Free Yourself

I mentioned it on Monday: Tuesday, it became inescapable.

The last time I attended any kind of convention was nearly twenty years ago, and it certainly had nothing to do with any kind of career move. When I took this change of direction, an awful lot of people made the point that to learn how stuff works, it’s not a bad idea to find people to teach you. There are courses to take online. Individuals will offer editing services or email critiques.

Or, you can decide to drive for four hours each way to a place halfway across the country based on your gut feeling. That’s why I picked Mslexicon: it’s the first time its happened, a writing-focused residential event and I’ll know absolutely nobody there. Judgement and preconceptions will therefore not exist, so they can’t derail me. What I get from the three days will roughly depend on what I choose to put in.

It is time to see if counselling really has altered my ability to be a grown up.

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I have a week to organise myself. It’s not like I’m not ready: this is what’s been planned for literally years. Going with an open mind plus determination to record everything I can, it will be an adventure. Frankly, it already is. If you want to follow my shonkily organised excursion, this is what Social media and Instagram were made for, right? I may not be willing to influence, but I do love to share.

Right, I‘d better start by updating my laptop…

Communication Breakdown

It is incredibly easy, in the midst of a thousand different crisis both mind and body are bouncing between, to believe you’re coping. There is often no time to sit and consider what is taking place around you: simply no right time to do so. Only in the moments of quiet and reflection, often early mornings or late nights, does reality of situations become apparent. Sharing your troubles, undoubtedly, has its advantages.

Talking to someone else can make a world of difference.

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I’ve been in counselling for six weeks. The overriding takeaway from all the sessions is simple: talking really matters. Not being afraid to share everything with someone who is not there to judge or attack, whose task is primarily to listen and make appropriate observations, is probably the most transformative thing that’s ever happened to me. So much of my life before was judgement from others, how their words affected view of self.

Now, it’s about learning how to make informed, sensible decisions without that judgement. How I look at what happens and understand the personal consequences of the actions, and then how these decisions in turn are a measure of my ability to learn and grow. It is apparent that a lot of my issues come from places that are obvious in hindsight. Now they’re exposed, it becomes quite simple to deconstruct and move on.

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The other key point that’s been grasped in this journey revolves around being ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’: it is abundantly apparent that this was never someone else’s task to complete. I’m the one who has to do the work. This is not a case of taking a course of drugs and suddenly problems vanish: for many, however, with the right medication, lives can be radically transformed. This is a discussion that’s been had, and there is no need for me to go down this route.

What happens at the end of twelve weeks is as yet not clear. Right now, the consequences of conversation are having a radical, life enhancing effect on how I conduct absolutely everything. Writing that was previously painful and inaccessible is being returned to, with cautious optimism. Confidence is at its highest point for many, many months. There’s also no fear of taking a step back and relaxing, when the mood takes.

Talking to a counsellor is actively improving my entire existence.

The Shape I’m In

For #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, let me tell you a story about my perception of self.

It began with a man, at my front door, just after we moved into this house, making the moment over 20 years ago. He was collecting data for the Office of National Statistics, and I was in a delicate place, recovering from a miscarriage. Having weighed and measured both me and my husband, I was presented with a green card that stated I was 10 stone 6 pounds and absolutely the right weight for my height and waist size.

I’d felt unhappy and tired that day but this made everything better. When I finally did get pregnant, this would be a benchmark to return to. I knew what was ideal; that would be my aim. For the next 17 years however there’d be a battle with weight that, when combined with Postnatal Depression after the birth of my daughter almost destroyed me for good.

I could not reconcile person before with irreversible changes pregnancy brought to my body.

Keeping weight off became impossible, simply not enough motivation or energy to work hard enough to do so. Dieting, specifically Keto, was responsible for my gallbladder finally failing two years ago and me requiring an operation to remove it. After a decade of trying literally everything to lose weight, it was the introduction of a bio-metric scale to my life that altered perception.

