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?

 

 

Why you need to stop apologising for your mental illness

stop apologising how to talk to people about mental illness

One of the most prevalent emotions that tears you up inside when you have depression is guilt.

Guilt about being sad. Guilt about letting people down. Guilt about not being good enough and guilt about always relying on others to help you get through the day.

I’ve had to rely on others for money, transport and food as well as emotional support especially in social situations where I feel very vulnerable. Not being able to go out to meet people without a chaperone is a pretty shitty feeling let me tell you. But I believe there’s no good reason why you should have to apologise for your mental illness. Here’s why…

It’s not your fault

You probably think apologising for your behaviour is the right thing to do. You’ve not been yourself, ignoring people and been a bit of a recluse in fear of upsetting anyone with your unpredictable mood swings.

It’s easy to think that people don’t want to see when you’re like that, but rest assured that it’s your mental illness talking and not the truth. When mental illness takes hold it’s so overpowering that you can’t control it. If it was a choice wouldn’t we all just shake it off and get on with life? Of course we would.

Your friends and family might not think you’re a bundle of fun when you’re going through a bad spell with your mental health, but they still love you anyway. Apologising and talking yourself down all the time is honestly just a waste of energy at this point. Energy that you need to conserve and use for more positive tasks. As much as possible, you should try and remember that your situation is not a direct result of any actions you’ve taken.

It’s more inconvenient for you than anyone else

Have you ever felt that you’ve let someone else down as a result of your mental illness? Me too.

I started a new job and on my second day I burst into tears on the way there and screamed that I couldn’t go in. It was the easiest job in the world with the friendliest people I’ve ever worked with but I just couldn’t handle it. I made my mum go in and tell them that I wouldn’t be in that day and I didn’t go back.

I later had it confirmed by a health professional that I was indeed unfit for work, but at the time I felt like a total failure and a time-waster. I’d left someone to work on their own in a situation that would’ve been incredibly stressful, but me being there in floods of tears unable to cope with my existence wouldn’t have helped the situation.

Why do you think your happiness is less important that someone else’s? If you let someone down and they’re mentally stable then they can go on with their day regardless. You, on the other hand are unable to do something because you’re unwell. You’re not fit to do some tasks at the moment and whilst that might be inconvenient for someone else for a few minutes, you’re dealing with the painful inconvenience of having a mental illness every single day. You come first.

Making other people uncomfortable or making things slightly awkward once in a while is something others will just have to deal with whilst you work hard to recover. Trust me, they can handle it.

It’s OK to be selfish

One of the reasons I got myself in a mess was because I was trying to please too many people too many times. I was scared to say no to anyone because to be honest, I didn’t realise I could. One of the best things you can do for your happiness is practise saying no more often.

I’m not talking about avoiding things that make you happy, but being confident enough to know when you’ve taken on too much. Don’t do something just to make someone else happy when you know that it’s causing you pain or making your anxious. Be honest with people. When someone is asking you do do something they’re asking you because there is more than one possible answer; make sure you choose the one that serves you.

The day I started being selfish with my time was the day I started to truly realise what I was capable of doing without putting my health at risk.

Are you going to stop apologising for your mental illness?

To my friends – here is the truth about my mental illness

This week in the Year of Gratitude series, the suggested writing prompt is ‘a friend’ that you’re grateful for. Here’s my take on the subject…

It took a few minutes for me to realise that my phone was ringing. The harsh sound of it vibrating on the wooden bedside table was what finally woke me up, but I didn’t reach over to pick it up. Instead I looked at the clock. It was 2.30pm. On a Tuesday.

I pulled the sheets over my head and went back to sleep. An hour later I woke up and saw I had a text message as well as the missed call from earlier. It was my friend Kirsty explaining that her and Claire had been in the area having lunch and did I want to join them.

Obviously I had missed the opportunity because I had slept in, but I didn’t care. I had successfully avoided another human interaction and that was all good in my book. Cha-ching.

Ignoring people was a commonly used strategy for me back then, when I was unfit for work due to depression and anxiety. I’m not sure how much I let show to my friends at the time, and I’m sorry for that. I didn’t want them to see the bad parts of my life which meant I didn’t let them see much of me at all.

I’m so grateful for my friends that have stuck by me throughout my mental illness. I also don’t blame the ones who didn’t hang around. It’s been almost 5 years since I was diagnosed and I’ve been a bit of a handful to deal with. Sorry about that.

