Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Rounding the corner of 2013

It's time for the obligatory end-of-year post where I mull over one random timespan and project film and tv depictions of young adult life/insecurities about what my friends on facebook are getting up to while I for the most part sit eating yoghurt and chocolate raisins/all of last years low points and failures onto another random timespan in most likely a vague, predictably clichéd and unrealistic way. 
I'm not under any lofty illusions that last year was the best. year. ever. and that next year will be the best. year. ever. where I solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and get 55254 likes on a photo of me on a beach, jumping in the air, silhouetted against a sunset, with arms outstretched and inexplicably perfect hair as if to say 'I have reached my full potential in 2014. Years from now people will look back and say: 'Ah, 2014, that was Esther's year'' I always get annoyed at myself for writing such long sentences when I blog. Here's a short sentence.

I think the first thing to say is that this year has flown by and was characterised by big changes. Although I started at university in 2012 it feels like this last year was when I really came to terms with it and stopped entertaining ideas of dropping out.


Centre: The frepping team for Collingwood Freshers' Week 2013 - October; Clockwise from top left: Dressed as Barbie for a Toy Story themed fancy dress formal - November; with my three housemates before Summer Ball - June; being 'proposed' to on Collingwood Day - June; a Lumiere installation - November; after dip-dying my hair pink - February; seeing Stornoway in Newcastle - November; 'Refreshers' event in Newcastle - January; fulfilling my childhood dream of going to Hogwarts - August; Stornoway - November; in charge of college gay pride weekend - November; Collingwood Day with my housemates - June; Winter Solstice with the President - December; outside the European Parliament in Brussels - September; Lumiere installation - November; seeing Les Misérables on the West End - April; with friends on the beach at Aldeburgh - July; photobooth at Winter Solstice - December; Atomium in Brussels - September; Durham Cathedral upon my return - September

2013 marked changes in terms of moving into a student house, as well as starting all my new modules this September. I went on my first holiday without parents, went to my first concert, saw a musical for the first time and broke up with my long-term boyfriend. It also marked a change with regards to my attitude to problems, I feel like I've been facing them rather than avoiding any troubles that pop up. The year also saw me making a load of new friends, passing my uni exams, putting on weight and feeling a whole lot better in myself, feeling closer to my family, getting more involved in charity work and being a fresher rep in September for my college at uni - truly one of the best, if most tiring, weeks of my life.

Obviously each year brings with it its difficulties - uni wasn't always particularly easy, I didn't ask for help when I needed it and breakups can be a bit naff in some aspects. Looking back though, despite sometimes feeling like I was really low and hating life there are surprisingly few negative points to make about 2013. I perhaps spent a bit too much money and let my worries hold me back a little bit especially when it came to going to events/parties. I could have worked a bit harder at times and been a better friend. I also failed to turn into Jennifer Lawrence/Beyonce which is the ultimate disappointment.


The next year is shaping up with various meetings already booked into my beloved filofax. It'll see me turning 20 (dear God please no, it's a slippery slope from here onwards and I REFUSE TO GET OLD),  battling with essays and exams that actually count - God help me - going to Germany on a field trip, stumbling my way through attempts to have some form of love life, taking part in my college's production of Grease and trying to put a bit more weight on and tick off the last few things on my fear list.

I don't do resolutions, so all I can really say is that I hope by this point next year I'm happy with how I've responded to whatever has been thrown my way, I've done a bit more exercise and gone to a few more parties/events instead of avoiding them because of petty worries, I've started applying for jobs FUTURE ESTHER YOU NEED TO APPLY FOR JOBS NOW  and I'm a bit heavier.

Goodbye 2013.
See you next year,
Est
xx

Saturday, 28 December 2013

So you're having a panic attack...


