Tag Archives: Mental Health

Veganism and eating problems – I think I’m finally ready to go back to veganism for the ‘right’ reasons

Our non-carbon footprints!

In 2015 I did Veganuary. Controlling my food intake and restricting or cutting out certain foods contributed to a return of disordered eating problems. Food and eating – or not eating – took over my thoughts. Despite moving away from a completely vegan diet, I continued to restrict my food and purge through exercise.

I lost too much weight, my periods stopped and it was only a long and increasingly desperate attempt to conceive that forced me to look those gremlins full in the face and take steps towards recovery. A recovery that involved eating cheese without panicking or purging for the first time in two years.

We finally got a positive pregnancy test in January 2017. Pregnancy with residual eating problems wasn’t easy but I’ve found that, since Oaklan was born last October, my relationship with my body has changed. It’s hard to pin down exactly why. I think it’s felt more powerful and more important. It’s helping me do one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done and perhaps getting through the sleepless nights and challenging days has given me a different kind of confidence. A belief in myself that’s not linked to weight, appearance or my ability to control. And sometimes there’s just been no energy or headspace for anything but survival.

The ‘right’ reason to go vegan?

I’ve also found it harder to justify a non-vegan diet for myself. It feels weird to drink the milk of another species. From a mother whose baby was taken away so I could have that milk instead. That’s a very personal reason of course and is definitely linked to how much I’ve loved breastfeeding.

I have flirted with veganism over the past few months – but I was scared that I was doing it for the wrong reasons. Veganism can be a cover for disordered eating. It’s had that effect on me in the past. Was my motivation purely an ethical one? Or was it an excuse to restrict certain foods and a way of helping me control my calorie intake? Perhaps it’s indulgent to worry about my motivation anyway? Alex didn’t like the idea; he remembered how long it took me to recover last time.

But, since the latest IPCC report, I can’t justify a non-vegan diet for myself any more. I’m scared for my little boy’s future and, although it’s a drop in the ocean, I want to do everything I can to try and reduce my carbon footprint. Although there are environmental issues with any diet, the consensus seems to be that a vegan diet, particularly a thoughtful one, will massively reduce my carbon footprint.

So I’m planning to eat vegan for a month, keep a close eye on my eating and mental health, and see how I go. I’m confident that I’m doing it for the right reasons and I hope I have the mental strength to keep it that way.

Understanding mental health problems – booklet launch

Last week Oaklan and I went on an adventure to London for the launch of the latest version of Mind’s flagship booklet ‘Understanding mental health problems’.

I wrote this when I was pregnant and it was great to see it finally published. It’s the first title to be published in the new full colour format – complete with pictures. It looks great and I’m really proud of my involvement.

‘Understanding mental health problems’ is one of the titles that Mind publishes as a booklet. You can find it in local Minds as well as workplaces, charity shops, universities and GP surgeries. You can also read it here. You can see the other titles I have written for Mind here.

Is that a cake or a book? Either way I want to eat it please!

 

 

Oaklan enjoyed himself too. He got a free apple in Pret after stealing it from the box and charming the staff, visited our old house in Mile End, had a picnic in Victoria Park, played on the swings and in the sand, met a London baby, slept on a walk through the Olympic Park, mashed strawberries into Mind’s carpet, came with us to the pub for a quick drink, looked out of the window of the DLR at Canary Wharf and threw spaghetti about in my brother’s kitchen.

BMA Patient Information Awards for Mind and Miscarriage Association work

I’m really chuffed to be able to share that both Mind and the Miscarriage Association received awards at the British Medical Association Patient Information Awards 2017 for information and that I researched and wrote.

The awards aim to ‘encourage excellence in the production and dissemination of accessible, well-designed and clinically balanced patient information’. They look for accessible information that is evidence-based and well researched. It’s also important that people with lived experience are involved in the production of the information. You can see all the award winners here.

Information for young people (for the Miscarriage Association)

The youth resources I researched and wrote for the Miscarriage Association were highly commended. They were also given a runner-up award in the special category for Young Adults. I was particularly pleased with this award as I managed the whole project, conducted the on and offline research with young people, developed recommendations and wrote the resources themselves. You can read more about the consultation process here.

