Looks can be so deceiving when it comes to mental illness and distress

Today is the first day I have had some clarity all month. It feels nice to feel like myself even if only for a day. It feels nice to have a mind which is not plagued by the weight of my thoughts.

An honest friend will always be better than a friend who just wants to stay on your good side or make you happy

In recent days, I have had an email exchange with a friend today who is well versed in eating disorders. She stressed to me the need to let others in my life know how bad things are at the moment with my eating and overexercise. I feel I have done this to some extent, probably not as firmly as I ought to (in part to protect the things that help me cope with life) but I also know that the thing which spoke loudest in the past was emaciation.

Looking unwell provokes a reaction from others

When I looked unwell, no one would encourage my exercise in they way they do now. When I looked unwell, my intake was monitored more closely by others. When I looked unwell, there was generally more concern. And that is a shame. Because mentally, I am a big mess at the moment but on the outside, I look fine, good even as people tell me from time to time, with annoying pleasure. When people have seen you looking really awful, the fact that you look good becomes a block. It is a wall which blocks others from seeing and sometimes hearing the truth about where you’re at in the present moment.

In all honesty, I kind of don’t mind it. I have spent more years looking well than I have looking unwell and looking well comes with many benefits (some good for the person, some good for the illness). Looking well allowed me to hide my eating disorder from my family for about 14 years. Now, it allows me to continue restricting and exercising without others commenting. But in the longterm, all these things which I use to manage the worst of my depressive episodes, only serve to plunge me deeper into my eating troubles.

Dispelling myths about eating disorders

People sometimes have the wrong impression about eating disorders. Let me dispel a few myths.

  1. People who restrict do eat but don’t necessarily prefer salad. I don’t care for clean eating or veganism or any other fad. I love me some butter on my toast. In fact, at times, I don’t really care what you put in front of me. If I am doing good mentally, I can pretty much manage most foods. Unfortunately, doing good mentally has proved somewhat elusive for me over the past year.
  2. Sometimes it is not concern about one’s body that makes the ED become entrenched, it is an inability to manage the anxieties of life or the fear of becoming a full-time depressive.
  3. A person may look perfectly fine but be close to death. Bulimia leads to low potassium. Low potassium can and has been fatal for many in the past. I have ended up in hospital numerous times for this condition, hypokalemia. A 16 year old girl, Libby Rose died of it in August 2017.
  4. Most people with eating disorders are at a ‘normal’ or ‘above normal’ weight. Only 8% of people diagnosed with eating disorders in the UK are considered anorexic (underweight). That means that the majority (92%) do not ‘look’ like the stereotypical image of a person with an eating disorder.
  5. Bulimia will eventually lead to serious dental issues: erosion of enamel, decay in one’s teeth and loss of teeth.
  6. Going from underweight to a normal weight does not signal recovery. It just means a person has done the physical work and now they have the mountain of the mind to climb.
  7. People may need just as much support when they are underweight as when they are at a ‘normal’ weight.
  8. Independent and flexible eating will take a lot more time than it takes to restore weight. I spent 9 years underweight and restored my weight in 5 months. Not only has this been a shock to my body but it has also been a shock to my mind. I need just as much support with meals now as I needed then because it is impossible to undo 20 plus years of an eating disorder in 5 months. I thought if I could just eat normally then I would be fine but that is not the case.
  9. Appetite is regulated by mood for some. With every episode of depression, my appetite takes a massive hit. This in turn reignites my eating problems. I sometimes have just about enough time to recover from one episode before another hits me.
  10. People frequently move from one ED to another. In recovery, it is likely that you will fit no diagnostic criteria. I am not anorexic (though I restrict at the moment) because I am not underweight, I am not bulimic (because I don’t throw up at the moment). I exercise a lot but not to lose weight but rather to manage the depression. I am not orthorexic because I don’t care for clean eating though I do exercise a lot (for my mind not for my body). I have in the past been both anorexic and bulimic. Eating disorders are fluid in nature. They morph into one thing or another depending on where a person is in life and in their mind.

