Dear 18 Year Old Self

Dear Laura,

You are eighteen and it should be the most exciting time of your life. Unfortunately, right now, you are finding life hard. You are in chronic pain and you don’t know why and you’re spending a lot of time in and out of hospital. But you’re going to get through it and it will make you even stronger (we love a cliche). You think that your A Levels are going to destroy you. Spoiler: they don’t. You won’t enjoy them, you might even cry during them but you’re going to get through them and you’re going to go to university and start the best three years of your life.

Don’t take life for granted and don’t waste time on the wrong people. You will meet the wrong people and part of life is learning lessons from the bad times. Don’t hold on to anger, resentment or jealousy because it will take over. Try not to put your self last, even though doing the opposite seems completely unnatural to you. The things that bother you now will not bother you in the future, trust me on that one!

Hold your good friends tight. The friends you value now won’t necessarily be in your life in the future, but know your self worth and know that it is okay to move on. Laugh and cry with your friends, stay up late and drink bottles of wine. Don’t pressure yourself into going clubbing because it really isn’t as great as people make out.

Believe in yourself! Know your own worth and what you can offer. Don’t be silenced by people who are louder and more confident than you. Try not to compared yourself to other people, everyone is walking their own path and there’s no point comparing your step one to their step five. You’ll get there, in your own way.

Learn how to be independent. Don’t rely on other people for your survival, be happy on your own and be happy with other people.

Dating the wrong people is not a mistake, but staying with them, because you feel that you have to, is. Be your own person and don’t change because a man wants you to. You will make mistakes, in relationships, in life, with decisions but you will learn from those mistakes. Mistakes are okay. Self talk, problem solve and don’t regret what went wrong. It went wrong for a reason.

Asking for help is okay. There will always be people there who are willing to help you. This is your time to learn, but that doesn’t have to be done alone. There isn’t an age limit on success, now is the time to explore, live your life, make decisions (good and bad) and don’t beat yourself up if it goes wrong.

Make memories. Take photos.

Stand up for yourself.

Risk it.

Find and enjoy whatever it is that makes you happy.

Respect yourself and respect others.

Save money and don’t spend all your student loan in one go when you get to university. You’ll be thankful for this when you’re not poor and hungry.

Your mum is [nearly always] right. She will tell you things that you don’t want to hear and she will nag you until the point that you want to explode but she does it because she loves you and cares for you. Never forget that and try and listen to what she says, she is the person that loves you the most and will not turn her back on you.

Also, always drink some water before bed after a night out. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

You’ve got this,

Laura x

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Emily McDowell

 

 

How to Talk to Someone With Depression

Depression can really change how a person thinks and perceives information. It can cause friction between friends and family members and often lead to a person feeling even more isolated. Depression is a mental illness that can affect anyone. It is not something that you can simply snap out of or a sign of weakness.

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Mental Health Foundation

Below are some ideas around talking to someone with depression and questions that might be helpful.

Ask if they have had anything to eat or drink. If not, suggest having a glass of water and have something to eat if they can manage it. Talk about healthy and quick options, to avoid carb-loading which is likely to only give a quick burst of energy. Foods that are rich in protein are good. The thought of cooking for yourself when you are deep in depression can be too much to even consider, so offer support in buying healthy and nutritious ready meals that can be shoved in the freezer and cooked easily.

At the risk of sounding like someone from a crisis team, asking someone if they have had a bath or shower when they are feeling awful is sometimes an idea, providing the person is able to keep themselves safe in doing so. Self care is terminology which is thrown around by crisis teams very readily, but there’s no denying the fact that feeling clean is going to make you feel slightly better about yourself than being unclean. I get it, I really do, the energy and effort involved in having a bath or washing my hair means that it’s the last thing I want to do when I am depressed, but I try to remind myself that I deserve to be clean and I deserve to look after myself.

Again, at the risk of sounding like I am regurgitating snippets from the crisis team, encouraging someone to stretch their legs and move from their bed or the sofa is a way of showing that you care. I am not for one moment suggesting that you need to be walking miles in the picturesque countryside or be running a half marathon, but a quick walk around your immediate local area is enough to get those endorphins zipping around. Gentle exercise in the home is an option if you can’t face leaving the house, you can find lots of simple home exercise routines on Youtube, if you can’t face watching a highly positive and energetic fitness blogger and the NHS has home workout videos which are easy to access and follow.

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A big part of depression is shutting yourself away from people and not engaging with friends and family. This is definitely something that I do and I am fortunate to have a really support group of people around me, to check in with me and talk rubbish to distract me from the mess inside my head. Encouraging people to talk can be with friends or it could be with a medical professional. Ask if they have had any medical input and find out when the next planned contact will be. You can work out if you should be encouraging them to make contact with a professional sooner, or, if it can wait, suggest writing things down, to share next time there is contact. Don’t be afraid to offer physical contact, like hugs, but know that this doesn’t suit everyone. Whilst I love a good hug or cuddle, I know that for some people, this is their idea of hell, so knowing what works for the individual person is important. Pets are also a value source of companionship and support.

