Thursday, 21 June 2018


(Note: This was written at the beginning of February 2018 but I have only just felt comfortable to post it now I am in a better place) 

Anyone who has ever suffered from a mental health condition will know of the omnipresent and unrelenting fear, which pervades every aspect of your being, of relapsing after a period of positivity. The thought of having come so far in your recovery only to be thrown kicking and screaming back into the torturous confines of your own mind is utterly terrifying.

Growing up I was scared by everything. Spiders, snakes, flying, toasters, death – you name it, I was scared of it. But nothing, not even death, scares me as much as relapsing. I have spent the past two years trying to recover from a plethora of mental health conditions which backdate almost seven years. To have finally reached a point, after months and months of failed attempts, where I can get through a whole day without crying, having a panic attack, or starving myself makes me feel an almost utopian contentment. Yet, every now and again, I revert to old habits of overexerting myself in an attempt to fit in and not miss out, and wind up back at the start. I cry, I panic, I stress, I under-eat and over-exercise, I binge drink. You name a self-destructive behaviour, I do it.

You may be wondering why I’m writing such an account of relapsing. Well, it’s because this is the first time since my official recovery, that I have hit rock-bottom and been on the verge of relapse but resisted its urges. My physical and mental health plummeted to their lowest in months after a week of post-exams celebrations which mainly involved a diet of gin and hummus, and about four hours sleep a night. A trip to A&E pushed me over the edge. It reminded me of how lucky I had been this time to come away with only mild concussion and a few bruised bones. It reminded me of the fragility of life and how after everything I’ve been through, how quickly it can all fade into nothing.

The difference between this potential relapse and others in the past was my introspection. I lay in bed two days later, crying after having my first panic attack in three months, and considered reverting to old habits of social exclusion and calorie restriction. I needed control back in my life and these options felt familiar and safe. Asleep I dreamt of nothing, my body too exhausted but to fall into a silent twelve hours of recovery. The next morning I awoke, re-energised and optimistic. I decided that life was good and worth being happy about. I realised that festering in a pit of my own misery and dirty laundry wasn’t going to satiate me anymore. I had experienced what complete unequivocal happiness felt like and nothing was going to steal that away from me.

For me, self-care is washing my clothes, my hair, my body; cleaning my surroundings; cooking healthy food; chatting with friends; and reading. It’s attempting to convince myself that I am in fact a functional human being. So that’s what I did and it worked. I went, in the space of three days, from rock-bottom to the summit. Putting my mental and physical health first when I could have very easily have slipped right back into a depressive cycle felt natural because the cost of having to recover again is not affordable anymore.

I suppose the point of this is just to say to anyone else who fears relapsing that it is possible to clasp victory from the claws of defeat if you cling on to every motivation you have to stay afloat. Relapsing is nothing to be ashamed of but it is possible to survive and avoid it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Body Confidence

Body dysmorphia and body confidence are like two repelling magnets. When you look in the mirror and see a dysmorphic version of yourself, it is almost impossible to be truly body confident because you have no way of knowing what you actually look like. When I stare at my reflection I don’t see what everyone else sees. I’m told by friends and family that I’m slim and athletic but how can you believe what others are saying when the image that stares back at you is completely different? This is what it’s like to live with body dysmorphia.

When you have suffered with an eating disorder, you may recover physically and have periods of positive mental health but, in my experience, the niggling thoughts never fully disappear. Despite my mental health being the best it’s been in years, I still have relapses. Sometimes these relapses are small and easy to get over, but sometimes they threaten to undo all of my progress. I’m taking the time to write about this because I’m currently in the midst of a relapse. At the moment it doesn’t seem to be a significant one but I’m acutely aware that if I don’t nip it in the bud soon, it could evolve into something much worse.

The best way to counter a relapse and return to a positive mental state is to work on body confidence. I wish I could sit here and write about how recovery has brought me an endless and fruitful supply of body confidence but it hasn’t. In fact, body confidence has been one of the few things that has been absent from my recovery. I am no longer addicted to excessive exercise or calorie tracking or body checking; however, I still despise what I see in the mirror 95% of the time. I realise that this is a problem not limited to eating disorder sufferers and that due to societal beauty standards body positivity is not yet normalised. Yet, as someone whose weight has fluctuated significantly in the past two years, body confidence seems an almost utopian fantasy to me.

I’m now at a point in my life where things are slowly beginning to improve and become more stable. I can confidently say that over the past four months my mental health has improved tenfold. I’m truly happy for the first time in years but still the one problem which holds me back is my body confidence. I love myself but I don’t love the body I live in and that’s what I’m planning on working on. I realise this process, as with most long-term projects, will not be a linear one. I understand that there will be times where I think I’ve made a breakthrough only for my optimism to be quashed the next day with a bout of self-loathing. I anticipate that this won’t be easy but I’m putting this out there to hold myself accountable.

My plan is to switch my version of body positivity from aesthetics to functionality. Ultimately your body is there to look after you and whether or not your stomach is permanently flat and toned does not equate to how healthy you are. I know that when I look after my body by cutting back on alcohol consumption, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet I can’t help but feel happy in my own skin. Knowing that I’m treating my body with the love and respect it deserves creates an automatic surge of self-love and confidence. Everyone has days where they look in the mirror and don’t like what they see but what about if every time you begin to criticise your external appearance, you complimented the amazing things your body is capable of instead? What if your focus shifted from whether or not you have a thigh gap, to how your legs carry you everywhere every single day? It’s hard to criticise your body when you think about the miraculous things it can do.

It’s easy to sit here and write about all the ways one can work on body confidence but over the past couple of weeks I have realised that unless I work on countering the last of my mental health problems, I’ll never be able to enjoy all the new amazing things in my life. I’ll keep being held back by body insecurities and that’s something I refuse to let happen anymore.

So, if you’re struggling with the same issues, think about how much happier you would feel if you actually started to love yourself unconditionally and work from there.