It was reviewed by Dr. Hannah R Bridges of HB Health Comms Ltd who wrote:

Wow! This is a wonderful example how good consultation and understanding your audience can lead to great quality information! The Miscarriage Association has identified a need for materials to support young people, who have different experiences and support needs. The consultation, planning, and promotional plans show excellence in producing health information. This shows through in the end products – high quality and extremely well-tailored to the audience. The insight and thought that has gone into this is commendable. Take for example the ‘what happens when you call our helpline’ page – simple, highly visual, concise and reassuring information to encourage young people in need of support to dare to pick up the phone – the overall impression is one of kindness. Just wonderful.

Money and mental health (for Mind)

The information product Money and mental health I wrote for Mind was highly commended. It also received a runner-up award in the special category for Self-Care resources. This resource was one of the first to be written in a new ‘hub’ format. It involved research with Mind’s online community and social media audiences, working with bloggers with lived experience and researching common problems and support options.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the awards with colleagues from either charity  – at 39 weeks pregnant it wasn’t worth the risk of going into labour on the train from Bristol, at the awards or in my brother’s shared house. But it’s a lovely way to leave work for a while.

Published in The Recovery Letters

Last year, James Withney of The Recovery Letters emailed to see if I would be interested in contributing a letter to the published anthology. The Recovery Letters are addressed to people experiencing depression. They share experiences and give friendship and hope for recovery.

I’ve always believed in letters and writing as a way through difficult times. In 2012 I wrote about the benefits of public and private writing, on and offline. In 2013 I wrote about creative letter writing for self-guidance and managing mental health and in my post ‘Understanding mental trickery, notes from depression island‘ I used islands as a metaphor for the concept of depression being such that it’s often hard to remember you’ve ever felt happy or imagine you’ll ever feel better. And when you’re not experiencing it, it’s hard to understand or even remember how it feels.  I introduced the idea of finding and making connections between a happier mind and a depressed one. These messages don’t always have to be words. But it’s this idea that forms the basis of my recovery letter.

The book is published next week. I got my copy yesterday. There are some wonderful messages from people prepared to open up and be vulnerable, to share their experience to help others.

And I’m also chuffed to report that mine is the very first letter in the book – and that is has been selected as one of 12 letters that will be on display at the 2017 Mental Wealth Festival.

Signs of change and coping with cheese – how my eating disorder recovery looks now

vd9j4ghMental health problems have a way of taking over. I’m lucky enough never to have been hospitalised or signed off work. Life has always stumbled on. But moods and behaviours creep in and twist their tendrils around daily life. They trick you into thinking they’re normal, into nourishing them. It’s not until they start to suffocate and strangle even the simplest of things that you recognise their power. And then it’s too late for an easy fix.

This year I’ve started the long process of hacking away at the thicket and pulling up roots that go incredibly deep. It hasn’t been easy. But now I’ve made some space it’s much easier to see what a tangle I was in.

Eating new food

I recently turned 33 and enjoyed a breakfast made for me by Alex without having to purge it through exercise.The day before my birthday last year I was panicking over choosing something nice (and therefore different) for my birthday breakfast. I cried outside the bread shop. I ended up with toast and even then it was a tricky day.

Letting go of control in the kitchen

I no longer have to have control in the kitchen. I’ll eat something made for me by someone else – even if I didn’t see whether they used butter or check how much oil they added.

Reaquainting myself with cheese

I had cheese on toast for the first time in two years last week (cheese has been a scary food for years).
Continue reading

The next step in recovery – letting go of clothes that don’t fit

Too small

img_3546I’m selling some of my favourite clothes. Some of them are definitely too small. I bought them when I was at my lowest weight last year. Fitting into a smaller size was an unhealthy but irresistible boost to a fragile self esteem that had narrowed to focus only on my weight and ability to exercise to exhaustion.  They hang in my wardrobe now and remind me, daring me to go back there. It would only take some long runs and a few weeks of restriction. They are better off living with someone who is naturally a smaller size.

