Pressure and Expectations

Often success appears as a fleeting, momentary occurrence, present only briefly before my mind moves onto the next thing I have yet to achieve or something else that I’m not doing so well on. It’s never been about pausing and taking the time to enjoy my own victories, however small or large they may be. To me, success is expected, and rather than focussing on where things are going right, often my focus will be on where I’m falling short. There’s always room for improvement.

It’s not the case that this is the result of any external pressure from friends or family, just my own method of driving me towards success.

And it’s utterly incompatible with a concept of self-worth and confidence tied to your own successes.

If you can’t stop to appreciate when you’ve done well, then it goes without saying that there won’t be much increase in your self-confidence even when you succeed. Despite recognising this over the course of many years, I’ve never been able to fully break free of this way of thinking.

Rather than focussing on internal validation, instead my confidence and self-worth has tended focus on external validation and the praise of others. External validation is fantastic for motivation and affirmation in your efforts if its forthcoming, but this isn’t always the case (irrespective of whether or not you deserve it).

If anything, reliance on such a volatile source of motivation is sometimes even worse than the constant self-deprecation I’m used to applying, but it’s so much less mentally tiring than feeling like I’m always falling short because of my own high expectations.

Equally, measuring yourself against others on a constant basis is a sure-fire way to demoralise yourself. I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked at something I’ve achieved whether it be academic, sporting or career-based, achievements which were things to be truly proud of, and gone in my head “but it wasn’t as good as what others have done”.

It’s easy enough justify this as a motivation mechanism, a way to push myself onwards and upwards, and it’s so easy to slip into this line of thinking, constantly comparing yourself to your peers.

But sometimes the time needs to be taken to appreciate success in absolute rather than relative terms. Otherwise it can feel like you’re no longer in control of your own self-confidence and over time, the result is a fear of the judgement of others simply because I’ve made it such an important part of how I view myself.

While I’ve never been able to fully put this thought process to rest, I’ve had moments of reprieve by considering a very simple fact: you’re not doing these things for others, you’re doing them for yourself. Yes in some cases success relative to others is the end goal, but equally other times success will be measured against your own benchmarks and objectives.

Similarly external validation and praise should be a supplement to your own confidence in yourself: all the praise in the world from others won’t mean a thing if you don’t believe it.

What others think will always be important to me, but it should never be as important as what I think of myself. With that realisation comes responsibility: it’s my job to define my successes and celebrate them where I think it’s appropriate. Sometimes I’ll probably be too harsh, and sometimes over-zealous, but as long as I take the time to appreciate my own successes, at least I’m in the driver’s seat with a great view of where to aim for next.

Another side of depression

Hi everyone, today’s post is from a friend on their personal experience of depression and anxiety;

I have been dealing with my issues for as long as I can remember.

Depression and anxiety seem so integral to who I am as a person now that I cannot think of a time when they were not there. Even when I was a child I remember every day being such a struggle to get through that I just wanted the days to end. For my life to end. They’re a black shadow that seems to be connected to me at all times. No matter how content I am in life they’re lurking in the back somewhere I just can’t quite see but I know is there. I imagine that for many of you this might be a familiar feeling and like me you are beyond tired of feeling this way. There is a life out there to be enjoyed and you want to be able to truly appreciate it all. You wish to feel better about yourself and by reading this blog you are taking the right steps in the right direction for yourself.

As odd as it may sound you should congratulate yourself on taking these steps. Not only because it helps you keep a positive frame of mind but because just like recovering from a physical issue it is important to keep motivated, something this helps with. It is something my therapist recommended to me to help me cope with my issues. That, regardless of how small or silly it may seem, if I do something positive in my life that is something I should be proud of. It helps to keep me in a positive frame of mind and it is a technique I would recommend. The short version of this: make the most of the little things. Tell yourself every day that you are worth it.

One of the hardest things I found was actually getting around to thinking that I should work on my issues. This is something that others I have spoken to have found difficult. Their issues are so developed and they are so consumed by them that they think they are hopeless and worthless. That there is no point. They have no motivation to get better because they do not believe that they deserve anything better. I know I feel this way and it was so hard to even conceive the idea to get help. I remember for me the turning point was being drunk again and sleeping outside at 5 in the morning again in the middle of London. I had places to stay but I deliberately made myself sleep outside. Why? Because I wasn’t worth a home or any form of comfort. Why was I drunk? Because it made me feel good. It was at this stage that I had my revelation. That I finally turned around and said that this was enough. I was punishing myself and making myself suffer so much that I was tired of it. This coupled with friends telling me it had to stop meant that I had finally hit breaking point.

