6 Tips For Managing Public Transport When You Have Mental Health Problems

As you read these words I will hopefully be hot footing my way to London. I say hopefully because, as the idea is so terrifying, I cannot be sure I will go through with the journey (I am writing this a week in advance. Call me Mr Organised. Actually don’t, make that Señor Organised…has a bit more of a flourish don’t you think?).
Going to London/leaving the house at all is scary for a multitude of reasons such as managing food, being in unfamiliar environments with uncontrolled levels of bacteria, generally being around people, but one of the top scary things on the list of ultimate London scariness (it is a very long list), is the fact I will have to use public transport, and I am pretty sure that will be on many peoples’ lists of scary things about leaving the house.
Therefore, today I thought I would write this blog post to help anyone out there who is overwhelmed with terror at the mere thought of bumbling along on a bus or trundling track via a train. I can’t say these are the best ways to manage public transport anxiety issues, but they are at least the tips I will be using to get me through…if I manage to leave the house to get to the public transport stage that is…All aboard the mental health travel tip train! Here we go!

1. Make alternative routes: If there is one thing you can rely on when it comes to public transport, it is the fact that it will be unreliable. Buses break down, flights have to stay grounded because it is cloudy and I am yet to have a train journey which hasn’t started with a good half hour wander up and down the platform listening to the woman on the tannoy tell me that my train is delayed in a frustratingly calm voice (she always says she is sorry to announce the delay but if you ask me she doesn’t sound sorry at all. HOW DOES SHE SLEEP AT NIGHT?). I once even had a train cancelled with the explanation that there were “slippery leaves”…That’s right, slippery leaves. Not even going to try and make a sarcastic joke about that. I think the phrase “slippery leaves” makes the point. Anyway, due to multiple reasons much like the aforementioned soggy foliage, it is likely that any route you plan to take will be interrupted. This is enough to make anyone frustrated, but when you are already anxious and stressed it can feel like the end of the world and make you run back to your home wondering why you ever bothered leaving the front door. For this reason it is always vital to have an alternative route to fall back on incase any slippery leaves rear their ugly heads to get in your way.

2. Customise your route: When trying to look up directions, pretty much all of us will turn to the internet (dear young readers, did you know that maps actually used to be things you could find on paper rather than apps on your phone with floating blue dots. They called these maps “The A-Z”. They were marvellous things, I really wish you could have seen them), and when you look up directions on the internet it will often tell you what it thinks is the easiest route. However, this “easiest” route is the route judged as easiest by a computer, it is a purely rational decision and unlikely to fit with what is “easiest” for the irrational fears in your head. Of course we must all push ourselves and challenge our mental illnesses lest they control every aspect of our lives and sometimes there is only one way to get from A to B. Nevertheless if there are options on a journey that may not be the quickest route on paper but that will help you manage anxiety better, go with them. Walking a few streets along may take longer than hopping on the London underground, but if the tube is likely to cause a paralysing panic attack in the end, walking may actually save time and a hell of a lot of stress.

3. Do not rely on the internet: Another thing in life that can be as unreliable as the number 44 bus is internet signal. It is all well and good to entrust your travel plans into the route calculating hands of an online computer but if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no internet, Siri is going to be of little use in helping you out of that predicament. Even if you do have signal, phones and other pieces of technology are always at risk of running out of battery (especially if you have spent too much time playing Pokemon go…ahem), so regardless as to whether you found your route online, make sure you take a paper copy. Paper doesn’t require signal and paper does not run out of battery leaving you in an anxious heap. In short paper is awesome, so don’t forget to use it.

