to recovery, it is vital to think about and work on making a new life and set of dreams to pursue and goals to achieve alongside eating a healthy diet and getting to a health body weight.

If you are currently in recovery or contemplating it and are struggling with this issue then I guess my advice is to be brave and rip that eating disorder plug out to feel that abdomen gale for a bit. I know it sucks. It will be chilly, and put you at risk of failing whilst attempting to fill that desire for achievement with things you have never tried before. Maybe things you might be bad at, or heaven forbid, things you may fail in. But maybe that is ok, and nobody can get these kind of things right the first time. Maybe in reality, achieving or failing at anything in life is far better than fooling yourself into thinking you are achieving in an illness that is basically just starving you to death, which is not an achievement at all.

Therefore I want to challenge everyone reading this with an eating disorder to try and find something new or give a random hobby a go to try and replace the one you have that is potentially killing you. Take up chess, or tiddlywinks, collect magnets shaped like penguins in hilarious poses, hell try and beat that world record for dancing the salsa with potatoes on your head. That last one especially is a great one to start with because to let you into a little secret I have learnt from my research, nobody has even set a record for that yet, so you have a pretty good chance of winning (I still cant believe no human has dared to attempt such a feat before.)
Yes it is silly and yes it sounds pointless but I urge you all to give it a go anyway, because in life there is so much more to devote your efforts and attentions to than a silly number on the scales that doesn’t tell you anything anyway. You will never lie on your death bed and reminisce about the greatness you achieved by starving yourself and wasting your life, but by God wouldn’t it be wonderful to lie there in your final moments, and to reminisce about salsa dancing amongst all your trophies and Guinness world book of record certificates, a little pile of winning potatoes gently settled at your feet. That my friends is success. Go and get it.

salsa

Life Lesson: Running Away From Your Problems Is Not A Good Idea

Last Wednesday (the 22nd of June if you want to put it in your diaries for next year), was my 24th birthday. I anticipated a day of being at home with my family and playing on my new games console, but things did not go exactly to plan, much like the rest of this week. So, for today I wanted to use this post to provide a brief personal update on my current situation, as I feel it will be necessary for you all to know for the next few weeks of blogging delights, and the whole thing has taught me a little lesson I wish to share with you, the lesson being that you cannot run away from your problems. Actually that is a lie, you can run away from your problems very easily, but they will chase after you, and those little buggers can run fairly fast (so fast that I am convinced that they are on steroids and am hereby requesting that “Problems” are not allowed to race at this years olympics).

But I am getting ahead of myself, spouting lessons before I have explained how I learnt them, so let us go back to the beginning, by which I mean my 24th birthday rather than the dawn of time and the dinosaurs.

So, on the 24th of June at 10:30am my dad picked me up from my house to attend my appointment at the hospital and there I sat in the waiting room until my Psychologist arrived. I was taken to be weighed as per usual (a fairly disappointing experience, as the scales were just as they always were, no balloons/ribbons on the scales to celebrate my birthday or anything), and then we went through to talk. Had barely been chatting for five minutes however, before my psychologist presented me with an unexpected birthday present, this year, the very unwelcome surprise of an inpatient bed in hospital due to recent deterioration in my mental health, the bed being for Friday, less than 48 hours away. Now I know that people say that it is the thought that counts, and if anyone offers you a gift for your birthday you should be grateful and say thank you, but suffice it to say that I was not at all impressed with this suggestion, and couldn’t help thinking that my therapist should do any future present shopping for friends and family on amazon. I would rather she had given me a moustache maintenance kit for a gift, and I don’t even have a moustache…yet.

It was all pretty unwanted and sudden in my eyes, not the birthday party I wanted at all, so I left feeling rather deflated, much like the non existent balloon my therapist had failed to put on the scales to add a bit of merriment to weigh day proceedings. Luckily my mum later cheered me up by taking me to the park I used to frequent as a child to play on the swings, a far jollier birthday activity. I then played my new games console all evening, so I managed to have a nice birthday in the end by generally ignoring all worries about hospitals and anything other than which character I wanted to be in Mario Kart. (Incase you are interested I picked Toad because he looks like a mushroom and if you don’t find pleasure in watching a man who looks like a piece of spotted fungi zoom around a racing track throwing bananas, then quite frankly there is no hope for you). Basically, I ran away from my problems and pursued my dreams of winning the grand prix instead.

