Saturday, 15 July 2017

To The Bone: An Honest Review

I don't usually write reviews, but I feel that Netflix' new addition To The Bone has been causing a stir among the mental health community, especially the eating disorder community. Having watched it last night I wanted to share my views because I know people apprehensive about watching it will want to know as much as they can without actually watching. There may be spoilers ahead!!


Ellen is a 20 year old artist and drop-out college student who lives with her father, stepmother and stepsister. With a largely absent father and a history of inpatient stays and struggles with anorexia, Ellen is convinced by her stepmother and stepsister to see a specialist, Dr William Beckham. He agrees to treat her on certain conditions, including a minimum of 6 weeks as an inpatient. Once she arrives at the house with 6 other patients, including 1 male patient Luke, she makes some progress but struggles greatly as success at the programme requires an existing wish and commitment to recover. After becoming close with Luke but being freaked out by his desire for further intimacy and the pregnant patient Megan having a miscarriage, Ellen (who by this point has changed her name to Eli) decides to run away, despite pleads from Luke to stay.

She then leaves for Phoenix where her mother lives with her girlfriend. That evening her mother admits her guilt and apologies over Ellen's anorexia, and a beautiful-to-watch moment happens where her mother actually feeds her with a bottle to show her the love she wished she'd given to her as a child. Following that evening Ellen goes for a walk, collapses from her illness and has a dream/hallucination sequence (is she dying?) where Luke tells her to come out of the sun and have a talk. He tells her how dazzling she is and they have a nice conversation. When she wakes up she decides to enrol back onto the inpatient programme with Dr Beckham and we see her last hugs with her stepmother and sister as she walks into the centre looking hopeful and ready to recover.

The controversy:

  1. UK eating disorder charity Beat released a statement about To The Bone yesterday, stating that they are disappointed that Ellen's family were shown to be the main cause of her eating disorder. As they said: 'eating disorders are complex with no one single cause'.
  2. In the same statement, Beat warned that 'There's a strong likelihood that people who have been affected by eating disorders would find the film highly distressing or triggering' due to talk of calories, weight, behaviours and images of Ellen at a low weight.
  3.  One line of controversy comes from this article by the Guardian. One of their issues comes from the lack of demographic representation: 'All the anorexia patients, with one male exception, are young, attractive, middle-class white women, when the illness affects a far broader demographic'.
  4. Another issue comes from the same article regarding Dr Beckham who describes his methods as unconventional. On this, the article writes that 'they're not: they rely on therapy and healthy eating, as almost all eating-disorder treatments do'.
  5. Ellen's relations to Dr Beckham and also fellow patient Luke are brought into the spotlight of many articles which imply that the two males are her knights in shining armour. As the same article from the Guardian writes: 'The idea that all these hysterical female anorexia patients need is a couple of calm men to save them from themselves is, to put it mildly, grating'
  6. There are also concerns about the depiction of anorexia, as Ellen wears thick eyeliner. Hadley Freeman writes from her own experiences that 'anorexia is not all thigh gaps and eyeliner', but rather hair falling out, coldness and bleeding knuckles due to dry skin.
My point of view:

