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The Resources Page is Now Live!

Photo: Sunrise, April 2020

Looking for inspiration? I’ve now compiled the Resources page, so check it out via the Menu to find lots of links to some of my favourite things!

Wishing everyone a safe, happy and healthy weekend .

Thanks for reading.

S x

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Why? Is a Powerful Word

Photo: Atrium, The Guggenheim, New York, Sept 2019

Last week’s blog post was a long one, so this week I’m keeping it short, plus I’ve been focusing on compiling my Resources page! (More on that next week). Reflecting on the couple of weeks since I started writing here and thinking about what today’s post should be, I settled on the fundamental question of Why?

Why am I writing a blog when I am usually a fairly private person? Why now? Why is this pandemic happening? Why are so many people dying? Why am I making certain choices and decisions? Why can I not turn down the chatter in my mind? There are so many why’s out there it’s overwhelming.

Simon Sinek https://simonsinek.com/ is a bit of an expert on this question and he encouraged us to ‘Start With Why’ to understand how great leaders inspire us to take action. In my field of work, understanding the ‘Power of Why’ is also important when it comes to storytelling and influencing people to behave in a certain way.

I’ve also just finished reading an inspirational book by triathlete Sue Reynolds https://suereynolds.net/ who quotes how she finally began to conquer her obesity by fundamentally shifting her ‘Why’. Without fully understanding her intrinsic motivation (which had nothing to do with other people’s expectations or her appearance) she had never been successful in the past.

Often our lives these days are so driven by tasks, outcomes and to-do lists that I think pausing to ask ‘Why Am I Doing This?’ is a lost art, which has a detrimental impact on living a purposeful life rich with meaning. For example, as I head towards age 50, I am qualified and have enough work experience and skills to do many different things. What will drive my decisions for the next phase or ‘season’ of my life, when my priorities now are very different from when I started my career at age 22?

What we consciously choose to do with our time each and every day is incredibly important and I’ve come to learn that most of us have more control over this than we think. To keep this post short, I’m going to focus on answering just one of my own questions: why am I writing a blog?

1. I want to share information that helps people

As someone who reads a lot and is endlessly curious, I find so much value and inspiration in exploring the thoughts and ‘life experiments’ of other people who are asking important questions, or have overcome challenges. Often I am referred onwards to other resources – which may be written, or podcasts, or videos – that teach me something else, or prompt further exploration.

We live in a time where we are overloaded with streams of ‘shallow’ information and soundbites where ‘deeper’ and more meaningful thought is becoming lost. I hope that even a handful of people might find their way to my blog and find a nugget of information that helps them. Helping people makes me feel good. (There may be a heavy dose of narcissism involved in such feelings, but I choose to see it as a constructive focus of the reward centres of my human brain).

2. Writing helps bring a sense of order to my messy thoughts

As I suffer from anxiety, I’ve often been encouraged to keep a journal or to write things down at the end of the day to help me process my thoughts and stop them whirring around in my brain. Although I know beyond all doubt that this works, I’ve never been any good at doing it! I’ve now accepted this as one of my (myriad of) limitations and writing a blog seems to help fulfil this need.

I’ve come to realise that as someone who has lived most of her life as an extrovert, I really enjoy conversation and I’m still learning how to focus inwards and reflect more – these are new skills I’ve learned through therapy only in the last few years. My blog is a conversation with my imagined readers (even if there aren’t any!). Writing things down does have a cathartic element to it and I definitely felt a sense of release and freedom after my last post which although painful to write, brought me some closure and a chance to move on.

3. I hope to connect with interesting people, thoughts and ideas from around the world

My favourite subjects at school were Art, Geography and Languages and I went on to study Geography at university, (later returning to higher education to study Interior Design). I was fortunate to be brought up in a home where the ‘National Geographic’ magazine was one of the most important ‘books’ and I’ve always been fascinated by the world, other cultures and how things work. Although I have a difficult time managing my exposure to the internet and social media, I do appreciate how it enables us to connect with people across the globe like never before. I love to question and challenge my thoughts and beliefs – respectful and healthy debate is a wonderful thing.

4. Creating things brings me joy

Although this is number four on the list, it may be number one in terms of importance. I know that when I create things, rather than consuming them, I am happier and more fulfilled. End of!

These are the first four things that come to mind this week, but it will be interesting to revisit them in the future to see if they change. I’d encourage you to find a few moments each day to focus on your ‘Why’ instead of the ‘What’ and ‘How’ and see how it shifts your focus. It may not be easy to do, but it may also be incredibly rewarding.

Thanks for reading.

