Why having snacks in my handbag keeps me calm (and other strange habits of an anxious mind)

anxiety habits

I wouldn’t say I’m a homebody, but for some reason being far away from my house for an extended period of time makes me nervous. Maybe that does qualify me as a homebody. I’m not entirely sure.

Oh and by the way, when I say ‘extended period of time’ I mean anything over eight hours. My mind starts working overtime and I often get a tension headache because I’m so tense in my unfamiliar surroundings. I prepare for these scenarios the only way I know how; by calling on my extensive toolkit to help me in my time of need.

If you have anxiety then I reckon you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then let me fill you in on some of the strange habits I’ve developed to cope with my anxiety disorder.

The Mary Poppins bag

To ensure I have everything for any possible scenario my handbag is always full. I carry painkillers (paracetamol and ibuprofen), anxiety medication, something to read (more on that later), pens, lip balm and snacks. Always with the snacks.

For long days I’ll have my breakfast, lunch and a Clif Bar on hand to make sure I don’t get hungry and have a low blood sugar freak out, which is unfortunately standard behaviour for me. I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.

I book ahead

If I can pay for something in advance then you can bet I’ll do it. Why risk turning up unannounced when you can secure your place ahead of time? I have been known to book train tickets six weeks in advance just to feel slightly more at ease as the journey approaches.

I’m also keen on booking gym classes, networking events and tables in a bar if I’m meeting more than one other person. Having to make a group decision about what do to when you can’t find enough seats is not worth thinking about.

anxious habits

Being early is essential

On the rare occasion when I haven’t been able to pre-book a train ticket I’ll make sure to arrive in plenty of time. If I can be at the train station 45 minutes – an hour is better – before the train is due to depart then I’m happy. To be honest, I normally spend that time buying more snacks and painkillers to add to my emergency handbag stash so it’s time well spent if you ask me.

I’m generally the first to arrive at a party, assuming that the start time on the invitation is non-negotiable. I actually enjoy the calmness of an empty room before all the awkward chat begins with people I’ve never met. It also means I can find the seat nearest the door to ensure a speedy exit.

If I’m meeting friends in a pub and I’m arriving alone then it’s tricky. I want to be early but I don’t want to have to enter the pub alone, so I often find myself wandering around aimlessly peering into shop windows long after they’ve closed for the day. Anything to avoid sitting at the bar alone for 40 minutes before the rest of the gang make an appearance.

I use my book as protection

I do love reading, but not quite as much as I love being alone. I don’t enjoy talking to strangers, so having a book to use as a shield when someone tries to start up a conversation is perfect. I can just cover my face and ignore the shit out of them.

I can also highly recommend the book technique as a great way to send the ‘NOT TODAY’ signal when you’re in the break room at work.

anxiety habits

There’s nothing wrong with hiding in the toilet

This might sound like a desperate last resort but it’s actually become quite common for me, and it’s really just my way of finding a safe space when I’m feeling anxious in a social situation.

If I feel emotional I generally just have a little cry in the nearest bathroom and take a few moments to gather my thoughts. I’m making it sound sad but it’s really a good thing, I promise. It’s a private spot to for me take a few deep breaths and call hubby for a chat if needed.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. Do you have any little habits that help ease your anxiety?

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Why learning to ignore my anxiety is having a positive impact on my mental health

ignoring anxiety symptoms

As I sit here on a half-empty Virgin train waiting to leave Glasgow Central, I doubt anyone around can tell I’m trying to stop myself from having a panic attack. I’ve put my luggage away, started typing on my laptop and even exchanged a few words with the woman opposite about seat numbers and how busy the train is.

I’ve secretly popped one of my beta-blockers to slow down my heart rate and I’ve avoided caffeine all weekend to minimise the chance of feeing twitchy and anxious. However, I can’t deny I’ve noticed the little hints that something’s not right.

I’ve been biting my lip, twisting my wedding ring and have visited the bathroom more than usual this morning. My jaw is locked shut and I’ve been grinding my teeth since the early hours.

But still, I’m the only one who knows that a panic attack could be imminent. In recent months this fact has started to comfort me. Like most people with mental illness I’ve spent a lot of my time feeling isolated. I have a constant internal monologue whereby I talk myself out of doing any social activity that makes me nervous.