I disagree with a lot of the controversial points above. For example:
  1. Beat's view that Ellen's anorexia is shown to have one single cause: her family. It is true that her family dynamics play a huge part in the movie, but she also has a conversation with Luke where she describes entering puberty: 'The second you get boobs, it's like open season'. This NHS page describes one of the causes of anorexia as the 'hormonal changes and feelings of stress, anxiety and low self-esteem during puberty', as well as sexual abuse. What Ellen experienced with boys nipple-pinching her during puberty sounds like it would have caused some stress, anxiety and may have been a form of sexual abuse, whether intended or not.
  2. The lack of demographic issue discussed by The Guardian may well be right, but to be surrounded by white, middle-class women in an inpatient facility is definitely not unusual, at least according to my experience. Sadly, in cultures and genders where eating disorders are less common it is less common to ask for help, linking to why they might not be seen where Ellen is (especially as this appears to be a private facility where people would be paying or covered by insurance for help). So it may not be demographically correct but it is probably reality.
  3. In my view, Dr Beckham's methods are unconventional. To have choice over how much you eat in inpatient is very unusual, as well as having minimal supervision at meal times. Usually there is an 'eat what's on your plate' rule with a nurse watching you, even if is a less hospital-like environment such as Ellen's facility. This is certainly unconventional, as well as their random trip to the art exhibition, which seemed well-thought-out. Often trips out are for people much later in their treatment and are usually decided by the patient or to fellowship meetings or food outings, rather than a group trip to somewhere unique.
  4. Dr Beckham - he may be a little annoying because he does come across quite smug and all-knowing. In fact, I think he puts Ellen at risk later in the film when he allows her to leave without being stopped so she can reach her 'rock bottom'. In real life at this point she would probably have been sectioned. But to give him credit, he does show genuine care. And to say that him and Luke are solely responsible for her readiness for recovery is just ridiculous. Everyone changes at their own rate and what causes Ellen's change in attitude is her rock-bottom experience for which nor Dr Beckham or Luke were actually present. 
  5. Depiction of anorexia - yes it is true that Ellen wears eye-liner for most of the film. But I think we need to cut the film makers and costume designers some slack! Having an actress in make up and then reducing that level of makeup to coincide with the character's decline in physical and emotional state is a very common tool employed. At the end of the film due to her reduction in makeup, Ellen's appearance as someone very unwell is believable.
What I didn't like about the film:
  • Luke is seen as very good for Ellen, because he is the only one who seems to have any kind of influence over her behaviours. But when Ellen leaves and he says to her that he 'needs' her, alarm bells rang for me. Perhaps this was to elicit emotion from the viewer, but it is a sign of real illness and codependence from him. If he is one of her more rational guides to recovery, despite still being unwell, I don't see why this bit had to be added in. 
  • Talk of calories and weight. This seems to be a given for a film about anorexia but I don't think it has to be. I think it could have been made more accessible to all audiences, including those with eating disorders, if that had been skipped. Though then critics would probably have attacked the film saying it is a poor depiction of anorexia!
  • The inpatient house is a little unrealistic. Part of a healthy community within inpatient is to actually encourage the 'snitching on' of patients who are acting out. There is no way you'd find a bag of vomit under someone's bed and not at least feel compelled to tell someone. That said, perhaps it's a sign of how unwell Ellen really is at this point.
  • I did feel a little like the movie was cut short. But I think audiences have to understand that the film is not about her recovery. It is about a change in mindset which allows her to approach recovery with the commitments she needs for her own health.
In all, a great film if you remember that it's not trying to depict Ellen's entire recovery journey. It pulled me in emotionally and will strike familiarity with anyone who's experienced an eating disorder and its effects on yourself and your friends and family. 

Image from here
If you wish to watch To The Bone, it is available on Netflix.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Letting the Flame Lie Low

I have not posted a blog post in just over a month, and I have really struggled with that fact. Whenever I've thought about my blog I've had feelings of guilt, stress and worry. Comforting myself took me back to one of my core values: letting things go and rolling with what my soul wants to do.

So let me explain. Following creative ideas like blogging, taking photos, painting, e.t.c and sharing them (via social media or in person) usually takes a lot of bravery, as I've been reading about in Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (buy on Amazon here).

Questions come up, like 'will I be good enough?', 'will people think I'm rubbish?' but the question I want to focus on here is the following:

Will I be able to keep it up? Or will I be seen as a flake or failure?

So this worry is a barrier I've faced since I can remember. Worries that I'll start up something new, enjoy it and share it, then promptly lose interest and move onto something else. As if there is something wrong with that. Rationally, it doesn't seem like there is, but I want to explore it more.

I think it comes from core beliefs about identity. The belief goes as follows: successful creative people have one main interest. You don't see famous ballet dancers flitting between interests, after all. They are consistent: being this way helps them to improve, be known and be enjoyed.

However, these ideas can be damaging. We try to find something we are 'good at', or we might not see our creative outlets as valid. We might stop them, pursuing other things instead: recognition, success and perhaps money. We lose sight of what creativity is and our innate abilities to be creative.