4. Listen to audiobooks: When on a train or a bus I often find my anxious thoughts speeding around my mind faster than the mode of transport I am riding, so fast that they are little more than a blur that I cannot decipher. Every bump in the road is a potential earthquake to my terrified brain, every new passenger a potential murderer, and for this reason when anxious on public transport it is vital to have distractions. A lot of people listen to music in order to help soothe them and if you are one of those people then make sure any journey out of the house involves earphones to listen to your favourite tunes. Personally though I struggle with listening to music on public transport, as when you put music on shuffle it can be unhelpfully unpredictable. It is all well and good to be on the bus nodding your head to a relaxing ballad from Adele but seconds later you can find yourself being bashed about the ears with the drums of heavy rock which is not relaxing at all. For this reason then, I often listen to audiobooks which I find are a lot easier to get lost and calmed by, so I thoroughly recommend them as a distraction technique (especially Harry Potter books on trains. That way you get the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry and you can pretend you are on the Hogwarts express as you listen).

5. Buy tickets in advance and get money ready: To buy tickets you need to queue. Queuing is stressful. People with anxiety and mental health problems do not need added stress. The solution? AVOID QUEUING (by booking tickets in advance at quiet “non rush hour” times or online, not by whacking everyone else in the queue out of the way with your hand bag.) Personally when it comes to buying tickets I also find touching money to be a challenge, so if you also struggle with this may I suggest getting your fare ready prior to the moment some ticket officer asks for it so that you do not have to suffer the money touching stress with the “oh my goodness I cannot find the right change why is my purse full of pennies people are staring at me” stress. When I prepare a bus fare in advance I always like to antibacterialise it and then keep it in a separate pocket to lower anxiety further. It isn’t ideal in terms of trying to fight things like OCD, but if needs must, in my eyes it is better to do whatever you need to to get out of the house.

6. Give yourself time and plan every step that is difficult: The final thing that I would say makes travel difficult is the general panic and hysteria I find myself getting into when I am in a rush/under a strict time limit. For this reason to reduce anxiety I always leave a lot longer for my journey than might otherwise be necessary AND I plan in travel breaks whenever I need them. It makes more sense to hop from train to bus to train and on again until you reach your destination, but incase the anxiety gets too much it is important to plan pit stops to release some tension and take a break from all the mania. Personally, with planning breaks I also like to plan toilet breaks because the idea of an unplanned unexpected public toilet experience freaks me out, so if it scares you too, maybe find loos along your journey that would be easiest and fit them round your ticket times.

So there you have it! The six tips that I use to help me get through the fear of public transport and the six tips I will hopefully be carrying out right now on the way to London (like I said it is a week in advance but already I have planned every safe toilet along the journey. PREPARATION IS KEY.).
Of course they won’t take the fear of public transport away, but hopefully they will make it a little easier or at least doable.
I wish you all safety and relaxation during any upcoming travels and promise to keep my fingers crossed that you are never faced with the horror film inspiring added obstacle of “slippery leaves”.

Take care everyone x



An Explanation Of Invisible OCD Rituals

When most people imagine someone with OCD carrying out a ritual, they probably picture them visually carrying the ritual out in the “real world”. Maybe some will picture a person repeatedly tapping a light switch, arranging books or washing their hands, but it is unlikely that the person pictured will simply be standing there with no obvious signs of ritualistic activity.
However, many people with OCD actually have rituals that can be carried out invisibly, and this is a side to OCD that I feel needs more discussion/awareness raised, partly to help others understand the condition better, but partly to help sufferers who do not realise that what they are experiencing is actually a form of OCD that can be treated.

Now I have started to write this blog post I have realised just how hard trying to explain a mental ritual is to people who may not have had them themselves (damn it past Katie why did you have this as an idea for a blog).
If trying to give a rough idea in terms of my OCD though, my personal thought rituals generally involve things like compulsively picturing certain events or people, thinking the same words a certain number of times, having to remember something in exact detail or ritualistic blinking (which I suppose isn’t really a thought ritual as if you know what I am doing you can physically see it, but in most circumstances people don’t notice and thus I count it as one of the lesser known invisible sides to the illness. Even when people do notice I am fairly good at covering it up anyway. You would not believe the number of times people have asked if I am ok because I am flapping my eyelids like the wings of a hummingbird and I have had to pretend I had an eyelash. I used to feel very bad saying this as I don’t like lying, but recently the guilt has gone as I realised that it isn’t actually a lie. It is indeed a true fact that I have eyelashes…just not in the specific eye location implied by my blinking…God this is a long set of brackets…sorry about that…I will close them now…actually wait…no it is ok that was all I had to say about blinking…today at least).