There are a few things I want them to know though and here they are, in no particular order.

mental health truth to friends

I hide it constantly

When I’m out shopping, at the gym, in a restaurant or at work – especially at work – I’m probably pretending to be OK. There’s a negative voice inside my head and sometimes it can take control of how I feel.

I’m getting better at ignoring the internal commentary – I hate myself, I’m so fat, I’m so useless, I’ve got nothing to say – but it’s always underlying and waiting to hijack me when I least expect it.

The painful part is that I’m always expecting it, and that’s exhausting in itself; always been on high alert for low moods and panic attacks. When they finally do show up I’m ready to hit the deck almost immediately.

I can’t always explain my actions

Sometimes I ignore phone calls. I read messages and then procrastinate for hours or sometimes days before responding. I know it’s rude. I know I’m being a crappy friend but sometimes I just can’t communicate with other people.

I don’t fully know why and I can’t justify my actions but believe me when I say it’s nothing personal.

I’m so grateful

I don’t always show it but I’m so grateful to have people around me who still care about me. I know I make situations difficult when I get socially awkward and shut down to everyone around me. It’s inconvenient and embarrassing for me.

The thing that gets me through is knowing that other people care. When I think I’m a total piece of shit, my friends and family are still there. They’re knocking on my door when I don’t answer the phone to make sure I’m OK, and that is something I’ll always be grateful for.

 

 

 

 

What are the best hobbies for depression? Read my top 10 tips

what are the best hobbies for depression

You’ve been diagnosed with depression and your doctor has told you to get a hobby. Once you’ve restrained yourself from screaming in said doctor’s face, I advise you calmly leave the building and take yourself home for a lie down.

Being told this by your GP can feel extremely patronising. Do they think we can just knit our way out of depression? Take a photography course and all is well again? It’s not that easy and I’m 100% on your side with that one.

But there are a few hobbies that are worth trying out on those days where you can find the energy to try your hand and something different. I’d love to know if you’re willing to give some of these a go…

1. Yoga

Doctors will regularly recommend yoga for those with depression, and although it’s not for everyone I personally find it very helpful when I’m finding it hard to relax. I wrote about it in more detail last year when I started going more regularly to help ease my symptoms when I moved away from home.

2. Running

It might sound like your idea of hell, but many people claim running has been a major factor in their recovery from depression. I took up running after going to fitness classes for a year or so, looking for a new challenge to test my abilities. Although I don’t enjoy it as much as other forms of exercise I can see why many enjoy the solitude and fresh air that comes with the hobby.

3. Walking

If running seems a little too advanced then I highly recommend trying walking instead. Either alone or with a friend, the benefits of walking are well-documented and can give you a sense of achievement on days when you feel unmotivated.

4. Drawing

This is a pastime that was always encouraged when I was a child, and I can see why. It’s good at keeping you distracted without the use of TV or video games and it’s a great creative outlet.

5. Blogging

Obviously I’m biased about this one! I started blogging a few years ago when I was unfit for work and felt the urge to be creative. You don’t need to write about depression; write about whatever pleases you and do it under another name if you don’t want anyone to know it’s you.

what hobbies are good for depression

6. Journaling

If you still want to write but not necessarily hit ‘publish’ online, then journaling could be for you. Grab a notebook and just explain how you’re feeling. I know from experience that trying to explain or even experience emotions when you have depression can feel like an impossible task. There are lots of good advice posts and prompts available out there to get you started.

7. Cooking

After years of restricting my food intake and binge eating junk food, I’m learning to enjoy all types of food again for their health benefits. I feel at my best when I’m eating lots of fruit, vegetables and some sweat treats for good measure (Oreos are food for the soul) and cooking plays a big part in that. I like the satisfaction of cooking a meal from scratch, especially if I know it’s going to make me feel good.

food-salad-healthy-lunch

8. Reading

I think people who want to ‘get a hobby’ often forget about the simple joy of reading. It’s basically free (remember those places called libraries?) and most people can do it. There are a million different genres be it fiction or non-fiction, self-help or fantasy; there’s sure to be something to keep you occupied.

EXTRA BONUS TIP! When you want to read but you can’t concentrate (a common problem with depression) then listen to podcasts.My current obsessions are My Favourite Murder, Desert Island Discs, Pro Blogger, Ctrl Alt Delete, Generation Why, Unsorry and Standard Issue Magazine.

