Wednesday, 15 January 2014

What recovery means

This year is already shaping up to be a good one and we are still only 15 days in. My diary is getting fuller and fuller with exciting projects and meetings with good friends and new ones. In the last week I've challenged my anxiety to huge amounts - I went and saw friends a total of three times just last week (sounds silly but doesn't usually happen), got drunk, had fun, and even caught the bus on my own at night-time. Every time I take a new step forward I become more and more proud of my accomplishments, and why shouldn't I? Every day is a challenge, an opportunity to make a difference, whether it be small or not. I'm in talks with my University and we're meeting as a group to discuss raising awareness there, I'm attending the YoungMinds VS project launch next Tuesday (which I hope to see many of you at!), I have some interviews for voluntary positions and an induction for another mental health related event (which I'll inform you all of in due course). I've also collaborated with a good friend of mine, to launch a new project based on eating disorder recovery which is in the pipeline and is very exciting just speaking about it, so keep your eyes peeled.

I returned to University this week too. I'm already beginning to panic about deadlines and exams which are not even here yet. I guess I need to learn to pre-occupy my time more usefully but it's impossible to know where to start. Also the impending fear of failure looms over my head like an old friend you'd rather see the back of. I'm still feeling the new year pressure of being a perfect individual - I know it will never happen and it's unrealistic to think that it ever would, but I have lots of wonderful opportunities out there waiting for me to reach out and grasp, and at this stage in my recovery it would be a waste if I didn't grab it.

I wanted to speak about recovery, actually. Just briefly. And what it means to us as sufferers of mental health.

At one stage plenty of us have had idealisations of what recovery looks like, feels like. You may have even wrote it down before. You may have kept your eye off the prize, thinking it was unrealistic and unlikely to ever happen to you. Or you may have kept it there as a goal - never leaving the back of your mind.

But what recovery actually is for each individual sufferer is entirely different, and that is the most important thing that must be recognised. I've seen a few people recently slate others around them for 'claiming' that they are recovered when they 'clearly' are not. I remember a good few years ago when a good friend of mine accused me of fooling myself into thinking I was recovered from my eating disorder when I was living a lie. It upset me then and it upsets me now. I was banished from a support network because I was clearly still thin when I considered myself as someone who was working very hard and maintaining a healthy weight.

Recovery is something that can't be described. In regards to my eating disorder, I noticed a sense of freedom in when and what I was eating. A complete lack of care towards whether I had gained a few pounds or lost them. Being comfortable in my own skin (although I'm aware that needs some work). Acceptance, of my body, and not allowing myself to get overly jealous of others.

But even though I still have issues with my body image I would still regard myself as recovered from my eating disorder. Body image issues are totally normal and you may argue that they shouldn't be normal but they are. We should all feel comfortable within ourselves and a vast majority of people don't. It's something to work on but should not define my recovery from an eating disorder. I feel freer with food now then I've ever done before, I've eaten in some of the most exquisite and adventurous restaurants in the UK and I love trying new foods. I'm a daring eater now and and am never afraid to mix my foods together. I eat food because I like and enjoy food, not because I have to, and that for me is my definition of my own recovery.

However, everyone around you has a different story and a different set of experiences. It's part of the beauty of being human. We are allowed to define ourselves as recovered when it feels right for us, regardless of what mental health disorder we have. I know full well that I am not recovered from my depression and anxiety, yet I am most definitely IN recovery and I am a fighter first and foremost. I actually don't know whether recovery is possible. If my depression is, for example, due to chemical imbalances (which would explain my childhood) then some will say that I couldn't possibly recover. But I can be happy. I can live my life to the fullest and inspire other people. I can learn to manage my illness and I can learn to accept that it is part of me.

I don't think any individual, friend or not, has the right to opinionate themselves on someone elses recovery and dismiss it, even if they think it so or not. We can never truly know somebody and their experience until we have at least walked a mile in their shoes, possibly not even that. Therefore it's important, wholeheartedly to respect others, their decisions and beliefs about recovery.

It's also important to be a little selfish and concentrate on your own needs, and your own recovery, rather than focusing yourself too much on the goings on of others. There's a line where being caring can turns into being rather offensive and unnecessary, especially within a friendship.

Focus on what recovery means to YOU and work from that, not anybody else.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Numbers

It's the forth day into a brand new year and I've already learnt a few things.

I've taken inspiration from the people around me that are happy - I've written a letter to someone to re-kindle a past feud and lay things to rest - I've got back in touch with friends who I haven't spoken to in a while - I've already applied for some volunteering work, worked 3 full days already, and learnt that I shouldn't need to feel the need to say no to something just because it goes out of my comfort zone. (I still haven't finished my dratted essay though - that is to come!)

I've also realised how much we occupy ourselves by numbers. New Years Eve reminded me of that. I took an early night and attempted to sleep, my head under the covers shuddering about each bang that reminded me that new year was upon us. But what is a new year? It's the end of 365 days and the beginning of a new day. As I read on a friends Facebook page the other day: 'a year is only a year because of the way the calender is made' - an example being that if the year was only 100 days long, would we have more opportunities for fresh starts, and making resolutions? Likewise, if the year was 1000 days long, would we have less chances to start over? (credits go to Emma Duffy for this analogy here) Of course not. It's never to late to change things and start over - if you have a vision and a goal in mind then it's possible to do so on any day, as every day is just like any other day, where we still have night and day, 24 hours within it, waking up, going to sleep and all of the normal everyday routines. Nothing around you really changes when a new year approaches - it's you that has to make the change and that can happen at any time.

I'm already feeling the pressures to be perfect in the new year and I know that I'm not alone - yet I worry more as to why I feel the way that I do! We tend to sum up our years, for example 2012 was a great year, 2010 wasn't, and vice versa, but there's also nothing wrong with saying 'well 2011 was a bit crappy, but in the latter half I made some changes and it ended up being fucking fabulous'. I guess that version is more truthful, in a weird sort of way. It records the ups, downs and changes one makes in life and that's all a year is - just life.

I find it interesting as a literature student that the power of numbers are slowly starting to overrule the power of words. I witness more and more people defining themselves by numbers - that their age is too old or their BMI is too high. When all your age and BMI are are numbers. That do not define your worth or attainment as an individual. Similarly in the year 2014, just because it's a new year it doesn't mean you have to transition into a perfect person. The fact that it's 2014 means nothing. It's just another number and another 365 days, 8760 hours. Sure, set yourself goals and tasks to do but if they don't work out, it's okay. Life is all about learning and transitioning as an individual. It's okay if you fuck things up. You'd never learn otherwise.

I do think that now is the time for me to go with the flow and live in the now. If you're invited to somewhere, go. Try to always keep smiling. Plan ahead of course but not excruciatingly. Don't live life defined by anyone but yourself. Only you can define yourself, so do it well and be the best version of YOU (and no-one else) not just in 2014 but for all the remaining time we have left.