The next day however I was rudely awaken by my problems (quite literally, my therapist phoned me whilst I was still in bed dreaming of penguins), and she told me once again that I should go into hospital the next day. Again, I refused and got on with my day, but a little later I got another phone call that suggested the problems I was avoiding were rapidly gaining on me, this time the notification of a Mental Health Act assessment later that afternoon. My parents have since told me many a time, that it would have been the best idea to just remain calm and attend, but as a natural born problem avoider without marbles, I decided to do the next best thing, aka run away on bus and then a train to Exeter. Do I have family or friends in Exeter you ask? No. Did I have a place to stay or plan in Exeter at all you cry? No. I quite simply had no idea what I was doing other than getting away from the situation and possible hospitalisation to be re-fed back in Bristol. Unfortunately things got a little messy around this point, and though I caught the train and found myself hurtling across the English countryside at 65mph, the mess I had got myself in was hurtling right alongside (not even on a train, the mess was literally running alongside the track that fast. Steroids I tell you. STEROIDS). I won’t bore you all with the details, but in summary, my problems burst on the train to seize me no matter how hard I tried to deny any of it was happening, and a few hours later they had rudely dragged me back to Bristol where I was sectioned under section three of the Mental Health Act and admitted to an eating disorders hospital right away with none of the things I would have needed to pack. All I had in my bag was my wallet and my train tickets to Exeter, which I had well and truly learnt were of no use in my current predicament.

So, that pretty much brings me to my present situation, legally detained in hospital, unsure of how long I will be here and frightened in relation to every aspect of my life. Worst of all, the hospital in which I am detained doesn’t even have wifi (I am officially back in the stone age), and I will admit that one of my worries when I woke up the next day was you, my dear little internet blog readers. Though a small crowd I admit, you are in all honesty a key motivation for me to keep kicking ass as much as I can. I have no control of my personal life at the moment, but I still have my blog and writing to escape to so that is what I am focusing on for now to get me through. That said, without wifi posting this is going to be an almighty challenge, so if it is Monday and you are reading this then another lesson we will have learnt from this week is that I am a technological genius who is more educated in the ways of computer than Bill Gates.
Thankfully, as one positive to brighten up this rather bleak post, I do at least have some of my things in my hospital room now, as my mother was kind enough to bring the basics in, and it is always nice to have your own toothbrush and teddies when trapped under stressful circumstances. I guess that is yet another lesson right there: never underestimate the power and importance of clean teeth and something to cuddle.

I really hope you can all forgive me for this slightly indulgent post that is all about my personal mental health and situation, rather than stigma reducing information or any advice I can offer, but to be fair this is my birthday week, and if you can’t be a bit indulgent and have a ramble about yourself on your birthday then when can you? I promise normal/more interesting blogging will resume next week when I have settled in and know what is going on in my life, but for now I hope you can all at least take away the main lesson I have learnt and point of this post that in some ways we can all benefit from it, that being that when it comes to mental health issues and things generally in life, you cannot run away from your problems as they will always catch up with you eventually, (even if you are on a train to Exeter).

Orange.jpg

(For the purpose of this picture I have envisaged my problems as a giant orange with a satsuma for a nose. This is not because of any symbolic significance related to oranges or their complex segmented form, it is simply because I really do not like oranges and never miss an opportunity to draw them in a bad light).

 

 

Why Being Suicidal Is Not About Wanting To Die

Before reading this post please note that it involves trying to explain what being suicidal feels like, so if there is ANY risk of that triggering you in any way please click away now.

Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about because there are so many feelings that go alongside it. For some it can be immoral, too upsetting, something “selfish” people do, too sensitive, too dark, maybe even something that people avoid talking about because it is too difficult to understand why someone would commit such an act. For all of these valid and understandable reasons, suicide is not often talked about, it is a bit of a taboo, especially for people who find themselves plagued by suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.
To say you feel suicidal sounds melodramatic and “actually mad”, so I feel that a lot of people who feel that way keep quiet because they either don’t want the judgement/stigma that comes with honesty, or because they don’t want to be thought of as “crazy” and locked up in some imagined padded cell with a straitjacket and men in white coats. However I think that if more people were honest and able to openly talk about suicidal thoughts without any stigma, maybe more people would come forward to discuss how they feel, which could then save lives. Before this can happen though, I think more people need to understand what people mean when they say they are suicidal, rather than jumping to the conclusion that the person is insane and simply wants to die.

As it happens, or at least in my case, when I have suicidal thoughts/ideations/damn annoying brain intrusions that I wish would kindly leave immediately (that is the official medical term), it is nothing about wanting to die. Obviously I cannot speak for everyone who has ever thought about suicide, but from people I have spoken to, I have found a common ground in that a fair amount don’t exactly want anything. For many, suicide is actually more about not wanting something.

Imagine being on one of those step machines in the gym. I don’t know what they are called, but I am talking about the thing that is kind of like a treadmill but with steps instead of flat space, so you can effectively walk up a constant stream of stairs without actually going anywhere (what a productive way to spend your time!).
Imagine you have been on that same step machine for hours, constantly walking up stairs that take you nowhere. Understandably, after several hours you will be exhausted, fed up, in physical pain and unsure as to whether you can continue. There is however no off button on this machine (a severe design flaw), and you cannot get off it without falling into a giant tank of hungry sharks, poisonous jellyfish and squid with tentacles poised to strangle you the moment you hit the water (please note this is not often the case when it comes to machines in your local gym, but for the sake of example just humour me).
You don’t want to keep walking, but you certainly don’t want to fall into the lagoon of doom, so you force yourself to persevere in the hopes that if you keep pushing, eventually the machine will stop and you will be free. A week passes. The machine is still going, you are in agony, yet you persist. 9 months pass. You have been walking up these seemingly pointless stairs for as long as it take for a human to be created and born and you are in pain that cannot be described. You are worn out, spent of all your best efforts, and are the walking definition of “at the end of one’s tether”. You then look down and find yourself contemplating the only way you can see out of the situation, the lagoon of dooSuicide Squidm which is no less terrifying than the first day you found yourself on this godforsaken machine. Obviously you do not want to jump into the water, (you can’t swim and have a severe phobia of marine life), but after 9 months on this damn machine, the sharks and jellyfish look like the only/best option. When thinking about whether or not to jump, you are not thinking about what you want to do, you are thinking about getting away from the pain coursing through your body
, opting for the lesser of two evils, even if the evil hovering below you is a giant furious squid with a monocle (the squid isn’t actually wearing a monocle but this post is getting a bit heavy and I am trying to lighten the mood. I want this post to inform not drag readers into a bottomless depression).

To me, that is what feeling suicidal feels like, it isn’t a case of wanting to die, it is a case of
not feeling able to carry on. That said, the analogy is not perfect and I AM NOT SAYING THAT SOMETIMES SUICIDE IS THE ONLY OPTION. My explanation is HOW IT FEELS to be suicidal as opposed to the reality.

If the person reading this is well aware of the pain of suicidal thoughts, I want you to know that the reality of the situation is very different. Little do you know that whilst you are on that machine, helicopters and cranes are on the way to rescue you, the machine is going to run out of electricity, you are not going to be walking in that pain forever and there is always a way out or an escape even if you can’t see it. Things don’t stay the same forever, even the Spice Girls broke up eventually and we all thought that was a bond that would never be broken. Machines and depression or suicidal thoughts cannot survive into infinity and whilst you fight your way through I can guarantee there are a million people out there who want nothing more than to help you off that machine. It may not be today or tomorrow but some day a giant bird is going to appear with a rescue team on its back and you are going to have a way out that doesn’t involve the lagoon of doom or actual suicide. The important thing, is that you are alive to see that day, and hopefully ride off on that giant bird/life without these thoughts, that when on the stepper you never thought was possible.
If you can relate to this post in any way, please know that I am marching up those seemingly endless stairs alongside you, not knowing what to do but just hoping that one day that bird is going to come and all of this pain will be a distant memory.
This post is to explain how it FEELS to be suicidal to people who may not understand, but if you do understand please know that the feelings are not reality. They can’t be. Squid don’t even wear monocles.