S x

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When Food Is The Enemy

Photo: Spring 2020 in my local park

I’ve given a lot of thought to how to write about this subject, not least because at its worst, a personal blog can quickly become a load of self indulgent, self pitying discussion of the author’s problems- and who wants to read that?

There’s also a chance of upsetting some of my loved ones, but thankfully they know I’m in a much better place mentally than I was a couple of years ago. If I am really going to ‘go there’ then I want to keep it relevant, informative and provide some links that others might find useful. So with a deep breath – here goes!

Firstly, what is the definition of addiction? Because this is what I’m about to talk about. *If you are vulnerable to being triggered by content about addiction or eating disorders, please stop reading now*.

“Addiction is a psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug, activity, or substance, even though it is causing psychological and physical harm”

There are lots of people who believe you cannot be addicted to food. While that may or may not be true in a purely chemical sense (although just try to truly give up sugar…!) in a behavioural sense, food addiction or an unhealthy relationship with food is real, dangerous and it destroys lives.

I believe the reason it can be so destructive is that it’s culturally acceptable and there clearly is no way to avoid food if you wish to survive. These days in developed countries it surrounds us 24/7 and it can feel like there’s no escape. You can’t abstain from food or go cold turkey.

I’m not going to go into how I personally developed Binge Eating Disorder (B.E.D.) but two of the most common triggers are 1) dieting 2) being made to feel unacceptable due to your appearance. (I’ve included links to more information at the end).

The addiction develops by using food as an unhealthy coping mechanism for emotions and feelings, plus the vicious cycle created from self-hatred and shame. Eating to distract from or suppress emotions that are difficult to handle, then feeling self-hate and shame again because of the loss of control and hopelessness that accompanies a binge.

It can take over your life in the same way as any addiction. Most B.E.D. sufferers end up very overweight and spend a lifetime (like me) trying every diet under the sun, believing this time will be the last time, but without the psychological causes and behaviours ever being addressed, it never works.

Cue even more feelings of abject failure, often depression and a worsening of the disorder over time. For me personally, it has been a battle raging in my mind (and body) for more than 30 years.

Even at its worst, I always continued to function at work – more or less – because I had to, but the hidden battle within just got worse the more responsibility and pressure I took on. Anxiety and stress are definitely issues for me.

There is very little help available from our overstretched mental health services and I won’t labour this point, but unfortunately the system is not set up to help anyone who is killing themselves slowly.

Despite all the risk factors that go with becoming morbidly obese, and staying in that zone for around 20 years, I consistently failed to meet the criteria for help on the NHS and this is sadly not uncommon. Unless you can afford private therapy, you’re on your own.

Compare this with all the help available for anyone who has an issue with smoking, alcohol or drugs. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve turned down a prescription for anti-depressants. Somehow I instinctively knew it wasn’t going to help with the underlying causes of my problem. I’m not saying it was the right choice, but it has been my choice.

This is the paragraph where I risk really upsetting my loved ones, but in order to bring home the seriousness of this mental illness, I think I have to and I’m sorry. This addiction led to me planning to take my own life on several occasions.

I couldn’t see any way to become free of it and I no longer wanted to live with the desolation of what an utter failure I was for not being able to stop it. Despairing because I was never going to look the way I wanted to or be fit and healthy enough to fully enjoy my life.

Addiction and self hatred poisons everything good and leads you to make poor decisions for yourself in favour of short-term distraction and temporary relief. Believing you’re not good enough the way you are also makes you believe you’re not good enough for others, leading you to second-guess and sometimes sabotage your relationships.

Bizarrely and cruelly, reinforcing the negative view you have of yourself feels more familiar and comfortable than hoping for something different. Even when you really need a hug, you believe the other person will find it disgusting to touch your body and you shy away from affection, building those walls ever higher.

I was fortunate enough to finally be referred to some specialist help in 2017, due to a small trial taking place offering Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) to patients with a high Body Mass Index (BMI). I had already sporadically been paying privately for several different types of therapy over a two year period – some helped and some didn’t – but I think it laid the groundwork for this lucky break of a referral to an Eating Disorder specialist.

Therapy is probably one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I am thankful I had a supportive employer who let me take time out each week to attend. Having that discussion and admitting to the extent of my problems was not easy, but by this point it was a matter of survival. I was also incredibly lucky to be in a relationship with a wonderful person, meaning I had some vital moral support.

I had a skilled and experienced therapist who I worked with for a year and what an eye opening experience it was. There is so much I can say about it, but I want to highlight one of the most important learning points. The key to addressing my problems was to focus inwards, not outwards. When your ‘inwards’ is a pretty messed up and scary place to visit, it’s the last thing you want to do and that’s why battling an addiction is so hard and painful.

