Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Self-Injury Awareness Day - Don't Judge the Scars

We don't all want to die, for some of us it's our way of staying alive.

Today, 1st of March 2012, is Self-injury Awareness Day. Self-injury happens – so let’s talk about it.
Our society seems to keep very quiet about what is really a pretty large issue. You hear of the stereotypical “emo” who “slits their wrists” but these stereotypes are degrading and far from the truth. Self-injury is a problem which affects many more people than we like to believe. The United Kingdom has got one of the highest rates of self-injury in Europe, and it is now estimated that 1 in 15 young people has had experience with self-injury. Those are the facts – self injury happens - so why don’t we just talk about it? The only way in which we can erase these harsh stigmas is to become more open about it to educate people about the truth. So, here are a few myths:

MYTH: People only self injure to gain attention
FACT: If someone wanted to gain attention there are much easier ways to do so. A new outfit or extravagant make-up would serve that purpose just fine. Also, a lot of self-injurers go to extreme lengths to make sure that people do not find out about their self-harm due to the shame they feel. How can that be for attention?

MYTH: Self-injurers all want to die
FACT: There is a huge difference between self-harm and an attempted suicide. Whilst people who self-injure may be at a higher risk of committing suicide in the long run, self-injury is a coping method, it helps people to cope with their pain. For many people who self injure it is quite the opposite to the myth, they are using it as a coping mechanism to stay alive.

MYTH: If the wounds aren’t “bad” then self-harm isn’t "serious"
FACT: The actual severity of the wounds inflicted does not reflect the amount of emotional turmoil that lead to the event. People self-injure in many different ways and none are more “serious” than others – don’t just assume. You can only know what someone is dealing with by asking them.

MYTH: Self-injury just means cutting
FACT: Self-injury can take many different forms. Although some people may cut it can range from small overdoses to burning with many different forms in between.

People who self-injure should NOT have to feel ashamed, they should feel comfortable enough to seek help. As someone who has suffered from self-injury I can sympathize with people who do not feel comfortable opening up about it. I have had “emo” written on my arm in red pen and had a pair of scissors drawn on my wrist by people who think this is in some way funny. But we should not let this stereotypical, false view of self-injury emerge victorious. I can say it – I have self-injured. I am not proud of it, but it is a fact. For people who self injure our scars are a part of our past and a part that we cannot change. We should not  let those people who judge us for it control us and I am certainly not going to. Here at Minding Me, we are going to speak out, raise awareness and I really hope that others will join me in the battle to change the stigma surrounding self-injury.

Many people will suffer alone, in silence for years before confiding in someone or asking for help. There is no reason to wait as there is a lot of support out there. Whether it be from friends, family, GP, other medical professionals, internet forums or websites. Self-harm leaves scars, physical and emotional, but there are people out there who specialise in restoring confidence, minimising scars and comforting the healing. The NHS can provide both scar reduction gels and skin camouflage make-up on prescription. Please don’t suffer alone, no one deserves that. And if you know someone who suffers with self-injury, please help them to help themselves.

Self injury does not have to be a way of life.

Take a look at these sites for more information and support:

To Write Love On Her Arms

x xx

Friday, 24 February 2012

Break the Silence - What now?

So where do we go from here then? Well I guess that depends where we are.

But there is no doubt in my mind, after all these words this week, that getting better was the right decision to make. In fact, perhaps it was the only decision to make.

Go away from this week ready to speak; learn to talk and hear and be again, for these are the basics you have forgotten. In amongst your madness and mayhem there have been foreign wars and broken regimes, joyful births and moving funerals, fresh dew on every lawn and birds that sing. Most all though, there has been talk of you and me, of our dreadful disease and a breaking of the silence that encapsulates the stigma that we have faced.

Recovery does not have to be all once, in one big gush of food, locked bathrooms and therapy suites. It can be gradual and the most permanent recovery probably is - slow and steady wins the race as the tortoise showed the hare.

And if you are reading this and deep down within the strings of your heart you know you need help then now is the time to say something. Because it doesn't have to hurt and it doesn't have to be so awful every single day, you can get better and I hope that these words have helped to prove that a little.

Lots of love,
Jo x xx

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Break the Silence - Beauty

Okay, I'm just going say it; there is something universally macabre, yet fascinating, about a body that is significantly underweight. Of course at first there is often revulsion yet at the same time, an inability to draw the eye away.

But bone and skeletons do not represent beauty. They may be beautiful in their own right as marrow and creators of blood cells but they do not and should not represent a beauty to which we are encouraging each other aspire to and replicate.

I can't sit here and write what beauty really is, because the truth is I don't know. I've spent a long time with a warped image of what beautiful is in terms of human appearance. What I do know, is that beauty is individual. It has personality and life and means something different to everyone across the world. Our western culture, our British society is trying to catch a wave that's just too high; we cannot, we do not have the right, to dictate what others should see as beautiful.

