5 Tips For When Mental Health Carers Go Away On Holiday

If you struggle with mental health problems, there is a high chance that you have some sort of carer in your life, someone who helps you get through the day, someone who supports you through the particularly bad times and stays with you when you need. Indeed, carers for people with mental health problems can feel like people you couldn’t live without because they are so integral to your daily survival and that is how I feel about my mental health carers, my parents, although mainly my mum, who had to give up work partly to look after me because having a real job and the job of looking after a total lunatic was far too much for one poor woman to manage.
So if carers are so vital for life, what happens when carers do the terrifying thing and go away for a while, perhaps on a much deserved and needed holiday? What do you do then? What do you do when your person isn’t there for a period of time? Well, to be perfectly honest if it were me, I would go into a total panic and start crying hysterically which is funnily enough how I have been reacting in this situation for as of today both of my parents are heading off to Cyprus on holiday for a week, a week in which I am going to have to find different ways to manage my survival.

So today, seeing as it is so scary to have carers go away and seeing as I am dealing with this myself, I thought I would talk about how to manage, for I think it is an occasion that requires some kind of plan and is not very much like eyeliner in the sense that it is something one can merely “wing”…

Tip 1 – Make a list: Over the course of any one day, a carer can perform a multitude of tasks and when we try to think about all these tasks all at once and how we will manage them alone, it can become overwhelming. For this reason I think the first part to the plan of action is to make a list of all the things your carer does for you or helps you with every day or every week so that you can tackle each hurdle individually and set up a solution for every single one rather than throwing yourself in at the deep end with the overwhelming task of simply “managing everything” by oneself. If you are faced with a week without your carer the prospect can seem daunting, too many hours and too many tasks to truly comprehend but if you break it down into more manageable chunks it becomes less intimidating and also allows you to anticipate what exactly is going to be difficult when left to your own devices. For example, before my parents were going away I made a schedule of my 24 hour day plan and have gone through my daily routine picking out any issues to solve to avoid them springing up unexpectedly like some demented and rather terrifying Jack in the box…Jack in the box surprises are never appreciated, especially when you are living with mental health problems without a carer, so make a list and anticipate those problems before they can become an issue.

Tip 2 – Look into respite care: Making a list of challenges and things you are going to struggle with whilst a carer is away is all well and good but there is a chance that even when that list is made, things are still going to look incredibly daunting and perhaps unmanageable even if you break it down. When this is the case my tip would be to perhaps look into various institutions or options of places that you can go for respite care. It sounds a bit scary and dramatic but all across the country there are houses and facilities available for times exactly like these when a carer about to go off galavanting and they provide an option or place to stay whilst the carer is away so that you can manage living without them whilst getting the care you need. Crisis houses and specific respite houses will be around if you do a bit of research, although with this one it is important to look up these type of options as early as possible. Crisis houses may have spaces available more last minute (although usually there will be some kind of waiting list so getting exact dates is never certain), but respite care often needs to be planned in advance. Getting funding for a respite placement is another difficulty so this tip is not one without its issues (although if I could remove the issues for you please rest assured that I would), but it is certainly an option to consider or something to look into if tip one has left you still feeling that the idea of living without your carer is unmanageable. Indeed, personally I would say that looking for and going into respite care when carers are away is a great, safe and secure option that I would be head over heels for and going for myself during this week but alas because of late applications, lack of funding and various OCD reasons (like sharing bathrooms) this option is not available to me at this time and we have had to look for alternate ways to get through the situation….for example….

