Why is it so hard to ‘be yourself’?

how to be yourself

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‘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. 

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Why I had to ban myself from Pinterest (sad face)

Banned from Pinterest

Banned from Pinterest

I talk a lot about social media and how I believe it affects our collective self-esteem negatively through constantly promoting ‘perfect’ bodies, faces and everything else, causing us to compare and compare ourselves until we feel inadequate. For this reason I banned myself from social media other than using it for business and Tough Cookie (you can read about this and my self-imposed boundaries to protect my self-esteem here). In the original post I discuss Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in particular – but recently I realised that one of my much-loved social networks Pinterest was just as harmful as the others, and I forced myself to step away.

I generally dislike social media on a personal level. I think it breeds a climate of toxic one-upmanship which encourages us all to be in competition which each other whilst we post about our so-called ‘perfect’ lives. Many people now measure their worth or interestingness through ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. It’s ironically a fantastic way to waste your life, because although it makes you feel important and as though your life is better than everyone else’s, the people who are really living aren’t scrolling through other people’s rants or sharing what they had for breakfast – they’re out enjoying their lives.

 So it wasn’t difficult for me to quit Facebook and Twitter (in principle – I still have profiles which I rarely use or use for business). Apart from rare times when I’m drawn in after accidentally seeing posts and think ‘oh my god I should have been sharing every selfie and every event in my life for all this time!’ I generally don’t miss it. But one social network I do like is Pinterest.

I’d spend hours on Pinterest every night a couple of years ago. After work I’d lie in bed scrolling through, pinning beautiful homes to my ‘House’ board (I don’t have a house yet!), pinning stunning images of various idyllic holiday destinations to my ’Travel’ board (I’ve not even scratched the surface of my travel list) and most worryingly pinning photographs of other people because i wished I could look like them. Whilst the ‘Quotes’ boards helped me immensely, I inadvertently often undid the good work they did and crushed my positive thoughts by going back to the boards which made me crave more in my life rather than appreciating what I currently have.

 But by nature Pinterest is aspirational. You rarely see an image that does’t represent life perfection on there – and if you do it’s for a post telling you how you can get that perfect life/body/hair/face. And it’s all fake. Eeks.

I didn’t realise how harmful Pinterest was until I was sharing photographs at shoots and with my bestie/hairdresser and people started to point out that without a face transplant (and a lot of extensions) I wasn’t going to achieve this ‘ideal look’ I’d formulated for myself, which naturally went with my ‘ideal life’ living in a beautiful house, travelling the world and running a business. And I started to see images on there that had made me feel bad on Twitter and Instagram (mostly models and ‘perfect’ make-up and hair photos) and realised that the old issues were creeping back in. The comparing, the fretting. I’d even created boards filled with pictures of people I wished to emulate, and I’d scroll through the images uncontrollably until I felt horrendously bad, fixated on what they had, what I lacked and how I could fix that. 

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aspirational and ambitious. Those boards helped me to achieve a lot, namely starting my own business and living life the way I want to. Travelling more. But it’s when we start to feel bad inside as a consequence that the trouble starts – because we can never move forward if we’re stuck in the past or worrying about the future in the present rather than enjoying it for what it is.

How many people reading this post have done a similar thing subconsciously with Pinterest or another social network? I bet a lot of you have without even knowing it. Banning yourself from social media (and in particular Pinterest, or another site you love) can be difficult, but the rewards are significant. You might feel as though you ‘need’ social media, but it’s only been around for less than ten years. i remember that life before social media was much simpler – and even then, i had issues. So if you also struggle with your self-esteem just imagine what damage social media is doing to you right now. Remember that social media encourages comparison – n fact, it’s almost unavoidable. for me comparison is like a drug – it makes me feel good at first and I can’t help but look at those images of ‘perfection’ (which have been tampered with and styled to the nth degree), but then I just feel bad, really bad. and as I ‘come down’ from the high I feel even worse. Recognise the pattern when you’re next online, and realise that there’s more to life than this.

