Being a Human of Scotland #ALLIANCEConf20

Outside of my blog, I have been a featured writer/contributor for some organisations involved in mental health, and overall health and social care. One of which is the Humans of Scotland series for Alliance Scotland. After writing an opinion piece on Pro-Ana content for Alliance, I was contacted to be part of this series to talk about my mental health journey with an eating disorder. Then during the beginning of the lockdown in Scotland, and the UK, I was asked to write another piece about my anxiety and how was being impacted by the restrictions.

Alongside my story were the stories of other people in Scotland who are often the unheard members of society such as unpaid carers, chronic illness, people affected by suicide, people on the autistic spectrum, visual impairments, hearing impairments etc., This series gave a voice to people who were demanding to be heard and are often the ones to suffer when there are slashes to government budgets. There are a wide variety of contributors from all walks of life. It has been so well received that thirty stories were collated last year and put into a book which is available in libraries around Scotland. Scotland’s First Minister even wrote the foreword for it.

Following being part of this series, I contacted by Angela, who is the creator of the Humans of Scotland series, to be part of a Humans of Scotland panel as part of the online Alliance Scotland Conference this week. As with most conferences, and events in general, things have moved and adapted to online. So, I was to be involved in an event for Alliance wherein some stories were read by the contributors and then myself and two other contributors were members of the panel discussion where we discussed our own stories, the impact of COVID on our lives, and how we navigate day to day life. Adding to this, we discussed the power of telling our stories.

The contributors involved were:

  • Celia: an unpaid carer who looks after her son twenty fours a day seven days a week.
  • Gary: the founder of a male suicide prevention support group, Mind the Men.
  • Twimukye: a woman with multiple conditions such as being hard of hearing, diabetes, and Retinitis Pigmentosa
  • Michael: a freelance journalist who lives with a disability.
  • Ryan: an athlete who has a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome.

I was there to represent my story of anxiety and an eating disorder.

It was a completely wonderful and inspiring event for me, and I was so happy to participate. Listening to the stories of these contributors and how they interact with everyday life, how they have had to make accommodations to ‘assimilate’ to a world that has not accommodated to them. It also made me realise that I, perhaps, have not been so accommodating myself, and it has given me things to think about.

And, this is, ultimately, the importance behind this initiative, behind telling these stories. This is why listening to lived experience is essential to building appropriate care and helping everyone. We listened to stories of people who were in financial trouble, because they were unable to work, because their son required full time care. A group that has had to be set up because of the epidemic of male suicide, particularly within Scotland. Myself, who went through years with undiagnosed anxiety, which was lengthened by a dismissive GP, and received no support or treatment for an eating disorder. Lived experience is where we see the downfalls of our society, the failings of our government, our health care, and our social care. By telling our stories, everyday people can hear how we have had to shift our lives to fit in and yet still struggle and suffer, and ultimately the people who can make the changes can actually made a change, instead of quick fixes that don’t cost all that much and actually do nothing.

A lot of the time, decisions are made by organisations, local authorities, and governments, which are incredibly harmful, and this is purely because the individual in which the decision has been made for, is not involved. As a result, the decision does more harm than good. For instance, the recent decision by Public Health England and the British Government to label calories on restaurant food and weigh school children. This initiative was created without even a consultation with individuals with disordered eating patterns and eating disorder diagnoses. And, as you expect, there was immediate outrage when this announced to the public with fears of a rise in eating disorders, which would stretch an already stretched healthcare system, or leave hundreds, maybe thousands without support and care. Yes, it may be easier for the people in charge to make these decisions without having these ridiculous barriers in the way that are the people the decisions affect.

This is why it is highly important the government take our stories into consideration. Engage with our lived experience. It is a great wealth to you, and should result in far greater changes that will pay off in the long run.

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The power of storytelling is expansive. Lived experience demonstrates the great variety in people. But, it brings us together. I have noticed that when I share my experience of mental health that I get people reaching out to me to share their own experiences, with the majority of these wonderful people expressing the same feeling of: I am not alone. That statement in itself shows the real power behind features like Humans of Scotland. It is not uncommon to feel like you are alone in your experience. When you feel that way, it can be lead to social withdrawal, a fear in reaching out for help, and feeling like you are abnormal. If there is trauma, then you can feel more to blame or that you are weird or something is wrong with you. However, hearing the story of another, a similar story, a similar circumstance, then you feel less alone. It doesn’t take away your trauma, or your difficulties, but it lessens the burden on you. I know that when I was unwell I felt like I was going mad. When I began to experience an eating disorder, I felt so incredibly alone and I felt like no one could understand me or help me. However, when I joined Beat, I heard the stories of so many people around me who also had histories of eating disorders and other mental health difficulties and diagnoses. In doing so, I felt so comforted. I felt part of a community. I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t feel so strange anymore. I didn’t feel so ashamed.

Sharing your experience, when you are ready, can lessen the impact of the difficulty. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. Listening to others lived experiences can be beneficial in your recovery and how you cope. I know that volunteering in support services for Beat and offering what has worked for me in my recovery is very beneficial. If you see that something has worked for someone else then you may be more likely to try it, which is helpful when you are facing a new treatment, or reaching for financial help, or speaking up for injustice for you, or simply trying to disrupt a maladaptive practice you have dealt with. When I wrote a recent post on my experience with sertraline, it reached out to people who have had the same experience, and they were thankful that someone was speaking so frankly about it. In a way, that reduces the stigma. It reduces the shame, and normalises the experiences. And that’s the most important part. Normalising experiences can lead to more people coming forward with their stories thus creating a stronghold of people. No one wants to be the first person to speak up, as it’s an entirely terrifying thing to do. But, when that one person steps forward, it can start a domino effect, and it’s the kind of domino effect that is fantastic and uplifting to see.

There is strength in stories. There’s strength in experiences. Being a Human of Scotland has been fantastic in sharing my own story, but also introduced me to so many unheard and dismissed voices. They are voices of hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland and they should be recognised and they should be heard. It is so wonderful to be a Human of Scotland, and I’m glad to be part of the experience.

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If you would like to watch the full session, you can here.

You can read all the Humans of Scotland stories, including my own stories, here.

Humans of Scotland Logo courtesy of Alliance Scotland’s Humans of Scotland feature.

Methods For Mental Health: Sertraline

In February of this year, I was prescribed 50mg of sertraline for severe anxiety that I have had for over a decade of my life, beginning in my early teens. I watched my GP create the prescription, attaching it to my medical records on the computer. He handed over the peach slip, and just like that, after a telephone consultation in the morning followed by said GP appointment, I was finally receiving specific treatment for my anxiety. I felt an immediate sense of relief, yet a heavy weight on my shoulders remained. I had a torrent of questions running through my head. I had never been on any anti-depressants, or any medication for my mental health. Would my anxiety go away completely? Having lived with it so long, it has become an integral part of my identity, what would I be like without it? Would I become numb? Would I become some super-version of myself?

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I’ve been on sertraline for 6 months now. Not much has changed. My anxiety is still there. It didn’t go away. I remain to get anxiety attacks. Dissociative experiences are still present at the end of my attacks, or any feelings of anxiety. I still get nauseous. But it’s not as bad. Sertraline does not take away your anxiety, but it does take ‘the edge‘ off. That’s why you need to undertake therapy alongside medication, because medication alone may not take away the mental health difficulty entirely. After all, many mental health difficulties and diagnoses are the result of something happening to you. My anxiety comes after years of trauma, emotional abuse from a previous relationship, bullying from an old flatmate, and several other things. A lot of this is still to be worked on when I attend therapy, which I am currently seeking out.