Ask if they have had any changes in medication and if they are taking their medication are prescribed. New medication can really mess with your head, especially in the early days when withdrawal is a risk and side effects of new drugs are more prevalent. Make sure that they are safe, as some medications increase suicidal thoughts and ideation and then wait it out with them. If things don’t improve after a few weeks, suggest contacting their GP.

If you don’t know what to say, just say that: tell your friend that you are there for them. As a humans, we want to immediately have the answers and be able to solve every single problem that we are faced with but sometimes, that isn’t possible. Let them know that you’ll be there, don’t accuse, threaten, blame, or make light or joke about how they might be feeling. Reminding a person that you care is one of the most important things that you can do. Knowing that you’ve got someone holding you up and fighting the beast alongside you is less isolating and is a reminder that you matter.

It’s worth remembering that what works for one person might not work for another. Asking how you can help and if there is anything in particular that would be useful is another way of showing that you care. Not everyone is open to the offer of help, not everyone knows what help they need and what you think is helpful and what they think is helpful could be two very different things.

Even if you can’t relate to a person’s problems or they seem insignificant, don’t belittle how they are feeling. Try to resist solutions that might seem simple to you. Most importantly, don’t make judgements on how they are feeling. Everyone’s feelings are valid and we all react in differing ways to situations. That doesn’t make us wrong, weak or defective, it makes us human.

March Favourites

Here we are, another monthly favourites blog post. I was too unwell to write a monthly favourites post for February, and I’m not going to lie, I missed it a little bit. It’s such a good way of looking back over the month and picking out the good bits; chronic illness can be miserable and isolating so it’s nice to remember that life isn’t always like that!

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Books

My standout book from this month has got to be Paper Avalanches by Lisa Williamson. I’ve read Lisa’s previous two books and fell in love with The Art of Being Normal but was underwhelmed with All About Mia. Put simply, Paper Avalanches was a beautifully powerful book that I read in one sitting. Looking at parental mental illness, through the eyes of a teenage young carer, it gave a fresh look at the stigma surrounding hoarding and how dangerous it can be. Ro Snow is a character full of warmth and wisdom, way beyond her fourteen years of age and her frustrations towards Bonnie are quickly shared by the reader. I hope this book wins all the awards that it deserves.

Another book which I have loved this month is Looking at the Stars: How incurable illness taught one boy everything by Lewis Hine. Diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour and water on the brain at 17 months, he wasn’t expected to survive. But Lewis proved everyone wrong; he’s not only surviving but thriving. In one Facebook post on his sixteenth birthday Lewis invited everyone to see how he faces head on the challenges from his ongoing illness, and he went viral. Thirty million views later, Lewis now spearheads a campaign, Friend Finder, to make sure no one ever faces childhood illness alone. In his book, Lewis reflects on his brain surgeries and continual health problems, which are a daily challenge. He is at high risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) and has a pump in his brain just to keep him alive and experienced horrendous bullying. Lewis shares how he finds the strength to overcome all this and still lead a fun and fulfilling life. 

My third and final literary favourite for this month is A Girl Called Shameless by Laura Steven which is part of the Izzy O’Neil series. In Laura’s first book in the series, we met Izzy, a loud and confident teenager who was subjected to revenge porn, something which is yet to be criminalised in the United States and the double standards surrounding the videos, in terms of gender stereotyping and feminism. In this second book, we catch up with Izzy, two months post sex scandal, The Bitches Bite Back movement is gathering momentum as a forum for teenage feminists, and when a girl at another school has a sex tape shared online, once again Izzy leads the charge against the slut-shamer. This time she wants to change the state law on revenge porn. If you’re interested in politics, feminism and gender debates, this is a book for you.

 

Film and TV

I haven’t watched much on television this month, combined with needing a lot of sleep and binge watching the box sets of Waterloo Road (judge me if you must), there hasn’t really been enough time. That said, I’ve been loving the Great Stand Up To Cancer Bake Off and have chuckled away and the celebrities’ awful baking skills, whilst being left wondering how they actually function in real life.

 

Spoonie Favourites

I’m fairly sure that I’ve taken about Nuun tablets before, but they’re so great, I’m going to mention them again. Designed to keep you hydrated wherever your active lifestyle takes you, Nuun tablets are packed with optimal electrolytes, containing clean ingredients. I was recommended Nuun tablets by a doctor in London to try and keep my hydration levels up and now use them daily. I’ve noticed a huge difference in terms of my concentration levels, which is saying something, considering I often have the worst brain fog possible.

