Children are the best teachers when it comes to falling and failing.

What many adults do when they fail or fall.

Holy Self-flagellation, Ashura in Afghanistan

Adults beat themselves up like some religious zealots do when they practise self-flagellation.

What most babies do when they fall or fail.

baby-fall

Babies pick themselves back up.


One thing we have in common as human beings, whether reader or writer, is that…….

We all fail. Failure can feel like falling from a great height as sometimes happens in some of our recurring dreams.

Last week , I set myself a goal of spending time away on my own and nourishing myself consistently and sufficiently. I failed to do this on a couple of occasions but for the most part, I made progress. The morning after, I found myself overwhelmed and in tears so I dialled my equivalent of 999 or 911 or whatever your emergency team is (you fill in the ___ blanks). I spoke to one of my greatest encouragers and cheerleaders, my beloved younger brother.

He encouraged me by pointing out that the events of the previous night was just one in an ocean-full of successful attempts at nourishing myself. That morning, my beloved brother listened to me and searched for my words in the dense forest of tears and snot. He helped me make sense of the previous night. He told me that what mattered most were the spectacles through which I viewed the previous night. What mattered most was my perspective. His words stayed with me for the most part but I realised recently how much ‘one failure’ has dented my confidence and sense of self-belief. So this post is for all those who fail. Which means everyone.

And everyone means people with eating disorders, people without eating disorders, people with addictions and those who prefer to call what they do mere vices. Everyone includes those from Africa, Latin America, Europe and other continents. And even though I am not an animal lover, everyone also includes animals. I imagine they fail too sometimes. If you doubt my words, check out Planet Earth and David Attenborough. Everyone also includes adults and children alike.

We can learn so much from kids. When they fall, they tend to pop back up like unstoppable forces of energy. They don’t sit in their poo-soaked nappies, crying and lamenting their many failures in life like the time they failed to latch onto mother’s nipple or the time their sippy cup missed their mouth and the damn thing ended up all over the floor. They don’t linger, thankfully, on the time they missed their potty and the poo poo ended up all over the floor. No, they think to themselves ” Now, there in the distance, lies a pretty, shiny object which will be all mine if only I can make it over there. So here I go.” Unfortunately, we adults oftentimes tend to do things slightly differently. We are not as well-versed in dealing with failure.

Not everyone knows how to deal with failure.

Not everyone knows how to use their failures to their advantage.

Tips on how to react to failure.

  • Use it as a learning opportunity rather than a opportunity for self-flagellation. Why beat yourself up when the world out there will give you a pretty rough beating? It’s best to be your biggest cheerleader rather than you biggest critic.
  • Think about how you would react if a friend or loved one ‘failed’. Treat yourself and your failures in the same way that you would treat a loved one if they failed at something.
  • Focus on your many successes rather than your failure(s).
  • Talk through your failure with your biggest encourager and see what they have to say about it.
  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT HAVE A PITY PARTY with yourself. Why? Because it’s like being at a party with only one invitee – You. It’d be pretty boring wouldn’t you say? A pity party is not just about saying ‘Why me?’, it’s also about making the mistake of dwelling on one failure rather than your many former successes.
  • Say to yourself: ‘Failing does not make me failure.’ Cliche, I know. Sue me. Each day I’m alive gives me a new opportunity to be successful and to learn from my failings. Use your failures to your advantage.
  • Consider the many people who have failed at something before you. The list is endless: Serena Williams, Mo Farah, Colonel Sanders, JK Rowling….. These people are now successful because they still BELIEVE(D) in spite of their ‘failures’ and they persevered in spite of their ‘failings’.
  • Finally, ask yourself the following questions:
    • What were the circumstances leading up to this ‘failure’?
    • What were my thoughts?
    • What emotions did I have?
    • What would I do if faced with a similar situation?

Learn from your failures. Don’t dwell on your failures. I say this to you as much as I say it to me.

