Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Mental Illness and Emotional Eating

(Trigger Warning: Detailed discussion of weight, diet, and disordered eating)

Disclaimer: This post is in no way designed to promote dieting, disordered eating etc. This is purely an account of my own experiences with emotional eating and my perceptions of my own body.

Emotional Eating: "The practice of consuming large quantities of food - usually "comfort" or "junk" foods in response to feelings instead of hunger." (source:

I am most definitely an emotional eater.

The mental health problems I have do cause a lot of complicated and negative feelings. I spend most days looking for distractions and comfort. I'm lucky in that food is readily available, I can use online apps to order takeaway, and my local supermarket is within walking distance. Unfortunately, this also means I can quite impulsively buy food, especially when feeling low or stressed.

Despite this, I'm actually trying to lose weight. (I am very body positive of course, but personally I don't feel comfortable with my own body). I'm trying to find other distractions or non-edible "treats" in response to my emotions, but this is very difficult.

Although the weight loss program I'm on helps me to eat in a healthier way, it also means that I am constantly thinking about food. The mindset I seem to have at the moment (which, according to my consultant, will most likely change) is that food is something to use as a way to treat myself when I've achieved something, console myself with if I feel down or frustrated, and occasionally even punish myself with if I feel like a failure.

Most of the time, especially since trying to lose weight however, I feel guilty after comfort eating. I worry so much about the potential "consequences" (i.e. putting on weight) and sometimes that only results in more emotional eating. It becomes a vicious cycle of guilt, emotional eating, more guilt, more emotional eating, and so on. It's not easy to break out of this cycle, but usually the guilt gets so severe that I stop.

This weight loss program is starting to help me think about food in a different way (e.g. to enjoy in moderation, experiment with, learn more about etc) and I think I can manage my emotional eating myself, but I know it is going to take a while.

In the meantime, I'm going to focus on other distractions (I recently took up cross-stitch again!) and addressing the feelings I have. I will still treat myself, but I will try to be mindful of the signs that this is becoming emotional eating.

I also want to address the guilt I feel when eating foods considered unhealthy. Words such as "naughty" and "junk food" are really unhelpful. Food is not something to feel ashamed of eating. It's a difficult thing to balance; body positivity and attempting to lose weight, but I'm trying.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

A Day in the Life of a Chronically Ill Person: Flowchart Edition

I've been wanting to do a "day in the life" type blog post for a while now, but I wondered how I would show this. A load of long winded paragraphs didn't seem appropriate, so I had a good think about what I do in my day, and broke it down into steps. Because my days are filled with decisions, based on how severe my symptoms are at that particular moment, I decided a flow chart would be the best way to present this. Apologies for the imperfections, this was done on OpenOffice Writer, screenshot and pasted to Paint, then uploaded as pictures here. 

I hope this explains a typical day in the life of a chronically ill person well. How do you manage your days? What types of decisions do you have to make? Please comment below.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Am I Ready?

(TW: Mentions of Self Harm and Overdosing)

Recently I've been thinking about where I'm going in life. There's a lot I want to do, but my health either won't allow it, or causes me to struggle to do it. If this is the first post you've read by me then here are my diagnoses:

Joint Hypermobility Syndrome
Overactive Bladder Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Borderline Personality Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (although I'd say this is very mild these days)
Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Some of these illnesses aren't as bad nowadays, but others can be unpredictable. After trying different medication, I've come to accept that this is probably the best my health will be for the foreseeable future. So, what do I do with my life?

I've always been an ambitious person, and I do put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve things. This means I tend to do too much at once, or throw myself into things without considering pacing myself. I want more out of life than I'm getting right now though.

I've considered studying again, but doing it with the Open University so I don't need to travel. I looked into a Masters in Psychology. I meet the entry requirements, and I could get the finance I need, but the only thing I can't do is afford the £2000ish required upfront before the loans are paid in. I want to save up for this somehow, but I don't see how I can save much at all while on benefits (they do not stretch far!)

