Why I don’t say I’m ‘better’

Anorexia recovery

2 Rainbows, dreamy

Most people in the public eye who discuss past/previous difficulties like to paint themselves as ‘great now’. Gurus (especially those who release self-help videos and books) tend to portray themselves as ‘the solution’ in a fairly patronising way, talking about the ‘past’ and discussing their rosy life as it is now, and telling you how you can be like them (for a fee). The problem with this is that NOBODY’s life is perfect – and many of these people run the risk of being ‘outed’ when it turns out they shouted at a parking warden, or had a momentary lapse in their ‘strict vegan diet’ as they’re snapped tucking into a McDonald’s. This of course is all pretty embarrassing and undermining – but the main reason I tell the truth about who I am and how I feel is because that’s the only way I feel I can help people – by being honest, and by sharing my journey as I go.

I overcame Anorexia – but my root beliefs were never addressed

I was lucky enough to be able to recover fully from Anorexia without relapse. But that doesn’t mean that since that time I’ve been issue-free. Unfortunately I didn’t have psychological support before, during or after my eating disorder – so the core beliefs which caused it were never addressed or treated. If I’d had that support then I honestly believe I may have been able to get away with a life without mental illness – as I was still young. However those beliefs were left to exacerbate silently over the course of a few years, and I developed several difficult mental health conditions in the years that followed. Each time I never had adequate support, so the thoughts and feelings I have about myself deep down have been allowed to compact and strengthen to a point where they’re hard to just ‘undo’. The complicated belief system behind it all has never changed – instead it has manifested itself in different ways over the years that have followed since my recovery. I think it’s important to be honest about this, not to scaremonger people who are embarking on their own recovery, but to emphasise the importance of proper therapy and psychological care for people going through an eating disorder. I also want to be clear that I am not an idol and I still deal with my own struggles each and every day – as all of us do.

I share what I learn as I go, or I discuss my previous experiences in a positive and open way

I do what I do because I want to use my own experiences to help people. So I can talk about previous experiences and how I overcame them, but I can also discuss the things I still struggle with now and the things I do which help me to live with myself day to day and more than that to live my life to the full. I’m different because I never make out as though this isn’t the case, and I always make sure I’m positive and helpful rather than just being ‘doom and gloom’ or sensationalistic.

For more on eating disorders, body image or nutrition, take a look at my books or related blogs here.

FacebookTwitterShare

Why is it so hard to ‘be yourself’?

how to be yourself

file0001355054011

‘Be yourself’. It’s one of the best pieces of advice ever given – yet how many of us dish it out then fail to adhere to it ourselves?

At the end of the day we will always have different ‘sides’ of ourselves for different people or situations – you wouldn’t behave in the same way at work as you do when you’re out with your friends and vice versa. But on the whole we are one person, with likes, dislikes quirks and foibles. What is sad is that many people try to hide themselves, their true selves, in order to be liked by other people (just as I did for far too long). They project an image that they think other people want to see, in the hope that they will be accepted. But take it from me – this is a dangerous and pointless exercise.

Over the past ten years or so, I’ve been on a constant journey of self-discovery and concealment. I ended up with Anorexia because I was desperately trying to be liked and I knew that the person I was wasn’t somebody the people I went to school with wanted to be around. Even when I tried to be something else, I still wasn’t liked – but I was still sure that this was the way forward. It was only once I left school and discovered that not everybody is cruel and small-minded that I learnt it was okay to show my real self. But even then, I sometimes struggled to really express who I was and how I felt for fear of being ridiculed or ostracised for it.

Over the past few years and particularly over the past 12 months, I’ve learnt that being myself is the key to success in all areas of my life. It’s incredible to think that I have spent all of my adult life so far wishing I was someone else, feeling as though I wasn’t good enough, wanting to be more beautiful, more successful, in order to achieve my goals – when in actual fact doing all this was driving me further away from my goals and made me ill. My obsessive, perfectionistic nature and anxiety meant I’d manically search for ways to better myself or be the person I desperately thought I ‘should be’. These thoughts would keep me awake at night. I constantly strived for this ‘holy grail’ but never reached it – instead, I was unhappy. When my carefully constructed world (as I knew it) collapsed and I lost my job I was forced to rebuild myself and start all over again – and the mental and physical struggle I experienced forced me to re-evaluate what I was doing, why I was doing it and the way I was thinking – in the end, it truly was a blessing in disguise.

I feel so sad when I see people trying hard to be somebody they’re not. It isn’t always obvious – but little things they do and say give them away because it takes one to know one! Being someone other than who you are is exhausting – a waste of your energy and a waste of your life. It’s not until you unapologetically spend time being yourself that you really start to live your life. So why is it so difficult to ‘be yourself’, what have I learned so far, and how can you do the same?

