Tag Archives: mental health

What you're looking for is already in your head.

What you’re looking for is already in your mind. Keep looking out for it.

“Yay, it’s a good day!” You think upon waking. Then someone says something, or you look in the mirror, or you “stuff up” your meal plan and suddenly you feel your self-esteem “Equals Zero.” It can last for a minute, an hour, days, weeks; in other words, you can be recovered and yet be not okay. I call these Bad Times. You can gain all the weight you need to; you can be healthier, stronger, more confident, more intelligent, more experienced, more happy—but it does not mean that in due process, you have built an impenetrable wall with Gandalf guarding it, through which “No Self-Doubt or Negativity Shall Pass.” No matter how much you try, and I hate to be so blunt and seemingly discouraging, but you will never be the exact same again after mental illness (this can be a positive thing too, though). The reason I am telling you this is because one often wonders what it means to be recovered, and there are so many false messages that make us see this as something easily attained; that parts of life or life in general are as easy as it was before the illness. It often makes us feel more helpless:

“How can it be so easy for them and so hard for me? I’ll never get out of this.”
“Why can’t I do what he/she did?”
“Why can’t I think like he/she does?”
“The life they’re living is so much better than mine. I feel nowhere near as well as they seem to be.”

I myself often write articles and know that the issue I’m talking about is nowhere NEAR as simplistic as I have unintentionally made it appear to be, for I don’t want to write a Beowulf-long poem. I tend to make my finding of solutions seem like some sudden epiphany when it was actually incredibly difficult to adopt the healthier mindset, purely so I can paraphrase a massive cognitive change that took months to achieve. This post is trying to encourage you to be wary of unrealistic expectations that the world and you yourself hold in regards to being “Well Again.” But don’t fret! I’m not about to tell you it’s not as good as what you’d hope. Here’s a little science, a little experience, and a little inspiration for you.

There is this thing in behavioural science called “spontaneous recovery.” Nope, it’s not how it sounds. It’s not people spontaneously getting better, but rather when a behaviour spontaneously comes back out of the blue when we think we’ve gotten rid of it for good. I’m talking about things like binging, purging, feeling fat, being obsessive, even after acquiring a healthy mind again. In psychology, it is why we believe that several behaviour “extinction sessions” need to occur to get rid of the behaviour we wish to be—well, extinct. These sessions for us can manifest in the form of therapy, intensive patient programs—and just life in general when we successfully and actively avoid these habits on a regular basis. It’s why recovery is a fragile process rather than immediate change, where our behaviours do frequently show their ugly heads. However, the more times we tackle them (and the closer together these battles are), the less likely they’ll pop up like an unwanted computer virus. It’s why when we fight, we need to fight HARD and continuously, instead of allowing setbacks every now and then when we’re experiencing Bad Times. Otherwise, we’re slowly allowing our tight-knitted army to become permeable, constructing a breeding ground for unhealthy habitual patterns to return, and we just cannot get better this way. Just cannot.

Often people on the internet—people like me—we. . . we involuntarily paint a pretty convincingly optimistic picture of how we are now that we’re “better.” We want you to get better, so we want to show you the best bits of being better! Kind of like “recovery propaganda” (please read that with less sinister/Nazi connotations than I just did). However, its so important to make known the fact that post-recovery can still be a relatively rocky terrain on the odd occasion—even when you’re a well person again. Read my “About” page and you’d get the impression that I’m someone that has completely moved on and got on with my life—I have, but things are still different now. Meet me and you’d probably say I’m the happiest, neurotic and bubbly person you’ve ever met. Really, this is mostly because I’m still quite socially anxious, and occasionally I have to remind myself that I need to stop trying to make everyone happy, and that I need to own this awkwardness—which is so rewarding, might I add, because it’s embracing my quirkiness as a part of my character, and I feel real this way. I often have to tell myself it’s not important to make everyone like me, as I like everyone and have an instinctive tendency to depend on a reciprocation to build my self-esteem (please fight these kinds of urges). I usually remember it all but sometimes I get those days where I forget whether I’m Arthur or Martha, and need to appreciate what I am.