 

 

Death by Muffin: Ten lessons from an inpatient eating disorders unit

 

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Although this post is generally about being a patient in an eating disorders (ED) unit, the lessons can also be applied to different aspects of life:

Lesson 1 is about quality of life, lesson 2 and 3 are about patience and having realistic expectations of oneself and others, lesson 4 is about swapping one addiction for another, lesson 5, 6 and 7 are about choice and taking responsibility for your life, lesson 8 is about giving yourself permission to be human, lesson 9 is about knowing when to be selfish and lesson 10 is about learning when to confront difficulties and when to distract oneself from difficulties.

  1. Recovery is a race: Not to determine who recovers quickest but to see who recovers before death carries them away. Death by muffin, jacket potato or cornflakes is unlikely to be seen on an autopsy report. However, death by suicide, organ failure or a heart attack is quite common with eating disorders (EDs). The race to recover is a RACE FOR LIFE (to live and to have a life worth living).
  2. Being in an inpatient unit is unlikely to cure you of an ED:  If it took you 2, 5, 10 years to have a fully developed ED, a 3 or even 6 month stay is unlikely to cure you. An IPU is to an ED patient what a starting block is to an athlete. Even the great Usain Bolt needs a starting block to propel him forwards. He then gets the job done by driving his arms, legs and torso forwards until the end. There is much more work to be done upon leaving an IPU than there is to be done inside an IPU.
  3. Realistic goals and expectations will save you from an achy-breaky heart: I had  2 main goals when I arrived in IPU: desist from disordered behaviours and learn to eat regularly. I met these 2 goals quite quickly. However, the weight target I set myself once in IPU was unrealistic and I have now turned this into a long-term goal. My expectations of professionals were also too high. Human beings and professionals are fallible. I had to set realistic expectations to reduce my disappointment and frustrations.
  4. It is not uncommon to trade one issue in for another: I have always been a sports freak but have taken it to the extreme at times. After giving up running for a year, I have unfortunately found myself obeying the compulsion to run once more. I know this desire to run is born out of the frustrations of being in IPU and also the desire to counter the food regimen. However, I also know that this is something I will continue to address once I have left IPU.
  5. Your recovery, your responsibility: Yes, staff are there to support you to eat, to help you deal with your emotional issues, to encourage you when you are feeling down but ultimately, you are the one with the issue and you will need to be the one to decide mentally to say yes to food, yes to the support, yes to facing the challenges and no to the urge to resort to harmful coping mechanisms.
  6. Being in an inpatient unit will not stop you from engaging in negative behaviours: Restricting, purging, over-exercising, laxative abuse, chewing and spitting, hiding food or any of the other number of disordered behaviours can still continue in IPU. That is why recovery is a choice.
  7. Recovery is a choice: whether you chose IPU or it was forced upon you, there comes a point when you need to make a conscious decision to recover. Tis best to recover for yourself but if something else motivates you in the meantime (a friend or family member or pet) then so be it. Hopefully at some point, you will CHOOSE RECOVERY for you or as the ad says, “because you’re worth it”. 
  8. You are allowed to say “I enjoyed that”: food is something to be enjoyed but the guilt, greed and sadness that can be induced by eating can lead some to deny themselves the ability to enjoy food. Even when food is enjoyed, some prefer not to show this for fear of being viewed as greedy by others. You and I are allowed to enjoy food. No if’s and no butts (pls forgive the play on words).  
  9. Sometimes, it pays to be selfish: If you spend your time focusing more on others than yourself, you’ll likely lose out on the benefits of IPU. You’ll lose the ability to hear and feel what is going on within. Sometimes, it pays to let staff tend to other patients. Sometimes it pays to allow yourself to be the patient rather than the healer. Sometimes it pays to listen to what’s going on in your head than what’s going on in the head of others.
  10. Distraction can become a negative tool: there is a time and place for distraction. At the start of my stay in IPU, distractions were a God-send but at this present moment in my recovery, distraction is more of a hindrance. It stops me from connecting with my emotions and processing my thoughts. Given how long I have spent distracting myself from all sorts of feelings and emotions, I have begun practising the art of ‘feeling’. It’s painful but it’s working out well for me. It’s time for me to address the noise in my head rather than drown it out with more noise.

