Rejection

Ever said something out loud? Something you really don’t want to say but want to say at the same time? Don’t want to say it because then it’s real but equally, want to say it just so you can get it off your chest and have five seconds to breathe properly?

I was at a party where I met this guy, I’d known him before and he was interested in me. Truth be told I was sort of interested in him too. We decided to take some time to get to know one another, I felt a bit shy as he said “So, tell me more about yourself?”. So I told him my name, where I was from and my favourite colour. He laughed and said “I know all of that! Tell me something interesting, something that’ll surprise me, something you don’t usually tell to other people.”

So I blurted it out – I told him I suffered from anxiety, I told him that sometimes I worry about the smallest insignificant things so much so that it makes me sick. I told him how being anxious wasn’t just about worrying – it was this incurable sense of pickiness that just got to a part of my brain that wouldn’t let me forget it. Then I told him how last night I argued with my mum because she poured my food out on my plate in the (what I saw as) wrong order.

“You’re weird” he said and got up and walked off.

It was at that moment I realised – he didn’t get it. And what was worse? He didn’t even take the time out to try and get it.

As I left the party early feeling embarrassed and weird, my friend came up to me and asked me why I was leaving. “I saw you talking to him” she said, “he told me he really likes you”. It was that moment I also came to another realisation – he doesn’t like me, not the full me anyway.

Having anxiety doesn’t define me, but it’s part of who I am and is something I feel the effects of every day. If someone judges you for being you, then like I said, they really didn’t even like you in the first place and what’s the point of starting something with someone who can’t accept you? Talking to my friends about this really helped – it made me realise that whilst there are some people who just don’t understand and have no intention of ever trying to. There are people – loads of people – who care, who will try and understand your point of view and will still like and love you, even if you are “weird”. Those are the people to hold onto.

Should I be here? Thoughts on Imposter syndrome

I don’t belong here.

A simple, but pervasive thought that each of us has probably experienced over the course of our lifetimes. It’s a bitter concept that creeps in on a regular basis and slowly erodes at the foundations of everything you’ve worked so hard to build.

“Imposter Syndrome”, as this thought process is often referred to, is an extremely common occurrence, and it’s something I have personally grappled with at various stages in my life to differing degrees, but never so acutely as during my time at university.

For several years, I had dedicated my life towards the pursuit of a singular goal: to get into one of the top universities in the country. In all honesty I was very proud of my achievements towards the end of sixth form: my success felt proportional to the work I was putting in, and everything I had achieved seemed directly correlated to my own strengths and weaknesses.

Then I arrived at university.

It wasn’t a thought that occurred on the first day: there was no sudden change in mind-set to believing I didn’t belong. Rather it was a slow and festering process, with thoughts slowly creeping in and nagging at the corners of my mind: “you’re not like the other people here”, “honestly it was such a shock when you got your offer after that rubbish interview – are you sure they didn’t make a mistake?”, “you’re struggling again – maybe you’re just not cut out for this?”. Surrounded by individuals for whom on the surface, understanding and success came so naturally without any hard work was extremely demoralising to someone who had prided themselves on achieving everything through perseverance and dedicated work.

I’d like to say that over the course of the 4 years I spent at university that these thoughts slowly died away, that I managed to convince myself that I did belong, that I had got there on the basis of my own hard work. How hard could that truly be? After all, I used to believe it.

But the truth is even to this day those thoughts still linger, distastefully colouring my memories of my time studying.

Often I try and rationalise it: after all, would I be pushing myself as hard if I didn’t think I needed to prove myself and my worth to others ? While sometimes that assessment is fair, it doesn’t do justice to the mental exhaustion that comes with it – the constant internal monologue that discounts the praise of everyone and anyone around you, the self-doubt that plagues you at every turn, no matter how well you perform.

Yes, I do want to push myself higher and further, but not at the expense of my own notion of self-worth.

The truth that often helps to calm these thoughts is a simple one, and rather clichéd in nature.

You’re not alone. It doesn’t matter what walk of life, what your background was, or what you’ve achieved up till to this point, almost everyone goes through.

In fact, one of the original psychologists who termed the original phrase “impostor syndrome” has since stated “If I could do it all over again, I would call it the impostor experience, because it’s not a syndrome or a complex or a mental illness, it’s something almost everyone experiences.”[1]

Understanding that feeling like this is completely normal is an enormous step in a positive direction but can also a dangerous one. Yes, it is okay to feel like this occasionally, but that does not give you free reign to undermine yourself and your achievements at every turn! After all, we are often our own harshest critics.

