Being a mental health professional, or social work professional, who also experiences mental health problems. It’s tricky. People outside of services judge, and so do people within services. It raises all kinds of questions about shame.

I think this is something that has partially shifted for me within the last year. I’ve written before about not being able to sit in the waiting room at the eating disorder service because of the fear of bumping into my colleagues. Being in day service has forced me to face this fear, and now, I care a lot less if I do see someone from work in the building. I do see people, and it’s still uncomfortable, but I don’t actively hide anymore. Maybe it’s just exposure over time, or maybe it’s because I’m a little more accepting of my own difficulties, or perhaps it’s the ongoing acceptance of (and openness with) those who do know, love and respect me, that makes the possible judgement of others a bit easier to bear. Continue reading

We hear a lot about how controlling weight and eating can be motivated by the desire to appease a general sense of not being good enough. If you have unrelentingly high standards, weight loss is measurable evidence that you’re doing ok somewhere. This is especially relevant in a society where women are socialised to value thinness as attractive. I know for me, controlling food became tangible proof that I could definitely achieve something, albeit in a very distorted way. These are the ‘usual’ issues we hear about. However there are other important themes. Things we don’t often hear about in the media, because they aren’t convenient and they don’t fit the (more palatable) narrative of the white, appearance focused, over achieving young woman. Contrary to the popular myth that anorexia is narcissistic, it is more often about a person being silenced, feeling unheard, or having a lack of control in areas of life that really matter. Turning to, or away from food can be a way to manage feelings of worthlessness, an attempt to ‘fix’ a constant, nagging sense of never quite measuring up.

Of course, dominant narratives around being female prime us early for a disordered relationship with food and our bodies. The message that thinness is synonymous with attractiveness and power sits heavily. But not everyone exposed to the ‘thin ideal’ develops a consuming eating disorder. Often, it is where difficult relationships or experiences outweigh our ability to cope, that weight loss all too easily comes to provide tangible, measurable evidence of achievement. ‘At least I’m doing ok somewhere’. People with the psychological and practical resources to manage difficult experiences and painful feelings usually don’t develop eating disorders. But for some, controlling food is the only available way to manage an overwhelming sense of confusion. It isn’t a choice, it is about survival.

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I know you are busy, with time pressures, targets and a never ending onslaught of patients and tasks. I know your day is 12 hours long, lunch breaks are rare and expectations high. I suspect that often, in the pecking order, mental health isn’t always up there as the most important (or deserving) of your time and attention. Eating disorders are not that common, and if we’re honest, often viewed as self induced or self indulgent. And do you really have time to learn about something you’ll encounter infrequently and that will only create more work if you do recognise it? So, as someone who received an eating disorder diagnosis (and treatment) ten years later than I should have, here are my thoughts on how valuable you are, and how you can help: Continue reading

In February, the Time to Change campaign are having a ‘Time to Talk’ day. It’s a day to ‘have a conversation about mental health’. But sometimes, it isn’t that easy, is it. I’ll challenge myths about psychosis, or argue for a less medicalised view of mental distress. Ask me about my own mental health, and it feels quite different. Continue reading