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Learning to Live with Mental Illness.





There couldn’t be a better time to talk about mental illness than now. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, both having an influence on each other and both needing to be looked after. For as long as I can remember I dismissed how important looking after myself mentally actually was.

I used to sit and wish my Eating Disorder or my anxiety away. Something I am sure we’ve all done. I’d pray, wish and beg that I could just be ‘normal’. Again, I’ve heard this too many times. I feel like they have consumed me for a very long time. That’s the thing with most mental illnesses they take over your mind and leave you questioning what you are without it. I feared I was nothing without my eating disorder and I tried to diminish my anxiety for years pretending it didn’t even exist. I have found the more that I have started to come to terms with what is going on in my head rather than wishing it away, it has made it that little bit easier to live with on a daily.

I’m not a professional in this area but over the years I have picked up my own ways (and help from professionals) in order to deal with my anxiety and eating disorder day to day.

Let’s start with anxiety.

Stopping to Breathe.

I know this probably sounds a little clichĂ© however when it comes to panic attacks and anxiety breathing saves me. It’s in that moment I stop and become a little more mindful to myself and the world around me. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, sometimes just stopping to simply take normal breaths and focusing on them can slow down that busy mind and racing heart.

Mindfulness.

In the similar way to breathing being mindful in general helps keep me centred or if I am having a moment of panic. One technique I have seen quite a lot recently (also good with kids) is to sit and find 4 things you can see, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can hear. This allows you to focus on your surroundings taking you away from anxiety.

Walking.

I’ve mentioned this one so many times, but it still sticks. Exercise has been shown to help manage many mental illnesses, especially depression and anxiety. Walking helps me because it’s not too intense or requires much thoughts (compared to a HIIT workout which defeats the purpose aka more panic). Walking takes me away from the real world for a while, it allows my brain to slow down and focus on my surroundings. You may even want to try the mindfulness technique while on a walk, I’ve done this, and it helps so much.

Counting.

I have done this since I was about 8 years old. Even though I didn’t have any clue what anxiety was then, whenever I felt a rush on panic or a threatening situation, I used to count. Sometimes I used to count my teeth again and again or raindrops on a window. Just counting, taking the focus off whatever, it is you’re fearing. It’s surreal how much this works, and I still do it now 14 years later. I know it may sound strange but give it a chance.

Day to day tasks.

I am a list maker there is no denying that and I know a lot of you reading this will be the exact same. I always have loved writing long lists of everything I need to get done (my head feels more screwed on for sure) BUT these lists got to a point where I was overwhelmed by the list, I avoided everything on it. I read the book ‘Get Your Sh*t Together’ by Sarah Knight (I highly recommend) the concept of having a ‘to do’ list and a ‘MUST do list’. This is the idea that when you look at the list for the day you have the most essiential things you need to do that day rather than collecting your mum’s birthday present 4 weeks before her actual birthday. It turns out you end up with about 3 to 4 important things a day rather than a daunting list scaring you off the face of the Earth.

I’ve found some separate things have helped with specifically my eating disorder.

Knowing my triggers.

Get to know your triggers, identify them, you then know how to avoid them (the best you can). If certain things people say trigger you, tell them, it isn’t selfish. I am lucky to have a supportive family and partner who I can say when something they have said or done doesn’t sit well with me, they will stop doing it, and that small change makes life easier for me. If you struggle to talk about these things to the people around you (I have had many people who haven’t understood or been prepared to) why not start with one person. The person you are closest to or who you think would try to understand the most. Sit them down and have the one to one chat with them about how you feel. Other triggers may be situations you place yourself in. I know if I don’t have enough food in my flat or enough to make a meal I am comfortable with I won’t eat at all. So, I always make sure I have a fridge full of the foods I am happy with eating. If I know I am struggling that day, I’ll avoid mirrors or being on my own too much. Once you get to know these triggers, they become a little easier to deal with or try to get out of your life.

Planning.

I know this might not be for everyone and I hope one day I can let this go a little bit more. But planning what I am going to eat and even what I am going to do in the day helps me to stay on track and make sure I eat. I’d rather be eating and have a plan than not at all. My partner does really help with me letting go of this when I am with him, I feel safe enough to maybe change what I was originally eating or let go of the plan completely. So maybe if you have a close friend or partner they could try and do the same.

Ask for help.

Don’t suffer in silence. I have found when I do, my eating disorder head only gets bigger. Ask for help, tell someone you trust you are struggling or may be starting to struggle again. It can be a big help with keeping yourself well and healthy without a big fuss. I’ve found if I am struggling now again or see an old habit slipping back in by telling Ste or my mum it means another person is aware and my eating disorder can’t win.

ACCEPTANCE.

This has taken me so long and something I am STILL working on. Accepting my eating disorder and anxiety. Knowing they aren’t going away but learning to live with them there, nice and quietly. Yes, they may come to say hello every now and then, but sometimes I actually say to them ‘Thanks for joining me today. I hear you but I am not making you any bigger’. It’s not about accepting this is part of you because you are YOU without the mental illness or with it. It’s more finding the acceptance that you don’t have to be at war with it, forever wishing it away. You CAN live a happy, healthy and exciting life with it sitting on the side lines.

I am nowhere near perfect or would sit here and say all these things will help you, but I hope you can find something from this that may push you in the right direction. I am still learning and growing, figuring out about myself and I am okay with that.

Stay safe.

Holli Jessi x

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