Mental Health New Year’s Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

New Year Marbles

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