Monday, 28 April 2014

The past, family, and the future

I've always found the past a difficult concept to come to terms with. The idea that what is done, cannot be undone. That, no matter how hard you strive to, you can never retrieve what you once had. I've been mulling over this recently as I reflect over how, despite struggling with my eating and self-destructive behaviours, how much I was incidentally also a free spirit at the age of around 16. The simple concept of going outside and getting on a bus didn't faze me, it was a normal process, as was going out with my big group of friends, having no responsibilities and the knowledge that despite my illness (although I wasn't aware of this at the time), there really wasn't too much to worry about. Of course, being 16 was for me not too long ago (although almost 6 years) and so I can look back on the bliss of finishing my GCSE's, falling in love for the first time, festivals and holidays with friends with a smile and also sadness that I imagine that I'll never be able to feel that way ever again. I feel that I've wasted a huge majority of my life since that stage due to my illnesses, in and out of therapy, hiding myself away, never allowing myself to have a life. It just hasn't seemed fair and ultimately I'm to blame entirely for that.

What I find much more difficult about the concept of the past is striving to remember the fragments of a life which I cannot recall. I know many people who can look back on their life and recall thousands of memories - all without motioning to a single photograph. To remember my childhood, and my early teenage years in particular, I needed photographs, and the majority of the time I thought myself to imagine certain memories because they didn't seem real without photographic evidence. I wasn't sure whether I remembered certain events, or whether I only remembered them because I had the evidence to prove I was in a particular place at a particular time. And I've hated myself for not being able to remember these things as it feels like I should be looking back on a life which needs to be remembered, not one that I've deliberately blocked out from my memory.

Although, I believe, that I have deliberately blocked my early childhood, and this has made coming to terms with a mental health problem difficult. As you may imagine, I am often asked why I feel the way that I do, and can never come up with a coherent answer. I was bullied as a child, excessively, through to the age of 15, and was abandoned by my biological father, but never knew enough of those two areas of my life to want to blame them for my later diagnoses. It didn't seem fair to place blame. Pre 16 years old - I remember life through a montage of photographs and not much else. I don't remember primary school life, and much of secondary school life was fuelled by unhappiness. But I never really had the answers as to why, and whilst I am aware that mental health problems do not always bear reasoning, sometimes they just happen, I've never had closure on certain areas of my life that I've needed. Why was I such an awful child that number one - my biological father never even wanted to bear me and number two - the people who should have been my friends, my classmates, didn't either.

In the last week my life has taken a drastic turn in the reappearance of my biological father into my life. I don't particularly want to go through the whole story on this blog regarding my situation, but before this week I hadn't spoken to him in fourteen years, but had never really had a relationship with him. I had nothing to go on really other than words from my mother, being too afraid as I approached teenage life of his whereabouts, ironically the time I became curious of him and his life was clearly just the wrong time to ask. Plus, I had a step-father, one that I have grown up to call 'Dad' since I was seven years old, so to my family, the concept of desiring my biological fathers whereabouts was lost on them, understandably, I guess.

I decided to try and track him down only a month ago, and after a stroke of luck, he discovered that I was searching for him, retrieved my surname and found me on Facebook.

To have him openly apologise for his actions, admit to his lack of maturity and responsibility and to admit his desire to begin a relationship, even if over the internet, has been, as you can imagine, a somewhat confusing and debilitating time for me. He has his own life now, and to accept that and to still want to find and speak to his own daughter and admit to his wrongdoing was, in my opinion, courageous. We all have pasts that we're ashamed of, after all.

It's been almost a week since we've made contact and we plan to meet in the near future, after my first year examinations, so I can retrieve the answers I've always wanted. Some would ask why I want to do this, and quite often I'm asking myself the exact same question, but it always comes back to the same answer - the answer being that I, myself, want answers. It's only fair to desire them after having a skewed interpretation of what your childhood is/was and the implications it may have had  on my childhood, teenage and adult mental health. We may not ever come up with a reason as to why I am the way I am - how can I, really? We are constructed from a variety of different pieces of our lives, and my pieces don't really fit together just yet. I'm not saying that this piece is the defining one, but it's a progression into acceptance of my past, in order to move on with my future. Or at least, to attempt to.

I must learn, that my past does not wholly define my character, the same as my biological father's doesn't define his. I can change my future if I make a concious decision to, and I haven't quite yet, I'll admit. It's difficult to let go and I'm not sure if I ever will. But at least I know what I need to do, and that's a start.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The internet, recovery and mental health *possible trigger*

This blog post is going to be a response and agreement to Lily's latest YouTube video, linked below, which you may want to watch before progressing forward with this post:

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the way mental health and mental health recovery is presented to us on the internet.

I began struggling with an eating disorder at the age of 12, alongside my self-harm and looking back I realise how much of a dangerous place the internet was for me and in actual fact, how much it has improved in the last ten years. I accessed pro-anorexia sites on an addictive, consistent basis whilst constantly seeking out and admiring websites of those who essentially promoted the dangers of eating disorders. Alongside that, I met many people throughout my journey on the internet who at times prompted me to engage in behaviours such as purging and starving myself and I remember being a teenager thinking how normal this was and was absorbing this information like a sponge. I did what was expected of me.

