Mental Health Awareness Week: Self-Love

As I mentioned in my previous post, my campaign for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is centred around self-love. Today I’m tackling the subject of body positivity.

At 17, I developed a rather unique eating disorder – it was a mixture of starving myself and binge eating. I used to wake up at 5pm just before my parents got home from work, eat 3 packets of crisps and loads chocolate, have a couple cans of fizzy drink and then wait for them to come home. Because I’d be awfully bloated from this binge eating, I never used to be able to eat dinner properly in the evenings with my parents, so I’d normally end up crying at the dinner table because I was sad about the eating junk food earlier in the day. It was a vicious cycle – wake up late, binge eat unhealthy food and then cry about it after. 

I started to lose weight rapidly and my parents delicately suggested it might be time for me to seek help with my weight and food issues. After undergoing intense psychotherapy for about a year, I grew to understand that I was essentially punishing my body for battling against itself after I had my gallbladder taken out at 16. Because I struggled to recover from the surgery in time to sit my a-levels, I performed rather catastrophically in my first year of college. Thus, to retain some sense of control over my life, I decided to limit what I ate in order to control my weight. When I started seeing quick results from this awful diet of mine, I ran with it because it gave me a sense of achievement. The way I looked at it back then was, “maybe I failed my a-levels, but at least I’m one step closer to being a side 8.” I had a terribly unhealthy and negative relationship with my body which in turn affected my mental well-being detrimentally. 

7 years later and I finally have a better relationship with my body. My eating habits have dramatically improved – I’m eating minimum 2 meals a day instead of 1! Breakfast is still a sticking point for me as I hate eating when I wake up in the mornings but I’m always eating something during the day, every other hour or so at least! I’ve learnt to accept that whilst I’m battling health issues with my body at present, and having done so since 16, I shouldn’t be punishing my body for its struggles. I should be celebrating my physical and mental achievements. Going through the pain, the surgeries, the countless procedures that I have over the years has made me a stronger person. It sounds incredibly cliche but it took being sick to appreciate how healthy I am now. 

Since I started personal training in the gym, I’m also painfully aware of the bad habits that can be picked up from excessive and obsessive exercise. My personal trainer kept me in check every now and then, even in lockdown, to keep me motivated to exercise whenever my body allowed me to, and maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle has always been at the heart of our training together. Everyday I’m trying to ensure I don’t go overboard with my exercise routines – I give myself rest days every other day to ensure my body isn’t being worked into overdrive. With my current condition and the painful periods during that time of the month, I’m unable to move from my sofa let alone work out so I make sure I give myself a week’s rest, too. 

My personal training sessions have taught me that it’s not about looking my best, it’s fundamentally about feeling my best. Whatever my reflection shows me in the mirror doesn’t compare to what I think of myself from the inside. In an era defined by social media which essentially only reflects the best moments of people’s lives which they choose to share, we find ourselves subconsciously comparing our progress to one another. With the rise of fitness content creators comes a dangerous need to look as good as they do, to eat as clean as they do, and to work as hard as they do at maintaining a conventionally attractive physique created by society, yet deemed perfect by our own selves. Even I find myself wishing I was as toned as a Gymshark model but I have to remind myself that I am not an athlete – I have not been training rigorously. Any progress I make should be celebrated, not belittled in comparison to that of others online. We spend so much time thinking about how we can improve our appearances when our focus should be on improving our state of mind, our perceptions of ourselves. I have good days and bad days just like everyone else, but I’m grateful to be surrounded by so many people who are such positive sources of light and encouragement in my life. They celebrate my successes, support my achievements and promise me a safe place to land if I ever fall into the trap of feeling low. 

Your self-worth is defined only by how you see yourself, and the relationship you have with your body. If you want to exercise 7 times a week, you can but you don’t have to. If you want to eat healthy food everyday of the week you can, but again, you don’t need to. Listen to your body and work out what’s best for your mind. Our bodies are essentially vessels for the mind and we ought to treat both with simultaneous care, love and respect. 

A x

‘Afflicted’ – A Netflix Original Series

‘Afflicted’ – A Netflix Original Series

I did all of this work just to get sick and not be able to live my dreams

A new Netflix series aired recently surrounding the stories of people suffering from chronic illnesses, undiagnosed or “unspecified” by medical professionals. Symptoms were extreme, leaving most of the participants of this docuseries unable to perform any of their daily activities.

Each person differentiates themselves from another through their symptoms, and the symptoms present themselves as different illnesses entirely – from the offset. The words “psychosomatic” and “Lyme Disease” are thrown around often through the episodes, suggesting a potential link between the participants, their symptoms, and the disease. I’ll leave the opinions of other participants to the general public, however. There’s one person in particular that I want to focus on.

We’re introduced to Jake in the third episode of the docuseries; an aspiring musician whose career was suddenly cut short due to the onset of symptoms linked to Lyme Disease. The beginning of the episode features Jake’s struggle in articulating his current symptoms to the camera, and as the episode progresses, the viewer is lead to understand the events which took place in his life but most importantly, how his life has been dramatically impacted because of his illness.

22 minutes into the episode, I had to stop watching. Any documentaries featuring people struggling with chronic illnesses hit a nerve, so to speak. The intention of this post, however, is most definitely not to associate my condition on any kind of level with those in the series. This post was to highlight the unimaginable trauma of those who may look physically well but are struggling with an uncontrollable and unpredictable illness, of which there is no cure yet and treatment which consists entirely of trial and error. Watching a relatively young man’s life turned upside down due to something both entirely out of his control and entirely unanticipated is definitely heart-wrenching. To see the ambitious light in his character gradually diminish – it puts everything into perspective.

Learning about stories such as that of Jake’s really makes me realise how lucky we are, how lucky I am. I can call myself a survivor, but am I really battling a condition of no known cure? No. Has my life been stripped from my hands overnight? No. I agree with one thing, in particular, the docuseries mentioned; those who are sick have a tendency to associate their identity with their illness. They’re not just a person anymore – they’re a sick person. I, too, have fallen victim to enshrouding myself in self-pity when, in retrospect, my health is improving, I am most certainly not bed-bound, and I do not rely on medication to essentially live. Those who have suffered from chronic illnesses, and/or chronic pain can definitely identify with the overwhelming trauma it leaves one with, even once they’ve overcome the worst of it. And perhaps this motto isn’t the healthiest to live by, but the documentary showed me how people undeniably have it much worse than people such as myself. Granted my health isn’t the best it could be at the moment, I’ve learned that relatively stable health is often taken at face value.

I intend to bring myself to complete the rest of Jake’s story. And he’s taught me just how lucky I truly am, to be able to live my life to its fullest potential – he’s given me perspective. I sincerely hope from the deepest of my heart that his story has a happy outcome.

The transience of life is all too often overlooked and underestimated. We have an overwhelming ability as a society to conceal ourselves behind issues which are ephemeral in comparison to others.

The series, in general, verges on the side of sensationalism as opposed to information and fact, but the stories of the participants raise some interesting questions in relation to chronic illnesses, pain and an array of unspecified symptoms.

A x

Featured image: Afflicted, Netflix Original Series (2018)