Tip 3 – Look into replacement carers: If like me, you find yourself incredibly intimidated at the thought of a period of time without your carer (even if that carer is away on a well deserved holiday that you fully support them in travelling on), but have not been able to access respite care either for lack of date availability or lack of funding (please insert comment about how desperate this country is for funding in the mental health department here), or OCD like complications like me where staying in your own house is preferable, there may be the chance of looking into an option of hiring or getting care from a replacement carer who can come and help you out in your own home and indeed this is the option that I am taking this week. The problem with this option is that it can be expensive hiring a nurse from an agency to come and support you, but luckily or unluckily depending on how you look at it, my parents have been so desperate and so worried that they have found the funds somewhere. Perhaps there are places and people who are eligible to receive this kind of care from the National Health Service (I know that the government provides hired assistance for people with learning difficulties for example, just not for people explicitly with mental health problems), so certainly check first to see if you are eligible for that kind of care but if not and if you do have the funds, my tip here is to know that hiring a replacement carer for a period of time is at least a possibility you may not have thought of (I know I certainly didn’t know this kind of thing existed until my parents ran into issues with my care for this particular holiday) and certainly an option to look into if you don’t think you will be able to manage being home alone.

Tip 4 – Make plans: When faced with a week home without my parents I shudder at the thought and my teeth chatter together like Scooby Doo’s after he has been through a particularly intense ghost chase. Thinking of all of those hours by myself/even with a nurse is terrifying, so as well as making a list of things you are going to need to challenge whilst your carer is away, I think it is important to make a list of things you can do to break down the time and give you structure. Being told to “survive the holiday” full stop is far too intimidating, so the key is to break it down into things that you are going to do in order to survive. Maybe this means planning to go on a walk one afternoon or planning a morning of crafty activities (by which I mean the arty kind as opposed to the sneaky sneaky burglar kind…no burgling whilst carers are in or out of the country please folks) but whatever it is make a rough plan for every day to stick to. Then, instead of “survive 7 days”, you will be faced with smaller and more manageable tasks like “watch a film for two hours” or “knit a penguin tea cosy” (other animal shaped cosies are optional but not advised). If choosing activities for each day is too stressful maybe simply write a list of ways to keep yourself busy, tear them up and put them in a jar and then when your carer is away and you find yourself at a loose end pick an activity from the jar and get distracting yourself with it. Either way time used productively is infinitely easier to manage than time spent simply worrying about where your carer is or what you should do to pass the time, so get a timetable going and make some structure for your time!

Tip 5 – Have a list of emergency numbers: In an ideal world, candy would rain from the sky, Donald Trump would not be president and your time at home without your carer would go swimmingly without a hitch but unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world (clearly evidenced by the current inhabitant of the White house and the lack of strawberry gum drops falling from the sky) and so we must face up to the fact that when carers are away, there is the potential for things to go wrong. Therefore it is important to prepare for such circumstances in advance by making a list of phone numbers of friends/family, support services, carers and crisis teams who you can call should things go awry. Hopefully you will make this list, hang it up beside the telephone and never need glance at it for the duration of your carer’s holiday but just incase things do go wrong, it is vital to have people in place who you can call on for help ready and prepared.

So there you have it! 5 tips as to how to manage when your mental health carers go away on holiday or at least 5 tips that I will be using over the coming weeks to survive my parents’ jolly jaunt off to Cyprus (they are going for a wedding…I am sure it is going to be lovely despite the fact that a holiday for my carers abroad is both delightful and terrifying). Whether these tips will be helpful to anyone else out there in a similar situation I do not know but whatever the case I thought I would try to help my pals out there and hopefully I have.
When carers go away it is always going to be scary but I will keep my fingers crossed that with these tips and that by hanging in there together, we will be able to get through. I guess there is only one way to find out…let’s give it a go shall we?

Take care everyone x

CarersAway

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

50 Ways To Celebrate Christmas When You Are In A Psychiatric Unit

Christmas is like Global warming. Whether you believe in it or not, it exists as a concept/event that people talk about. Maybe you have already written your letter to Santa (or to use the Global warming analogy, separated out your recycling for the week), or maybe you hate Christmas trees and are a real life embodiment of Scrooge (I guess in the global warming analogy, equivalent to this would be burying hundreds of plastic carrier bags in the back garden under a fire of perfectly recyclable paper, that you then dance around whilst spraying aerosol cans and cackling manically), either way, no matter what you do, whether you celebrate it or live by it or not, it is a thing and it is not going away.