You may look at what I have written here and think that you’re lower or that you’re worse than I am. You may have had similar experiences to my own of feeling like you have hit the bottom but are still doing the same thing and so feel bad reading this. Like you have failed. I know because it’s something I did when trying to get better. I would read things like this and think “oh well they’re doing better, why aren’t I?” If that is the case then all I can say is that you have not failed. That you are still trying even now in ways you do not realise. Each day you go through is an achievement and testament to your perseverance. I know taking that first step is so hard that to many it seems impossible. But you owe it to yourself to try and to keep going at it no matter how many times it hurts or how taxing it is. You deserve a good life and living your days in contentment.

My advice to you based on my experience is two things. One is to have a support network. It has been invaluable to me to have positive influences in my life and people who can support me when I regress. If you’re sitting there thinking that you do not have one, chances are you do. It’s just working up the courage to tell those who love you. They won’t judge and if they do, they are not worth your precious time. If you’re still convinced you don’t then I would encourage you to seek professional help. Go to mental health classes or go to a therapist. These have both proved essential to my mental health. I cannot truly stress how useful and vital they are. I honestly feel everyone should have their own therapist.

The second piece of advice is that it’s never too late to start working on yourself and for things to change. You do not have to hit the bottom to start moving up. You can do it at anytime and for those who feel like they are at the bottom, as hard as it may sound, you can still work on yourself. It doesn’t have to be today, it doesn’t have to be immediate and rapid. As long as you try each day to help yourself, to feel better about yourself then you will find one day you are more content. However if you slip, then that is fine too. We are not perfect and it is not helpful to yourself to beat yourself up so much over things. We all have down days and times when we are not at our best. So it is perfectly reasonable to say to yourself that you are feeling this way because funnily enough having that kind of acceptance makes it easier to then get back to self-improvement.

I remember one technique my therapist used to do with me was just to question every negative thought I had. To basically keep asking why; sort of like that annoying child who is trying to outsmart you. The thing was, much like with the child, you eventually run out of things to say and realise the negative thoughts are not coming out of anywhere useful or realistic. Another useful thing that they said to me was that whatever happened in the past happened the way it did. I am aware this sounds like Rafiki from the Lion King but for me it has been a huge help in accepting my life and working on it. There are things I massively regret doing and feel guilty about. Yet if I const go over them I will never get better. I do have control over my present and what I choose to do in it and so I can use that to better myself.

I’ll leave you now with some final thoughts. One of the biggest lies I have been told is what the norm is and how alone I am in my issues. I have never yet met someone who does not have some kind of problem, issue or some form of mental health issue. I would like to meet the person who invented what “normal” is in society and show them what they have done to so many people. You are not alone in your struggles and there are always people willing to help. You just have to look for them.

The journey towards feeling better about yourself is a long one but it’s still one worth doing. I have been doing mine for over 20 years and whilst I am not exactly where I would like to be I am living a better life than I could have conceived having even 5 years ago. It does get better. I promise you that but it takes effort from you. Words like this can only do so much, so use this as motivation to help yourself and do it for yourself. Find out works for you. The advice I give here is based off my own life and experiences. Just because it works for me doesn’t mean that it’s gospel for you. Take whatever solution works for you and use it. No matter how silly it may seem to others. If dancing in the street helps you feel good then go for it. Do whatever makes you feel better and feels like an improvement to your day and life in general. Just do not do what I used to and look for the solutions at 5 in the morning in the gutter face down in a dodgy kebab. The kebab alone will make you feel bad enough.

Bullying.

There’s that age old saying; “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. I’m not sure where this originated but I find it hard to believe that this person experienced anyone saying nasty things to them.

Bullying comes in a multitude of forms. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the physical type. Personally, I find that emotional bullying leaves a longer-lasting scar but that’s just my opinion.

Some people don’t realise the damage they are inflicting; they think of it as a joke or “just a bit of banter”. Maybe it is to them but it might not be “just a bit of banter” to the person who is being told that they are chubby or that they look ugly today. These people need to be made aware of the impact that their seemingly harmless words are having on their victim.

Some people know exactly what they are doing. These people intentionally inflict pain on others with their words and I don’t know why they do it. Maybe they do it because they are hurting. Maybe it’s because they are jealous and want to feel better about themselves by putting other people down. I was recently a victim of bullying where the person knew what they were doing and saying. Those people are negative influences on your life and they drag you down.

I’m not sure why some feel like they have to drag people down- that’s something I feel like I will never understand. Nobody ever wants to be labelled as a bully.

