25 May 2017

Vegetarianism and Recovery

*This post is based on my personal experiences and opinions. Everyone's lifestyle/recovery is their own. What matters, above all else, is that you make the right choice for you!

   "She's a friend the the Animals" 

Launching this post with a little quote from Woods, Elle - the mother of Bruiser and a fierce champion for all things bright and bunnyful. For, like Elle, I have always found a friend in fluffiness, from hamster hugs to Millie Moo snuggles. 

Some of my earliest reading memories include Dick King Smith's Sophie Books, Jenny Dale's Puppy Patrol and the incomparable Sheltie. Oh Sheltie... did anyone else read those books? There began my ambition to own a horse and be an Olympic Show Jumper... Along with Sam and Jake the border collies, not to mention Auntie Al and Sophie's entire menagerie, animals were my chosen ones (sorry humans, grow a tail and get back to me).
This continued throughout my childhood. At the age of seven, I put away the ballet shoes in favour of Bryn, Cafferies, Maisie, Bella and co, the horses who define my decade in the saddle. I loved all of it, from the stable smell as I entered to the gigantic "until next time" hugs. *Edit - the many falls weren't so enjoyable, but it's all part of the experience! I was never an ambitious/win all the rosettes rider. It wasn't really a sport for me; my PE report will attest to my lack of skill in this area. In fact, some of my favourite moments were outside the arena. 

I simply loved being with the animals  and, looking back, I think diabetes only strengthened this; animals were my Always through periods of great uncertainty and could always lift my spirits. The stables were a surefire way to boost serotonin, while cuddles with my guinea pigs (Fluffy, Dusty and Phoebe) could always distract me from high blood sugar worries. 

Then, when I was 18, my lifelong dream to be a Mother of Dogs was realised. Millie arrived and that was when I found myself truly asking: "why is any other life different?" Nevertheless, it wasn't until I was 22 that I was finally tipped over the veg... so what took so long?

Here's my story on the veg edge of glory, written in full awareness that my puns are beyond the kale...  I corn only apologise.

     When Nature meats meets Nurture      

When I made the decision to move toward vegetarianism, one of the questions people  asked was: "why now?" The context of diabetes and an eating disorder, understandably, raised concern. Consequently, it was very important to explore "why now?" for myself. When I made this choice, I had to be sure it was SOPHIE who made it. So when asking "why now?", it was perhaps more useful to ask "why not before?" Doing CBT, which involves looking at past and present values, definitely helped here. For i've identified that my values were strongly influenced by two factors Nature and Nurture. 

Let's start with  Nature... Aka mong-standing frenemy (circa 2002), Mr diabetes! I've addressed the diabetes/diet debate in a couple of posts before - these can be found down rabbit hole 1 and rabbit hole 2). However, if you're already late for a very important date and don't have time for Wonderland, the debate can be summarised in one troublesome word: carbohydrates. (Fun fact:, I've only just realised this word includes "hydrate"; a bit ironic when high blood sugars make you crave ALL the water).

In the world of equations, diabetes looks like: Carbohydrate + Insulin = Stay Alive. Growing up, I would eat snacks at an allotted time, with allotted amount of carbs/no carbs at all. I remember snacking on things like chicken drumsticks, cold meats and many years trying to convince myself I liked cheese. Protein = no need for insulin/stabbing myself with a needle. For an 8 year old, this choice was pretty straight-forward. Whenever I saw a dietician/ my diabetes team, it was the unspoken assumption  that I was a conventional omnivore.

If there were issues with my blood sugars, protein and meat were never to blame. Instead, poor old Mr C and his bowl of Shreddies were called into question (Another fun fact: my childhood love of shreddies has now been usurped by own brand malties - silver lining to IP treatment right there).  On reflection, there was never any guidance on how to be a diabetic veggie. Conversely, my current dietician was hesitant when I told her about my move to vegetarianism last year. Suffice to say, I made the CBT gods proud and stood my ground! So that's nature for you...
...now onto nurture. I want to start by saying that none of this is at all a criticism of my loved ones; as you may have guessed by the word choice in blue, I really do love them very very much. They were simply like the majority of people in society - omnivorism was the norm. I don't think I even knew what a vegetarian was until senior school and, even then, it seemed more hippy than Shakira and her hips that don't lie. Vegetarianism was Phoebe Bouffay, while I swear I thought Vegan meant a person who didn't wear shoes.... oh dear.

