Wednesday, 17 April 2019

S E L F L O V E

By Charlotte Underwood

I hate my body. I just do. I can remember looking into the mirror and hating my body as a child. Even as a teenager, I hated it. As an adult, still not a fan.

I’ve been so many different weights, my body’s changed with age. I’ve worked out, dyed my hair, got tattoos and piercings. But nothing makes me happy.

The thing is, self love is more than a mirror. It’s deeper. Self love is mental.

When you judge someone for their appearance, they remember it. When you call someone fat, they feel it. When you break someone’s confidence, they know it.

My low self-esteem comes from years of being called ‘fat’, ‘obese’, ‘ugly’ and ‘unlovable’, all by people I trusted. I actually didn’t hate how I looked, until someone told me where to look.

That’s important to remember, this whole epidemic of people wanting to change how they look, doing diets, hurting their body’s to be ‘perfect’... is because we created it. We made that. We made people feel this way.

So I don’t care about your personal preference of appearance. I don’t care about your judgement on fat, thin and in between. I don’t care if you have ideals. You. Do. Not. Shame. Someone.

If you don’t find someone attractive, that’s fine, but you don’t need to project that onto them. Let people live, let people be happy, let them enjoy the body that keeps them alive. Not one person has the right to set the standard of ‘the way we should look’.

And my friends, change your body if you want, but only if it’s really because you want, not because you’ve been pushed into it by judgement. Make sure everything you do for you, is for you.

#bodypositive #bodytransformation #bodyconfidence #beauty #lifestyle #wellbeing #wellness #recovery

Originally posted on Instagram.

 

About the Author

Charlotte Underwood is a twenty-three year old from Norfolk, UK. She is a growing mental health advocate and writer who aims to inform and education on mental health. The goal is to be a friend to those in need. She believes no one should feel alone. Charlotte blogs at charlotteunderwoodauthor.com. You can also find her on Twitter and on Facebook.

 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Sometimes We Need to Ask the Questions

We don’t have the answers to everything, sometimes we just need to ask the questions.” (John Rotter)

The above quotation is taken from an article by John Rotter, Marketing and Communications Assistant at MHFA England. It expresses perfectly why asking questions is such an important aspect of mental health literacy.

This post was inspired by an open letter to me by fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson in response to an article I wrote recently about imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and legitimacy. In her letter, Aimee described how important it is to have people she can turn to for support.

Having gone through my mental health journey with my Mum being my main source of support, I think that I now know how essential it is to have the support of another person through your times of struggle and the challenges thrown at you. [....] The difficulty comes in allowing yourself to lean on another person or even to just admit that you need to lean on them!

Something she went on to say caught my attention.

I love that you ask me questions when I’m struggling because it’s much more helpful than you just sitting there and nodding along, pretending to understand.

That meant a lot, not least because Fran and I have long advocated asking questions in the context of caring, supportive relationships. But what kinds of questions are most helpful?

What Do You Need?

Asking your friend what they need is one of the simplest and yet most important questions you can ask. This came up recently in conversation with another mental health blogger, Laura Riordan. We were chatting about how we support friends who live with mental health issues, and Laura said:

Maybe I can just listen instead of making any suggestions. Some people desperately want advice [....] And some just want to be heard.

I agreed wholeheartedly.

Yes, Laura. I’m a believer in not pushing suggestions or advice on people unless they ask for it. What people often need is space to share, safe from judgement. The best thing is simply to ask: what do you need right now?

This is echoed in a line from our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder:

Supporting Fran means paying attention to her needs and not assuming I know best. This can be as simple as asking, “What do you need most right now?”

How Is It For You?