Some of these thought rituals mentioned above are fairly straightforward, as in the “repeating a certain thought over and over”. Okay it can take a long time but it is easy to understand and explain to professionals as a symptom. This is not however the case with all thought rituals, and in order to give some impression of just how complex they can become, I thought I would explain a specifically long and complicated one of mine (if you are able to follow this next bit and gain any sense from it then congratulations, you are a genius, please apply to Mensa immediately).

So, probably the most complex of my rituals is one that I carry out every night before I go to sleep in order to “keep my friends and family safe” (though I am of course aware that rationally there is no way that my thoughts prior to the land of nod are capable of such safeguarding. Nevertheless I still carry them out every evening without fail…GAH!)

The start of the ritual involves picturing a long mantlepiece (it is made of high quality mahogany in case you are interested), and it is lined with photo frames, each one containing the face of a loved one that I wish to protect. Over the years the photos of the people in these frames have changed as people have come and gone from my life, but it is rare that a picture is removed and more common for an extra one to randomly appear when someone becomes particularly special to me (bear in mind this is a very long mantlepiece that can hold an infinite number of frames. It is a nightmare to dust.)
Once all the pictures are imagined in their neat little line, the next step is to imagine a paintbrush with green paint on the end drawing a tick over the face of each person to confirm them as safe, much like an attendance sheet register thing that you have in school. What must not happen is that I picture a red cross being painted over each face. It sounds easy enough, after all they are my thoughts so surely I can think what I want (ha!), but it is very much like that trick when people ask you to imagine a scenario and not to imagine a white elephant, a statement after which you can think of little other than a trunked creature looming in the forefront of your mind. Once the green tick is imagined on the person’s face I then have to move on to the next picture and so on until all of the faces are adorned with a flourish of bright jade acrylic. However, if during this process one of the pictures goes wrong (aka they get a red cross), then I have to start the entire thing again from photo one. Even if I finally manage a line of perfect ticks though, the ritual is not over, as then I have to imagine staring at all these approved photographs for 100 counts without imagining a gust of wind blowing any of the pictures over which is incredibly stressful as if such a wind occurs I have to whip out the paint brush and start all over again. That little explanation from the painting of the green ticks is step ONE of this thought ritual.
There are ten steps overall. TEN.

Rest assured, I will not elaborate on the next nine steps as I fear I would be here all day. No matter what step I get to however, if there are any mistakes I am sent back to step one and hopefully this explains somewhat the difficulty, complexity and time consuming nature of rituals that may not be visible like those in which I wash my hands multiple times. I realise it probably sounds a bit weird to say that I get stressed and upset over imaginary breezes blowing imaginary photo frames off an imaginary mantlepiece, but if those breezes come and if those pictures fall then I fear I will put everyone I have ever loved in danger due to my negligence, an understandably scary thought for anyone.

You are probably wondering how on earth I concocted such ridiculously long mental routines, yet if you were to ask me how they appeared I honestly couldn’t tell you. They didn’t exactly appear overnight, rather they developed over time in a gradual process I cannot remember the beginning of. That said, if I had to pin the origin of my mental rituals it would probably be my first hospital admission to a psychiatric unit over ten years ago. With most people, OCD tends to evolve and morph over time as the person’s life and situation changes and it is often a dramatic change in environment or situation (like suddenly being inpatient in hospital), that can cause rituals to flick on stealth mode and turn invisible. Before my first hospital admission, all of my rituals were visible and involved things like showering for hours on end or repeatedly washing my hands. In hospital however, none of these rituals were possible as I was physically locked out of my bathroom and had to ask for permission each time I needed to use it, at which point I would be supervised and stopped from engaging in any behaviours. Now, on the surface, you would think this cured the problem. True, I was no longer showering for hours every day, but that wasn’t because I didn’t have OCD anymore, it was because I was physically incapable of getting to the shower despite best efforts (turns out I am rubbish at picking locks/kicking down doors of psychiatric unit shower rooms. I would make a poor criminal.)
By being physically locked away from the equipment needed to do my usual rituals then, my rituals changed and adapted. The OCD was too strong to just disappear at the first hurdle in the road and instead my compulsive behaviours became located in areas nobody could lock me out of, areas nobody could bar my access too, those areas being found in my own head (just left of imagination next to the frontal lobe to be specific).