Everyone gets nervous and panicked from time to time. Sweaty palms before exams, slight trembles before giving a speech or elevated heart rates when you see that guy who once smiled at you in a way you think must mean he's as in love with you as you secretly are with him. Ahem.
Unfortunately, some of us have known the joys of severe panic attacks, which are apparently a natural 'fight or flight' reaction. Quite how that works is beyond me - my panic attacks neither seem like fighting spirit or an act of flight seeing as I tend to be found cowering on the floor, incapable of movement and feeling like I'm drowning. I've heard people trivialise and doubt the intensity of panic attacks before, I see your point - they probably look quite funny and seem a bit silly to onlookers what with the frantic breaths and runny nose - however panic attacks are commonly mistaken for heart attacks which perhaps illustrates how earth-shattering and terrifying they can feel. Research has shown that experiencing panic attacks frequently causes sufferers to be even more apprehensive, often avoiding situations that could trigger an attack.

Panic attacks come on suddenly, sometimes triggered by the most trivial of things and often with a feeling of intense terror and impending doom. Those symptoms are accompanied by shortness of breath, a pounding heart, dizziness, and chest pain and what I'd describe as walls closing in and crushing me. A barrel of laughs all round.















But what do I do when I'm feeling on edge? I've had a tonne of CBT and medication, have tried soothing music and hypno-recordings while I nap, and have read about bizarre breathing techniques akin to yodelling. I'd like to think these have made me calmer in general but I've no way of measuring that kind of thing. Ultimately once I'm having a panic attack I can't reverse it, nothing will make me 'snap out' of something that's gripping me by the throat but there are things I find help.

Understanding the condition has helped - I know that a surge of adrenaline is a result of this so called fight/flight conundrum and I have had all its symptoms explained to me. I no longer worry that I have an undiagnosed heart condition that is about to kill me. This means when I have a panic attack, although it's scary as hell, I know where I'm at and I try to let it take its course.
I try to remind myself that a high state of anxiety cannot last forever, most panic attacks only last for 15 minutes. I repeat that this will pass, this will pass, this will pass. Simple but effective.
The ever-famous breathing exercises which are admittedly different for everyone, and admittedly sometimes difficult to remember in the height of anxiety. Breathing though, is the key. I close my eyes, and breathe deeply into my stomach. I breathe in for 5 seconds and out for 3, and gradually work up to 7 seconds in and 5 out, but this does take a while especially when the instinct is to snatch as many breaths as possible.
Once my breathing's a bit steadier, I find a spot on the wall/ceiling-maybe a photo if there's one nearby-and focus on it whilst continuing my breathing just to give me something to concentrate on. Alternatively I'll go through the lyrics of a song over and over and hum that to myself. Usually it's Mama you've been on my mind by Jeff Buckley, for no known reason to me.

I know that a panic attack could come back at any point, and as much as I hate them I'm slowly growing to be ok with it, I feel like I'm anchored for any storms that blow my way.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Festivities and Fa-la-la-la-laaaaaa-ing


I have arrived home for Christmas to a fanfare of trumpets and adulation from my thousands of fans who lined the streets to see my return to Suffolk. Part of that might be a slight stretch of the truth. Having spent the past week in bed and/or visiting a close friend in Bristol I now have 4 weeks left in this rainy, sleepy, flat little patch of the world before my return to Durham. I do take the mick but my lovely lil' hometown is like a familiar beacon of safety whenever I come back. Maybe it's the well-trodden path by the river and the little line of shops and cafés etched into my memory so well I could navigate them in my sleep, or being around all my oldest friends and my family, or just being somewhere with no hills that makes me feel so comforted.
Despite not yet feeling particularly festive, something I put down to my old age (sob) and the distinct lack of snowfall this year, I can already tell that this Christmas is going to be filled with family, friends and food, with as little stress as possible. I will do some work though, honest, I will. Probably. Maybe. A little. Perhaps. 
I may be writing this from bed, my skin may have broken out into a 13 year old boy-like state, I may have just this very second felt the knife to the heart of realising I let a cup of tea go cold and the worst of all 8 Harry Potter films may have been on tonight (HP+HBP, for its focus on the ron-lavender-hermione love triangle as opposed to the interplay between dumbledore, snape and harry, obviously) but I'm just feeling very positive about life, especially on the back of a wonderful trip to Bristol. It was lovely to slot right back into place with one of my best friends after not seeing one another in any other way than a Skype screen for about 15 weeks. Lying in bed with her eating chocolate and watching films (yeah, let's stick to the feminine stereotypes) gave me warm, fuzzy 'I love life' feelings I haven't had in a long time. Such is the bad influence she has over me, I have possibly gotten another piercing which hurts when I smile, each time I adjust my hair and whenever I add/remove layers of clothing. I also may have gossiped and moaned with her about single life after drinking a respectable amount of Bombay Sapphire and cocktails before getting a full experience of Bristol nightlife, complete with scoring a triple 20 in darts versus a group of late twenties/early thirties sadly spoken-for men dressed up as Anchorman characters (my proudest/strangest moment). Good to get that out of my system. Watch this space for me pursuing a career as the next big darts thing.
Christmas, as anyone afforded the wondrous luxury of an eating disorder* will tell you, is not always the most wonderful time of the year, but I'm screaming 'f*** it' to the world in many ways in my life right now, so that's the approach I'm taking with food too. We're talking currently-playing-Taylor Swift 'f*** it' sentiments, to give you a sense of scale.