And this is what my inner critic thrives on, like a parasite. If people start to associate me with my blog, why would I stop writing blog posts? Even if the inspiration is not there, my critical self wants me to be slaving away, churning out posts, even if it just doesn't sit right with my inner soul. I think this image is a great description of this process of forced creativity (from here):

The beauty of creativity comes from the fact that it is not forced. We leave space open for it, but it is hard to 'capture'. I leave thinking time for blog posts quite often - space for an idea to come to me. They come organically, as this one did, and not in a conveyor-belt fashion. Perhaps this is why painters produce their paintings over years, rather than the daily style of some blog sites. 

In the top image, I drew a little mind-map, showing how creativity is a part of my core self. My expression of myself and the way I get that 'fire' inside, is by following creative hobbies. On the list, there are many things I enjoy, such as (but not limited to):
  • Playing musical instruments.
  • Sewing
  • Crocheting
  • Creative writing
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Photography
I flit between these 'outlets' as frequently as my soul wishes. I will not stay bound to one when another one is calling. At the moment I have sewing and crochet projects on the go which I am enjoying, while photography is once again calling to me after a couple of years. 

It takes courage to allow one creative outlet to lie low, as in the title of this blog post 'letting the flame lie low'. It doesn't mean that the fire is extinguished, never to be pursued again. It merely means the flame is alive, moving. To keep the flame alive is to allow it to move, and to let it lie low with certain outlets. 

To remind yourself of this frequently, through the inner critic's jibes, is to allow yourself to be creative. And through this blogging medium I urge you to do this and keep your soul alive. If this becomes easier by sharing your work less frequently, so be it. Keep yourself glowing.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Self-Love in Sickness and in Health: 6 Tips

During the couple of months, I have suffered with not only diabetes, but a bout of shingles, two wisdom teeth coming through and two mouth ulcers. Ouch. The point of this post is not to seek sympathy (although that is always welcome, preferably in the form of cake and coffee). I'm going to write a little bit about maintaining a good relationship with your body, even through illness.

As you might have gathered from my blog so far, a lot of my observations and advice have been on the importance of self love in wellbeing. Your most solid, reliable and rewarding relationship is the one you have with yourself, and feeling loved by you, the person who knows how to love yourself the best, is a great feeling.

But it can become difficult in illness. When your body's working well, it's easy to feel gratitude for what it's doing for you. But in the middle of a horrendous cold, when you're surrounded by tissues and empty packets of Lemsip, it's easy to start thinking things like:
  • Why can't my body just get better?
  • Why do I always get ill? 
  • Why can't my body just work like everyone else's? 
It's really easy to think those things, and they can go really unnoticed as negative automatic thoughts (I wrote about these in this post). So it's worth watching out for these thoughts when you're ill. The compounding effect of my illnesses over the last month has led to me having a couple of thoughts like these, and it's something I've had to stay really on top of and journal about.

So how on earth are you meant to deal with illness and love yourself?

Firstly, the most loving way to love your body is unconditionally. That is, in sickness and in health, in all shapes and sizes and at all stages of life. If your love for your body depends on it being a certain size, then all that love will disappear once it changes. In the same way, if your body love depends on it working well and feeling good, anytime you are ill you will leave yourself feeling unloved.

  1. Affirmations.
    These are great for reminding yourself that your body is great. It really is. Even if you're not well, there is a reason you are not dead: your body and its immune system. Your body works constantly to try and keep you healthy, even if it does seem to get ill a lot. Louise Hay does some good body-loving affirmations on her website (here).
  2. Look after yourself.
    If you need rest, REST! Don't drag yourself into work at risk of making yourself worse or finding the entire day difficult. It's really important to look after yourself. That includes having baths and not just laying about in your room all day, if you feel up to it. It also includes finding a good TV series to watch on Netflix.
  3. Stock up.
    In order to take care of yourself, you need the supplies. Medicines, bubble bath, tea bags, whatever you need. Imagine you are an adult taking care of their child - you would try and make them as comfortable as possible. Do the same for yourself.
  4. Gratitude List.
    It's easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, without noticing the good things. Write a list every night of 5 things you are grateful for. It could be your housemate making you a cup of tea, getting an extension on that deadline or Lemsip really working.
  5. Take notice of your good days.
    If you are chronically unwell, it is important to realise when you're having a good period. If you're unusually mobile or well, take notice. Write it down in your journal. Tell people about it. Enjoy it for the amazing thing it is. Don't let it slip by and constantly think about next time you're going to be ill.
  6. Talk to friends.
    Being ill can mean you're a bit isolated - obviously people aren't usually that keen on catching your lurgy, and you know that, so you end up sat in your room. But just because you're in your room, you don't have to be isolated. Germs can't travel through the phone line or over Skype, so take this as an opportunity to catch up with long-distance friends and get a bit of sympathy at the same time, rather than your housemates who are probably distracted by the snotty tissue you're holding. 
Keep loving yourself and remind yourself that this will pass. Whether it's a cold, or something longer-term, you will have moments of peace again, and you will have times you can get out of the house and have a bit of fun!

