Guest Interview with Mark Simmonds: Author of ‘Breakdown and Repair’ mental health book.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

 

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What inspired you to write a book about yours and your daughter’s journey with mental health?

It was July 2017 and I was attending a summer party, hosted by the Marketing Society, the organisation that brings together business people working together in the areas of marketing and advertising. Gemma Greaves, the CEO, was delivering a speech, during which she announced that the Society was going to join the mental health crusade. This seemed odd, slightly incongruous. But then it dawned on me that times had changed. Mental health was no longer the taboo topic it was when I suffered my mental breakdown back in 2001.

Everyone was talking about it now. I also had another 16 years’ experience under my belt, including caring for Emily, my daughter, who suffered from anorexia from 2012 until 2018. So, I had no excuse but to come out of the mental health closet and leave a legacy of sorts to the world. And even if that book helped just one person, then it would have been worth the effort.

 

How did you manage to recover from your stress, anxiety and break down, what helped you?

It was the 19th July 2001. Extreme stress at work had brought on the panic attacks, which were soon followed by a mental breakdown and the onset of severe agitated depression. I was no longer communicating with my wife or my three young children, even though we were all living under the same roof. That morning, I went cycling down a country road. My brain felt like a jumble of spaghetti when I collided with a 10-ton truck. It appears I tried to take my own life.

That’s how I recovered from the breakdown, because when I woke up in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford a few hours later, the dense fog seems to have lifted. From that point onwards, I began to behave like a normal human being. No idea why. The physical impact caused by the accident to my brain? The awful realisation that I had come within a whisper of losing my life, my wife and my kids. There are far more conventional ways of recovering from breakdowns, but that was mine.

How did I recover from stress and anxiety? To be honest, I haven’t! I have simply learned to manage it over the years. I have put banisters in place that help keep me on the straight and narrow: I pick the right working environments, I manage my own expectations and set realistic goals. I satisfy my needs as an introvert. I take medication. I sleep well, eat well, exercise enough. But like all mental illnesses, be aware that it’s always lurking in the bushes, ready to pounce at moments you don’t expect.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

Did you find that Emily received good care and how did you help support her?

Yes, Emily received excellent help and support both from the NHS (Buckinghamshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the Highfield Unit and Cotswold House, Oxford) and from the Cardinal Clinic near Windsor. The dedication and professionalism of all the staff was outstanding and they did their absolute best to help Emily through the illness. But here is the thing. The quality of the support and the hours spent coaxing a patient back to health have little effect or impact until that patient wants to recover.

It took Emily 6 years to decide that she had had enough of anorexia. and it was only then she finally got better. Anorexia (or Ana as we ‘affectionately’ called her) was a brutal enemy, unforgiving and merciless. More than a match for even the most qualified, most experienced doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors.

 

As a father, what was it like to see Emily struggle with anorexia and to try and save her at the time?

I have suffered from depression at various stages in my life and have experienced living at the bottom of the dark pit where Emily found herself. So, it was painful to watch her suffer because I knew exactly what she was feeling. The upside was that I was able to empathise and sympathise with her. I got it. And the way in which I talked to my daughter and tried to support her was more in line with what she needed. People who are suffering from mental ill health don’t respond very well to rational or logical arguments because their brains are temporarily ‘broken’. The neurotransmitters are not connecting with one another. They need lots of hugging, hand holding, being listened to and loved. An irrational and emotional approach is more effective than a rational one.

Where are you both now in terms of recovery?

As far as my daughter was concerned, it was just 12 months ago when the full-blown Anorexia Wars came to an end. We are all fully aware that war could break out again sometime in the future. As a good friend described it, all we could hope was “that Ana will get incarcerated and gagged in small section deep in Emily’s brain, a high security area from which she can never escape.”

Thankfully, at the moment, our daughter is flying high. She is living and working in London for ITV, eating well, drinking alcohol in moderation (trust me that is a positive thing!), firmly back on track.

As far as I am concerned, life is great. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I don’t think that you ever escape fully from either stress or anxiety, but I am determined not to let it get in the way of doing great things, trying new stuff, taking risks, saying things that you might regret, taking on people with whom you don’t agree. I want to make sure I end up under the right tombstone.

 

How has reaction to the book been and how was the writing process?

The writing process was a joy! I loved more or less every minute of it. Working closely with Kasim, my editor at Trigger to agree the overall shape and structure of the book, researching stories and expert perspectives/points of view to add colour, collaborating with the wonderfully talented graphic designer, Lucy Streule, around the illustrations. And spending hour after hour with my wife and family editing, tweaking, improving the book. A wonderful experience.

The reaction has been great, both from friends and from people I have never met.