 Need help quitting social media? Ready to feel better about yourself? Read my Golden Rules here.

 

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New figures show UK children unhappiest due to bullying

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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.

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UK children unhappiest due to bullying…

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Dealing with A Level pressure

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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!

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Understanding Body Dysmorphia – should there be an age limit on surgery?

I’ve spoken before about vetting people psychologically for surgery before they go ahead and go under the knife – because I think that age and psychological welfare are important things to be considered when offering surgery to anyone. I say this because I was one of those vulnerable people – and I’m so glad that the surgeon who saw me had the sense to turn me down – a devastating blow at the time, but one that I am so thankful for now.

When I was 16 or 17, my Body Dysmorphia took over massively (before I even knew what it was or that I had it). I got to the point where I was fixated on two things – my boobs and my ‘acne’ (I did have acne, but it was very isolated and I had a very small amount of it compared to others my age).

I was in another stressful, quite important transitional period in my life, moving from school to college. I was convinced that the college I’d picked would be best for me, academically and socially, and it’d been a nightmare to get in, but once there I found myself just as isolated as I had been at Secondary School. Here, everyone stayed in cliques so it felt impossible to make new friends outside of the people I knew before – the opposite of what I wanted. I felt all wrong in so many ways – just as I had done at school. I wanted a certain look – thick curly blonde hair – but my dark mousy brown hair was still thin just two years after my eating disorder and although I dyed it blonde it never lightened to what I wanted it to be.

I don’t know how or why my boobs became such an issue for me. They just were so small and I saw the popular girls at college tended to have big boobs. Where I’m from, at school and at college, sex and who you were having it with (and how much you were having) was everything. Nobody wanted to even kiss me, let alone have sex with me, and this was a marker of how attractive and acceptable I felt I was. These girls oozed confidence and were full of jokes and banter – a persona which I just didn’t feel able to adopt myself. But these were the popular girls – the girls that chatted endlessly and went out all the time and I think that, more than how they looked, made them attractive to lads more than their boobs – I just didn’t see that at the time. Ironically, when I look back and picture those girls in my mind, I really wouldn’t want to look like them now.

Every girl or woman I looked at, my eyes were drawn straight to their chest, like a randy 13 year old boy. I analysed their size against my own, almost always insignificant in comparison. I purchased numerous push up bras and chicken fillets and on nights out I always wore low-cut tops with a ridiculous amount of padding and scaffolding underneath them, almost to convince myself and others that I did in fact have the boobs I wished I had.  I was labelled a ‘slut’ and my friends and family all used to make fun of me ‘always having my boobs out.’ Ironically, they saw it as a display of over-confidence rather than a manifestation of my deepest insecurity. I spent almost every waking hour of every day contemplating how I would ‘sort out’ my boobs. I constantly imagined life with my new boobs, surrounded by admirers – lads queueing up to have sex with me, too many party invites to cope with, loads of envious friends. Of course, that was all rubbish. A new set of boobs would certainly not make that sort of impact on my life. And looking back now, all of those things are so trivial and unimportant – of course they’re not trivial or unimportant in a teenage mind.

I set about working out how I could get a boob job. As with most cases of Body Dysmorphia, I became fixated on them and couldn’t rest until I had them ‘fixed’. I researched the NHS criteria, which I didn’t fit. I had too few savings – my life savings – to afford the op – and obviously my part-time job at John Lewis would not be accepted for the 0% finance offer so many of the companies offer. Despite this, undeterred I scheduled an appointment at MIA for a consultation with a surgeon. My parents were horrified and my Mum insisted on coming with me to the appointment.

The sales consultant (dressed up as an ‘assessor’, all perfectly-coiffed hair and boobs herself) was very keen to get me through the door to the surgeon – pound-signs glinting in her eyes. I filled out a form and waited to be called in by the surgeon. As my name was called, my mum shot up and came in behind me – something which at the time I was angry about but now, I am so glad that she did.

