#TimeToTalk : Mental Health Awareness

*This post was originally published Februrary, 3, 2016.

 

In England one in four people will suffer from a mental illness in any given year, and depression is one of those illnesses. It can leave people feeling debilitated and consumed in despair and those living with a sufferer lost and confused – though we rarely hear their stories. Here I reveal my own experience with depression and chat with my partner Tom  about its effects on him.

I have suffered with depression and other mental illnesses for the past 13 years. Through my experience I have learnt how to self-manage  with tools for wellness and a good routine. There are times where I find myself once again consumed by my depression, at those moments I am unpredictable and often hostile. Switching between hysterical crying and angry outbursts to days of silence and nothingness, it is safe to say I am not always an easy person to live with.

Communication is a big problem for those who suffer with depression and those around them. Mental illness can often feel like the elephant in the room with everyone too scared to discuss it. This needs to change – we need to learn to talk to one another openly and freely in order to combat mental health and the stigma that comes with it. To mark #TimeToTalkDay this February, 3, 2016, I decided to follow this advice and ask my partner Tom on how my illness affects him.

On holiday. © Sarah Woodside

Tom and Sarah on holiday. © Sarah Woodside

We sit down, cup of tea in hand, both with a tentative look in our eyes, both nervous about how the other will react. I’m the talkative one, the one who wears my heart on my sleeve. Tom isn’t. He’s quiet and keeps his emotions and feelings tightly locked up. It takes time to find out the source of his worries or feelings and even then he doesn’t like discussing them.

Because of this my emotions often take centre stage whilst he quietly sinks into the shadows. That sounds incredibly selfish, but it isn’t purposefully done. As a depressive I can find myself suffering huge amounts of self-doubt and feeling like a failure when this happens I know my depression can have a negative effect on my partner.

So what does it feel like for him?

“I know when you’ve had a particularly stressed or emotional day,” he says. “This can often trigger a low mood, so I find myself being extra positive and lenient. I try to be really happy and even let you have your own way more.

“I don’t want to say the wrong thing and make things worse for you. But it sometimes means I can’t be honest with how I feel or what frame of mind I am in.

“We are sarcastic to one another all the time and happily tease one another, but if you have arrived home upset or annoyed I sometimes find myself walking on egg-shells not knowing how you’ll react to what I say. It’s frustrating. It’s hard to discuss my own feelings and worries because my focus is on helping you, so my emotions get put on the back burner. I think we are both too scared to upset the other which can affect our communication.

“I wouldn’t say your depression has a direct effect on my mental health but at times it can be hard. If I’ve had a rubbish day and I just want to come home and tell you all about it, but you’re also suffering a low episode, then I find myself having to pick you up before I can just relax and reflect on my day, which can be stressful and cause tension.

We take Halloween very seriously. © Sarah Woodside

Sarah and Tom take Halloween very seriously. © Sarah Woodside

“It is hardest when you are at your lowest, your self-loathing in those moments is hard to combat. It’s difficult to witness you destruct whilst I do my best to help you. Initially I would feel guilty thinking I was making you unhappy, but I know that isn’t true. Your mental illness isn’t you and as much as we have bad times we also have amazing ones.

“I have never felt obligated to stay, or even wanted to run away. I have stayed because I want to.”

 

*Article first published here.

10 things to remember when you love someone with depression.

This post and the following tips are based on my personal experiences and others who have spoken to me about their depression. If you have any additional tips you feel are beneficial to your depression please add them in the comments. If you feel like you are suffering from depression please speak to someone, it is a lot less scary when you aren’t on your own. 

10 things to remember when you love someone with depression.

 1. Depression is not a choice.

No one chooses to be depressed. There are times where depression can leave someone unable to function, paralyzed by their own mind and body. This is not a choice. It is feeling lost, sad, empty, angry, frustrated, feeling everything at once or sometimes feeling nothing at all.

It is one of the most helpless, frustrating and often isolating experiences a person can go through.It is not something that can be snapped out of, believe me I’ve tried. It isn’t a bad mood, a bad day or a bad week. You are suffocating under darkness.

2. It is not about you.

If you love someone who is dealing with depression it is easy to blame yourself. To pick fault at your relationship and assume their depression is a reflection of you.