Having spent most of my life looking outwards and relying on external measures of my success and worthiness, I was suddenly forced to confront myself, as this was the only way towards healing. I found it incredibly difficult – and still do.

When I look around now with fresh eyes to what our society has become, I fear for the psychological damage that’s being done by the culture of busy, ‘always on’, social media, an unhealthy and narcissistic focus on appearance and the seemingly constant need to seek approval from others.

Don’t even get me started on the toxic diet culture and abnormal eating habits promoted by an industry that’s making a lot of people very rich by not only preying on people’s insecurities, but creating them. We need to start asking ourselves- if we’re constantly on and off some special eating and/or exercise plan – is this approach working? No.

Wise words

I was lucky to grow up in a simpler era, with time for unstructured play, creativity, imagination and the freedom to just ‘be’, but I still developed an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with life. What chance do we have now when no-one seems capable of being alone with their thoughts?

The last person in the world who wanted to try meditation was me. I thought it was a load of rubbish and that I could never possibly benefit from it. However, with gentle coaxing and the positive use of technology in the form of the Headspace app, I learned to do it. To this day I credit meditation as being a game changer for my road to recovery, and it still is.

Nothing else has ever come close to helping me cope with anxiety. It requires patience, commitment and consistent practise (none of which I’m great at) but the rewards are worth it. I now use Calm and the price of the annual subscription is less than one of my habitual binges used to be.

My previous blog post was about Minimalism and this is where those concepts plus my recovery come together. Meditation and mindfulness are both about removing distractions and living in the present moment, which is key to tackling anxiety.

By removing everything that distracts you from the things that matter most in your life, it is far easier to see and focus on the best stuff (and appreciate what you already have). This Minimalist concept that I call ‘extreme prioritisation’ now guides most of my decisions. I’m far from perfect but it has had such a positive impact.

No longer seeking the approval of others, ‘proving’ your self worth with money, perceived status or the stuff you own (or wear) is incredibly liberating, but again, it takes commitment to develop these new habits. Finding true meaning in your life and developing new coping strategies to replace the role the addiction has been playing is fundamental to letting it go. Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say.

I’ve had to completely re-evaluate my priorities. It has been necessary to reduce my stress and anxiety by working less and finding more time for my loved ones and the activities that bring me the most health and happiness. Most importantly, I have more time and energy now to cook, something I used to hate with a passion.

I’d like to end with a message of hope but also a couple of pleas. My message of hope is that recovery is possible with the right help – but this is a mental illness related to emotions and feelings and it is not an issue of understanding what healthy eating is or the number of calories in a doughnut.

My first plea is to not judge that overweight person in front of you who is unhappy with their size for having a lack of willpower or being stupid or lazy. If you have a healthy sense of self esteem and you haven’t developed any unwelcome coping mechanisms, then you are very fortunate. You don’t understand what that person is going through.

My second plea is for everyone to check out some of the resources I’m posting below, to educate yourself and maybe your friends and family. At the very least this will lead to more compassion for those with a mental illness and it could help someone by spotting the signs of a problem before it gets out of hand.

The current situation we find ourselves in magnifies anxiety and a lot of people with eating disorders are really struggling because the coping strategies they have developed are more difficult to implement, while the non-food pleasures in their life may have been taken away. The charity BEAT is experiencing a 30% increase in calls to its helpline, if you would like to give them a small donation, it could help someone like me .

Food is not my enemy, it nourishes me and keeps me alive – but I can no longer let it be a crutch or a source of entertainment. I now also understand that I’m so much more than an illness, my weight or size.

I refuse to be defined by those things, although recovery is a rocky, winding road. Raising awareness is just one positive thing I can put out into the world – thank you for reading. S x

https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/types/binge-eating-disorder

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/binge-eating/

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/dialectical-behaviour-therapy-dbt/about-dbt/

https://breathingspace.scot/

https://www.samaritans.org/

https://www.headspace.com/

https://www.calm.com/

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Minimalism and Me

Photo: Christmas At The Botanics, Dec 2019

For most of my life, ‘Minimalism’ has meant an architectural or design style, conjuring up ideas of spartan living spaces or white walls, but in 2018 I started to come across a movement and set of ideas that was more about a lifestyle.

I had a pretty simple, non-materialistic childhood in a small, rural seaside community with many handmade clothes, home-cooked food, and lots of DIY things in the house and garden. Our home was just the right size to house our family and it certainly wasn’t filled with lots of stuff.