The surgeon asked me why I wanted the surgery. I didn’t tell him I thought it’d change my life. I just told him I wanted to feel more confident – what woman doesn’t? We weighed up size and he measured my current size and showed me the implants. As I held them in my hand they felt so big – I couldn’t imagine them actually being under my skin. He explained the procedure and the choice of under or over muscle and my mum grimaced. He expressed a little concern at my young age and then he asked me if I had any mental health problems. My heart dropped as I smiled and said I’d had an eating disorder a few years ago (ages ago in my 17 year old head!) but I was fine now. I was on anti-depressants but I was feeling better (another lie).

From behind me I heard my mum say ‘Well, no, you have had a lot of problems recently too.’ She went on to voice her concerns about my mental health, to talk about how I was very down about how I looked and how it hadn’t actually been that long since I’d recovered from Anorexia.

The surgeon shook his head and said ‘There’s no way I can operate on you.’

My face must have visibly fallen and he went on to explain why – it was a massive risk for him, but it was also not perhaps the best thing for me. Because I wasn’t ‘stable’ emotionally speaking, I could change my mind once the surgery had been done, and as a prominent surgeon the professional repercussions for him posed a risk to his career, in addition to being ethically questionable given my current and previous mental health issues.

As soon as we left the building I began sobbing uncontrollably. I’d been working up to this day for months, contemplating my illusion of an ‘amazing life’ and my increased popularity, all of which was now shattered and completely out of reach. Mum consoled me and apologised but said: ‘I had to tell him; I couldn’t not have him know how fragile you are.’ I was angry with her but I knew she was trying to do the right thing to help me. After a while, I realised that she was completely right (always humbling to have to admit that your mum was in fact right!). But she was.

Looking back now, I’m so glad that surgeon turned me down, and so glad that my Mum intervened as she did. My boobs are not the best, they’re nothing special, they really are pretty small. But I quite like them. I am petite and if they were even one cup size bigger, I’d be looking a bit top-heavy.

I’m not criticising anyone who has had surgery here – a lot of my friends have had boob jobs. But they did so with clarity of mind and went in knowing what they wanted to do. When asked, they don’t regret it and are pleased with their new boobs. They had their surgery in their early twenties, when they could make an informed decision about it.

Please, if you are under 20, and are reading this desperately wanting to change who you are and how you look, hold on. It seems like the most important thing right now – being liked, being popular, being attractive to your peers. But those things aren’t really that important – what’s important is you! Hang on a few more years, and see what they bring. I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Did you like this post? There’s more on Understanding Body Dysmorphia here.

Tough Cookie is a blog for support and inspiration during recovery from Anorexia. Eating disorder recovery can be tough – but so are you!

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Struggling to access help? Turn to Mind

It’s a well-known fact that urgency (or rather lack of it) is contributing to and exacerbating mental illness in this country. GPs are often clueless as to where to refer their patients, that is if they are able to diagnose or recognise what the issue may be. Lack of understanding of many mental illnesses and stigma, especially surrounding eating disorders, unfortunately appears to still be rife in the NHS as well as in society as a whole.

Not being referred for the help you need makes you feel like you are not being taken seriously. Perhaps you are lying, perhaps you are overreacting? Maybe you aren’t worth the help? Damaging feelings for those who already have a negative mindset.

I don’t believe that bashing the NHS will bring any positive change – that’s not what this article is about. It’s about identifying and sharing other avenues which are open to those suffering who don’t feel they are being listened to or are getting help quickly enough – other avenues which do exist but aren’t always widely known about. Avenues which your GP probably also does not know about – therefore you simply don’t hear about them.

Over 11 years, I’ve tried to access help on the NHS several times. Sometimes it was voluntary and elective, at others it was something that I was compelled to participate in. Each time, I was let down. I decided each time I was poorly that if I was going to feel better I had to do it alone – as I always had done.

At the end of this year, I was under a lot of stress and pressure and my family asked me to go to the GP. I refused because I knew no good would come of that – and a few weeks later someone came back to me and said that a friend at work had been talking about the charity Mind, and how they had helped them. I was sceptical at first, but I agreed to give it a go and called my local Mind. They called me back and arranged a one-to-one with a member of staff who could direct me to the right place for support.