People with depression cannot always understand themselves so they recognise it will be difficult for you also. If they begin to push you away or ask for space let them have it. But don’t spend your time scrutinising everything you’ve been doing and picking fault at yourself, try to understand their depression is not about you.

3. Sometimes they don’t want to do this alone.

Even though I just said let them have their space that does not mean to say someone wishes to be left to be consumed by their depression, communicate. Company is greatly received just understand that may not mean a night out on the town and it may mean a cup of tea in bed watching a film.

Feel confident in making suggestions, suggesting to go for a drive or a walk, get some fresh air or grab a coffee. Allowing them to step out of the bubble they have created by simply offering your time, shows you care. Reaching out to them may just mean everything to them and it also reminds them that they don’t have to face this alone.

4. You’re allowed to get frustrated.

People with depression aren’t immune to your feelings and they can tell when you’re pissed off and frustrated. This is ok, they understand they can be difficult to be around. They don’t expect you to know what to say when they’re struggling, just like sometimes they can’t explain how they’re feeling or why they may be crying.

Just because they are dealing with depression does not mean you have to walk around on eggshells all the time. If it is having a negative impact on you then it needs action. Look at how you can help them and show your love and support without sacrificing your happiness and feelings.

5. Talk to them about your frustration.

Depressed people can tell when it is affecting other people and that just starts a vicious circle of guilt over causing you pain and suffering so don’t be afraid to talk to them.

In those moments of frustration people with depression can feel even more isolated, they can see the frustration in your eyes and they blame themselves for causing you pain. So it is important to talk and communicate. Be patient, keep calm and vocalise your concerns. It is natural you want to help them any way you can but you need to take care of yourself too.

6. It is okay to ask about their depression.

It is ok to ask direct questions. How are they feeling? Are they practicing self-care?  How are they practising self-care? Are they eating properly? BUT… don’t demand these answers and cause tension if they simply aren’t ready to talk.

It is a common occurrence for people suffering with their depression to feel suicidal. So have a back-up plan, let them know if they feel that bad they can reach out to you. Have a plan in place just in case it’s needed.  Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about, you talking about it, reassures them that they aren’t a lost cause or ‘crazy’.

7. Yes they may shut you out before they bring you in.

People suffering with depression constantly feel like they are making other people unhappy. They think they are causing pain to people close to them, by being difficult and a nuisance. Feeling like a burden they react defensively by shutting people out. Often it is the people they need the most

They can habitually feel like their loved ones deserve better. That by allowing these people into their world of sadness they are weighing their loved ones down. If this begins to happen, reassure them. Tell them how much you love and support them and let them know you are there for them when they are ready. But don’t force them, the tough love approach can sometimes push them further away from you.

8. They can become easily overwhelmed and yes this may involve tears!

For someone suffering with depression just getting through the day can be exhausting not to mention overwhelming. Little tasks such as getting out of bed, showering and even eating can seem daunting so be patient and understanding.

Because all these tasks consume so much energy and effort they may feel more tired than usual, even if they appear to be getting lots of sleep. So don’t get discouraged or feel like you’ve upset them if they cancel plans late notice or decline an invitation to meet.

Little things can often take over. Speaking from personal experience, I once cried for ten minutes because my tea bag split whilst making a cup of tea, luckily my boyfriend realised my insistent wailing “I can’t even make a cup of tea right” was because I was overwhelmed, after spending all day in bed, the last two hours had been spent with me gradually feeling able to get out of bed and have a shower, so when the first task of the day (at 6pm) making a cup of tea went wrong, I regressed momentarily, again patience is key. A day or so later I even laughed when I recounted how much I cried over a cup of tea!

You may be used to planning weeks or even months ahead but they may be struggling to plan day to day or even hour to hour. So consider this when discussing future plans, they could feel a little intimidated planning too in advance.

All these things are a common side effect of living with a mental illness.

9. Tough love.

I hate to break it to you but tough love does nothing.

Telling someone that you’re going to break up with them, that they won’t have anyone left or that you’re not going to talk to them anymore won’t miraculously cure them, it won’t be the catalyst you’ve been waiting for to speed up their progress.

It is understandable that this can put pressure on relationships but delivering ultimatums is unrealistic and on some level manipulative.