Close fitting

Some of them still just about fit. They’ve always been close fitting, that’s just their style. As a result they are often barely worn – rejected because my muddled mind translates their constant pressure on my skin as a sign of being too big.

But now I’m working to reduce my exercise without restricting my food. My body is softer and larger. Getting dressed is one of the most difficult times. Tight and restrictive clothes risk triggering an avalanche of recrimination, irritation and anger. Yesterday I threw a banana at the wall. It’s funny now but at the time I was so angry at my mind for telling me I had to choose fruit over toast until I had run (on a day when I wasn’t supposed to be running at all).

My favourite clothes are a tangible reminder of change that doesn’t always feel welcome. I’m trying to learn to like a softer, curvier frame but it’s hard. I’m scared of losing control.  I’m fighting to stay away from unhealthy patterns of thought that started carving deep grooves in my mind when I went on my first diet aged 9. It will always be much more comfortable to let go and slide back into them than to resist and live day in and out in a body that feels heavy and uncomfortable.

It’s easier if I don’t risk it, if I say goodbye to those clothes and that time and look forward.

Letting go

I can’t afford to buy a whole new wardrobe but I’ve bought a few larger sizes, baggier clothes. They help me forget the discomfort and move my focus to all the other brilliant things in my life – work, family and friends I love.

In the past the fact I KNEW they were a bigger size would ruin this comfort. That disordered inner voice would keep reminding me that wearing a larger size meant I’d failed. That I wasn’t in control. Ridiculously I would rather be uncomfortable and sad in clothes too tight than admit I am bigger and be happier in clothes that fit. But this time I’m determined to make real change – for my mind, for my body and for the hope of conceiving.

In her brilliant memoir of anorexia and bulimia The Time in Between, Nancy Tucker writes about a pair of shorts…

“One of the most painful things about this period is The Shorts. I have a pair of denim shorts whose label bears the glorious declaration ‘Age 6-7’ and they become one of The Voice’s favourite instruments of torture…. eventually it is a panting struggle to pull them on and when I take them off I have crusty sores on my skin where the denim has rubbed me raw. I don’t know whether it is because I need reassurance that my body is still acceptably small or because the pain of wearing them serves a hair shirt, self flagellation purpose, but from the time I hit my lowest weight to three, four, five months afterwards, The Voice insists I wear these shorts every day”.

Her anorexia was far far worse than any disordered eating I have experienced. But her words show the incredible power that the warped voice of eating disorders can give to clothes and clothes sizes. After 23 years of letting buttons, zips and waistbands rule my life, it’s time to start letting that go.

 

Writing a blog about your mental health – why and how?

Blogging about my mental health

A few weeks ago had an internet date. Of sorts. Not a romantic first date (thank goodness) but a face-to-face meeting with someone I met online. Someone like me in lots of ways. Someone who could be a friend.

We knew a lot about each other’s vulnerabilities and fears before we set eyes on each other. And that made things much easier. The conversation could get right to the good stuff. We could be open and honest. We chatted about medication, work, diagnoses, panic attacks, weddings and how our dogs help with our mental health. Not really first date fodder.

social anxiety blogIt’s all down to our blogs. Claire writes WE’Re AlL mAd HeRe about social anxiety (she’s also been asked to write a book about anxiety based on her blog – wow). She got in touch a few months ago and suggested lunch. I’m so glad she did. Meeting inspiring new people is just one of the things that blogging has done for me.

I’ve had a number of  readers get in touch with me recently about starting a mental health blog – overcoming those demons of uncertainty that whisper ‘what’s the point, who cares what I have to say?’

I know the feeling – I have it about writing fiction. But I thought I’d share a little about what blogging has done for me – and a few things that helped me get started.
Continue reading

What I’d tell my 2015 self about dieting, body positivity and accepting medication

One year on...

One year on…

Yesterday we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Our wedding was a magical day but, in the two years since we got engaged, life has taken some unexpected turns.