Seriously though, If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts please tell someone right away, whether that be a friend, stranger on a helpline (you can call Samaritans on 116 123) or even go to A&E. Just don’t be afraid of talking about it, because staying silent is ultimately a hell of a lot more dangerous.

Take care peeps x

Suicide bird

Why We Need To Rename The “Loony bin”

In terms of mental health, there are many slang terms used to refer to a psychiatric hospital, (“nuthouse/funny farm etc), but while these terms are still offensive, there is a particular slang term that I think is particularly dangerous. I understand that slang is useful in society and I am not demanding the removal of all slang from now on, but issues can arise with slang when the term becomes more notorious than the correct phrase and actually alters the perception people have of whatever is being referred to. That is the unfortunately the case with the term “loony bin”.
I realise calling a psychiatric unit a “nut house” isn’t accurate either, for example I have never encountered a “nut” when in hospital (other than the odd almond or macadamia in my fruit and fibre…I once heard someone claim they found a pecan in their bowl but I think that was just a myth so don’t take my word on it), but the “loony bin” slang term is particularly damaging as it conjures up ideas of a place into which the rubbish is tipped, a place that people don’t come back from and if anything is utter trash, it is that image.

I myself have had several admissions to various different “loony bins” and I can state with the utmost conviction that none of them bore any similarities to a bin, neither appearance wise or in terms of function. Firstly, on the whole they were all very clean (one had the bathrooms cleaned after practically every use so sometimes I was unable to shower BECAUSE they were being made extra clean), but more importantly none of the patients were anything like waste needing to be dumped.

The problem with the phrase isn’t even just damaging to the self worth of current or ex-patients. Potential inpatients may be scared of, and thus refuse admissions for treatment that they desperately need, because this whole “loony bin” perception has made people fear they will go in and never come out, that they are a lost cause who needs to be locked away from society for good. Admissions to a psychiatric hospital however, are not final destination. Instead they are more of a holiday. Ok, I will admit they are not exactly like a holiday, I know I would prefer a beach in the Caribbean over a stark white bathroom with a staff member watching me pee, but what I mean by this comparison is that they are a place that people come back from (albeit without the much revered tan or photo album). Going into hospital doesn’t have to be a terrifying endgame, define people or morph them into the branded mental patient to be impersonated at Halloween parties.

There is of course also the issue of this “bin” (a name of a place usually reserved for objects not people), being used as a place for “loons”. “Loons” sound like magical creatures, inhuman half breeds who are fundamentally different to “normal people”. The whole idea just emphasises the false distinction between “mental people” and “sane” ones when really they are both exactly the same. People in mental hospitals are not a different species, they are human just like you (unless dear reader, you are in fact a penguin in which case may I congratulate you on finding my blog without opposable thumbs).
I think it is comforting to label people with mental health problems as loons to be kept in a separate lidded inhuman/object bin world of restraints and locked doors, because by separating the sane and the insane, making a “them” and “us” situation, it perpetuates the idea that those crazy people are different and therefore you are not at risk of being contaminated. To think that a person screaming and being held down to be injected with anti anxiety medication is just like you is frightening and prompts all kinds of questions like “what if that happens to me”? It is nicer to think of all of that stuff as things that happen to “other” people, that the person cradling a wooden spoon and singing nursery rhymes is different, no possible image of you in the future. It is nice to put the lid on the idea and leave it outside the house for the rubbish collectors to remove so you don’t have to deal with it in your home.

The derogatory slang of “loony bin” and resulting “loon/human”, “them/us” dumping ground view of psychiatric units really is a use of language that has the ability make patients feel hopeless and forgotten, doomed waste discarded for good, and it creates judgement in people without mental health issues that just continue the stigma and fear that surrounds it all. I urge people to know that none of this is true.