The Blessings of Depression/Nourish Thyself

I previously wrote about the ways in which I have been blessed by the experience of being depressed and I have also written a post about the importance of nourishing one’s soul, mind and body amongst others.

The Blessings of Depression can be found here:

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In spite of the difficulties, there are times when I look at my journey through depression and I smile to myself, like a rat that dodged the trap. I smile because I know that in spite of the frailty of my mind, I am still here and more than that, I have been left with an enduring zest for life because of depression. Of course, this zest goes up or down depending on how low I am feeling. In spite of the see-saw nature of depression, I am left with so many blessings. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Empathy: I remember calling a student of mine one morning to find out why she was late. Her response, “I can’t pick out what to wear”. My response, “what on earth d’you mean you can’t decide what to wear? Pick anything and get yourself here as soon as possible.” Months later, this student did a presentation about the various types of depression (post-natal, bereavement related, SAD, Bipolar etc)  and the signs of depression (anger, tears, anxiety, disturbed sleep and/or appetite, suicidal thoughts, low motivation). I suddenly saw things from a different vantage point. Months later, when I began to experience symptoms of depression, I suddenly understood why this student could not pick out what to wear. To the uninitiated those who are depressed may come across as lazy, pessimistic, a black cloud carrier, angry etc. But my experience with this student and my personal experience have given me a deeper understanding of people who struggle with depression. I think some of the keys to understanding and supporting such individuals is to leave judgement at the door an instead, come with compassion, a supportive ear and an ability to understand their needs. I no longer think the remedy is just being positive or getting on with things.
  2. An appreciation of the natural world: after I quit teaching in order to regain my sanity, I began to learn to take pleasure in the simple things: a cloudless sky, fluffy clouds, a fallen flower, the sound of silence, the veiny branches on a tree, the colours which mark the seasons, a butterfly crossing my path, the way in which clouds move across the sky in complete serenity, the rising and setting of the sun and finally, the moon making itself visible on an early morning.                                                                                10845673_10155504922335187_6637429740856245971_o
  3. An appreciation of the simple things in life: dealing with depression and other mental health issues has meant that I appreciate much more those days in which I am able to smile or laugh, sing, dance, take a long walk, ride my bike, go for a swim, spend time in the company of family or friends even if only for a few minutes or hours, read a few pages of a book, write a sentence or two of a short story, hold a baby in my arms amongst other things.
  4. I now know what I value in life: I used to value the ephemeral things in life (my size/shape, money, my degree, my job) but I now know that what matters most in my life are the intangible things such as love, compassion, the ability to empathise, the health of my mind and body, the ability to have hope, solid memories etc.
  5. I’ve found my voice: I first experienced depression as a teenager and although I did not know back then what was happening, I do remember that I used to write with a certain kind of fury in my diary. I never once communicated to others what was going on inside my head. However, my second rendez-vous with depression and the most enduring one has led me to start communicating with others. Some say talk is cheap. I say talk is a precious commodity. Talking to others about my struggles has led to others opening up to me, it has helped me feel less lonely, it has helped me believe there is hope, it has helped me connect with others and it has helped me build and restore relationships. It has made me vulnerable which I previously saw as a weakness but being vulnerable has helped me put down the mask I wore for so long.

Many years ago, I bought a book called ‘Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong”. I know about the curses of depression and how much it can rob you of joy, your own family, your dreams and aspirations, physical and mental wellbeing and finally, life. I know that some don’t survive depressive episodes. I know that some lose touch with reality during these episodes and end up killing or harming themselves.