However, this post is about my experience on the mental health medication, sertraline.

Sertraline is an SSRI: a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Serotonin is the ‘feel good’ hormone. It’s the hormone that essentially is the positive influence on your sleep, mood and emotion, which is why people who have depression, anxiety, OCD, etc., experience irregularities in their mood, their sleep patterns, and their emotion. We sleep too little or too much. We experience intense sadness. Motivation can disappear out the window. Everything we do becomes magnified and catastrophised. Regarding the serotonin that exists in my brain, it doesn’t get processed properly. A ‘normal’ brain would produce serotonin, do its job by passing on a message such as “get a decent amount of sleep” or “you are happy here in this current situation and should be”, and then it is reabsorbed in a process called ‘reuptake’ back into the brain. My brain doesn’t have enough serotonin in the first place so there isn’t enough to carry messages and what gets reabsorbed is very scarce already.

When someone like me takes an SSRI, the serotonin that gets ready to be reabsorbed is ‘inhibited’ or in other words, it’s blocked from going any further. So, it’s basically locked out and it’s given the chance to build up its forces, and then get a chance to carry these messages that it couldn’t beforehand. It takes me back to a baseline, and gets me back to normal.

A lot of people may think that medication like SSRIs, namely sertraline, are ‘happy pills’ and they take away our poor mental health. However, this isn’t the case. As I mentioned, it assists us in getting to the same level as the rest of the public. Then, that’s when the psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy comes into play.

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I was prescribed a low dosage of sertraline, which is a common practice, as GPs need to understand how your body interacts with the medication. It is better to start low and go up than it is to let your body try to adjust to a high dose. Because, let me tell you: sertraline is not fun to adapt to.

I began my course for that month the next day, as I had a driving lesson on the day it was prescribed and I didn’t want to experience any side effects during a lesson. Thank goodness I didn’t in retrospect, because that first day on sertraline was an experience.

I woke up as normal, took the first dose, and then got on with my day at work. I ate my porridge, and felt nothing as of yet. I got on the train. Nothing. Made my way to my first house. Nothing. Got on the bus to the office for my team meeting. Nothing. I don’t know what I was quite looking for. My GP had said to me that I didn’t know what it was like to not be anxious, when I told him I’ve struggled with the anxiety for years upon years. Therefore, you could say that I didn’t know what I could be like without anxiety.

It wasn’t until my team meeting started that it hit me. And, oh my God, did it hit me. It felt like someone had poured ten cups of coffee and a bag of sherbet sugar down my throat and then injected more into my veins. I felt high. I probably was high. I was buzzed. My whole body shook so much so that I felt unwell. My hands, which already had a shake to them, were going mad. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I was over excitable. And I spoke at an incredible pace. I interrupted people, and had something to say to everything. I was also very loud.

This was fantastic for my anxiety. Especially an anxiety which is particularly triggered by social interactions and thinking I am a loud, annoying and rude person. The anxious part of my brain screamed at this sudden new burst of sertraline-induced energy to just shut up and stop being annoying.

Meeting over. I got on the bus to my next person. Cue one of the biggest anxiety attacks I’ve ever taken. My head drowned with worries that everyone thought I was disrespectful, horrible, rude, and mean. I’ve taken some pretty bad anxiety attacks in my time, but this was one of a kind. I could feel it in my entire being. I remember thinking there is just no way I can cope on this medication. Maybe I’m untreatable. Maybe my body and my mind is going literally insane! Maybe I’m better with anxiety, because I don’t like this version of me.

Eventually, that feeling began to dull as the day went on. But I was still unfocused, feeling shaky, and didn’t feel like I was in my own body. It would ebb and flow. I was exhausted when I got home and couldn’t train on the track as I felt strange, so I had a small meal, and lay down upstairs until I was ready to go to bed.

This intensely shaky, out of body experience continued for two or three weeks. I could sense when the sertraline was about to hit. A few hours after taking the medication, I was buzzed. I’ve never taken a drug in my life, but I’m sure that’s what it feels like to be on cocaine. It’s no lie that I didn’t feel entirely like myself for a good while. My appetite disappeared throughout the day. I was able to eat my breakfast, but when the sertraline really took effect I couldn’t eat my midmorning snack or my lunch, but come dinner I wolfed it down. I really had to force myself to eat my lunch, as without food I then felt dizzy. Caffeine was absolutely hellish, which was frustrating as I love a Greggs cappuccino. Oh, and every time I yawned, my whole body buzzed and shook and shivered like I had a strange fever or I was trying to burst out my own skin. Which I wouldn’t have minded so much if it wasn’t for the fact I couldn’t stop yawning. I literally had to prepare myself for the oncoming intense sensation about to course through my body when I could feel a yawn coming on.

Once I started experiencing side effects, I messaged a relative, as I knew they had experience of anti-depressants. They were on a separate one to what I was prescribed. However, they confirmed that what I was experiencing was normal. They even related to the strange yawning sensation and the unfortunate continuous need to yawn. This is thought to be rare, but has been seen across many other SSRIs such as fluoxetine and citalopram. So, I made a joke out of it later on an Instagram story, and I had a slew of messages from people I knew saying they had the same experiences, and affirming that it would take a few days, maybe even a few weeks for your body to adjust.

That felt comforting. I didn’t feel alone, and I didn’t feel like I was about to die on this medication. I felt normal.

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It’s important to know that taking an anti-depressant, or even any other medication intended for mental health, is a big adjustment to your body. My brain has been struggling to produce enough serotonin for many years, and then all of a sudden I’m ingesting something that aims to stop my body depleting my resources of serotonin and causing more of it to stick around in my brain chemistry instead of being reabsorbed. That’s a big thing for a brain like mine to get used to. Eventually, your body as a whole gets used to it, and stops going into a state of freaking out after a few weeks. Trust me.

The first few weeks on a medication like sertraline are horrible, and it really shows you how powerful the medication is. If you require a higher dosage, your body may experience a similar reaction, but it does pass. Then your body will begin to make a climb up towards the baseline you should be at to carry out a healthy lifestyle. My anxiety is certainly not gone, by any stretch of the imagination. And I still experience a strange dizzy sensation that I describe as someone grabbing my head and swinging it like a conquer on a string. Others have described it as a brain wiggle. I still leave conversations thinking I’m annoying and blame myself for a lot of stuff and worry over every little interaction. But it’s less so. I think I’m more confident. Or maybe I’m more relaxed. I’m able to go to sleep at a good time now and often can’t stay up late. Sure, I sometimes experience brain fog and still sleep in late when I can. I have heard people experience a numbness, which I haven’t experienced myself. Generally, I feel the same but better. I am still me. Something I didn’t want to truly lose.

The rest will be supported through therapy. Your medication will not erase any trauma, or the triggers behind your mental health. It won’t completely stop your reaction and your coping mechanisms. It settles you down and offers you a helping hand. It can control some of your worst symptoms, and it can help to improve some of your body’s attempts to decrease your physical health.

For all I know, I may need adjustments on my medication. I could go up, I could go down, I could change the type of anti-depressant, I could come off them altogether. But I feel safer on them. I feel somewhat happier in myself.

Medication is not something to be sneered at. It’s not something to call someone weak over. Trust me, try a couple weeks on sertraline and you’ll realise it takes some perseverance and toughness to be on it.

