#noED – 1

It’s been a tumultuous past few months – general job stress, failed relationships, angsty teens…but, after finally get support for my mental health over the past years and through the unwavering kindness of family, I feel like I’m finally in a place to get back to my physical fitness and health.

I’ve always been a binge eater, even as a very small child. My mum tells me of how I’d always come home from birthday parties and throw up from having eaten so much.  Since the age of five the image in the mirror has never reflected my actual weight, always being ‘too fat’ and ‘too big’.  I’ve flirted with fasting, extreme diets, and a shiz tonne of binge and comfort eating for most of my life, trying to self-soothe from my constantly unhappy state of mind, which eventually turned into a full-blown eating disorder at the age of 17.

I was obsessed with getting my BMI to 20.00; my BMI was 20.3, but that wasn’t ‘good enough’.  I counted every calorie, restricted, over-exercised, broke down in tears whilst looking in mirrors (or otherwise totally avoided them), and eventually burned myself out so much that I developed tonsillitis, conjunctivitis, and the flu in a single week.

By the age of 21 I finally sought professional help and was given my first couple of anti-depressants (Zoloft), and I stopped hating myself. It was like my mind had calmed down.  All the self-hate gradually ebbed away.

Now, I didn’t become a narcissist and think I was the bees knees – I am still perhaps too aware of my flaws – but it seemed that my self-hate was what motivated me to keep thin (thin, not healthy), and I stopped exercising, continued my binge-starve cycle, and gained a bajillion kilos.

Not quite a bajillion, but it it is a very unhealthy number on the scale.

After moving to England I decided the it was time for me to lose weight, with the goal of becoming fit and healthy rather than coveting thinness and jutting bones. I didn’t want to fall back into bad calorie-counting habits (which I did a couple of times, but I’m trying to be less hard on myself and forgive that, seeing as this has been an eight year addiction). I wanted to be ‘normal’.  I didn’t want to hate food anymore.  I wanted to be healthy and strong and happy.  I’ve finally come to like the person I am on the inside, and now it’s time for that person to be on the outside.

(on a related note, I remember wanting to my ‘dead inside’ depressed mind to be reflected on my outside – I wanted to be skin and bone; I wanted to look dead.)

So I’m currently on instagram (@niamhlah) and have been using the tag #noED – not sure if this has been used before, but to me it means not going back to that horrific, exhausting way of life from my disordered eating days, which I’ve found immensely difficult whenever I’ve tried to lose weight in the past; instead, I want to have healthy habits, enjoy exercise, enjoy myself, eat food and not hate it, and look after myself.  I want to respect myself.

I’m going to (attempt) to post updates on #noED with things that have helped me.  Maybe other people who’ve experienced disordered eating might find something helpful?

I’m not too sure about posting current weights and goal weights and weight loss numbers, but I’ll think about it.

Current habits:

  • NOT weighing myself every day: this is hard, as I want to confirm with myself that I haven’t gained (which used to be a very big fear), and that I haven’t stayed the same weight (which also used to be a very big fear!). I admit that I have weighed myself a little too often this week, but as of Thursday I’ve decided not to weigh myself ’til Sunday, which gives me three days.  I guess I’ll have to wean myself off my anxious relationship with the scales.
  • NOT calorie counting: to be fair, I do calorie count – but at the end of the day. I don’t pre-plan my calories for the day or the following day, I just limit myself to a couple of option that I can slightly vary, like eggs on toast (maybe today with baby spinach, maybe scrambled tomorrow…maybe I’ll try those banana-egg pancakes??) or porridge.  I feel more comfortable having a general idea of what I’m going to eat, but not forcing myself to have a particular food when I don’t want to, just because I planned in the day before. I add them all up before I decide on dinner, and it seems I’ve been doing well and making healthy choices, as I have a solid and healthy amount left to feed myself with.
  • NOT eating or buying ‘junk’: as much as I’d like to snack on those tasty, tasty foods, I’ve made a conscious effort not to have ‘crap’ in the kitchen.  Being poor and single kind of helps, as I’m limited to what I can buy and don’t need to buy a lot of it.  I’ve taken to eating a square of super dark chocolate (Lindt 90%), and even though I don’t particularly like dark chocolate, it appears to be helping curb my lust for sweet, sweet candy. Plus it’s supposed to be good for you. And drinking green tea – now that I actually brew it as it’s meant to be (I used to leave the tea bag in…no wonder it was so bitter) I really enjoy it. I’ve a passionfruit and mango one in the morning, jasmine during the day, and a salted caramel one in the evening. I’m also making an effort to eat clean: less processed foods, more happy foods!
  • Carbs, fat, and protein are NOT the enemy: there’s some cray cray fad diets out there, and I’ve probably tried most of them.  Carbs are good. Carbs make me happy, and even the psychiatrist has talked about the emotional/physical effects of eating carbohydrates, especially when taking antidepressants.  I honestly can’t do Atkins or other low-carb diets; I get really, really, really grumpy, which then leads to an emotional eating session. Presently, I’m trying to eat my carbs in ‘whole’ form, with fruits and vegetables and the occasional piece of wholemeal bread (yes, bread – a food I had once feared). I eat eggs – with the yolk!! – and have a slice of dairylea cheese on some rice cakes as a snack/treat.  I’m even eating nuts…yes, I’ve just listed three common fear foods and I’m eating them all, sometimes all of them in the same day, and I’m still seeing progress in my health.

I wonder how many (if any) non-disordered eating people will read this and think, ‘this is ridiculous…those are normal foods that you’re supposed to eat!’, but I know, sadly, that a lot of people are out there like me, with a past of painful, dysfunctional eating.  I wish food had been easier.

 

But I want to be better. I don’t want to go back. I want to be happy and healthy, inside and out.

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BLOOBS!

PS: Using the tag ‘diet’ but not thinking of it as such – doing the ‘lifestyle change’ mentality!

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Headnoise: Hearing Voices

I have a lot of headnoise. All the time. It’s never quiet in there, except when I’m sleeping – but I can’t really appreciate the quiet whilst unconscious.

It started in my teenage years – I liken it to background or ‘white noise’ – just a sort of noiseless buzzing, movement, or static. Sometimes it’s more a feeling than sound.

Over the years, and with more and more unfortunate life experiences/stresses, this evolved into a muffled noise, as if someone was having a conversation in another room. I just accepted and ignored it, as I did with my tinnitus, thinking if I allowed myself to focus on the noise it would begin to irritate me.

About two years ago, rather abruptly, the wordless conversation became proper voices.

There are three types of dialogue in my head:

  1. Inner monologue – what everyone (hopefully!) has: the inner voice you consult and ponder with, deciding such things as what to have for lunch or imaginary arguments with people you don’t like from work.

    Photo on 26-10-2015 at 11.10 pm #2
    Bonus rad picture of me and cat!
  1. People voices – these are the voices of people I have recently encountered, but it’s not that I’m remembering their conversations; instead, their voices are used to offer a stream of random, irrelevant, and sometimes malevolent dialogue. I cannot communicate with these voices, and they are very much ‘inside’ my head, as opposed to external sound often associated romantically by the media with psychotic illnesses. My at-the-time psychiatrist asked me to record what the voices were saying as they were becoming bothersome, but I was trying not to pay too much attention to them. This is some of what they said:

14 November 2013:

“You need to tell them” (7/8yo son of my boss)

“Everything” (child I was working with)

“It was on his back” (another child I was working with)

“I’ll get you” – (male co-worker I didn’t like)

21 November 2013:

“He’s just put that there” (child I was working with)

“Because I wanted to learn a lesson” (another voice)

The psychiatrist noted that it was like they were finishing each other’s sentence. The strange thing is they don’t sound as ominous as the words they speak – they come across as jolly and friendly, so I don’t usually notice what they’re actually saying – it just becomes frustrating when I want to go to sleep.