Christmas is also something that is happening in the very near future, and is a festive period that a portion of the world’s population will be celebrating/experiencing in psychiatric hospitals. Maybe the idea of missing out on properly taking part in the holiday season doesn’t bother you because you are our embodiment of Scrooge (in which case hello, here is a friendly reminder that December does not last forever…also I have a sweetie for you…it is a humbug), but what if you are our Santa Claus worshipping/Christmas loving wannabe elf? What do you do then? How can you get through the Christmas period and celebrate what you consider to be the most wonderful time of the year when all the mince pies and fairy lights are in the outside world, whilst you are stuck on a corridor of mental health nurses, health care assistants and locked doors at every turn? Well my friends, if that is you then what you do is come to this blog (as you have done already, so thanks for that…I would give you a sweetie but I don’t think I have any that you will like…I do have some tinsel though…go wild!), because today I am here to solve that problem and provide you with 50 ways to celebrate this festive season if you are, like I am, spending all or part of it stuck in hospital…

  1. Get a reed diffuser with a Christmas scent like “Winter Spice” or “Gingerbread” to give your room a more Christmassy ambience/make it smell less like industrial strength cleaner, and the pile of tear soaked tissues in the corner.
  2. Buy a pair of antlers and put them on the pet therapy dog.
  3. Impersonate crackers by wandering the corridors shouting “BANG” at random intervals, then proceeding to tell a joke and throw a paper hat and tiny pack of cards at anyone nearby (real crackers are unfortunately NOT allowed in most units because apparently they count as “explosives”…)
  4. Have a Christmas movie night with the other patients (if choosing a film is difficult maybe write down a list of suggestions and pull one from a hat…a Santa hat…obviously.)
  5. Spray fake snow on the windows which are likely to be misted over so that people can’t see in anyway and therefore will not interfere with the ability to see daylight/the clouds if you live in the UK.
  6. Do Christmas shopping online or send everyone a message saying that you can’t buy them a present this year because you are in hospital where shopping opportunities are severely limited.
  7. If allowed foliage, get a Christmas tree for the ward or at least a plastic one.
  8. Again, if allowed, decorate your room excessively to the point that Doctors and nurses comment on it in your notes.
  9. March the corridors with a CD player booming out all of the Christmas songs that the people around you will surely not be sick of hearing quite yet.
  10. Tie string around one of the staff members and then shout “On Donner on Blitzen! Now Prancer and Vixen!”
  11. Run around/walk glacially if on an Eating Disorder ward, asking “Has he been yet?” with frantic excitement.
  12. Set up a fancy dress competition and judge the therapeutic abilities of every staff member by how much effort they put in.
  13. Jingle bells outside everyone’s room each morning to add a festive wake up call to their morning routine.
  14. If you are allowed to cook or have a supported cooking group with an Occupational Therapist, bake mince pies and gingerbread men.
  15. Gather cotton wool balls for blood tests from the clinic and make your very own Santa beard.
  16. Knock on the staff room door and when they open it start carol singing.
  17. Insist that all wheelchairs be referred to as “sleighs”
  18. Insist your bedroom be referred to as “The Grotto”
  19. When visitors message you and ask if you need them to bring anything in for you, phone them back and sing out “BRING US SOME FIGGY PUDDING OH BRING US SOME FIGGY PUDDING”. Put a bit of gusto into it.
  20. Leave mistletoe above all of the doors that only staff are allowed to use in order to create awkward situations between the pharmacist and ward manager.
  21. Write a letter to Santa asking for leave over Christmas or maybe a discharge date if you have been VERY well behaved this year.
  22. Whenever a decision is made or treatment option that you do not agree with is suggested shout “Humbug”.
  23. Play Charades (a really good Christmas game for the days you are too depressed to talk but are physically capable of using mime to portray the literary classic “Little Women”.)
  24. Put glitter on your therapy homework
  25. Make a “gingerbread house” out of care plans.
  26. When you feel a panic attack coming on, get that CD player out and start playing “The Carol Of the Bells” aka the most intense and dramatically stressful song of all time (they use it in Home Alone when things are getting really dangerous and the burglars are on the way).