*So much sarcasm. Dripping with sarcasm.



Wednesday, 27 November 2013

I am nothing if not a vehicle for life-affirming quotes

"Everyone who terrifies you is sixty-five percent water. And everyone you love is made of stardust, and I know sometimes you cannot even breathe deeply, and the night sky is no home, and you have cried yourself to sleep enough times that you are down to your last two percent, but nothing is infinite, not even loss. You are made of the sea and the stars, and one day you are going to find yourself again."
        Finn Butler 

Eating Disorder Revisited

This post could trigger some people. Please take care, but what I'll do is put all the tricky bits after a jump break, if you don't want to read anything that may upset you then stop there.

It comes as no surprise to you, I hope by now at least, that my relationship with food is not always a-ok. I thought I had everything relatively under control (aha I spend my life controlling myself) but living out this year - instead of in catered college accommodation like last year - is presenting me with new challenges. Now I don't mind a challenge, bring it on, but I won't pretend that I'm always enthusiastic about facing challenges related to eating head on. Some days, like today, are calamitous. Good word. Today was bad for specific reasons I won't go into now for fear of triggering someone but suffice it to say my diet was silly and that I'm now wide awake at quarter to 2 thinking about it incessantly.
 I can easily find myself wanting to throw things (preferably lots of pieces of paper-that always looks dramatic) into the air and scream 'To hell with this!' but that option isn't really there for me. If I run away from a problem today, I will only have to confront it tomorrow. I know I'll have good days and bad, but at times when every day is just plain average it quickly becomes demoralising.
The issues I'm having with food at the minute are complex. There are practical problems like how much I'm spending on food, it's so expensive-who knew? I tend to quell this worry by thinking that in the future when I am saddled with debt I highly doubt I'll be ruing the days I bought fresh meat and lots of fruit, more likely I'll be regretting buying quite as many jumpers/scarves. Seriously though, Durham is cold, I can justify those purchases.
Also fresh food needs to be used up quicker than I anticipate so perhaps some forward planning from me would help to map out what I'll eat when and ensure food doesn't go past its best sitting in my fridge. This could help get me to stick to eating full meals too, as if I've made the commitment in writing that I'll be eating salmon and veg on Thursday I'll be more likely to keep true to my plan and do it. The actual cooking of the food is fine, despite a few frantic calls home about how much spaghetti constitutes a portion. I'm impressed at my abilities, in particular my Thai Green lemongrass and ginger prawn curry. *Awkwardly waits for applause*

 On the whole I'm fine but I worry about how varied my diet is, in a way I suspect other students don't have to. If I have a day, or worse a few days, where I don't eat much I get intensely anxious that I'm getting ill, whereas my housemates given the same situation could just accept that they weren't particularly hungry. Some days, like today, I struggle to eat meals and instead just snack aimlessly in the hope I'll eventually take in enough. Obviously that's hard given the nutritional value of most snack foods. I can see that some of my habits aren't healthy, but don't necessarily know how to fix them, and quite frankly can't be bothered with the effort. If I can coast by like this, then should I? Equally - I worry that when I go back home my routine is going to be thrown way off course, having just settled into one here.
Overall I feel I've reacted to the stresses this term has given me pretty well, in fact I've gone full circle and have been eating more when I'm stressed than ordinarily. Shocker. I can't help fearing that as my tell-tale troublesome familiar stresses peak over the next two weeks (academic stress is the absolute worse for me) I won't be as successful with managing it. I can feel it happening already but don't feel able to do anything about it. Accepting a relapse as an inevitability seems like I am an utter failure though. I am so tired of it that I could cry. Hard times indeed.