Alastair Campbell comes into the latter category and he kindly agreed to endorse my book. This is what he said: “I loved this book and devoured it in a single day. Whether on his own illness, his mother’s or his daughter’s struggles, Mark writes clearly and without sentimentality. He is brutally honest about the reality of mental illness across the generations with important insights about how to survive it. Though it is filled with sadness and heartbreak, ultimately his story is a testimony to the power of love and of the human spirit.”

 

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Mark Simmonds published his first book, Breakdown and Repair, with Trigger Publishing, in March 2019 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Repair-Fathers-Success-Inspirational/dp/1912478994). It provides a full account of his daughter’s struggle against anorexia and is illustrated by Lucy Streule. It also talks candidly about his own experiences with mental ill health.

You can also follow Mark on Instagram (mentalhealthmark).

 

Loving Yourself: 4 Tips for Living a Body Positive Life: Guest blog by Emma Sturgis

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(image: Emma Sturgis)

Starting to live a body-positive life all begins with you, the individual. It can be challenging with so much pressure from society trying to dictate our lives. It becomes easier when you block out all negative forces and decide to start loving yourself and your body no matter what others have to say.

Loving yourself no matter what will increase your happiness and your overall peace in life. Here are four tips to help you down the body-positive life and feel total peace of mind about your body and physical appearance.

Work on Self-love

A significant number of girls have been through the trauma associated with body shaming, especially in high school. Some have taken the weight of the shame to our adult life where we lose our confidence and tend not to love ourselves as we should.

Many women and girls suffer from poor body image for years, or even through their entire life. The first step into living a body-positive life is by loving yourself first. We all come in different shapes and sizes, and no one is perfect. You just have to own your flaws and flaunt your strengths.

This can often be easier said than done, especially with years of social conditioning. You can achieve self-love through daily practices that make you feel your best physically and emotionally. Tell yourself every day that you appreciate your body and all it does for you.

Eat Instinctively and Respectfully

You don’t have to starve yourself to fit into that wedding dress within an unrealistic time-frame. Diets don’t work and neither does overfeeding any time you are stressed, sad or angry. Stop for a moment and ask yourself what your body desires to look great.

If you feel that you are struggling to keep an eating routine and your mental health is worsening, accept the problem and seek inpatient eating disorder treatment. under a psychiatry team or your local doctor.  

 

Change Your Perspective on Exercising

Most of us quit taking exercise and going to the gym because we hate working out. Exercise can be fun when we redirect the focus from it being a weight loss challenge to treating your body correctly and healthily.

You don’t have to attach any pressure or targets to your daily workout routines. Do exercises that are fun to you and even make it a social event with your friends. Once you start viewing exercise as healthy for your body , you will begin to love it. You will enjoy exercising because of how it makes you feel, endorphins from it will make us feel happy. You may even feel proud after a work out!

 

Pamper Your Body

After all the stress and pressure that your body endures, it deserves to be pampered and treated right. Get some good fitting outfits, wear the best lotions, go for therapeutic massages and take frequent hot tub baths. Fall in love with every curve while you look straight into the mirror.

This will allow you to connect with your body instead of feeling detached and negative toward it. You can make these things part of each day. Carve out some time from your busy schedule to pamper yourself, even if it includes simply putting on your favorite perfume. It will give you a simple confidence boost to carry through your day. Always take time for yourself and don’t let your daily tasks take priority over caring for your physical and mental health.

Once you change your mindset, the journey to living a body-positive life will be so much easier. You don’t have to lose 20 pounds to start loving yourself and your body. You are much more than your physical body.

Knowing your worth is a gift to yourself and your body. Eventually, it helps you rediscover your true self. You will be able to go forward in the world with confidence and give your amazing gifts and what you have to offer, to the universe.

This blog was written by freelance writer Emma Sturgis from the USA 

12 Tips on how to Accept Yourself: Guest post by Spela Kranjec

I know that everyone suffering from an eating disorder wants some magical cure. But there is no such cure. And I can’t give you one, even though I had anorexia and searched for such a cure for whole nine years. But I can give you some useful tips that helped me – and they might also help you.

I also described my entire experience in a book for which I just launched a Kickstarter campaign which you can visit here :https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/spelakranjec/notice-me-my-9-year-struggle-against-anorexia.

I’m sure you’ll find something that will help you find your own happiness.

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Here are my 12 tips:

  1. Find your motivation

After I overcome anorexia the first time, I relapsed a few years later – and it was even worse. Thinking about it today, why it happened, I’m convinced that it’s because I didn’t want to get better the first time. I got better because my parents made me. I needed to find my purpose to reach recovery.

Today I am aware of how important it is that you do something because you want to do it and are motivated to do it. I discovered myself that finding motivation when you’re at the lowest point in your life is far from simple. But I’ve also proven that it is possible.