I was so impressed with this service. For the first time, I felt properly listened to, and the staff member I saw completely understood that I felt demoralised and had actually been made to feel worse in the past by not having been taken seriously or receiving the treatment I had urgently needed on several occasions. She was incredibly efficient and printed off a self-referral form there and then (this exists in my borough but obviously may differ depending on which region you live in). I have been recommending Mind to all my friends who have felt let down or who are disgruntled because they are consistently ignored by their GP, or those who are desperate for help and stuck on endless waiting lists for therapy.

If you are struggling to access help through your GP, then I would encourage you to speak to your local branch of Mind. They can listen to you completely impartially, and share with you the local resources which may help you. They may also be able to help you to get referred – so it’s definitely worth a trip. They also run workshops and therapies themselves, so there’s lots of ways in which they can possibly help.

Have you accessed help through Mind?

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Tough Cookie is a blog for support and inspiration during recovery from Anorexia. Eating disorder recovery can be tough – but so are you!

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Understanding Body Dysmorphia – Agoraphobia and Body Dysmorphia 

UNDERSTANDINGBDAGORAPHOBIA

These two are intrinsically linked, yet it doesn’t appear to be widely recognised that they are. Mostly, women who say they can’t leave the house without make-up are just popped into the ‘vain’ or ‘shallow’ category. But what if you really can’t leave the house because you are so shamed and self-conscious about your (probably imaginary) ‘defect’?

Even now there are several times each week that I have to effectively ‘force’ myself out of the house. Some of those reasons are related to anxiety – others are related to my Body Dysmorphia, even now after all this time when I consider myself to have largely conquered it. I avoid lots of situations in order to protect myself and evade the panic attacks and physical symptoms I feel when I expose myself to certain situations.

When my Body Dysmorphia was very very bad, and not affected by anxiety, I felt so shamed leaving the house even though I was dressed up and made up to the nines. I’d try on so many outfits but none of them looked right; others I felt ‘fat’ in. I walked with my head down, my face hidden, made journeys as quick as possible. I was 16/17, I couldn’t drive, I had to walk everywhere or get the bus.  I felt eyes on me wherever I went, even though it was highly unlikely that anyone (let alone everyone) was looking at me, and even less likely that they were scrutinising me.

Going out into the public domain is a very scary prospect for anyone with Body Dysmorphia. Your own criticism is crippling – so imagine the weight of the perceived criticism you feel you’ll expose yourself to by going outside.

At that time, I was fixated on my acne and my boobs – yet as I walked down the main road feeling sick because I felt every car that went past was analysing my face and chest size, it never crossed my mind that it would be impossible for them to be able to even see my face as it pointed down to the floor, or that they would be looking at my modest chest whilst they were driving past at 40 mph. Body Dysmorphia is irrational – and that’s why your friends and family are unlikely to be understanding about how you’re feeling.

Please know that even if your friends and family don’t understand, so many others do! Body Dysmorphia is more common than people think – and it’s a spectrum disorder which means that it has varying levels and of course everybody is different – everyone has different things they hate about themselves, different triggers, different stories and different lives and reasons they are feeling the way they do.

If they are open to it, show this blog to family and friends to help them to understand – that’s part of what it’s there for!

And as always, I love to hear your thoughts, comments and stories.

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More on Understanding Body Dysmorphia here…

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Uplifting scents – tried and tested

It’s no secret that aromatherapy, whilst not necessarily being a ‘cure’ for low mood or mental health issues, can really help to boost mood and trigger ‘happy hormones’ in our bodies. I absolutely LOVE perfume, something I think I inherited from my Mum who is a perfume fiend. I’m very particular about how things smell and I have a fair amount of scented candles and room sprays in my arson for when I need a little lift. Here’s my pick of favourite uplifting scents for body, pillow and home for when you need a boost!