Through CBT, one of the biggest things i've identified is my fear of rocking the boat. Once again,  we can  put a lot of this down to limelight-stealing Mr D. He gets around, doesn't he? When you are faced a life-changing diagnosis at the age of 7, this word is pretty much sent on a one way ticket to Mars. Your concept of "belonging" - which is so pivotal in childhood - is completely appended. Suddenly, you see everyone else in a world of fairies and pick 'n mix, while you face the daily finger prick. So my response, my therapist assures me, was entirely natural; I ran away from any other source of "difference".

So what does this have to do with meat? Well, it turns out, quite a lot. Growing up, I often had questions regarding animal welfare, but rarely voiced them. I kept them to myself, because eating meat was "what you did". Yet there were occasions where my voice rose to the foreground. I remember going to SeaWorld and being disturbed by the bent Dorsal Fin go the oldest Killer Wale, Tilikum (for more on this, I highly recommend watching Blackfish). I pointed it out to my family, who said this was "normal" and I didn't question any further.

On another occasion, I was on a school trip and we somehow got onto the subject of lamb. From a young age, I would periodically go on a 'baby animal strike' and refuse to eat lamb/veal. However, my family would assure me that lamb was a misnomer, so I duly returned to the 'status quo'. So when, on this school trip, my friend insisted that "lamb" was actually - you guessed it - lamb, this moral/social conflict once again resurfaced. 

Even now, writing this, I'm shocked that I could prioritise one life over another so easily, in short thanks to some seasonal marketing. Yet what about Babe in Charlotte's WebFantastic Mr Fox? The entire cast of Chicken Run!? Somehow my mind overlooked this... and then things got altogether more complex. 
     When Ethics meat meet Anorexia     

By the middle of my teenage years, diabetes became wrapped up in an eating disorder and buried my ethics even further. Carbs were the devil and protein had its own persona halo screaming "hello me halloumi", despite the fact that I dislike cheese. For 'likes' and 'dislikes' went out the window; I recall spending a disproportionate amount of money on fish and meat as a student, ft. a lifetime's supply of tinned tuna.

These days, the mere thought of a tuna sandwich makes me feel a bit ill, as I lived off them for so long; that, or I simply ate it out of the tin. Even in recovery, I my intake was often focused on macros and getting the "right" balance. Hummus was only an acceptable lunchtime filling alongside a tin of tuna. Oh god that tuna... I swear I kept John West in business for a good two years. 

Moreover, I admit to being hugely influenced by the media and what was defined as "healthy." One day, I read an  article that branded venison the "lean and clean" version of Beef. Suddenly, 18 years of vowing "never to eat rudolph," were discounted; venison was back on the menu and Daisy was banned, unless you count the "skinny latte". I'm literally recoiling now as I write this, but it shows how manipulative an eating disorder can be.

I was often curious to see the ever-growing range of vegetarian food on the shelves. However, a quick 'label scan' saw me putting them back on the shelf. From lentils and chickpeas, to a seemingly innocent quorn burger, the slightly-elevated C word declared them "off limits". It was back to what I knew. Chicken and potato were easy to count, so easier to comprehend for diabetes and my distorted mind.

     When ethics meet MEET recovery...    

In the past few years, there has been a huge rise in the prevalence of Vegetarianism/veganism - including those in recovery for an eating disorder. With regards to the latter, there has also been a lot of backlash. Various articles/stories have denounced vegetarianism/veganism as an eating disorder in (faux) sheep's  clothing. 

I want to offer an alternative view of this; specifically, how vegetarianism has HELPED my recovery! For me, the final catalyst for my decision wasn't social media, but going to University. I was surprised to see just how many people were either long-term herbivores, or just beginning life on the veg. Back at home, beet-eaters were a rare and exotic breed, whereas Exeter presented a new normal. Sophie was curiouser and curiouser than ever before...

Nevertheless, anorexia was terrified.  Far from vegetarianism offering an "opportunity" for restriction, it meant facing up to one of my biggest fears. Because, without meat, what did you eat? Surely not...  Yes, you guessed it. Carbs. Yet, in truth, my head was not in the right place to accept it, Although SOPHIE wanted to make this ethical choice, which aligned with so many values growing up, anorexia didn't. What happened was that I cut out meat, but basically lived off fish and vegetables. 

Until, that was, I suspended my studies to receive IP treatment. Obviously, the importance of this admission went far beyond this. Before I could save any other life, I had to save myself and that is what the incredible staff helped me to do. Yet once I was medically stable and starting to emerge from the "cloud" of anorexia, I decided to challenge this long-standing carb conundrum. Soon, my menu choice shifted from breaded chicken to veggie goulash. Hummus sandwiches were picked over tuna and, in the moment of putting that tick in another box, I was petrified. I still did it.