Instead recognise that being in an unfamiliar situation is likely an incredible achievement as opposed to being something to question: perhaps this is you getting outside of the comfort zone and bettering yourself through a new experience.

Try to build your base on a combination of pride in your own achievements as well as a drive to better yourself. I might never believe I belonged at my university, but at least I can be proud I gave it everything I had while I was there.

[1] Pauline Clance in “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” – Amy Cuddy

 

 

Borderline Personality Disorder: The grey between the lines

Happy Monday everyone! Today’s blog post is from a friend about dealing with borderline personality disorder.

I was diagnosed (reluctantly) as having Borderline Personality Disorder at the age of 18, following an attempt to end my life. My ultimate goal was to stop feeling all those overwhelming emotions – I’d had enough of being let down, I’d had enough of being in pain, I’d had enough of not being enough.

When you try and explain BPD it’s easy to get tongue tied. “Borderline between ‘what’ and ‘what’?” The simplest ‘medical’ answer is borderline between neurotic and psychotic. I get to experience both sides of mental instability. Wahoo. It’s also referred to as ‘Emotional Instability Disorder’ if that helps anyone understand it better.

The common example given to explain BPD is that of a severe burns victim – all their nerves are exposed and even the slightest breeze causes ripples of pain over those exposed, vulnerable nerves. We are typically like that with our emotions. If someone ignores me (read: probably didn’t notice me wave, speak, or sneeze etc. in the first place) then I am terrible, awful, they hate me, I am worthless. Why do I even exist? Something negative happens and I can react with unfathomable, and unreasonable, levels of anger. It is important here to remember that anger is a secondary emotion, more often than not masking high levels of pain.

There is no middle ground with someone with BPD. No grey area. That’s not to say I am unreasonable, especially once I have calmed down. But it’s difficult to get there. When I think about things that upset me in Primary or Secondary school, they make me just as upset – it becomes difficult to let go of grudges. And that’s just a few of the symptoms – there are 9 that make up the diagnosis list including: self-harm, destructive or reckless behaviour, suicidal ideation, unstable sense of self, extreme feelings of emptiness (and not the kind of ‘I haven’t eaten for hours’ empty – think more like ‘I feel like there is nothing inside me’ kind of empty), feeling suspicious, feeling out of touch with reality, and fear of abandonment.

I experience varying levels of all of these symptoms at different times. I used to dissociate quite frequently – I’d feel as if I wasn’t real, or that I’d float right off my bed if I didn’t concentrate hard enough.

There are some positives though. When I feel emotions I REALLY feel them. I am good at understanding other people’s emotions also because I’ve most likely felt them before. I have my own set of skills and talents that I am proud of. To me, recovery means living my emotions one day at a time – trying not to be too hard on myself, trying to not let myself get carried away, and – most importantly – trying to see the grey in the middle.

Depression.

Hi everyone, I hope these blogs have been somewhat relatable and possibly even helpful. Feel free to send us a comment on your thoughts!

Today’s blog is from a friend who wanted to talk a bit about how they deal with depression:

 

I have been suffering through varying degrees of depression for about half of my life. Admittedly, I am still hesitant both to use the word ‘suffer’, and to even discuss this notion at all. I am a healthy young man, living and working in London, having already had opportunities that many people will never have. In ways, I have felt as though I have no right to feel anything less than stellar, when there are so many people in this world who are able to maintain a positive outlook, in the face of comparatively unbearable adversity. Tribulations that I myself will probably never experience or even understand.
When you reach a certain age, and a slightly better understanding of the problem and it’s prevalence, you realise that not only is it not uncommon, and that you are not alone, but that it’s not your fault, it’s often not the fault of the people or things or circumstances around you either.

A few years ago I concluded my time at university, and whilst I did scrape a rather disappointing degree, it came with alcohol dependency, disordered eating, a number of self-inflicted scars and an outlook of nihilism and despair. Even now, I remain unsure of exactly what triggered this, but I sought help (much later than I should have) and was prescribed numerous antidepressants. Sadly, these had no noticeable effect, and whilst I won’t say that I then ‘took matters into my own hands’ (which would have suggested a level of proactivity that I was largely incapable of at the time), I did eventually discover a few things that really helped.