One thing is for sure though, I'm yet to meet anyone who can tells me that an untimely death is beautiful and that, is where an eating disorder will take you unless you force yourself to reassess the situation.

There's all sorts of beauty you can create out there, it doesn't have to be based around your looks. Words and art and nature and this whole world are filled with beauty if you take a step out of the eating disorder and look in the right nooks and crannies where our wonders hide. Or be different - it makes us shine and sparkle like nothing else and difference is not negative, it makes us unique and lovable and fathomable.

Lots of love,
Jo x xx

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Break the Silence - Relationships

11PM, 09/10. YOU HAVE ONE NEW MESSAGE: "Fine then. You'll have no one." The truth is that text wasn't truthful at all; at that time, I already had no one.

That was two weeks into the start of boarding school, one week before I was sectioned and force fed. That was the height of my eating disorder.

My relationship with my parents was strained, my family distant, my friends hostile and support services, well frankly, non existent.

But why I am telling you this? Well because relationships are fundamental to us as people but also because relationships are fundamental to the stalemate of an eating disorder and also the recovery from one. An eating disorder thrives on the power it presents an individual with, it also thrives on the divide of power within a family when one member is seriously ill.

Think about it, who have you lost since all this mess began? Friends, family, colleagues, lovers...
What did you gain through such loss? A broken body, a failing heart, an empty soul, an angry mind...
And was it worth it?

See, once taken apart and its core revealed, an eating disorder really makes no sense at all. That is not to say it's not logical, I believe the reason we fall prey to it is because it is so logical - take for instance the idea of invisibility that an eating disorder presents; you think to yourself, if I can just become small enough then perhaps I'll fade slightly, perhaps no one will notice me at all. Or the frightening process of growing up; you think, if I can just stay small then everything will be okay. And for a while it works, at least the latter certainly does in the case of anorexia as your body stalls or reverses and all the physical changes of growing up halt. But in the long run, we see that an eating disorder makes no sense because it makes you stand out. Not a quality most sufferers are aiming for. If you become terribly underweight or you run to the bathroom after each meal and you keep those behaviours and physical appearances up for long enough then someone is bound to notice.

That's when the whispers start, the corridor gossip, the worried glances and your replies of "I'm fine, don't worry."

No one believes. No one trusts.

Once found out, an eating disorder causes walls to grow and bridges to crumble. I can remember vividly being implored by my parents to explain why I wouldn't eat. And my response was sullen silence followed by hysterical crying that "I just wanted to be thin." That's not a relationship. That's torture.

But these walls we build and these bridges we break, they do not have to stay as they are. Our state is movable, our relationships changeable. You can get better.

And honestly, after all is said and done, I think the relationships you rebuild during recovery and once you are better are perhaps some of the strongest and the best you will ever share. Because once someone has seen you at your lowest and not completely left you, then what else is there left to test or say? That is not to say that those who stand by you might not have drifted, in fact having seen the depths some eating disorders take people, I don't blame anyone for running to the hills at the first sign of trouble. But we can't do this on our own, no matter how proud we are or how independent we want to be if we don't let people in at our worst then how can we expect them to stay with us for our best. We need family and friends. We need them because we are human and because together we have the ability to overcomes monsters, ghosts and mental illnesses.

Lots of love,
Jo x xx

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Break the Silence - Faith

This is a difficult point and one I reflect on often, in all sorts of ways: did my lack of commitment to faith cause my eating disorder; did my faith help me recover; did I anger God through my ED; did the lies I told harm my relationship with God.

I'm writing this from a Christian perspective but whether you're Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist etc. or perhaps have no faith at all, I think the ideas and concerns we face when dealing with the destruction an eating disorder causes and faith is important to all.

The most important point to remember is that God loves us. No matter what we have done, if we ask for forgiveness our sins will be taken away. That is the blessing Jesus bought us on the cross.

For the fact is the behaviours an eating disorder compels the sufferer to do are sins. I know I have broken promises a thousand times over through pretending to eat, lying about exercise, hiding laxatives and pills. Or take One Corinthians 6:20 where it says, "for your were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body." We are told to respect our bodies, to care and allow ourselves to grow for we are made in the image of God. An eating disorder drives us to do the opposite, we destroy ourselves in an attempt to attain an impossible perfection.

But it's not the fact that we sin that is the problem, for sin is part of human nature. The problem is how we reconcile with ourselves that we are forgiven, that we deserve that forgiveness and that we are loved unconditionally. Good luck trying to convince a self-loathing anorexic or bulimic that.

With recovery though, there comes an understanding from God that we are trying to make amends; both with Him and with ourselves, our bodies, our minds. We are looking for healing. The aim of recovery from an eating disorder should not be to "just manage it" - what is the point in merely aiming for a state where your suffering is, albeit less, but still present? The idea baffles me now that I know how much better the world can be. Though I confess, when I first began to think about recovering my instinct was to placate my eating disorder with promises that "we would go back to starving" once we had deemed this recovery lark a nonviable option.