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This is why today was bad, don't read if you're going to find it difficult to see what I ate today, please please please.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Ch-Ch-Changes. The return of university, panic attacks and single life

Three months is a very long time.
It's (apparently) how long it takes for a baby to learn to roll over, and also the length of time it takes Mercury to orbit the Sun. It's also how long I neglected to post or update at all. May I extend my mega huge apologies to the hundreds of people left feeling bitterly disappointed, i.e. my dad who I suspect is the sole reader of this. Hi Dad.
Actually no, I've had 1300 views. *Does a jig of happiness*

Here is a really quick, really brief update of what 3 months has brought to/taken away from my life

  • I went to Brussels for 4 days with my boyfriend (yay, truly beautiful city) 
  • Said boyfriend and I broke up after 3 years (still getting used to it, huge adjustment, being single is both good and bad)
  • I came back to uni (WOO) and was a fresher rep for all the new freshlings. (Double Woo) I'm in my new house (woo x3) where I'm having to cook and eat independently. (woo/boo) I'm feeling lonelier than ever (boo) but that might be because stresses and all my commitments are piling up and up and up (don't even go there)
  • I decided to come off my anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills (not sure how this is gonna pan out)
  • (Ignore this dad) I discovered I don't hate washing up after all
  • I renounced all semblance of my feminist outlook and dressed up as Barbie in an all-in-one lycra unitard for a fancy dress formal.
  • I saw Gabrielle Aplin, and then Jimmy Carr - cultured and outgoing person that I am.
  • I started drinking Green Tea, and just drinking more alcohol in general. Fun. My alcohol tolerance levels have increased, watch in awe as I manage to have a vodka and coke without falling to the floor. Probably something to do with my weight gain. Hell yes.
  • On that weighty note, I finally got the go ahead to help set up an eating disorder peer-support group at my university. Big woops all round.



Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Neil Hilborn Is My New Hero - His Performance of 'OCD'

This has been doing the rounds after its feature on Upworthy, and deservedly so. I'm quite often the type to well up at videos/songs/poems/books/anything remotely emotion-provoking but this had many other more hardened people I know in various states of tears and awe as well.
This video is of Neil Hilborn reciting a beautiful poem that he wrote which sums up his experience with OCD and the effect it had on his relationship. The ending is serene and gut-wrenching. Enjoy.



Dwindling Motivation and Poorly Skippy Hearts

I am really struggling at the minute to even get through a day without wanting to nap or curl up into a ball and pretend the world doesn't actually affect me.
Perhaps it's because it's the holidays and there's nothing much to do although I have internship work to be getting stuck into and could/should be reading up early for next year's degree course.
Perhaps it's because I am perpetually shattered considering it's currently 2am and there is no hope of me being able to sleep due to my mind whirring like a machine this trend will likely continue.
Perhaps it's because you know what I am fed up of doctors having had 19 doctor/nurse/psych/hospital appointments since coming back home at the end of uni and I am weak and feeling oh-so grandly sorry for myself.

It's bizarre.
I have always been a hardworker.
Not even that, I've always been a work-herself-to-the-bone worker (yes I understand the cringe of the to-the-bone reference) and yet I've found myself so.....meh....about doing anything.
Then I sit here.
Lay here.
At night and mull over how useless I am for wasting a day.
A day that could be used to be a better person. A smarter person, a happier person, a prettier person, a more popular person. Somehow.
I have no motivation to leave the house.
Or to be happy.
Or to eat healthily. And with that I wonder why do I even need to care about eating healthily? Should I care about eating healthily? Is this a bad thing to care about?

I'm not even sure how I feel.
I hate doing nothing.
But right now I don't want to do anything.