A while ago, after getting the flu as well as not getting my much-needed endorphins from running and being with friends, I hit what felt like rock bottom. It lasted about three weeks, going up and down—the longest my recovered Bad Times have been. Once I’d finished work, my grin would quite literally drop instantaneously into a morose, ashen expression, and I’d loll about daily life like I was unconscious in an ocean’s swell. I’d often trip over my own feet from how low I felt—talk about the feeling of “Snap BACK to reality, OOPS—there goes gravity.” In these times I can feel fat (but not always. I see myself now), but I gradually come back to realising that’s just joining the rest of the human experience. This will probably happen to you; first frequently, then less so, then perhaps rarely— and this is okay! At least it keeps us grounded, I guess. Of course, there is a line to be drawn between being humble and feeling absolutely inadequate a majority of the time. The latter means there’s still a long way to go before you can classify yourself as “well.” This can be a hopeful thing, because it means things do get better from here.

Similarly, there are days when I eat more than I necessarily need, and again, this is what every first-world healthy person does every now and then (I was bored and just ate half a jar of peanut butter. I regret nothing). This happens more often in those still overcoming an eating disorder. I know it’s easier-said-than-done, but don’t worry if you do it a lot! Your brain’s still learning that its not in the Sahara desert! It takes sometimes months for this to calm down (it took me many)—please be kind to yourself. At the same time, sometimes I lose weight and feel proud, and have to remind myself that this kind of thinking only led me to hospital and dissatisfaction. I see friends, I stick with family, I take my medication. They help me, I help myself (a skill I have newly acquired) and I find my feet again. I recall what is important in life. I start smiling again. I look forward to the future. I think. I do. I create. I inspire myself to repeat this process.

I want you to know that that if you’re modelling your understanding of recovery off people like me, I honestly say I’ve never been this well in my life—EVEN after all I have just said. I just want you to know that around 5-15% of life post-anorexia can be hard, with the percentage expanding and contracting in proportion to how long you have been well.  I wish I could tell you Bad Times don’t exist—I myself tried everything I could to ensure I could be someone entirely free from ill thoughts, but it’s unrealistic to assume this. You must come to terms with the fact that your brain is actually physically different due to what you have gone through, and its a process to get every nook and cranny back to being “good” once more.

It can start off as 50%, then 40%, and then it gradually becomes just that occasional bump in an otherwise smooth road. It’s because life comes back, and Anorexia takes a backseat. You prioritise things over it, until you’ve got friends, family, maybe even a couple of children in the back and some camping gear in the trunk, and anorexia’s left behind altogether (Toodaloo). Now, and have in mind that I have only been “well” for nearly a year, I’m about 90% of the time really happy about life and in myself. I appreciate what my body can do (I’m running a Half Marathon in three days), and I don’t feel anywhere NEAR as fat in my 10% times as I used to ALL the time when I was 15kg smaller. Yes, that 10% for me is Bad Times, which can seem quite large, but I’m able to address them logically now. If a behaviour comes back, I don’t flip out and give up on life—I actually sit down, sip a cup of licorice tea, and I unpick and re-stitch my thoughts—not my behaviours—and my future behaviours will follow suit as an extension of the cognitive work I’ve just put in, and I’ll be okay again (all that was once a big issue, are near no-brainers now). So, having a 90% Good Time now as opposed to when life was 99% Bad back when I was sick. . . well, I’ll take this new life any day, Good, Bad and all.

The message is, don’t give up on recovery when you have a terrible day, week or even month. It doesn’t mean you’re not getting well or making improvements. Recovery is worth it despite its challenging nature. Being human isn’t always easy, but being better is infinitely more fun than being sick. Putting in the effort now means living a more effortless life in the future—TRUST ME. Sure, the cogs will buckle, the car will need more fuel, but just remember that all recovery is asking you to do is do what every other healthy human being does everyday, everyday, so you can be one of those healthy human beings too. All a day-patient program is asking you to do is eat flexibly like everyone else—those people that are out there living a life that orbits around hobbies, loves and interests rather than just food and bodily affairs. And if you’re needing to do some things that are more unique (supplements etc)… well, recovery’s simply asking you to do all the things that’ll ENABLE you to one day do these things that make you the healthy human being you’re supposed to be. One day it’ll be first-nature again. Come spend some time with me and the other recoverees! Yes, the weather gets rainy on occasion, but that’s Earth! More importantly, we have some pretty jolly campfire nights.