Exercise. This began as an alternative for my propensity to convert emotional pain into physical pain (which I considered to be more measurable and tolerable). The result was the development of a love for something that was truly healthy; physically and mentally.
Nutrition. Taking control of my own eating habits, and breaking a long-running binge/starvation cycle, has given me a much better sense of control over other aspects of life as well. The positive body composition changes were an added bonus.
Talking. Though I remain somewhat apprehensive and uncomfortable in discussing all of this (as I mentioned above); I know who I am, and that there are many like me, and that I shouldn’t be ashamed anymore. Trying to ‘save face’ and continue to hide all of this could have been disastrous.
Friends. I’ve felt rather lonely for most of my life, which never helped. Now having a few close and wonderful friends (including a partner who has changed my life), all of whom I can trust with anything, has enhanced my life in ways I can’t begin to describe.
Work. I’m usually the first to admit that I don’t currently enjoy my job. But I am good at it, and at worst, it is a proactive (and hopefully meaningful) distraction from the negative state of mind encountered were I to otherwise spend the time at home in bed. Though I’ll add that having a job you enjoy would be a step up!

Like me, you’ll probably note that much of the above has been said before in many online ‘how to deal with depression’ literature, and may even look gimmicky and disappointing. I’ve written them not only because I feel they do/can work, but more importantly to highlight the notion that there aren’t really any magic bullets. There are ways in which this will always remain a struggle, and slipping into old thinking patterns (and even behaviours) may always be a looming risk. Personally, I work, work out, eat right, sleep well, spend time with friends, family and girlfriend, plan and look forward to things, distract myself, talk, write, read and learn. Moreover, I have accepted that the only two things I will ever be in control of in my life are my thoughts and my actions, and I take responsibility for both and aim to care for them. I am in a better place now than I have ever been, but I am still learning how to do this, and will be for the rest of my life (and I’m not alone in this).

motivation-depression-anxiety

I love my family, but…

Family. It’s a strange one. I’m fortunate enough to have had the best parents I could have asked for – they dealt with the emo phase, with me coming out and with me generally being a moody teenager, and supported me and made me able to do what I do today.

But they drive me up the wall. And this, as I’m sure you’ll know, is only exacerbated by the holiday season, where you spend large amounts of time in close quarters with your extended family, eating cheese and inevitably talking about politics and “why the world is so wrong today”. The topic of choice in my household seems to be free bus passes for pensioners – riveting, I know, and apparently controversial, and it recurs every year where my grandparents seem to conveniently forget that we had the same argument last year.

It’s fine for me – I refine my arguments year on year, and come out on top. But sometimes, you need a break from family. They’re great, but all the pressures – “When are you going to find a nice woman?” “Gran, I’m gay. He’ll be a nice boy”. “When are you going to buy a house?” “When are you going to unscrew the economy and give me the £100k deposit that I’ll need to buy in London” – they get to you.

I’m writing this to let you know that, as great as family are, sometimes you need a break. You need to recharge – sure, they’re important, but so are you and so is your mental health.

Don’t let it get to you this holiday season.

If any of this rings true for you, here are some links to people who are qualified to help:

Christmas and Mental Health

Mind on Mental Health at Christmas

Body Image

So I want to talk about body image. I can wholeheartedly put my hand up and say that this is something I struggle with on a daily basis. It’s hard not to. Everywhere you look there is someone telling you “Don’t eat that, you’ll gain weight” or “Eat this new, super-grain we’ve supposedly found that makes you instantly lose 30 pounds and look like Miranda Kerr!”. Okay, maybe the last one is a slight exaggeration but you get my point.

The pressure to conform to what society deems to be beautiful is immensely stressful, not to mention the fact that you are simultaneously trying to navigate your way through other aspects of your life which are definitely more important than whether your love handles poke out over your jeans.

My issues all started when I was younger. I’m half Asian, half English so there was never anyone who looked like me in the public eye. Not that I could relate to anyway. They were all very much skinnier, paler, leggier and more beautiful. There I was, this speccy-four-eyes, short, spotty 15 year-old whose child chub, it seemed, would never go. I also hated the colour of my skin because I felt like everything marketed; such as clothing, makeup etc was geared towards those with pale skin who had the option of becoming tanned by using creams and whatnot. I had no such option. I felt so self-conscious all the time; especially when my best friend was amazingly slim without even trying. I used to skip meals or eat before I went out with my friends which, when I look back, is silly. People need to eat.

I have tried literally every diet under the sun and they never work. Ever. You almost always end up putting the weight straight back on when you start eating like a normal person again and it’s frustrating, isn’t it? All that work for basically nothing?

I’m now 26 and I definitely still struggle. There was a time when I didn’t even touch chocolate or sweets. As an avid baker (shout-out to Mary Berry and my one, true love; my KitchenAid!), anyone you ask would be shocked to hear this about me. People at work call me ‘cake lady’.