Once I was discharged, I was introduced to Quorn, Cauldron, Amy and Linda. Sadly, after an initial honeymoon period, anorexia snuck back in. Fish appeared on the shopping list more and more, along with boiled-everything and a side of diet coke. Mr PB and his friend Captain chickpea were left on the shelf. By the time I was readmitted to hospital in November, I felt so detached from myself. Anorexia had called the shots before, but I had never felt this removed from Sophie.

I was so angry at anorexia; angry that my values were being buried by numbers and fears. It was then that I decided, during my first week on the unit, to be honest with staff. I asked them to help me pick the options I'd not even contemplated earlier that year; I told them that I wanted to go into a restaurant and order that vegetarian dish. And so I did. On one particular day, the only veggie option on the unit was pasta; the meat option was a relatively 'safe' fish and potato dish. 1st admission, I picked option 'safety'. 2nd admission? Hello veggie lasagne. I remember feeling absolutely terrified beforehand, but afterwards there was this new feeling of... peace.
That is what this 'journey' is giving me. Peace. The days of fifty shade of fish are a distant memory. Now, I have burgers, sausages, stir fry, ravioli, cottage pie... the same as my parents, just mine are the veggie variety! I still have a way to go and lots of things are still a challenge, but I have made progress. Perhaps my biggest "achievement" is eating out, where I can't remember the last time I ordered a fish dish. I have gone out and ordered pasta, falafel mezze, avocado and hummus sandwiches, veggie cakes that require me to completely guess my insulin dose. Yes, this causes a lot of anxiety and, no, I don't always 'get it right'. However, every time I go to a restaurant and place that veggie order, I honestly feel such freedom.

Freedom in being me. The Sophie whose smile can always be raised by the sight of a pony in the field or Millie  bounding towards her. And it is a feeling that no amount of fear can tarnish. This is something that is right for me, that seems so natural to me and something I am truly grateful for. I am excited to continue exploring this new world while knowing, despite what others may think, that I am standing by my beliefs. I have also ensured that all my cosmetics, beauty products and clothes are bunny-friendly, taking time to educate myself through documentaries and blogs.  

I've spent so long being afraid to rock the boat, so deciding to take a leap outside the status-quo is liberating. I am not ashamed to be the Luna Lovegood in a world of of Malfoys; the oddity who occasionally talks to a tree; the SPEW advocate who believes in Free Elves; The girl who is learning, with help from the humble veggie, how to finally BE

14 May 2017

Are we out of the Shoulds yet?

I should be happier. I should be recovered. I should have more friends. I should be better...

Just your average sentence for a babe in the shoulds; the one typing this, for example, although I can't say I recommend it over Radio 1/Ed Sheeran. I'd even dare to claim that LBC's Nigel Farage show makes for kinder listening, at the risk of getting unwisely political. For at least Mr Brexit's show is over in 60 minutes; Should, on the other hand, is the voice that never sleeps.

Should is the voice of comparison, criticism and countless 'what ifs'. Should is a gun with infinite bullets, showing  no mercy and exploiting those who are already wounded. Because that's the thing with mental illness; the longer it lingers, the more resilient it is to keep lingering. It definitely has no intention of following the White Rabbit and his "other important date." 

The longer you spend in the neck of the shoulds, the harder it becomes it can often seem impossible to consider any alternative. With every shot, the accuracy increases and the victim is further submerged. Soon, they doubt if a life outside the 'shoulds' can even exist. How do others find the world beyond the trees, while I remain in perpetual darkness? 

In a recent post, I introduced you to 'Negative Over-Analysis' - NOA to his friends - who I have been in an unwelcome relationship with for many, many years. In the world of NOA (besides biblical floods and beards), Should is the gift that keeps on giving taking. For what better way to make you fixate on something negatively, than list all the reasons it isn't good enough? No need for diamond rings or national trust memberships here; this neck of the shoulds has enough trees to save a planet....

... just not me. Or you. Or anyone  who wants a happy, healthy and free life. After I introduced NOA a couple of months ago, I spoke of my intention to begin this process (cue unwanted allusions to Brexit...). More specifically, I want a divorce from NOA, preferably with custody of the dogs and rights for all EU animals. I had all the right motivations, dreams  and plans.

In practice, however, we're about as far into proceedings as Jean-Claude Juncker and Theresa May. NOA is still very much in my life and, on reflection, I was probably a bit optimistic. Yet this does not mean I am waving the white flag; moreover, it would be wrong the claim that I've made no forward step out of the shoulds - for i've come up with a plan...