If the pressure of dealing with some of their issues does become too much that is a personal choice you must make but not one to be presented as blackmail. Remember depression is not a choice.

10. Choose your words wisely.

Often people will try to offer their own words of wisdom, whilst this may come from a good place, it is not always helpful to someone suffering with depression.

Statements such as, “you’ll be fine”, “you’re just having a bad day”, “you’ll get over it” etc. is more often than not discouraging, it can make them feel inadequate, that they are not being taken seriously.

“Maybe get some fresh air, it’s what I do when I’m feeling sad” again whilst coming from a good place phrases like this can come across as both patronising and a little insulting.

They can all also make someone feel like you are not acknowledging the struggle they are going through, reassure them of your support. Instead offering phrases such as; “I’m here for you”, “can I help?” and a hug often goes a long way to reassure someone that they are not alone.

And lastly feel free to express empathy but don’t suppress their feelings. The greatest resource you can offer your friend in their darkest moments and throughout their journey is your ability to listen.

New law means models in France must be deemed fit to work

 

France has made a stand against the fashion industry and anorexia by banning models who are too thin and fining the agencies who are hiring them.

According to health ministry figures, in France as many as 40,000 people suffer from anorexia and 90 per cent of people suffering are female. The new legislation passed will mean all working models will have to carry a medical certificate from their doctor stating that they are “compatible with the practise of the profession”.

An initial draft of this legislation had stated that all models would have to meet a minimum body mass index (BMI), under World Health Organisation guidelines an adult with a BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight, 18 malnourished, and 17 severely malnourished. However since initial guidelines were discussed and in response to receiving backlash from modelling agencies in France, the new law approved on December 17, 2015,  does not specify a specific BMI.

In order to gain a medical certificate a model’s health will be evaluated by a medical professional, measured using BMI as a guide, the health professional will be permitted to take into account other factors such as a models; weight, age and body shape in order to ultimately determine their health and well-being, The Fashion Law reports.

Under the new law agencies are also required to label any work which has been digitally altered as “touched up”. With emphasis on images that have altered a models body shape to make them appear “narrower or wider.”

If any agencies fail to uphold this new law by employing models who do not carry a medical certificate or by failing to label their digitally altered work, they could be fined €75,000 (approximately £54,000) and face up to six months in jail.

 

*Look out for a new post coming soon, my personal opinion on this law.  

My go to food:Ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After speaking to a range of people, it’s clear that a lot of us struggle with ideas of what to eat. I know from personal experience that I am more likely to ‘give-up’ on my diet lifestyle change when I get bored of eating the same thing. It is nice to have some variety and enjoy your food even if you are watching the calories.

So here are some of my go to ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What are your go to meals? Please share your recipes and ideas in the comments, so we can all try something new.

Breakfast:

Porridge – I love it so that helps! I add anything I fancy to it in the morning. Fresh fruit, baked apple and cinnamon, a little honey or plain.

Greek Yoghurt – I tend to use either FAGE 0% Fat or Yeo Valley 0% Fat. I top with either a banana, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, honey, or about 30g of plain gluten free granola (or home-made when I’ve had the time to make it!) I sometimes switch up my yoghurts and get some flavoured ones (cherry/strawberry etc.) I get the healthiest ones I can find by comparing all the labels!!

Poached egg, grilled bacon, fried in coconut oil (my oil of choice, substitute for your choice* olive oil, fry-lite etc.) half a tin of baked beans and a slice of wholemeal toast (I try not to use spread on my toast but occasionally I do!)

Fruit

Egg Muffins *Recipe here.

At the weekends, we’ll have something like a bacon sandwich or banana pancakes as a treat. Mix it up just stick within your plan and don’t go mad. Cheat days don’t mean everything you eat is a treat – I’ve done this – then felt guilty for days and gone into starvation mode – then eat everything in sight mode – one week later I’m back on track haha! If you want to go out for breakfast do it, just don’t also have a takeaway in the evening unless you’ve done some serious exercise.

Lunch:

75g wholewheat pasta with tuna.

Tinned tuna salad with sesame seed ryvittas.

A big salad – add anything you fancy.

Homemade veggie soup.

Chicken breast and vegetables.