It was Science that freed mind from misguided preconceptions of what ‘looked’ healthy.

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The concept of bioelectric impedance was staggering: it was possible to see how my body was composed, what took place inside it. As it transpires, I was (and still am) incredibly efficient at building muscle to replace what was fat, a process that was taking place as I embarked on a serious, focused exercise routine with a Personal Trainer. In fact the harder things got, the fitter I became. Body shape has radically altered, and instead of being obsessed with thin, what matters more is strong.

This is officially the heaviest I’ve been since the weight loss journey was begun, with the least amount of fat. I am happier than was ever the case when the man gave me his card, on reflection: this form may not be my final one, but it’s a brilliant template that doesn’t expect ‘thin’ to be an answer. Weight loss is not essential to be healthy in my case. If all the remaining fat gets converted to muscle, I’ll be beyond happy, especially on my legs.

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Going back to ‘thin’ was an unrealistic idea considering the physical changes pregnancy wrought on me: I could go try and return to being the woman I was in 1998, but she couldn’t bench press 40kg, or complete a 46 mile bike ride. I like being this person, with true stamina for the first time in my life, who won’t get get tired walking for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

This is what I really am, not what societal norms suggest I need to be.

To find that true body continues to be a tough ask, which makes it even more amazing. It asks a lot from physical and mental toughness, and so far I’m managing to meet most of my challenges head-on. There will be days when it does get too much, but they are fewer and further in-between each time. This is undoubtedly the best my body has ever been, and it will only get better as more effort’s placed into improvement.

Sometimes, it is important to really understand what you see when looking in the mirror. Do you perceive what it is you really are, or are there other things clouding your judgement? For a long time I couldn’t really see what I was, but all that has changed.

I understand now what it is I am.

Somebody To Love

Starting on the 13th, the Mental Health Foundation is launching a week’s worth of posts around the topic of Body Image, and why it remains a serious mental health issue. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, social media pressures and online abuse are rarely out of the news of late, and with increasing numbers of people refusing to be shamed or ashamed by the way they look, it seems the right time to be talking about these issues on a wider stage.

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I’ll be contributing two special blogs next week: one on my own issues with body image and the fight to stop being obsessed with my weight, and some reflections on how age has altered how I feel not only about my looks, but how I present myself to the world. There will also be a special set of poems this week at 9am and 5pm, both under the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek umbrella.

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You can also join me in wearing a Green Ribbon during the next week as a means of showing your support for the initiative and those who require the vital help and support the Mental Health Foundation provide.

Purchase your Green Ribbon here.

The Shape I’m In

I’ve spent the last couple of years raising money and awareness for various mental health charities, and promoting the events that happen (Time To Talk amongst others.) I also cycled for Mind last year and raised £500 whilst completing the RideLondon 46: thank you again to everybody who supported and helped cheer me on during what was an extremely transformative experience.

This year, I’m making a conscious decision to spend an entire week using words and pictures as an explanation as to how we are often incredibly hard on ourselves as people when it comes to self-image. This is a subject that I don’t often talk about publicly, but my obsession with weight and appearance has been a significant stumbling point to mental well-being across the years, especially after my daughter was born.

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Beauty is an incredibly subjective concept: perception of self massively dictates the ability and confidence of us all to be what it is we wish to become. If you are one of those people lucky enough to block out jibes and taunts of others, confident enough to stand as you are, looking happy and relaxed, those are skills you should be proud of. It has taken me a lifetime to feel a measure of that, and it’s far from a given.

I have some good words standing by for the third week in May (which is not long off now, hence why we’re talking about this now) and I hope you’ll consider reading (and sharing) them for a wider audience, to help the Mental health Foundation spread the word. If it wasn’t for their Mindfulness course, a lot of my progress forward would not have been possible, and it is high time I thanked them publicly for that assistance.

The first poem and article will appear on May 13th. I’ll see you then.