It’s Not All In My Head

If this is all in my head, if this isn’t real then why do I feel it in every inch of my body? Why does my breathing change and my heart race? I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. If this wasn’t real then my body wouldn’t react and my survival instincts wouldn’t come alive as though I were a cave man being chased by a wild animal.

If this isn’t real, if this is all in my head then why do the tears roll down my face, why do I sob uncontrollably and scream and shout words because I am in so much agony. Why would I be suffering so unbearably if none of this was real?

If this is only in my head, if you are telling me that this does not exist then why on earth do I feel at war with myself so much so that I stand on the stairs of a multistorey car park unsure of whether to go down the stairs or up? Unsure of which part of my mind to listen to. Why do my arms reach for a lever, my whole body ready to depart? Why do I feel this so physically and constantly if this ceases to exist in an outsiders opinion?

If this isn’t real, if this is choice or weakness or the dreaded word ‘attention seeking’ then why do I suffer in silence? Why do I lay awake staring into the pitch black with silent tears soaking my pillow case and making my face sore? It never leaves me, it never goes away. It’s more than a full time job, this is with me every second of every day and last night six sedative tablets didn’t even get me to sleep. It seems to be my life sentence and I often wonder what was my crime? Do you think this is a choice? I wouldn’t choose this, I wouldn’t even wish this on a serial killer.

If it’s all in my head then why do my legs ache? If this isn’t real then why are my bones bruised? If this is for attention then why are there scars both physical and mental that nobody knows about and will never know about?

If mental illness does not exist then why was I crying uncontrollably and struggling to breathe yesterday? Why was my whole body shaking and my head hurting if this isn’t real? Why are the simplest of tasks like being a passenger in a car so downright difficult? This is real.

In a way, I hate that we separate and categorise illnesses into physical and mental. There’s such a cross over between the two, people who are physically unwell also have symptoms such as depression and anxiety but mental illness is incredibly physical too. This doesn’t just affect my mind but even if it did the brain is an organ, the chemical imbalances, the brain activity, the reactions. They are all physical too. Mental illness is just as real as asthma, cancer and diabetes. Illness is illness regardless of which organ it affects. I am telling you in the depth of this horrible and cruel illness that this is so real, I can feel it in every atom of my body and brain.

The Feel Happy Fix Live

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to go to London with UK charity Fixers to talk about young people’s mental health. The event was held at BFI, London in the morning and we watched some of the educational and inspring films that Fixers have produced on mental health which can be found here:

We then separated into groups to focus on six key sections which were: Health Care, The Media, School, Home, Work and Play. Young people discussed the issues in these sections and came up with solutions as to how young people could be happier in these places, for example if schools were to offer mental health education it would be of huge benefit to young people and enable them to feel happier and support one another.

In the afternoon we went to the ITV studios for a Question Time-style debate. Anna Williamson was our presenter and I was lucky enough to be one of the six panelists. All of the panelists had personal experience of mental health problems and drew from their experiences in order to answer questions, highlight issues and offer solutions and advice.

The ‘Feel Happy Fix Live’ debate was streamed on Youtube last night at 8pm. You can watch the debate here:

The panelists are Danny Bowman, Shannon Finan, Carney Bonner, Laura Quinn and Jordan Caldwell alongside me, Claire Greaves. To find out more about The Feel Happy Fix Live, please visit

Stop With The Stigmatising Headlines

When something goes wrong in society and a horrible tragedy happens like a brutal murder or someone on the loose with a gun the media often instantly blame mental illness for the tragedy. This week an incredibly upsetting and heartbreaking incident occurred when a Germanwings plane crashed in The French Alps on Tuesday killing all of the 150 people on board the flight. It is such a sad and tragic occurrence and I cannot imagine what the families of those people are going through right now.

The media, however, have not dealt with this situation in the right way. As a society we tend to blame groups of people, for example when a terrorist attack happens we blame an entire religion. When the news emerged that the co-pilot appeared to crash the plane on purpose and he had depression, the media gripped onto the fact that he had a mental illness and immediately put the blame on that releasing stigmatising headlines. The Daily Mail printed on their front page, “Suicide pilot had a long history of depression. Why on earth was he allowed to fly” This headline is unacceptable. The majority of people with depression are not dangerous nor are they bad people. I have depression and I would never dream of killing one person, let alone 150 people. I have never hurt another person physically and I highly doubt I ever will. I know many people with depression some of which are charity workers, scientists, nurses. Why should a mental illness mean that someone shouldn’t be allowed to do their job? 1 in 4 of us suffer from mental health problems and I’m sure there are many people working in ‘trusted’ positions that have mental health problems whether they are diagnosed or not. Anyone whether unwell or not can be impulsive. We all have a heart that could stop beating at any time, are we saying that anyone with a heart shouldn’t be a pilot or a surgeon?

