Mental Health Awareness Week: Cocktail of Conditions

Mental Health gets even more difficult to manage when there is more than one condition to take into consideration. Anxiety, Depression and suicidal urges might all feed off each other, but they can’t be reduced to the same simplistic thing.

Today’s post comes from a young woman in her 20s called Mew, who wanted to share her ‘cocktail of conditions’ and the effect they have had upon her life since childhood. Like our previous post, this one also highlights the dangers of dismissing adolescent suffering as Teen Angst.


I’ve had severe mental illnesses for nearly all of my life now. Growing up was very hard, mostly due to having Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning I didn’t have many friends or have a ‘normal’ childhood. I first noticed the depression symptoms, although I didn’t know that was what they were, when I was 9. Inability to get out of bed, to face the day, to face people and moving and such. It got worse when I went to high school and the bullying was a daily experience.

I told my parents about how I felt when I was 12 but they were quick to dismiss things, punishing me for being too scared and depressed to get out of bed and to school. Things got abusive at home and I got blamed for being a ‘horrible person’ rather than an unwell teen. The focus was never on me, rather on what I was doing to their marriage and happiness.

Anyway, they finally realised at around age 16 that something *was* wrong, only after doctors got involved and I’d failed my first try at AS Levels. My Mum finally started to believe in mental illnesses, that depression was real, that it wasn’t just something that wibbiling drunks in the street got. I started counselling, but I wasn’t allowed medication.

Uni happened, I got pills of my own volition after being pressed by friends. I failed my first year 3 times before giving up.

For me, the worst thing of the illness is the failures. Seeing my friends go on and get degrees, jobs, relationships… it’s near impossible for me to get anywhere near as good as them because of my illnesses. Doctors have said that I may never be able to work.

Nearly all my relationships have broken down because of my illnesses. My boyfriends at the time couldn’t cope with the strain of dealing with me when I was ill. My current relationship feels like a miracle, but I’ve been told that I have to ‘improve’ or we just can’t continue together. He’s starting to not cope, but he’s trying hard and pulling out all the stops to keep us together. I’m very scared knowing that I might cock up everything when I’ve got so far.

One year ago to this day I was in hospital after an overdose. I’d had enough of life and wanted to take my own life. I was having troubles with debt with my energy company (which is a long story, and with the company in the wrong…), I’d had an argument with my boyfriend, I was in physical pain from long term illnesses, I despised myself beyond belief, I felt no one liked me or wanted to be my friend… It was a dark time. I just wanted to stop suffering so much. So I started swallowing pills and kept going. I’d begun adding 2 boxes onto every Asda order I made and stockpiled them for that purpose. I wrote a note. But obviously, it didn’t work.

Back to the present day, some days it feels like all that I’m living for is Jurassic World to come out. I do that, say ‘I’ll live until X event happens… I need to see that day’ and then when it happens, I have something else to look forward to. It keeps me going. I recently said online that Jurassic World was ‘giving me life’ and it’s true. It sounds silly, a film keeping me going, but it’s what works for me.

I don’t know what the future holds for me now. I’m having to re-start my Open University course after failing that due to illness, which just feels like it was always going to happen. I want to do something with my life. I have dreams, aspirations that I can work. Sometimes as a nurse, or veternairy nurse, other times just to be accepted for a part time retail job.

I want to be able to get up in the morning, go out to work and not freak out and panic.

I want to pass my degree.

I want to get married and start a family.

But these are all things that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do.

A lot of people think I’m just lazy, or don’t want to work. I’ve had harsh comments said about how I’m ‘taking their tax money’ and telling me that the money in my bank is technically their money, and that they should dictate what I spend it on. I’ve had people tell me I should never have children, for their sakes and because I’m a scrounger.

These things hurt. They hurt so much. They make my illness even worse. People I’ve considered intelligent friends have said things to me that make me want to jump of a bridge.

I haven’t even been able to touch upon the anxiety aspect much here. Even writing this is making me think ‘this article is a piece of crap. No one wants to read your self-pitying crap. You’re crap.’ So I wish I could end it on a positive note, but I’m finding it hard. Oh wait, positive! Jurassic World is coming out in less than a month. That’s cheered me up a bit.

For the record – I don’t think that you are crap and if this call for submissions has shown anything, it’s that people do care and do want to read about these issues. They want to know more and they want to help. I think you were extremely brave to share this piece and thank you for submitting to Project Shandy. You are not alone in going through this and it is not your fault that this illness is happening to you.

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#ThrowbackThursday – #itstimetotalk

I posted about this on my FB profile, but I’ve decided it’s worth sharing with a wider audience and in greater detail. There’s a meme going around where people share their first ever profile pictures.

Here’s mine:

On the surface it’s a happy picture. This was taken around May 2007. I was at the Lorien Trust larp event in Locko Park, playing an elf.

This photo comes from one of the most unhappy and unhealthy times of my life, when I was deep in the clutches of undiagnosed depression, suffering major stress and anxiety and heading towards a mental breakdown within weeks of this photograph being taken.

See that top? That’s a size 8. My healthy frame is naturally a size 14. I shouldn’t have been able to fasten that around me. My arms and torso were so thin it makes me shudder. You can see my collar bones jutting out. This was the one and only time in my life that I have been skinny, and it was a time of abject misery. Go read this before anyone DARES to try and compliment me on looking ‘thin’ or expressing envy for my shape in this picture. It was an unwanted side effect with horrific costs.

At this time I had completely lost myself. I was trying my hardest to enjoy hobbies because they would bring me closer to the people I was dependent upon for my sense of self esteem. Given that these people turned out to be about as much use as chocolate teapots in terms of supporting me through these problems, this was a spectacularly bad idea. Because by the time I came out of all this, I had spent so much time and effort investing in these people and was so dependent upon their approval for any shred of self worth, that I had driven away many of my other friends and dropped all of the interests and hobbies that made me who I was.

I am a quietly creative person. I am not ostentatious, or loud, or fond of large crowds of exuberant people. So I still struggle at times to understand how on earth I dropped my interests in writing, stitching, knitting, reading, research, blogging and my quiet and simple investigations into the solitary practice of Wicca in favour of dressing up in a corset and waving a sword around in the middle of a field of thousands of people who were dressed up like a Middle Earth army.