Believe me, I get it. It’s so hard to ignore people when they consistently bully you. The worst kind is when they bully you for a particular negative aspect that you are self-conscious about to begin with. It’s like an affirmation. More often than not, these people see something in you that they are envious of. Please don’t let other people’s destructive comments change you. My self-esteem has been crushed because of bullies and it has taken a long time for me to get to a point where I can even attempt to shut them out.

The thing that I’ve started to realise is that most bullies are just mean people who don’t care who they hurt to make themselves feel better. These people are not worth your time or energy. My mother and father always taught me to be kind. To treat people with respect and to be a good person. Life is too hard as it is without creating more drama. If you are being bullied in any way, I implore you to talk to someone. I know it’s easy to sit here and type and everyone says it but even telling friends or family is a step forward. Anyone you trust. Honestly, it makes all the difference. They can be there to tell you that it isn’t true and will stop you from believing a lie. Remember, your friends don’t have to be your friends. They choose to be because they see things in you that they love. Don’t forget that.

I’m still working on not taking bullies’ words to heart but I’ve tried to tackle that by surrounding myself with people that make me feel good about myself; people who tell me every day that I’m not who the bullies say I am. My low self-esteem (and my typical English, self-deprecating attitude) means that I don’t always accept the nice comments said about me but it’s a learning curve and one that I’m going to do whilst leaving those negative people behind.

University pressures

“Going to University is the best thing ever”, “you’re going to have so much fun”, “honestly university was the best time of my life”, “enjoy it while it lasts because the real world is misery”. These are but a few of the remarks that people often said to me before going to university.

I, like many, was sold this dream of freedom, spare time, and relaxation with a mild element of work. What many do not speak of, nor boast about, is the stress, depression, isolation, loneliness and often periods of hopelessness that comes with being a student. I knew I was at university for a purpose; to work hard and get a degree that would ultimately get me a job I wanted. I also saw this as an opportunity to broaden my horizons through other means like meeting people from across the world, being part of projects I cared about and trying something I had never come across before (for instance my universities Quidditch society!). I saw university as a means of pushing myself outside my comfort zone.

Initially what I had been told was true. University was fun, exciting, and so much better than the real world. Soon however, reality hit. The reading piled up, essay deadlines cluttered my calendar and exams were just around the corner. It felt as though there was not enough time and the easy-going lifestyle I had been promised quickly evaporated.

I was fighting time itself, trying to utilise every last second of the day and pushing every productive fibre in my mind to the limit. Slowly but surely I began to shut myself away from the close friends I had made and the societies I enjoyed to appease the self-induced guilt and pressure I was feeling about my studies. I knew that what I was experiencing was not healthy, and that mentally I was burning out.

It was only, however, at a one-to-one with my seminar leader Francesca, where I made some joke about struggling with this particular course, that I recognised I was not alone in how I felt. Francesca, who at the time was studying for her doctorate, disclosed her battle with depression: an illness which had forced her to take time off from her postgrad for 6 months, knocked her confidence and at times had made her feel isolated from the world. Sitting there in the dimly lit concrete-walled seminar room, a wave of relief hit me. I had heard many brag about the “amazing” nights out they had, how easy it was getting a first on their essay, and generally how well they were coping with university. However, unlike most, Francesca was the first who was willing to disclose the not so perfect side of life at university, and this for once was a story I actually wanted, and needed, to hear.

Don’t get me wrong, university for a lot of people is the best thing ever, and at times it’s easy to see why. Nevertheless, we have to take into account those people for whom this is not the case. For starters, there needs to be better support in universities for those who have mental illnesses; an environment that encourages openness among students. We also need to stop trying to perpetuate this hyper-reality that everything is fantastic, amazing and wonderful, all the time.

If you find that you can relate to this article and find yourself struggling to cope with the huge burden and demands that university can place on your mental health, this article from the charity Student Minds might be helpful. 

Bulimia and anxiety from the outside: Part 2

I am not quite sure when my niece was sucked under by this horrible eating disorder and anxiety. I think the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ was when her university colleagues decided one day that it would be acceptable to demolish my niece’s confidence by telling her she was ‘fat’.

She has never been fat, she was healthy and happy. Nobody has the right to make another human being feel so devastated about themselves. These girls were more than nasty; they were cruel, vicious and not worthy of my niece’s attention. However; the seed was planted. It has been painful and frustrating to watch this once confident and vivacious, intelligent, funny and kind hearted young lady turn into a shadow of her former self. I know a little bit about anxiety as my own daughter suffers from this and has done since she was a very little girl, but my niece’s anxiety escalated and the ED monster took control of her.