Now, being almost 22, I notice the improvements made to the internet with the acknowledgement of the pro-anorexia websites existence (having seen many documentaries on it over the past few years) and the ways in which mental health charities have developed. The increase in use of social media in regards to the rise in YouTubers like Lily have mostly become a positive one to sufferers like myself (as many of you will probably know me from my own YouTube channel a few years ago) and through my experiences participating within the realms of social media I have made best friends for life, as well as having access to a variety of opportunities, such as to engage in charity work and share my story to the public, attempting to inspire others into recovery. My blog I feel retains an element of privacy to it which it may not have done in my former teenage years (in regards to my behaviours) and I feel that I healthily strike a balance between the honesty in that sometimes I will struggle/fall back down, and inspiring others to recover themselves.

Despite this, I am aware of a darker side to social media that is still rather prominent and still exists and the interesting thing about this, is that for many, it isn't explicitly clear that it can be quite dangerous.

In her video, Lily spoke about the rising dangers of websites such as YouTube and Instagram and users of these websites presenting a form of recovery which isn't necessarily recovery, but instead recovery that has been spurred on by the pressure to retain disordered behaviours. Recovery is different for each individual and I for one moment am not saying that any ones individual recovery is wrong - but I think that individuals may present their versions of recovery in such a way that to the world may trigger them into believing that this is how they should be.

I've unfollowed a lot of people on Instagram recently for this very reason, but I often come across a bombarding of pro-recovery accounts, of the same sorts of supposedly low-calorie/vegan/clean-eating/healthy foods, details of which I won't go into specifically, but I hope you all get the general idea. You notice the same kinds of foods appearing over and over again, certain types of health food bars, tiny tiny portions of food arranged neatly onto perfectly lit white plates, a daily documentation of ones health obsession. The question I'm asking is whether these account holders are really sending out pro-recovery messages, or instead indulging into another form of obsession, influenced by social media, which is just as dangerous and ends you up spinning into further disordered mindsets. Sufferers comparing themselves to the 'recovery' of other sufferers, based on Instagram/Tumblr pictures and allowing them to fall into social medias ideals of what people should/shouldn't be eating. As someone who isn't even classed as eating disordered no longer, I find these images triggering and found myself questioning my own intakes of food and noticing my own thoughts becoming distorted and misconstrued.

I am not suggesting for one moment that clean eaters, vegans, vegetarians, or specific health dieters, are wrong. I am not either of these things through choice and likewise don't begrudge people who make these lifestyle choices. But many of you will agree that these lifestyle choices can be forced onto people through social media pressures to present their eating/recovery in a way which leaves room for appraisal. Recognition and a way in which these users are seen as 'inspirations' to the eating disordered community.

I also think that eating disorder sufferers, young girls in particular, become so obsessed with a life that they must retain online, that no concious efforts are made to improve their lives offline. The thought of the eating disordered community not seeing pictures of your fragile skin and bones, but instead health, flesh, vitality, frightens the 21st century social media obsessive. There's an image to maintain in social media these days, no matter how much we deny it. You've all seen pictures deliberately taken to flaunt collar bones or to highlight the thinness of ones legs. We've seen pictures of the 'dinner' that someone has consumed that night when in all honesty, to you, it's barely a snack, right? But it gets those brain cells wondering where you went wrong, and why you are not the way that they are. Sometimes sufferers want people to notice their insecurity, and care about how fragile they are. I've been there. But ten years on from being a teenager obsessed with pro-anorexia, I don't think it's so much the pro-anorexia that is the danger anymore (although I'm aware it still exists) but the scarily dangerous claims of pro-recovery which to me, don't entirely seem recovery focused at all. It just seems to serve as a way of further obsession with food, when although recovery is different for each individual, there is an image of freedom associated with recovery, and even amongst those who claim to be recovered, obsessive traits with food still lie deep and need to be addressed. It becomes a cycle of one behaviour replacing another. Just this evening, I've seen an Instagram page with the caption '100 likes and I'll eat ___' - how is this okay?

There's also a danger of becoming in a way too close with those who are still entirely disordered, not wanting to eat in front of them or to show others that you're eating big portions so they don't think that you're weak. To me, it's really dangerous territory.

Comparisons are such a dangerous thing, and I unfortunately still indulge in comparisons to most people in my life each and everyday. But if there's one group of people I've noticed that I compare myself to, it's to the people I encounter on social media. Social media is a platform where we all want to present the best versions of ourselves, be the healthiest, be the 'best at recovery' or even at some points be the best eating disordered. But ultimately we need to realise that these accounts and lifestyles we view on a daily basis isn't always reality and doesn't always reflect the individual. I am for one moment not saying that these individuals may NOT be pro-recovery and may serve as inspirations to the eating disordered community, but I am only too aware of the dangers of fixating on celebrity-style accounts, emulating your values to be the way that they project themselves out to be. When ultimately, what should really be concentrated on is yourself and your needs, your real needs, not the absorbed needs of others.