Yes, a PLAN! By this fact alone, my #Noaexit is looking more sunny-side up than hard-boiled dismay Ms May.... My last two CBT sessions have been central to this, after I finally introduced  NOA to the divorce lawyer - aka my amazing psychologist R, who agreed that he is a bit of an Orge... and not the kind who have onion layers. So we started at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start; nevertheless, while Julie Andrews had Does and Deers, CBT is a bit more challenging

The more I do CBT, the more I trust in its potential. Nevertheless, part of this involves a storm before the calm; those "it gets worse before it gets better" moments, which are draining to say the least, For in order to get out of the shoulds, you have to go into them and then some. So here's a little shoutout to anyone doing CBT; it is basically a full-time job, so please accept a billion virtual hugs from my screen to yours.  

When R and I began to talk about NOA, it involved unearthing all the many, many, many shoulds that he brings. In short, here's a preview of my CBT homework from two weeks ago... 

As I said at the start of this post, Radio 1 makes for much brighter listening. However, not everyone can; more than ever, in fact, if the statistics are anything to go by statistics show just how many of us are lost in the shoulds. I, along with many others I am sure, would love Ed Sheehan or Graham Norton to narrate my morning; yet when you're buried so deep in the shoulds, it is very hard to hear anything else. I am far from alone here and, after placing my "shoulds" in context, I can start to see why. 

Comparison. Social Media has many wonderful qualities, but illusion is not one of them. Critics may claim that instagram brunches and Facebook friends are trivial - scorn the idea that they are at all comparable to 'real life struggles' - but for many of us they are real life. If a person is already vulnerable to the firing of "shoulds", one photo can summon a whole squadron. If you're already feeling isolated, it can make that feeling all the mote acute. 

I see smiles and I should be happy. 

I read blog posts and I should be a better writer. 

I see artwork and I should be more creative. 

I see people living, while I survive, and I should be better

In the past couple of years, I have both exposed and shielded myself to this social media onslaught. Suspending my studies and going into hospital has had a significant impact on my response to social media. I do not regret either decision; both were a necessity for my mental and physical health. However, leaving University also meant leaving behind a huge part of my life. I have lost contact with the majority of people from my time in Exeter and the voice of NOA (yes, dear old NOA again) says I am to blame. "I should have made more effort". "I should have travelled to see them". "I should be the one messaging". "I should be a nicer person". I should should should should... 

And nothing changes. These shoulds do not take me any further along in my path to a better future. Focusing on what I lack will not hand it to me. On the contrary, every time I tell myself "I should text them" I am less likely to do so; my hand is paralysed by the fear that they will see my own failing. And NOA just loves this; as a treasure with wit beyond measure (Luna Lovegood) so wisely observes:

"I suppose that's how he wants you to feel. for if I were You-Know Who, I'd want you to feel cut off from everyone else. Because if it's just you alone, you're not as much of a threat"

When we touch wood 'should', it brings the opposite of good fortune. With every 'should', we summon the storm of 'never good enough.' We bury the prospect of future days in the sun, because no ray will ever beam bright enough. So if we can, unequivocally, conduce that should is not getting us anywhere, how do we step out of it? This is where my divorce lawyer/ psychologist has given me hope.... Cue CBT homework Pt. 2, which is definitely nicer than Nigel Farage... and may even give Ed a run for his money!
Welcome to Sophie's walk through the shoulds. R suggested that we use my literary love for imagery to good use, so I came up with this. We decided to break down my list of "shoulds" and focus on one area to explore - I chose "I should be productive" and some of the examples that link to this. In my wood, the trees grow denser as you move further along the path; the things that provoke more anxiety and feel harder to change.  Once I challenge the first steps, however, the next stage of the walk will (hopefully) feel more manageable. The rain clouds are the reasons behind the "should", while the sunshine contains the facts I talked through with R; they are still difficult for me to accept as "true", but this is where I need to trust her and not NOA. Ultimately, my aim is to make those days in the sun (cue Beauty and the Beast song) more common than walks in the rain. For now, I'm trying not to think too far ahead. 

For this week at least, we're focusing on the first step of "being productive"; my compulsion to do things for others. The picture explains the rest and, in short, my 'homework' is to craft something... for ME. Whether it be crochet, knitting, or an illustration. Enforcing the idea that I am worth what I would so readily give to someone else. So any suggestions for what I should make, I'm all ears! Over time, I'll build on this graphic and make new ones for the other "shoulds" in my life. If my first graphic is anything to go by, it will definitely take time.. yet it's a starting point, which is a step beyond where I was. 

As a regain my confidence with blogging and post more, I would like to share more of my CBT  experience; I hope that, by sharing, other people may resonate and want to try it themselves. I'm all-too-aware that CBT treatment is difficult to access - I've waited years for this kind of treatment and know how it feels to be alone in the woods, with no search party to find you.