Being yourself involves letting go

Letting go is increasingly difficult to do when you feel as though you want to control everything in your life. I developed a need for control when I was bullied and carried that through my eating disorder and even have it to this day – although I’m able to live with it now without it taking over my life. Many of us seek control because we live in a world which is unpredictable and fast-moving – we’re always ‘switched on’, always encouraged to be ‘better’ by clever adverts which deliberately tap into our existing low self-esteem. But letting go doesn’t mean you’ll completely lose control – it doesn’t mean you won’t do the things you want to do. Of course, if the things you want to do are really important to you, deep down…

Being yourself forces you to check your motives

I realised when I started to let go that it was difficult because I had an image in my head of ‘how life should be’ and ‘who I was’ in that life. That life was perfect, of course, and so was I. That meant that it didn’t exist!! The life was also someone else’s idea of perfect. Being an Instagram model and plastering details of my personal life all over social media aren’t actually high on my agenda – in fact, I just want to travel the world and live somewhere where the sun shines and the sea sparkles. I’m not materialistic – I like to spend more time than is normal in hoodies and pyjamas and I like to spend it with the people I love. Yet here was the so-called ‘perfect life’ I was striving for – complete with Louis Vuitton luggage and a Victoria’s Secret body. I realised that in reality, being the person I ‘thought I should be’ was no fun. It involved ruining every moment by taking endless selfies to get the right one, worrying needlessly about how I looked and revealing intimate details of my life in a narcissistic fashion – all things I just wasn’t comfortable with. Why was I beating myself up for not participating? Then I started to see that life could be amazing if I could let go – and when I realised that the motive wasn’t worth holding on to, that became easier.

Being yourself requires a leap of faith

Because self-loathing very easily becomes a habit, trying to reverse your negative mindset and the behaviours it encourages requires a venture into the unknown. At the moment you know how you react when you see a photograph of a model, you know how you feel scrolling through endless ‘perfect’ images on social media – and although you know it’s harmful you stick with it, because it’s familiar. I went cold turkey with the things that I found triggered my appearance-related anxieties – one by one. Gradually I cut out the things which I knew caused me to compare and be generally unhappy. At first I was tempted back into the familiar way of doing things, and sometimes I did, but it wasn’t difficult to see that they make me feel bad, when by comparison ignorance really is bliss.

Being yourself means not caring what others are thinking or doing

This is one I think we all find difficult. Even the people who say ‘oh I do my own thing, I don’t care what other people think’ definitely care a little bit, otherwise they’d walk around with nothing on speaking their mind all the time and pissing people off. It’s obviously not a good thing to really not give a shit what anyone else thinks – so this is more a task of caring less than not at all. The first hurdle is caring less about what other people think – about how they perceive you. It really, really doesn’t matter. I spent far too long believing that how I was perceived by others shaped me – if I wasn’t liked, then I couldn’t be happy and needed to improve. It’s impossible to please everyone, and it’s impossible to know if you’re liked or not, so I fought a losing battle for ten years. Then I realised that as long as I was true to myself and genuine I would be well received, and if I wasn’t, the problem was with the other person and not with me. I also realised that I was liked by a lot of people – people who knew me as I really was, not as a carefully constructed image I projected out like propaganda.

The second hurdle is not caring what other people are doing. That may feel impossible given that you are constantly exposed to other people’s lives, bodies and possessions on social media and television. So that’s the first step – ditch it. Ditch the social media – it’s poison. Stop scrolling through other people’s lives (which have been majorly exaggerated, by the way) and comparing yourself – it’s a sure fire way to unhappiness. Just get rid. I did, and I’ve never looked back. Now I only use social media for business purposes. Sometimes I have this niggle in the back of my mind and I worry – ‘Shouldn’t I be sharing all of this on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram’? Or a friend shows me a photo of some model on Twitter or Instagram and the urge to follow them and then compare and wish I could copy every single one of their photos returns. Then I remember that a) my private life is private and I don’t wish to share it, it’s fine just between friends and family, and b) I will never look like that model, who lives a privileged lifestyle and has probably had surgery (not to mention the clever editing software used on every image). Nor do I need to look like her – I’m fine just as I am. Getting rid of social media is a huge step. You may (like me) need to have a word with yourself now and again, but that’s normal.

Being yourself is liberating and exciting

Here’s the good bit. Once you stop living someone else’s life and start living your own, things start to fall into place. Good things happen because you’re genuinely passionate about what you are doing – you’re doing things because you WANT to – not because you believe you should. You wear the clothes you want, wear your make-up however you like, leave your pyjamas on all day (okay, maybe that’s just me). You suddenly become free to live life however you want and do whatever you like without worrying you’ll ‘mess up’ your perfect plan for a life you’d never have enjoyed anyway.