The voices inside tell me I’m worthless, boring and stupid and should avoid talking to others. Why risk making a fool of myself when I can stay home alone and overthink everything I’ve ever said and done? The voices have won the fight more often than not.

anxiety mental health blogger uk

Generalised anxiety disorder doesn’t always display physical symptoms. It chips away at my confidence day by day, making me feel sick from the moment I wake up until I manage to fall asleep at 3am the next morning.

It’s often irrational. It doesn’t appear to be connected to anything particular, and things that I normally do with ease – like visiting the supermarket – can all of a sudden be too overwhelming to contemplate.

Many girly nights out have involved me hiding the bathroom of a club, silently crying and building up the confidence to go back out and pretend to be OK. I’ve burst into tears and had to leave the gym, the one place where I usually feel so at home.

So sitting on this train knowing that no one suspects the terror I’m currently experiencing is somehow, a good thing. I guess it’s a feeling of control.

I used to feel like I wasn’t in control of my body. I couldn’t stop myself feeling anxious, depressed and physically tense. I couldn’t stop myself running for the nearest exit as soon as it all got too much.

I still can’t control all of my physical symptoms – like the lip-chewing and incessant bathroom trips – but they no longer control me. I can sit here happy in my own thoughts, acknowledging each habit like an old friend. They pop up now and again, sit beside me and we have a polite conversation. “Ah it’s you again” I think to myself, and I get on with my business as they sit peering over my shoulder.

And that’s where the magic happens. In the acknowledgement of these habits. I can acknowledge them, and move on. Feel them, and rise above them. I don’t have to react to them or let them take over. I can just let them be.

Before I know it, the train has departed and I’m an hour into my journey. I’ve written a few blog posts and enjoyed the scenic views as I watch Scotland fade into the distance.

I look over my shoulder and realise that the symptoms have gone. I know they’re still lurking, waiting to make an appearance at a later date. But I’m ready.

 


 

Surviving or thriving? How I realised I was actually recovering from mental illness

surving to thriving mental health blogger

Depression is a tough subject. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a painful illness that affects many of us, but I want to take a moment to talk about recovery and how it can begin to happen without us realising. I didn’t think I would ever recover, but I did. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 here’s an account of how I went from just surviving to thriving.

The small things matter again

I can’t pinpoint exactly when this happened for me, but I remember vividly how difficult it was for me to see the point in doing a lot of things. Showering seemed pointless, as did cleaning, wearing nice clothes or taking pride in my home. I didn’t wear make up because I thought, “I just have to take it back off again” so I didn’t bother. This idea of having to do things repeatedly was something that really tore me up inside.

Getting a part-time job was a major factor in helping lift that feeling, because doing the same tasks everyday was essential to doing my work correctly. I started waitressing in a cafe where I’d previously worked as a teenager, so it didn’t take me long to remember how to do everything.

Cleaning down at the end of the night and making sure everything was stocked for the next day was just enough responsibility to make me feel like I could contribute something to society and be helpful to others. Once I saw the positive effect my effort had on other people I felt compelled to continue.

Hobbies are fun again

Although I maintained my passion for fitness during the worst stages of my mental illness, other pastimes didn’t appeal to me any longer. I didn’t enjoy shopping or going out with friends. I used to love going to the cinema but I often found myself unable to concentrate during a movie or would fall asleep half way through.

When I started to take an interest in blogging again, I knew I had won back some of the enthusiasm for life that had been absent for so long. In the past ten months I’ve worked on my blog almost everyday without fail. I still get tired and frustrated with all the hard work but I really enjoy it overall. I get so much satisfaction from being creative and talking about mental illness online that I can’t see myself ever giving it up.

I can spot my obsessive behaviours

Writing about my mental illness means I’ve become even more self-reflective than before. As a result I’ve been able to better judge my behaviour and spot when I’ve been acting irrationally. I used to make family and friends change their plans to make sure I could still go to my scheduled keep-fit classes. I would control which restaurant we went to to ensure I could eat a specific type of food for weight loss, and I would be very anxious if any of those plans changed at the last minute.

I quit dieting about a year ago and since then my whole outlook has changed. I have the freedom to eat what I want and it’s made me feel a lot more laid back about things in general. Now I can see that I was really just using that as a form of control and I’m trying to work in improving that.

mental health awareness week 2017

I can support others

Having depression makes it extremely hard to be sympathetic to others. I couldn’t talk to other people with depression because I was unable to say any kind words. I felt like I was the only one who felt this bad, and that no one – not even someone with the same illness – would understand.