For patients who have been admitted I want to say that life is not over, and being in hospital doesn’t mean that you are rubbish or damaged beyond repair and the landfill is not your future and final destination.
If anything I would say the slang for a psychiatric hospital should be “the temporarily out of order and in need of repair tray”, just like “normal” hospitals that treat only physical illnesses. It is not a place to be thrown in when you don’t have a place in the real world anymore, it is just a place in which you remain as human and as worthy of life as anyone else on the planet, you just have a few cracks in your porcelain skin that needs a little glue to help them stick back together.
We need to stop seeing psychiatric hospitals as bins or end games for the weird wastes of failed humanity, but as places for ordinary people who are just struggling in life and need a little support to get back into full working order, simply time and space to patch things up and get them well enough to leave that repair tray so they can go back home.

1

How To Survive Social Situations When You Suffer From Anxiety

Last Saturday it was my Dad’s birthday party. Being a large, jovial social gathering packed with family members, friends and loved ones, I was of course terrified. Parties are always something people seem to get very excited about and dare I say look forward to in the “real world”, but in my world and the world of anyone with social anxiety they are a minefield of stress, uncertainty, embarrassment and awkwardness.
However, I somehow made it through the party this weekend by following a “Social gatherings survival guide” that I created as a military style strategy to manage the whole thing like an army preparing for battle. So, in the interest of helping anyone else out there with any level of social anxiety (aka my fellow soldiers), I thought I would share my survival guide to surviving the obstacle course in life known as “the situation in which you have to hang around people”…

Step One: Make a preliminary plan for the evening – As every good soldier knows, the key to success in battle (aka a social situation) is a step by step plan to follow, much like the guide I am writing here but far more specific and suited to the environment in which you have found yourself. Thinking “I am going out to a party tonight” can be very overwhelming, but if you break it down into pieces it becomes a little more manageable. For example “I will leave for the party at 7pm”, “I will drive to the party”, “I will stay for two hours” sounds far less intimidating. I often find that by setting a time limit I manage to get myself out the house by thinking “it is only two hours” and then sometimes the situation isn’t actually too bad so I can stay for longer having fooled my enemy (aka my brain) into allowing my excursion from safety. Whilst you have a plan though, it is also important to be open to being flexible should opportunities such as staying an extra hour arise. The plan is more of a comforting guide to have in your back pocket rather than a rigid set of actions that you must carry out, even if that means leaving when you are having fun, just because it is in the schedule.

Step Two: Set up a safe base/camp – When putting yourself in a potentially stressful situation it is always important to have a safe place to retreat to when things get too much. Forcing yourself to stand in the stressful fray of pass the parcel or musical chairs, when your anxiety really cannot handle it, does not a good soldier make, and it is important to know when you need a break to refuel on sanity. The safe place will ideally be a place some distance from the battlefield that is a little quieter. A lot of social gatherings in my family happen at my Aunt and Uncle’s house who thankfully are very accommodating to this particular soldier and always have a camp (aka the back bedroom with blankets and cushions) for me to camouflage myself in when things are too much. If you are going to a gathering in surroundings you are familiar with, plan your safe place in advance. This is unfortunately not possible when entering unknown territory, but as a hint, good safe places to seek out in most locations can be found just outside the party venue (aka by the door for fresh air), in a bathroom (not an ideal habitat but guarantees the safety of privacy), or, if you drove yourself to the gathering, in your tank (otherwise known as your car).

Step Three: Lower your expectations – When I entered the party on Saturday I felt an immense amount of pressure. Being a general guest in battle is one thing but being the offspring of the person whose gathering it is is like being suddenly promoted to Commander in Chief. Everyone at the party knew who I was even if I didn’t know them and being related to the host I felt it was my responsibility to ensure the evening ran smoothly, entertain everyone, serve the food and start the conga line. Obviously nobody else expected any of these things from me (which is somewhat sad as I do like a conga line), and people just wanted to see me there. When you go to a party do not feel the pressure to perform or act in a certain way or as if the responsibility of the evening’s success is on your ability to be a good guest, people don’t invite you to a gathering to serve a particular purpose, they just want to see you.