Image from here

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Transformation Cannot Be a Checklist

This post came fairly naturally. After a month of lots of deadlines I wanted to write up a new post. So.. the topic is trauma processing, recovery and checklists. It's becoming quite common to find yourself at a low point, bogged down by past experiences. So how is it best to get going and maintain a good recovery and way of life?

For myself, any change coming up is often accompanied by a mental checklist. I'm going on a trip. I need these things. I'm cooking a meal. I need these things. I'm grieving a loss. I will go through these things and will need these things. I think this is fairly common.

Now imagine you've started a life transformation. You ask around for advice, or go on the internet, and you're told 'it's a process'. Transformation is a process, in that it takes time and there are many stages. It might be tempting to look at it as a list, or look at your issues as a list. For example:

  • Sort out sleeping pattern.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Go to the gym. 
  • Eat healthily.
  • Talk about my problems.
  • Get over x, y and z trauma.
  • Be left with a 'clearer' life. 
This is a great way to see where you're at. However, in looking at it as a way to guide your process, there could be some problems:
  1. Can feel never ending.
    Having a long list of tasks in front of you can be overwhelming. The truth is, we are growing constantly through our lives, making mistakes and trying to make the right decisions. Sometimes that means making the wrong ones.

    This means that even if you make a list and get through it, more can always be added. That feeling of completion you are striving for will never be reached.
  2. Lack of recognition for other achievements.
    Like a dog chasing a bone on a stick, you will miss the little achievements you're making if you're constantly looking forward for the next one. Transformation requires recognising all the steps you're making, even the tiny ones.
  3. Makes it about control.
    Releasing past experiences and traumas and their effects on your daily life is about letting go of control. It's about accepting all the emotions that come with kindness and toleration. Sometimes a list can create impatience, and if your recovery goes 'off track' it can leave you feeling very lost.

    As humans we crave for the world and our experiences to make sense. In recovery you will come across lots of unexpected bumps and hurdles - unexpected emotions or experiences. Having a mental (or physical) list often does not allow for these, which is what's needed.
That is not to say that lists can't be helpful. They are great starting points, and good for showing you where you're at. This is why workbooks, such as CBT books, often use tables where you write your current thoughts down, and where you want to get to. 

However, the general message is that letting go of your list as needed is very important. Notice when you're feeling like you're 'off track' from your list, and be accepting of that. Because true transformation is about accepting yourself unconditionally, whether you're on track or not.

Image from here

Monday, 24 October 2016

Letting Your Past Experiences Rest in Peace

I was watching How I Met Your Mother tonight and one of the lines really hit me. One character, Ted, has a crush on another character, Robin, from the beginning of the show. Later in the series, Ted is forced to repress his feelings for her, and when they eventually resurface, someone suggests that the feelings had been 'buried in a shallow grave'.

Bare with me, the post ahead is rather abstract!

The line brought up images of our past feelings, thoughts and events living underground, buried in whichever way we choose to bury them. Whether it's in a shallow way through temporary means of burial, or deep underground, dispersed and digested to reduce their emotional blow.

Obviously the way we deal with our past experiences has a big effect on us. Traumas might be far from laid to rest. They could be buried so shallowly that their tentacles reach up above ground and affect our every decision.

Being deeply buried doesn't mean refusing to let it enter our lives. It might seem that saying things like 'no I don't care about that anymore. It means nothing to me' moves the experience so far away that it can't 'get you'. But really, in a traditional rom-com sense, 'I don't care', can mean the exact opposite. It's like trying to put a plaster on something that needs stitches.

So I've put together my thoughts on how a trauma we want to bury can be best put to rest:

  • Feel the feelings.