The Daily Mirror’s front page involved a huge font with the words, “Killer Pilot Suffered From Depression” So? The pilot may have had depression but correlation does not imply causation. We don’t know that it was his depression that made him crash the plane and we may never know but it is wrong to speculate and turn to blame a vulnerable group of people. The pilot had his own thoughts and choices, individuals are responsible for their own actions. This tragedy is not an opportunity to stigmatise those with mental illness. People with mental illness are still people, people who are capable of achieving great things. Let’s not blame mental illness every time something goes wrong.

If you stigmatise and shut out certain groups in society then society loses out. People have much to offer the world regardless of age, race, religion and disability. Let’s focus on people’s gifts and talents and see them as individuals rather than grouping people and tarring them with the same brush in order to cope with the horrors that happen in our world. You cannot group people together, mental illness is a huge umbrella and no two people are the same. One pilot with mental illness may be overly cautious. Another pilot with mental illness may be impulsive. People are people, each individual unique in how they respond to the world around them.

Bad things happen in this world and maybe people blame things like religion or mental illness because it makes it feel easier to them or helps them to make sense of things but we need to accept that bad things happen and individuals alone can cause trauma and nightmares. Blaming innocent groups leaves people outcasted, alone and puts unnecessary fear into society.

We must remember that we all have mental health, we are all on the scale somewhere. People with mental illness are not scary or dangerous. They are not ‘crazy’ or ‘lunatics’ they are simply people like you and I and there’s a high likelihood that at some point in your life you will struggle with mental health problems.

I am not standing up for the pilot, not at all. If he did crash that plane on purpose then it is beyond wrong, heartbreaking, horrific but I do think that if the pilot’s depression did contribute to the crash and he had a long history of the illness like the media suggest then questions need to be asked about why he didn’t have the right help. I do not know the situation here but I know that I have cried out for help in the past and been ignored by services and ended up making serious attempts on my life. It needs investigating, did services let him down? Should they have stepped in? Had he made hints or comments and if so why weren’t they taken seriously? I am not saying that it was his illness, we do not know that and it is wrong to speculate but I am saying that this is why it is so important that help is there and accessible for those battling mental illness.

People are mainly good, there are a small minority of people in society who are dangerous and it is wrong to think that the whole of that minority have mental health problems. There are many good people with mental illness and I have been so lucky to meet some of those amazing and inspirational people. In some ways my mental illness has actually helped me to become a better person. I am able to understand what it is like to struggle and I use my negative experiences in a way that turns them into positives whether this be through my blog or speaking out in the media. The night spent in the cell due to lack of hospital beds was one of my worst but I have used it to speak out, raise awareness and to help make change happen. I have a mental illness but I have never attacked anyone or killed anyone. People with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of crime than the criminal. I used to struggle to leave the house but I began baking cakes for homeless young people and it helped me to get out the door and they got some yummy food in their stomach. I honestly believe from the bottom of my heart that my mental illness has helped me to learn and grow into a fairly good person.

Myths About Emotions

There are lots of myths that exist about emotions and we will all have our own individual myths because of the lives we have lived and the environments we live in. We often believe these myths because they have been a part of our lives for so long, in fact we may not even notice that they are myths, we don’t question them because we hardly notice them. Myths usually originate from family, friends and culture and sometimes the myths we have about our emotions can cause us to act in ways that are not helpful. It is often not the emotions that are troublesome but instead it is the beliefs we have about them and the way that we act because of these beliefs. It can be useful to identify myths and their triggers and to develop challenges and counterarguments to these myths.

For example:

Myth: There is a right way to feel in every situation.

Challenge: There’s a whole range of feelings, none are right or wrong.

Myth: Negative emotions are bad and destructive.

Challenge: It’s the behaviour that can be bad and destructive, not the emotion.

I found it really helpful to sit down and look at the myths I have around emotion, I thought that I was relatively good at handling my emotional health but shocked myself when I realised the beliefs I have that many can probably relate to. Some of my myths included thinking that negative emotions slowed me down, the fear that sharing these emotions would make me a burden and feeling like I couldn’t feel an emotion because someone has it worse. I’ve made a list of counterarguments to go with these so that I can remember an emotion is real, if you feel it then it is there and suffering is suffering regardless of who you think may have it worse.