Taking responsibility for my own recovery

My recovery is my business. I cannot and will not blame where I am on anyone else. At my current weight, I would likely not be eligible for any NHS support with my eating and I am okay with that funny enough. I think I am okay with it because I made way more progress with my brother’s support than I ever did with NHS support.

My brother helped make this happen only because I took responsibility for my recovery. I set up a meal plan, I read up about what to expect in recovery, I bought books and read blogs to help me restore my weight and deal with it mentally and I engaged in after dinner distraction.

I think I am struggling to take responsibility for my eating at the moment. I met up with a friend on Friday. I knew after talking to a profession earlier on in the week that I ought to use it as an opportunity to have lunch with said friend. Instead, I avoided any talk of food. When this friend eventually asked me if I would have lunch or at least share something with her, I completely backed out. I am allowing the depression to dictate my every move because nothing scares me more than the thoughts which come with depression. I have always feared a lifetime with depression more than I fear a lifetime with an eating disorder.

Nothing, at least for me, endangers my life more than depression.

So where now?

I think the first thing I must do is seek more support for the depression, which I have been trying to do since last year but it is hard to find good longterm support. Waiting lists, incompatible therapists, incompetent organisations, waning motivation are some of the things which get in the way from time to time. But I am hoping in the coming year, at least before this year is over to find more support to help me deal with the thing which triggered the depression in the first place.

I think confronting the depression head on is the way I will learn to eat better and manage life better.

I also know I have a lot of healing to do in relation to the grief which comes at times to steal every ounce of joy I have about life and living.

I am a work in progress and that’s just fine.

And as a final thought, consider this:

What exactly does a person with depression look like?

This? Anthony Bourdain

Image result for anthony bourdain bipolar

This? Kate Spade

Image result for kate spade

Or this? (Gary Speed the night before his suicide)

Image result for gary speed match of the day

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It’s not the likes of Trump we need to fear but rather, the silent majority they represent

This post is inspired by Matt Haig, fiction and mental health writer.

Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson

Haig recently replied to a Tweet by Katie Hopkins, the well-known controversy courter. She recently said in a tweet: What matters is the fight back for our Christian culture we desperately need to defend. Whilst I am not quite sure what this ‘Christian culture’ she speaks of looks like, the lady is passionate about defending it. Does this ‘Christian culture’ look like a Friday night in any UK city. Or does it look like the aftermath of a Millwall football match? Or perhaps it’s her culture of hate rather than love. Who knows.

Whatever the case, Haig was the first to weigh in with a reply, saying: This is the heart of it, Katie. You court this. You want to be called these things. You are virtually asking for it here. Why do you want to be so hated? Before it was Muslims, you hated obese people and working class people for money and attention. Why choose a career of hate? 

A career of hate does seem at odds with the central message of Christianity but perhaps Katie knows best. She also recently retweeted a Trump ‘speech’ in which he said, ‘if you hate our country or you are not happy here, you can leave’. Hopkins added her own comment when she retweeted the video saying, ‘How I wish we had such leadership in the U.K. “Don’t like this country? Don’t like what it gives you? Then leave”. Donald Trump is clearly a fan of Hopkins. He recently retweeted a couple of her tweets.

Hopkins is also a supporter of Tommy Robinson who is currently in prison for contempt of court. He believes he was ‘convicted of journalism and wore a T-shirt just to prove it.

Robinson was basically reporting on an ‘Asian-grooming gang’ case even though reporting of the case was not supposed to happen. He read out the names of the accused who at that point had not been convicted and also filmed them. Robinson reserves his ire for Asians who abuse girls. He talks about Asian ‘grooming gangs’ as though they alone sexually abuse young girls. He does not talk about the powerful politicians and men of power who abused boys back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Nor does he talk about the general objectification of women in Western culture or the oversexualised society we live in and the harm this does to young minds. How about the availability of pornography and the harm it causes young minds. I know everyone has a cause but demonising a race is perhaps not the best cause to tag yourself onto. It stinks of subjectivity. It stirs some, sure, but it deafens others.

