Some pictures from my walks during March

Been walking lots and lots. I try to walk about 12km 5 days a week. Some days I walk more if I know I won’t get out 5 days that week. Other weeks I won’t get out 5 times. But I’m definitely walking at least 55km and upwards each week. I’m much fitter than I was 6 months ago that’s for sure.

I will update the blog soon but for now I’ll leave you with some pictures taken over March.

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Beach at Ards Friary
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Tra Mor beach, Dunfanaghy

 

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Spotted on a walk: The question we all ask ourselves 🙂

 

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Tra Mor beach, Dunfanaghy
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Muckish Mountain

 

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Tra Mor beach with Muckish in the background
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People who self harm need compassion (that includes from professionals too)

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Today is Self Harm Awareness Day, or Self Injury Awareness Day (SIAD)  as it is sometimes called.

I believe huge stigma exists for people experiencing mental health difficulties. However, if you are someone who uses self harm as a coping mechanism that stigma is much greater. Not juts by others who don’t understand why you might want to hurt yourself, but by many mental health professionals too.

So I decided to write a blog post that wouldn’t so much alienate people who self harm and identify them as these other strange people who we should be afraid of, but instead maybe encourage a little compassion for them.

Self harm… The stereotype suggests that it is something that young girls do, something attention seekers do, something ‘emos’ do, something fueled by Internet forums and sites like Tumblr. You must listen to a certain genre of music and act a certain way. People who self harm are referred to as the ‘other’, it couldn’t possibly be something someone you know might use as a coping mechanism, or something you yourself might ever use as a coping mechanism. But the fact of the matter is, there are people who self harm all around you. They are successful people, regular average people just like you or I. I say this as I am one of those people. I am someone who has battled with self harm for 17 years.

This may sound like a long time, and you’re right it is. It feels like a lifetime and I suppose it is… It’s my lifetime and looking back it has been a long difficult journey. But it has shaped me into the person I have become today. It has made me a stronger person, and it has taught me to rise again after every fall.

Self harm began as a way of expressing my hatred for my body and for myself. I hadn’t read about self harm online, I didn’t have friends who engaged in self harm and I wasn’t the type of person who paraded my scars around for people to see. Instead self harm was something that was private to me. It was something that I was extremely ashamed of, and something that terrified me. I had a complete love hate relationship with it. In fact I had a complete hate hate relationship with it.

At times I felt that I needed to self harm in order to survive. I believed it was the only way I could release some of the internal pain I was going through. Like a pressure cooker it allowed me to ‘control’ or release some of the pain and hurt that I had bottled up inside. If I hadn’t self harm at these times I truly believed that I would have exploded with one almighty bang. That would be it forever. No return.

Then there were the times that self harm was my mortal enemy and was something that I hated with a passion. It was and still is something that has taken so much away from me. Relationships with friends and family, many nights in when everyone else was enjoying themselves out, and summers covered head to toe with clothes despite the sun’s rays.

As my depression got worse over the years. So did my self harm. Sometimes I would manage months at a time free from self harm, only to fall off the wagon and be back to square one. The longest I have ever gone free from self harm has been 2 and a half years, which takes me up to recently. Unfortunately in recent months self harm has become part of my life again which I’m extremely disappointed and ashamed about.

The fact I self harm is not something I am proud of. It does not mean that I’m an attention seeker. In fact it means quite the opposite- it is something that is private to me and is a secret I hide from almost everyone I know.
The problem with self harm is that it is something that is almost impossible to understand unless you have experienced it yourself. It is hard to understand why anyone would willingly inflict pain on themselves, but can you imagine how much emotional pain a person must be in, if inflicting physical pain is the only thing that helps?

So how can we tackle something like self harm? Personally I think it all comes down to compassion. I know that if I had more compassion for myself, I might not feel the need to hurt myself, to inflict pain on myself or to treat myself with such hate. I know that if people had more compassion towards mental ill health that I wouldn’t feel the need to feel so ashamed every time I went through another ‘bad spell’. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel the need to internalize it, to keep it a secret, to feel so ashamed that I cannot ‘cope’ with life when everyone else seems to handle it all with such ease.