I spent many months relying on my husband and family to assist me with everything. I needed help getting ready, going to appointments and making basic decisions, so how could I hold my own in a conversation with someone just as vulnerable as me? It wasn’t until I was working with a young girl who had depression that I realised I was strong enough to reach out and offer support to someone else.

Somehow, I’d come far enough to be able to lend a helping hand and acknowledge that someone else was in distress. I don’t know how much I really helped her in the grand scheme of things, but I was always kind and tried to listen to her issues and offer as much advice as possible from my own experience. I didn’t realise I was better until I could actually tell someone else with confidence that they would get better too.

I can ignore negative thoughts

Recently I’ve realised that I’m now able to acknowledge my mental illness and let the symptoms play out without letting them affect me too much. I know the things that make me anxious; busy places, being around drunk people, meeting new people and long journeys on public transport. I’ve figured out that I can still put myself in those situations and not crumble, and it feels amazing!

I plan ahead as much as possible and distract myself when negative feelings arise. I avoid caffeine because it makes my anxiety worse. If I do these three things then I know I can ride out the storm and come out the other end unscathed.

Are you learning to thrive in recovery? I’ve just uploaded my first every vlog, you can check it out an subscribe here!

 

Early morning hacks for a happier day

morning hacks

I wish I could say I wake up at 5am every morning and do a home yoga session before breakfast but it’s simply not true. I’m not a morning person. Ew, just saying that phrase feels wrong. How can anyone wake up chirpy? It defies logic to me.

If I’m being honest I have noticed that my day goes much smoother when I use the morning hours to my advantage, so I’ve introduced a few early morning hacks for a happier day.

1.Get your greens & vitamins

Since changing to a plant-based diet in January I’ve been very aware that I need to get all the right vitamins and minerals in my diet to stay healthy. Although I’m certainly no expert, I can tell you that I’ve been taking iron, b12, vegan fish oil and vitamins A, C and D every morning and have noticed I’m less tired and my nails are in great condition!

I’m trying to get more leafy greens throughout the day so I add a cup of spinach to my smoothie too. These simple additions are a great insurance policy to an already pretty healthy diet, and I’ve found it really easy to implement into my routine.

morning hacks

2.Make breakfast convenient

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day and although that’s up for debate, a quick and easy option is always better than nothing at all. Prepping the night before is a good idea if you’re always rushing in the morning. If you like porridge then you will love overnight oats; a chilled version of your favourite hearty breakfast with zero cooking required. Top with different fruits, nuts and seeds to add variety to your morning meal.

For something you can drink on your commute then a protein shake is perfect. I normally drink my Huel shake on my ten minute walk to work. Simply add a few scoops to a shaker and add water. I like to sweeten mine with My Protein chocolate peanut butter flavour drops and it’s like having a milkshake for breakfast!

3.Plan your day

This is something that many of us struggle with. We sleep in late, stumble out of bed and get going before we’ve really planned out what we need to do that day. With a little forward planning it can be easy to make your day more efficient and enjoyable.

I like to plan out my clothes the night before to save time. This doesn’t mean expertly styling a runway-ready outfit! It basically means I make sure I have clean underwear, matching socks and a few work wear options hanging up ready to throw on without too much thought.I also pack my gym clothes to make sure I get in a workout before I come home.

In the morning I spend a few minutes planning what I’m having for dinner and write a list of anything I need to to pick up from the supermarket. I also go through my emails and red flag anything that needs attention straight away. After my shower I spend about an hour replying to emails and write down any tasks which need to be completed by the end of the day.

morning hacks

4.Get handbag ready

Having anxiety means I’ve identified a few triggers that make me feel nervous throughout the day. Going without food for a long period of time can often make me feel sick and panicky, so if I’ve got a stressful day ahead I always try to take a few healthy snacks in my bag for emergencies. My current faves are Clif Bars and Brazil nuts.

I also get stress headaches and although I normally have painkillers with me, I’ve started to try alternative forms of headache relief which is great if you don’t like taking tablets. I like 4head as it gives quick, cooling relief which can be particularly soothing when I’m anxious.

If you’re OK taking tablets you might also benefit from these Be Calm pills from Superdrug. I find even if I don’t take them it gives me peace of mind knowing that they’re right there in my bag if I need them.

For longer journeys it’s always great to remember a phone charger and your favourite book. I also carry a notepad and pen so I can make lists; a good way to easily de-stress whilst on the go.