I've considered working again. It should mean more income, and I could hopefully keep my PIP (if the assessment goes well, as I'd have to report a change in circumstances). Could I manage working though? Even the most basic-sounding office job requires sitting up for hours on end (I often have to lie down), remembering a lot of information, possibly walking to different departments, answering/making telephone calls (I'm not as bad now, but still have phone anxiety), bending and reaching shelves (which I can do, but it's very painful) etc. Even part time, I'd be doing this about 5 days a week. Is it worth compromising my health? How many times would I have bad days, and need to call in sick? What about the days when my anxiety disorders give me panic attacks, my depression causes me to need naps throughout the day, or my BPD causes me to feel such self hatred that all I want to do is harm myself? It's a constant battle, and with the (lack of) support I have available for both physical and mental illnesses, I don't see much changing. The more realistic option would be a home based job, but there's not a lot around that offer regular work that would pay enough for me to live on.

I want to move out before I turn 30 (I'm 28 right now), but I don't know how I will manage on my own. Last time I planned moving out, the stress put me into crisis, I overdosed twice, and even now I still have urges. There's also finances to consider, how I would physically cope with running a house by myself, and how my benefits would be affected because of me having to cope by myself. I can't live with my parents forever though.

I went to a family wedding very recently, and one of the usual questions came up from a certain family member; "so, what are you doing these days?". I mentioned that I blog and I vlog sometimes, but of course what they wanted to know was if I was working yet. The disappointment in their eyes when I said "no" was quite hurtful. I quickly followed this up by explaining I'd been thinking about studying or working. They didn't seem satisfied though. Apparently Psychology isn't the right path to go down for work or study. I should be doing Computer Science instead.

As well as working *and* studying, they expected me to take up driving lessons again (I did learn 10 years ago, but failed my test and couldn't afford it/lost my confidence afterwards). They also wanted me to travel to see them more.

It was very hard to explain why I couldn't do some, let alone all of these things. I also felt I wasn't being listened to, I was just being told what I *should* be doing. The thing is, this family member knows at least some of the illnesses I have, yet they don't seem to realise that chronic means lifelong, and that these illnesses affect my daily life significantly.

This has been playing on my mind a lot recently, and I feel like I'm achieving nothing in my life right now. I spoke to a few friends about how I'd been feeling and got some great advice for testing how I'd manage with the workload of a job, as well as some advice about driving. To my surprise, a lot of people my age and older don't/can't drive. The only reason I might take up driving again is if I have children in the future. Apparently, I may have to check with DVLA as to whether (with my conditions) I'm actually allowed to. Honestly, I don't want to drive. It makes me panic, I don't feel safe or in control, and I don't think it's worth feeling this way. I always felt like I had to learn though, for my family if not myself. To be told by a friend that I don't ever have to drive if I don't want to, was really helpful though.

Right now, I can't say I've decided on anything. I'm looking at job vacancies, but I'm also considering whether I'm ready or not. Studying will have to wait, unless I do some free short courses. Driving is something I don't want to think about right now, and I guess moving out will just have to wait until I'm financially more secure (whenever that will be).

In the meantime, I have to look at the little achievements, one of which will be finishing this blog post!

Do you have a Chronic illness (physical and/or mental) and struggle to work/can't work? What parts of your job do you struggle most with? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Discharge, again

So, I've been discharged from CMHT again. I'm not sure if I feel ready, but the way my CPN spoke, I get the feeling that they just don't have the resources to do anything else for me. There was the option of a Distress Tolerance group, but my Support Worker had already covered most of it, so my CPN didn't think I'd get any more benefit from it.

I'm not left completely empty handed however. I will get a care plan in the post (so at least I'll have an idea as to what to do if feeling unwell) and I've been signposted to the Cruse Bereavement Counselling service (for the abortion) and a domestic violence charity (for my abusive relationship, see I'm a Survivor)

I still feel weird, and lonely, and lost, but I don't think I'm quite as unwell as I was when referred to CMHT. I'm writing this on a day where I feel numb though, so who knows!