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This is my experience on the anti-depressant sertraline. It is not an attempt to scare you off taking any type of anti-depressant, but rather an attempt to normalise the initial physical and psychological reactions you may have in your first weeks in adjusting to it. There are many different types of anti-depressants and other types of mental health medications like anti-psychotics. Each person is different and not every experience may be the same whether they are on the same medication as me or not.

Mental Health Literature: A Review of “Untamed”

Following my post that gave a snippet into my life with anxiety, I was contacted through Twitter from my supervisor from my masters dissertation with a book recommendation. If you haven’t read the post, it focused on the trepidations within anxiety, which cause you to feel you are doing everything wrong. So, Rachael felt I would enjoy Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, as the feelings, thoughts and emotions I had been struggling with was a common theme throughout the book. Come pay day, I ordered it and there it sat very impatiently waiting for me to finish The Man In The High Castle by Phillip K. Dick. Literally, you wouldn’t believe how many times I walked past my bookshelf and Untamed’s gorgeously colourful cover caught my eye, begging me to read it.

After a week or two, I finished my previous book and could finally take Untamed out from its place on the shelf. Five days later, it was completed. I couldn’t quite believe how addictive the book was, which is ironic once you read some of the topics within the books. Within the first night, I powered through sixty pages like it was nothing. Another night, I kept trying to put the book down and would find myself reading another page, and another page, and then another chapter, and then just one more chapter.

Untamed is a book, wherein the author Glennon Doyle reflects on her life throughout childhood through to her forties and how her perception of her life shifts towards a more realistic, settled and positive light. It isn’t necessarily a ‘mental health’ book like my previous post on Seconds to Snap, but I found many elements within this book which I related to in my journey within mental health.

Glennon, herself, has recovered from an addiction to substances such as alcohol and drugs, as well as bulimia. She also is diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety to which she is medicated for these conditions. She has some tough experiences within her childhood and within her first marriage. Now, married to the ex-soccer player, Abby Wambach, she has a different outlook on her mental health and wellbeing, particularly her coping mechanisms. I was recommended this book, because I’ve been reflecting introspectively on my mental health and wellbeing since I was eighteen or nineteen, after many years of poor mental health being a mainstay within my life. However, as evidenced by that post which triggered Untamed’s recommendation, I am able to be introspective, but I am not quite able to be as introspective and reflective as Glennon achieves during the book.

Interestingly, I noticed that I disagreed with the way she expressed some instances in her life. I encountered what I would describe as a cognitive dissonance whether that was a way she interacted with her child who wanted to play soccer (Abby changes her opinion, however) or there were ways she dealt with anxiety that I didn’t agree with. However, as I got towards the end of the book, she mentioned that, now she is in her forties she sees things differently, and life and the interactions within it have moulded how she sees her life. As she goes through her journey throughout the course of the book, the reader observes Glennon figure out new and more adaptive ways to react and recognise when she reacts according to her maladaptive yet instinctive mechanisms.

I, in my mid-twenties, although aware of my mental health journey and trauma, am still reliant on less than perfect, and often damaging coping mechanisms. While my eating disorder is not wholly one of the coping mechanisms anymore, I still harbour the bad thoughts and I let them take over and play into other parts of my life. I am still trying to figure out that part of my life. Therefore, the experience of reading this book is different to someone who is a few years older than me than it is to me. I enjoyed the cognitive dissonance I encountered when I read something I didn’t agree with immediately. As I went on, I learned that the cognitive dissonance was likely a case of: I am not quite at that part of my reflections, or: I am not Glennon and Glennon is not me. She is very understanding throughout the book that we have our similarities as humans so often do, but we are different.

Untamed often features contradictions. Initially, this irritated me, because I felt Glennon was saying one thing is right and then she would fall back on something she said was wrong, something she didn’t agree with and saw as less healthy in others and in her past-self. It was a common theme in parenting her eldest daughter. However, the cleverness of these contradictions is that you see how the human brain works in real time (or the time it takes to write a chapter and then make edits.) Glennon brilliantly lets you into her insight, wherein she jumps back and forth, changing her opinion, falling back onto old mechanisms, realising new ways of thinking were not as great as she believed them to be. She reflects and summarises, and sometimes tackles similar subjects with chapters in between to give a different view on how she coped with a situation at this age in her life.

This, I believe, is the real essence behind being ‘untamed’, citing the title of the book.

When you are deemed as someone who has a good grasp on your mental health, it can be hard to be vulnerable. You’ve spent so much of your life being exposed and being vulnerable that people now think you are able to climb upwards. You’ve achieved half the battle of openness and honesty. You’re in therapy, maybe, you’re medicated, and you’re about to have some insight in your mental health, so people develop this well-meaning but false idea that you are invincible to any further stressors and upsets. Glennon brilliantly deals with this throughout the book, as she fights with her tamed side, her destructive side, which may come from trying to regain control of her untamed side, and then her untamed side that she wants to be at forefront often. However, she understands in herself that it can be hard to uncage yourself and be free to explore your untamed side. She is so transparent within her journey. Something we need more of, because we need to end this falsehood that the minute we are aware of what triggers our mental health that it’ll go away.

Generally, I found this book to be real and relatable. Yes, at times, I was reading things she had said in conversation, and thought “no way, would I say this to my mum or my friends in normal day-to-day conversation.” But, it was the things I would think upon on reflection, or it would be what I wanted to say or should have said. Things I would say in moments of deeper conversation. I always appreciate whenever I read or hear the stories of others who experience similar things to myself. It makes you feel less alone, and it makes you feel like you can always experience an up no matter how many downs there are.

Untamed is chock full of advice, and while there are some things you can put into practice such as her Reset Buttons vs. Easy Buttons (something I am going to put into practice), there are more moments which involve you reflecting and normalising the way you are being made to feel due to your environment. That ability in itself is very powerful. Once you normalise your reactions and gain the ability to dissect them then you can begin to make progress in developing an insight in your mental health and wellbeing. It is not the cure. I don’t believe there is a cure, to be honest, but it is a way to cope and a way to learn.

I highly recommend this book. I adored it.

Learning to unlearn, learning how to become untamed – it’s a process. I am a different stage in my life than Glennon Doyle is so I know I may think differently to some of the things she discusses, but, all the same, it is fun to become untamed.

The Anxiety of Being Productive

During this lockdown, have you seen this tweet copied and pasted onto your timeline from a variety of pseudo-life coaches?

How has it made you feel? Annoyed? Frustrated? Guilty? Like you’re not doing enough? A failure?

Me too.

At the time I’m writing this the UK is now going into our sixth week of lockdown. However, many of us already were working from home, furloughed or made redundant altogether weeks before. As a result, we are being faced with more time than we know what to do with. This is when we begin to feel like spare parts. Then, we feel we need to do more than 110% to prove we are working when we are at home. Adding to this, the motivation gurus creep out the woodwork and begin to guilt us with the concept of “you’re wasting this gift we’ve been given of time.” For some of us, we then feel the need to do a million and one things in order to squeeze this lockdown dry of its apparent advantages.

One avenue people might not consider is the impact of productivity pressure on peoples’ anxieties, particularly those who are ‘clinically anxious‘ i.e. have received some form of a diagnosis or experience overwhelming anxiety within their daily life. I am one of these people, and the constant pressure of feeling like I am not doing enough is one of my many anxieties.