What are your morning hacks for a happier day?

3 bad habits I eliminated to help my anxiety

bad habits I gave up to help my anxiety

I’ve seen my anxiety start to level off in the last twelve months, after struggling to cope with it everyday for over five years. Like many of you, I was particularly anxious about work and social interactions. I’ve always been happy to go to the gym, walk around town and use pubic transport all on my own, but facing big groups or social situations has always been a trigger for me.

As my depression has slowly become less prevalent I’ve found my anxiety also become easier to manage. Can I get a ‘hell yeah’? Along with medication and therapy I’ve also found that eliminating a few bad habits from my routine has really helped me take control of my anxious mind.

Although not completely cured (is that ever really a possibility? I’m not sure) I’m happy to say I can now face most social interactions with a positive attitude. Here are a few bad habits I’ve given up along the way…

1. Drinking too much alcohol

I gave up booze a few years ago after my GP told me I couldn’t drink whilst taking anti-depressants. In all honesty, I continued to get drunk for several months into my treatment before I took the advice on board and went completely tee-total.

I drank to excess and was making my situation considerably harder to bear. Lots of people around me were telling me to loosen up and enjoy a few drinks -as though that could cure my low mood – but I knew deep down I was using it as a crutch.

Since going without alcohol for a full year I’ve dabbled in drinking now and again. When my anxiety is bad I often consider having a drink to ease my nerves, but thankfully I’ve not felt the need to self-medicate in that way.

The truth is that even one drink can trigger a depressive episode for me and that then leads to an increase in my anxiety. Living without alcohol means I’ve more in control of my moods so it’s a no brainer really.

giving up alcohol for anxiety

2. Relying on caffeine

I’ve loved drinking coffee ever since I started working in cafes when I was seventeen. You would think being a barista all week would make me sick of it but I think it make be more addicted. Having the good stuff on tap at all times has been a temptation that I’ve given in to for years, knocking back between two and ten espresso shots every day to keep me energized.

Walking into the welcoming smell of freshly ground coffee beans feels like home to me. It’s so familiar that I gravitate towards it when I need pick me up or some down time.I’ve always been quite sensitive to caffeine, so I felt like giving it up was something that would definitely help.

I often get the shakes and butterflies in my stomach after too many cups. Considering my anxiety symptoms are very similar, intentionally bringing them on with coffee seemed like a silly thing to do.

I made the switch to decaf about six months ago and I’ve really not missed my caffeine fix at all. My favourite drink when I’m out is a decaf soya latte, and when I’m at home I love Percol Decaf Columbia which you can pick up in most supermarkets.

off work with mental illness

3. Restricting my food intake

I always thought my approach to healthy eating was having a positive impact on my life, but recently I’ve realised that it contributed a lot to my anxiety.

I’ve always been on some sort of crash diet or eating plan which dictated a set of rules to follow for weight loss. This meant whenever I ate out at a restaurant or at someone’s house I was constantly about what I would be able to eat.

I was forever scouring the internet for menus, asking people to cook specific food, requesting we go to a certain restaurant or avoiding eating all day in order to save enough calories to indulge at night.

Not only did this put pressure on my mind because of all the extra stress and willpower involved, but the lack of calories put my body through hell. My blood sugar was all over the place and I wasn’t fuelling myself properly to do all the exercise I loved. I was always tired and aching all over which meant I wasn’t recovering properly. I had brain fog, was always very tightly wound and I snapped and people because I was so hungry all the time.

I started eating intuitively a few years ago and of course I gained some weight. That made me really upset, so I went back to dieting. It wasn’t until 2016 that I truly began listening to my body and follow the Intuitive Eating guidelines; eating when hungry and stopping when full.

I now find my anxiety around food has almost completely  gone, although I’ll admit I still get a little worried when I have to eat whilst travelling. However, this is an ongoing project for me and one that I’m committed to working on to create a more balanced relationship with food.

Have you given up any bad habits in order to improve your mental health?

 

5 easy ways to de-stress right now

feel less stressed

I’m the queen of stressing out. I can appear calm and collected on the surface for weeks, but it only takes something small and insignificant to tip me over the edge into total meltdown-mode. I’ve learned a few tricks over the years and now implement all of them on a daily basis to keep me relaxed, or call on them to tackle those panic-stricken moments that come out of the blue.