The doctor fandango is exasperating. I feel like I get passed from person to person to person, and that more often that not they see eating disorder and blame whatever I'm seeing them about on that. I've now been given tablets for my stomach which has been causing problems for years now but I can't even motivate myself to take the pills. I'm still waiting for someone to take my heart seriously. It trembles and skips and flutters and pounds and pauses and tightens, not like panic attack palpitations, like it genuinely forgets how to beat properly. It does this for maybe 15 minutes at a time every few days. It's starting to scare me, but worrying about it won't help.

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Practise What You Preach

*Googles the difference between 'practice' and 'practise'*
When people come to me for advice, which they do from time to time, I tend to come out with one (or all) of these pointers for stopping the down-beat moments and remaining positive. I can't remember exactly where, but I found it on the internet somewhere and have since kept a copy taped near my desk and in the front of my notebooks, because I thought the advice was so simple and true.
Problem is I'm pretty woeful when it comes to following my own advice, and the low spot I've been in recently could almost certainly have been alleviated by following these pointers.

  • Always say yes to seeing friends.
  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Recognise that positive change rarely happens overnight.
  • Accept the mess-ups, but try not to let them happen again.
  • There is a song to remedy every situation on the planet.
  • Appreciate the people in your life.
  • Look for the good in everything.
  • Try new things and try them often.
  • Treat yourself as well as you treat others.

My new challenge is to follow my own little tips a little bit more each day.

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Monday, 12 August 2013

Being thin is not the answer. Video.

So I probably shouldn't post two videos in a row (profuse apologies, some proper writing will be on its way) but I'm in this one, spot me if you can - really not that hard, I hold up a sign with my name on....

I answered a twitter call to help someone with their project on eating disorders for their YouTube channel, and it's not a bad video, if a little long and difficult to read sometimes!



Here are my pictures from the video, 



Now off to finish re-reading HP (PoA).

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Monday, 5 August 2013

The Big Black Cloud of Low Self-Esteem

self-es·teem

 
noun
1.
a realistic respect for or favourable impression of oneself; self-respect.

I spend most of my days repeatedly mulling over negative thoughts about myself, and continually feel like I am just 'not good enough.' What it is that's indicative of my unsatisfactoryness (no, not a word, but we'll go with it) varies on a regular basis, it's sort of cyclical. Be it my academic pursuits, my body, my general appearance, my mind, my social life, my job prospects or anything else that can be applied to me I promise you I've felt like it's unworthy of the slightest bit of praise. I've never really put my finger on why my self-esteem is frankly non-existent but it's probably (partially) due to my perfectionism. If it's possible to get a better mark, to be prettier, to be funnier, to be kinder or more liked then that - in my head - is a sign that I'm nothing special.
It would be a relief to have one day where I'm not weighed down by the burden of disliking myself, or wishing I were a different person altogether. The number of times I've dismissed compliments or refused to go out because I don't want to be seen/spoken to is mounting up as time goes on. Having low self-esteem wears me down, I wake up already ill-equipped to face the day with a cloud of self-loathing looming overhead and it makes me more vulnerable to low spots and panics.
It was when I was completing a CBT exercise recently, that asked me to focus on one thing I was proud of and happy with about myself a day that I realised something that could be a bit of a game-changer....*whisper it now* I actually do quite like a fair few things about myself. Shocking.
My hair, though not what it once was -sigh, screw you eating disorder- is alright, actually. My skin, though not perfect, is quite good, my eyes are ok, although I kid about wanting a nose job there are no glaringly obvious faults with my face and my body is pretty well proportioned. Tall and slim. People go on about wanting this sort of figure all the time. And yeah, I wish my chest were larger, and I'm really not keen on my arms, but am I ugly? I don't think so. I'm ok. Ish. Whilst I've never thought of myself as intelligent people tell me that's the case, and I've achieved academically, if that's what you choose to measure it by. I love my degree, take pride in my work and got a 2:1 for first year *fist-pump*. I've got friends and a boyfriend, who I'm happy-as-larry with, and I am eventually learning to like the person I'm becoming.
It seems the problem I've had has always been what other people thought of me, or rather, me second-guessing what other people thought of me. When I get down because of my appearance it isn't because I particularly dislike the way I look, it's because I dislike what other people may think of me. I don't like that other people may think I'm a bad person or that I'm stupid or annoying and I take that worry and extend it to the assumption that people do think badly of me, they must think badly of me.
All this focus on what other people think is tiring as hell. Especially when in all liklihood I slip past without them noticing my bad hair day/that I mispronounced Morgenthau. Plus if someone doesn't like me, for whatever reason that may be, do I really want to spend copious amounts of energy worrying about that and trying to change his/her mind? Do I want someone in my life if they're going to be negative? Of course not. So if I apply that to myself...do I want the negative part of my brain in my life if it's only going to be negative? No ta.
I've never liked the techniques I'm sometimes told to use of telling yourself 5 happy affirmations a day or sticking positive I-love-myself notes all over the place, it just seems too self righteous. But maybe I could start detaching myself from other peoples' opinions by focusing more on me and what I want, not running through 'oh but what will people think?' before each trivial decision I make.
Wisdom done and signing off for the night.
xx
'The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.' - Mark Twain