Most of our holidays involved camping, or trips to visit family. With a TV that had only 3 or 4 channels (which closed down for the night – yes, really) and no restaurants nearby, life was home, studying, the beach, or roaming around all day making our own entertainment. There was so much play, imagination and creativity. There was always music, too.

When we moved countries in my early teens the industrial place we lived in was very different. Contrasts in wealth and status were more noticeable and consumerism was much more available. It wasn’t an easy adjustment for anyone and the pressures to achieve academically also grew and grew, although we tried to keep some sense of balance.

Fast forward to my university days and things were still quite simple, communal and analogue. Hand-written exams and assignments and the luxury of student grants meaning not everyone had to work for money. We were all frugal, though and I learned a lot about budgeting, difficult choices and making my allowance go a very long way.

My early working life in the 1990s was still mainly based on letters, phone calls, paperwork and face-to-face meetings. (It was also around this time at age 23 or so that I got my first credit card). Gradually email started to appear, but the pace of things was still very much dictated by the postal service.

I got my first mobile phone in 1996 and my first smartphone in 2009. It was a while before everyone started taking photos with them and another while before the invention of the front-facing camera, spawning the ‘selfie’. All this nostalgia is setting a scene for the onset of a fairly rapid pace of change that most of us were not naturally equipped to deal with.

When I first started earning money in my 20’s, I lived within my (fairly modest) means, but this all changed when I got that aforementioned credit card. I spent the next two decades buying a lifestyle that wasn’t excessive, but always cost a little bit more than I could afford. This was seen as perfectly normal, though and the rapid inflation of house prices in a fast-moving market meant acting fast and borrowing a lot in order to buy my first small home.

We all know what happened in 2008/2009, the effects of which we are all still living with. For a good while before this happened I had been struggling with the pressures of my full-time job and gradually climbing the seniority ladder – but this is what I thought I should be doing and I rarely questioned it. Big mortgage, car loans, gym membership, holidays etc etc etc meaning I had to keep earning in jobs that certainly benefited disadvantaged communities and people less fortunate than me, but I simply didn’t enjoy.

A lot has happened in the last 15 years, but I’ve learned my lessons the hard way, suffering burnout twice from work-related stress and some toxic workplaces. This brought with it bouts of depression and a descent into addiction in the form of a destructive and life-limiting eating disorder, which became my coping mechanism of choice.

Only by totally reframing the meaning of success and resisting outward displays of materialistic wealth and status have I been able to ruthlessly prioritise and start to achieve some real happiness – I am no longer striving for more to prove my worth or fill the voids in my life by buying things. My self-worth is nothing to do with my salary, the stuff I own or a number on a scale – but it is still going against the culture to think this way and it’s not always easy to be different.

When I was introduced by a friend to the documentary film on Netflix ‘Minimalism’ created by these guys: https://www.theminimalists.com/ I had the proverbial lightbulb moment. This was exactly what I had been looking for and in the last two years I haven’t stopped exploring and learning about the concepts.

I think Joshua Becker sums it up very well: https://www.becomingminimalist.com/what-is-minimalism/

We’ve been sold a lie – we can’t have it all and in simple terms, I explain it to other people as ‘extreme prioritisation’. That’s what Minimalism means to me and I hope to spread the message that life can be different if you consciously choose to make a change.

Thanks for reading.

S x

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What’s in a name?

Photo: Marseille, Jan 2020

The Sumo Turtle isn’t an obvious choice, but it has meaning for me. Unfortunately I was an overweight youngster which led to a lot of bullying and ‘Sumo’ was just one of those taunts that hurt a lot at the time.

I wanted to reclaim it and recognise that it’s actually the name of an ancient form of Japanese wrestling. A very unique sport undertaken by overweight, even obese people – but a SPORT nonetheless, requiring commitment, training, mutual respect and ritual.

The Turtle is the water-loving version of ‘slow and steady wins the race’ in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Like me, they may move quite well underwater, but on dry land it’s a different story.

These are also the creatures that often spring up in some of my favourite places representing the ‘Slow’ movement – which seeks to challenge the capitalist and consumerist idea that more and faster equals better.

Writers like Carl Honore http://www.carlhonore.com/ and Martinus Evans https://300poundsandrunning.com/, founder of the ‘Slow AF Run Club’ come immediately to mind.

So there you have it – but it’s mostly just a bit of fun, really!

S x

When Food Is The Enemy

When Food Is The Enemy

https://thesumoturtle.com/2020/04/25/when-food-is-the-enemy/
— Read on thesumoturtle.com/2020/04/25/when-food-is-the-enemy/

As #mentalhealthawarenessweek draws to a close, I thought I would re-share my blog post on #eatingdisorders, specifically #bingeeating. Much love❤️, #bekind. S x