Being yourself allows you to live life the way you want to

Now you can plan for the future without irrelevant, superfluous stuff in the way. You can spend your time on energy on things you truly love. You can create memories and have experiences instead of collecting things (and photographs of things). I find I have so much more time (and a lot more positive energy) which I can then spend properly enjoying the time I have (non of us live forever, it’s limited!). For example, I used to spend all my holidays in beautiful places worrying about the amount of acceptable selfies I’d taken to post on social media, which led to me panicking about the colour of my skin, the size of my arse (you get the picture). When I wasn’t doing that, I’d compare myself unfavourably to most other women in the vicinity because in my opinion their figures, faces, hair and even bikinis were better than mine. Now I go on holiday and I hardly take any photos. I don’t share them on social media (because I don’t even look at what other people are doing on social media!). I eat, I laugh, I swim, I lie in the sun and I LIVE my life rather than wishing I was in someone else’s (there’s more about these experiences in Tough Love).

 

Being yourself is about more than just caring less about the way you look. It’s a state of mind which you develop about every part of yourself until you stop being ashamed and start living so hard you don’t even have time to think about what other people are doing! For more on why we think this way and how you can change things around you can take a look at my book Tough Love here.

For more on how to be yourself, take a look at my other body image blogs here. 

FacebookTwitterShare

Why do you weigh yourself?

file0002041664527

Weight is an increasingly prevalent issue in society, not just for anyone with an eating disorder. As we become more anxious about the image we project to others, we naturally wish to be slim as the celebrities and advertisers tell us we should be. As a result so many people weigh themselves every week or even every few days – but what benefit does this bring (if any), and most importantly what harm can it cause?

I did a radio interview and phone-in last year in Ireland and one of the ladies spoke openly about her lifelong obsession with her weight. She didn’t believe it was a problem – although as she described the way she’d starve herself if she found she’d gained a couple of pounds I listened horrified and waited for my opportunity to speak. I told her what I’m about to explain in this post – that although stepping on the scales may appear to be an innocent and healthy habit, sometimes it can become a controlling obsessive compulsion which results in harmful behaviour.

Regularly weighing yourself doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have a problem with eating or with your appearance. It’s often suggested it is a healthy thing to do – and for people who are overweight, it certainly is one of the only ways to monitor progress. I talk about weighing ourselves in Tough Cookie and Tough Love – and I discuss how I feel it’s a harmful thing for ‘healthy’ people to do for all sorts of reasons. It’s not the action but the motive that concerns me. That’s because lots of women and men now weigh themselves constantly.

I know that January is the ‘height’ of the diet season – and that’s partly the reason behind me putting out this post. As an important part of dieting, we are encouraged to weigh ourselves to ‘monitor progress’. But most people who embark on these fad diets (mentioning no names) aren’t morbidly obese. They’re just dissatisfied with themselves and are influenced by advertisements filled with ‘bikini bodies’ and encouragement to diet. They feel ‘fat’ because they’ve eaten more over the festive period and are inactive because it’s so bloody cold. In fact, diets have ruined our relationship with food and our own bodies systematically for years – you can read more about my view on that if you don’t know already here.

Part of the reason I’m passionate about sharing my viewpoint on weight is that it is something which shackled me for a long while. It meant such a lot to me to weigh myself – but now I never do it anymore. Originally out of fear, but now because I have realised how unhealthy it is for me. I don’t need to weigh myself. I was always within a bracket of half a stone, and whatever end of the spectrum I was at, I looked the same and felt the same – that is until I stepped on the scales and realised I’d put on a pound. Then I’d spend a day (or even a week) panicking and stressing until I weighed myself again and surprise surprise, discovered it was just a fluctuation. After all, a pound is a miniscule amount of weight to gain or lose.

It consumed a fair amount of energy as I panicked about which number would pop up this week, orchestrating my eating and toilet habits around this 1 or 2 minute ritual. It was one of the things which stayed with me since my eating disorder – a (pretty bad) habit. When I was poorly, I’d weigh myself once or twice a day. Then I went to once a week eventually and stayed that way throughout recovery because it was essential for me to monitor my weight gain. After a few years however I was still weighing myself once a week on a Friday morning every single week, but now I got panicked as I stripped off to step on the scales and felt sick and fat all day if I’d gained even a tiny bit of weight.

The reason I’m discussing weighing habits is that I know that I wasn’t alone in this and that so many people still weigh themselves even though it’s fruitless and makes them feel unhappy. Monitoring weight gives us control – something which Anorexia craves. Therefore it’s very easy for all of us to change our habits to fit in around the number on the scale because we become addicted to the feeling of control it gives us – whether we have an eating disorder or not.

I speak to lots of women and men who constantly weigh themselves – something which makes them miserable and dictates the way they live their lives. It also distorts how they see themselves based on the weight – so putting on a pound or two suddenly reveals every inch of ‘extra fat’ on their bodies and their clothes feel tight. Lose a couple and you feel like a supermodel. Or (worse) you feel so good that you’re compelled to continue – even though you’re fine as you are.

