Category Archives: Mental health

You never know what’s around the corner

We never know what’s around the corner

TW – Trigger Warning – this blog contains honest content about weight loss and symptoms of eating disorders. Please consider taking care of yourself and clicking away if this may be triggering for you.

For 2 weeks at the beginning of September I lived with an undiagnosed fractured jaw. Not just a little chip, my mandible is completely broken, all the way through! I went to hospital but they were certain it wasn’t broken (that’s a story for another blog). During the 2 weeks before diagnosis I was trying to manage a soft tissue injury which involves gentle exercises and trying to chew despite the terrible agony! I was even playing my saxophone!

Anyway, long story short, fracture diagnosed, surgery untaken, restricted diet underway and I’m losing weight like it’s going out of fashion!

I’m trying really hard to be honest with people about how things are going. Things haven’t been straight forward with the recovery, I’ve needed extra appointments and additional management.

This is a mental health blog where I talk honestly about mental illness and recovery. Being on the right side of recovery it’s (relatively) easy to talk about the bad stuff because I can see that things turn out alright in the end. But at the moment, while things are physically really hard, my mental health is under strain.

I always think twice about writing a blog like this because I don’t want anyone to worry about me (as there genuinely is no need).

My mood has taken a hit, for a number of reason: missed diagnosis, pain, fatigue, not being able to do the things I usually do. I think all these things would take its toll on anyone’s mood.

I also have a history of anorexia and despite full recovery, something I struggle to talk about is my residual poor body image. I was told, as I was supported to weight restore, that my mind would catch up with my body; they tell you, you must weight restore first, then you will gradually start to feel ok about a “normal/average” body size. But I never have, I’ve never felt ok in a “health” body. It’s always felt too big, too fat, like I’m taking up too much space. So as my weight has dropped on a liquid diet, I’m feeling a bit better about my body – I know this can be a slippery slope but it’s a familiar space and when you’re feeling low, you grasp for anything comforting. Old thought habits fall into place easily.

I’ve had people say “you’re looking good”; this really doesn’t help. Those of us who’ve been down the ED black hole know these comments fuel the fire.

The most scary thoughts/feelings are when I’m walking around a supermarket or in a cafe and I see lots of foods I want but can’t have. People often think anorexia is about hating food, forgetting about it and not being bothered by it – far from this, anorexia is an obsession with food, thinking about it all the time, the body wants it but the mind has to find ways to avoid due to shear fear and anxiety. When I had anorexia whenever I walked around a supermarket I would see lots of foods I wanted but I couldn’t have – right now this is all too familiar.

Ways I’m looking after myself:

  • Learning to rest and enjoy it – a familiar pattern would be to exercise away my limited calorie intake but I know this would be unhelpful. My body needs to heal, I need to help it as much as possible. It’s easy to feel guilty about resting but why should I feel guilty about looking after myself?
  • Getting fresh air everyday – it’s easy when feeling down to shut yourself away, especially with so little energy but fresh air is good for the soul!
  • Continuing with routine – although I can’t do a lot of things I usually do I’m still going to work and church. If I’m looking for familiarity, I can’t go wrong with being around familiar people.
  • Keeping meal times – not being able to eat (only drink) it would be easy to fall out of meal time routine but I’ve remained with the pattern of breakfast, lunch and dinner, trying to vary the drinks I have!
  • Being honest with people – how easy is it to say “alright” or “fine” when someone asks how you are?! I cut down what I say depending on how much time someone has but right now things aren’t ok so I say it how it is. I never want people to lie to me when I ask them how they are, so I treat people how I want to be treated.
  • Being conscious of calories and nutrients – Feeling low and lacking appetite, it would be easy not to bother with food but I know it’s important. It’s hard work getting in enough calories when they’ve got to be accompanied by so much water but there’s good information online for post surgery dietary intake. Plus I have a good dietitian friend who’s helped me out!

I wanted to write this blog, partly to raise awareness about the chronic nature of mental illness. Even when recovered, it can lurk in the background, we remain susceptible to relapse. I also wanted to let anyone who’s struggling with relapse know they’re not alone, it doesn’t have to be an inevitable black hole. Right now, I’m working hard to stay well, by looking after myself I know things can get better.