 

Dinner:

Homemade clean spaghetti bolognaise (I never use jars – just a personal choice, I prefer to home make everything where possible), with either whole-wheat spaghetti or spirilised courgettes.

Chicken, vegtables, with a small jacket potato or sweet potato.

Home-made oven baked sweet potato chips and clean home-made burgers.

Steak and mushrooms, green beans.

Roast – chicken, sweet potato mash, carrots, veg etc.

Jacket Potato

Home-made Stew/Casserole (I make in the slow cooker using only stock and herbs to flavour.)

Stir-Frys

Sweet Potato topped cottage pie.

Snacks – fruits, frozen grapes (10 per portion though as the natural sugars are high!), hummus with carrot or cucumber sticks, salad, vegetables or for the sweet tooth, dark choc chips and chuppa chup mini lollipops (only 5 cals in each lolly!!).

Drinks – water, green tea, decaf tea, sugar free squash.

 

If you have any healthy recipes on your blog share the link in the comments.

Building your body your way: Rachael Harper

Building your body your way, is a series of posts exploring weight loss success stories, looking at a range of people and what worked for them. The third instalment in the series is an article looking at the success of Rachael Harper, since this article was written Rachael has had a beautiful baby girl, a follow up to this original piece will be published in the new year.

 

Before and After © Rachael Harper used with permission

Before and After
© Rachael Harper used with permission

At her heaviest Rachael Harper weighed 25 stone 14lbs. After years of being unhappy and spending six years “lost in the system” trying to get weight loss surgery, she finally got the go ahead and 17 months later, 11 stone and eight dress sizes down Rachael was finally able to start living the life she always dreamed of.

Cornish born 25-year-old Rachael has struggled with her size for most of her life and states vanity was the main reason she wanted to lose weight: “I wanted to look in a mirror and think -yes you look nice. People think that is a rubbish reason but it is the truth.”

Rachael before surgery. © Rachael Harper used with permission.

Rachael before surgery.
© Rachael Harper used with permission.

At nearly 26 stone and a UK size 28-30 Rachael suffered none of the usual health complications that come with being obese but knew it wouldn’t stay that way forever. However, rather than her health being her biggest difficulty it was in fact people: “I lost count of the amount of times people made me cry,” Rachael said, “I always wanted to maintain a social life but was constantly worried about what people would say.”

 

 

Now she has slimmed her way down to a UK size 14 she feels more comfortable and confident: “People don’t tend to notice me, I blend in,” she added.

Rachael opted for a gastric bypass in order to lose weight after years of battling food demons. A gastric bypass is a process that works by making your stomach smaller and your digestive system shorter. The operation is typically done under general anaesthetic and usually takes between one and three hours.

To anyone with the pre conceived idea that weight loss surgery is the “easy way out” – let’s make it clear that it isn’t. It is a hard often life long process challenging you both physically and mentally. For Rachael the process took six years. It involved countless appointments with; a dietician, a fitness expert, a psychiatrist, surgeons as well as other health professionals.

An idea of meal size after Surgery. © Rachael Harper used with permission.

An idea of meal size after Surgery.
© Rachael Harper used with permission.

The process, she says, is made deliberately challenging to assess a person’s determination to go through with the surgery and change behaviour afterwards. In addition to this she also has to regularly attend support groups and had to lose two stone pre surgery.

There were of course, added risks surrounding the surgery because of Rachael’s size especially when receiving anaesthetic. “There were also risks that the joins of my stomach would leak/not heal,” she added in relation to additional possible complications.

Surgery is a drastic step but for someone who has struggled and battled on a daily basis it may be the best step to take. It is a lifestyle change, it isn’t a quick fix and no one will come along and wave a magic wand it will take determination and emotional stamina to be successful on this journey. Rachael said: “I’ve spent six years fighting for this and I’ve had to change my whole lifestyle. It’s not something that can be reversed and I will need to stick to this lifestyle forever. I appreciate it’s a drastic step but without it I can’t imagine where I’d be and what health complications I’d have.”

“My life has improved dramatically…I’ve never been happier.”

So after 17 months Rachael finally reached her goal but it wasn’t easy. Her advice to anyone on a journey: “You will have good weeks and bad weeks. Never give up – it only gets harder. Set little realistic goals and NEVER think of the total amount you have to lose.”