The reason this invisible kind of thought ritual OCD is less talked about than its more apparent variants is probably because of how difficult it is to explain (let alone understand…seriously if you are following this get on that Mensa thing). Nevertheless, difficult or not I think it is a really important topic to raise awareness of as like I said near the start, some people may be suffering from OCD in this way and not really aware of it. I have been in treatment for years so when aspects of my OCD became internal I knew immediately what it was, yet I am sure there will be people out there struggling who never knew that this was a thing. Perhaps there are people out there silently suffering, in distress as they find themselves having to paint ticks and avoid imaginary gales without having any idea of why or how to stop it. Had I no knowledge of OCD and were I experiencing such things there is a good chance I wouldn’t tell anyone because even I can admit that thought rituals sound a bit “crazy” and are not something you would want to bring up voluntarily or admit to, especially if you didn’t know anyone else felt the same. Maybe people with thought rituals don’t even realise it is OCD because they think OCD is washing, and it is for those people (as well as any other lovely people reading this of course) that I have written this post.

If you are struggling with compulsively carrying out intricate thought patterns that cause distress if not performed correctly, you certainly are not alone and it doesn’t mean you are crazy. Obviously I cannot diagnose anyone online, but if you relate to this post there is a good chance that what you are struggling with is an invisible form of OCD. That probably sounds scary if you haven’t ever considered yourself as a person with mental illness in need of therapy, but hopefully it will provide some comfort knowing that your struggles are part of an illness that can be treated. It is not something to be suffered in silence even if your routines are performed in such a manner and I would urge anyone out there relating to this to go to the GP and ask for help. If they have any awareness of mental health issues they will NOT think you are “weird”, they will understand that this is a common issue for OCD sufferers and hopefully by speaking out you will be able to get the help you need. Also if there are any GPs out there or students training in medicine, maybe this post could help you identify these symptoms and help someone in the future. Either way I really think invisible thought OCD rituals need more discussion. The more we are aware of OCD, the more we can understand and most importantly of all, defeat it.

Take care everyone x


Born Without Marbles Is Now On YouTube!

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

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

Why I Wish Mental Health Problems Came In Boxes

Whenever a doctor or health care professional looks at my notes for a brief overview of my mental health, they will see three separate words:


The words may not be on separate lines as I have illustrated above, but there is always some kind of gap between them, even if that gap is only in the form of a comma or perhaps a space bar. As a brief summary of my mental health, I suppose those three words can give you a reasonable idea of my struggles. Nevertheless, the idea gathered from those three words is only a reasonable idea, as my illnesses are far more intertwined than many people realise. If I were to write the three diagnoses in a more accurate form, they would look like this:

Now granted, that wouldn’t be as easy to decipher as the former example (although doctors are used to examining messy handwriting…), but it would be a lot closer to the truth and what mental illnesses feel like.
I think that some professionals, even those working in mental health, have a a problematic view of the illnesses that they treat by thinking that they can be separated into neat tidy boxes as easily as I can separate these words just by hitting the space bar. Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE it if they were right and that mental illnesses really did come in boxes, much as the title of this blog post suggests. For one thing, if mental illnesses came wrapped and caged within physical cubed objects it might be possible to operate on a person and physically remove the cause of any problems with the ease with which they remove a tonsil (or tonsils…I think people have more than one tonsil…I really need to get round to counting mine one of these days. It has been on my to-do list for years). More importantly though, were mental illnesses to be so easily distinguished from each other, it would make treatment far more straight forward.