  1. Don’t give up 

Know that you will have moments where life is really difficult, so get ready for them. These are turning points in your life, so you can’t give up.

  1. Read a motivational book and attend a workshop on personal growth

There are many books and workshops on the subject of personal growth – some are more technical, while others include personal experiences of people who faced a similar situation to the one you face.

These books are filled with advice that could be helpful. Furthermore, reading these books will help you realize that you’re not alone.

  1. Go shopping

You don’t actually have to buy anything – you can just go window shopping. Try on a gown, browse free samples in a cosmetics shop, go to a furniture store and find the most comfortable sofa – anything to distract you and make you happy.

  1. Spend time in nature

If you don’t like big shopping centres and prefer to spend time in nature, take every opportunity to do so. I’m one of such people. I love to climb mountains, spending hours sweating to reach the top, where I can enjoy a wonderful view and a delicious sandwich. This makes me forget all my worries, and I come home a new person. And afterwards, I can look in the mirror at home and tell myself, “Damn, you’re not too bad!” 😉

  1. Socialize

Human beings are social creatures, and solitude has a negative effect on us. We need love, we need laughter, and we need to feel accepted. Without this, it’s inevitable that your thoughts, stuck as you are between four walls, will become occupied by the negative. And suddenly everything will become negative – even you. So don’t let that happen.

  1. Write a diary

If you have problems sharing your problems with others, find a new way to express yourself – maybe start writing a diary. You can also write down a list of positive characteristics that you like about yourself.

  1. Listed to music / sing / draw / be creative

Find your creativity and keep your mind active. Boredom has a similar effect on us as loneliness – an opportunity for pessimism to creep in.

  1. Do something nice for others

I spend my time with my grandmother. I knew she was lonely and that a cup of coffee shared with her granddaughter meant a lot to her. It was heartwarming spending time with her in a cafe, listening to her talk, because I could see how important that moment was for her.

  1. Find something that will make you feel useful

You’ve certainly done something for which you received praise. The feeling was phenomenal, right? Remember what you felt at that time – a feeling of pride, success, joy. So make sure there are more moments like that.

  1. Visit a counsellor

If you’re feeling completely down and think you can’t do it on your own, seek help. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I sought help from a psychiatrist. Even though I was ashamed at the time, I am so happy I did it. Ultimately, it helped me become happy and well again by working with a professional.

  1. Talk about your problems

Never shut yourself off from others and isolate. That’s the worst that can happen! If you isolate yourself and don’t talk about your problems, negative thoughts may get worse. So find someone you trust and share your feelings – you will feel much better!

Most importantly, never give up! I’ve proved that it’s possible – and so can you! To find out how I did it, visit https://www.notice-me.net/free-chapter/.

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Lifestyle Changes: How to Combat your Eating Disorder: Guest Post by Lizzie Weakley

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Recognising you have an eating disorder is one of the biggest (and hardest) steps you can take to combat your disorder. It’s important to make sure you know how to combat the disorder so you don’t find yourself fighting a losing battle.

Don’t Expect Huge Changes

Just the idea of helping yourself get better from an eating disorder is important, but it won’t bring about the change you really need. You won’t get to see the results of the change until you start making changes. Be prepared for things to stay the same for a long time after you start trying to fight this battle.

Seek Professional Help

It’s almost always necessary to get professional help with eating disorders. There are many eating disorder center options you can choose from that have intensive processes. These centers can make things easier for you and can give you the specific tools you need to start getting better.

Try Something New

Not all eating disorders are the same. There may be differences from person to person so it’s important to keep that in mind when you start this battle. Your eating disorder probably won’t be like anyone else’s battle. Just like you are a unique person, the way you handle your eating disorder will be unique. You can try different things and new techniques to try and help yourself through the eating disorder. Things may change, but it’s important to keep trying new things that might help you.

Recognize Your Struggle

The struggle to combat an eating disorder can be one of the hardest things you do. You should recognize that struggle and work with it to help yourself. If you know it will be difficult to overcome the eating disorder, you’ll be better prepared to fight it when you’re dealing with issues that come from eating disorders.

Continue Fighting

Fighting an eating disorder is a battle you’ll have to deal with for the rest of your life. Even when things do get easier for you, you might still struggle with the issues that come from the eating disorder. Keep that in mind before you start the process. It’s a good idea to know that you’ll be in this fight for the rest of your life, but it does get easier.

Eating disorders are hard. Trying to figure out how to combat one on your own can be even harder. It’s important to know what to expect and take the steps necessary to help yourself get better.

Lizzie Weakley is a freelance writer from Columbus, Ohio. She went to college at The Ohio State University where she studied communications. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her Husky, Snowball, camping, and binging on Netflix.