  1. Seb – Seb is the loudest and the closest to being an external noise. When he speaks I will stop what I’m doing and pause, momentarily unsure if the noise is real or not. I’m not sure why his name is Seb; I just ‘know’ it., just like I know he has black hair and blue eyes. I very rarely hear from him – mayhap once or twice a year – and he says things that are totally irrelevant and disconnected from the situation: at one point he said ‘let’s clean up in here’ when I was in my bedroom. I looked around, but there was nothing to clean (or nothing worth cleaning, maybe!). I’ve written in my dairy that he said something while I was in the shed making jewellery, but didn’t write down what he actually said.

    Basically, I don't have any recent art to decorate my post with...
    Basically, I don’t have any recent art to decorate my post with…

None of the latter two voice types can hear me or ever reply back, they just make it super difficult to fall asleep with all their babble.. I just try to not pay attention to them or allow myself to stress about the noise, occasionally popping a small dose of Quetiapine to help me nod off. They become louder and more frequent the busier and more stressful life is at the time, which makes sense.

One of the reasons I love work so much is because it gives me a break from all the noise – for 7 hours a day I get a mini-holiday where I’m totally focused on my work and planning what I’m going to do next. I have no bad thoughts or memories when I’m in front of a classroom; I’m 100% present, and it’s just me and the kids. I still need the weekends to recharge, but I much prefer to be at school.  Perhaps I’ll talk about how awesome this is another time…

This post was more a factual piece than a vent – I just remember doing a heap of googling years ago to try and find out if other people experienced internal voices, as opposed to external. Maybe someone will google me and find me at least a tiny bit useful?

Another random image to make this post more exciting.  All hail spadefish!
Another random image to make this post more exciting. All hail spacefish!

Peace out, homies.

I’m a Little Bit…***

WARNING: SEMANTICS-RELATED ARGUMENTS. This post is not my usual not-so-serious style.


“I’m a little bit OCD.”

I find these statements incredibly frustrating.

I understand there is a spectrum of symptoms and severity for these labels, but I feel comments like these are often said by people who have an aversion to germs, dirt, clutter, and/or disorder that can still be considered reasonable and rational; for example, liking things to be organised a certain way is not at all in the same league as scrubbing off your skin due to an incessant compulsion to wash your hands.

(In addition, OCD is not only restricted to preoccupation with cleanliness or order, as it is often colloquially referred to.)

Is it more socially acceptable to only be ‘a little bit’ of some mental illness? There’s a sense of stigma to this idea, as if admitting the solid, complete title of an illness is something to be ashamed of. I feel that casually relating an illness to a preference of value, such as liking things to be neat, misidentifies and trivialises the experiences of others.

Being only ‘a little bit’ of something could act as a defensive flexibility in a situation where another person applies prejudice to mental illness labels – ‘Oh, I don’t really have OCD’ or ‘It’s not that bad’. People shouldn’t have to feel ashamed for something they cannot control. Imagine if this shame was applied to other physical ailments, such as a cold, cancer, a broken leg, diabetes…

“I’m a little bit schizophrenic.

I’m a little bit bipolar.

I’m a little bit psychotic.

I’m a little bit anorexic.

I’m a little bit suicidal.”

An illness is not a person; we are separate entities, and must remain objective when considering them. The causes of an illness and how that affects perceived shame could be another discussion, but for this blog I would like to keep an objective perspective and focus on the illness without the source, as oftentimes an illness will come into being without any controllable cause.

Having an illness does not make you a bad person. With regard to mental illness, sometimes a person’s mood, personality, or sense of reality (psychosis) may be compromised, but if you were to take that illness away, would that person still behave in the same manner? People do ‘bad’ things and make regrettable decisions, but judging the moral character and ‘good’ of a person, in my opinion, is multilayered and more complex, and less black-and-white.