My brain is constantly going at 100mph. Even before lockdown, my brain would be at least three steps ahead of whatever I was currently trying to do. If I try to be spontaneous, my brain becomes a blur and I jump from not fully formed task to not fully formed task. Whether I was doing my undergraduate, my masters, or my current job, I would always be trying to cram in the next thing. If I wasn’t filling up every moment, I felt like I was a failure. Which would bring on my depression. So, I would either burn out and experience anxiety exhaustion, or my self-esteem would plummet and I would be depressed.

Within this lockdown, I do have slightly more time on my hands. I train at home now. I mostly work from home. I am at home. However, I still work a full time job and I still train five times a week. This is the new normal for many of us but it doesn’t stop social media and mainstream media pushing the idea that we should be jumping on this so-called gift of time. There breeds this guilt from motivation gurus that we are lazy and wasting our resources and this precious opportunity. Privileged people are laying it on thick with the message of the lockdown being a blessing.

I don’t know how else to say this, but this lockdown isn’t a blessing. It’s the current solution to a deadly virus which has wiped out more than a quarter of a million of us, and infected over four million.

This guilt and shame is being forced down our throats.

You know, you really should be getting on with that novel. But, make sure you bake that bread first. What about the thirteen books you’re ignoring? You’re only through one chapter of them? But, it’s been an hour, you should be through at least seven books by now. And don’t get me started on that shed you haven’t built yet!

We’re loading our brains with a high volume of tasks, with the false idea that we actually have so much more time. And, even if we don’t have the time, we’re still being pressured into thinking we do. I’ve been surrounded by posts on social media of people smashing through their daily tasks and then heaping a whole lot more work on top of what they have finished and smashing through that too. As I scroll through my different social media feeds, drinking in this information, my anxiety is ramping itself up for a monumental freak out. I can feel the fear of failure stamping its feet, ready to charge, and knock me out with guilt and panic attacks. Just a feeling I love…

During this lockdown, I have become so busy, because it’s how I feel I should be right now. Don’t get me wrong, I love being busy. It keep me distracted, and I like doing things, but I know in myself that my anxiety can run me into the ground with how busy it wants me to be. If I sleep in a bit later than planned, I immediately think I’ve ruined the day and that I have no time to do anything. Instead of just forgiving myself, and picking up the day from there, and agreeing that if I don’t get everything done then I have the next day to do it. I have been talking about how busy I am to a couple of my friends, which I agree is not particularly sensitive of me. In reality, I am not busy because I am on my A-game, but I am trying to be busy because the pressures within the media have wreaked havoc on my anxiety and convinced me that I have time to do a lot. And, I mean, time to do too much.

Anxiety can manifest intense feeling of failure in that if you are not doing what the people you regard as successful and normal are doing then you might as well not be doing anything at all. So, to get rid of those feelings you will do more than you should and can do just to make yourself feel even slightly better. Sometimes we can become so anxious that we end up avoiding things altogether in an attempt to suppress the triggers to our anxiety, which just leads to us feeling more anxious because we are not being as productive as the successful people. We can become so anxious that our brains just shut down in panic, because we immediately expect that we’re not going to live up to the expectations placed upon us by these people we deem as being more successful.

Recently, I had a day off from work, and I planned to get ahead in a few things, after I had a long lie. I had a charity quiz coming up that I needed to prepare questions for. I was participating in a Q&A for an online support group. I wanted to finish my book that still had 150 pages remaining until the end. I was going to bake some bread. And make some soup. I then decided I needed to tidy up my room and the bathroom. I then decided that I needed to write a blog post. I kept adding things onto my list, but in no real order or with any sense of priority. It was just a list. Therefore, my mind descended into an anxiety blur and I began to panic that I had no time to do anything, so I tried to do everything at once. All while taking a panic attack. Any time I sat down to do one thing and pour my concentration and focus into it I would find my anxiety niggling away at the back of my brain telling me I wasn’t being productive enough because I had other stuff to do. My anxiety would make me feel low and useless because I hadn’t ticked everything off my list already. As a result, I began to experience a rush of panic and confusion because I didn’t know what to do, or where to start. My list, which wasn’t a proper list, was disintegrating in front of my mind’s eye and I could no longer think straight. I felt like lying down under my duvet and waiting for the day to pass. One of my favourite maladaptive pastimes.

My issue with the motivation gurus is their inability to consider the lack of time and resources people have, and the current surroundings i.e. the global pandemic. Adding to this, the information or advice provided is so vague, and leaves you to try to figure out how to fit in writing a novel around looking after four children, or, in my case, a full time job, mental health campaigning and volunteering, and training for a sport. As a result, this vague advice leaves people with anxiety trying to fill in the blanks, and usually not so appropriately. Sometimes, we don’t even attempt to fill in the blanks. Just do it becomes our motto, but we’re less Nike, and more “I’ve no idea what I’m doing but I should have done it by now!” My anxiety can make me very impatient. I like to plan, but I like to get going, and I like to have things completed, so I get frustrated if something is taking me longer than planned, or I have not been able to do it immediately. Purely for the fact that everyone seems to know what to do, so why can’t I?! Sometimes, we become too engrossed with planning because we are too stressed and worried to actually advance because we’re worried that we’ve gone the wrong way about it. I can work well off my initiative, but my anxiety can make me doubt myself often, and I find I am not confident in what I do, particularly when undergoing an anxiety attack or anxious state, so I begin to worry about moving on to the next step in case I am exposed as a failure, and never trusted again.

A brief side note: this is the first time I’ve written about my anxiety and, oh my God, how have I not erupted more often? I am exhausted even thinking about it!

A motivation guru, or these people who want to guilt trip you into thinking you’re unproductive and thus a failure, don’t actually care if you become productive. They care about engagement and that’s it. The busier you are, the more successful they think they are in spreading their ‘message’. They want you to figure out how to do everything all by yourself. Yes, you are in charge of your own journey, but you are not expected to enter clueless and blind-sighted into a situation someone forced you into. We’re undergoing a global pandemic, which is set to see a massive domino effect. People have enough on their plates. They might be trying to find a new job. Or they might have to pick up an extra job. They might be buying groceries or running errands for vulnerable people. They might be looking after their children who are at home from school. They might be also trying to cope with the unfortunate reality of a loved one in hospital in critical or serious condition from Covid-19.

We are trying to survive. We are trying to keep ourselves distracted from the absolute horror and surreality of what is going on. Day to day, I am so overwhelmed by everything. Yet, I am forcing myself to be productive, which sounds like a good thing, but isn’t necessarily, because I am not getting the best results. This only exhausts me more because I feel like a failure with the outcome of my tasks, and then I go in and in and in and in again with the same outcome every time. We don’t need to be doing life-changing things right now. What we’re currently going through is life-changing enough. Focus on what you enjoy. Don’t think you need to be doing three million things at once in order to feel productive according to the standards of someone else with a Twitter account. If you are actually spending your time learning how to knit, or reading all the books you have wanted to read, trying to write a novel… then go for it.

Spend your time on things you are currently doing but don’t become absorbed in this pretence of I have to be productive every waking minute in order to show I am using my lockdown time effectively.

The lockdown wasn’t put in place for you to be productive. The lockdown was put in place, because people are dying and our healthcare systems are become increasingly overwhelmed.

As long as you enjoy what you are doing, and even if you are doing ‘only’ one thing, then go ahead. Rock that one thing as best as you can. Take your time. We have some extra time, but we don’t need to fill it to the brim.

*

If you are experiencing poor mental health, please seek further advice from the following sites.