Twitter: @LizzieWeakley

Facebook: facebook.com/lizzie.weakley

 

 

Why Wait: Eating Disorder Awareness Week and My story with Anorexia: Guest post by Hannah Brown

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(image: rebloggy)

Please read with care: Trigger Warning: Eating disorder Discussion

As Eating Disorder awareness week progresses, it has really got me thinking about my own journey and the symptoms that I experienced as part of my anorexia.

The hashtag #WhyWait is being used this week as we all come to terms with the fact that according to Beat 34% of UK adults cannot name a symptom of an eating disorder, and that even more shockingly sufferers wait 3 years before seeking any sort of treatment.

Aged 19,I started the diet that I thought would give me a wealth of happiness, how wrong I was. What I also started was my gradual decline into anorexia. There were warning signs, there were behaviours that were obsessive and out of control, my physical appearance was changing, becoming weaker and I was almost translucent in colour-  but most strikingly was the change to my personality.

Extreme calorie restriction causes a massive reduction in personal motivation and general apathy. Studies have shown how thoughts become obsessed on food and their behaviours around meals soon turns slightly absurd.

This was absolutely my experience, it crept up on me scarily, without warning. As my diet became more and more refined, my thoughts were turning more and more to food, how I could further restrict, avoid the meal time or alter plans in order to exercise more.

There were so many signs, so many warning lights that for some reason I chose to ignore. I brushed them under the carpet, and kept up with the pretence of “I’m fine”.

Ignoring the issue, or refusal to acknowledge that a problem was developing was a symptom of my perfectionism and the denial that I was experiencing was concurrent with my theme of being the strong one, both within my peer groups and within my family unit.

But why was I waiting, what was I waiting for?

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(image: Rebloggy)

What I didn’t realise was that by waiting to act on my symptoms with any sort of conviction and determination, I was simply prolonging the agony that I would face in the initial stages of my recovery, making those first few months even more difficult. As the behaviours became more entrenched, they became habitual in nature. Personality traits that were once alien and unrecognisable soon become my identity.

There came a time, that I decided to reach out to my GP and unfortunately I didn’t quite get the support that I thought I was going to- whilst I wasn’t turned away, my weight certainly wasn’t critical enough to cause any sort of concern from the medical profession and the advise was to add a dessert into my meal plan, perhaps the occasional spread of butter.

In hindsight, perhaps if I had listened to this very basic advice I wouldn’t have gone on to lose more weight. However, there was no attention given to the mental battles that I was starting to have with my intuition and my fear of food- or the the fear of losing control over it.

Visiting my GP had taken a great deal of courage, as I said I’m always the one that is simply fine, is there for everyone else, often at the expense of myself. To get this quite flippant advice left me feeling slightly desensitised. I left wth their advice- put it in a box and chose to ignore it, my mental health not addressed.

But I don’t want my experience to stop you, or your loved ones reaching out to your GP, because for many they can be the most valuable resource available. Go in, if you can with a loved one and don’t leave that room until you have been given care that you totally deserve.

Alternatively use the Beat help finder page to find that source of support that will be right for you, grab it and don’t let go.

It is OK not to be OK, it is OK to struggle, and it is OK to ask for help. The term “admitting” has slightly negative connotations, like we are owning up to something, a crime. But please, please do not think of it like this. You wouldn’t ever wait after discovering a lump, or if feeling constantly unwell- the same should be said for your mental health.

My journey continued and things didn’t get better until they had got much much worse. I ended up in hospital, but even then I was naive at just how unwell I had become. Hospital was an experience that I will never forget, it was difficult and lonely but undoubtedly it did save my life.

I know, deep down though, that it could have been avoided, I could have saved myself and prevented all the heartache that I endured as part of my recovery.

In reading this, please ask yourself the question: Why Wait?

And take it from me, i might not know you, but you absolutely deserve to receive support and help.

You’re not weak but wholesome and rich, go to my website https://aneartohear.co.uk/- because you deserve to be heard. We can help you.

Experts share strategies to stop Binge Eating. Guest post by Jasmine Burns

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Binge eating is a very serious disorder. Someone who has binge eating disorder will most likely be of normal weight, therefore making it hard to recognize if they have it by just looking at them. Signs and symptoms that you or someone you love have this disorder can include of the following:

  • Eating a lot of food in one sitting
  • Keep eating even when you are physically full
  • Dieting often without losing weight
  • Keeping food around you at all times

Binge eating can have vastly negative effects on your health and life. The impacts are not just physical but also emotional. Binge eating generates shame, guilt, anxiety and depression. These are emotional stressors that can cause your blood sugar levels to go awry.

We have sought out the expertise of professionals who share ways you can have control over this disorder. Please read through them to learn coping mechanisms.

https://www.thediabetescouncil.com/53-experts-share-life-changing-tips-strategies-stop-binge-eating/