© Rachael Harper used with permission.

© Rachael Harper used with permission.

All the hard word, determination and struggle has paid off: “My life has improved dramatically. I’ve lost 11 stone in total and I’ve never been happier. I can now enjoy everything and be the person I always wanted to be.” Rachael also said it’s not just her reaping the benefits:

“I am a lot more positive now. I have more energy and I am a better person to be around. My confidence is at an all-time high. I believe I can do anything I set my mind to now and I’m not scared to try.”

 

 

For further information or if you are considering weight loss surgery contact you GP.

Building your body your way: Lydia Dismore

Building your body your way, is a series of posts exploring weight loss success stories, looking at a range of people and what worked for them. The second instalment in the series is an article looking at the success of Lydia Dismore.

© Lydia Dismore

© Lydia Dismore

After seeing professional images of herself receiving an award, Lydia Dismore was shocked, feeling fat, frumpy and fed up Lydia vowed to make a change. Lydia said: “the professional photograph made me feel physically sick, I knew I needed to do something right away”, and that is just what she did. She reduced her dress size from a UK size 16 to a UK size 10 by following a high protein clean eating diet and a full exercise regime.

“Your body is a temple that you’re responsible for building,” the wise words from Cornish at heart Lydia, a 23-year-old Bristol UWE graduate with a penchant for moreish food and the gym.

She is living proof that you can be healthy on a budget and you don’t have to remove all your treats in order to make a change. What’s the secret? There isn’t one. Dedication, hard work and determination make this transformation possible.

© Lydia Dismore

© Lydia Dismore

It took a lot of hard work and dedication including gym trips from as early as 5am so she’d have time to train before lectures. Lydia realised that there is so much disagreement around weight loss and training and everyone likes to think that their way is best, but in reality we have to find what works for us as individuals.

She said:  “Everyone who embarks on a journey of self-improvement will have a different journey, whether that be a different diet, different exercise regimes, measurements etc. and yet everyone expects the same results, it doesn’t work like that. Everyone is unique so what works for one may not work for the other”.

Lydia had tried countless ‘quick fixes’ before finding what suited her. She also was not under any illusion that change would happen overnight. So while juggling a university education as well as a job or two the gym regime started.

Having always been a fan of the gym she wasn’t a stranger to the rowing machine or the treadmill, but was a novice when it came to lifting weights!  Lydia admits that when she first started going she struggled.

© Lydia Dismore

© Lydia Dismore

Being a complete beginner with weights teamed with insecurities meant she was terrified, what was the breakthrough? Lydia said it was the realisation: “that I could turn my music up full blast and do my own thing.” These days she is confident and the only thing about the gym that she finds mildly irritating is the men: “men always offer to help, which can be a little annoying but it is nice to see their surprise when I lift heavier weights than them” Lydia stated whilst laughing hysterically.

© Lydia Dismore

© Lydia Dismore

Not one to miss out on treats though Lydia started to tweak everyday baking recipes to recipes she could eat. By her own admittance: “I would have lost more weight, but I love my treats,” if anything this proves that hard work teamed with determination and a healthy lifestyle mean you can have your cake and eat it too, in moderation of course, eating an entire cake will certainly wipe out your efforts at the gym!

Have things changed for the better? Apart from the obvious aesthetic reasons to lose weight, other factors such as health and confidence often play a part. Lydia says she now no longer looks at pictures and feels physically sick at the site of her double chins but instead smiles at the hard work and determination it took to get her to where she is today.

She said: “I feel so much better within myself, as well as looking better on the outside. I have more confidence and self-belief and I know now that if I put my mind to something I can and I will achieve it,” although a strict regime does have its downfalls as Lydia states: “I’m more conscious of what I eat now and if I don’t train I feel fat and hideous until I’ve been back to the gym,” it is after all about finding the right balance.

What advice would she give to anyone looking to lose a few pounds, tone up or generally improve their health?

Lydia said: “you really do have to find what works for you, I for example enjoy food far too much, so any plan that would limit my food intake was a no go! Instead I opted for a heavy exercise plan which would allow for the treats and naughty foods. It is also important to remember why you started and to keep going even when you don’t think you can.”

© Lydia Dismore

© Lydia Dismore