With every sentence I type, NOA has been telling me that I shouldn't post this - that the graphics should be more polished or the words more precise. All throughout MHAW, I have been reading these amazing posts and questioning the worth of my own. Yet there is the possibility, however small, that my words could matter. That for others who are also lost in the shoulds,  there is a voice calling out to say "Someone is looking, someone is listening, and someone believes that it could be okay."

My motivation to help others will always be there; it is a huge driver in my treatment. Yet, as R would tell me, if it works it will, first and foremost, matter for ME. . A life beyond being lost in the shoulds. A life where I can find the coulds; the possibilities; a world where I can recover Sophie.


7 May 2017

Fluffy Paws and Free Elves

Let's take a moment to rewind a couple of weeks; fluffy Bunnies are frolicking through the fields;  yellow 'reduced' stickers are hit with a summoning charm, flying to the "accio" of those hot cross buns. You'd be forgiven for wondering if they actually retail at full price...

For the sake of this long-overdue post, let's cast our eyes back to the Easter Weekend, when I began my pilgrimage to Bethlehem the South of Wales. I call it a Pilgrimage, because on the Saturday we bumbled across a rather familiar sight. It was the setting for a film that one or two (gazillion) of you may have seen....

Yet, to this day, it remains a resting place for one of literature's most beloved characters. A 21st Century Mother Theresa (and no, May, I'm not talking about you...) A Saint for our times. A Free Elf...
Quilted Green Jacket, £65, White Stuff     Clarrie Bobble Hat, £19.99, Superdry   Chelsea Wellies, £20, ASOS

Little Mac was also enjoying the Sand Dunes! He belongs to my sister's boyfriends and is the sweetest little man. All three of them came with us to Wales for the weekend and he definitely showed Millie up! Even before we got there, she had broken into their joint Easter egg from Pets at Home. I don't think she approved of the "sharing" concept, nor the notion of sleeping in her basket - which Mac dutifully did. Princess preferred to sprawl herself across the entire double bed, which made Mummy and Daddy a bit barking mad...  

This trip was also Millie's first time on a beach! My mum has been desperate to take her for so long; however, she was a bit worried about returning to Wales, where Millie was born nearly five years ago. She kept asking if she would recognise her "real mummy", but thankfully no Cavaliers were spotted on the shores. Nevertheless, despite the lack of Jeremy Kyle revelations, there were plenty of scents for Millie to stuff her nose into. Along with her own personal wind machine, we had one happy bubba... 
 Apart from this photo; there's always one... I think hydrophobia started to kick in at this point - Is anyone else's dog terrified of water?! Or she accidentally flicked sand into her eye, which did happen once or twice - I ended up using my Harry Potter socks to wipe her eyes, which I'm sure Dobby would be proud of

*For the avoidance of doubt, these socks never touched my feet. In a move that would have made Ms Luna proud, they solved my no-gloves dilemma perfectly. It was also a chance to do another sock-it selfie for Beat, which Millie is always ready to partake in...
And her Harry Potter loving doesn't end there! Inspired by Harry's "Dobby" inscription on the rock, she decided to put her callig-paw-phy skills to good use...Watch out Pudsey!

During our time on the beach, I also reconnected with another Childhood love; to quote Ross Gellar, Geology Rocks! I used to spend whole days hunting for fossils in our garden, so I was immediately transported back to that. Here are a few of my favourite finds...

Elder Tree Bracelet, £29,  Alex and Ani
Complete with a wand, because imagination is never too far away. Being out on the coast, I definitely found some respite for my mental health. In my CBT session before we went, my therapist R spoke of the importance in reconnecting with positive memories. This time rock hunting may seem quite insignificant to the outside eye, but it made a strong impression on me and the memories from my childhood. Along with Millie running like the wind, it was one of those moments I never wanted to end. 

This was also important, in the wider context of my mental health. In the last couple of months, I have faced many tests on that front. The death of my granddad in March was a big shock and brought up a lot of unfamiliar emotions. As many people will relate to, an eating disorder can numb many emotions; I think this is partly why it became my "coping mechanism" for the previous two bereavements (both in 2014). 

The past few weeks has also seen me change my medication, which included a tapering period that was a challenge to say the least. But I can say (with a note of pride, which is very unusual for me!) that I have bumbled through it with a few stumbles... but successes, too. As my dietician reassured me, what matters is how you pick yourself back up. So I am trying hard to focus on this side, contrary to what my glass-half-empty mind would choose. So every time NOA tries to push back, I'm going to hold onto this moment below. Those moments that no over-analysis can tarnish. A beautiful place where I could be my free self, with the help of my fluffy best friend...
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