Many people also have a fixation with their ‘ideal weight’. This isn’t something a doctor has calculated for them – it’s not even based on how they look and feel. It’s based on how they think they look and feel. I used to have an ideal weight, too. But now I’m probably half a stone over that and I look and feel the same – I’m happy with my body and I don’t need to know how much I weigh. At the time you could have told me that and I’d have been horrified. Occasionally of course I’m hit with the urge to get the scales out – but I never do because I know that it’s the wrong thing to do. I’m sure there are plenty of you reading this who are similarly feeling frightened as I was at the thought of going over your ‘perfect’ benchmark weight.

It’s difficult for people who haven’t been there to understand obsessive weighing – but I have. That’s the reason I’m asking you today to try letting go. Try to remember that your body is constantly working for you to keep you alive. This means that things change from day to day – levels of water, hormones, chemicals. Your weight also changes. The way you see yourself and your body in relation to your weight has been cleverly implanted into your mind by diet companies who don’t care about you or your physical or mental health – they want your money. By treating your body as a wonderful thing which deserves to be looked after, and realising that you are often a static, steady and healthy weight with fluctuations as part of that process, you can begin to enjoy life without having to worry about stepping on those scales every morning.

For more about diets and weight, take a look at my books Tough Love and Nutrition in a Nutshell here.

FacebookTwitterShare

Surviving New Year

As eating disorders (and several other mental illnesses, including OCD, depression and anxiety) can be caused or contributed to by external pressures, I think it’s important to cover NYE here on the blog, because around 90% of people I speak to in the run up to New Year are feeling negative, fearful and under pressure. Encouraged (and even persuaded) to ‘go all out’ and plaster photos of themselves having an ‘amazing time’ all over Facebook, with the addition of the impressive, unrealistic plans and ‘resolutions’ required to see in the new year with, many people end up forced into a new year that doesn’t represent anything near what they hoped or felt it should.

But despite this societal pressure and what your friends, family or the media might have you believe, new year doesn’t have to be ‘incredible’ and ‘spectacular’ to be a special and important time of reflection and positive change. If you do it in the right way and shun the norm, you may find yourself having the first new year you actually enjoy – and what’s more, it may even be a productive time and contribute to your wider recovery.

So why am I writing about this?

I was always one of those people who secretly disliked New Year. I felt like it was a ‘big deal’ and however much I’d done or however I decided to celebrate it was somehow never enough. I always started the following year feeling depressed, inadequate and anxious. But this year for the first time I am approaching New Year festivities feeling fine. It’s no big deal – and I feel okay.

The reason for this is that I have spent the last year working on my outlook and I’ve dramatically changed my perception of the world around me, which has in turn altered my behaviour. Instead of planning ahead obsessively and trying to control every single part of my future I’ve spent a lot of time training myself to let it go. ‘Taking each day as it comes’ is a time-honoured piece of advice – but it wasn’t until this year that I actually understood the true meaning (and importance) of it. I also realised that I was looking at the past in an exclusively negative light, rather than focusing on the many positive things that had happened during the last twelve months.

New Year always represented failure for me. I always felt that I should have been better, more like someone else, should’ve done more, seen more, been more. I looked back on the last twelve months and counted the things I hadn’t done, forgetting about the things I had achieved and the places I’d been, the memories I’d made with the people I loved.  Whilst everyone else celebrated and posted photos of themselves at lavish parties, I’d get so drunk I couldn’t remember the last half of the party or of the 1st January – or I’d lie in bed and shake with sadness, anger and frustration, going through everything I hadn’t done in my head and comparing my life to other people’s.

That is no way to spend any time of the year – let alone the beginning of a new one. No-one should have to spend new year alone (and by that, I mean you don’t have to be physically alone, just psychologically isolated. As Robin Williams once said, ‘the worst thing in life is not being alone, but ending up with people who make you feel alone’). Whether you’re struggling with an eating disorder or just feel down at this time of year, please take a look through my post and read about the things that helped me to feel fine about the coming New Year rather than poorly. They’re important things I’ve learnt both through years of self-loathing and finally taking charge to enjoy every part of my life for what it is – not what I’m told it should be or feel it should be. You can do the same – no matter what your situation may be or how bad you’re feeling right now.

It’s all out of your control – so you have to go with the flow

You should be present, in the present. Forget about the future and stop focusing on the past. At the end of the day we can’t control the future – not for ourselves and not for anyone else. We can’t control the outcomes of our actions, even if we change our behaviour, we can’t control the consequences. We can’t plan for outside interference with our carefully laid plans. So we need to stop trying – and ignoring the people who tell us we can and should try to control every last detail in the life of our future self. This new year, create an environment which enables you to make plans for the future without feeling pressure. Know that there is no ‘big start’ to your future – you can start now.

Take care of yourself and make manageable plans for the months ahead

Write down three manageable goals for yourself for next year. Then break them down into the smaller goals you’ll need to accomplish to achieve them. Maybe you want to get a new job next year. That’s the main goal – so underneath that, you could include ‘writing a CV’ and ‘contacting recruitment agencies’. If you achieve just one of those important goals, you have done what you set out to do.