In terms of treatment I get for my mental health, I have several very separate teams of people in several very separate buildings. There is the hospital for my eating disorder which always smells of cauliflower cheese, there is the general mental health centre for my depression (which doesn’t smell much of cauliflower or cheese), and if I get accepted to the new service I was assessed for two weeks ago, I will have another building to attend appointments in regarding OCD (I haven’t been in that building yet so I am afraid I cannot document how much this place smells of either cauliflower or cheese but I will be sure to inform you the moment I know).
When I walk into each building every week, I am expected to talk about and deal with the illness that has been designated to that service. It’s as if they think I can leave my other mental illnesses by the door still packaged in their neat little boxes, without realising that the three are inextricably linked in a complex mesh even I cannot understand, so if one comes into the room with me, the other two cannot help but tag along.

For example, because of my mental health problems I have a lot of behaviours. One of these is that I tie my hair up repeatedly before a meal in a routine that can take as short as five minutes or as long as several hours. Now, if asked, I would say that this behaviour is an eating disorder behaviour as I only carry it out prior to a meal. If I wasn’t about to eat something, I could tie my hair up in seconds so I would say that as the anxiety is more about preparing for the impending meal, the hair tying is a part of anorexia. That said, there are many professionals who have argued with me that it is in fact an OCD behaviour, an obsessive ritual of repetitive compulsions that make no sense in rational terms. Who is to say which one of us is right in our conclusion? Both have fair points and it is easy to argue either way. What about the fact that I cut the majority of foods into four separate pieces? It is related to food so it could be my eating disorder, yet the numbers and rigidity with which I handle a knife is far more akin to the OCD. So what is the answer? Who is the culprit in causing each of these rituals? Who can solve this mystery? Someone find Poirot immediately! (Finding Miss Marple or Sherlock would also be helpful but they are second choices because they don’t have fancy moustaches.)

It isn’t that I particularly care which of my diagnoses is causing the problem, I just want them to go away, yet without knowing the specific name of the villain in this situation it is hard to find a professional able to help me. When I talk to the eating disorder services they tell me to talk about the ritualistic eating behaviours with the OCD team yet the OCD team tell me that is a job for the eating disorder hospital and as a result, treatment for these behaviours tends to slip through the cracks without ever getting a chance to materialise because they don’t fit into the neat boxes everybody wants them to. In this example it isn’t really that big of an issue as in spite of not fitting into the neat boxes all the time, I still receive treatment for both OCD and anorexia even if is is unable to solve the issues where behaviours are a combination of the two. The biggest issue however, is when this lack of mental health diagnoses tidiness doesn’t just get in the way of someone’s treatment, but gets in the way of them being accepted for treatment at all.

All over the world people including myself who are seriously struggling with mental health problems are referred to services that turn them down not because treatment is not needed, but because the case doesn’t exactly fit into a specific list of criteria. So why not broaden the criteria? Obviously I realise that the issue causing all of these problems is a lack of funding for mental health services and thus the need to have specific criteria to narrow the case load down (don’t worry, when I become prime minister I am going to be chucking so much funding at mental health services that this problem will be solved. I am also going to chuck in a lot of funding to investigating the invention of a mug that keeps a cup of tea at exactly the right temperature for hours on end, but that is a story for another time).
Still, issues with funding or not, it makes absolutely no sense to me seeing the complex soup that is mental health being separated into neat little blocks. I myself have been turned away from services for being “too complex”, which is basically like saying “yes you are crazy and in need of help but you do not fit into our definition of crazy so we are going to have to send you elsewhere only to be told the same thing and referred somewhere new all over again”.

Labelling a mental health problem with a diagnosis like “OCD” or “anorexia” is of course incredibly useful in terms of narrowing down a problem, but even then every person with OCD will experience the illness differently and that needs to be taken into account with the way they are treated as each experience is equally valid. If you go to the supermarket there will be a whole aisle of baked beans, tin upon tin all labelled “baked beans” and sure, they are all “baked beans”, but each one is slightly different just as each person with a diagnosis is slightly different. Nobody should be refused treatment for being the “wrong kind” of crazy, the fact that there is any kind of crazy should be enough.

