26 February 2018

One Inspiration at a Time...

I still cannot believe this is happening. The person that inspired me to share my story and campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues has accepted Sheffield Hallam SU Student Minds invitation to be a guest speaker at Sheffield Hallam University for University Mental Health Day on Thursday 1st March 2018.

Wednesday 23rd September 2015:
“At 9:30am we listened to a seminar by two gentlemen from the documentary ‘The Stranger on the Bridge.’ It was so emotive hearing Jonny Benjamin’s harrowing story of his moments of despair. Then to hear about Neil’s involvement that day and the hope that he gave Jonny by just stopping to talk to him was inspiring. I was intrigued to hear about their involvement in revolutionising people’s concepts about mental health and I am going to contact the, to see if I can get involved.”

This is a diary entry written when I was a patient at Rharian Fields Specialist Eating Disorder unit. I had pushed myself and engaged with my treatment every single day in order for me to be able to request leave from the ward to listen to Jonny Benjamin share his story at a NAViGO event. I had been so desperate to listen to him and I was not disappointed. I left the event feeling empowered, enthusiastic and motivated. I had now heard of a truly positive recovery story and now I could see a life beyond my diagnosis.

When I started Sheffield Hallam SU Student Minds, trying to book Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn for a guest speaker event was at the top of my list of goals to achieve during my time as President. I knew the power that listening to somebody that had been through such a difficult situation could have on those that may be suffering, or those that are worried about a family member or friend, and I wanted other people to be able to have that experience. Therefore, when I received confirmation that they had accepted our invitation, I was absolutely thrilled! Not only had they accepted our invitation, but they would also be speaking on University Mental Health Day 2018!

One aspect of this event that I did not anticipate was the extremely generous level of support that Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union and Sheffield Hallam University would offer. Without their kindness and enthusiasm for this event, we as a society would not have been able to invite Jonny and Neil to visit. I think this truly demonstrates the commitment that Sheffield Hallam have to improving mental health on campus and enabling students, staff and the public to learn more about the difficulties that people experience when suffering with mental health problems. As somebody that want to raise the importance of mental health, educate others and offer support, I could not have asked for anything more from my place of study. I am so excited for the event and I truly hope that attendees leave having gained something from the wonderful speakers, Jonny and Neil.

You can still get tickets using the following link, but be quick, there are only 100 tickets left:

The event is open to everybody and is completely free, although we will be raising money for Student Minds using fundraising buckets at the entrance to the venue. 

We look forward to seeing you there!

19 February 2018

One Pin at a Time...

Cinched in perfectly at the waist and flawlessly tailored at the thighs; my eyes were immediately drawn to the mannequin at the entrance to the clothing store and I could not hide my horror. It had nothing to do with the clothes that they were wearing; it was to do with the body proportions of the model they adorned.

I am no stranger to the world of fashion and the techniques used in retail to showcase garments, but it still never fails to infuriate me. The health of catwalk models is a heavily debated topic with changes starting to be made in France with the introduction of a medical note to confirm a normal body mass index before being booked for a job, yet in the UK we seem to be going completely the other way. Not only are changes still not being made to ensure the health of models in the high fashion area of the sector, but also alarming messages are now being communicated in high street stores.

I am sure I am not the only person that has seen a garment on a mannequin and fallen in love with it, only to try it on and find that it does not fit me in that same way whatsoever. It is a horrible feeling and maybe it is because I am predisposed to certain thoughts, but I know that I instantly begin to question my weight, my body size and compare my body to that of the mannequin. However, on this particular occasion I am describing right here, I immediately questioned the reality of any of the clothes in the store fitting this mannequin in the beautifully tailored way that it did. Sure enough my suspicions were confirmed.

Walking around the back of the models I has horrified to see the amount of fabric that had been folded back and pinned securely in order to fit the mannequin. Like I say, I am aware that retailers need to showcase their products beautifully to encourage sales, but do they really need to go to lengths of using unrealistically proportioned mannequins that are not even the right body size to fit any of the clothes that they are selling? A study conducted recently identified that 100% of the female mannequins inspected from a sample of high street retailers were representative of an unhealthy body size. This is worrying and frustrating, but I think it also highlights a potential contributing factor that could be escalating the issues with body image that face society today. It is also important to note that the male mannequins were noticed as being unrealistically muscular, which shows that this is an issue that needs to be addressed across all sectors of fashion retail.

I know that there is never going to be an industry where mannequins are available that represent every body size. I know that there are lots of other factors that affect people’s perception of self and body image. However, I do believe that changes need to be made. To be promoting clothes that do not even fit the mannequin without the process of folding fabric and using pins, in my opinion that is not ok.

8 February 2018

One Group Therapy Session at a Time...

Today I had the amazing opportunity to facilitate a group therapy session at Rharian Fields, which focused on the process of recovery. I was invited by a staff member to come in and share my experiences of the challenging but rewarding journey of recovery from an eating disorder, and I could not have been more willing to accept.