When having a personality disorder that mainly manifests as extreme mood swings, I find it really hard to tell whether I'm getting more ill or if I'm having a bad hour/day/week. My moods often change so quickly, I can be feeling extremely low at one point, agitated and paranoid the next, and hyper the next. This means that I can appear fine when I'm not. I can appear happy in an appointment, and then can feel very unwell when I get home.

Going back to the subject of signposting, I'm currently building up the courage to ring these places to see what sort of help I can get. I have some events coming up quite soon, and bringing myself back to these traumatic times may be risky, so maybe I should wait until at least some of these events have passed? It may be that there's a waiting list for help though, so do I get the ball rolling now?

How have you felt after discharge? Did you feel it was too soon, or did it turn out to be the right thing for you? Please comment below.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

I'm a Survivor

(TW: gaslighting, ableism, physical assault, sexual assault)

For a while, I've been thinking about writing a blog post about an abusive relationship I was in years ago. I did write on an anonymous blog a while back, but I'm finally feeling like I shouldn't need to hide what happened to me. It was not my fault.

When I first got ill, I was at university and I had already been dating someone for a month or so. Let's call him "A". He seemed lovely. "A real gentleman" I used to say. We both thought that my illness was a short term one, and it was him who encouraged me to go to the doctor. He was very supportive, and seemed to share the same frustrations as me, when the doctor fobbed me off. As the months went on, and I got worse instead of better, the support died down. I was still undiagnosed, and had started to miss lectures, cancel dates last minute, go out of the house less. I was in pain, exhausted, extremely nauseous, and very dizzy. I pushed myself as much as I could, but I couldn't deny that I wasn't able to do as much. One particular date was to a very nice & expensive restaurant, and I had to cancel 20 minutes beforehand. Instead of being understanding, A seemed very annoyed, as if I'd done this on purpose. He often made me feel like this, and I hated it.

When I had to miss more lectures, A started making nasty comments to me (even in front of my friends). He would tell me I should stop "skiving" and that if I carried on, I would fail my degree. The longer I was ill, the less he would believe I was ill. I think in his eyes, you take pills and get better quickly. And that if I didn't have a diagnosis, I wasn't *really* ill.

I found he was quite hypocritical too. He expected me to come to him; as opposed to him coming to me. He wouldn't make any allowances, and everything appeared to be on his terms. I could've really done with some help, but he offered none. I didn't see any point in asking. One time, he was ill with the flu. It was a day when we were supposed to go to a BBQ with some friends. He rang me up on the day, and asked me to go to the shop and pick up some supplies for him (pain meds, soup etc). I struggled to get there, but did it anyway. I would go to the BBQ afterwards. I heated up his soup for him, got him a drink, made sure he had everything he needed and could rest. He really didn't look well, and appeared to want some space after he'd eaten. I checked he had everything he needed, then said my goodbyes and went on my way. Everything seemed fine.

In later arguments (usually about my illness) he would bring up this day as a sort of "dig" at me. He would say that I barely did a thing for him "all you did was heat up some soup!" and that I was in a hurry to get away from him, and go to the BBQ to see my friends.

Similar arguments followed; involving him belittling anything I did, twisting my words, denying things that had happened, making everything seem my fault, telling me that the friends I'd made through him, were *his* friends, not mine.

When it came to sex, A had quite a few expectations. He was a virgin at the time and believed that, because I was more experienced than him, and because I loved him, I had to prove this by doing whatever sexual things he wanted. I was very reluctant to do some things, due to finding them physically uncomfortable or because of bad experiences. He didn't seem to care, and I was often coerced or tricked into doing things or allowing him to do things. I won't go into detail, but basically he sexually abused me. I didn't know it was sexual abuse at the time though, and his gaslighting made me doubt the validity of my experiences. Now I know better, and can finally say I am a survivor of a psychologically and sexually abusive relationship.