Beat

Clear Your Head Scotland

Mind

Rethink Mental Illness

Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH)

Samaritans

Young Minds

Emulating Others’ Lives

“Connell wished he knew how other people conducted their private lives, so that he could copy from example.” 

Like most people, I’m absolutely engrossed and obsessed with Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Yes, I saw the TV show first before the book, which I am currently reading. However, I came across this line early in the story, and it’s relevancy sunk so far into my skin right into my bones. I find that this line describes the turmoil I very regularly experience with anxiety.

I’ve mentioned my anxiety on this blog, but I’ve never actually expanded into what it’s like. You all know my experiences with suicidal ideation and eating disorders, but not necessarily my life with anxiety. I am high-functioning, but I am very chronic, having had anxiety for more than a decade of my life. I remember being a very worried and stressed child, with my anxiety displaying in the form of cold sweats, very strong irritability, and dizziness. This was very prominent when I felt I was about to be set up for a failure, or I had done something wrong even if it was miniscule. I am a perfectionist, and I was a perfectionist all throughout my education, so if I did something wrong whether it was objectively wrong or wrong to me, so I think I spent a large amount of my time as a child in cold sweats, panicking and crying. When you are a child with anxiety, your anxiety can be much more physical in its manifestations i.e. you can’t communicate in the same way you would as an adult, and the intense feelings of an anxiety attack can be physically overwhelming and, thus, frightening as a child.

My anxiety mainly revolves around the fear that I am going to be a failure and I am actually a bad person. I constantly fight with myself over whether this is true and my friends are just lying to me or I am actually a generally good person with anxiety that makes me think I am a bad person. As a result, I am constantly analysing every little interaction I have made with things in my life. It doesn’t even need to be an interaction with a person. In fact, I over analyse my training, my competitions, my work tasks, my university choices… anything that can be analysed. If you see me on the bus staring out the window, I am likely berating myself very harshly for something I did, completely blowing it out of proportion. My anxiety makes me think everything I do is inappropriate and that nobody acts the way I do and I am ridiculous and don’t know how to be a ‘normal person.’

This is why I found myself relating to this quote from Normal People. From a young age, my anxiety has made me feel like I was bizarre and didn’t know how to conduct myself. I had a deep seated fear that I was failing at being a good and normal person. I desperately wanted to see how others behaved and what their lives were like so I could copy them and get rid of my anxiety of being a failure. I lacked a consistent and strong personality growing up because, while I was outgoing and like to perform in lots of theatre and musical theatre, I was frightened to generally be my own person, so I often tried to emulate others and be like them so I didn’t have to be myself. Because my anxiety made me constantly worry about being myself. My anxiety made me not like myself. I was so wrapped up in how to conduct my life like someone else.

I just waited for the next mistake I would make, because I knew it was going to happen. There was a mistake in everything I did. My anxiety created these mistakes out of thin air. I would smile at someone and immediately my anxiety would jump on this interaction and say “why did you smile that way? Why did you not say hello to? God, you’re so shy. Everyone thinks you’re weird!!!” However, if I didn’t smile, my anxiety would also jump on this interaction: “why did you not smile? Why can’t you even look at someone? Everyone thinks you’re weird!!!” My every interaction is calculated carefully in my head. I struggle to be spontaneous. I avoid interactions, or preemptively think what I’m doing is stupid, because I am so anxious that I will do something wrong or someone will think I am stupid or bad or unlikeable. Having anxiety makes me think I am unlikable. And, even in that statement, I think about how it’s actually not my anxiety and I am just unlikeable.

I often don’t understand why people are friends with me. Or why people dated me. My anxiety goes into overdrive with its analysis of my regular, daily situations, trying to find all the ways in which it went wrong. Because, anxiety never points out the right. It’s always the wrong, and the wrong is the most dominating thing within my thinking.

Anxiety is really, really exhausting. You never feel like you are doing anything right. Even when you’ve perfectly orchestrated things within your life, you’ll always find something. Your anxiety can often imagine these things, but they feel so very real and you begin to replace your actual memory with the anxiety memory.

My anxiety is just so crippling and horrible that I can find myself taking a panic attack in Tesco because I think I am doing the wrong thing going out to get my weekly food shop, because the government says we are in lockdown, and, although I haven’t been any further than my back garden steps, I feel like I shouldn’t be outside in case I am breaking the law and spreading the virus. Then, if I don’t go out, then I feel I am being unbearably useless.

In my mind, I am never doing the right thing.

I can lie in bed and think and think and think and think and think and think. And, before I know it, it’s 4am and I am beating myself up for not being asleep sooner, even though it was my anxiety’s fault in the first place. I’ll drink three coffees because I like the taste and then it’ll obviously kickstart my anxiety and my anxiety immediately jumps into: nobody else does this, nobody else is this stupid, you don’t know how to look after yourself, you’re not going to be anything. And just like that I’ve catastrophised me drinking a 3rd Kenco instant cappuccino.

I would like to know how others live to see if I am doing the right thing, but even if I could and then adapt my life accordingly, my anxiety would hound me still.

*

I am going to send this out into the world as untouched as possible, as the idea hit me when I read that line in Normal People, and I thought I would explore a large part of my mental health that I don’t often talk about within my mental health journey on my blog and mental health campaigning. So, there we go. It’s a start.

Methods for Mental Health: Wellbeing Counselling

Walking up a flight of beige stairs, my heart beat in triple time with every step, I could feel nausea settling deep into my stomach. I can turn back now and just pretend like I never contacted them, I thought as I stepped closer and closer to the waiting room. I wanted so badly to turn around and go back to the library, hide behind my university work, and push down the anxiety and depression. But, before I knew it, I was knocking on the door of the receptionist, and announcing myself:

“Hi, I’m Adrienne. I’ve got an appointment at 2pm.”

The receptionist smiled, passed over a clipboard with an information sheet, and asked me to fill it out and wait on one of the seats, while my counsellor finished up with her previous person. I took the clipboard, my hands shaking, and found a seat closest to the door. There was someone else waiting for their counsellor. I smiled curtly, and looked away to focus on the posters and leaflets around the room, blue-tacked onto the plain white brick walls. I didn’t want to be here, but I knew I had to be. I wanted to leave, but a weight held me down, making sure I didn’t.

It felt like hours had passed, when really it was only a few minutes, before my counsellor came in and said my name into the air. I smiled at her and she signalled me to follow her a little down the corridor to her room.

That would be my place of solace for the next few months.

*

It was a friend who introduced me to the idea of going to the counselling. She knew I was going through a hard time again at university. My anxiety and depression were getting the better of me. I was in my first relationship, and the beginnings of it falling apart were beginning to show. I was leaving parties early to walk home at night. I was in the middle of a flat-share argument. University work was piling up and up and up, and my self esteem was going down and down and down. Everything was collapsing around my ears.

I was lost. I felt I had no one. I felt I had exhausted my support system. Like in my previous blogpost on Samaritans, I needed someone who didn’t know me. I needed objectivity.

So, standing in our mouldy kitchen, cradling our cups of tea and coffee because it was too cold to sit in our living room, my flatmate said: “I’ve started attending counselling up at the university. You should give them an email and try it.”

I found the email address for the wellbeing services and sent along an enquiry. Within a few days, I was asked to come along to an introductory session the next week. I remember an immediate sense of dread hitting me. I was getting some help. Finally. But, having spent years and years repressing my poor mental health, I was scared of what was going to happen. Similar to my experience with Samaritans, I was scared of being vulnerable.