I am sure we have all been there; listening to someone talking and thinking ‘you really have no idea what I am going through right now.’ I know that feeling all too well. After the lengthy process I endured to find support, the one thing I wanted was the opportunity to speak to someone that knew exactly how I felt. It goes without saying that this was not easily accessible and this made me feel even more lonely. This was one of my motivations for embarking on mental health campaigning efforts, blogging about my journey and trying my best to prevent people that are suffering from feeling alone. Therefore, when any opportunity arises to speak to those individuals, I am incredibly keen to do so.

I have visited the unit since being discharged on several occasions, but the butterfly feelings in my stomach don’t seem to subside. There is something about that experience of returning to somewhere that holds so many memories (both good and bad!) that I suppose it is normal to experience those feelings of apprehension. However, as soon as I walk through the door and meet all of the amazing women that helped me to rebuild my life, I suddenly feel at ease and proud of being able to return filled with positivity. Walking past bedroom number 2 is also another moment of racing emotions, but it also signifies how far I have come!

Sitting in the therapy room with the wonderful group of current service users was quite surreal. The roles had reversed. Instead of listening to staff and fellow patients, I had staff and patients listening to me! But this was when I experienced what it must have been like for the nurses when they were trying to motivate me. There I was, talking about the fantastic opportunities that life without the control of an eating disorder can offer, praying that the service users would be filled with enthusiasm and motivation to take on the battle of recovery! It suddenly dawned on me that this was what the staff spent 4 months doing to me. Only now can I sense the passion, tainted with a hint of frustration that they must experience. However, I guess the difference is that I know exactly how those lovely individuals are feeling right now. I knew that what I was describing seems unachievable, unrealistic and far-fetched. If I had have had the same opportunity to listen to somebody at the stage that I am at in recovery right now, I would have felt exactly the same. However, there would have been something in me that would have thought ‘if she can do it, I can do it too.’ This is the belief and hope that I pray that the service users have taken away from the group session, because I promise you, if you want it, you can achieve it!

This experience was something that I have always dreamed of being able to do. I want to inspire others to not just dream of a life without the grasp of an eating disorder, but to go on and work towards it. I really hope that I can have the opportunity to visit the unit once again and share my experiences to motivate others.

1 February 2018

Time to Talk Day 2018

I cannot imagine it. I expect it feels like a bottle of fizzy drink; every day you get shaken, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, and you try desperately hard to contain everything, making sure that as the pressure builds and builds, you make sure the cap is screwed on tighter and tighter. You carry on with your daily routine, putting a smile on your face and pretending like everything is ok. Does anyone else suffer with this intensely exhausting accumulation of thoughts? Obviously not- nobody else is talking about it…

When I say I cannot imagine it, that’s a lie. I know exactly how it feels. I know that it feels like a bottle of fizzy drink. I know that it feels like you are the only person having to deal with the incredibly draining thoughts. I spent 9 months training to find someone, something or anything to make me realise that I was not the only person going through this. But there was nothing.

And that’s when I found it. Courage. Sitting on my bed in the hospital, I turned to my parents and said that I was going to tell everybody that I was suffering with Anorexia Nervosa and that I was currently hospitalised because of my condition. I felt like I had nothing to loose, I wasn’t ashamed and I figured I would rather get in there first before rumours were spread about my disappearance.

As most of you will have gathered by now, I am currently in Grimsby Hospital receiving treatment for Anorexia. I just want to thank everybody for their support over the past few weeks, and for all the lovely cards and messages you have sent. I am in the right place now to get this sorted and get my life back on track.

There it was- the best post I have ever made on Facebook and the start of a brand new journey. I decided right then that I never wanted anybody to feel the same way that I did and I was going to be open and honest about my mental health difficulties. I signed the Time to Talk pledge, spoke on the radio numerous times, wrote newspaper articles, started a blog and made speaking about mental health become a part of my life. People approached me in person, over Facebook or through my blog to ask questions, talk about their own experiences and thank me for sharing mine. I heard stories of people not understanding what they were experiencing, feeling alone and not knowing what to do. Can you imagine your brother, parent or best friend feeling like that?

You can start that conversation. Text a friend you haven’t heard from in a while and ask them how they are, or make a hot drink for someone and make time to have a conversation. Whichever way you approach it, just remember that the most important thing that you can do is listen. It can sometimes be hard to know what to say, and even as someone that has been through a diagnosis myself, I still worry about what I say to other people that I have conversations with. However, I have found the advice and tips on Student Minds ‘Look After Your Mate’ page and on the Time to Talk website to be extremely helpful. From thinking about where is the right place to start a conversation to considering how you phrase your responses; there are so many useful resources available to help you make that important step for someone you care about. But don’t be scared or worried about what you say, the crucial detail is that you are there; you have taken time out to speak to that person and you have given them an opportunity to talk.

‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’ – Winston Churchill