Tread easy, and take care,
Your friend,
Lauren XxXx

Feet are aShot of barefoot feet ready for a foot massagectually the most bizarre, alien-looking objects. Like, look at your feet! Look at them! They’re so weird! Don’t take offence—I too am currently looking at the obscureness of my own. Why have feet seemed so normal and then BAM, now we’re actually looking at them properly, they look all webbed and veiny and finger-nail-y like some albino amphibious limb? Right now, toes are reminding me of shoots off a demented mung bean. Oh goodness . . . we’re animal-plant monsters. Help. I want to see my feet as normal again.

Ever get like that? Those days when you can’t spell the most basik werds becuss when you luke at them when spelt wright, they suddenly don’t look write (rite? wriyte? I give up. I’ll be a janitor). The werd lookes weered, and you spend the nekst ten miniuties starreng at it, cwestioning its existentz. Or when you wonder where the word “chimney” came from and why it was assigned to the actual object (“yes, my dear chap. That smoke hole looks like a ‘chimney’ to me. Let’s get that in writing”).  Or when someone’s name is said too many times—eg: “Emily“—and it loses its meaning; it’s now just this random sound that someone produces, and you wonder why its just accepted that this is purely a girl’s sound—let alone the fact that the creator must have thought:  “I’m going to use this sound as the noise that refers to my newborn child.” Oh muffins, these are the questions that want answering.

The thing we are doing here is actually quite amazing: the power of elimination. We’re taking away all the cloaks from these very simple things, that our world and/or our mind, have covered it with; covered for so long that we don’t even realise the cloaks are there . . . and now we’re left with the raw product. Some people would call this “putting things into perspective.” It’s quite shocking sometimes, as if we’ve just risen up through several atmospheres to look back at where we were: a tiny part of a tiny planet that once seemed like the entire universe for us.

We get so caught up and lost amongst the takeaway coffee cups, the busy streets, the prestigious suburbs, titles, institutions, university degrees; the competitive nature of humankind, the bank accounts, the images on magazines, the shopping channel (the next time I see an ad about the Nutri-Bullet I think I’m going to vertically kayak to Mars). . . . All of this engulfs us constantly, so when we get stressed and panicky about the oddest things, we don’t sit down and actually realise how gratuitous this white noise in our heads is. It seems valid and understandable because we never remove ourselves from it.

When we do, we end up with the feet-situation. Recovering from anorexia I had to stack on a lot of weight—doing so in a really short period of time—and I don’t think I would have been able to continue if I didn’t look at the facts for what they primarily WERE, without human-constructed stigma, ideologies and attitudes veering me off the actuality of what was happening to me.

I was afraid of fat. Actual fat. Being fat. Feeling fat. I kind of knew but didn’t really see that fat is a physical thing and that’s it. I sat down and I thought about it. Fat—immediately all these harrowing ideas flooded my mind from every crevice of my brain. Stop. What is fat? Not what it means—if we’re asking ourselves what it means, we’re looking at what humans have constructed the thing to mean; we aren’t looking at what it simply is. For this exercise, you’ve got to be existential. Nothing has a point—stop trying to make everything mean something, or have an outcome for some particular thing, or the power to determine one’s destiny— and just look.

After a while, fat became a strange new discovery—like I was seeing it for the first time. Fat wasn’t the all-encompassing umbrella under which all facets of negative and evil earth-bound activity huddle. I don’t want to be fat. Get rid of your fat. Fat-loss—become confident! Where in the world did this come from? Fat is a form of tissue under the skin. That’s it. It’s got nothing to do with confidence, nothing to do with how you will view yourself, nor does it dictate your capacity to have a happy and fulfilling approach to life. It’s tissue. It has no power until you start seeing what the world has turned it into: a money maker, an industry fueler and a very destructive hope-inducer that suggests, once losing some of that tissue under the skin, all the things wrong in your life will get better—or at least lessen the dissatisfaction you currently reside in (you’re life’s in a heap? Well, at least you’re pretty.”—What?!) . This is utterly absurd, and I can guarantee—having done the opposite of what society encourages via my 15kg weight gain—I’m happier than I have ever been in my life, and it’s got nothing to do with how little or how much lipid tissue my body accommodates for its own means and purposes, which my mind has no business with. Fat has lost its importance via the feet-effect, and I will never grant it more significance in my life than is due to it (which isn’t very much).