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Body Shop Vanilla Body Spray – £7.00, The Body Shop

Not everyone is into vanilla scents, but this spray is so sweet and warming it’s difficult not to fall in love with its heady scent. I like to spritz this over my bedlinen and on my clothes for a little comforting boost. It’s so reasonably priced you really can go wild with it and just buy another when it runs out, plus it does have decent staying power especially in hair and on clothes.

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Laura Mercier Eau Gourmande – from £32, John Lewis, Harvey Nichols

These perfumes are good enough to EAT! Very much like The Body Shop spray, these are very earthy, sweet patisserie scents.

I used to love Pistachio but now my favourite is Almond Coconut, although it took my ages to decide between this and Ambre Vanille.

They’re a little pricey at around £32 for 50ml, however they are really very strong and a little goes a long way.

Like my next choice Rituals, a full range of products is available for each scent, and if you use the shower gel, whipped body butter and perfume together you really are cocooned in the most amazing cloud of fragrance!

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Rituals, from around £20, Marks and Spencer, John Lewis, House of Fraser

I don’t think there’s a single one of these scents I dislike. The Rituals ethos is all about calming, zen spa scents which are deliciously uplifting, fresh and sumptuous. Can’t argue with that!

If I absolutely had to choose one (or let’s say two!) I love Happy Mist and Chakra Water. And Hammam Secret. Okay I love all of them!

What’s nice about this range is that it is extended to body products too. Energy Bubbles are fantastic for a long, hot calming bath and is complimented perfectly by Yogi Flow shower foam. The body butters are gorgeous too.

All in all you can use this spray to give you a wonderful little life throughout the day, then go home and indulge yourself in the most luxurious shower or bath experience ever! They even do candles and reed diffusers, if you fancy going all out.

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Espa – from £28, www.espaskincare.com

Famed spa brand Espa have always been a favourite of mine. Although they don’t yet do fragrance of any kind (sadface), they do the most sumptuous oils each with a different aim suited to certain ailments of the body and mind. The restorative bath oil and soothing bath oil are really good for relaxing and lifting your mood; I would recommend smothering it all over your body and hair then having a good soak in the bath – the scent will stay with you and the oils are nourishing for your skin and hair.

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Diptique Solid Perfume – £28, John Lewis

Famed for their candles, Diptyque also do solid perfumes which are handy for popping in your bag and using as and when needed. Because it’s solid perfume, it lasts that bit longer than a spray which you can always be a bit trigger happy with. Diptyque fragrances have a musky decadence so they’re not as light and floral-y as say the Rituals scents, and they’re certainly not sickly sweet like Eau Gourmande.

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Voluspa – from £30, Anthropologie or www.voluspa.com

Voluspa don’t do body products, but their sprays, candles and reed diffusers really are heavenly. The luxurious scents and packaging really do make you feel special and the sprays linger in the air and on fabrics for a long while.

There are so many scents to choose from here but that’s good – it all depends on your preference. Each one really is headily strong and uplifting and although they’re a little pricey they do last forever, especially the room sprays.

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Tisserand Roll-On Survival Scents – £5.49, Holland and Barrett

Whilst the above are perfumes, these are very much a return to traditional aromatherapy and are made from pure essential oils, really giving that ‘spa’ calm on inhaling the scent. Available in Energise, Head-Clear, Inner Peace and De-Stress to name a few, each product is tailored using aromatherapy principles to different needs. Like the solid perfume, these handy little rollerball decanters are easy to use and pop in your hand bag for emergencies. They last for ages and are really so reasonably priced at just over a fiver a piece. Why not get several for different occasions!?

Tisserand also do some beautiful non-targeted scents in the rollerball format which look and smell amazing! The image above is from this range; which features floral scents such as Garden Rose and Lavender.

Do you have any of your own to add? Share them below!

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Should we have nutrition advice in our schools?

 

I talk about this in the book and include a section on basic nutrition – that’s how important I think this is! Largely because I lacked this rather simple education when I was younger and instead my head became filled with ridiculous harmful advice peddled by diet companies and magazines. In light of the recent funding which is being pumped into the NHS to help tackle Eating Disorders, I wanted to see if anybody else agrees with me when I say I feel that some of the money should go into prevention as well as treatment.