I have an illness, but I am not my illness. I understand that other people prefer to describe themselves as ‘I am X’ due to the frequency/severity of their symptoms and I respect this as it is a matter of personal experience, but it does bring up an issue of the separation of illness and person.

There is no ‘normal’, just an array of varied human experience and a bell curve portraying the state of society’s ‘average’, where the average is usually seen as an acceptable state of being.

With respect to mental health, we’re all on a behavioral and emotional spectrum, but that spectrum develops into a label when things become harmful.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/kennymoffitt/if-physical-health-problems-were-treated-like-mental-health?utm_term=.blLD4ELEJ&sub=3788194_5813632

#twitterbitter

This is a conversation I had with high profile Twitter user, who regularly posts about mental health advocacy. 

The mental health community should be a safe place. Imagine if I told my students to ‘fuck off’ whenever they asked a ‘stupid’ question. 

(Questions are questions – they’re teaching and learning opportunities, not ‘stupid’)

   
    
 
I’m still new to Twitter so my first thought wasn’t to click the hashtag – a simple ‘click the hashtag’ would have sufficed; instead, I was blocked, and would not have seen her ‘twittertip’ if it wasn’t for a second account. 

Thank you to those people who reached out to me after this conversation to check if I was OK. I really do appreciate it. 
If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it online. 

Food Without A Fridge: Vegetable Dumpling Stew

I learnt this recipe when I worked in childcare and was cooking for 50-100 kids. It was fairly popular with the childrens, but it is now my FAVOURITE home-cooked meal.

I recently discovered the magic of Sainsbury’s and its low, low prices, and all the ingredients – in total – was £4.50.
As I’ve no fridge and live on my own, cooking for one person and not being able to store leftovers in the fridge is a frustration, but I’ve learnt that I can leave stuff covered and in the cool for about 1.5 days.

I wouldn’t recommend this for food safety reasons, but I don’t have much of a choice at present!
Vegetable Dumpling Stew!

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable stock (I used powdered and added water)
  • Stewing vegetables (I bought frozen today and used them same-day) – e.g, potato, carrot, celery, onion, parsnip, turnip…
  • Self-raising flour
  • Butter (softened – mine was too hard so I put it in the oven for a bit. Not a good idea)

1. Add chopped vegetables to chosen cooking receptacle.

2. Stock it up! Add stock to cover vegetables.


3. In a bowl, add flour and butter and mix by hand. It has to be reasonably ‘dry’. The idea is that the dumplings soak up the stock.



  
4.  I didn’t bother making the dumplings perfectly round. Just scrunch and go for it.

5. Cook until veg is cooked through –  just stab it with a knife.

FEAST UPON THE VEGETABLE FLESH!

Food Without A Fridge: Pasta

I’ve no fridge, and I can’t afford one – so I’m rather limited with what I can cook. Most of the ingredients I buy I can store are tinned and dried foods; I tend to use fresh ingredients when I have the moola and on the day of purchase. 

Having only £25 pounds to my name until my first pay in late September and various bills to pay (I have the gas, electricity, and new psychiatrist to pay as well) I am limited even further. Boo hiss boo. 

I have apples and multivitamins. Hopefully I don’t get scurvy. 
So here is my recipe for no-fridge-pasta:

  

  • A heap of pasta
  • Tinned crushed tomatoes
  • Tinned peas/corn/vegetables
  • Shallots (on onion, but I find a whole onion is too much for one person)
  • Dried herbs, salt, pepper, sugar
  • Tried putting a tiny bit of veg stock in this time – will see how it goes
  1. Cook pasta
  2. Whilst pasta cooks, chop and fry shallots/onion in olive oil 
  3. Once shallot/onion browned, add tinned tomato, herbs, pepper, corn, sugar to taste, and olive oil (if you’re so inclined)
  4. Simmer/reduce pasta sauce until thickened – watery pasta sauce is the devil. 
  5. Add cooked and drained pasta to reduced sauce; stir through  
  6. Add salt (if you want)
  7. FEAST, MY SWEET CHILD. 