We don’t feel emotions for no reason, even if the reason is something as simple as tiredness, all emotions are prompted by internal or external events and some emotions are prompted automatically and without thought. Most of our emotions are reactions to our interpretation of events and what we perceive to be happening, rather than the facts of what is happening in a given situation.

Emotions are complex and involve both chemical and bodily changes, they are not just happening in your head, they are very real. It doesn’t matter how much you try, you cannot stop the feeling, you have to radically accept that the feeling is happening.

Emotions are a given but you have a choice over your actions, consider alternative actions rather than trying to ban the emotion.

It’s My Birthday And I’m Going To Celebrate

Today is my Birthday, a day I used to dread. I used to think what’s the point in celebrating? What is there to celebrate? Another year spent with anorexia! Another year where I’ve achieved nothing! I used to feel suicidal in the run up and sometimes I would act on those suicidal thoughts purely at the dread of turning another year older and having nothing to show for it. I would dread the food, the choice of feeling horrible for not allowing myself a treat or not be able to deal with the guilt that would come with eating a treat. I’d feel guilty for the Birthday presents that people bought me, the self-hatred would overwhelm me. Ever since my 12th Birthday I have hated my special day, hated myself and my day has been destroyed by body image, anorexia, depression and perfectionism but today is different.

Since my last Birthday, life has changed so much and I have been responsible for making it such a positive 12 months, bad things happened, it was a struggle and I spent 3 months of it in hospital but overall I came out on top. My family moved to Wales, our new home and new start brought us closer together and I love the relationship and friendship that I have with my mum, dad and sister now. I got myself out there and did things I was scared of in order to meet other young people and I have made some friends for life by doing so. I’ve continued my writing, photography, art, dance and passions in life without giving up or putting myself down for not being good enough. I finally feel like I know who Claire is.

My fixers project along with speaking out in the media many times including BBC breakfast, BBC national news and BBC radio 5 live has made my life feel meaningful. I feel so passionate about what I do, I never want to stop speaking out, I don’t want to die anymore, I want to fight to make our society a happier and healthier one. The Fixers feel happy fix, BBC generation 2015, writing opportunities I’m not allowed to talk about yet and Ignite Cardiff….this year has thrown some amazing opportunities at me.

Today I will celebrate my Birthday, I will celebrate all the achievements of the past 12 months whilst I am overwhelmed with excitement for the next 12 months. I never would have believed my life could change so much. I am going to spend today grateful for my family, for my Birthday presents, I am going to eat what Claire wants to eat and not want anorexia wants to eat and I am going to blow out the candles on my cake with love in my heart, a smile on my face and a wish for a better future rather than a thinner body.

What Do Emotions Do For Us?

Emotions may feel irritating and annoying and quite frankly troublesome but they do serve a purpose for us. Emotions motivate our behaviour and organise us for action and the action urge of a specific emotion is often hard-wired in biology, for example the fight or flight response which has evolutionary value. Emotions can save time and get us to act lightening fast in some situations, for example when crossing the road and accidentally stepping out in front of a car and reacting quickly so that we do not get knocked down. Emotions are specifically important when we do not have time to think things through. Strong emotions can actually be helpful because they can help us overcome the obstacles that are in both our minds and our environments.

Emotions are helpful in terms of our communication with other people. Facial expressions can often communicate our emotions faster than words and whether you like it or not our body language and tone of voice often communicate our emotions to others. When it is very important to communicate with others it can be very hard to change our emotions, for example if we are very excited by something or very saddened by something. The communication of our emotion influences others and their behaviours.

Emotions also communicate things to ourselves. Emotional reactions give us important information about situations, they can be signals or alarms that something is happening and gut feelings can be like intuition which can be helpful if our emotions get us to check the facts of an important situation.

Sometimes we treat our emotions like they are facts about the world and often the stronger the emotions, the stronger our belief that this emotion is based on fact but this is not true. A feeling is just that, a feeling.

Research shows that all primary emotions cause a common reaction in all humans and in some ways all human beings are the same in the way they both feel and express basic emotion but it is also important to remember that every person is unique. One person may feel anger in a certain part of their body but another person may feel the tension somewhere else. Wherever you feel the tension and how you express this tension is unique to you.

Urges go hand in hand with emotion. Emotions may give someone the urge to run away and another the urge to fight and argue but we must remember that we do not have to act on these urges, sometimes acting on an urge can be helpful but many people who struggle with eating disorders or self harm will often find that they struggle with unhelpful and destructive urges,

Healthy Perspectives On Emotions

Emotions get slammed a lot as being a negative aspect of us human beings. Being emotional is seen by some as a bad thing, a weakness, but whether we like it or not we all have emotions and it is healthier to accept that we are emotional beings. Emotions are neither good or bad, they just exist and it is not helpful to judge your emotions. Emotions don’t last forever, no matter what the emotion is or how intense it feels it will fade eventually and be replaced by another emotion.