I know that the reason why many people shy away from self harm is because they’re scared. This goes for many health professionals who are terrified by self harm. There is so much to learn about self harm and I believe one starting point is to show compassion.

I know there is this belief by many professionals that if they show compassion or understanding that it somehow makes self harm an acceptable coping mechanism.

Believe me it doesn’t. Far from it.

But if you don’t show compassion a person who uses self harm prob won’t trust you or tell you what is really going on.

If someone you know is self harming instead of reacting with horror, react with compassion. What that person needs is for you to love them at a time when they are unable to love themselves. Don’t judge them, just accept them for who they are. Self harm might be a part of their life for now but it doesn’t always have to be.

Finally whether you self harm or know someone who self harms, have patience. Unfortunately there is no quick fix. You cannot rush the healing process, but you can definitely help it along. There will be many slip ups along the way- but don’t ever give up. Yes it is easy to say that, but much harder to practice it. But please…. you might not feel worth it now, but you are worth so much more.

If you are struggling with self harm or suicide please contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

My story: The severity of an eating disorder is not always reflected by a number on a scale

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It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week from February 26th – March 4th.

Read about my lifelong battle with bulimia.
I was 17 the first time I made myself sick. It was Christmas time, and I was on a diet. I was planning on going prom dress shopping in the January sales, and the idea filled me with dread. I was convinced the only way to ensure I got a dress to fit would be to starve myself in the few months beforehand. l had dropped a lot of weight through a combination of eating more healthily and exercise.

However, I found the temptation of food at Christmas to be difficult. I ate some sweets, even when I knew I “shouldn’t.” I had made a list of foods that were “OK” to eat and stuff that I couldn’t have, and chocolate was definitely on the “don’t eat” list. I felt so guilty. I immediately ran to the bathroom and tried to make myself sick. I had to be rid of the evil calories that were in my body. Very naively, I felt like I had found the secret to lose weight fast. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Little did I know making myself sick was to become a huge part of my life and would become an addiction I would struggle with every day for 10 years — 10 years I couldn’t get back, and 10 years of absolute torture. Even now it’s something I really struggle with, always at the back of my mind.

Often when many of us hear or think about eating disorders, we may picture the more extreme cases of anorexia, where people weigh literally three or four stone. But the fact is people all around you may be coping with eating disorders; they can appear to be at a healthy weight, and you might never even know they are struggling.

That was the case for me. I was at a “normal” weight for me, but my behaviors around food became far from normal. I was obsessed with everything I ate. I would be so strict with myself during the day, allowing myself to live on very little. Sometimes, if I was feeling generous I would allow myself an apple, and that would do me for breakfast and lunch until I went home from school.

I would be filled with absolute dread at the thought of going home to eat dinner and would start obsessing about it each day the minute I woke up. My family seemed to have no idea I was struggling with bulimia; they had noticed I had become very picky about what I was eating, but that was about as much as they knew. I only selected foods that were on my ‘safe’ list. The fact that I had a ‘safe’ list should have had huge warning signs for me. But at the time it was pretty normal. That’s the thing with eating disorders. You end up having these rules around food, rituals as to how you eat your food and the whole idea is to keep these as secret from everyone else as possible.

After eating, I felt so guilty I would rush to the toilet immediately and make myself sick. It was my secret, and no one else knew. But it began to become a secret I just couldn’t keep to myself.

I began to lose a lot of weight, and people began to comment telling me how well I looked. People at school would make comments, and I would shrug them off saying I was exercising more and the weight was coming off healthily. But before long, my friends started to become suspicious. They knew I wasn’t eating lunch and suspected I wasn’t eating dinner either. They also knew I was tired all the time and was becoming more obsessive about calories and what I ate. Teachers at school also began to notice I wasn’t doing as well as I had been, and I started to not hand in my homework and fall asleep in class.