Perhaps the budget is so tight that it cannot afford for any portion of it to be siphoned off for preventative causes like nutrition advice, but in an ideal world where we had plenty of money to spare I’m certain that at least a quarter of it should be invested into better education and preventative measures to bring the number of actual cases down before they get to a critical point in an already strung-out NHS, not to mention a massively under pressure mental health structure.

The NHS has been investing in preventative medicine and preventative education for some time; campaigns and adverts in newspapers or on television you see such as Stop Smoking, Dry January and Change 4 Life are examples of this. They’re usually educative or encouraging people to make positive choices in their lives which should mean that the NHS has to spend less later because people are generally healthier than they would have been had they not been given that advice.

With the NHS budget under massive strain, I think it would be intelligent and financially sensible to look to schools to administer education to young people at grassroots level, when so many of them are developing important ideas about themselves, about life and about food.

A lot of Eating Disorders tend to manifest themselves in these early years of our lives and that was especially true in my case. When I speak to others who are going through an Eating Disorder or who have poor body image many also talk of being bullied at school for being fat or ugly or not fitting in, and as a consequence turning to fad diets to improve the way they looked and developing an Eating Disorder further down the line.

I’m certainly not saying that diets and the media are wholly responsible for Eating Disorders. They’re complex mental illnesses with their roots in many facets of our lives and personalities. Many sufferers know that what they think and feel about food isn’t fact but they of course are compelled to continue anyway. I know this more than anyone.

However cases seem to be emerging at younger and younger ages. These children cannot have a proper understanding of food and how it works in our bodies; and any education they do have tends to be confusing and incorrect because it comes from their exposure to the diet industry, who as you know I think are a pretty irresponsible bunch.

I’m not saying that education of this kind would stop all cases, but certainly a few might be halted by a better understanding of our bodies, coupled with advice on self-confidence and self-care.

What do you think? Should we look at introducing nutrition education into schools at Secondary level to help them to understand their bodies and make more informed choices?

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George Osborne pledges £150m to battle Eating Disorders – so where do you think the money should be spent?

This month’s budget announcement contained some interesting news for me, and for anybody who has or has had an Eating Disorder in this country.

After years of what can only be described as a poor and unacceptable standard of ‘care’ for people with Eating Disorders, (despite it still having the highest kill rate of all mental illnesses, as it did 10 years ago when I was poorly) the government is finally stepping up and investing money which will hopefully make a difference to a lot of people’s lives. It’s much-welcomed and much needed support granted to those in need when the country and NHS as a whole is already being squeezed; but I’m so glad that it the need has been identified and now recognised.

£150 million sounds like a substantial of money to you or me, but to the NHS it’s still probably not enough to tackle the issue and now those responsible for spending the money will be collating evidence and looking at how best the money is spent.

I know from a personal perspective since I received next to no support, and the little care I did receive was shockingly bad, that the first steps have to begin at the very start of an Eating Disorder, when sufferers are being turned away from their GP continually for various reasons, sadly some of which include not being taken seriously, some of which involve few resources and centres open for GPs to refer people to, and even then, waiting times are unacceptably long for an illness which we know can rapidly deteriorate over a very short period time if left.

This means that, like me, many are only admitted to hospital when they are physically very ill, at a very late stage where you really are walking the line between life and death. Not only that, but that person’s mental state is incredibly poor. Not being taken seriously by healthcare professionals only serves to compact negative thoughts about yourself and that will also make therapy more complex.

Therefore I’m hoping that we will hear about money going into a fast referral system, more specialist hospital places for those with Eating Disorders, but additionally increased awareness for healthcare professionals. I suffered stigma from those who were supposed to be helping me; borne out of ignorance of mental health and a lack of understanding of Eating Disorders. If this can be tackled, along with the more serious urgency needed when treating Eating Disorders, I believe a difference, however small, really can be made. A little care and kindness goes a long, long way.

What do you think? I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this.

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