Look back on this year’s achievements and positives

There WILL be at least one. Maybe that was that you had a home to live in, or family around you who tried to support you this year. It’s very easy in a society where everybody strives to have more and we are actively encouraged to have more to forget that if we had less, we’d be unhappier than we are now.

Life is not measured by achievements. Now social media has pitted everyone in ‘competition’ with each other, lots of people feel pressure to live a ‘better life’. But actually there is joy in the ordinary. We ignore so many small blessings every single day, like having clothes to wear, living without fear, finding clean running water in our taps. That’s not to say you’re ungrateful or a bad person – you’ve just been conditioned to forget what you have got and focus on what you haven’t instead. Spend time consciously thinking about one thing in your life you love every day. At New Year, think about ten things – or more. Your life is wonderful just with you in it, being alive – and you don’t need to have climbed Everest, invented a cure for cancer or been voted America’s Next Top Model to be important and special.

Don’t be so busy worrying about next year’s achievements and the things you haven’t done that you forget about how far you have come.

New Year isn’t the big ‘new beginning’ it’s supposed to be – you can start again at ANY time

Just because you don’t address your thoughts, feelings and health now, doesn’t mean you can’t tomorrow, or the day after that, or sometime in March next year. In fact, ‘addressing’ things can involve something very small – like making the decision to read a book or not to drink to excess. You can start now and build – there is no ‘epiphany’ moment just like the movies where you wake up and your life is great.

This philosophy is actually central to my friend and colleague Geraldine Hills’ teachings – and her book, Second Chance Day, is all about the importance of giving yourself a second chance, anytime, anywhere, however small or large. When we met we realised that we had lots in common – and one of those things was the fact that inadvertently, however bad we felt about ourselves and however low we’d been, we’d always given ourselves a second chance. We’d always persisted, come out fighting, been determined to succeed – and to do that, we have to give ourselves second chances, like getting out of bed and brushing our teeth, stopping smoking and being kinder to ourselves.

You don’t have to celebrate

Everyone (me included) seems to feel as though this time of traditional celebration should be spent at a party, event or family gathering to be worth recognition. But for me, being comfortable and feeling happy and content is the only way to spend New Year – and being around a load of strangers getting wasted isn’t my idea of fun (anymore!) I’d much rather stay in – and despite the   , I don’t feel bad about that – and nor should you. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad because you’re not attending a lavish ball or watching fireworks from the London Eye. These things are often overrated and greatly exaggerated thanks to clever photography and social media. As long as you are safe and happy and are surrounded by the right people (or alone, if you want to be), it’s fine.

If you’re still struggling please check out my accompanying post about New Year here, and if you need extra support or someone to talk to over the coming days Samaritans are available for impartial advice and support.

FacebookTwitterShare

This time last year…

This post isn’t specifically Anorexia-related. In fact, it’s a post for anyone who feels as though ‘looking forward’ to the next year is pointless – the people the words ‘New Years Eve’ fill with dread.

For about twelve years, I dreaded two annual events – my birthday, and New Year. Both had the same outcome and difficult thoughts attached to them. Every NYE I’d spend a considerable amount of time thinking about all the things I hadn’t done. I’d contemplate all the things other people had done that I wished I’d done. I’d beat myself up for not doing things differently so that I could have had a ‘better year’. I’d go over all the ‘bad things’ that had happened in my head until I was numb, then I’d start making negative assumptions about the year ahead.

This of course was VERY unhelpful and did nothing for my confidence or self-esteem, let alone my mental well-being as a whole. Most years I’d get blind drunk and wouldn’t even see the first half of the New Year. Some years I’d self-harm. Others I’d spend in bed asleep because I couldn’t cope with facing the merriment and endless boasting of parties and ‘new beginnings’ on TV and social media.

If any of this sounds like you, then I have a simple solution which turned things around for me. In many ways I changed my whole life with the shift in perspective I experienced late last year – but one of the biggest things I found useful was being more positive. I don’t mean this in a sparkly, patronising, self-help book kind of way. I mean positivity in its realest, rawest form – knowing that you can genuinely apply it to yourself and your life when you never thought you could before.

Positivity for me is not about reading flowery quotes and being ‘holistic’ and ‘spiritual’. It’s about being really honest with yourself and recognising that your brain sometimes tricks you. It tricks you into believing that everything’s bad and that you have no-one and nothing – when in fact, the opposite is true.

I want to demonstrate the power of positivity with my own story – and offer a handy tip for anyone dreading New Year festivities.