In reality, I had a full-blown eating disorder, and it was taking over my life. But it wasn’t until one of the teachers at school made an appointment for me to visit my general practitioner that I realised what was going on. My GP asked me lots of questions about what I was eating and asked about my attitude towards food and weight. I told him the things I had been doing to help me lose weight. He mentioned the word “bulimia,” and I was taken aback. I knew I had become a little obsessed with food and how I felt about my body, but I felt an eating disorder was something “skinny” people got, and I wasn’t “skinny.” However, the doctor explained to me that people of all weights and sizes can develop eating disorders and that he felt my behaviors indicated I had bulimia.

My teacher at the time was concerned about me and invited my parents in for a meeting to discuss what was going on. I was absolutely terrified, because my parents had no idea as to the extent of my dieting behavior. As far as they were concerned, I was on a diet, but what teenager wasn’t? My mom was really upset when she found out what had been going on, and life at home became difficult for me as my family monitored everything I ate and when I used the bathroom. I became more secretive about what I ate and when, and my family became more confused as to how to help me.

Fast-forward a year, and I did well in my exams and got into college. When I went to college, my eating disorder got much worse as I had no one monitoring what I was eating or when I used the bathroom. My weight fluctuated. While I was still at school, I was referred to a psychologist, but it wasn’t until almost two years later that my appointment came up. I often wonder if my life would have been different if I had received the appointment two years earlier when I really needed it. Instead my eating disorder became a huge part of my life and stayed with me all throughout college.

Fast-forward to today and I still struggle with rules round food. I have really unhelpful thoughts around food and although the behaviors might not be as severe as they were, when I am stressed I still revert back to old habits, which can be difficult to deal with. Bulimia was a huge part of my life for over 10 years. I’d say my beliefs about my body, myself and food are still huge part of my life even now.

If I could say one thing to anyone who is going through a similar thing I would say — take a chance and reach out for help. You may not get it straight away, but you deserve to be happy, and I don’t believe you can be truly happy when you struggle with an eating disorder. I would really recommend Bodywhys as a support service; they have email, telephone and online support, which can really help when you are struggling.

However, I will also say that I feel very let down by some of the professional supports I have been offered. It helps to have someone who knows about eating disorders and I feel I have never had that. Maybe if I had things could have been nipped in the bud much earlier. Maybe I still wouldn’t have real harmful thoughts about food and weight now if someone had helped me properly. 17 years later from the very first time I made myself sick, it would no longer be something that is in my life.

At the time I thought my eating disorder was just me having low self esteem. But ask anyone who has experienced an eating disorder and they will tell you it is much more than that. It is also not always about food, but ‘controlling’ food becomes a way of coping when you feel that everything else is out of you control. Often, people think if you sort out the behaviors such as purging or restricting food that everything will fix itself. I know now, that the behaviors are only one aspect of the problem, and that the thought you have about yourself have often existed long before the eating disorder ever did.

If I could say one thing to my 17-year-old self who first made herself sick, I would say — you are more than your weight and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Also, I would remind myself, you don’t have to be “skinny” to have an eating disorder, as it can affect anyone. It is  a mindset and often the severity of that mindset does not reflect your weight on a scale.

 

If you live in Ireland and are worried about your attitudes around food, you should contact www.bodywhys.ie

 

One thing to remember when everything seems overwhelming (Useful for every situation and much easier than you think)

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Things have been very difficult over the past few months, and even for the past few years. Sometimes it feels like I’m wading through mud and no-one even knows it, but also that there’s always mud and it feels like it’s never ending. It feels like progress recently is never a step forward but just to the side. I have the above picture saved on my phone and I read it again this evening and It made me feel a tiny bit less overwhelmed.