My mental and physical health has taken quite a bashing.  I’m not fully recovered – and I’m working hard to challenge and change thought patterns and reactions that have been deeply ingrained for many years. But I’m gaining more perspective with each month that takes me further from the trickiest of times.

So what would I tell the Clare who said ‘yes’ under that tree on Hampstead Heath in 2015.

You can’t control a wedding diet – change the dress, not yourself

I thought I would be able to diet just enough to feel comfortable in a gently corseted dress – and then stop afterwards. But my disordered eating lurked much closer below the surface than I realised. It wasn’t long before my eating, exercise and emotions got horribly tangled. I thought I would never go back there but I slid into militant calorie counting, restriction and purging through exercise with the excuse that it was ‘just for the wedding’. The dress was too big, I spent our honeymoon struggling to find a manageable balance and it took my periods stopping to shock me into making a change.

You need medication – and that’s fine

“You were so proud of yourself,” my mother in law said. And I was. I had been fighting my medication for years, trying to cut down and come off. Stopping was the hardest thing I’d ever done.

And when I finally fought through the initial withdrawal symptoms I thought things would get easier. Instead they got harder. More chest pain. More tears, panic and anger. Suicidal thoughts. More running. More fighting my body. It took three months to realise I couldn’t do it. That nothing was worth the destruction those months had wreaked on my body, our health and our relationship.
Continue reading

We need to talk about mental health and trying to conceive #takeoffthetape

Find out more about Mind's campaign here: http://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/take-off-the-tape/

Find out more about Mind’s campaign here: http://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/take-off-the-tape/

Mind has been asking people to #TakeOffTheTape and share something that makes them anxious. Something they haven’t spoken about before.

I thought I would use the opportunity to write about something that’s hardly spoken about at all.

I’m finding it incredibly hard to balance trying to conceive with managing my mental health.

We don’t talk about this. We don’t even talk about the first twelve weeks of pregnancy much (as I’m well aware from my work with the Miscarriage Association). Trying to conceive often happens in almost complete secrecy. I didn’t realise how it would interact with my fluctuating mental health and I wasn’t prepared.

It’s taken a while to get to this stage. The doctor who removed my coil last year strongly implied that it would be best to continue with my efforts to come off my Citalopram. She moved me to Sertraline (it’s considered safer in pregnancy) and told me to try and reduce my dose completely over the next month.

Coming off medication

In fact it took me three more months. I’ve been trying to come off anti depressants for a while anyway (after a muddled fifteen year relationship with them) and trying to conceive gave me the strength to make it through a hideous withdrawal period. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Alex didn’t have much fun either. I’ve written about it here.

I’m more vulnerable to hormonal changes now. I still have very dark times when everything seems hopeless and I can’t see a way through the next ten minutes let alone the rest of my life. Difficult images and ideas jostle with an endless repetition of fears and doubts. Sometimes the same phrase over and over again. They whisper just below the surface of my consciousness. They’re loud enough to wear me down and shrink my focus to a single point of constant worry – but not quite conscious enough for me to recognise what’s happening in a way that helps me stop.

One these days I’m separated from the world by thick glass that bounces every negative thought straight back at me, infinitely magnified. My attention is forced inwards but my mind is everywhere but present, infecting all it can with worst case scenarios. I can’t look up and out, can’t see the variety of the world and my place in it, can’t take a long deep breath. My chest physically hurts and I feel constantly sick with the fight or flight chemicals flooding my poisoned body as it tries to deal with the powerful threat of my mind.

The inevitable uncertainty and lack of control

These times are getting further apart and each one adds detail to our understanding of the best way to manage them. But trying to conceive has made my anxiety worse. It’s given it another peg to hang its hat on. Issues with eating and body image are often about control (with an emphasis on control over your body) – and anxiety hates uncertainty. But trying to conceive is a very uncertain time. What my body does – and doesn’t do – isn’t completely under my control.

I was managing my mental health to the extent I felt I was in a position to come off medication – in order to do something that has made the problem worse again. The irony isn’t lost on me – although on bad days it just makes me  want to cry.
Continue reading