(Before anyone jumps on me for slating LARP – I LOVE LARP. Or rather I love the idea of it. The creative freedom, the expression, the creativity, the social aspects, the sense of community. But I wish I could watch it all like a TV show, because it’s so not me. I would wander around that field pretending to have fun and feeling like a sham up against all of the genuine enthusiasm and interest which was so apparent in everyone else there. LARP is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination – but it was so not me at all.)

I know deep down why I gave up those other interests. It was because I was put down, ridiculed and quietly dismissed in my efforts to share them that I stopped doing them. When you are faced with a blanket response of disinterest and cruel humour, you begin to doubt yourself and your abilities. When it continues and you gain absolutely no respite or external counter view, you believe it. And if, when you’re like me, you suffer from mental health problems which reinforce your negative views of yourself and your place in the world around you, that can be enough to start unravelling you at the core.

What I was trying to do was say:

Hey! Look at me! I’m having fun! I’m with the people I believe I love and doing what they want to do and I’m having fun! Honest! I’m one of you! I’m doing the things that they think are worthwhile and joining in and trying my hardest to be happy! Look I’m smiling! It doesn’t matter that it hurts, I’m smiling! Everything’s OK now! Honest!

Underneath there was a little voice saying ‘what they fuck are you doing?’. I was absolutely terrified of that little voice, because I had no answer for it and I knew I should be listening to it. But I couldn’t. There is still, in this society, a massive stigma surrounding mental health problems. An overwhelming urge for those who suffer with them to pretend that everything is fine and that they are OK. That’s exactly what I was doing when this picture was taken. I might look like I was having fun. But I wasn’t.

However, as they say on Top Gear – that was then. This is now:



This is what happiness looks like. This is me as I am now – this photo was taken last summer.

It’s taken the best part of seven years, but I have found myself again. Things are not perfect, not by any means. I am still battling against anxiety and depression. I’ve been through job changes, ups and downs, difficulties with family and friends and all the roller-coaster things that life brings. I have had a rough ride, but the difference is that I believe in myself.

It would be very easy to say that I believe in myself because I have a husband who loves me and friends who appreciate me, but there’s more to it than that. If I had simply rebuilt my self esteem upon the approval of a different set of people, I would be potentially headed for the same mess as I was in years ago – liable to shatter at a moment’s notice if I ever lost it or felt in danger of losing it. And when you suffer depression and anxiety, you ALWAYS feel in danger of losing people’s good opinions of you. You always feel like you have to pretend that things are fine in case people leave.

The biggest lesson I learned, and the one I want to share with people today, is that things won’t necessarily be fine just because you keep pretending that they are. And sometimes, putting the brave face on things for longer than you are capable of sustaining can land you in a much bigger mess than saying ‘No, actually, I’m not ok, this sucks mightily and I am suffering’.

But it’s hard to say that without tackling the taboo surrounding these issues. And this is why it is important for the people who are managing their depression and anxiety – and other mental health problems – to speak out.

It’s easy to pretend that the old issues have gone away when you are feeling ‘better’. I found myself agreeing heartily with Tom Pollock when I read his article on living with Bullimia. When celebrities speak out about mental health problems, it’s always couched as something temporary which they have overcome. Like the big bad monster which got chased away, and don’t worry, it’s never coming back. Surely we learned in the last few years that the big bad monster never goes away. And it has horrific sets of teeth. Regardless of how positive and bright your life and existence might seem to other people, that monster is always there and always a threat.

It is so important that we create an environment where people are allowed to say ‘I am not OK right now’. Yes it’s time to talk, and part of that is providing reassurance that things aren’t that bad, or that things will get better. But it’s time to listen too, and to know that we need to listen more than once, because these big bad monsters lurk outside the door all the time. At best they are sleeping. Rarely can they be killed.

I shared this photo on FB with the promise to people who are suffering that things can get better. And they can. I am a positive example of this. My life now barely resembles the shambling wreck of an existence I was going through when that photo was taken. But part of the success has been the acceptance that this big bad monster is part of my life and while it might sleep sometimes, it never truly goes away and that even in times of joy, I will have to occasionally stop and say to the people around me ‘You know what? I’m not OK’.

What makes these people amazing in my life is not that they see me in a positive way, but that I can say this to them and it will not make them permanently think less of me. They accept that I am struggling and rejoice when I am stronger and provide understanding and patience in the gaps between those things. That more than anything  is what reduces the fear of losing people’s good opinions and which makes the monster non-lethal. Scary, yes, but not lethal.

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Depression: It Takes More Than One Conversation

I’ve seen a lot of posts around on facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc relating to the death of Robin Williams, encouraging those who suffer from depression to speak up, speak out and reach for help.

They are admirable and worthy sentiments, but there’s something missing from them which I’d like to talk about here.

Depression isn’t fixed within a single conversation or admission. You need to keep talking and keep talking and keep talking. And those who are offering so valiantly to listen need to keep listening and keep listening and keep listening. Even when the things that you’re hearing might already have been said a hundred times.

I’d like to compare two different types of sickness at my workplace which I’ve witnessed in the last 12 months. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Trudy damaged her knee ligaments in an accident. She was in a lot of pain, struggling to walk around physically even with a brace and crutches, and even after one or two attempts at returning to work, she needed to take some extra time off to recover when she outpaced herself. She worked from home as much as she could, but the pain medication sometimes zonked her out and it would take her a couple of days to get back to people who had tried to contact her.

Nowhere was she met with anything less than absolute sympathy and compassion. When people saw her or talked on the phone, the first thing they asked was ‘How are you feeling, how’s the leg?’ and they listened with sympathy and patience as Trudy described her struggles with the medicine, the frustration of not being able to walk and the wish to return to work full time. People described her as brave and spoke of her with admiration when she did return only to need more recovery time.

Then there’s Rachel. Rachel’s father had a stroke and ended up in intensive care in hospital. Her mother and extended family rallied around him, but Rachel took it very hard. She was based far away from her family and wasn’t able to be there in person very often. Once her father’s condition improved to the point where he could breathe without a ventilator, she returned to work after two days compassionate leave.

But then depression hit her, and it hit her severely. She was in and out of work for some time, often working from home and making phonecalls instead of attending face to face meetings. She was pretty upfront about her struggles with her immediate team, including her manager and me, one of her closer colleagues. Most people knew about her depression, even if they didn’t know the details of how or why.

Rachel and I were due to attend a nationwide conference a few months after her father’s illness. The rest of our department attended too. Rachel managed one day, and then had to call me to say she was too ill to drive, because her depression medication had knocked her out.