  27. Yell at the night staff for staying awake through the night and making noise, because at Christmas it is supposed to be that “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” let alone a mental health nurse doing checks.
  28. Write to the catering department and request sprouts.
  29. Create a tombola to raise money for the ward and leave posters around so that visitors can enter.
  30. Name one member of staff “Rudolph” and then do not let that member of staff play any of your reindeer games.
  31. Gather the patients together and perform your very own nativity
  32. If the ward is full (and let’s face it, with the shortage of inpatient beds across the country it is going to be), make a sign and hang it on the door to let people know there is “no room at the inn”
  33. Make Christmas cards for everyone on the ward.
  34. When you see the cleaner, steal their broom (sounds weird but apparently in Norway it is traditional to hide the brooms to keep all the bad spirits out at Christmas time…seriously google it…and steal those brooms!)
  35. Make your own Christmas drink stall with decorated mugs so that patients don’t miss out on the vital Christmas activity of taking a photo of their gingerbread latte in a Christmas cup to post on Facebook and Instagram.
  36. If a nurse asks to do a heart tracing/ECG refuse because last Christmas you gave someone your heart and “the very next day they gave it away” meaning that this year to save you from tears you have given it “to someone special”.
  37. Set up a secret Santa situation so that everyone gets a little present in December.
  38. Bring three wise men to your ward round. Or some shepherds (sheep optional).
  39. If you need the toilet in the night, pull the emergency alarm and ask staff to escort you through the dark to the bathroom with their star (aka the torch they keep shining through your window).
  40. Tie carrots to every door handle incase one of Santa’s reindeer comes past and gets peckish. EVERY door. Reindeers are unpredictable in terms of location especially at this time of year.
  41. Tamper with the emergency response alarms so that every time staff pull them they play Good King Wenceslas instead of that infuriating beeping noise
  42. Make balls of coal out of papermache and give them to all the staff who have been annoying you recently. Also tell them that they are on the naughty list.
  43. Flood the wet room, freeze it and go ice skating.
  44. If you are on 1:1, take a little drum to the toilet with you and bang it furiously in impersonation of “the little drummer boy” so that staff cannot hear you urinating.
  45. Wrap all objects available in wrapping paper and put bows on everything. It will be incredibly inconvenient and will likely destroy the rainforest but damn will things look lovely.
  46. When you knock on the clinic door for medication every morning have the staff announce the date as they open the door prior to the giving of the meds in order to be a real life mental health version of an advent calendar.
  47. Knock a hole in the wall, wear orange, sit in the hole and flail around a bit next to a sign inviting passers by to roast chestnuts over the “open fire”. Technically you should get planning permission for this one but my advice is to not bother because it will probably be denied and you do not want this opportunity for festive activity ruined…
  48. Ask to be treated for “Low Elf Esteem”
  49. In art therapy make some puppets and re-enact The Muppet’s Christmas Carol.
  50. Rewrite the lyrics to the 12 days of Christmas (Examples of ideas include “four HCAs three bank staff two stress balls and Lorazepam in a pear treeeeeeeeee”.)

So there you have it! 50 ways to celebrate Christmas when you are stuck in a psychiatric unit and are feeling all too far away from the fairy lights, Christmas markets and winter wonderland set ups across the country. As I said last year, when it comes to Christmas there is nothing I or any of us can do to make sure it is definitely a “Merry” occasion, but I do hope at least, that however you feel about Christmas and wherever you are spending it, you get through the festive season in the best possible way with the best possible and safest outcomes for all. If you have a merry time then that is fabulous, but remember, if you are struggling with it, that is ok too. Christmas is a hard time for a lot of us but I will be thinking of you all.

Take care everyone x

HospitalChristmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

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