For someone like me with no lived experience to draw on, asking questions helps me understand what my friends are going through. That’s what Aimee was talking about when she said she loves that I ask her questions when she is struggling. On that occasion, we were talking about self-harm. I’d asked how it was that sometimes self-harm expresses itself for her as an overdose, sometimes as cutting, sometimes in other ways. Was there a difference, I wondered, in the kind of situations that led to her taking these different actions, what they represented for her, or the effect on her afterwards? Aimee was a little thrown by the questions. I don’t think she had been asked to think about it in quite that way before, but as she wrote in her open letter it was clearly of value to her:

In asking these questions, you’ve helped me to make a better sense of my self-harm and that, is one of the first steps in changing the behaviour and moving forwards in my recovery.

It also helped me learn a little more about what my friend lives with and how she handles things.

Getting Real

Asking questions is not a passive activity. A question invites a response, and you may not get back what you anticipated or are comfortable with. In addition to talking with Aimee about self-harm, conversations with Fran and other friends regularly touch on suicide and suicidal thinking. Things can get real very quickly. Depending on the circumstances, you might want or need to ask further questions or take action. If your friend appears to be struggling, be prepared to ask the important questions.

  • Are you feeling suicidal, or thinking of doing something to harm yourself?
  • Do you feel you are safe right now?
  • Do we need to think about how to help you stay safe?

Also ask how your friend would like you to proceed if you become concerned for their safety. Respect their wishes and opinions, but be clear that you will involve other people or support services if necessary. That way you both know where you stand. We have a selection of crisis lines and support organisations on our Resources page.

Care and Understanding

Questions are not always about crisis, suicide, or self-harm, of course. Asking appropriate questions can let your friend know you are aware of their situation and needs. I described a few such situations in my article 5 Must-Read Rules to Help Your Friend with Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder for Bp Magazine.

I may not have a mental health diagnosis but I struggle too at times. I get stressed, uncertain, frustrated, and stuck. It’s happened quite a lot in the past few months. I’m blessed in having friends who are unafraid to hold things up to the light for me, and that includes asking the kind of questions that challenge me to explore what I think I know, my motives, and expectations. It really helps. Here is an example from a recent chat with Aimee:

Aimee: Hi Marty. How are you?

Marty: I’m OK. I was feeling a bit down over the weekend but am doing better today. I was very busy at work and there were train delays but I’m home now.

Aimee: Aw why do you think you were feeling down?

Marty: After feeling “stuck” for a while, as you know, my writing got going again recently. Our day out in Blyth and joint blogging ideas helped, and the Mental Health First Aid conference I went to. All that gave me a boost. I think what’s happened is that energy has run out of steam a bit. Does that make sense?

Aimee: Of course. Totally understand. Well here’s a little assignment for you...

Aimee invited me to contribute to an article she was writing and shared her draft with me. It helped me shift how I’d been feeling and generated some possible new ways forward. Later, I let her know how much I appreciated the support.

Marty: Thank you for asking if I knew why I’d been feeling down, Aimee. It helped me focus on what might have been behind it. Also, thanks for knowing that giving me a “little assignment” would help!

Aimee: Of course! This friendship isn’t just you being here for me when I’m struggling!

Ask Yourself First

It can be helpful to ask questions, but that doesn’t mean bombarding your friend with them all the time. It’s also important not to come across as insincere, patronising, or condescending. These are sure ways to annoy and alienate someone! If you are at all unsure, take a few moments and ask yourself a few questions before proceeding.

  • What do I want to achieve by asking this question?
  • Am I inviting my friend to do something, or to share something with me?
  • Am I prepared for whatever kind of response I get back, be that positive, negative, partial, uncertain, none at all, or my friend asking me a question in return?

Finally, is this question, and my motive for asking it, kind in mind and heart?

Over to You

What is the best, most insightful question you have ever been asked? What kinds of questions do not help you at all? Have you asked someone a question that made a real difference? Are there times you feel questions are inappropriate or unnecessary? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Competition and Collaboration in the Blogging World | A Chat with Marty and Aimee

Following on from our Bloggers About Town visit to Newcastle’s Life Science Centre in January, and a jaunt to the Blue Reef Aquarium at Tynemouth, I met up with fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson last weekend in Blyth, Northumberland. This involved an hour long bus ride for me, which made it quite the adventure!