Eventually we broke up. For a little while, he wouldn't leave me alone though. I remember a time when he wanted to meet after a lecture to "talk". He was very persistent, so I reluctantly agreed. We went on a walk, and the usual arguments resumed. A friend of his came up to say hello, and they started chatting. I can't remember exactly what was said, but I said something (friendly, nothing argumentative etc!) and A snapped at me to "shut up". The friend left soon after that (understandably) and we carried on walking. It seemed he wanted to get back together (god knows why), and wouldn't accept that I didn't want to (he didn't like taking "no" for an answer). I told him I was going home, and that the conversation was over. He got very annoyed and started to follow me. I kept telling him to leave me alone, but he grabbed my arms and kept trying to get me to listen to him. The way he was acting honestly scared me. He didn't let go until a friend of mine happened to pass on her way to a lecture, and saw us. I was very panicky and tearful after that, so walked with my friend and somehow got through the lecture.

I made the mistake of speaking up on social media; which resulted in people calling me "crazy", "psycho", "bitch". I felt I couldn't speak up after that.

I am speaking up now though. He has no control over me anymore.

I'm a survivor.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Please Help My Friend Fund Her Care

Recently, a close friend of mine found out that, due to funding cuts, she will lose her care unless she can fund it herself. She is on a small and very limited income from social security and can only just about fund her daily living costs. She does not have the money to fund her care as well, but she simply cannot afford to lose it. Without this vital care, she would lose so much quality of life; her independence especially.

We decided to set up a gofundme fundraising page to see if we could get enough donations to raise the money for her care. There has been a few shares, but only one donation so far.

I'm asking for your help. Can you please share far and wide, and donate if possible? This is so important, and would help her so much. She deserves to have as much independence and quality of life as possible. It is not easy, asking for money, but unfortunately this is the only option she has. I have posted the link below, so please have a look, share, and donate. Any amount makes a big difference and we will be so grateful! Also, advice is very welcome if you have set up a fundraiser before. Any effective ways of signal boosting? Effective ways of wording the campaign? Details we need to add? Any advice helps.

Thank you in advance.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Emotion Regulation Therapy: Session Six, Last Session

(TW: Overdose, mentions of self harm, abortion)

Since my previous Emotion Regulation session, my mood had been worsening. Thoughts and feelings were building up rapidly, and there were feelings I found hard to understand. One of them was this heartbroken feeling. I hadn't broken up with anyone recently and I'd not suffered loss for a little while, so I couldn't understand where it came from.

I was also having dangerous urges to self harm and overdose. My thoughts were racing and needed some sort of release. I wanted to shut out my emotions as well. A few days before my last therapy session, I took an overdose. Although small, it was more of an overdose than the last couple of times. Again, I wanted to be unconscious. I didn't want to think or feel, because it was too painful and confusing.

By the time this session came round, I was feeling desperate for more support. I wasn't happy that this was the last session, and I felt I needed more support (although I wasn't sure what support I needed). I also wasn't happy about the fact that my appointment with my CPN (whenever that will be!) will probably result in my being discharged. I felt as bad (if not worse) as I did when I was referred to secondary services, and felt guilty for not improving more through therapy. I had learnt new skills to tune into emotions, self soothing, and how to lessen/delay urges, but I found them very difficult to put into practice.

I spoke about this to my support worker, during my therapy appointment. She was disappointed and worried that I'd taken another overdose. Although she knew that I wasn't exactly suicidal at that time, she did tell me that I could end up killing myself if I keep on like this. She said this unhealthy coping mechanism was in danger of becoming a habit. I admitted it was starting to become that. As for support, she told me that there wasn't a lot the CMHT could do. They could advise me to not overdose, but they didn't have the resources to stop me, especially as I have "insight and capacity".