9. Gardening

The thought of tackling an overgrown garden might be a bit much, but some light weeding or planting some flowers in pots could be a good idea. This is something that you can dedicate 30 minutes to everyday and see progress over time, which should give you a sense of achievement.

10. Play an instrument

If you can already play an instrument then why not set aside some time to practise a few times a week? It’s a good way to create some focus for short periods of time and gives you a physical and creative outlet. Also find singing along to my favourite music has the same effect.

Have you found a particular hobby that has helped ease the symptoms of your depression?

20 simple ways to boost your mood when you’re feeling depressed

boost your mood mental health blogger UK

Sometimes when your stuck for inspiration it helps to have a go-to list of activities that boost your mood. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I know that I have mentally taken note of what has eased my pain over the years. Here is a bunch of ideas to get you started if you’re not sure what to do when you’re experiencing low moods. Please bear in mind that these are not a substitute for medical help, merely a few tools which have helped me along the way in conjunction with medication and therapy.

1.Take a bath – there’s nothing more relaxing that a soak in a hot bath. I also like to take this time to leave my phone in another room and be more mindful of what’s going on in my head, or read a book.

2.Paint your nails – I hardly ever paint my nails because I work with food for my day-job. When I do take the time to give myself a manicure I always feel myself admiring my nails and feeling a little bit fancy.

dying blonde hair red

3.Get a haircut – I know not everyone can afford to get a new do that often, but when I’m feeling a bit yuck a trim at the hairdressers always makes me feel refreshed. I think getting a haircut really does make you feel lighter and give you an energy boost.

4.Take yourself to the movies – this is a great way to disconnect from social media because you have to turn your phone of and concentrate on the film you’re watching. Sometimes when I’m anxious a trip to the cinema is a bit difficult for me, but it’s often good when I’m just in need of a distraction from negative thoughts.

5.Walk on the beach – I don’t know any facts about the calming nature of being near the sea, but I know it has a profound effect on me personally. Starting out at the ocean from a beach is so hypnotic, and it often gives you perspective on whatever is on your mind.

boost your mood mental health blogger UK

6.Book a massage – I know I certainly can’t afford to do this as much as I’d like, but it’s something to bear in mind for a special occasion or a time when you know you’ll be under pressure. I organised to have one the day before my wedding and it was such a great way to shake the tension out of my body before the bid day.

7.Try out some new make up – My current budget favourites are the Garnier BB cream, the Sleek Contour & Blush Palette and the Freedom Brow Pomade.

8.Buy some new pyjamas – I don’t know about you but a trip to Primark isn’t complete without a snazzy new pair of PJs thrown in for good measure! I like to get a new pair for a pamper evening, just to make me feel a little more special.

boost your mood mental health blogger UK

9.Put fresh sheets on your bed – The act of washing and changing your sheets is quite possibly THE most annoying household chore around. It feels like you only did it yesterday and all of a sudden it’s time to do it again. We all know nothing beats the feeling of freshly laundered sheets though, it’s the best!

10.Cook your favourite meal – This might be something healthy like a stirfry or a treat like macaroni cheese. Whatever you feel like, take the time to enjoy the cooking process and savour every last bite of your favourite food.

11.Read a book – My pile of books is growing everyday, and I feel like I never have time to read. Put your phone on silent for an hour, get a hot drink and settle into some reading for a while. It’s a great way to escape negative thoughts and relax.

12.Go out for a coffee – Whether it’s coffee, tea or a milkshake I recommend getting out of the house and sitting in your local cafe for a while. I love to watch the world go by or stick my headphones in and listen to a podcast whilst I enjoy a few moments of mindfulness.

mood boosting activites mental health blogger UK

13.Practise mindfulness – I’m sure you’ve heard people talking about mindfulness and thought that it would be way too difficult to do yourself. The secret is that it takes lots of practise! My favourite app is Calm, but you can also find lost of guided meditation videos on You Tube that talk you through the process to make it easier. It’s a great one to try if you feel anxious or overwhelmed.

14.Stretch – You don’t have to go to visit the gym or find your nearest Pilates class (although they are two viable options too) to enjoy the benefits of stretching. Simply do the stretches that you know you enjoy take your time. I love this Blogilates video which only takes 12 minutes and is perfect for beginners.

15.Burn your favourite candle – It’s become a habit for me to light candles every evening, as I find it really lifts my spirits and helps me wind down. Try dimming the lights and have a few candles burning whilst you meditate or do some stretches. I love Yankee Candles, Little Tulip London and Jo Malone.