    Sad? Try sitting with the sadness for an evening. Journal about it. Talk about it. Think about it. Cry about it. Drinking it away or eating food or sleeping a lot will only delay the feelings until later, when they inevitably resurface in perhaps in a more indirect way.
  • Grieve.

    Bear with yourself. Grief is a long process which can take a long time. And your emotional needs don't just include grieving when someone passes away. Leaving your job is still a loss, even if you hated it! Changes require us to process them, and allowing yourself to do just that will stop the feelings being delayed or coming out sideways. See my post about grief here.

    It might take a long time, and going through the stages can feel never-ending, but when you get to the end and you are able to gently and acceptingly reflect on your experiences it is really rewarding.
  • Be kind to yourself.

    There is no 'correct' way to deal with traumas, despite the things I've written here. It's different for everyone. On a wider scale, in some areas of the world grieving involves dancing and wailing. The only thing I think is 'right' is to be kind to yourself. Going on a night out and ending up crying to your friend at 1am eating chicken nuggets might not feel ideal, but try to be accepting of your behaviours. 
If you can keep yourself safe, be accepting of your feelings and sit with them, I believe that is the route to a deep burial of your difficult past experiences. The kind where they do not creep up on you and come out sideways. The peaceful kind.

Image from here

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Myths About Diabetes External Article

I wanted to share with my readers an article I wrote about Diabetes and the myths surrounding it so here's the link :) Feel great about my writing being published :)

How Our Inner Critics are Faulty: A Logical Exercise

For those of you who don't know, I am studying for a philosophy degree at the moment. This year I'm taking a logic module, which involves picking arguments apart. It's quite complicated sometimes, but useful, and on Friday I had a little break-through in analysing my own thoughts.

So in my logic seminar on Friday we were looking at the structure of arguments. I'll give an easy example:
  • If I work at Tesco I park in the Tesco car park sometimes.
  • I park in the Tesco car park sometimes.
  • Therefore, I work at Tesco.
Just looking at this argument, it's clear that there's something wrong with it. There could be loads of reasons why I park in the Tesco car park sometimes - it might just be to do my shopping - it doesn't have to mean that I work there! 

But it's not always so obvious. This particular argument example can be separated into algebraic parts. Bear with me if you hate maths!

So I'm going to take the argument apart now and assign each part a letter:
  • A - I work at tesco
  • B - I park in the Tesco car park sometimes
So the argument above can be restructured like this (look back at the original argument to work it out):
  • If I work at Tesco I park in the Tesco car park sometimes (if A, then B).
  • I park in the Tesco car park sometimes (B). 
  • Therefore, I work at Tesco (therefore A). 
The academic part will shortly be over and I will relate this to thinking! But basically, the letters can be replaced with other sentences, for example:
  • If it is raining then it is cloudy (if A then B)
  • It is cloudy (B)
  • Therefore it is raining (therefore A)
This argument (the raining/cloudy argument) is said to have the same logical form as the Tesco argument, because the letters are the same. This lettering order is said to be invalid because you can replace the letters with any sentence and the argument still won't 'work'. If you understand this, you'll understand the next bit!

So in last week's seminar, a nice girl sat next to me and we chatted quite a lot. This week I walked in and sat down. She came in after me and took a seat at the front away from me. At that moment I had a negative automatic thought (types of thoughts I'll look at in another blog post):
  • If she didn't enjoy sitting next to me last week she wouldn't sit next to me this week. 
  • She didn't sit next to me this week.
  • Therefore, she didn't enjoy sitting next to me last week.
You might notice, this argument has the same lettering structure as both the Tesco and the clouds argument:
  • If she didn't enjoy sitting next to me last week she wouldn't sit next to me this week. (if A then B)
  • She didn't sit next to me this week. (B)
  • Therefore, she didn't enjoy sitting next to me last week. (A)
Of course the argument came out from my inner critic in a rather convoluted way, like most arguments, but the basic structure is invalid. Even though thoughts from our inner critic are usually quite believable, when looked at closely like in CBT, they are often completely invalid. 

There could've been a different reason she chose not to sit next to me. And as it turned out, there was - she had to be at the front to do her presentation this week! 

The take away message from what I'm saying is that being aware of your negative thoughts means you can unpick them, analyse them and usually discover that they're complete rubbish! 

Image from here