When Rachel didn’t turn up, a few staff asked what had happened to her. I explained that her medication had made her unsafe to drive and I was going to fill in for her. One of them, in relative innocence, asked whether it was medication for her depression. Another said, in reply, ‘Oh yeah, she mentioned that a while ago, I thought she’d be better by now. Surely she doesn’t still need those drugs, does she?’

No she wasn’t better at all. She was terrified every time someone from her family called her. She worried about her father incessantly. She was isolated from her family by distance, trying her best to work and keep up with the demands of her job and struggling to keep her everyday life going.

At this point, Trudy walked up. Literally walked, but with a cane for support. The two members of staff fell upon her with coos and oohs and ahhs. The same person who had commented on Rachel’s continuing issues said:

“Oh you poor thing, you’ve struggled on for ages since coming out of that brace, you must be longing to get better.”

In that moment I realised the difference between how people react to a long term physical illness and a recurrent mental illness.

Rachel had done what all the advice about depression suggests. She had talked about it, been open about it, never hid why she was struggling. However, she was still battling against the perception that after discussing it and being open about it and taking some tablets, she should be ‘better’. It was understandable to these people that Trudy would take a long time to recover from an injury, that she would need several attempts to get stronger and return to work and that it would require persistence on her part. It was harder for them to accept that in Rachel’s case.

Rachel ended up taking some more time off, but she called me before coming back to work a few months later. We spoke for a while about how she was feeling, and she said that she had called me as one of the first because she knew I wouldn’t ask if she was ‘feeling better’. Rachel knew about my own struggles with mental health issues and anyone who’s been through it themselves will know that ‘better’ is not really something that you attain on a permanent basis. There’s no bench mark for feeling ‘better’, like there would be for someone like Trudy, who will be ‘better’ when she can walk again with no assistance and no pain. When you struggle against your own brain chemistry, you learn to be grateful for the good days and accept that bad days can come with no warning.

Admitting that you have depression is a really brave first step. But it takes a different sort of persistence to keep people aware that your struggles are an ongoing issue, and the fact is that people who don’t understand how the illness works will think that you are ‘milking it’ if you talk about it more than once. There are no constant physical reminders that people suffer with depression. The only way to keep people aware of your struggles is to keep talking about it. And that gets both boring to do, and frankly boring to listen to, especially if you can’t see any evidence of the sickness that the person is talking about.

The first time you tell someone that you are depressed you will get sympathy. Because people are now aware that this is how they should respond. The public awareness campaigns have done their jobs.

After a time you may begin to feel better, but if it re-surges and you begin to feel bad again, you have to explain yourself all over again. The second time you tell people, there will be some resignation. Because this is old news now. You’ve been through this. People think it’s like chicken pox, that once you’ve survived it you can have some form of immunity and tool kit to deal with it. They wait for you to remember your training, for you to return to ‘normal’, because you proved you could do it once.

A second recovery will be greeted with relief. Perhaps now things will be back to normal. Woe betide you should you suffer a third attack. Telling people once again that you are feeling depressed, which to you might feel like being trapped behind a thick glass of numbness and struggling to breathe through chest pains while you mental list reasons to carry on living, you might get a raise of the eyebrows and a ‘hmmmm’. Skepticism. How can this human keep malfunctioning? Are they actually sick, or are they just wanting special treatment. They don’t look any different to anyone else, after all. There is a pattern to this behaviour now, and some people will begin to ascribe it to your character rather than your medical well being.

The fourth time you bring it up, you might start to get pointed looks and stares along with comments about how they ‘thought you would be feeling better by now’. People will start asking things like ‘Is this really the job for you if you can’t cope?’ Or ‘have you tried approaching life through a more positive mindset? Or taking up a new hobby to distract you?’

Patience wears thin for struggles which are invisible yet repetitive. Admitting that you have depression once does not make the problem go away, even if you experience a period of recovery. It’s a roller coaster which lasts throughout life, along with all the peaks and troughs and sharp corners.

Every bout of depression leaves the sufferer feeling weaker than the last. Because it’s like being punched in an old bruise. And yet as time goes on, public patience and support lessen, wane, fade and disappear exactly when they need it most. People have described Robin Williams as ‘battling’ with depression, they don’t know how apt a statement that is. It’s an ongoing war, a crisis inside your own head. There might be periods of peace, or at least a truce or ceasefire, but you live in fear of the next onslaught. After a while, public sympathy becomes exhausted. You are seen as the creator of your own circumstances, because they begin in your head, and people believe that you should be in control of your own head. The very point behind Mental Illness is that you’re not. You have to fight for the controls of your own existence and even when you have them, there’s no guarantee you’ll hang onto them or have a smooth ride.

Encouraging people to come forward is one thing. And it’s a good thing. Nobody should have to suffer in silence. But if you are encouraging a depressive person to speak, you may need to be aware that they will need to speak more than once. A lot more than once. And to them the horror of their own mental landscape is just as real each time, even though the story might sound the same to you.

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Oh Captain, My Captain…

I don’t often blog about the death of celebrities. Don’t get me wrong, there are some who have died in my lifetime whose deaths have been shocking due to their youth (Amy Winehouse, Peaches Geldof) and some who have left large holes in the lives of their devoted fans (Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston) and there was even one whose death touched the hearts of the world (Princess Diana), but today, I woke to the news of a celebrity’s death and it moved me to tears.

Yes, I am talking about Robin Williams, who will always be My Captain.

I grew up with Robin Williams. I watched Mork and Mindy re-runs on Sunday mornings. I watched Popeye the movie after my parents took me and my sister to visit the village were it was filmed in Malta. Films like Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji and Hook were regular viewings in my home during my childhood. Even when my sister and I were at odds over what to watch, we could often reach agreement on Hook.

But as I got older, I encountered more and more of Williams’ work and it touched different places in my soul, aside from my sense of humour.

My Dad recorded ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ off the television when I was a teenager. It was one of the films I remember watching with my whole family – those were rare. We howled with laughter and we cried and we sang to the music and when Dad bought me the CD soundtrack for Christmas that year, we memorized Williams’ rants and rambles which were as much of a joy to listen to as the classic 1960s music which I was growing to love. But behind that, there was a genuine horror of war, of the waste of young lives and the dangers of censorship.

It’s the truth. I just want to report the truth. It’ll be a nice change of pace.