Donald’s latest targets

The Donald stoked up tension recently by suggesting four female non-Caucasian politicians ‘go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came’. But where these women come from is America (The U.S of A). I know they may not ‘look like’ they come from America, but they do. Trump acknowledged these women were American but still insisted on saying what he did.

Trump continued with his vicious tweets, ‘if you hate our country or you are not happy here, you can leave’. Implicit in the word ‘our’ is the idea that the country belongs to some people but not to others. Since the non-Caucasian politicians were told they could go back to their countries of origin, I will make the assumption that Trump believes America is not their country. I assume also that anyone who is not happy with the way things are in America should leave. Though where they should leave for is not quite clear.

It’s the silent majority we need to fear not the figureheads who represent them. 

I always prefer those who speak their mind over those who bubble away in secret. I’ll always prefer an outright racist to a secret racist. I’ve experienced overt and covert racism. It’s the covert racism which sometimes leaves me feeling paranoid and fearful. I much prefer to know that you think less of me because I am Black than for you to smile in my face and spit on the ground when I have left your company.

Hopkins has almost a million followers on Twitter (986.3k to be precise). Trump has 62.2 million followers on the same platform. Whilst I recognise that some of these supporters follow the latter just to see what he’s up to (Victoria Derbyshire????), if you take a look at the ‘you can leave’ tweet from the 16th of July, you’ll see that it had 334,000 likes and over 76,000 retweets. That’s scary. That means that there are plenty of people that think that America only belongs to a certain kind of person and that if you are not white, you are less likely to be that certain kind of person.

As for Tommy Robinson, he does not appear to have a Twitter account but he does have a whole host of followers. Some of them congregated on Westminster Bridge on the day he was found guilty and stopped traffic from heading up the bridge. There was a woman on a motorbike shouting in support of Tommy, lots of other white men waving British flags. The silent majority will not be silent forever. Today they will close down a bridge and tomorrow they will burn down the bridge.

In the latest episode of Trump, the man who defies all logic, we saw a bunch of his supporters shout at one of his rallies ‘send her back’ in reference to Ilhan Omar. Trump said ‘I’m not happy .. when I hear chants like that’ without acknowledging that his rhetoric of hate whips the crowd up. Trump said he spoke over the chant but it took him 13 seconds to speak again once the chant started. He did not silence the crowd, the crowd simply started to simmer down.

Behind every Trump, Robinson and Hopkins type character, are hundreds of thousands of supporters. These are the people I call the silent majority. They are the people that for the most part only say hateful things when they are in the company of similarly minded people. They are the majority because they are the kind of people that got Trump elected.

Liberals forget that just because they speak the loudest or dominate mainstream media does not mean that they are in fact in the majority. Some liberals have an extremism about them which they oftentimes fail to acknowledge and which simply leads to people like Trump supporters, hiding underground waiting for an opportunity to show their hate. Some liberals are unfortunately less liberal than they would have us believe. I have seen lots of people with opposing views shut down, shamed, no platformed etc. Neither liberals nor conservatives should have a monopoly on discourse.  All this does is stoke up more anger and division.

Boris Johnson is on the verge of being chosen as Prime Minister of the UK. Some of the careless and downright ignorant things he has said about Blacks, Muslims, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe amongst others show that the man is not fit to be Prime Minister. And yet he will become Prime Minister, most likely. He will be supported by the silent majority within the Conservative membership.

So where now? 

I will return to the post I wrote many, many months ago called The Dying Art of Conversation/Where Now For Rage?

We will not win the argument by silencing those who disagree with us. It’s true that sometimes it is impossible to win people over. But, we must still attempt to reach out to others, encourage them to speak about the things which ail them, reason with them, listen to them, provide facts where they provide baseless arguments and also be willing to accept the validity of some of the things they rail about. We need to hear from people who feel marginalised for whatever reason and we need to respect rather than ridicule them.

If not, we face more situations like Brexit, the election of Trump, the rise of populism – this appeal being made to people who feel marginalised by mainstream politics and political elites.