As for therapy, they could only offer short term sessions. What she did say was that there are some group sessions for Distress Tolerance happening next month possibly. She will have a word with my CPN, to see if I could go to those before being discharged.

We then spoke about the feelings I had noticed recently; primarily the "heartbroken" feeling. I told her I couldn't understand why I felt this way, and what had led to it. What she responded with, really clicked with me though. When we have an unexplained feeling, that we cannot understand in terms of where it came from, it's likely that it is an old feeling resurfacing. She gently suggested that it may be due to the abortion I had nearly 10 years ago. Suddenly, it made a lot of sense. Things such as the Ireland vote had triggered my thoughts and feelings about this. I'd tried to avoid this, but it has been all over the place recently. I knew it affected me a lot, but I guess I didn't expect the feeling to last weeks.

(I'm now dissociating as I write this. It is one of my only ways to cope with speaking about it)

I started to shake and cry as I told her I agreed with her suggestion. I had many complicated feelings about this time in my life, and apart from an amazing friend who was with me throughout, I did not get much support. The man who would've been the father was really upset that I had decided to have the abortion. I know that he'd always wanted children. He never asked me how it went, how I felt, if I was ok etc. He lit a candle to honour the baby that wasn't to be.

My new boyfriend at the time appeared to be sort of supportive, as I had times of constant crying, numbness, and silence, but in arguments afterwards, he told me he was angry that no one had considered how he felt. He also said something disgusting about babies, which really upset me.

When it happened, the nurses treated me as if I was a bad person and an irresponsible child. I was offered no counselling (even though I was clearly distressed) and the only appointment I had afterwards was a nurse's one to put me on the contraceptive pill.

I told my support worker most of this, and also that I worried in case it was my last chance to have children. She said what I needed to do was problem solve. My main worry was about fertility, so a check up with a doctor would be the first step. The next thing would be to get bereavement counselling, so I am able to cope with this and gently expose myself to situations where the topic of abortion arises. She also said it may be helpful to connect with others who have been in similar situations. This type of thing triggers me badly though, so I'm going to need support through it.

We then moved onto the last worksheets. feeling our emotions. It involved staying with uncomfortable feelings, and practise doing this until it becomes easier to cope with. The worksheet spoke about Emotional Mindfulness as a way of feeling emotions without judgment. There were 6 steps to this: acceptance, paying attention, slowing down, giving way, seeing it through, and reflecting.

Acceptance involved understanding that feelings come and go, and we cannot control this. We have to accept them without judgment instead of fighting them.

Paying attention reminded us that feelings are felt in the body. We should pay attention to those bodily feelings and try to link them to certain emotions to see if they fit. We also need to stay in the present, and not try to figure out why we feel this way

Slowing down by focusing on each feeling that arises, and sitting with it as well as observing it closely.

Giving way when the feelings arise. Letting yourself cry or feel angry for instance. You don't have to do anything apart from let go.

Seeing it through by considering the positives that come from feelings. According to the worksheet fear brings wisdom, sadness brings healing, and so on. We should be able to feel our emotions through to completion, and feel lighter once they subside. If we are "stuck" in one feeling, and can't ride it completely, there may be reasons for this. These feelings could be defensive (feeling angry when actually upset etc) and there may be more going on. Another reason, as I explained above, may be that our feelings have roots that go back to a previous time. These feelings are not resolved, so linger and resurface.

Finally reflecting. It is important to reflect on our experience and understand how important it was to feel our emotions through to completion. It is not an easy thing to do, and takes courage.

The session soon came to an end after this. I was still very tearful, but also emotionally exhausted. My support worker told me to look through the worksheets and practise the tasks on them. Also, she said to not put too much pressure on myself. This takes time and isn't easy. I must not blame myself if I can't do this sometimes. She also urged me to not self harm or overdose again. Lastly, she reminded me that she would be suggesting to the CPN that I am not discharged yet, and that I may benefit from the Distress Tolerance group.