Good Morning, Vietnam

A few years later, I watched Awakenings, which formed many of my opinions on the long term care of disabled adults. I now work in the care sector and have never forgotten the early lessons I learned from this film, about respect, dignity and the respect of people’s ability to make whatever choices they are able to.

What we do know is that, as the chemical window closed, another awakening took place;
that the human spirit is more powerful than any drug – and THAT is what needs to be nourished:
with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter.
This is what we’d forgotten – the simplest things.


Some years later, my mother and I watched Good Will Hunting, a film which drove me to tears with its depictions of grief, loss and coming to terms with suffering. It gave me frames of reference for dealing with my own mental illness, sadness and trauma recovery, as well as my husband’s. It also told me that people who are dealing with those issues are not always right and not always saints, but none the less human for those facts.

You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.

Good Will Hunting

And a few years ago I finally watched Dead Poets Society from start to finish.

I remember seeing bits of the film on a late night film slot on TV when I was a kid, but I was a bit too young to understand what was going on and was packed off to bed before the ending. A few years ago, I bought it cheap and watched it again.

I had qualified as a teacher some years before and decided not to pursue it as a career, because the training was not a good experience for me. Later I came to terms with the fact that I was very ill and broken during that time, and it was not solely the fault of the course, or the schools, or the mentors, that I had such a hard time (although some of them played their negative parts). I had thrown in the towel, given up, settled for administration as a career and was boring myself to a slow death behind various desks.

Watching Dead Poets Society again reminded me of why I had wanted to teach. Specifically why I had wanted to teach English. And why I wanted to teach poetry, and read poetry, and write poetry.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.
We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.”

Dead Poets Society

Not that long after I saw the film again, I got a job working on an army preparation course as an administrator. Four months into the job, the manager asked if I knew anyone who was a qualified teacher, specifically an English teacher. I told her I was and asked why.

A vacancy had arisen for someone to design, implement and deliver an English functional skills course to the students, who were aged 15-19, mostly boys, often disenfranchised with education and from a wide mix of difficult backgrounds (foster care, adoption, smoking, drinking, petty crime, criminal records, teenage parenthood…) This would not be like teaching in a school. It would be a whole new challenge altogether.

Carpe Diem

Dead Poets Society

Sieze the day. How often had I said that as a kid, and as a teenager, having heard it in a scrap of a movie and thought it was a good idea? How often had I encouraged my friends to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ when they were scared of something new? Sieze the day. I decided to take the job.

Private school 50s kids these were not! It’s not exactly a surprise that the other film which sent me back to teaching was ‘Dangerous Minds’ (or more specifically, the book which inspired it, ‘My Posse Don’t Do Homework’). But there was something in Robin Williams’ portrayal of Mr Keating which struck chords in me that would not die.

Aside from teaching grammar, sentence composition, spelling, formal language, speaking skills and close reading skills, I did my best to instill into each of the boys in my classes a sense of self belief, a sense of pride, responsibility and an appreciation for expression. In some cases it worked beautifully. In others, not so much, and I had days where I left my classroom disheartened, tired and exhausted, but they were outweighed by the ones where I felt I had made a difference.

John Keating: I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself.
Nolan: At these boys’ age? Not on your life!

Dead Poets Society

Nobody expected my boys to think. They were written off in the early stages of their youth. I despised that mindset. I always have. I am devoted to the idea that it is never too late to restart, to learn, to begin again, to change the way you see yourself and the world around you. I tried my hardest to make them think. To make them ask questions, even if it was only to ask THEMSELVES questions. To make them see the world from their own perspective. Not the one that someone else had decided they should have.

I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.

Dead Poets Society

I don’t believe that it would have been possible for Robin Williams to have played the role of Mr Keating with anything like that conviction, energy or passion if he didn’t share the same ideals. Any more than I believe he could have played Sean in Good Will Hunting without genuine compassion and a belief in love. Or than he could have played Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam without an absolute love for music and a horror of war. Or than he could have played Malcolm Sayer without a deep respect for human rights.

Robin Williams touched hearts because he put HIS heart into every role. That’s what made him a gifted actor, aside from being a gifted comedian. His ability to find the ridiculous and the humorous in every situation, no matter how bleak or empty, allowed him to show everyone the darker sides of human life with hope and encouragement.

Robin Williams is one of the reasons why I teach. He is absolutely the reason why I teach English. He is one of the reasons I write poetry, and read poetry, and love poetry. He is one of the reasons I work in the care sector for adults. He is one of the reasons I agreed to go to therapy, both for his words on screen and off camera. Through his portrayals, laced with his wit and infectious humour, he showed me that the world did want to be a better place, even if it was up against the odds.

Oh Captain, my dear Captain. We never met, but you had more impact upon my life, my soul, my self, than many of the people who have trodden through my life within arm’s reach. Your death came too soon, I had hoped to look up to you for another twenty years. But sleep well, dear Robin. Rest now. Just Rest.

Gooooooooood-byyyyyyye Vietnaaaaam! That’s right, I’m history… I’m outta here. I got the lucky ticket home, baby. Rollin, rollin, rollin’… keep them wagons rollin’, rawhide! Yeah, that’s right… the final Adrian Cronauer broadcast… and this one is brought to you by our friends at the Pentagon. Remember the people who brought you Korea? That’s right, the U.S. Army.

Good Morning, Vietnam

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Welcome to Mental Health Awareness Week

Stress, Depression and Anxiety – Aren’t They All The Same Thing?

I’ve chosen to blog about these three conditions because they are exactly that. Three conditions, not one condition with three names which can be used interchangeably. Whilst awareness about the existence and very real impact of these conditions is increasing, there’s still a tendency to lump them all into one big melting pot and assume that in terms of support, a one-size-fits-all approach will be sufficient.

I’ve suffered bouts of all three of these during my adult life, and looking back now I can see patterns of all of them peppered throughout various experiences in my teens and even childhood. At times I have been misdiagnosed and treated for the wrong thing, which has only served to compound the difficulties.

This blog entry is not intended to provide medical advice or offer a set of tools for diagnosis. I can only blog about my personal experience with these three conditions and use that to highlight the major differences between them. I hope that this will provide a small amount of insight into how they need to be tackled and approached in different ways.


Stress was the first condition I was diagnosed with, in my early twenties. I was training as a teacher at a school in the north west of England and for the first time in my life, I was struggling with the requirements of a qualification. This was a completely unknown circumstance for me, as a natural academic. GCSEs, A-Levels, my degree and my masters, none of these had posed any problem for me. But when it came to the demands and rigors of this course, I was beginning to fail.