More Than Messy

So, I think this post is going to be a little difficult.

I’ve never been a particularly tidy person – at one point I was banished to the spare room for a few years because my parents thought my bedroom was too messy too often, and that I didn’t deserve the nice big bedroom.

I mean, that’s fair enough, but there’s a little more detail to that story, which I’m not focusing on in this post.

Anyway.

I’m an acknowledged ‘sprawler’ – my workspace at both home and school is usually in ‘controlled chaos’, meaning I know where everything is, but other people who observe my desk would most definitely not. I’m fine with things not being in perfect order; I’m OK, most of the time, with some clutter and rubbish here and there. Usually I’ll get a fancy for cleaning and tidy up every few weeks, but in recent years I’ve learnt to acknowledge the state of my environment as an indicator of my mental health. I think that not being a perfectionist stops me from being so upset when things aren’t perfect; I won’t get let down if I don’t care about things.

Sometimes my inside gets onto the outside: my head will be messy and buzzing and restless. It’s during the times when I am really, really low that the mess inside my head sprawls out into my physical environment. It took me a long time to connect the two, but I now realise that as soon as my house (usually my bedroom) starts to become uncomfortably untidy that something might be wrong.

I was - and still am - ashamed of this.  I think I took this as a 'before and after' photo during a motivated clean.
I was – and still am – ashamed of this. I think I took this as a ‘before and after’ photo during a motivated clean.  I lived like this for a few months.

Sometimes it sneaks up on me, as it did last year. I was living alone so there was no one to annoy with my untidiness. I wasn’t working for a couple of months, was stuck in an unknown and undirected state of being – without a job, without a determined future – and one day I looked around from my broken mattress on the floor and realised I was apathetically laying amidst and rubbish pile. There was a something-week-old takeaway container of mouldy, half-eaten curry by my head, stinking up my shoebox-sized flat; I hadn’t washed my dishes in over a month and was using the same single plate, cup, and bowl, giving it the occasional rinse, but not worrying too much at the hardened gunk stuck to its surface. I started getting creative how I served food, often using old packaging, such as a plastic wrapper or old cardboard cereal box, as a plate; I used take-away chopsticks (which I actually enjoy anyway) because it was too hard to get the dried food off my knives and forks. There was rotting food in my sink, numerous bags of rubbish I was too exhausted and unorganised to take outside (I ended up taking a total of seven hardcore rubbish bags outside under the cover of darkness – about 3am – so the other people in my building didn’t see the sheer amount of trash I’d accumulated), containers of off food, and old, half-used and expired milk cartons I kept telling myself to empty and throw away, but never did. I could barely open my front door because there was so much stuff in front of it. I couldn’t see the floor from all the empty packets, containers, cutlery, dirty clothes, and pieces of food building up around my bed. I slept without bedsheets because I was too lazy to wash them and put them back on. Whenever I Skyped my family I would make sure they couldn’t see the disgusting conditions I’d let myself get into, but I could always see the junk beyond my computer screen when I spoke with them, putting on a smile, and trying to figure out my next move in life.  I wasn’t sad, but I was depressed.

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I was so tired. I just kept wearing the same clothes and eating the same food. At one point someone from the letting agency knocked on my door and I was terrified – I sprung up from my mattress, where I spend most of my day, and stood in front of the door in case they used a key to get in. Luckily for me they were after the girl next door and went into her flat instead. It was then that I fully realised how filthy my flat was, and that I needed to do something about it. I was usually home – I had nowhere else to go – but I was afraid someone would come into my flat for whatever reason, see my headmess, and throw me out.