Things can change SO much in 12 months

This time last year, I was in a real mess. No job, no money, no career or future prospects (as I saw it then). I had lost a lot of weight as I couldn’t eat and my anxiety was worse than it ever had been before – I struggled to sleep as obsessive thoughts invaded my head at night and I’d lie awake having panic attacks until the small hours without knowing the real reason why. I didn’t see a future for myself because I couldn’t understand how things could possibly get better – how could they improve from the way they were now? I threw my dreams down the toilet and listed in my head the reasons why I wouldn’t get a job, wouldn’t have money anymore, counted the odds stacked against me. I didn’t have to think very hard – things were difficult and my situation wasn’t straightforward. I was in the middle of a rather nasty legal battle with my former company because they had treated me so badly which made me incredibly anxious, I was noticeably unwell, and I had no reference to support the hard work I’d done for them during my time in their employment. I had no money at all because they refused to pay me my last wage. Job interviews seemed to go well but nobody called me back. The weather was dark and depressing and my health was deteriorating. I was fearful of going back to work, but I knew I had to try and get a job again quickly.

Now, things are better than I ever could have imagined. I’d never have believed anyone who told me a year ago that I would be running my own business now and that I’d have written and published books. I look back on that time now and I know that I genuinely believed I couldn’t turn things around. But I did, and so can you.

Being ‘positive’ involves checking yourself and turning things on their head

Things were at an all-time low for me when I decided I needed to change who I was and how I felt in order to see a positive outcome in my life. I regained my fire (a determination which is always within me – and it’s likely you have it, too) and decided that no, this was not the way I wanted to live my life. I wanted (and deserved) to be financially stable, even successful. But to do this, I had to change my outlook.

I started with the small stuff – recognising my luck when I got a job interview, feeling grateful for kind words or the support of my parents and friends. When I really looked at my life, I realised that it wasn’t bad at all – and actually, I had plenty of opportunity to turn things around. I started to distract myself from anxiety by planning for the future with tangible goals which made me excited and passionate. Instead of manically shaking and going over the events of the past year I sat down and started to finish my book. I decided to offer writing services to tide me over whilst I was out of work and set up a Facebook page – and within a month, I had two clients. Now I have a successful copywriting business and I’ve worked with companies I could never have imagined I would back then.

Most importantly than all of that, I recognise that if I lost everything again, I am still lucky. I have my family and lovely friends who stay with me and support me even when I am going (literally) crazy. I have a house and I have food to eat, I have running water, I have possessions. I also have opportunity and freedom – the opportunity to change things if I want to and the freedom to do so. The best of it is, you have these things too.

Think about what you HAVE achieved, how far you’ve come in the past year

New Year encourages us to look forward, but also to look back and have a big think about all the things we haven’t done. This is useless and incredibly unhelpful, not to mention harmful for your mental health. Instead of listing the things you wish you had done, list the things you did do. Remember to include the small ones – like spending time with your kids or seeing friends. Although social media would have you believe that lavish holidays and fancy cars make life remarkable, it’s actually these things, the smallest things, which make your life amazing. Often we realise that far too late – so celebrate it today.

 

If you’ve read this and are thinking ‘that can’t be me’ – it CAN. Believe it can if you want things to change. I was at rock bottom – but within 12 months I have never been better or healthier mentally and physically. I’m excited by the year ahead, not fearful of it – and you can be too with time. You don’t have to wait till New Year to make a change and shift your perspective in a positive way. You can do it at ANY time of year – so don’t feel as though you’ve ‘missed the boat’ if you’re not able to tackle things right now.

If you’re still struggling please check out my accompanying post about New Year here, and if you need extra support or someone to talk to over the coming days Samaritans are available for impartial advice and support.

FacebookTwitterShare

YASP

National UK mental health charity Mind have always been one of my favourites. That’s because I see them actively doing things to help people in this country with a variety of mental health issues – unlike other charities who have funding ploughed into them only to squander it or not to offer valuable and important help to the vulnerable people they should be supporting (I’ll name no names here!)

Recently I got involved with Manchester Mind’s YASP initiative – which specifically works to improve the network of help available for young people in the North West of England. Whilst I do go into schools, colleges and charities independently to talk about my experience and share advice on nutrition, body image and eating disorders, I am currently also go in with the YASP team to talk about mental health and wellbeing in general.

As part of what I do in schools I also speak with teachers, peer mentors and pastoral staff to help them to be aware of the issues which can contribute to somebody developing anorexia, signs to look out for and things they can do to help.

If you find yourself with nowhere to turn to, I really do recommend looking up Mind as well as other charities who specifically deal with eating disorders. If you’re based here in the North West, YASP in particular offer counselling, activities, work experience and mentoring – all of which can be really helpful if you feel as though you are helpless or struggling without anything to do or work towards. If you’re in another part of the UK or Ireland, (or overseas) you can find a list of helpful charities below.

Whatever you need support with, you can find more details about helpful charities here.

FacebookTwitterShare

How to be kind to yourself

DSC_8009

When was the last time you paid yourself a compliment (or accepted one from someone else)? ‘Oh, I look nice today.’ Or ‘My hair is great!’ I’m guessing you might be struggling to remember?

One of the main themes I explore in Tough Love is this difficulty we have with liking ourselves – and treating ourselves with kindness as we would a friend. That’s why I thought this would be a fab post topic – especially as the nights set in and the Christmas food fest looms. Are you ready to learn a few quick tips on how to be kind to yourself?