The roots of my own experience with stress were lodged in a physical illness. During the Easter holidays, when I should have been getting some rest, I was laid low with a nasty ear infection. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t move without considerable pain and I was in an awful mess emotionally because I was so tired and sore all the time. By the time I was due to start my final placement I wasn’t fit to go, and ended up missing the first week of school.

This didn’t get me off to a good start with my mentor, head of department or colleagues and was the beginning of a long and uphill struggle to get through the term.

For a long time, I assumed that I just couldn’t throw off the illness. Some of the effects were similar to what I’d endured with the ear infection, but over that term things got far worse. My symptoms included:

  • Being unable to sleep due to obsessive thinking patterns.
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Memory problems, couldn’t retain short term information
  • Lack of interest and motivation in what I was doing
  • Lack of appetite and shrunken stomach
  • Repeated vomiting after eating, sometimes five or six times within a day
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Brittle hair, acne and weak nails
  • Being short tempered
  • Constantly feeling near to tears
  • Inflammation of my Asthma, struggling to breathe

The thing that saved me in terms of my stress condition was being told that I had failed the course. It was an escape and removed many of the problems that had been weighing on me quite so heavily. With the money left over from my bursary, I was able to have some time off to rest that summer before returning to a fresh placement with a clean slate the following January.

Looking back now, I shouldn’t have ignored or brushed off those problems for as long as I did, and neither should the people around me. I should have gone to a doctor and asked for help and support. The placement was three months long, far too long to ignore what I thought were the after affects of an infection.

The most difficult thing to get a handle on was that I was out of control, because my experience of stress was a feeling that I was trying to keep control. I couldn’t see that I was failing and that my difficulties and failing health should have been key indicators that things were wrong. I was so busy convincing myself that I was OK that I didn’t stop to realise that I wasn’t. There’s a difference between reassuring yourself that you’re OK once or twice when you are nervous, but when you are repeating it like a mantra every few minutes in the face of overwhelming evidence that you’re struggling to cope, it’s often a clear sign that you are far from OK. Getting help at this point is not a sign of weakness, it’s a coping tactic. I wish I had known that when I was starting out as a teacher.


The following summer, things had gotten worse. I went through a very difficult time where my relationships with my boyfriend and friends took a battering. I had nine interviews for teaching positions and still didn’t have a teaching job.

Teaching interviews are grueling compared to the average office based interview, which was all I had experienced previously. Rather than sitting down to a one hour chat and maybe completing an IT test of some kind, my teaching interviews lasted all day. They involved tours of the school, question and answer sessions, a teaching session and full debrief afterwards, interviews with pupils, a formal lunch with the department and a final formal interview with the head teacher, a member of the department and representatives from the board of governors. Each one had to be applied to separately and then prepared for separately. By the end of that experience you’ve been questioned and judged on your teaching ethos, your personality, your subject, your work history, your academic ability and your future hopes.

To go through that nine times and not have a job at the end of it was crucifying. My self esteem had been shattered and there was no part of my life that I felt positive or good about. Relationships with my family were also strained and I had no income or way of paying my rent or buying food.

Sinking into depression was a very gradual thing. I stopped eating first. This was part of an effort to save money initially, cutting down my meals and portion sizes, then skipping meals. Then I started to feel guilty if I ate food because I had no money, and I started to feel as if I wasn’t worth the food. Soon I wasn’t eating at all.

Then I started to have trouble leaving the house. Again I felt worthless, like I didn’t want anyone to see me or look at me, because I believed there would be a negative judgement. Afterall, everyone else in my life had already made these decisions about me, why would strangers be any different? Gradually, one day at a time, my sphere of movement became smaller and smaller. I wasn’t eating, so I didn’t go to the bathroom as much. I wasn’t going out, so why did it matter whether I showered or not? Or whether my clothes were clean? Why did getting out of bed matter? Eventually, I shrank away into a smaller and smaller space, feeling like I was less and less of a person.

By the time I was persuaded to get help, I had lost a third of my body weight. My hair was matter, my skin was in terrible condition, I stank and I was constantly crying. When I started trying to eat again, I would vomit immediately. For days I’d been having dreams and daydreams about committing suicide. One in particular was so vivid and sensory that I don’t know whether I actually attempted it or not and I’m a little scared even now to go back and find out.

I had always been a person who loved life and believed in a bright future. I was an optimist, a believer and a hard worker. It terrifies me that I had reached the point where I didn’t think I was worth existing. Where I didn’t think there was a way out or a light at the end of the tunnel. I just wanted to close the hole over my head and stay in the darkness. More than anything, I was scared that doing anything or taking any action would make things worse.

It took a couple of different types of tablets to even out my mood swings, to enable me to think clearly. Along with bout of therapy to try and unpick some of the damage, and the constant support and love of my boyfriend, who I had hurt very deeply while trapped in my own personal hell. He’s now my husband. I have known since emerging from that awful time that he was the right man to spend my life with. The difference between the stress and depression was the when I was stressed, I honestly thought things were going to be fine and that I was coping. When I was depressed, I believed I had failed at everything and would be better off dead.


About a year ago, I was finally diagnosed with anxiety. My therapist, who I’ve been seeing for the last six months, has suggested that it might be caused by PTSD, but this hasn’t been confirmed by a doctor.

Everyone has moments when they panic. When something shocks them, or they remember something at the last minute and your blood starts pumping and you get that head rush with the metallic taste of adrenaline on the back of your tongue. We all have that. It might be a near miss traffic accident, or seeing a child about to do something dangerous, or even finding a great big hairy spider sat on your pillow before bedtime.

The best way I have to describe my experiences with anxiety is that I felt like that all of the time, as a bare minimum. I didn’t know what it was like to not be worried.

The symptoms were quite similar to stress, but the emotional triggers behind them were very different indeed. Again, I was struggling to sleep. But this time, I wasn’t running through coping mechanisms, I was running through fears. Fears about my job, about my finances, about my friends and my social activities – all of these things would emerge from my brain like thick black ooze, coating all of my thoughts and stopping me from being able to rest. The constant refrain of ‘What if, what if, what if…?’