She has always been very hardworking; a perfectionist in everything she does from her studies and her sports as a child, which is no doubt why she is so incredibly hard on herself. To know that she feels that she is ‘not good enough’ and maybe, just maybe, if she had the perfect body and was skinny people would love her, hurts so much. She can’t see that people love her for the person she is; she has the kindest heart of anyone I know; she is thoughtful, loving, funny, clever, motivated, dedicated, generous, just all-in-all a beautiful person. Does she have flaws? Of course she does, don’t we all? But the problem is she only sees her flaws and not all the other good stuff. She can’t take the word of her family because she feels we are biased because we love her and as a consequence the slightest criticism from anyone other than her family has catastrophic results on her anxiety; that little niggling ‘other person’ in her head dragging her down and defeating her.

Am I angry with ‘anxiety’? You bet I am!

It isn’t ideal living so far away and not actually knowing how to help. I am always afraid of saying the wrong thing and upsetting her and I hesitate before sending messages and panic if she doesn’t reply. It has been hard keeping her secret from the rest of my family and only being able to talk about it with her mum. I check how many calories she has eaten daily, more than daily actually as I have an app and check this 5 or 6 times a day; worrying myself senseless if her calories are low, which they usually are and wondering what magic words would encourage her to eat but failing miserably as I know nothing I can say or do would make a difference. When she has eaten quite well I am elated but then self-doubt creeps in, wondering how much exercise she is doing to compensate that. I find myself wishing that she could be a little more forgiving of herself when she has a bad day, less hard on herself, less devastated by the smallest things. I wish she could look in a mirror and see what her family see and not this warped image she has of herself. I feel intense anger towards the ED and anxiety. How dare they do this to my niece?! Go away and leave her alone!

I am constantly looking for words of encouragement; I find myself googling repetitively the same things again and again looking for answers that aren’t there. I am dismayed by the limited support for any mental health issues and secrecy around it but am determined to find the help myself and my sister needs to help her.

We need guidance and support as I feel totally out of my depth and don’t want to fail her. I worry for my niece and I worry for my sister but also relieved she is so close to her mum and I know between us we will face these monsters head on and we will challenge them!

We will not give up ’til my niece has recovered and yes I know this will be a lifelong ‘thing’ but her mum and I will always be on her side, fighting for her and with her. I know she will never be completely free of self-doubt/anxiety, but I am hopeful she will look in that mirror and accept her flaws that all human beings have and like what she sees, be proud of herself – not because her family tell her to, but because she can! I am optimistic that my niece’s strength of character will prevail and conquer this.

Bulimia and anxiety from the outside: Part 1

As a mother, I cannot express how helpless I feel and it breaks my heart to see the happy, bubbly, chatty, stable, intelligent daughter I have nurtured and loved become this anxious, very thin, very unsure young lady. My daughter struggles daily with the demons of Bulimia. When you see someone you are so close to going through an eating disorder you hit a steep learning curve, you want to find out as much information as possible as quickly as you can. Searching the internet for similar stories and how a parent can help became my goal. Luckily my daughter found the courage and started to open up to the people close to her such as myself as her mother and her Aunt.

Her story started off by her being bullied at University with other students being negative about her weight and looks. She has never been overweight but did put on a little weight with the stress of Uni life. She then joined a gym and registered with a personal trainer. He gave her an eating plan and exercise programme. This then became an obsession about losing weight and exercising. Behind this was the extreme anxiety my daughter suffered with which was and is the key to her illness. If something goes wrong, she panics and has an anxiety attack. She feels she cannot cope and is not in control, that the issue is somehow her fault. In turn, she tries to control what she eats and the amount of exercise she does. She eats but then feels she has to compensate by exercising to excess to burn off the calories.

At first all I could do is watch as my daughter lost more and more weight and became obsessed with weighing food and not eating fats of any kind along with excessive exercising. When she started getting sick, it became harder and harder to hide from other loved ones and relatives. I was always worried that if I said the wrong thing to her, she would stop opening up to me and telling me how she feels. I felt utterly useless and out of my depth. I wanted to help, but did not know how. My daughter’s emotions were like a roller coaster.