Yet I also know from personal experience, how much richer I am as a person for having gone through depression. Hope is the lifejacket which kept me afloat and I believe it can do the same for others who struggle with depression. Whether I will ever see the back of depression, I don’t know. But in the meantime, I will remain alert to its dangers, yet grateful for the gifts it has bestowed on me. If people with depression can be given hope that things can get better, if they can receive support and encouragement, if they can keep their fingertips on their dreams, if they can maintain connection with society, then they may live to see the day that they are able to speak of depression as a blessing and not just a curse.

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Nourish Thyself can be found here:

Nourishment: “the food necessary for growth, health and good condition.”

This post is inspired by a very special lady and all those who like this lady, support and work with people with mental health issues in the UK. The lady in question drew an analogy between people struggling with mental health issues and withering flowers. She took a look at the flowers in the pictures below, which had begun to fold and stoop like old men. Then she smiled and said to me with good intent: that is what you are like. That is what happens when you deprive yourself of nourishment.

 

It made me think about ways in which those with mental health issues fail to and can learn to nourish themselves. Nourishment is not just about getting your ‘5 a day’. Nourishment also alludes to food which supports the growth and good health of our soul, bodies, minds, finances and social/life skills amongst others.

As a teenager, I lost my ability to nourish myself due to my perception and digestion of the words of others, anger which I internalised, life and familial issues and also my inability to speak and share the difficulties I was having with others.

Malnourishment set up shop in my life in my twenties like an sneaky visitor who worms his or her way into your life, begins to commit daylight robbery right in front of your eyes and then like a stubborn mule, refuses to leave your premises.  It has taken me a long time to realise this and it is weird that as an adult, I am re-learning the art of walking, talking, recognising and managing my emotions, eating and socialising. It is weird that I am being taught by others, some of whom are younger than me. It is humbling more than anything else and I am supremely and eternally grateful to all those who have supported me thus far because there have been others who put up ‘No Entry’ signs when I most needed shelter for my mind.

The question I ask myself therefore is how can we nourish ourselves and be nourished:

  1. Recognise that you are malnourished: sometimes we cannot see this. Either because we are in denial, or our vision is so clouded or we have spent so long being malnourished that we have begun to accept it as the status quo/the way we ought to be. We begin to feel that because we have survived so long in a malnourished state, we ought to continue in the same vein. But these thoughts are not conducive to any kind of wellness. Everyone ought to be nourished physically (receive food and water, be in good physical condition as much as possible and be nurtured as the situation requires), emotionally (have the right to express themselves and the right to receive words which build rather than destroy the structures of our minds), financially (be financially stable), socially (have opportunities and be able to interact socially) amongst other things. If you are devoid of the ability to nourish yourself, or receive nourishment from others or if others withhold nourishment from you, you will eventually dry up and wither like the flowers in the picture. Recognising malnourishment in yourself is the first step to wellness.
  2. Know thyself and the things which nourish you personally: I hate rock music. It does absolutely nothing for me. But for others, this may just be food for their minds or souls. It may be the thing which keeps them away from the cliff edge or the thing which restores their sanity after a tough day. You need to discover what works for you and go with it. What works for you ought not to be something which can also harm you like alcohol, overexercising or playing computer games indoors in order to hide from the world outside. You might recognise your ‘thing’ as that which glimmers in the darkness of your mind or that which fills you with excitement and makes the whites of your teeth visible to others. It takes time and patience to know what this thing is and then it takes internal and external motivation to use this tool to nourish yourself. I find my nourishment in writing, painting, nature, a talk with a good friend and sometimes, screaming into the darkness of the night in anger or pleasure.
  3. Ask and fight for support if you can no longer nourish yourself: I lost the ability to nourish myself many years ago but I felt unable to ask for support because I was ashamed of my diagnosis. I lost hope that I could ever recover from mental unwellness. At times, I lost my mind and my ability to act rationally. I lost my ability to nourish myself physically, spiritually, emotionally and financially. You don’t need to wait till the shit hits the fan, to ask for help. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the rock bottom theory which asserts that only when you hit rock bottom will you turn it around. Some people’s rock bottom results in physical or emotional death. There is no coming back from death. Personally, I didn’t just hit rock bottom. The rock became embedded in my proverbial bottom and no matter how hard I tugged, i couldn’t get it off. Even this did not result in me asking for help. Why? Because I thought I was a lost cause, I felt cornered, stuck, trapped. I asked for help two years ago (for the second time in my life) but when I was refused help and when I was offered unhelpful help, I fought (with the support of a special woman in America, my mother and close friends & family members) to receive the help I needed. You must fight for help. Don’t give up on yourself. It took me two years of fighting to receive the treatment that I am now receiving and I feel so blessed to be surrounded by heavenly and earthly angels that meet my every need.
  4. Stop punishing yourself/Forgive yourself/Be as gentle/compassionate with yourself as you would be with others: why do I find it so easy to build others up and tear myself down? Regret about past mistakes, the inability to accept that mental unwellness can become an illness, shame that as a Black woman I have a mental health condition, fear that I have not lived in the manner that God intended and finally the fact that I have become so accustomed to ill-treatment from others and myself that I began to think it was fine to treat myself harshly. Tip: the next time you are inclined to withhold nourishment from yourself or allow others to starve/deprive you of nourishment, as yourself, “would I sit by and do or say nothing if someone I love was being treated in the same way?” If the answer is no, then pause and reflect. Our minds can become like guns in the hand of a child if we don’t watch over it and nourish it adequately. Doctors take the Hippocratic oath: do no harm. We also ought to take the same oath (I will do no harm to myself nor will I allow others to harm me).

