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Being open about mental health: what about eating disorders?

Author:
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By Isla Whateley

Content note: Mental health, eating disorders

Society, in the last couple of years, has changed with regards to attitudes to mental illness. Depression and anxiety are becoming less stigmatised – people talk about them a lot, it’s more acceptable to use humour as a form of coping with them, and it’s more understood. Maybe this is just in my social circles and the corners of the Internet I personally inhabit, but it’s a change I have noticed and one I’m thankful for. The rise of mental illness memes too, for me, normalise these conditions without trivialising, and help those suffering find solace and a sense that they’re not alone.

But this is only really for the two ‘main’ (i.e. most talked about, most understood and most focused on) mental illnesses – depression and anxiety. Although I suffer from both, and find these online communities and acceptance very helpful, one of my other illnesses is still hugely stigmatised.

I have an eating disorder. My first appointment with the mental health services is next week, although I’ve suffered for nearly 5 years now. It was only a few months ago that I realised what I had was an eating disorder and went to the doctors to try and get help. Now I’m being open about it, both to myself and everyone else, I’ve noticed some things.

It’s a lot more stigmatised than depression or anxiety. Family members tiptoe around it, and ask me when my “special appointment” is, or will say things like “how’s the food thing” instead of being upfront. Every time I try and use humour as a way of coping, I’m met with awkward looks and uncomfortable silences. Although I have many friends who can relate to ‘depression jokes’, I have comparatively few who ‘get’ the ones I make about food and eating. I know it makes people more worried. People don’t know what to say. And it’s isolating.

A huge symptom of eating disorders is hiding it and denying the fact you have one. I should know, because I did it on and off for 4 years, and still sometimes lie about my eating to friends. So by nature, it’s not talked about nearly as much as it should be. There’s not the same level of understanding in the general population, so people are taken aback when you make a joke about food and how you haven’t eaten all day ha ha. Especially at the stage I’m at right now, where everyone KNOWS you have an eating disorder (because I’ve publicly posted and spoken about it online and to most of my friends), so there’s that constant level of concern every time you make a joke that implies you haven’t eaten, or that you’ve eaten the ‘wrong thing’.

I like to think that I’m doing the right thing by speaking up about it. I hope one day we reach the point that ALL mental illnesses are on an equal playing field with regards to awareness and discussion – even the ones with the worst stigma and stereotypes, like schizophrenia, personality disorders, bipolar and OCD. It’s isolating, and it’s lonely. There’s only so much that a couple of ED-related Facebook meme groups can give you. But I’m not giving up. I hope that someone might see my posts or my tweets, or even this article, and realise it’s okay to talk about it. It’s not easy but it’s okay. And the more you talk, the more people listen.

If you are worried about your eating habits or think you might have an eating disorder, beat is the UK’s national eating disorder charity. They offer a wide range of support which can be found on their website. https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services

Find Isla on Twitter at @islarosem

Loving every inch

Author:
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By Issy McConville

We all know the feeling. It’s that sigh when catching a glimpse of our reflection in a passing window; it’s the hasty jerk between towel and T-shirt in the communal changing area; it’s the quiet relief that the one-piece has returned to fashion, with it’s forgiving lycra compression. Our stomachs are the centre of our bodies, but so often, they are so hard to love.

We are so quick to punish ourselves for failing to be visually perfect. How many of us have looked down at ourselves and felt disappointed, or have been filled with dread at the prospect of fumbling around in a hot changing room and trying on a series of unflattering bikinis? Recently, our fixation on the flat when it comes to our stomachs is not only an aesthetic pursuit, but has been infused with a sense of morality. ‘Wellness eating’ has seen a staggering rise, with sugar and processed carbohydrates dethroning calories as the ultimate sins. Instead we are encouraged to nourish our bodies with healthy alternatives – threading vegetables into noodles, or mashing avocado into cake. Everything we know about food turns out to be wrong – comfort food is out, white pasta is criminal, and gluten is a food source forged in the fiery furnaces of hell. But who are we listening to when we refuse the dessert menu, or sidestep the potato aisle at the supermarket? Is it our own body? Or are we behaving as we think we ‘should’?

I, for one, am tired of punishing myself for the inches. I will no longer look at my belly as a symbol of weakness, of a lack of a self control – but as an expression of my joy in life. It is the pastries I ate fresh from the bakery in France; the beers I drank in a sunny beer garden with friends; it’s when my boyfriend drove all around the city to find the best place for me to try my first cinnamon roll. He and I often joke that all we ever do on holiday is eat – but this is our discovery – our experience of life through all of our senses. One of my happiest memories is when we were in Berlin, and it was so cold and we were so tired, but we took a walk from our hostel and came across a tiny Italian restaurant where they served giant bowls of pasta on checkered tablecloths. It’s a special human trait that we eat for pleasure, not just for survival. Food is at the heart of family, of culture, of friendship. And too often we deny ourselves the simple pleasure of eating what we want when we want it. Sometimes, it really is best to just sit down with a giant plate of carbs with someone you love, and eat.

In the final rays of summer, let’s see the inches of our stomach not as an end goal, but as an expression of our life. Put on a bikini and show your belly with pride. Let every bit of your skin feel the Vitamin D. Say, today I am here on the earth and I am going to savour it – every inch.