My adrenaline was through the roof. I would jump at unexpected noises or voices behind me. Flinch from an unexpected touch. My husband describes this as being ‘fight or flight’, the sensation of either wanting to pick a fight with the perceived threat or wanting to run away as fast as you can. You’re tensed and ready for action all the time. Let me tell you something, that is exhausting. My muscled ached, my joints ached, I had chronic headaches and my ears rang so often I thought I had tinnitus.

I felt frightened, all of the time. Combined with an anger and frustration on a conscious level because I didn’t always know what I was frightened of. Social situations, particularly where there was the danger of running into people who disliked me, were almost unbearable because I could barely hold a conversation and spent the whole night spinning around like a top, trying to keep everyone in view. The sound of an unwelcome voice behind me or the unexpected sight of someone that I didn’t want any contact with was enough to make me feel out of control.

People use the phrase panic attack too often for my taste. Being a little scared is not a panic attack. The last time I had a panic attack in public, I lost complete control of myself. After attending a drama-based social event in a room with no windows and only one exit, I began to feel trapped and like there was no air in the room. I started hyperventilating, my muscles tensed up and soon, without having made a conscious decision to, I was sat next to the door, back against the wall, fingers clenched and ready to run away. A few minutes later I was sobbing uncontrollably in a toilet cubicle, door locked, back braced against it to feel even remotely safe. Eventually my fiancé took me home. I could not have told anyone what triggered the attack but I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I wasn’t safe and couldn’t get to a place where I would be safe.

When you live in a state of heightened physical and emotional alert, you begin to have disproportionate responses to minor events. Things like arriving at a workplace to find that your usual parking space is gone, or being asked to move a meeting to the room next door or not having a piece of post turn up when you were expecting it. On a good day I laugh at all of those, if they deserve a reaction at all. A quick tut, shrugged shoulders, a roll of the eyes at best. When I’m in a state of heightened alert though, these events are often more than I can deal with. But I needed that space, I needed that room and I needed that post – why? Because they were part of my plan to be in a safe space where I knew what to expect and how I could cope, and I don’t have any energy spare for a contingency plan, even a minor one.

Anxiety can manifest in the tiniest of ways. I hate walking through a door first into a crowded room when I am with someone. I hate the idea that people are looking at me and comparing me to the person I am with. I had to explain to my very chivalrous husband that holding open the door and saying ‘Ladies first’ was a lovely gesture but it struck terror into my heart every time. He now walks in first and reaches back for my hand, reassuring me that I’m not alone. I also hate making phonecalls. Answering the phone is fine because I know the person wants to talk to me, but actually making calls is a nightmare. I would much rather email, or text. Thankfully my boss understands this and so when I text her, she calls me back. If someone you know has funny little habits like this, don’t ridicule them or call attention to them. For all you know, they are the lynch pins to their method of coping with the demands of life.

I currently take tablets to control this condition because they regulate my brain chemistry to prevent the build up of chemicals that are currently working in overdrive to keep me in that state. I recently had to raise my dose because I found that while I might be able to function, I was beginning to get worried about everything again and was expending a lot of my energy talking myself down from rising panic over very normal situations. Eventually I will be able to find coping mechanisms to handle those things and bring my own body chemistry under control, but I’m prepared for that to take years. So is my doctor. So are my employers. So is my husband. Not one of those people has said ‘so are you better yet?’ in response to me having a good day and for that, I am very lucky woman.

Suggestions for ways you can help

Here are some suggestions that I did find, or would have found, helpful in the grip of each of these conditions, but before you charge headlong into the list thinking that I have the answers, I implore you to pay attention to this first and prime piece of advice – if you know someone who you think is struggling with one of these conditions, talk to them and find out how they are feeling before you take any action at all. Doing the wrong thing can sometimes be as damaging as doing nothing and it is essential that people who are dealing with these things should be in control of their own coping and recovery strategies. Don’t do it for them, do it with them, and listen to what they have to say.

If you know someone who is dealing with Stress:

  • Don’t keep telling them they can cope or that they are strong. It will make them feel that they SHOULD be coping or reinforce their belief that they are coping.
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Or better still – offer. My housemate and boyfriend took over cooking dinner when I was going through stress, which made sure that I ate at least once a day. Without that support I would have been much worse.
  • Be aware that the question ‘Is everything alright?’ can be overwhelming, because it subconsciously requires them to think about everything at once and they will just shut down with an answer of ‘Everything’s Fine’ or ‘I’m OK’, because that’s too scary to contemplate. Don’t blithely take their word for it when they say they are OK, especially if you have noticed changes in their physical wellbeing.  Instead, ask about specific things (such as “how are you doing with that project for Jack’s department?” or “Have you got that history essay finished yet?”) and this will allow them to focus on that one thing. You might get a more honest answer and an opportunity to help might present itself.

If you know someone who is dealing with Depression:

  • Reassure them that they are worthy of love without qualifiers. A well meaning friend tried to tell me that I would get a good job soon, which inadvertently made me even more suicidal, because I was worried about letting them down by failing.
  • Just do the little things, rather than asking. A cup of tea, a bit of cake, an email or text message to say you’re thinking of them. Asking ‘is there anything I can do’ is well meaning, but it requires a broken person to come up with an answer, and more often than not my response in that situation would be ‘No thankyou’, even though I was starving myself to death with no personal hygiene routine. This was not because I didn’t want help, but because I didn’t feel like anything would help.
  • Do suggest that they go to a doctor and reassure them that they are unwell, not failing at being a member of the human race. Tell them that you know this isn’t who they are and that you know they are struggling. When I had depression I felt as though everyone was blind to what I was going through. Having someone say ‘I know things are difficult for you right now’ was a wonderful thing to hear, because it meant that I wasn’t invisible.

If you know someone who is dealing with Anxiety

  • If you are present when someone is having an anxiety attack, don’t belittle their fears. Telling someone who is frightened that there is nothing to be afraid of makes you part of the threat. Instead tell them that they are safe and you are with them. The issues may look like molehills to you, but they are climbing mountains.
  • Don’t try to pressure them into attending social events, especially large scale ones. Offer alternatives, a one to one coffee, a meet up with a couple of friends or a trip to the movies will be far less intimidating than a party where anyone could show up.
  • Don’t reach out and touch them unexpectedly if they seem upset. It could make the panic worse or even cause them to lash out if they are having an attack. Offer them a physical support, (“Here, take my hand, you’re going to be alright”) but don’t invade their personal space.
  • If someone seems to be overreacting to small things, especially if this is out of character, don’t tell them they are being stupid. Sometimes they know that the way they are reacting is foolish and they may already be frustrated and angry with themselves. It’s much better to acknowledge that someone is upset that imply that they should not be (“You seem pretty upset about this, do you want to talk about it?”)