Do not become like the flowers in the picture. They sit in a vase, starved of water, natural light, air and the love of another. They sit in dirty water which has not been changed for a long time. Sometimes we just need to find another stream to swim in. This might mean a change of location, a change of friendships, a change of mindset. Whatever nourishes you  and does not harm you is a good place to start.

This post is for those who are mentally well (lest they slip into unwellness), those who are mentally unwell (lest they lose hope) and finally for me (who lost all hope but who is now recovering with supreme help, both heavenly and earthly).

 

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*Recovery involves..

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Being honest with yourself, clearing your throat and saying to someone ” Look, I think I have a problem”.

Putting things into perspective/considering what is most important in life.

Saying to yourself: What’s more important, avoiding the bloody cake and inevitably ending up on your own or having a piece of bloody cake and enjoying the company of friends and family?

Saying “my body is my body” rather than getting into a boxing bout with God/your parents because you’re not happy with the body He/they gave you.

Listening to that still small voice which lies inside of you.

Saying that my way has not worked thus far so it behoves me to trust in someone else.

Crying out to God, a friend, a family member and saying “Look, I can’t fricking do this. This is too hard”.

It involves graduating from hopelessness to “perhaps things can be different”

Getting your ass into treatment, prescribed or not.

 

Eating bloody bran flakes when you’re up to your neck in bleeding cereal.

Waking up with night sweats because your metabolism has woken up.

Gaining junk your trunk – both physical and emotional.

Feeling so physically uncomfortable that you long for your old physical self.

Taking the cat o’ nine tails and placing it aside when you feel inclined to punish yourself.

Doing less running and much more crawling.

Accepting the ‘you’re looking well’ comments without it completely ruining your day.

 

Accepting the possibility of a life with or without depression.

Wearing the Yes lifejacket instead of clinging onto the No driftwood.

Attending social functions instead of coming up with avoidance strategies.

Having a discussion with others which involves not just your body but your mind and soul too.

 

Developing transparent relationships, not ones shrouded in deceit and/or secrecy.

Allowing ourselves to feel rather than constantly seeking ways to distract ourselves or avoid our feelings.

Walking over flaming hot coals in the belief that it will one day become a walk in the park.

Accepting that there are different paths to recovery and your and my task is to find the one which brings us closer to freedom.

Accepting our imperfections because imperfections make great teachers and equip us with the ability to empathise.

Accepting that it – Recovery – is worth it even when the end is neither in sight nor clear.