Stop comparing

I dedicate a whole chapter in Tough Love to this, because it really is something we all do without thinking which makes us feel bad. Scientific research has shown that our brains process our own image differently to images of others. What this means is that your less than favourable opinion of yourself in comparison to other people is down to chemistry – not because you are any less beautiful. We rarely come off better when we compare – so try to keep the focus on you and what you are doing rather than on how other people look.

Identify one thing you like

In the book I dedicate a whole chapter to this, too! We spend so much time finding and thinking about things we don’t like that we often forget to identify something we like. Take a look at yourself and try to be impartial and non-critical just for one second. Is there anything you like? Perhaps it’s your nails, or your eyes, or your big toe. If you’re struggling, how about noticing something you don’t hate? That’s a step in the right direction. You might learn to like it more once you notice it.

Focus on what really matters

We’re taught that our outside appearance is the ‘be all and end all’ – but actually, it’s a very very small part of who we are. Although undoubtedly the way we appear to others is important, we don’t need to lay so much store by it – and even less so when it effects the way we live our lives. I always find it sad that people will miss a fantastic event because they are so busy trying to snap the perfect selfie – or sacrifice time they could spend with family and friends or doing something they love agonising over outfits and make-up and hair. I’ve been there, and I’ve done it, and I know how miserable it is to be obsessed with ‘perfect beauty’. It doesn’t exist – and what’s more, the ‘holy grail’ of satisfaction you’re striving to achieve will never match up to the euphoria of doing something you love, or that warm fuzzy feeling inside when you sit and enjoy gossip with friends or take off on holiday and bask in the warm sun. You matter – as a human being – and that includes all of you, not just what’s on the outside.

If you need more encouragement, support and tips on how to see yourself in a better light, take a look at Tough Love here.

smallersignature

FacebookTwitterShare

New figures show UK children unhappiest due to bullying

file1591340859301

I always felt as though my rants about the education system and our culture in this country were misguided or even unfounded. So hearing the results of this study today, I feel vindicated and able to say with confidence that we need to do something about the state of our children’s mental health, and to address the arguably wider issue of the causes behind such a low self-esteem and wellbeing.

Only South Korea came below the UK for unhappiness at school, with Algeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and Israel’s children having better experiences at school. Perhaps most upsettingly for me, girls in this country are crippled by insecurity over their looks – coming bottom of the table for ‘satisfaction with their looks’ and ‘body confidence’.
This is something I talk about a lot – the fact that as a ‘first world country’ we are actually anything but rich, other than financially of course. We pity the children that play in the dirt outside crumbling houses, yet we fail to see that our own are in emotional turmoil, dealing with events which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

Bullying shaped me beyond belief for many – who can’t comprehend that this was ‘the only thing’ behind the severely poor mental health which plagued me for years, and the residual effects I deal with now. I had a safe, happy childhood, with no other outside influences which would have caused me to feel I wasn’t good enough. But how can you underestimate the effects of being told (and shown, almost like proof) that you are inadequate and ugly all day, every day, for a significant number of years – all at that crucial stage in life where you are just discovering who you want to be? The bullying I suffered turned me into a very young person with a very real hatred of myself – a person who continually tried to self-destruct even after I left secondary school. In fact, had I have died at any point as a result of Anorexia or depression, it would have been directly caused by the bullying I endured. Further research has shown that bullying at school is the cause or catalyst for a myriad of mental health problems, which stay with the person in question for life.

I am immensely worried following the publication of these figures. I would have liked to have been proved wrong. So the question now I suppose is: how can we stop this from happening? What can we do to save our children from cripplingly poor low self-esteem at best, and a life-threatening mental illness at worse?
Since we can’t string bullies up (or even discipline them properly) like the good old days, it has to start with us, and with schools. We need to be able to offer children who are suffering a different perspective – to empower them to live their lives without the damaging influence of others being so dominating. We also need to set s better example for young people outside of school. As adults, we need to stop bullying each other – sending the message that it’s okay to do so – whether that’s people we know, or pointing the finger at celebrities or people in the public eye.

As women especially, it is our responsibility to try to put our own body issues aside for the sake of our young and to campaign for the abolition of this stereotypical ‘ideal’ which makes so many of us unhappy – not to mention influencing young girls to have the same hang ups we do.

These aren’t the only solutions of course, but they are a place to start. If not, I worry we may find our already pushed mental health services will be inundated in years to come with the thousands young people we didn’t bother to look out for now.

smallersignature

 

UK children unhappiest due to bullying…

FacebookTwitterShare

Dealing with A Level pressure

P1000115

A level results – the future is YOURS – and yours only

It’s not a conventional topic for me to post about – but today is A Level Results Day. And whilst there are many influences behind people developing an eating disorder, pressure is undoubtedly one of them, both internal and external.