These conditions are very separate and there are different ways you can offer help and support for each one. As I said, these experiences are all mine and the advice offered is based on those experiences. All three conditions are complex and the effects will vary from person to person. If you believe that you are suffering from any of these conditions, it is essential that you get help and support from a medical professional. If you know someone who is struggling in these ways, encourage them to ask for help. I now use the following mantra when working through these issues.

“If in doubt, see a doctor. If it is nothing, they will tell you it’s nothing. If it is something, they will help you.”

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

It’s #timetotalk about Disabilism #badd2014

So it’s Blogging Against Disabilism Day.

And it’s Time To Talk.

The UK has been pushing the #timetotalk campaign for a while now, to encourage people to open up about mental illness and remove the stigma of it.

About seven years ago, my husband was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This year, after several years featuring bouts of treatment for depression and anxiety, my therapist has suggested that I might well be experiencing the same condition.

It’s incredibly difficult to talk about this. Not necessarily here online, because this is easy. It’s easy to talk to a whole room full of strangers who can remove themselves from me with one click if they don’t like what I have to say.

What’s difficult is admitting to the people in my face-to-face life, the people I work with, my learners, my friends, people I share hobbies with and my family, what effect this condition has on our lives. Both of our conditions, upon both of us separately and upon our marriage and life together as a couple.

The most common question I get asked when I talk about PTSD – especially to do with my husband, since my own diagnosis has been relatively recent – is ‘What Happened To Him?’

The assumption is that PTSD can only be caused by a world changing event. By a car crash, a train crash, some sort of physical violence. A terrorist attack, a mugging or something equally world shattering.

I have two problems with both the assumption and the question.

The problem with the assumption is that it makes you feel weak when you have to explain to people that these sorts of things did not happen to you, that you are suffering with nightmares, trauma attacks and the constant lurking feeling that you can’t cope with your existence because of the constant stresses and strains of ‘everyday’ life. That you couldn’t cope with the death of an elderly family member, or losing a job (even though you have a better one now) or the fact that you lost some friends (even if you have better ones now).

There is an assumption that if bad things in your life made you feel bad, the damage should be undone by any good things that follow. That positives should somehow erase and remove the negatives and they should by brushed under the carpet in a small neat spread.

The landscape under my mental carpet resembles a mountain range, with peaks that I sometimes cannot climb and valleys that trap me for days. None of this has anything to do with my current life’s successes, rich tapestry or victories. It’s a war torn landscape with fresh grass growing above it.

But how to explain that to people? How do you make them understand? Especially when you’re struggling with yourself before you even get to them.

My attempts to do so have also frequently lead to a distressing reaction in other people: that of disappointment.

When my husband was first diagnosed with PTSD, he said ‘Well… that sounds like a sexy illness’. He has a point. It does. It sounds like something dramatic, like something out of a film or television show, or a news cast.

I have begun to realise that when people ask ‘What happened to him?’ what many of them actually want is the story of the event. Was he at 9/11? Was he at 7/7? Was he in a fire? Or a big accident? Was it something I’ve heard of – do I already know this story and is there a tabloid style exclusive view point in the offing with this conversation?

Mental Illness is not a background for other people’s entertainment. This is a hard fact to articulate because it sounds ridiculous, but it’s also essential to state in this world of reality TV and lurid tabloids who make a healthy profit turning crises into dramas. Enduring a mental illness is not interesting, dramatic or engrossing. It’s repetitive, extremely boring at times and it drags on and on. It’s a marsh, filled with swallowed opportunities and lost days.

Being asked ‘how are you?’ in the grips of a Bad Day is an impossible question. You end up saying ‘fine’ because you don’t want to have that conversation which inevitably starts with ‘What happened to you?’ You end up telling fibs, that you’re tired, that you didn’t sleep well, that you’re not feeling well or you have a headache. That you had a fictional row with someone. You make a normal everyday excuse that people will understand and not pursue, to mask the normal everyday things that have almost destroyed you, but still aren’t worth people’s rapt attention.

The sad fact is that often there is no-one else to talk to and in telling lies to the people around you, you end up lying to yourself. When this eventually leads to performance issues at work and you finally have to ‘fess up – the question is often ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’

The truth is that we don’t say anything because the responses are part of the problem. My husband and I have had all of the following responses in return for ‘saying something’ at work in various jobs

“I’m having a bad day too…”

“Aw c’mon, you’ve got a great life, what have you got to be sad about…”

“You’re not STILL going on about that are you…”

“Haven’t you gotten over this yet?”

“Stress? You don’t know the meaning of stress until you’ve got a mortgage and had kids”

“Just pull yourself together will you? It can’t be that bad…”

“You don’t look sick…”

“You want to try doing my job, yours is easy…”

That’s why we don’t say anything. It’s because, much like complaining about bullying, doing that often makes it worse. It’s very hard to talk when the person who should be listening already thinks that they know better than you and that they can ‘talk you out of it’ rather than trying to understand it.

There is therapy available. But it is woefully inadequate. Allow me to lay out my most recent experience of seeking help for these conditions which at times are a significant blight on our lives.

I started seeking help in June 2013. I was put on an anti anxiety medicine for the short term.

In August I was assessed and told I was a candidate for discussion based therapy.

In January, after six months, I chased up the mental health counselling I had requested.

In February I attended my first session of CBT intensive therapy. And in that session was told that I could only have ten sessions on the NHS and there was no option for me to pay to have followup sessions with the same therapist.

So I had ten hours during which to open up to a stranger, dig into some of the worst memories of my life which were spread over a decade, examine them, deal with them and learn to cope with them.

How do you discuss ten years worth of negativity, issues, soul crushing despair and the crippling anxiety and paranoia that has resulted from it, when for most of your life you have trained yourself to say ‘I’m fine’ in response to anyone asking ‘How are you?’

It is time to talk about Mental Health. But first there needs to be a place where we can go in order to do that talking.

There needs to be an education program for everyone about Mental Health issues, so that people who casually ask ‘how are you?’ have the faintest idea what the answer might be from anyone having a bad day.

There needs to be multi-industry corporate education about how depression, stress, anxiety and trauma can have enormous impacts upon an employee’s working life, and how the reactions to those conditions once they are admitted can make things a hundred fold worse.