Step Four: Prepare stock answers – When in battle it is likely that you will be interrogated (aka asked polite questions by nice people who want to find out how you are.) This is one of the most stressful parts of an evening in my opinion, as I always find myself tongue tied and never know what to say even to simple questions like “What have you been up to lately”. Obviously it is impossible to predict which probing questions might be launched during socialisation, but some questions are more likely than others (in my experience people are more likely to ask what you are doing with your life than what you think would happen if the world was run by a power hungry fairy with a passion for pogo sticks), and it may help to plan stock answers to whip out when the occasion presents itself. For example this weekend, for the inevitable “what have you been up to?”, I prepared “I am currently running a fantastic blog that you should definitely follow because it is the best thing on the internet” rather than leaving it to my brain to come up with an answer on the spot which would have likely been something along the lines of “um…I am living at home because I am mentally ill but the other day I managed to touch a doorhandle without showering afterwards so that was an achievement ahh please stop talking to me”.

Step Five: Bring an inflatable penguin along with you – Yes soldier, you read that correctly, that is a key step to this plan. Like horror films, social gatherings are things that are easier to manage when you have a buddy or someone/something you can trust with you. If you can take a friend or even a small object like a heavy pebble to cling to when things are getting scary it can be a great help in grounding you and hopefully prevent any spiralling into total irrationality and panic.
When my mum was buying things for this weekend’s party she foolishly took me to a balloon shop where she proceeded to purchase helium filled orbs with my dads age on them. How imaginative. Thankfully I was there to help/be an inconvenience, and by the time we left the shop, in addition to mum’s choices, I had obtained an inflatable penguin balloon on a lead which I proceeded to drag around the party with me for the duration of the evening. Sounds silly but it was oddly comforting and whenever I started to panic about someone coming over to talk to me I could just glance behind me and think “it’s fine, I have my inflatable penguin with me, what could possibly go wrong!”.

So there you have it chaps. That is my strategy guide and list of steps to get my fellow social anxiety soldiers through battle. Any situation involving a large group of people is going to still be scary, but hopefully with these tips you can at least feel a little prepared so that things are more manageable. Remember we are all in this war together and you are never alone. Now go forth my brave warriors, fight the fear, stay safe, follow my lead and commence mission socialise….

Social anxiety 1

Social anxiety 2

Oh, and for anyone who wanted to see a picture of my personal buddy this weekend…

Social Anxiety 3

Veganism Vs Eating Disorders

I first became vegan in 2012, and at that time I didn’t know anyone else who was a vegan. From my viewpoint, they were pretty rare and sparse, much like some herbivorous creature David Attenborough would have to spend weeks stalking before he could actually get one on film. Recently however, I seem to be seeing a lot of vegans springing up all over the place. As a vegan myself, obviously I think this is great, as it strengthens a movement and cause that I agree with and am passionate about, but the concerning thing is that a lot of people I have seen suddenly start milking almonds are people in the eating disorder community (both online and in real life).
Obviously “veganism” and “anorexia” are two very different things, one is an ethical movement, the other a mental illness, so naturally being vegan does not mean that someone has an eating disorder, just as someone having an eating disorder doesn’t mean they are vegan. Nevertheless there can unfortunately be times when they cross over, and the lines between the two normally very separate labels become a bit blurred, much like the colours of a carrot and a stalk of broccoli do when you put them in a blender and switch it on high speed. It is here that the problems start, problems people need to be more aware of and open to discussing, as it is here people can start using veganism as a mask to cover what is really an eating disorder, a dangerous trick that can leave many people unaware that they have a problem or mean that others do not pick up on what is a potentially fatal illness.
In other words it is hard to work out which bit is broccoli and which bit is carrot, so I feel it is important for people with eating disorders who are vegan to question their lifestyle decision, not because it is wrong, but to make sure it is for the right reasons. Therefore in order to try and help people who are unsure about either themselves or a friends dietary choices, below I am going to list several things to look out for as signs that your veganism is actually something a lot more dangerous…