Slowly by talking more to my daughter about how she feels during one of her anxiety attacks, I am sometimes able to help. She has also tried to find solutions to help her anxiety and is learning how to cope with it. She is seeing a counsellor which I am so grateful about as it allows her to open up to someone she does not know. She does feel bad opening up to me as being a mother; she does not want to see me being hurt by this which inevitably it does as it is so hard to see you beloved daughter struggle daily with this mental issue. I have told her although it does hurt, we will not get through this unless she tells me so that I can at least try to understand. It is going to be a hard, long journey, but with courage and support, I sincerely hope that my daughter can carry on this very steep road to recovery. It is something that will be with her for life, but with strength, I am hoping we can get her through this together and with the help of her Aunt who has been and continues to be a huge tower of strength and support in this journey.

 

Eating Disorders

Hi everyone. This week will feature 3 guest posts talking about the issue of Bulimia through their eyes. Hopefully these posts will help people not only dealing with the issue of eating disorders but those who are helping others deal with this issue.

I have an eating disorder.

That was tough to write. They’re sneaky ones, eating disorders. They creep up on you and smash you in the face when you least expect it.

I’m Bulimic. Let me tell you a bit about my thought process with food. Some of you dealing with this might find that you relate. Essentially I like to taste the food but I don’t want to waste the calories on it because calories = weight gain = FAT. The fear of getting fat is at the centre of everything. I don’t seem to be able to process the fact that my body needs calories to function and perform basic tasks.

I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t thinking about food. It’s exhausting. Honestly. Everything scares me. Even skimmed milk and apples.

I’ve had crippling low self-esteem since I can remember. I feel that I have nothing else to offer anyone; I’m not funny or witty or cool. I have nothing worthy to contribute to any situation other than being skinny. People like skinny people. They judge them less. Even as I type this, I am fully aware of how ridiculous it sounds.

My dad and my brother used to call me fat when I was a kid because I wasn’t tall and skinny like they were.  When I ask them now why they said all those things, they said it was just to tease me because I was the youngest and the youngest always gets teased. It’s a rite of passage apparently. People don’t realise how the smallest, insignificant thing they say can blow someone’s life apart and resonate so deeply that it distorts the way they feel about themselves.

I was 14. No kid should ever be worrying about food at that age. This is when I started dieting and watching everything I ate. I’m now in my mid-twenties.

The eating disorder became its own monster last year when I was battling depression. I was crying all the time, I felt worthless and I didn’t go out because I thought that I was so insignificant that people wouldn’t miss me.

I started eating my feelings. I gained a little weight over Christmas and it made me so uncomfortable that I started obsessively going to the gym and watching my food. I started losing weight and feeling better but what knocked me sideways was when a group of girls (who I thought were my friends) decided, for no reason whatsoever, to tell me that “maybe it’s because it’s getting to summer and you’re wearing less clothes than before so you just look fatter”.

I went from feeling slightly better about myself to feeling like the biggest failure. I withdrew even further and started essentially abusing my body by cutting food and going to the extreme with exercise.

I’m losing my hair. I don’t have a period. I am now so afraid of food and overeating that I starve myself during the day and then sit there in the evening stuffing my face trying to catch up on the calories I have stopped myself from consuming. Then I’m so full that I go to bed feeling bloated, fat and uncomfortable. Fantastic. I wake up and it all starts again. Now I’m sure you’re thinking that the logical thing is to space food out during the day. You’re right. Try telling my brain that when it starts freaking out about overeating.

One day, my whole distorted world came crashing down around me when I was admitted to hospital. The reason? My eating disorder had messed up my body to the point where it was shutting down. To describe my hospitalisation as horrendous would be putting it lightly. I was also able to see how my utterly selfish actions had impacted the people I love the most. People kept saying: “You’re the healthiest and fittest person I know. I would have never expected you to end up in hospital!”. That’s hard to hear. I just wanted to yell at the top of my lungs: “I have an eating disorder!”. People look at you differently when you tell them that.

I’m now on the road to recovery. It’s a daily battle. Some days are harder than others. I have a therapist helping me to change how I think about myself. I gave my amazing boyfriend, Mother and Aunt access to my food diary so they can keep checking on me and motivating me. I have wonderful friends who I speak to about how I’m feeling. The simple act of listening does more than anyone can imagine.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve these people in my life but they see something in me that I need to see in myself. That I am important, I am worth it and I am significant to them.

To all of you who might be struggling with eating disorders: Please, get help. A therapist is not a weakness or a sign that you are messed up. You can overcome this. Tell someone. I know you might think that nobody will understand but it’s surprising how many people don’t actually look at you like you’re broken. You are loved, you are wanted and you have something to offer. Don’t let horrible people and horrible thoughts win. Cut out the negativity in your life. It will probably be the toughest thing you will ever do but the day you can eat that cake or that risotto without worrying about gaining weight will be the most beautiful day of your life.