If you’re struggling with any aspect of your body, I just want to say that I understand. Everyone always talks about how you should love yourself but nobody ever really talks about how difficult that actually is to do. What I gradually learnt and am still learning, was that I needed to surround myself with people that make me feel good. The ones that make me happy in myself. This is something I would heavily recommend. I learnt that some people are envious of the fact that I can be tanned all year round and not worry about it. You’d be amazed how often the things you hate about yourself are the things that people love.

I still worry about whether these jeans hide my love handles or why, no matter how hard I try to exercise my face (yes, people do that), these cheeks stay chubby! I’m slowly learning that there is so much in life that I missed out on because I let my inner, negative voice take hold and I don’t want to look back on life and think of all the things I didn’t experience just because of how I saw myself. If there is anything you might take away from reading this blog, I hope you at least take this.

The healing powers of Nigella

There’s just something infinitely comforting about watching Nigella Lawson talk about food. Its luxurious, and the cooking equivalent of a long hug, and I can think of few things better after a bad day.

From the understated, homely classiness of her kitchen to the way in which she greets a sandwich as if it were an old friend from years ago only to devour it seconds later, everything about it is either something I can aspire to or identify with.

For me, food is often an escape.  When I’ve had a bad day and I’ve got things getting me down, I comfort eat. A whole pizza and garlic bread? Easy. Pasta for 3? More like pasta for 1. You get the idea – I am the definition of a person who eats their feelings. And this, my friends, is where the cooking comes in.

Nigella talks often of the joy that she gets from cooking, and from cooking for other people. So one day I thought “if she enjoys it, maybe I will too. Heaven knows I want to be Nigella.” and I set out to make her carrot cake, and never looked back. There’s something about the smell of a baking cake, or a fragrant, gently simmering curry, or a strikingly red pasta sauce that brings a sense of satisfaction to me that is only compounded by the feeling of making something for you and your friends to enjoy together.

And the thing is, by the time I’ve taken a dish from raw ingredients to being on a plate in front of me, my mood has often lifted and I don’t feel the need to comfort eat anymore. Even better if I’m cooking for friends – the look on their faces when they see the food, the smiles on their faces when they finally taste it, and the realisation that I’ve brought even a small amount of pleasure into their lives just brings me so much happiness.

Nigella talks a lot about “living around” her kitchen table and that’s something that I didn’t realise would be so pivotal until I looked over from the stove top to see four of my best friends smiling. I realised that actually, despite having a bad day, there are always good things and things worth putting in the effort for.

I’ll finish with one of my favourite recipes that always cheers me up on a night, graciously adapted from one of Nigella’s recipes for my own anchovy-hating tastebuds. It’s also super quick and you can go from fridge to plate in 25 minutes.

 

INGREDIENTS

Serves: 2, or 1 if you’re really hungry

  • 175 grams gemelli pasta, or just fusilli is good too
  • salt (for pasta water)
  • 1 x 15ml tablespoon regular olive oil
  • 1x 15ml tablespoon capers, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried chilli flakes (or half a chopped red chilli if you like it hot)
  • 150 grams cherry tomatoes (halved across the equator)
  • 4 x 15ml tablespoons dry white vermouth (worcestershire sauce works too)
  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons mascarpone cheese, though regular cream cheese works too
  • 1 x 15ml tablespoon parmesan cheese (finely grated, plus more to serve)
  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons fresh parsley (finely chopped leaves)

 

METHOD

  1. Bring a pan of water to boil for the pasta. Salt generously and add the pasta. Check the pasta packet for advised cooking times, but do start tasting a good 2 minutes before you’re told it should be ready. Make sure to keep a cup of the water once the pasta is cooked.
  2. Once the pasta is in, put the oil and finely chopped capers into a heavy-based frying pan and cook, stirring over a medium heat for about a minute, or until the capers have almost dissolved into the oil. Stir in the garlic and chilli flakes, then turn the heat up a little and tumble in the tomatoes, stirring them gently for about 2 minutes
  3. Pour in the vermouth, then stir and push the tomatoes about in the pan for around another 2 minutes until they break down a little and let out their juices. A little salt in the pan will draw out the juices too. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the mascarpone and, when it’s all melted into the sauce, duly stir in the Parmesan and parsley.
  4. Add a tablespoon or so of the cooking water to the pasta sauce; this will help the sauce coat the pasta. Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce and toss well to mix. Sprinkle with a little parsley and take the Parmesan to the table to serve.