 

 

 

*I previously wrote a long post (too long some may argue) on what recovery means to me. What I have come to realise is that the meaning of recovery changes over time. The original version can be found here: https://talesfromlondinium.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/recovery-is/

 

One word, three syllables

It’s the roar of a lion, mouth bloodied, stomach fat with chewed up bits of prey

It’s the smell of dried blood on its victim, all rotten, nigh on black with decay

It’s the chaos in the aftermath of a huge pile-up, now comes the traffic then another RTA*

It’s the taste of bitterness, of self-destruction, of rage, of being in a cage

It’s the bristles of a hedgehog on the bare feet of an infant at play

 

It’s that vicious gust of wind, the teeth which bite on a merciless winter’s day

It’s that heart-stopping knock at the door, that sudden apparition, no hope, no chance of escape

It’s as invisible as a dream and as real as some dreams feel

It’s as bold as a warrior, like David, toe to toe with Goliath

It’s the sound of the key unlocking the door of buried memories

It’s the smell of  boiled tripe, suspended, like clouds hanging in the air

It’s the crackle of wood at the heart of a flaming  red fire

 

It the sight of a stubborn mule which won’t move, it’s right hoof saying no way, here i’ll stay

It’s the seeds of a scotch bonnet pepper drilling a hole right through the centre of your tongue

It’s the thief, the invader waiting and watching, ever lurking, shielded by shadows

 

It’s one word, three syllables

It’s pressing down, it’s suffocating me.

That one word with three syllables keeps pressing down on me.

 

*RTA: Road Traffic Accident

I am not ashamed to say…….

 

I am a Black woman who loves singing,

though singing is clearly not my calling.

I am a Nigerian,

who hates jollof rice

I am a Christian

who knows that the invisibility of the wind does not negate its existence.

I am indecisive,

hence my ambidexterity

I am an artist

who only started drawing 2 years ago.

I am nearly 5 foot 4,

but in mind I’m 6 feet tall and rising.

I love laughing

but in the past 6 weeks I ‘ve done so much crying.

I am a teacher

who loves learning more than teaching

I am a cycling addict

who learnt to cycle 5 months ago

I am overly sensitive

but my exterior may suggest otherwise.

I am a writer

who struggles with self-confidence.

I am a swimmer,

battling against the currents of my own mind

I am a sister

who is blessed with the most supportive siblings a person could hope for.

I am daughter

who cries at the thought of how much I love my mother.

I am a godmother,

blessed with a wonderfully and fearfully created godson.

I am a friend

who uses laughter as a criterion for developing long-lasting friendships.

I am an over-thinker

who continues to struggle with depression.

I am the world’s greatest cheerleader

who struggles to cheer herself on.

I love playing football

but am scared to head the ball.

I have had an eating disorder for over 20 years

but am slowly on my way to recovery.

I want to live

but in the past I wanted to die.

I feel physically strong

but sometimes berate myself for my lack of mental fortitude.

I am a nomad who loves nature

but struggles to stay rooted like trees in the fields.

I am learning to love and accept myself

where once I despised myself.

I believe comparison is the author of all misery,

yet for many years I couldn’t keep my eyes off others.

I love forgiveness

but struggle to drop the hot coals of anger and frustration.

My favourite hobby is laughing.

It’s medicine for my soul.

I write to live,

speech,

At ease!!!

 

 

Welcome one and all

Thank you for lending me your eyes and your mind.

I am a storyteller at heart. My previous blog, www.talesfromlondinium.wordpress.com, is a selection of some of my stories and musings. The title of my previous blog is no longer relevant.

This is now the start of a new season in my life and as well as continuing to write fiction, this blog will also look at the mind. I believe that insanity can lead to clarity and hope to shine a light on some of the issues which affect the state of one’s mind.

I hope you will leave comments and share this blog with others.

Please feel free to contact me, Funmi, by e-mail:

fu_nmi@hotmail.com

Once again, thank you.

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