16.Brush your teeth – When depression takes over the thought of getting showered and dressed is often too much to bear. If you only do one thing then consider brushing your teeth. I also like to wash my face with my favourite cleanser just to make me feel a little more alive.

pexels-photo

17.Listen to your favourite music – I have a few playlists that are full of feel-good songs to help cheer me up when I’m feeling low. Be careful not to listen to any music that might trigger any bad memories.

18.Look at your favourite quotes – I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to positive quotes, and nothing pleases me more than adding more to the list! If you’re feeling demotivated then I would highly recommend pinning for an hour or so, it’s strangely therapeutic.

19.Clean your make up brushes – On those days where you have a long to-do list that feels totally overwhelming, sometimes it’s easier to tackle one small task that gives you instant gratification. Cleaning your make up brushes or ever just reorganising your make up storage can be an easy job that only takes around 30 minutes.

20.Re-organise your wardrobe – If you’re feeling brave enough to take on a bigger challenge then why not take on your wardrobe? If you’re anything like me then you’ll be hoarding ill-fitting clothing which hasn’t been worn for several years and could do with throwing out.

I’d love to know what your favourite mood boosting activities are, please feel free to leave them in the comments below or tweet me.

 

4 reasons why Blue Monday is the perfect time to admit you need help

mental health blogger UK blue monday help

Every year the media reminds us that there is one day in January called Blue Monday. It’s today. It was created as a PR stunt by a lecturer from Cardiff who has since admitted that the whole concept is “not particularly helpful”.

Having a day dedicated to people claiming they are ‘depressed’ is a bit of a slap in the face for people who are clinically depressed or suffering from serious, long term mental illness which leaves them barely able to function. Whilst we should all be careful when we throw around over-used terms such as, “I’m so depressed” or “This is suicidal” we should also take this opportunity to raise awareness about genuine mental illnesses, which are incredibly common yet often go unnoticed in everyday life.

You’re not alone

If the calculations are to be believed – which they typically aren’t – then you’re more likely feel depressed on January 16th over any other day in 2017. With Christmas credit card bills looming, the temperature dropping and resolutions inevitably failing it’s easy to see why many of us are feeling a little low compared to the weeks leading up to Blue Monday.

The good thing about feeling crap on this day is that we all tend to feel the same way. You’re not alone. It’s a good time to take a step back from your current situation and see if you’re mood has been low for a consistent period of time. Do you have ‘the blues’ or are you actually suffering from depression?

It’s a hard question to answer on your own, and many of us hate to admit that we might need medical help, but sometimes we need an outsider to take a look. If you feel your friends and family are too close to see what’s really going on -a common issue- then see a doctor. They can spot warning signs, evaluate the facts and give guidance. If you’re still unsure check out this NHS page which helps you differentiate between low moods and depression.

It’s in the media

Even though mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide, by some cruel twist of fate it’s still a taboo subject in modern society. The fact that most major news outlets will feature a post on Blue Monday means that at least for one day, it’s likely to a common topic of conversation. You might not want to bring it up with your employer, but talking over an article you find interesting with a trusted co-worker might at least give you the confidence to consider it in the future.

It’s also a great day to utilise all the social media posts and bloggers out there who are giving advice from personal experience. Remember everyone’s mental health is affected differently so you might need to visit a couple of websites before you find something that speaks to you. Check Hannah and Beata for some mental health chat.

It’s just one small step

Asking for help is terrifying. When I started to feel unwell I waited months before I felt like my illness was ‘bad enough’ to require assistance. Even then, I was sure I was going to be laughed out of my doctor’s office and told to get over myself. I was suffering from stress which led to depression and anxiety, but I wasn’t fully aware of that until I explained my symptoms to a GP. I was constantly agitated, unable to concentrate, emotional and physically exhausted.

When I was advised to take at least a month off work to start recovering it was the first step in my journey to restoring my mental health. I wasn’t offered lots of treatment options or advised on how to change my lifestyle during that first visit. That would’ve been too overwhelming for me. I was happy just to acknowledge that I wasn’t coping. Having that weight lifted off my shoulder by telling another human being was the best I’d felt in months.

It’s a fresh start

January is full of resolutions and grand plans for the future, but you don’t have to put any pressure on yourself to change. Don’t add any more stress to your life. You can however, see it as a fresh start; a time to let help in, maybe slow things down a little and learn to take better care of yourself mentally. Try taking a small step towards putting yourself first for a change.