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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

East/West split for Depression and Anxiety

I've been an avid follower of PostSecret, which incidentally you should definitely have a gander at, for many years and so I follow the account on all-powerful twitter.
PostSecret invites anyone to send in their secret anonymously on the back of a postcard. Once a week a page of about 20 secrets is posted onto the internet, with secrets ranging from beautiful to frightening, saddening to funny.
ANYWAY
To bring me onto my point
The PostSecret twitter account recently tweeted a link to this article which details a study showing that Anxiety is more common in the western world, with Depression more prevalent in the East.
Obviously I clicked on it, I can't control myself when I see a title as interesting sounding as that. And I was really intrigued by the findings, especially seeing as the surveys done to reach the conclusion seemed incredibly extensive, with over 480,000 people taking part. (Not like those cosmetics adverts you see that boast 94% success rate and then tell you they only tested 30 people) What was probably most interesting was that the leaders of the research were very quick to point out the difficulties in gathering data relating to mental health, and stressing the point that, actually, we shouldn't jump to conclusions about what the study really shows. People still, no matter where they are in the world or what their cultural or situational circumstances, don't always give honest and reliable responses when asked about their mental health.
Tricky one.
Check PostSecret out, and come back to me, I miss you when you're gone.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

OCD in the public eye

(I realise a lot of what I'm posting is related to BBC Three at the minute, but go figure, they're doing an amazing season of programs all about mental healthy stuff, what's a girl to do)
Watching the twitter trend #ExtremeOCDcamp - all about 6 young sufferers going away to America for an intensive therapy in helping battle their OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) - has been a heartwarming and encouraging experience tonight.
It seems that OCD, however well known the term may be, has long been incredibly misunderstood.
Think of how many times you've heard people saying they're 'a bit OCD' about something, and how often it's trivialised and you can see why awareness of such a disorder needs to be raised. Many people seemingly had the misconception that OCD was just liking things to be clean and tidy, when in reality the severity of the condition completely dominates the lives of those with it. From this perspective, OCD is probably one of the most commonly misunderstood mental health illnesses. Knowing people who suffer from OCD, I can say it's exhausting to constantly be performing rituals and obeying the compulsions that drive every aspect of your behaviour and utterly control your life.
Watching the guys featured on the show face their demons and slowly overcome their rituals and patterns was difficult, their frustrations and fears were so clear to see. I'm astounded by the bravery of all six of them for confronting something that is overwhelming for them, it got me quite emotional, perhaps because I can see stark similarities with the therapy I've had for my eating disorder and anxiety disorder to the treatment methods used on the programme to control compulsions, rituals and negative thoughts.
I thought that BBC Three did a brilliant job in highlighting how much OCD affects the lives of sufferers and portrayed the condition incredibly accurately and sensitively, there can be no doubt about the reality of OCD for anyone who watched this. I'm really looking forward to next week's episode. Big hugs to all those involved.
Another stigma-fighting tv programme to add to the list. Seeing the effects of awareness being raised before my eyes is always a good end to a day. Hopefully we'll get there in the end.

For more information on OCD clicky here please