For others it may be missing special events, feeling excluded, stressing over a circle with etchings on it that makes “tick-tock” noises when you’re in a quiet room with other separated humans, all looking at a thin piece of bleached paperbark with odd inscriptions on it (apparently the human species call these “questions”), using a device with liquid in it to fill in the gaps between the odd inscriptions with similar inscriptions (these are dubbed “answers,” so I’m told), to give to a man/woman at the front of the enclosed shelter when a loud noise makes itself known, so that an odd symbol called a percentage can be determined by what is on/not on the paperbark. Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s not so important after all.

It all sounds like common sense, but seeing as we’ve all been conditioned to use common sense, well, conditionally (we should be calling it rare sense, because it isn’t that common anymore), I thought it might be nice to suggest how to go about learning how to break big things down to very little details. Flat, basic, meaningless facts that are left for you to determine the meaning of. Yes, now it’s finally up to you to choose what you want to make of them. It’s your life—everything that occupies it, you have the right to make it—in your mind—whatever you want! Make it special, make it nothing—whatever serves your best interests. Friends mean everything to me, and fat means nothing. This is how I make myself happy in this world. You can see nothing as a miracle, or see everything as a miracle, as Einstein once said. It’s all you’re choice once you’re made aware of how things really are. (You have so much power! You’re the king of your own existence, if not of anyone else’s). And remember, the best things in life are often the smallest of things—so don’t sweat them. Sweat is a very strange now I think of it—

Don’t you start, Lauren.

Explanatory Gap“I’m not the only one!” I cried at the screen, blubbering about on a mound of pillows like a beached walrus, producing a waterworks display that nearly got me hired at Sea World. The Elephant Man, the true story of the tragically deformed Joseph Merrick, is the film that speaks to me more than any words someone could string together. Being someone who struggled with how she felt about herself, I was struck by this man’s insights despite his condition and the horrible assumptions society made about him . . . it taught me more than a textbook could spit out plainly in black bold letters. It changed me, the whole course of my life. (Here’s a link to the trailer in case you’re interested.)

Every once in a while there is that one movie, book, song, speech, gift—one moment—that really seems not only to touch your heart, but reach your soul. Where you feel like it’s opened up a new way of approaching life, or perhaps makes you feel like it understands you and how you approach the world—and you yourself. It’s often we find these cathartic experiences within a form of art, or how words lift from the paper and create art within your mind. But rarely is it purely from words alone that we feel that . . . that thing none can explain.

There is a fascinating phenomenon we have in this world—it can even be beautiful at times—but this thing that is literally beyond articulation is the catalyst for most bitter inner-frustrations, misunderstandings and catastrophes. All who use a language experience it; not a single tongue out of all the varieties is exempt from this mortal gift and/or sickness; see it how you will. It’s called the Explanatory Gap, and it’s the reason why mental illness isn’t widely understood.

A: “And it was just . . . just . . . I felt this . . . D’you get what I mean?”
B: “Uh, no. Not really. Not at all, actually.”

There is a point where, via language, we cannot put definitions to things or form explanations that feel adequate enough. The emotion, the concept, the experience seems to surpass the capacity of the very tool we try to break things down with. Not only that, but sometimes when you can put a word to it, it doesn’t mean others understand how you comprehend what you’ve explained. To give you an existential-crisis-inducing example: a couple of months back, I looked up at the sky:

Me: “Joanne . . . what colour is the sky?”
Joanne: “Umm, it’s blue, Lauren. Are you okay?”
Me: “But what is blue? Describe to me what the colour blue is. I want to know if your blue is my blue.”
Joanne: “It’s . . . aghh . . . it’s sad, I guess?”
Me *being really annoying*: “Explain sadness to me.”
Joanne: “It’s when you feel bad.”