Because of how unwell I was in February, being admitted to hospital was looking very likely. I (like many people) find hospital environments really stressful and I became aware that I wouldn’t manage with just my iPad to distract me due to battery life and charging etc. This lead to me to buying a portable DVD player which has been one of my best purchases ever and it has saved me during the long nights of insomnia when I haven’t wanted to turn my TV on and wake my mum.

Odds and Sods

I’m ending this blog post on a slightly different note. At the start of February, a friend lost her long battle with mental illnesses and sadly died. Megan devoted her life to helping others, even when she was struggling immensely herself. Her death has left a huge Megan-shaped hole in the mental health community and people are still trying to come to terms with her sudden death. In 2012, Megan founded the Recovery Shoe Box Project, Recovery Shoeboxes are mental health toolkits containing items that help you cope when times are hardest and coping feels difficult. Each box will include items that might distract, pamper, soothe and motivate and they are personalised to the individual receiving them. Since Megan’s death, £8,785 has been raised in order to keep her project on-going as a legacy to her. The aim is to reach £10,000 and after that who knows. If you’re able to donate, it would be much appreciated.

 

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Simon Godsave and Recovery Shoe Box Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

EDAW 2017

Next week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I have really mixed views about it. The sheer nature of eating disorders makes people who suffer from them ultra competitive, often without realising so. You never feel “skinny enough” or “ill enough” to have the label of an eating disorder attributed to you and frequently, people like frauds for having a diagnosis under the eating disorder umbrella.

I have suffered with an eating disorder for a number of years, but only felt able to admit it within the last two or so years. From memory, I don’t think my relationship with food has ever been that good, I have always had a somewhat irrational fear of being fat because I was scared of the consequences to my health. Sitting here with a semi-rational mind, I am more than aware that under-eating and being malnourished can have just as serious, if not more so, health consequences.

The first time I spoke about my eating and “disordered thoughts”, I was in my final year of my undergraduate degree. I was already encased in the mental health system but not for anything related to eating. I told my GP how much I was struggling with food, compulsive exercise and how physically unwell I was feeling as a result. And my GP’s response make me realise how messed up our psychiatric system in the UK is.

“You’re not skinny enough”

And he was right. My BMI wasn’t low enough to warrant treatment.

Fast forward to now and I still struggle with food, eating, exercise, body image and so on. I’ve probably mentioned before that I have a wonderful GP, however the mental health system is less than wonderful and I still cannot receive treatment because I don’t have a critically low BMI. I’m just over five foot tall and there has been times when I have been classed as “underweight” but not in terms of my BMI.

It’s frustrating. An eating disorder, or any variety, is a mental illness. You cannot necessarily see it. Sure, you can see someone’s size, but that is not the only factor in an eating disorder.

A few weeks ago, it was a close friend’s 21st birthday. I had bought a new dress online, it arrived, I tried it on and it was okay. But getting ready on that Saturday afternoon and everything went so wrong. The dress rode up so I refused to wear it. I ended up trying on every single dress and skirt in my wardrobe and the meltdown that I had was immense. I’m not an angry or violent person but I was so repulsed by my own image that objects were thrown, I hit the wall, I screamed at the top of my voice that I was vile and disgusting and then I sat on the floor sobbing. The problem was, I am so used to wearing jeans and a baggy jumper and a scarf, I have learnt to hide away under the layers and that becomes my way of coping. Suddenly, I was in a situation whereby that wasn’t possible and it was terrifying. I felt vulnerable and exposed, even though I ended up wearing a knee length skater dress. My bum length dress days are definitely over.

At that moment, I vowed that I needed to lose weight and so began the latest cycle of truly hating my body and undertaking a punishing routine of effectively damaging my body.

In terms of EDAW, I think that often people of genuinely mean well when they post things on social media, regarding their experiences. In posting this, I’m no different. But I can guarantee that there will be progress pictures, of lowest weight to now and whilst I am proud of people for managing to battle through and get out of the mess that is an ED, seeing emaciated bodies isn’t helpful because it just re-enforces the feelings of not feeling skinny enough, ill enough or frail enough to have an eating disorder.

There does need to be more awareness about eating disorders. They are the most dangerous and fatal of all psychiatric illnesses. Yet people are being turned away from treatment. There’s something going really wrong there. I struggle to understand the logic of turning a person away from treatment on the grounds that their BMI isn’t low enough, when at no point would a person be turned away for treatment for a broken bone because their bone isn’t broken enough.

I don’t have the answers on how this can change. Mental health services are vastly underfunded and too many people are being failed. Too many people could have been helped through virtually non-existent early health intervention, but are being left to become more unwell because their struggles have been unvalidated and ignored. It needs to change. It really needs to change.