1. Listen to a podcast

I’ve never managed to maintain a blogger-style morning routine (are any of those real?) but one thing I consistently do in the morning is listen to podcasts. When I get out of the shower the first thing I do is put on an episode of My Favourite Murder whilst I get ready.

Yes, true crime relaxes me and I know you won’t judge me for that. It’s the dedicated ‘me time’ that I don’t often find elsewhere in the day, and it lets me forget about work and instead listen to two hilarious ladies explain the details of gory murders that have happened across the globe.

2. Go for a walk

There is something about waking outside that really helps me focus. Putting my phone on silent in my pocket definitely helps matters, as does breathing in the fresh air and getting a new perspective on things.

If you’re feeling stuck creatively, or just putting off doing certain things I honestly think walking outside is the perfect motivation. It helps clear your head, releases endorphins and gives you that can-do attitude that’s so hard to find when you stay cooped up indoors.

less stress relax

3. Write a list

Sometimes actually doing the things that stress you out are just too much, and I for one like to bury my head in the sand as long as possible before getting proactive. That’s where my love for planning comes in.

When I’ve got too much going on in my head, I take a pen and a notebook and do a ‘brain-dump’, something I learned from the incredibly organised Jenny Melrose. It’s basically a way of writing down all the thoughts, tasks and to-dos that are swirling around your mind in order to feel a little better. Once you have the list of random thoughts, you can start constructing some sort of plan.

This is great because it allows you to pick out the easiest jobs that you can complete quite quickly. For the more daunting tasks, dedicate a whole page to mapping out the smaller steps that need to be taken making the job easier to manage. Ta-da! More planning = less stress.

4. Organise a small space

Looking for organisational tips? You won’t find them here. I’m pretty scatter-brained when it comes to household chores and really don’t take any pleasure in cleaning, but I will admit that it feels good to do it now and again.

When I’ve got a growing to-do list sometimes I find it helpful to take 30 minutes and tidy up a small area of my home, as it leaves me feeling more motivated to continue with my day. For me this area is normally the kitchen. I cook a lot from scratch so I make a mess in there. I like to wash all the dishes, clean the surfaces, sweep and then mop the floor and then I normally feel a little more calm and collected.

5. Talk

Talking is such a simple thing, but something we often neglect to do when we’re feeling stressed. We’re conditioned to bottle things up, battle on and continue spinning plates until they all coming crashing down around us. We wonder why we can’t do everything all at once, but everyone has different capabilities and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I ended up seeing a counsellor because I couldn’t be open about my problems.

Pick up the phone and call someone you trust. Tell your colleague that you’re a bit over-worked. Text that one person who knows you inside out and ask for help. I let out most of my minor aggravations on Instagram stories on a daily basis and people always respond with helpful messages to pick me up and make me feel better.

Have you found any easy ways to feel less stressed?

 

3 mental health books you MUST read today

best books for mental illness depression anxiety

I’ve spent many an afternoon wandering around the library. To me the library has always been a place of opportunity, and it has helped me find books that ignite new interests and explain unknown worlds to me. I’ve loved collecting books over the years, and looking back at my favourites reminds me if where I was at that point in my life, how I was feeling and what I was doing.

Having depression and anxiety means I often look for answers in the books I read. Recently I reflected on some of the books that helped me make sense of my own mental illness and it’s something that I think you might find helpful, so I’ve listed my top 3 books below.

From Darkness to Light: A Memoir by Nikki Dubose

I only finished reading this memoir last week and I actually posted a full review which you can read here. I was engrossed in this from the moment I picked it up and it’s the quickest I’ve read a book in ages.

Nikki takes us through her life story, starting with when she developed an eating disorder at eight years old to when she finally got help as an adult. During that time she was physically and sexually abused by family members, addicted to drugs and alcohol and struggled with self-harm and body dysmorphia.

As an international top model the pressure to be thin was overwhelming, and only served to exacerbate her eating disorder as well as her psychotic episodes. This painfully honest account is a testament to her strength and offers hope to anyone experiencing even the darkest of times.

Shoot The Damn Dog by Sally Brampton

I read this book back in about 2009, years before I was diagnosed with any form of mental illness. I really can’t say why I felt compelled to pick up a book about depression other than I felt I was becoming unhinged at times, and had taken to drinking during the day to relieve stress.

Sally’s book didn’t point out any glaring symptoms in myself, but I was utterly hooked by her story and how her relationship with alcohol made things so much worse. This combined with a failing marriage and a daughter to look after made for a heartbreaking tale.