Bluesadbad . . . Seeing the pattern? We chase other words in the dictionary to explain something else, and in the process tap all over a nutshell without ever getting to the nut. It means that we don’t really know if our inner-understandings of what blue is, what sadness is, are the same. She could be seeing my internal experience of the colour red as the sky’s colour for all I know. You getting me? No? That’s the point. For more info on this fascinating topic, visit the short video, Is Your Red the Same as My Red?

But in relation to mental illness, it’s the reason unaffected people cannot relate or understand (as much as they tell you they do). For example: you’re a depressed person and expressing that you feel a severe unhappiness. It’s deciphered by the unaffected person via their own definition of what unhappy means to them, based on personal experiences they’ve learnt to link to that word. If they haven’t experienced depression, they will be a thinking of a very different unhappiness to your unhappy experience.

“I understand what it’s like feeling like there’s no good in your life.” They may say, but the inner-experience of having that mindset/attitude would be entirely different to a depressed person, but there’s just no way of articulating that.

So naturally, the good old “Just Be Happy” saying is simplistically applied to the depressed by society, because the predominant experience of unhappiness is one that most were/are voluntarily able to get out of. “So why couldn’t the depressed person just shake it off? They’re just not wanting to change their mood.” No. Not the case. “Unhappiness” to the depressed is a word they use to label an involuntary psychological issue very different to your version. Every brew of the same wine is different, yet they’re all packaged under the same name.

A problem I had was the fact that I felt like my mind was held prisoner to an incomplete language, the very thing that could set me free. Recently, walking along the river with a recovered anorexic, we spent the entire time talking about food, exercise, weight, and appearance—very typical of anorexics, you may say. But at the end, we were getting quite frustrated at ourselves as we kept trying to plough, jack-hammer and wrecking-ball that stubborn nutshell to try and explain our inner-workings . . . and I finally turned to her:

Me: “You know what? This entire time, we have been sharing a stereotypical anorexic-patient discourse, but we know that none of all those things are the problem.”

Friend: “You’re right. But that’s the only thing that comes out when we speak.”

Me: “It’s like we are trying to speak English and all that’s coming out is Spanish. No wonder people don’t understand us and what we’re going through, and just think it all happens because we think we’re fat.”

So the point is? We all suffer from the Explanatory Gap in one way or another, whether it may be in trying to tell your loved one why you love them (and all that comes out is “you’re beautiful,” “You’re kind,” “You do the dishes for me”), or suffering from a psychological condition and trying to make meaning of it for other people. It’s why you, if you’re unaffected, really need to understand that you don’t understand what they’re going through. And that’s okay. It just means, with this mentality, you’ll be more tolerant and supportive of them, and you’ll recognise that what they’re battling is real, and harder than you can grasp.

I hope I finally broke into this particular nutshell and reached the walnut here.



A Parent’s Guide to Eating Disorders

March 6, 2015—One of the toughest things a parent may ever have to face is being told their child has an eating disorder. Feelings of guilt can make us wonder whether we could have done things differently in the past, while the health and wellbeing of our child becomes our biggest fear for the future.

Last week was mental health week, and I wanted to do something to raise awareness about something really important, but I was scared of what people would say. In fact, I was so scared of this that I changed schools, changed my name. I retracted from the social sphere because I wanted to disappear; to not be judged. I hoped I’d find happiness in places where traces of me did not exist. I wanted to get smaller and smaller until I stopped stealing oxygen from the rest of the population, to suffer through this thought-pattern in silence.

But I know now that that doesn’t help anyone; it means I went through this for nothing, which in retrospect I don’t believe to be true. Now I’m tired of denying I have suffered from acute anorexia for the last year, and lesser so in the years leading up to it, in fear of seeming whiny and attention-seeking (when I’d much rather dig a hole and hide in it). Why? Because it’s just making people continuously think—just as the media suggests—that living the way I and other anorexics do is okay. Normal. That we are healthy. . . .

See Lauren’s full kickoff post at: Leaving Anorexia: The Road to Recovery.