However, I knew that when push came to shove, there was no chance I could turn this down. I didn’t know when I’d get taken again. I knew how precious a commodity mental health help is. And this being my second breakdown I needed someone to speak to. I needed to figure this out.

*

My introductory session lasted 30 minutes. I remember there was a soft, artificial smell of lavender, which would automatically set me at ease in my following sessions. I was so incredibly nervous. And my counsellor knew that. Counsellors know you are nervous. They know what goes on in these sessions. They know the general script. You may not. I didn’t.

This introductory session was to help me figure out what I thought about counselling and why I was there.

It gave my counsellor the chance to get me to know me generally, and then get to understand why I came to her. I came to her because I was struggling with university, my anxiety, and I wanted it all to stop. I wanted her to give me ways to make it stop. I don’t want to be stressed anymore and I want to stop crying all the time, I said to her within the first 15 minutes. She soon made me realise that part of counselling is exploring the why’s, not the how to’s.

Because that’s the thing with counselling, and something I didn’t expect: a counsellor, a therapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or whoever it is, will not just tell you what to do. You are a vital and essential part of your journey to recovery. If you do not understand your core beliefs, your reasons for why you feel the way you do and why you have learned to cope the way you do … then some breathing techniques are going to be absolutely useless to you.

Additionally, similarly to how I felt with Samaritans, I found it startling that the counsellor allowed me to talk without interruption. There was a lot of silence, because I was waiting for her to jump in with advice in the first few sessions. I was waiting for her to add in her opinion. But that’s the thing: they need to know more about you before they can add in their opinion. They need to understand where you have come from. It is not their job to jump in with solutions straight away, because those solutions may not be tailored to you if they have not heard what is going on in your life. Not every problem needs to be solved right away, particularly the big, messy ones. The opportunity to talk is something I had to adjust to. I had to force myself to talk. I was filling the silences with everything in my life. This is a technique they perform to get you to empty out your emotions and your frustrations and your thoughts. And it is uncomfortable. But so is mental health. This feeling is temporary and shall pass. You just have to roll with it. You just have to talk.

So, that’s what we did the first couple of sessions. I talked and talked and talked and she listened. The smell of lavender drifted around the room and the timer for the session ticked on. She and I got to know me. We explored my family, my relationship with parents and peers and all its dysfunctional parts, my relationship with myself… And this helped her to help me to understand why I would freak out at the slightest hint of failure. It helped me to realise I held onto criticism throughout my life and let it play into my self-esteem and self-worth. And the interesting thing was it helped me to open a dialogue with one of my parents; one, in which, I avoided talking about my emotions, in a proper way, with. I was able to see the issue after the high intensity emotions cleared and this meant I could address this issue and thus open a new area of discussion with this parent and help them to realise how they had hurt me and how the other parent made me feel too. My counsellor was aware that I could address my emotional difficulties with one parent, but due to some particularly difficult reasons, I was unable to get to that level of communication with the other. This was a recognised barrier that my counsellor knew was difficult to break and therefore helped me to get around it in a way that would ease my poor mental health. A good counsellor should know your boundaries and your barriers and will try to help you get through or around these barriers in a way that is more adaptive than your current methods.

*

The second time I attended counselling, my counsellor was familiar with who I was, but she still had to understand why I had come to her for a second time. It had been around a year. I was there because I was having an extremely difficult time in a relationship, my anxiety was way worse, I was being bullied by someone in my social circle, I was isolating myself, the list could go on. Some of these problems were explored in the first round of counselling but had featured in different ways. So, she spent a session re-familiarising herself with my difficulties, and then began to help me speak through what was going on in my life at that point.

A few sessions in, I had attempted to complete suicide, and I told her. Because she felt to be the only person I could tell without judgement even though I was suffocating with shame. She spoke this through with me and we reflected on the impact of my suicide. I remember crying for one of the first times outside of my bedroom, because she told me how much I mattered and how much my death would affect others – more than I thought. And, while I still struggle to believe I am wanted and that I matter, it startled me to hear that my counsellor would have been affected if I had taken my own life. I had never thought of that. Whether this was the right thing for her to do, I don’t know, but I appreciated it. It felt different to be sure that someone was in my corner and helping me to find my voice. I can’t usually speak about my emotions and how I think and feel with family and friends because I feel guilty and stupid, but with my counsellor I felt like I was speaking to a blank canvas who was there to soak up my words and then use what I created to help me see what was going on; giving me the support I really needed at that time.

Most counselling sessions typically last for a few months, which is largely to do with the funding and waiting lists; particularly in universities and with poor mental health becoming a very common factor in today’s society. I went to counselling for around 2-3 months at a time. Thankfully I did not have to wait long each time, but I know that is not the case for many people. Counsellors and wellbeing staff are never annoyed that you have returned to receive more help. They understand, or they should understand, that poor mental health can be chronic for some, and 6 weeks of counselling does not undo the damage of years and years of maladaptive coping strategies. So, they will try to fit as much as they can in the time that they have with you.

Some people don’t enjoy counselling, whether this is due to a bad counsellor, or their sessions being terminated due to waiting list demands. However, I would encourage you to go again. It may be different the next time. If it’s not, then this method for mental health is not for you.

Counsellors are objective support systems in your life that you allow you to talk about what has happened and what is currently going on. It can be really hard to cope sometimes and you sometimes need an extra pair of ears to listen. I don’t often like talking to others who are close to me because of trust issues and feeling like I’m a burden. I will offer bits and pieces, but with counselling I was allowed to offer all of me, and that was really something.

There should be so much more funding in counselling. Large, extensive waiting lists shouldn’t be there. There should be more expansive and better funded mental health resources in general. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get their help. You have a right to help and you have a right to have a voice and sort through your difficulties. You have noticed you are struggling and now you deserve the help that is available to you.

I am grateful for the counsellor who helped me when I was in university. I always will be.

Methods For Mental Health: The Good Samaritan

Disclaimer: This post involves a conversation about suicide, suicidal ideation, and suicidal thoughts and actions.

Around 3am, my knees hugged tight to my chest, the small of my back pressing against the frame of my bed, I stared at the number I had just dialled into my phone. My fingers trembled over the green call button. I willed myself to press call. My breath was caught in my chest as though my lungs were being crushed by my ribs. I pressed the call button. The dialling tone rang in my ear, daring me to hang up, but before my nerves got the better of me, the call connected.

Hello, you’re through to Samaritans. How can I help?

This is my experience with the Samaritans helpline.

*

While the number of completed suicides has generally decreased, there are still increases within the male demographic and across different cultures and countries. Samaritans launched their freephone helpline in 2015. Over 5.7 million people called Samaritans within a year. This number has been increasing steadily throughout the years. People are reaching out for support more and more, but there remains a stigma, and a genuine fear around calling a suicide helpline.

For me, the fear and anxiety lay around: I am going to have to admit that I am seriously struggling; struggling so much that I want to end my life. You don’t want to be that person who calls a suicide helpline. It makes you feel nuts and helpless. But, I was helpless and I was feeling completely out of my mind.

I was at a point in my life where my mental health was so bad, and I was so, so alone that I felt the only way for the suffering to stop was to kill myself. To make it all go away by making myself go away. Essentially. I couldn’t breathe for suicidal ideation.

However, there was something in me trying to swim to the surface to save me. And that’s when I googled the number for Samaritans.