There is a difference between having an emotion and acting on an emotion. You cannot choose your emotion but you can choose your reaction to it. It is okay to feel raging angry with someone but it is not okay to scream and shout at them and make them cry. When an intense emotion arrives you do not have to act on it, all you need to do is recognise the emotion, feel it and let it pass.

Emotions are not facts, just because you feel it, it doesn’t mean it is true. When emotions are very powerful they feel like the truth but they only feel like the truth, they are not the truth.

When thinking about healthy perspectives on emotion, it can be helpful to think about the white bear experiment. If someone tells you that for a minute you can think about anything you like but you must not think about the white bear, you will instantly be thinking of the white bear and be thinking that you mustn’t be thinking about it. This is very similar to obsessional thinking and the thoughts that say, “I am a terrible person if I think X” and then you can’t help but think X. When we have certain emotions that we feel are wrong or bad we may think, “I’m having this emotion, I don’t like it, go away” and we may do all we can to push it away but this is not effective, the emotion will keep coming back to us.

You cannot get rid of emotions, emotions are there because they serve important survival functions. The best way to deal with emotions in a healthy and effective way is to be willing to radically accept your emotions as they arise.

Anorexia Anger

Anger is not something that many people associate with me and a lot of the time anger is not an emotion that I feel and if I do, I do not feel it intensely. However there is this type of anger that comes along with anorexia, it’s different to any anger I have ever felt before and so I have appropriately named it ‘anorexia anger’.

The other day I experienced ‘anorexia anger’ and the only way that made it bearable was to write it down and know that when the feelings had passed, I would be able to share it and hopefully help another person through the horrific way I was feeling. I was sat in group therapy and we were given a box of raisins for mindful eating, we were expected to eat three of them. I have never managed to eat the food in mindful eating but I thought I might be able to do it, raisins are small, easy to eat and feel safe in my mind.

We had to mindfully look at the box and I saw the smiling face on the cartoon raisin and it made me angry, it’s stupid smile patronising me whilst I was sat in an eating disorder group and expected to eat. I turned the box around holding it through my sleeve, too scared to even touch the packaging when I noticed two words, two words which had the power to destroy my whole day. ‘Sunflower Oil’. I wanted to throw the box partly out of fear and partly out of anger but I sat there and breathed trying to gain control over my ‘anorexia anger’.

We were asked to open the box and I didn’t, I couldn’t. I sat there frozen, full of fear and anxiety along with self-hatred and disappointment. I had missed the step of opening the box and I knew I probably wasn’t going to be able to eat them. Had the staff noticed I wasn’t doing it? Were they going to say anything? I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t okay. I’m meant to be strong, I meant to be inspiring forgoodnessake. The anger overwhelmed me, it rose up from the tips of my toes, up my calves, through my stomach and upwards on my cheeks. I wanted to scream, shout and throw things but I couldn’t. Look normal. Look calm. Breathe.

I sat hunched up, quiet, snappy. I didn’t want to be in the room. I was so flipping angry and I didn’t know what to do with the anger. I speed walked home, stomping my feet to the beat of the music, I could feel the tears I was holding back bouncing in my eyes. I speed walked past my street, I was too angry to go home, too angry for the quietness of my house. I walked more and more until the anger had calmed slightly.

I walked in the front door, threw my boots off and opened the cupboard. “DON’T BINGE, DON’T BINGE, THE GRANOLA IS MAKING YOU FAT” my mind screamed at me as I internally screamed “SHUT UP” back at it. I got the box of granola out, I’d only had one bowl. I weighed it, worked out the calories and binned the lot. I wasn’t allowed it anymore. Other things had a lick, or an almost bite and then got binned. I was so angry at food, I was angry at my eating disorder. I was angry at everyone because they didn’t understand that this isn’t a choice, this is my prison. My nightmare that I can’t wake up from.

The anger had nowhere to go, I wanted to hurt myself, to purge, I wanted to do whatever I could to get it out of my system. This unbearable feeling that felt completely out of control and totally terrified me. The feeling that had the power to destroy me. That turned me into a monster and made me want to smash and throw everything. The terrifying and out of character ‘anorexia anger’. It did disappear, I went out and met a friend and continued my day and it went. ‘Anorexia anger’ is the worst feeling I ever feel but this proved to me that it isn’t forever, it does disappear and it doesn’t have to lead to destructive behaviours.