1. Why are you vegan? What was the initial cause or reason and how did you come to the decision? – When you or your friend became vegan, what was the drive behind it? Was it to benefit the environment? To fight animal cruelty? Or was it to use as an excuse to mask why you are taking things out of your diet? With eating disorders, veganism can sometimes unfortunately be used as a get out of jail free card. If you start refusing all standard cakes or ice cream, family may be concerned or question whether or not there is a problem. Wave the vegan flag however, and you have given yourself a more socially acceptable disguise for your refusal, as I think we can all agree that “I am not eating that because I am vegan” tends to go down a lot better than “I am not eating that because I have an eating disorder that is slowly killing me”.

2. Restriction or alternatives? – An important thing to bare in mind when considering someone’s veganism is how they go about it. For example, veganism is NOT about cutting things out, it is about swapping them. Used to get protein from meat and eggs? You can swap that for chickpeas and beans. Had your fat requirements from full fat dairy? Introduce yourself to Mr avocado and his civil partner Señor peanut butter. Veganism is about still getting all of your daily needs but from plant based sources, it is not about emptying all the cupboards and then living off a bag of lettuce.

3. The “Imagine you accidentally” game – Imagine you (as a vegan), ate something that was not vegan by complete accident and without having any way of knowing about the non-veganness before hand. What do you think? Is it all “oh my God I just ate something with cream in it I am going to get fat! My thighs will be wider than the widest wide thing in the Museum of very wide things”, or is it more along the lines of “Oh Damn! That is annoying, I feel guilty about the animals but I guess it was human error, not my fault and I will just have to check ingredients more thoroughly from now on”?

4. How has veganism impacted your lifestyle overall? – Obviously being vegan involves dietary changes, but changes are not limited to food alone. By deciding not to contribute to the exploitation of animals, you are deciding not to use animals for your own gain, not just deciding to avoid eating them and their produce. For example when I became vegan, my entire make up collection, shampoos, shower gels and toothpaste all changed to animal friendly versions. If the only aspect of veganism you care about is the food side of it then maybe examine why this is, to make sure it isn’t because the food changes are actually about something other than animal ethics. After all it makes little sense to avoid eating a cow whilst wearing a leather jacket, so finding out and questioning your stance and opinions on the non food related parts of veganism can be handy in giving you a clue as to where your head is at.

5. The Vegan bakery test – Imagine a friend wants to support your decision to be vegan and takes you to a vegan bakery. There are vegan brownies, cakes, muffins, the lot. When you look at the display what do you think? Is it a case of “Oh no my excuse to get out of cake is gone! What do I do? I must reach behind the counter, grab a wooden spoon and whack my friend on the head to distract them whilst I run away”, or is it more similar to “Oh my goodness I want that chocolate peanut butter muffin in my face immediately”. This test is a fairly good guide in my opinion as to how much your veganism is impacted by possible animal or disordered eating factors. It is also a good test as a guide to find out how much you like your friends, because if you are that eager to hit them in the face with a wooden spoon you may want to consider socialising with other people.

In an ideal world obviously I would love for everyone to be vegan, so I don’t want this post to be seen as telling people with eating disorders to run off and bite the nearest sheep immediately.
What I am saying is that if you are vegan or have a friend who has recently turned vegan, be sure to question it (especially if they have a history of eating disorders), and be fully aware of why that choice has been made. In my opinion a vegan diet is one of the healthiest diets around, so if you have an eating disorder and your veganism is a separate entity to it, then go ahead and carry on loving your lentils. Hell, have a shower in chickpeas and build a house out of a giant cabbage, just be sure to distinguish whether or not you are dealing with real veganism or a potentially fatal eating disorder wearing a vegan mask. After all, no cow is going to be particularly grateful that you stopped drinking its milk because of a voice in your head that is trying to kill you.

Stay safe all vegans and non vegans and people reading this in general. Cheerio for now.

Vegan