When the call connected, a soft and polite female voice greeted me. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly when I rang. But, I didn’t expect to connect automatically. I mean, there was nothing else it was going to do. Did I think it was going to take me to a menu? Press 1 if you want to kill yourself now. Press 2 if you don’t know if you want to kill yourself. Did I think I was going to be put on a waiting list? You are number 7 in the queue; please hold if you want to talk about the fact you are very suicidal and thinking of the ways you end it. Nope, it connected pretty much automatically.

This jarred me. I had built up all this courage to phone and, within a few minutes, I was faced with it. On the other side was someone who was waiting to hear about my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t know what to do. What could I say?

I had run the word suicide through my mind several times so much so that it was just another word. However, thinking a word and saying a word can carry very different weights. Additionally, saying a word out loud to yourself and saying a word out loud to someone also carry very different weights. The fact I hadn’t said it out loud either to myself or to anyone else… that rested very heavily upon me the second the phone call connected. For many, this is the first time they discuss their suicidal thoughts and feelings. Connecting straight to an operator, therefore, can be extremely surprising.

However, while it frightened me, it didn’t give me the option to hang up. If there was an exceedingly long time to wait, you’d probably have a lot of people overthinking their decision to phone and soon hanging up the call. You can’t ‘run’ if the call connects straight to an operator. You have to face the suicidal thoughts head on. I had to speak about it. This was the moment I had chose to speak out against my suicidal thoughts. Sure, you can hang up if the call connects and you really don’t want to talk about it, but, for me, it created a sense of: you can do it now or you can continue to let the suicidal thoughts torment you. So, I stayed on the call and spoke about the fact I was considering killing myself.

*

It wasn’t until I did an elective class in clinical psychology when I was in my fourth year of university that I learned about the power of silence. However, I was first exposed to the act of using silence in counselling and in Samaritans. Samaritans use it very effectively. The woman I spoke to was very calming and patient. And she used silence as a method to get me to talk. Silence is used in therapy and in psychological practices to do exactly that. Think about times where there were awkward silences in your life. You may have felt obliged to keep talking to fill the silence up. This is the idea behind leaving an intentional and deliberate silence within conversation. However, it’s not a deceitful and wholly ‘manipulative’ act. It actually benefits the individual on the other side of the phone.

When I called Samaritans and was faced with a lot of silence, it gave me an enormous opportunity to speak. That was what I needed. Samaritans is a helpline that gives you the chance to talk. And that is one of the most important steps towards improvements and a better understanding in your own mental health. A lot of people involved in my life did not want to listen to me at that time, or they would jump down my throats with well meaning but ill timed solutions. At that point, I just needed someone to listen. For me, someone dismissing me or trying to solve my problem only made me feel that no one cared, wanted to listen, or give me the time of day. It’s not that I didn’t want to solve the problem. I just wanted to talk about my situation and how it was making me feel.

For someone to give me a chance to talk, give me a chance to vent… it was unnerving, but it was welcomed. Initially, I didn’t know what to do. I was waiting for the worker to butt in, to offer some kind of solution, but it didn’t come. I’m not going to lie, I was confused and I actually became a bit frustrated. I remember thinking: just have an input, moan with me, please talk back… But now when I think back on it, I can see it was because I was so used to people butting in and offering me solutions that I was not ready to commit to. Plus, Samaritans was not going to bitch and moan with me over one of my issues that was amounting to my suicidal ideation. Because that’s not what they are there for. They were there to give me a safe space so I could finally let everything out.

Although I was hesitant, especially with the silence, in speaking out loud, I eventually began to let everything out. I didn’t cry. Mainly because of the environment I was in when I was on the phone. I was whispering the full conversation. However, throughout I carried feelings of embarrassment trying to tell the worker I was suicidal. Because I was so naturally ashamed I had been feeling so incredibly down that I was almost ready to take my life. Because I had people dismiss me and tell me I was overreacting so I convinced myself that maybe I was overreacting and maybe I was the bad one. I should be ashamed of myself. Why don’t I just get rid of myself because I am so embarrassing? Then the more I wanted to speak about it the more I remembered how embarrassed and ashamed I felt about wanting to kill myself. See, the vicious cycle…

I apologised several times and continued to tell her: “this is really stupid… Please don’t think I’m an idiot… I’m really sorry… I know this is daft… I sound so ridiculous and stupid … maybe I’m the idiot… I know I shouldn’t act this way…

I made every attempt to downplay how I was feeling. The worker did not agree. She highlighted how important it was that I was speaking about my feelings. She created a sense of trust and made me feel appreciated and like what I was saying mattered. Someone finally heard me and someone finally put me in my place. And that was place was: you are phoning this number because you are in a crisis and I want to help you. She finally made me understand that what I saying was important and it was serious. And that my life mattered. Even if I didn’t think so.

*

They have a lot of people to speak to so you can’t really stay on the line for hours. However, I think I was on the phone for around 30-40 minutes. They don’t aim to have you on and off the phone within a certain time. But they have a lot of people who call them. Particularly at the time I called, which was at 3am. They have to get these people on the line. They have to catch them before they hang up. That being said, if they feel you are still at risk at the end of conversation, they will phone you back.

Samaritans did this for me.

I was going to a party the next night, where there was going to be alcohol and there was also going to be a few reasons that triggered my suicidal ideation to begin with. I had talked out all my problems, and was in a stage of repeating myself therefore the conversation was becoming ‘stale.’ And that’s my opinion. Not the Samaritans worker. I knew myself that I had talked myself out, and I was getting tired. She would check in occasionally to see how I was feeling now throughout the conversation and when she got the feeling that I was getting tired and feeling at least a degree better she believed it was a good time to bring the conversation to a close.

Because I was going to this party, the worker asked my permission to have someone phone to check in and see how I was feeling. The next night, I was getting ready at a friend’s, and an unknown number came in. My friend suggested it may be Samaritans. I answered and a soft, male voice asked: “hello, is this Adrienne? This is Samaritans calling. Is it a good time to talk?” I disappeared to another room, and spoke quietly to them. This worker asked me how I feeling, did I get a good sleep… They also reassured me that I had done the right thing to phone. They asked where I was, how I felt about going to the party, and who I was going to the party with. The worker relayed the importance of my feelings and my safety. He helped me to understand that I should remove myself from a situation if it was bringing up these suicidal and bad thoughts. I should have a good support system around me. By asking me who I was with, and who I was going to the party with, he told me that I should reach out to these people (if I felt comfortable to) and ask them to keep an eye out on me. It was a short call. It was only meant to be a check up. But, it made a world of difference.

The fact they kept their promise to call me the next day made me feel incredibly safe and appreciated. It made me feel important. I rarely feel important. It validated my feelings. It made me feel like I mattered. I don’t often feel like I matter.

Later that night, I attempted to kill myself. I was stopped by a friend. My friend saved me physically. I was still very suicidal. But, Samaritans allowed me to open that gate. Just like therapy, you will not be cured immediately. Everything will not be magically made better with one discussion. But the minute you talk you begin your journey to recovery. Samaritans is not just for crisis’ moments. It’s a first step. It’s a way to understand your feelings and feel listened. Feeling listened and opening a dialogue is an important start. Samaritans was a first step for me. They took hold of me when I reached out for help.

Samaritans helped me to start my path to saving myself.

*

Whether you are in crisis or just need to talk to someone, whether you are lonely or your mental health has become too much, Samaritans is a step in the right direction. I know the NHS is bursting at the seams. I know mental health help is so hard to come by. So, try your very, very hardest to utilise Samaritans as a resource. I know how hard it is, especially when you’re in the depths of despair and so trapped with feelings of suicide and hopelessness. But trust me, ring that number, and hold on. They are patient. A patient ear is what we need at that time.