It could be something small like a bubble bath or spending time reading your favourite book. You could even make plans to start a new hobby or meet up with friends you’ve been neglecting for a while. Seeing a doctor can help you realise that these small steps are what add up to improving your overall mood and bringing back that lust for life that’s missing when depression takes over.

Is today the day you’re going to ask for help?

More info:

Seeking medical help about mental health

Contact Samaritans

 

3 ways the beauty industry has affected my mental health

mental health blogger UK beauty industry

I’ve spent years rejecting the idea that the beauty industry can have a positive affect on my mental well-being. How can a lipstick make you happy? Why are young girls caking their faces in concealer when they don’t even need it? It’s taken me until by thirties to understand how the beauty industry has shaped the thoughts I have about my own body, and how I can reclaim them and make them positive.

It helped me develop a self-care routine

I don’t believe that possessions can make you happy, and for years I refused to spend money on beauty and skincare products because I believed I didn’t need them to feel beautiful. I definitely DO NOT need them to feel beautiful; but taking care of my physical self is something that I’ve done more in 2016, and something that’s sincerely helped me feel less worthless when I’ve been going through a bout of depression.

When I spent weeks primping and preening myself for my wedding day in 2015, I remember thinking there was no way in hell I could keep up this level of attention to my body. Who has the time? When I stepped out in my wedding dress, I felt so happy with myself from the inside out, that I could finally see the value in carrying on a few of the beauty routines I have developed in the run up to the day. I don’t spend much money on make up, but I do have a favourite cleanser, serum and moisturiser that I use religiously and a few face masks that I reach for when I need that extra special care. I don’t think this is the only way to practise self-care, but for me it’s a daily addition to my coping strategies that I do without thinking and gives me a regular lift.

Make-up can help me feel confident

There’s no denying that wearing make-up can make you feel more confident. In the same way that a new haircut and your favourite dress can make you feel like you can conquer the world, I’m not ashamed to say that a smokey eye and bangin’ highlighter make me feel sassy. But I also feel confident when I DON’T wear make-up and I think that’s important.

Washing my face and slapping on some moisturiser is all I do when I’m going to the gym. I like to look in the mirror and see my true self. For me, the gym is a place for honesty. It’s where I’m alone and focused with my own thoughts, listening to and observing my body to see how far I can push myself as well as when to rest. I find it’s healthy to have time without make-up, to appreciate the impact it can make when you really want it.

I realised need representation in the media

I grew up reading the same magazines as everyone else my age – Mizz, Shout, Smash Hits, Bliss – so I believed that to be beautiful I had to be white, thin, blonde-haired and blue-eyed with big breasts. I began dieting around 15 and didn’t stop until I was approaching 30. The penny dropped for me when I saw Ashley Graham on the cover of Sport Illustrated. She’s by no means a fair representation of the millions of ‘plus-size’ (whatever that means nowadays) women who look to the media for inspiration, but for me she’s an inch closer to that dream. In that cover I saw someone with a body shape vaguely like mine, and I’d never seen that before.

That’s when I realised I’d been conditioning myself to believe that my body shape, hair and face was all wrong by consuming the images that were handed to me. Now, I actively seek out women who have bodies I can identify with and a style which I can understand. I feel You Tube is particularly helpful when it comes to the beauty aspect of this, because it’s really relatable for me to watch a woman by age talk about what skincare and make-up brands they use in their everyday lives instead of relying on magazines which are heavily biased towards advertisers.

Check out this podcast called Unsorry, in particular their recent episode talking about feeling beautiful.

 

 

An ode to anyone with depression this Christmas

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It’s Christmas day and everywhere, people are smiling. Children are grinning from ear to ear as they tear open their long-awaited gifts, and parents look on with pride, feeling accomplished after a long year of working hard to provide for the family. Grandparents fall asleep on the sofa whilst the dog nibbles the leftover mince pie that has fallen onto the floor. Mum finally puts her feet up after feeding the entire family without stopping for a break.

To most people Christmas conjures up similar images of warm, familiar sights involving traditions that have gone on for years with family and friends who don’t often see each other. It’s a time to put work aside and focus on relationships, socialising and eating a little too much; all in aide of the festive season.

For anyone with depression, this scenario is unlikely to create a feeling of happiness. I know it’s not my favourite holiday, that’s for sure. If you have depression I want to tell you something.

You’re not a party-pooper.