There needs to be an expansion in the therapy available – at the moment the UK has a severe shortage of therapists and counsellors. The average waiting time in my NHS area is seven months, and in this town we have a specialist mental health hospital. I dread to think what the wait is elsewhere.

These things are long overdue and sorely needed.

The #timetotalk campaign is well meaning but misguided, as it puts the onus on the friends of people with these conditions to make up for the shortfall in support available through medical and employment based systems.

My friends are amazing. They are incredible, their support has at times ensured our  survival. But they are dealing with all the same things as us, they have lives, jobs, children, careers, responsibilities and people in their lives who are more important to them than us.

Encouraging people to ask their mentally ill friends ‘how are you?’ is admirable and laudable. But unless it is combined with education about mental illness for everyone, support and development for employers to help them support employees with these conditions, and a massive expansion in specialist help available on the NHS – those suggestions will barely scratch the surface of the issues faced by sufferers with these conditions.

Assuming that someone with a mental illness will fully be able to cope with their conditions as a result of a friendly text message is a ridiculous form of disablism. It’s the same nonsense strategy which has lead to people with these conditions being stripped of the government support they need in order to survive. This country is nowhere near equipped to deal with these issues. To suggest that a token effort can fix things and enable someone to carry on as ‘normal’ is a massive insult to the people who struggle daily with these complex medical conditions.

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Body Image – what it’s like to be skinny

I notice a lot of the people I follow post on this issue of Body Positivity a lot. So I figured I wanted to make this post, after thinking about the issues on and off all day.

About 5 years ago, I was diagnosed with moderate depressive episodes. The state I got to before the diagnosis was quite frankly shocking.

Self Harm, other than a spate as a teenager, has never been my way of expressing things. But I suffered from agoraphobia quite violently. So yes, I couldn’t leave the house.

At times it meant I couldn’t leave my room. Or my bed. Or come out from where I had wedged myself in under my desk. And I am not a small lady, being all of 5’8” tall and I was a size 12-14 at the time (for Americans, that’s a size 8-10 in your sizes).

What this meant was that I did not, for some periods of time, get as far as the kitchen or even the bathroom. So by the time I eventually went to the doctors I stank, I looked terrible, my hair was matted and I had lost a lot of weight very quickly. Almost a third of my original body weight in fact. I was down to a size 6 (American size 2) and my body is really too tall to support that kind of weight frame.

People assumed I must be thrilled at this unexpected side effect of serious illness and mental torture. *facepalm*

However, what I would like to mention here are my experiences of life at that body weight. I was eight stone at my worst. That’s 112 pounds. I’m 5’8” tall. So using the BMI scale, I was at 17, well under the 18.5 which marks out the point at which a person becomes underweight.

For those who care I’m now at 168 pounds with a BMI of 25.5. Slightly (by 0.50 over the upper band for a healthy weight. My nurse tells me I should lose a few pounds. I tell her to sod off. She smiles and agrees that I look better as I am but she’s required by job description to peddle this nonsense.

I suffered some horrific side effects as a result of being so thin. Some of which are never mentioned by the rapid-weight-loss ads that I see scattered around the internet. And these continued even after I started eating properly and did not abate until my weight rose.

* My hair started falling out. I have beautiful hair, even if I say so myself. It’s long, with natural highlights and a mix of red/brown colours and because my testosterone is naturally high for a girl it is strong and can with stand some pretty imaginative styling if I feel like it. It started falling out as I brushed it as I did not have the nutrients in my body to sustain healthy-looking hair.

* My skin suffered. I got eczema around the edge of my hair line where my skin started flaking off. I looked like I was rotting. I also got terrible acne.

* I would vomit after food because my stomach was so shrunken that it could not abide solid food. I lived on soup and tiny portions of things. And tea with lots of sugar in it for energy. I cannot tell you how horrible it is to be so thin and so hungry and to eat food and then to have everything you’ve just eaten come back up and leave you stinking of bile and aching from the wretching and knowing that all your good work was involuntarily undone. And then you have to start all over again.

* I became an insomniac because I was so bony that I could not get comfortable. My spine, collar bones and hips were all protruding and my bed was too lumpy to sustain me. I slept on a pile of fuzzy jumpers and dressing gowns and they used to absorb all my sweat during the night and be *stinking* the following morning. I went through washing powder like nothing. If I slept on the matress and passed out with exhaustion I would get bruises on my more bony bits.

* My nails stopped growing. And my toenails snapped. I think this was due to calcium deficiency.

* I could not sit on any hard chairs for longer than 10 minutes without my legs going numb and experiencing chronic pins and needles which were, at times, very painful

* I had difficulty walking very far without getting out of breath and dizzy. I would get heat flushes and more than once I collapsed in the street on a trip out to get food or any sort of supplies.

I do not want to be skinny every again. I had a rotten time being thin, even when I was at the thin-healthy end of my BMI scale, I still suffered some of these side effects which were enough to ruin my quality of life for sometime.

Right now, I am a size 14-16 (size 10-12 for Americans). I have a bum. And love handles. And a squidgy tummy. I have boobs (in fact I was told by a female friend last night while we were out having drinks that I have *awesome boobs*). I have weight around my thighs which possibly isn’t the prettiest thing in the world, but I LOVE ALL OF THEM. I LOVE MY BODY. And so does my fiance, who knew me when I was ‘skinny’ and nursed me through being ill to get back to my current state. He worries when I diet at all. Even though he has a preference for ‘slim’ in terms of attractive body shape, he classes me as slim. I would be classed as a plus size were I a model. But to him, I ‘go in and out in all the right places and have a definite feminine definition to my shape’. Regardless of what the tape measure and my clothing size labels say, I look DAMN hot. And I love seeing that reflected in his face.

I also have my hair back. I have grown my nails. My feet are healthy. My eczema has abated. My sweat doesn’t actively stink beyond the usual unpleasant smell of body odour. I can sleep without getting bruises on my ribs and back.

I know that some people’s bodies are designed to carry very little weight. They can look good being skinny and not have their health suffer as a side effect. But me – I’m not one of them. And even though society values the skinny side of feminine beauty, I know that I look (and feel) far better carrying that extra weight as nature intended me to do so. My unintended experiment of going without it was painful, uncomfortable, frankly disgusting and was enough to  put me off crash diets for life.

What does it feel like to be skinny?

Well, if you’re not naturally built for it – it feels like hell. Let’s leave it at that.

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*