They are listening.

If you are feeling suicidal, or need to talk, ring Samaritans on 116 123. If you don’t want to talk and you’re in Scotland, Breathing Space are piloting a web chat service. Their phone helpline is also available Monday to Thursday 6pm – 2am, and weekends 6pm – 6am. Call them on 0800 83 85 87.

I’m Still Standing

Discretion advised: brief discussions of eating disorders, self harm, and suicidal ideation/intention.

There’s something of a Halo Effect that surrounds those who are recovered and those who are mental health advocates. While we are very open and generally quite raw about our mental health journeys, it is suggested that we are almost invulnerable to new stressors and upsets that precipitate into our environment. Any other reaction to these stressors is seen as a state of mind in which you’re not really recovered.

I think this is particularly true when you have recovered from something so viscerally physical in its presentation and manifestation as an eating disorder.

Being recovered from an eating disorder myself, I often feel that people get highly concerned if I express a distaste for the way I look or I feel particularly low in my self-esteem. There’s a real expectation from those around me, whether this is someone close to me or someone I’ve just met, unconscious or not, that I have to be a beacon of self love and confidence and be comfortable of every aspect of myself in order to reassure others I am recovered.

Well, let me tell you something: that is truly, truly exhausting to force yourself to feel that way. Especially on days where you are wallowing in your self-hate and you’re just trying not to be swallowed up by it all. It’s difficult to sit with lies.

So, here’s the truth.

I’ve been recovered from an eating disorder for 5 years and I still hate myself.

I’m choosing to use the word hate; a particularly strong and nasty word, because that is really how I feel. And, you don’t realise how much the realisation that I still hold a very deep hatred for myself lifted a weight off my shoulders. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?

You would probably expect someone who advocates for eating disorders and mental health recovery to be comfortable within her own skin and not wholly unhappy with herself. Well, guess what? I am not.

Hear me out. I don’t condone hating yourself. It’s not a fun state of mind to be in. It’s not cool. It’s not edgy. Hating yourself is one of the worst feelings out there. Hating yourself is like falling into a hole in the ground and, while you are trying to find a way to crawl out, someone is pouring concrete into the hole. It’s pure suffocation. I don’t know how many times I have had self-hating feelings loom over my head all day and drag me down. I wouldn’t be able to hold myself up straight. I’d curl my arms around my body, making myself smaller, shielding my frame from the public. Already so poisoned by the hate in my head, I didn’t want to face anyone looking at me. I didn’t want to give them ammunition. Even though, the ammunition probably didn’t exist.

I still carry these feelings with me. I have days, a lot of days, where it’s all I can think about it. Any social interaction that goes wrong results in me blaming myself. Any time I’ve dated and it’s ended negatively (which is every boy I’ve dated) I have fired off a list of hateful things about myself … why did I think that was ever going to work? I’m so annoying, and boring, and plain, and uninteresting, and too nervous and I’m not worth a chance… see how exhausting that is? That’s what goes on in my head nearly every day.

So, to try and convince the world that I actually love myself in order to prove I am recovered is hard work. As I said, we’re meant to be beacons of self-love, and any sort of self-hatred and low self esteem sound alarm bells. There’s no way we can be recovered if we still hold a hate for ourselves. Recovery isn’t low self esteem. Recovery isn’t overthinking every little step you do. Recovery isn’t anxiety. Recovery isn’t feeling seriously down about your body, your personality, your being, yourself.

Recovery is love.

So, what happens when you don’t fit into this mould of perfect recovery? For me, I feel like an imposter. Do I really have a right to say I am in recovery, and recovered, if there sits an underlying hatred within me? A hatred that lies there, sometimes dormant, and sometimes extraordinarily active.

For a long time, I shoved away those feelings, because I wanted to present as this picture perfect form of recovery. Because I felt that if I actually spoke about the fact I remained to hate myself, and I had not yet broken the hateful thoughts, then people would think I was a failure and didn’t deserve the carry the I’m Recovered badge. I have ignored those feelings and thoughts because I didn’t want to deal with them. They were not a sign of recovery.

Recovery had to be about loving yourself, and blocking out all hate. But, doing so was the equivalent to me shutting my eyes tight, sticking my fingers in my ears, and screaming to shut out the hatred.

It was only recently that I realised I was actually doing better than I thought. And, by accepting the fact I still bear a lot of hate for myself, this has opened up a lot for me, in terms of what recovery actually is. And not what I think it should be.

I have a hate myself, but, here’s the catch, I accept it. I deal with it.

And that’s a level of recovery.

That is growth.

A few years ago, my hatred resulted in incredibly maladaptive coping mechanisms. It played a huge factor in the development of my eating disorder. My eating disorder attempted to control that hatred whilst simultaneously pushing me to hate myself further through the punishment of restrictive eating, purging, and binging. I developed further maladaptive coping mechanisms that extended passed the physicalities of an eating disorder and self-harming. My anxiety intensified and I would sabotage situations. The minute I would sense a change in the vibe in a romantically inclined relationship, or even a platonic relationship, my self-hatred would step in and I would withdraw myself from the situation. Why would anyone want to be with me? Why would anyone be interested in liking me or being my friend? They clearly don’t want me around so I’ll do everyone a favour and leave.

My self-hatred and very low self-esteem affected me so much I almost completed suicide.

Nowadays, I still bear my self-hatred within me, but I deal with it differently. A lot differently. I have been able to reevaluate what recovery is, and where I stand along that line of recovery. Because I previously did not understand that recovery is not the complete absence of your mental health difficulties, but learning to cope and grow with them. Learning that recovery is not dichotomous, but a continuum. And, we can still experience self-hatred and low self esteem, yet consider ourselves recovered.

For me, I have learned that my self hatred has evolved in its expression. It is better controlled. As I mentioned, my self hatred led to eating disorders, to self harm, to isolation, to a near-attempt of suicide. Now, my self hatred sits there with no physical repercussions. I have learned to fight these feelings. Whenever a hateful thought or emotion creeps into the forefront of my mind, and tries to begin its consumption, I don’t let it work its way like it used to. If my hate tries to interact with my disordered eating thought patterns, I break the connection. I don’t use starvation and purging as a method to filter out the hatred. I try my hardest to stop using isolation as a method too. That one I’m still working on.

Right now, I accept that my self-hating attitude needs to diminished. It needs to be smaller. My hatred, no matter how I accept it, is always going to be an anchor that stops me moving forward. I have accepted my hatred, and now I am trying to progress from it. Deal with it in absolution and with conviction. I am actually more disgusted with how much I hate myself rather than disgusted with myself full stop. I experience an almost outer body experience when I see my hatred descend upon me. I’m on the outside looking in and I’m begging to stop hating myself. Simply stop. Love yourself fully for crying out loud.

But it’s not always going to be possible to love yourself fully. Especially when you spent years regularly bathing in doing the opposite, watching your self esteem drop and drop and drop. Until you were at your lowest point and couldn’t stand to even see yourself alive anymore.

My self-hatred is still here. But, so am I. I can outlast it. It will go away. I just have to keep moving forward. Continue to no longer welcome in the maladaptive coping strategies. Thank myself for those moments where I see love in my eyes and feel it in my heart. Allow myself to experience that love, that respect, that happiness. To continually be proud of the fact I am recovering, and no matter how long it takes, I will get there.

I hate myself, yeah, but I’m still standing.