Aimee met me from my bus (“I feel like a celebrity!” “Lmao you’re a VIP!”) and we wandered down to the quayside to look at the boats (pretty sure that blooming big one was a ship, actually!) and a fascinating sculpture, The Spirit of the Staithes by artist Simon Packard.

After taking photos we retired to the Commissioners Quay Inn for lunch. We were soon deep in conversation — and both checking our phones!

Marty: I like that we can both be on our phones and we “get it.”

Aimee: Yeah, everyone else just thinks you’re being rude! That’s why I’m so glad I have a friend who blogs — blogging is such a big part of my life that it makes a big difference to have someone who can…

Marty: Identify?

Aimee: Yes! Someone who I can identify with. Actually, I want to pick your brain about something… So, I got a message off another blogger the other day — Peter McDonnell, you know him I think — saying he’s meeting up with a Police Officer after being inspired by my work with Northumbria Police. I asked where he lived, in case I knew the Officer. He told me — he doesn’t live up here so it’s fine — and asked why it mattered to me.

Marty: Sure I know Peter, he’s a great guy. And why did it matter to you?

Aimee: It’s nothing to do with Peter at all. It’s more to do with whether I knew the Officer he was planning to see.

Marty: Let’s see if I have got this right. Let’s say I’m the Police Officer and I’ve done a post for your blog and then another blogger approaches me wanting to work with me... is that what you mean?

Aimee: Yeah! I think it’s more about my insecurities; like, I’d be worried I wasn’t good enough. You know? Like, maybe my work and my blog weren’t enough for them.

Marty: I can see where you’re coming from.

Aimee: But then I try and look at it like, “well it’s not a competition!”

Marty nods and gives a thumbs up whilst drinking his pint.

Aimee: I mean, on the one hand, we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to other bloggers. But on the other hand, the comparison can help us to improve what we do. If you see someone’s content you like, you can take inspiration from that and use it to push yourself further.

Marty: Like, when you look at a blog with loads of readers — like yours! —

Aimee: Thanks!

Marty: It makes you ask yourself what you can do to get your blog to the same level.

Aimee: Yeah! I think it’s natural to have some sort of competitiveness — it’s a good thing — but it’s important to not let that get you down and cause you to put too much pressure on yourself.

Marty: And I think it’s important to remember what we’re trying to say through our blogs too.

Aimee: Yeah, like in this case the important thing is to get the message out that the Police are working with mental health services to better their own capabilities when they’re called to attend a mental health crisis. That message is more important than worrying about someone being “better” than you.

Marty: I think so, yes. I do get your concern, though. This is your work. You have worked hard to network and grow connections with individual people and with organisations, like with Northumbria Police. You don’t want someone else taking advantage of your hard work. But Peter isn’t doing that, he has been inspired by your work to do something similar in his own area.

Aimee: Definitely! It’s a compliment, really.

Marty: It is, yes. Bottom line, working with other bloggers to counter stigma is more important than worrying about someone picking up on your good ideas and doing their own thing with them.

Aimee: I’m thinking this would make a good blog post. Feel free to shoot me down but what about if we did it like a script layout?

Marty: Works for me!

And that’s what we did! Aimee checked in with Peter McDonnell, the mental health blogger who’d asked her about working with the Police. She wanted to make sure he was ok with us using the feelings that came up for her as the inspiration for this article. She also wanted him to know how much she appreciated the respect he’d shown by letting her know he intended to do the police piece. Peter was very generous about it and gave permission for us to mention him by name. He also said this, which Aimee found really helpful:

I think if your police friend started working with other bloggers after he’d already worked with you, it’d be because he had a nice experience with you, a blogger, and wanted to do it again, with the next blogger that gave him an opportunity.

Thank you, Peter.

 


Aimee Wilson is a 28-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Her blog I’m NOT Disordered has close to half a million readers. Aimee’s first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.

Peter McDonnell, 36, is an author, woodworker and mental health advocate from Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK. You can find him and his website at www.petesmentalhealthtravel.com.