Some of my rubbish bags...
Some of my rubbish bags…

I wasn’t getting any income at the time so I ate one meal a day, which was oftentimes garlic bread and apples, but I’d occasionally visit the shop on my way home from my weekly psychologist sessions and buy a heap of cheap junk food. I was eating one meal a week and would often have not eaten anything prior to my session, which was in the afternoon, which meant I would hunger-buy things that weren’t on my shopping list. I’d then go home and eat until my stomach hurt, wait for the pain to pass, and eat some more.

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Life seemed a lot brighter after I had finally been offered a new job, so I brought up this cleanliness issue with my psychologist during our few final sessions.   She said that even though I may not care how messy things got, shouldn’t I still look after my external environment as a form of self-care?

I’d never actually connected the two together. Yes, getting into clean sheets and a nice-smelling house is great, but for some reason I had never though of keeping my flat clean as a kind of self-care. It makes so much sense, that feeling happy in a clean, bright, and pleasant-smelling environment would contribute to your wellbeing – and even when you’re feeling unhappy, a healthy external environment would at least not add to the mess inside your head. Not being constantly anxious about uninvited visitors or the landlord walking into my flat and seeing crap everywhere would probably help with good mental health too.

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Since moving to an actual house and not a tiny studio flat I’ve kept this conversation with my psych in mind; the only room I ‘allow’ to be messy is my bedroom, while the rest of my house has to be reasonably clean – not necessarily spotless, as I know I’m not the tidiest person around, but it has to at least not smell like rotting food, rubbish and wrappers not be left on the floor, and I should have something clean to wear. Having only my room messy, for now, gives me a sense of my mess being controlled, and also gets me out of my bed for the day because it feels nicer to be outside or in the lounge room where there’s no mess. Sometimes, when I’m struggling, I give myself ‘permission’ to be messy and not clean up after myself for a certain period of time, usually on Fridays, and then clean up on Sundays. I give myself a few days to feel crappy about things that may not have gone as planned, and then after my designated cut-off I buck up, reflect on what went wrong and how I could improve it, and start planning for my next move. I also have cats now, and they give me something to care about and get out of bed for – I can’t leave food lying around because they will undoubtedly get into it, and peoplefood is not good for cat tummies.

Whilst looking for relevant pictures to post, I came across a photo of my last self-harm session, and noticed the rubbish in the background...
Whilst looking for relevant pictures to post, I came across a photo of my last (and final) self-harm session, and noticed the rubbish in the background…

I feel like this is one of those darker, un-romanticised facets of mental illness – usually media focuses on things like crisis, mental illness-related crimes, and psychosis. Subjective feeling is what is focused on – and this is still incredibly important – but mental illness and mental health is more than just ‘hearing voices’ and ‘being violent’.

Mental illness makes things hard, and then it just makes things harder. My body and mind get tired. My soul gets tired.

Imagine being a partner or child with a family member like this, living in someone else’s mess, and feeling like you’re unable to get away because you’re supposed to love them, or because you depend on them to survive.

Mental illness is not just internal. There’s just so much on the inside that it overflows you and spills out onto the outside. It suffocates, and not just yourself.

But I don’t want someone to come in and clean up my mess; I want to be able to clean up myself. I want to be a self-sustaining, independent adult who can take pride in what I take care of, and what I can make for myself. I remind myself to self-care in so many ways every day. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, but it’s nice that at least the people I care about are aware of how hard everything is sometimes, especially when I think I’m being a terrible friend or family member. I don’t need or want everyone to tell me how great I’m going, that they feel sorry for me, or how proud they are of me; I appreciate their patience when I’m not doing so well, and need some extra space or closeness. Telling someone you’re proud of them is like telling someone ‘I love you’ – you should say it when you really mean it.

I really just want to feel proud of myself.

I don’t just need exceptions; I need support.

And here I turned a pile of old boxes into something good...Symbolic, maybe?
And here I turned a pile of old boxes into something good…Symbolic, maybe?

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