The Skin I’m In

Author:

By Anna Hill

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Trigger Warning – Self Harm

Since I was born I’ve had eczema – a skin condition I still can’t spell, that leaves me with itchy, red, dry patches of skin in various different areas. When I was younger it was much worse, more of my skin was covered in the bumpy patches – behind my knees, my ears, the inside of my elbows and so on. The constant scratching and obvious red areas made me very shy of showing my body in any capacity, and I would hate specifically showing my arms. The skin between my forearm and my upper arm was the worst, particularly in summer. I would often scratch until I bled and the whole cycle made me feel ashamed. The eczema sometimes got so bad that I would have matching bumpy red, bleeding skin behind my knees and my elbows, all at the same time.

It was so obvious my skin was angry, it was writhing with anger, just under the surface. It was so evident inside me, around me, irritating me. I had so much restless energy, which ultimately led to more itching. My itching was never commented on explicitly but it was always present, implicit in the glances and the stares of my teachers, classmates and adults who I came into contact with. The feeling I got after I had itched – namely pain, after some satisfaction at first, forced me to be anchored to my body, and so did the glances at the patches on my skin. Not only is it dull, but it is very tough to be present, only so far as the confines of your body, to the landscape of our physical selves rather than the present where the world exists both internally and externally.

One of the reasons why eczema made me feel so insecure, was that it was not discrete. Whilst I felt my friends were growing up daintily (which in hindsight is not true), and had pretty skin (to me they always looked nice even when it was dotted with spots), I imagined myself as a tomato. The redness of my skin wasn’t helped either by the fact that I too am a blusher. My whole body was red, it was a walking wound sometimes and I felt like my weeping skin took up too much space.

After a while I started to see that my skin became alive with that itching feeling – you know the one, that little tickle starts and once you give in you’re gone – especially when I was stressed. During my G.C.S.Es not only was I very stressed but I also itched a lot, and then I realised that my skin was more raw (because I made it that way – even when I was sleeping) during that time I made the connection.

It went further than just stress being a trigger for it though later on, and although it took a while, I excavated my pain and my pressure in a way that made sense on my skin. It’s difficult when you have a skin condition that actually shows those around you your feelings. My anger and my stress all come through on my skin, and undoubtedly they still will, because I have a diagnosed skin condition. But it is what the stress and the anger are directed at is what I want to change. The further I went into my ruins the more I understood that a lot of the reason I continued to itch was to punish myself. It was to show myself that I was angry, angry at the world that hurt me and told me being queer was wrong, and also at myself for failing to live up to my impossible standards in life and school. I felt guilty for all these things. I felt my anger was not allowed – I was a girl, I was supposed to be pretty, sweet, kind and mostly importantly have soft skin. I wasn’t supposed to be covered in red scars and full of a yearning to burst out of my skin. To peel away all the bad skin and be shiny and new born.

When I itch now I recall all that itching that I did when I was angry and frustrated at life and myself. I recall all those times I did it to inflict pain, or to inflict any type of feeling on myself. The repetitive action of itching is very difficult to get away from and when I look at my body now I often feel like I look like a wound, my body is a visible reminder that I hurt, that I felt pain, that I damaged myself. That my trauma bleeds out of me, visible to everyone that looks at me.

But is this thinking helpful to me now? My skin will always be bumpy and itchy, so is it helpful to talk about it in the context of self-harm? Does the way I talk about it reinforce the pain, and the cycle of tearing at my skin? Leslie Jamison, in The Empathy Exams, wrote that “[her] feelings were also made of the way [she] spoke them”. It is a constant balance between the “state of submission” to feelings and thoughts and the “process of constructing” them.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to approach not only my eczema but my whole body with more compassion, with more understanding. I could completely accept my interpretation of my actions – that they stem from a place of hatred, but then it would be too easy for me to continue to hate, to continue to despair at myself, and thus punish myself when I fail all the more. Instead I want to make a home for myself in my self. Regardless of how aesthetically pleasing my body is, it is mine. It is the only constant home I will ever have and it will be with me my whole life. It’s presence facilitates a lot of what I do – my fingers typing these words for example – and so my goal is not to be perfect in treating my body, it is to be kinder to it. My body is not just made of scars and it is easier to remember that when I attempt to be kind, in little ways and big ways. I aim to be less angry at myself and at my red bumps, to be less frustrated when I fail to reach an academic goal, to be kinder when I do mess up. I aim to accept the skin I’m in rather than revolt against it.

 

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If you are interested in hearing more about self harm from a young person, go here.

If you want to know more about self-harm, go here.

Three Cheers for Aerie

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By Kara Chyung

Aerie, the lingerie and apparel branch of American Eagle, has recently announced their “Aerie Real” campaign, promising no retouching and “no supermodels.”

Their recent ads, which echo Dove’s Real Beauty campaign and Seventeen’s Body Peace petition, claim that it’s time to be real, because “The real you is sexy.”

Aerie models are saying that while it’s nice to have Photoshop to hide minor imperfections, the Aerie campaign showed them that they really don’t need the retouching.

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Some people wonder whether this campaign is necessary, questioning how much girls are actually influenced by the images in ads. But I’m glad that more and more brands seek to make girls feel good about themselves by breaking down the image of an idealistic body. In a country where so many young girls suffer from eating disorders, it’s about time companies are publicly addressing the body image issue. Hopefully Aerie’s decision to eliminate Photoshop will help to create change in the rest of the industry.

Just a little reminder that you’re incredible

Author:

By Hannah Johnston

Today is a good day for all of us to sit back and bask in some self-appreciation. It’s really easy to lose track of ourselves day to day, to start to see more of what we think is wrong than what we think is right in ourselves. Take a moment to listen to this song and know that everyone one of us is amazing, despite what the damn media might have you believe.

India.Arie – Video

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