That is why I wish mental health problems came in boxes, but alas I fear that is one wish that won’t ever come true (much like the wish I made on my 4th birthday to become a penguin. It has been 20 years and I am still waiting. Haven’t even got a sign of a flipper yet.) However, if it is a wish that won’t come true then we need to change the way we see mental disorders and indeed treat them rather than acting as if things are far simpler than they are in reality. It is time we realised that mental illnesses don’t come in boxes and the people who suffer from them don’t either. Rather than refusing to help those of us with a bit of a confusing mess going on, we need to roll our sleeves up and dive in anyway. Everyone is different, yet all are equally worthy of support.

Take care peeps.


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

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

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

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

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

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


Why It Can Be Scary Having People In The House When You Have OCD

In two days time, on the 5th of October 2016, I am having an assessment with a new OCD service that I have been referred to (just clarifying the exact date incase you have invented a time machine and are reading this somewhere in1912 which would make “two days time” a lie. I don’t want to ever lie to any of you. Also if you are in 1912 maybe warn the Titanic to look out for icebergs). I have been waiting for an assessment date for several months now so it should be a relief that the day is finally near and more intense support on the horizon, but my God I am terrified.
Funnily enough, none of that terror comes from the fact it is an assessment where I will be meeting two strangers and having to talk to them openly about my mental health. Over the years I have had hundreds of assessments, I have even had assessments to see if I am suitable for other assessments (seriously, mental health services LOVE assessments. They even sprinkle them on their cereal in the morning), but there is something slightly different about the assessment that is only a few days away. Normally an assessment involves going to a new building, getting lost for several hours down some poorly labeled corridors, and then turning up in a stark room with chairs, a psychologist and a table topped with a box of tissues which I think is supposed to look friendly and welcoming but to me it is intimidating, more a threat of “I WILL MAKE YOU CRY”.
With Wednesday’s assessment however, I don’t have to go anywhere, the two assessors are coming to my house, and THAT is the reason for my currently heightened levels of anxiety.

Like many people who suffer from OCD, I really struggle with people coming to “my” house. I am sure for each individual, the reasons for this vary, but for me it is because my house is my “safe” place. Leaving the house is difficult because I am entering an environment that I have no control over. I do not know who has touched the door handle to whatever building I am in, or when the chair I may be required to sit in was last occupied. Maybe the floor was mopped with antibacterial industrial cleaner minutes before my arrival, maybe it has never seen the bristles of a broom, either way I don’t know, hence why for me, touching things out of the house is more difficult than in my own home. I can’t actually remember the last time I opened a pull door in a public place and I have lost count of the hours I must have spent standing on the side of a road, waiting to cross yet unable to press the little button to alert the traffic light of my presence and inspire an appearance from the little green man. We need more Zebra crossings in this country!

In my house then, it is easier, because I know when everything was last cleaned, who has last used it and I also know that cleaning products are mere moments away should I challenge myself too far and need to whip out the bleach. When other people come into my house however, an element of that control slips from my grasp. For the duration of their visit I cannot control what is touched, moved or anything else people may do with items in my home.

These OCD people (I am sure they have names but for now that is what I shall call them) have said that they want to do the assessment in my house because they need to see me in “my natural habitat”. To be fair that makes sense (although it does make me sound a bit like a tortoise on a nature program being visited in its personal hovel), and as a lot of my rituals take place in my household it will help for them to see the “scene of the crime”, yet in anticipation of their arrival all I can think about is what they will touch during their stay and where they will sit. I have honestly been having nightmares that one of them will have been drinking a lot of tea that morning and need to use the bathroom, aka the holiest of holies, “my tap” (please God let the OCD people be dehydrated just for October 5th).
Of all the people I should be able to be honest with about these kind of difficulties, people from an OCD service would logically be high on the list. If anyone is going to understand my fears it is them, and they are the least likely to come back at me with a dagger of stigma that leaves me feeling like a total freak. Nevertheless I feel I can’t say anything out of the fear that it will be inhospitable.