I found it upsetting to read, but absolutely essential to my understanding of how powerful depression is at taking over the mind and body. She does well to describe how one cannot simply ‘shake off’ these bad feelings and get on with daily life, something that many non-sufferers could benefit from understanding.

I didn’t know until recently that Sally died from suicide last year, which makes her work even more significant and worth reading.

Brain Over Binge by Kathryn Hansen

I bought this book after I started to become concerned about my eating habits. I was laying in bed one night, sobbing and feeling ashamed after another day of uncontrollable eating when I searched ‘how to stop binge eating’ on You Tube. I came across a video of someone talking about how this book changed their life, so I ordered it immediately.

Kathryn went through years of unsuccessful therapy for binge eating disorder and couldn’t seem to get it under control. The most common theory is that binge eating is a coping mechanism for some underlying psychological issue that must be unearthed in order to stop the pattern.

She spent years following the doctor’s orders, writing down and exploring all her habits and thoughts in an attempt to identify the problem. I won’t spoil the book for you but Kathryn goes on to explain how she developed her own method for stopping the illness in its tracks.

I’ve never been diagnosed with binge eating disorder because honestly, I was too scared to tell anyone about the symptoms and addictions I was developing. I believe I managed to stop the habits from forming by applying the techniques I read in this book.

It was also just incredibly comforting to read someone describe the same urges that I was experiencing, because no one really talks about binge eating openly and I really needed confirmation that there was a problem and I wasn’t just exaggerating things in my head.

What are your favourite books about mental illness?

Opening up about mental illness in the modelling industry – Washed Away by Nikki Dubose

nikki dubose book review

Washed Away: From Darkness to Light is a Memoir by former model Nikki Dubose. She has appeared in magazines such a Maxim, Glamour, Vogue and Vanity Fair and first suffered from an eating disorder at just eight years old.

Her childhood trauma of sexual abuse led to bulimia, various drug addictions and serious mental illness in later life. Although she boasted a high-flying career in the fashion industry, at the height of her success she was experiencing intense inner turmoil which she kept hidden from the world.

Talking about one performance on the catwalk she writes;

“As my feet carry me to the edge, I hear no sound, experience no sensation. Despite the music and commotion, I am lost in a dreamland. How long have I waited to arrive in this spectacular moment? I never imagined I would feel so numb, so vacant. Dozens of cameras pop and crackle as they capture the magnificent creature before them. I perform, but inside I feel trapped, imprisoned within my mind.”

Nikki describes the terrifying ‘whispers’ she hears when she’s on stage, the voices in her head which mock her every move. When met with praise she ignores everyone and instead of celebrating with champagne and dancing, she rushes home to her apartment to be alone. She only wants one thing, and that’s to binge on – and then purge – large amounts of food.

To say Nikki came from a broken home would be kind at best. Her parents separated early on and her mother sexually abused her and treated her as a buddy; someone to show off to as she performed sex acts in online chat rooms and hooked up with strangers in bars. This is just one of several people who took advantage of her innocence from a young age.

With such a tainted childhood, it’s no surprise that Nikki went looking for love in all the wrong places. Her struggle to meet the demands of how a model should look only exacerbated her eating disorder as well as her constant self-loathing.

As I read the history of Nikki’s eating disorder it became clear that it was not only a way to stay as thin as possible for the modelling world, but a form of physical release that she couldn’t get elsewhere. Her mental illness ultimately led to the physical condition which consumed her life.

Having lived with a hatred for my own body for most of my life and dieting since aged 17, this topic really hit home for me. I’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder but I know I’ve teetered on the edge, and so I empathised with the daily rituals she went through to hide her unhealthy behaviours.

“I binged and threw up in the shower or in paper bags that I kept in my bedroom. I was the smart one; Evelin and Vitor had no idea, especially when I hid the vomit in the paper bags. My knuckles and lips began to bleed and scar again, but I covered them with concealer. Whenever a make-up artist raised an eyebrow at the cuts, I said that I had an autoimmune disease.”

Nikki talks to the reader as though we are her closest ally. Throughout her illness she felt unable to share her troubles with anyone, so to have her talk intimately and in great detail about the things she’s endured is a privilege.

Reading her words is like being inside Nikki’s head. Her writing style is brutally honest and disturbing at times, a testament to not only what she has endured but also how difficult it must have been for her to relive these painful memories and put them down on paper.