In getting better we must let go. An eating disorder thrives on control and so you must do the hardest thing possible and relinquish that control. All sorts of feelings and thoughts get churned up when you begin to fight against the eating disorder, in faith you trust and in recovery you must trust also; this darkest will not last forever.

If you have faith then often some people find it easier to face recovery; they feel able to hand their lives over to God instead of the eating disorder and if that is you then I hope and pray you will continue to be lifted up to Him. But for me, I found faith sometimes made things harder - each day it is about reminding myself that I should not care what others think of me and that I do have people turn to, whether that is people God has provided for me or whether it is Him. Perhaps you don't have faith, that's okay also. There is no right or wrong way to approach recovery; if there is one thing I've learnt, it is that getting better is an extremely unique experience for everyone. I think looking at faith (whatever you're current view on it is) give us an opportunity for a change of perspective though. I may not be without doubt today but in time I hope I will be doubtless.

Lots of love,
Jo x xx

Monday, 20 February 2012

EDAW Break the Silence - Identity

This week, the 20th-26th of February, is Eating Disorder Awareness Week and the theme this year is Breaking the Silence. Over half of all those suffering from eating disorders don't tell anyone, that means there's thousands of people out there who are struggling in silence with an illness that can be beaten with the right help and support.

I was struggling to think of a challenge to set myself for EDAW so this is what I've come up with; each day this week I'm going to write about a topic relating and affecting those suffering with eating disorders, the kind of topics we just don't talk about enough in society, especially in relation to mental illness.

So please read on, comment and share. Prevention is better than cure and that means the sooner someone speaks out about their problems, the sooner they can be helped.


I can't speak for anyone else who has ever become enthralled and then devoured by an eating disorder but I know for a long time I lost my identity.

It is only now, after nearly a year out of hospital and recovering, that I can begin to tell you who I am. For five years I was just "the anorexic girl". Not only to others but to myself. If asked to describe myself I probably would have made something up, but all the time in my mind the word anorexic would reverberate. Because the thing is, an eating disorder consumes you; within just a short period of time the effect of starvation or purging on the brain has already begun. The Minnesota Starvation Experiment is a perfect example of the effect of starvation on the brain - taking healthy individuals, it rationed their food consumption and sure enough, even these fit young men with no previous history of eating problems began to show typical symptoms of anorexia and bulimia.

If you're suffering from an eating disorder or have done in the past, then you will know what I mean. Nearly all of your time is spent thinking about food or weight or shape in some context; from how to avoid a meal to controlling the food intake of your family and friends to fretting about the consequences on your weight of the apple you just ate. And I'm asking you to question, is it worth it?

And with the obsession with food comes an increasing guilt. Firstly, I think, from the eating disorder that "you should be better", "you should be thinner", "you should be perfect" but then, there is a guilt that we do not talk about as much, the one that seeps in slowly and catches you only occassionally; what am I doing, what about my family, friends, future, what am I doing to them? Suddenly your identity is being pulled from two angles, perhaps we could even stretch that to three - the ED, your loved ones and sometimes, a tiny part of you that remains. 

The main problem is, that to recover from an eating disorder, to regain your identity (or in some cases, to create a new one) you have to face some uncomfortable truths about yourself, your life, your choices.

I know now probably far more than most eighteen year olds do about the way my mind works; I know why I became ill, why I stayed ill, why I decided to get better but more than that, I know who I am now, I know who I've grown and become.

I am quirky and bit weird, I like weak coffee and green tea. I care far too much about others and don't understand the meaning of pacing oneself. I'm obsessively neat but still a little bit scatty, I believe in God and faith and heaven. There's more to me than "the anorexic girl" now.

Each day we have the ability to gain back a little more of ourselves. Through nutrition and talking and sharing our experience we can all begin to see that there is a life, an identity, beyond that which eating disorders bind us in.

Consider who you are this week, what have you become and where and who you want to be. If you put as much effort into finding yourself again as you did your eating disorder then nothing can stop you.

Lots of love,
Jo x xx

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Buzzing like a bee, it's all action here tonight with Minding Me!

Well, I just couldn't contain the excitement any longer; Minding Me has really been making some progress over the last couple of weeks and it feels incredible! When we first talked about setting up our own charity it felt like such an impossible dream but now, it's happening and I for one couldn't be happier.

So as you might have noticed, the blog has had a bit of a face lift and also facebook is alive and kicking with new fans.

Last week we met with a friend of ours who is a lawyer and she was very patient explaining all the legal jargon concerning becoming a charity. So we've decided on becoming a "company by guarantee" and the form filling process will be underway shortly.

Finally, just got some great news that we've recieved our first donation! We're so thankful for the all the wonderful people who are supporting us.

Love Jo x