You’re not The Grinch.

You don’t need to ‘grin and bear it’ for one day of the year because let’s be honest, it spans way longer that one day and you’re expected to be in the party mood for almost an entire month without showing a sign of unhappiness. This is unrealistic and it’s cruel to expect mental health sufferers to somehow put their illness ‘on hold’ for an extended period of time.

Can you just put your nut allergy, diabetes or heart murmur on hold for Christmas day?

Can you not have an epileptic fit or have a broken leg today?

That’s how it feels to be told to ‘cheer up’ when you have depression. We cannot simply choose not to suffer today because it’s inconvenient and makes others uncomfortable. It makes us feel guilty that we can’t, but we genuinely can’t. We want to pretend with every bone in our bodies that we’re ‘OK’ but we can’t.

This is to all the people who went back to bed after opening presents. To all the people who didn’t even want any presents because they feel unworthy. To all the people who would rather skip to December 26th and avoid the big day altogether. To all the people who are crying, screaming and hurting on the ‘happiest day of the year’… I understand.

To us, making it to the end of the day is the biggest achievement we can hope for. If we manage a smile, even a fake one, then today as been a success. If we go to bed without having shed a tear today then that is progress. But if today has been sad, lonely and scary then that’s OK too, because we experience that a lot and we’re learning to cope with it. Better days will come but they doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to live through today.

Merry Christmas

The stress of a GP appointment when you have a mental illness

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I’m currently sitting in Starbucks with a mug of tea; my humble reward for doing the thing that I hate the most. The thing that still fills me with fear every few months, even though I’ve had this debilitating illness for almost 5 years now.

I successfully attended an appointment with my GP.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t crumble. When I sat up in bed this morning thinking of ways to avoid the situation I still managed to get up and get dressed and show up. I did it.

For many people, a visit to the doctor is merely another note on the calender and nothing to get upset about. For me, it’s an ominous reminder of all my flaws and weaknesses. Whilst everyday I try to remind myself of how far I’ve come with my social anxiety, food issues, low moods and use of alcohol, there is nothing that makes me feel more of a failure than sitting in front of a stranger and asking for help.

The fear starts weeks before the appointment, knowing that the day is coming when I’ll have to use the phone.  In the UK the health service is under so much pressure that the thought of just making an appointment is enough to send me spiralling. Most practices prefer the ‘on the day’ system where you phone at 8.30am and stay on hold until you’re lucky enough to speak to someone on reception, who will then assign you a slot which more than likely doesn’t suit you. If you dare to suggest another time slot then you’re made to feel as though you must not really need the appointment so generally you have to take what you get and pretend to be grateful. This often leads to more anxiety as I might have to ask for time off work to get there in time.

The whole affair makes me feel like an animal being herded to the slaughter, and all the while I’m trying not to have a panic attack because talking on the phone is one of the things that triggers my anxiety.

One of the things that really helped me when I was first seeing my GP regularly about depression was seeing the same person every time. Finding someone who I felt really empathised with my situation was a great comfort to me for years when I was feeling at my worst.

Do you know how exhausting it is having to tell someone you’ve just met about the most painful period of your life over and over again? The hardest part was knowing that the more detail I could give the better, and that meant rehashing all the gory details about how awful I felt for such a long time. After waiting for weeks to see a doctor and spill my guts about this stuff, I was often met with a blank stare and the usual “Come back and see me in a few weeks if you feel any worse”.

Since I’ve moved to Birmingham I’ve had to register with a new practise and find a new GP. I’ve been avoiding it really, but when I ran out of medication I had no choice as they won’t issue anti-depressants as a repeat prescription. I’ve seen two GPs since I’ve been here and neither of them seemed particularly kind or caring, but maybe I’m just oversensitive.

Recently I was put on a new contraceptive pill and it’s affected my mood quite dramatically. Today I had to explain to the doctor that it was making me uncomfortable because of the fact that I already have depression, and she asked me what I thought the solution was. This is probably a great technique for most people who google their symptoms before a visit and turn up with a list of what drugs they want, but for me – someone who struggles to make decisions on a daily basis – it wasn’t helpful.

I walked out with a new prescription and as I felt a sense of relief wash over me, I glanced down at the printed slip crumpled up in my hand. One month of anti-depressants. That’s just one month until the process starts again. I slipped out of the surgery with a small sense of pride and a head full of anxiety for my next visit.

How do you cope talking to your doctor about mental health?