If it was up to me, whenever anyone comes to my house I would like to put them in one of those little carts you get on a roller coaster, where the bar comes down and you hear that voice asking you to “please keep all arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times”!…I wonder if you can get those installed within less than 48 hours…or maybe I could just tie their arms to their sides with tape…is that legal?…I feel like that would be illegal…or at least frowned upon…
Even if it wasn’t frowned upon though I couldn’t do it because like I said it seems too rude. I want to greet these people with the gratitude they deserve for coming all the way to see me for the afternoon, but how can you do that or appear hospitable when you are terrified of the people you are supposed to be greeting? What am I supposed to say? “Hello lovely OCD people, welcome to my humble abode, please make yourself at home but for the love of all that is holy in this world please don’t touch anything because I don’t know where you have been”. Oh dear God what if they want to shake hands. AHHH.

I find it stressful even when friends come over to the house too, but at least my friends know “the rules” prior to their visit. I really hate having to issue guests with a list of requirements alongside their cup of tea, yet I know that if I were not to do so I would be crying hysterically within five minutes which would be even more embarrassing.
Thankfully I am incredibly lucky to have friends who accept my difficulties and respect my level of anxiety. It is a tough balance, as obviously people can’t give into everything when it comes to my OCD. That would be inconvenient for them and would arguably perpetuate my beliefs that their germs are a genuine risk. Nevertheless, there is a distinct difference between following the dictations of my illness, and challenging me whilst not pushing me past my breaking point. My friends know not to take their socks off in the house, not to sit in “my” safe chair, and they know that I will probably take a ridiculously long time if I go to the bathroom due to the necessary washing routines that entails (picture a surgeon preparing to remove someones kidney, soap up to the elbows etc.)
They know that none of my requests are personal, that I don’t think they are dirty people who are infected with a contagious disease, because they know me. Some friends have been in my life since the day of my diagnosis so they grew up with a knowledge and acceptance of my conditions that few would comprehend. One friend was even on holiday in Greece last week and she literally texted me from across the Atlantic (is that right…is Greece across the Atlantic…screw it lets keep it this way, it sounds dramatic), to tell me at 10pm to stop fiddling with my hair as she knew that I was home alone and probably stuck in a hair routine that often takes place during that time (which I was). With friends then, it is ok to tell them not to touch anything, but with strangers no matter how kindly you say it there will always be (in my eyes at least), a little resentment on their part. I know if I went to somebody’s house and they told me to keep out of the lounge for fear of contamination I would probably feel a little offended myself.

It really is a tricky balance trying to be a friendly host whilst trying to manage my anxiety and for this reason I know many people with OCD refuse to allow people into their houses at all, just one reason as to how this illness can be incredibly isolating. If my friends weren’t aware of my mental health I know wouldn’t be able to manage them in the house either.

I guess what I am trying to say is that when it comes to OCD, it isn’t always the behaviour of the sufferer that causes the anxiety, but also the behaviour and actions of those around them. It isn’t just my hands I worry about when it comes to germs, it is everyone nearby. Most importantly though, in feeling this way about others, it is in no way a suggestion that a certain individual is dirty and no personal judgement on a bystander’s levels of hygiene.
Equally then, if you struggle having people in the house, you are not a bad person or rude, just as I am trying to convince myself now that I am not a horrible person for wondering if it is socially acceptable to tie my assessors up with tape in order to restrict movement. Obviously I am not going to do that, I am as always just going to deal with it and hopefully get the courage to speak out so that they are aware of my anxieties rather than suffering in silence, which would consequently make them worse.

If for some reason my assessors are actually reading this prior to our appointment, please know that if I appear inhospitable at any point in your visit I truly am sorry and trying my best. I really do appreciate you making the effort to come to my house and hope you feel welcome and relaxed in my home…JUST PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING OR I WILL HAVE TO TIE YOUR ARMS TOGETHER AND WRITE THE NOTES ON MY MENTAL STATE FOR YOU.

Cheers… See you Wednesday!


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.