So if you are feeling the same I suggest you save the above picture or print it off. It’s a quote by the writer Ijeoma Umebinyuo. Forget about all the stuff you feel you need to do or change about your life. Sometimes life feels like so overwhelming that it just paralyzes you. But if you just start small and just start where you are and realise that it’s okay to be terrified, okay to be feeling hurt and pain, it’s even okay for your hands literally to be shaking. It’s all okay. But the best thing you can do to is to start. Start small. Start where you are and with what you have.

It won’t be easy and sometimes we need to go through the shit to get through to the other side. There’s this real assumption that going through the shit and doing things like counselling and therapy is really enlightening and empowering. It can be and that really is the goal but often there’s a lot of hurt, pain, and immense sadness before you even get anywhere near all that. The problem is when the shit seem to last ages and there seems no end in sight and you’re just exhausted by it all. Continue reading “One thing to remember when everything seems overwhelming (Useful for every situation and much easier than you think)”

‘I thought there was no way out. Creativity saved my life’- Inspirational speech by actor and activist John Connors

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John Connors accepting his speech at the IFTAs 2018

“This is a huge moment for me. Seven and a half years ago I was sitting in my house in Darndale in a little box room in the darkness contemplating suicide. That’s no mess. I thought there was no way out. My brother Joe reached out to me and we spoke for hours and he said I needed something. Something to latch onto. Something where I could put this energy into. he suggested acting. I dunno why but it was just a lightbulb moment. I remembered coming out of my first class… and it was like I was walking on a cloud.

I just discovered something. This world I never knew existed called creativity. It saved my life, it really did…… Creativity can be a component to heal people.”

I’m a huge fan of John Connors. I have heard him speak out over the years about his background, his community and give voice to many people who feel disenfranchised by Irish politics and the fragmentation that exists in society today. I think he is a great role model for loads of people. He is trying to break out against all the stereotypes that society is putting on him.

He is extremely proud of his traveller background and of course he should be, but society tells him that he shouldn’t be and that being a traveller is something to be ashamed of. In his IFTA acceptance speech for ‘Best Actor’ for ‘Cardboard Gangsters’ he talks about the fact that he can’t get an agent or a casting director to look past the fact that he is a traveller.

Forget all his activism. He is also a great actor. I loved him in Cardboard Gangsters and he thoroughly deserved his award. I saw the film in the cinema and it was one of my favourite Irish films in recent years.

He also talks about seven years previously when he was sitting in a box room in his house in Darndale contemplating suicide. His credits his brother with reaching out to him and suggesting he try acting as an outlet. Suicide is an huge problem in Ireland, but in the traveling community it is an even bigger problem.

He describes finding acting and a way to release his creativity as being a ‘lightbulb moment’ and credits creativity with saving his life. He believes “Creativity can be a component to heal people.” and I believe he is 100% right. Continue reading “‘I thought there was no way out. Creativity saved my life’- Inspirational speech by actor and activist John Connors”

One teacher’s way of trying to prevent school shootings. (It involves looking at how young people are connecting with others and lots of empathy)

Following the latest school shooting in America there has been lots of questions about how authorities can pick up warning signs and stop such atrocities from happening. It turns out in this case and many of the others there were many warning signs but it just wasn’t enough.

I saw a story shared on Facebook today and I really loved it. The story I read told the story of a teacher and how they changed the way they teach following the Columbine school shooting. The writer Glennon Doyle Melton was speaking to the teacher who teaches her son and is recounting their conversation in the article.

Below is a direct quote from the article.

“Every Friday afternoon, she asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student who they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, she takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her, and studies them. 
She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who can’t think of anyone to 
request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down—right away—who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.” – Glennon Doyle Melton

The teacher is not looking to rearrange her classroom and choose a new seating plan for the children. She’s not looking for the most popular children or those that the other children admire. She is in fact looking for lonely children. Continue reading “One teacher’s way of trying to prevent school shootings. (It involves looking at how young people are connecting with others and lots of empathy)”