Hands reaching out

108 million people affected, what can we do?

World Health Organisation logo

According to statistics published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. They estimate that suicide accounts for 800,000 deaths each year, after each death, about 135 people experience intense grief or are profoundly impacted in some other way. That means, every year 108 million people are affected by suicide (that’s double the urban population of the UK).

World Mental Health Day (WMHD) this year is focusing on suicide prevention. Mental illness does not discriminate on race, class, gender or age – suicidal thoughts are a symptom of mental illness, just like chest pain is a symptom of heart disease. Suicidal thoughts, can lead to suicidal behaviour which can result in death by suicide.

If your mate doubled over in pain, clutching their chest, struggling to breath, and they appeared clammy, you’d call for an ambulance who would (aim to) arrive within 8 minutes. What if your mate, struggled to give you eye contact, is withdrawn and said things like “no one would miss me if I disappeared” or “I’m not sure I’m needed around here” – would you know what to say or do?

There’s also a large proportion of the suicidal population who do an incredible job of hiding their symptoms, through confusion, fear of stigma or shame. How do we help them?

Lady walking on her own down a railway track

When I was severely ill with anorexia and depression, the illness told me my family would be better off without me; the emotional pain I felt was so severe that I couldn’t see any option other than suicide. Despite being in psychiatric care, signs were missed on multiple occasions, maybe I was hiding them, maybe there was an element of negligence or under resourcing. Having lost a friend to suicide, I’m one of the 135 affected by her death. If I had died by suicide, my number would be added to the statistic.

The International Associate for Suicide Prevention says “No single organisation, intervention, discipline or person can solve the complex issue of suicide.” 38 countries report to have a suicide prevention strategy and various organisation are doing their bit to raise awareness or put mechanisms in place to try and prevent suicides. In particular, work is needed in countries where suicide remains a criminal offence, where people don’t seek help through fear of stigma and discrimination and accurate statistics are impossible to gather.

But we can do our bit too, here are a few simple things to get started:

  • When someone says they’re fine, sometimes they feel angry, sad, ignored, all sorts of thingsWhen you ask your friends or colleagues how they are, mean it, don’t accept “fine” as the answer. If someone asks you how you are, cultivate a culture of honesty and give them a sincere, genuine answer. If necessary, be prepared to give someone 5-10 minutes of your time. Even if you’re in a rush, if someone needs to off load, this short time could make all the difference to them. If you’re not sure what to say, have a look at the Time to Change campaign for tips.
  • Send someone a text or email, just letting them know you’re thinking about them – mental ill health can be isolating, letting someone know that you care can mean they feel less alone.
  • If you realise someone is struggling, offer support, advise them to see their GP, as you would if they found a suspicious lump or had an unusual pain. Some people find it difficult to talk about mental health symptoms so offer to go with them to their GP if that would help. This guide from Mind offers suggestions about what to say.
  • Look into Mental Health First Aid – could this be something you could introduce to your workplace? Or could you do it as an individual, so you know what to do in a crisis?
  • Not just on WMHD but anytime, share posts on social media about suicide prevention (and mental health in general) to raise awareness. If the mental health world just talks to itself we’ll never get anywhere, everyone needs to do their bit to reach a wider audience. Decreasing stigma and discrimination will make for a healthier society.
Pulling someone out of a hole

If it’s taken you 2-3 minutes to read this article, another 3-4 people have died by suicide – these could have been prevented.

If each person who read this did just 1 of the suggestions above, we could make a difference to hundreds of people’s lives.

Running through Bath tunnel

An introvert’s dream come true!

Being an extreme introvert, preferring long periods of time in my own company or with very few people, it can be difficult to conform to societal expectation to be sociable. Living with depression for a large portion of my life, I was often told that getting out and seeing people would be “best” for me…! When most ill and lacking energy, seeing people would sap more energy, I would put my mask on to “act normal” (without which, I wouldn’t be able to interact with anyone) but the resulting exhausted spiral would lead to me feeling even more of a failure.