It’s 5 years ago since I ventured into college to collect my results. I could hardly be bothered to get out of bed and make the journey. I wasn’t well throughout the two years I spent at college, so I skipped a lot of classes and as I wanted to be a make-up artist I wasn’t particularly bothered about my results. I didn’t see them as the key to my future, like so many of my friends did.

I’m so grateful for that perspective now; even though I was told I was careless and unambitious at the time. If I’d have gone to university I wouldn’t have published books or be running my own business today having gained so much throughout the course of my 5 years in the employment of others.

When I was leaving college, going to university was everything. If you didn’t, you’d failed – it was the only path. The only other option was employment or an apprenticeship, which were both seen as ‘poor relations’. Most of my friends who were going to uni had questionable motives for doing so – either involving drinking, partying and dossing, or crippled by immense pressure from parents and peers to take the plunge. I knew university wasn’t for me, and I refused to be bullied into it. Besides that, my mental health was incredibly poor, and I knew it would worsen as a consequence of going to uni – I simply wouldn’t have survived there. So I gave myself a break and protected myself from certain disaster whilst chasing the dreams the careers staff at college told me were unambitious and wouldn’t constitute a ‘proper career’.

Watching the much hyped-up television coverage of anxious and elated students collecting their results, it’s clear nothing has changed. Contrary to what many people will have you believe, your A level results are not everything. This is just the very start of your life – there is so much time for you to change your mind and think things through. Don’t rush into anything or go to university just because you have been told that’s what you should do. Follow your instincts – do your research, then go out and do what you truly want to do. you never know where it will take you – perhaps you will end up somewhere completely different to where you expected to be, as I did! Either way, life is a journey and it is filled with second chances. Don’t allow anyone – no matter who they are – to shit on your dreams. I didn’t – and I’m so pleased I stood my ground! Many people my age who have just left or who are leaving uni are trapped in soul-destroying supermarket jobs, or have gone straight to the top of their tree only to find they don’t like it there. It’s not necessarily the right path for you – it’s certainly not for everyone.

So if you don’t get the results you’re expecting, or you simply don’t feel university is for you, then follow your heart. It will pay dividends in the future – even though you may be being told you are making a foolish choice. That’s what they told me – but I’m better off now than I ever imagined I could be.

For more advice and support on dealing with A Level pressure, other external and internal pressures,  and for plenty of inspiration, keep reading the blog!

Signature

 

FacebookTwitterShare

Uplifting music for motivation and inspiration

Even though I recovered from Anorexia ten years ago, I’m very open and candid about the fact that my journey continues when it comes to being completely well mentally (and physically) because I still have anxiety and body dysmorphic disorder. So there are days when I need to be productive, I need to get up and go, and I just can’t. It’s like being crushed by a giant weight I can’t push off, however hard I try. And it’s worse, because I know I have to face the day and I’ve usually got millions of things to do! This happens especially on dark, dank days when the sun doesn’t decide to show its face – and we have a lot of those days here in England.

One thing I’ve learnt over the years (even in the absence of the sun) is that music can help with this. Certain types just lift my heart a little and I feel able to potter about and do things – even if they’re only small jobs. At other times I feel invincible and get LOADS done – just by listening to a few playlists.

What music??

Music is subjective of course and it depends on taste. I’m one of those people who loves pretty much every kind of music (apart from the screamy heavy metal stuff and loud opera – both hurt my ears!) I have a real mixed bag of artists if you were to browse my iTunes – from Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Lil Wayne to Louis Armstrong, Etta James and Einaudi (a classical pianist). It all depends what mood I’m in – and what I want to do. Acoustic tracks and piano music are good for writing sometimes, but at other times I need a kick up the arse. Uplifting music takes soo many forms – it all depends on what you want it to do and how you’re feeling.

Soul

I LOVE soul music – it’s my go-to for everything. I found a few playlists on free internet radio 8 tracks which I’d love to share with you – even if it’s not your thing, give it a listen in the background. It’s feel-good, happy, genuine music and for me it’s hard to be unhappy when I’ve got my soul on.

R n B

RnB is great because for those of you who hate old music (:() there’s a modern reincarnation of it for you to enjoy. I love Jhene Aiko, The Weekend, Trey Songz and Neyo for chilled, soulful music.

Motivational

Rap is great for this but also electronic, house or dance music with a rapid solid beat. Obviously I always listen to this type of thing at the gym but I also like listening to it if I’ve got a job to finish or need to feel excited and upbeat.

Calming

If you’re really after something very subdued and calming then for me piano music and relaxation songs are the best. The sort you listen to in a spa (with chimes and whales) do send me to sleep so I can’t always listen to them for long unless they have got a beat to them – and there’s a fair few ambient, ethnic tracks that do!

Motivational

I love it when people make mixes on Youtube or Soundcloud which incorporate sometimes almost subliminal messages into decent music which gets you going and motivates your mind all at the same time. Harmonic Vibrations on free playlist sharing site 8tracks is one of my favourites for this – you can check their page out here.

 

What’s your go to music (if you have any!)?

Signature

FacebookTwitterShare