I had no idea what to expect going into this book. I never thought I’d finish the thing in just a few days and feel so utterly connected to someone I’d never met. Knowing Nikki’s story has reminded me why I started to write about mental illness online, even though it often leaves me feeling vulnerable to expose myself to the world.

Although Washed Away is about championing the possibility of recovery, it’s my no means a self-help book. I’m not sure the world needs another one of those anyway. Often those of us with mental illness know deep down what steps need to be taken, but we just can’t imagine having the strength carry them out.

This book proves that we are indeed strong enough, and that even the darkest of times will lead to light.

Buy Nikki’s book here

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The honest truth about seeing a counsellor

whats it like seeing talking to a counsellor therapy

If your GP has put you on a waiting list to see a counsellor then you should definitely see one.

Many people brush off the notion of talking as a form of medication , and just want to take pills and power through their illness until they feel ‘normal’ again.

Medication is great. Medication can help alleviate symptoms of depression in order for you to be a little more productive, take better care of yourself and attend important appointments.

But you may find that talking about your problems is the thing you need to fully resolve any ongoing mental health problems you have. If you think it isn’t going to work for you then ask yourself; what have you got to lose?

It’s a process

If you physically recoil when you think about sharing ‘feelings’ with a stranger then this will seem like an uphill struggle from the start. I didn’t want to talk about my depression. It was mine, my burden and sharing it with others didn’t feel natural or helpful.

I learned over time that sharing my burden was a gift. The best thing is that your counsellor is an outsider.

They are not a family member who thinks you’re taking life too seriously. They aren’t a friend who thinks you’ve got nothing to be sad about. They aren’t an employer who thinks you need to knuckle down and get on with it. They are an impartial person with your best interests at heart.

I found my counsellor especially helpful during the phase when I was returning to work. She was able to give me answers to some of the questions that I didn’t have myself. Should I work full time or part time? What level of responsibility should I have? She also gave me the strength to stand up to my friends and stay away from alcohol when I was feeling the urge to abuse it.

It’s awkward as hell

Everyone reacts differently to awkward situations. And if sitting down to tell a complete stranger about your inner turmoil isn’t the worst kind of awkward, then I don’t know what is.

Some people laugh, others chat nervously, but I sat in silence. Going into that claustrophobic room, crippled with anxiety and depression was the absolute opposite of what I wanted to do during that period of my life.My body downright rejected it and I had to force myself to enter.

I spent most sessions staring at the floor. I avoided eye contact. I gave one word answers. I said “I’m fine” constantly, to try and fool the woman into letting me out of the painful scenario. My muscles tensed to fiercely that I was physically exhausted from every session I completed. But I completed them.

whats it like seeing a counsellor therapy depression

You have to commit

As difficult as my weekly meetings were, I never missed a single one. Even when I felt like it wasn’t helping, or that it was making me feel worse, I kept going. I knew that this kind of treatment was hard to come by so I didn’t want to lose my place in the programme.

I slugged it out even when I didn’t want to. Part of being depressed means that a lot of the time you don’t have control over your actions, and you might not be able to show up every week. I get it. Sometimes leaving the house just isn’t an option.

But if you can find the will to go then I urge you to do it, and do it consistently. If you show up regularly – even when you don’t want to talk – it lets your counsellor take note of your mood and your ability to cope. This is all helpful information that can be used to track your progress, even if you feel like you’re not progressing much at the time.

You need to be honest

Having a mental illness is draining. You often walk around pretending to be OK for days, weeks or months at a time because you think it’s what you’re expected to you. You tell employers you can cope with extra work, you tell friends you’re happy on a night out, and you tell your partner your just having a bad day because you haven’t been sleeping well.

It’s a vicious cycle where you use so much energy putting on a brave face for everyone that you have no strength left to truly take care of yourself.

Talking to a counsellor is an amazing opportunity to actually tell the truth. Be totally honest. Tell them that you dread getting up in the morning, you hate your job and you don’t want to socialise with anyone. Tell them you can’t find enough hours in the day to wash your hair and match up your odd socks. In fact, these small tasks are so overwhelming that you sob uncontrollably at the thought of doing them.

Nothing bad can come from opening up about these thoughts. They are more than just thoughts. They are symptoms of your illness, and once you’ve got them off your chest I guarantee you’ll feel the benefit. Trained professionals understand them in a way that your friends and family might not be able to and that is an invaluable tool in your path to recovery.

Do you have any experience with seeing a counsellor?