Then I discovered running! It was something I could do that has a multitude of benefits!

Any form of exercise, if done regularly, can:

  • Improve mood
  • Improve bone density
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Increase energy levels
  • Reduce risk of chronic disease
  • Help with weight management
  • Improve skin health
  • Aid relaxation and sleep

I was “getting out” as I was told would benefit me, but I didn’t have the down sides of being exhausted by people!

But, even the most extreme introverts, require some contact with humans (occasionally)! This is where entering events comes in handy!

Over the years, I’ve done a few 5km, 10km and half marathons but for various reason I’ve not been able to put in the hours to train for the ultimate goal to run a marathon. But I was finally able to put in the hard work, see this blog, I wrote a few days before I was due to attempt my dream.

And that’s what I did, on Sunday 18th August 2019, in Bath, I actually did it, I ran 26.2 miles, all in one go, on the same day, without stopping, I ran a whole marathon!! I cannot tell you how overwhelmed I feel to say I finally achieved my dream! I did not set myself a time target, all I wanted to do as a) run the whole thing and b) enjoy it – I well and truly did both!

I’m still an extreme introvert but, funnily enough, I don’t think I could have achieved the enjoyment aspect without entering an event that involved other people. Lots of people enter with a running club, but I was not alone entering on my own; many individuals gather on the start line but we all set off together with a unified goal in mind – to finish!

Obviously you get the ones that race off, that’s fine, whatever works for them! But the rest of us settled into a steady rhythm with people shuffling up and down the pack gently. For a while I had the pleasure of settling in behind an incredibly tall girl who made each stride look so easy.

The Bath marathon is famous for its “Two Tunnels”, totalling 4kms of renovated railway tunnels, this made for a unique running environment, very cool but a little eerie. As we entered the first there was a little excitement from the runners, we called to each other, enjoying the echo!

As the race continued the runners became more strung out. I slotted in behind a couple of men, one of which was running in barefoot running sandals and having read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, I couldn’t help but admire his beautifully elegant running style and appreciated the lack of stress he was putting through his body. Again, an absolutely pleasure to run with someone who made running look so natural and easy! The other man was running clutching a massive bag of nuts and raisins – at one point, they discussed their fuelling plans – the barefoot runner produced the tinniest energy bar from his rucksack and said he’d have it about half way around. I loved the simplicity of their plans.

So, here I was, an extreme introvert with multiple reasons why this marathon should not be possible, living out my dream! I was with people, gaining all the benefits of being “out and about” but I didn’t have to interact with any of them if I didn’t want to!

My experience is that at big events, the marshals are incredible, this event was no exception! Some of them had the starting list so they could look up your number as you ran towards them, they’d then cheer you on using your name – a massive motivator when things were feeling tough!

At mile 13 (half way) I was feeling strong, perhaps my concentration dipped a bit, I tripped down a slope, a couple of marshals jumped forward but I managed to catch myself before I hit the deck. It was quite shocking and I jarred my knee but it didn’t feel too serious.

The second half was tough, I knew I was slowing down but as the runners became more and more strung out it occurred to me that I was doing something not everyone can do! I’d trained hard for this and as mile 18 then 19 and 20 passed, I spent short periods of time running on my own; I was used to this in training but then I’d spot a fellow runner or a marshal up ahead and I’d feel spurred on again. I passed the odd person who’d resorted to walking – they were still going which I commend, but I was determined to run it all, it was just what I wanted to do!

Having loved running along the river, reentering the town signalled the end was near. Despite my legs feeling heavy, my hips and my back aching, my heart was singing, I knew I was going to finish!

The finishing straight was surrounded by people, spectators and fellow runners, all there for the purpose of celebrating everyone achievements, the atmosphere was a buzz of positivity.

Even as an extreme introvert, I do see the benefits of spending time with people, the community spirit of running events is fantastic. Looking around at the end, I could tell, people were hurting a lot but it didn’t matter, individually and collectively we’d all achieved something great that day!