Five books to escape the world

It’s a strange time for us all at the moment. We are living in a time of uncertainty and the fear of the unknown can bring forth a lot of negative emotions about the future. I think one of the most important things that we can do during this time is find a little joy amongst the chaos and hold on to that. One thing that brings me endless amounts of joy is the escapism that books bring, and for that reason, here are some books that are perfect for escaping the current global situation and entering a land of hope, courage and possibilities.

Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Holding up the universe is a story of two people, Libby Strout and Jack Masselin, colliding. Each with problems of their own, they intertwine and work through issues that they have whilst becoming friends and helping one another. A story about strength, fear, friendship and overcoming difficulties, it’s as inspiring as it is hopeful.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi follows a man named Pi on an incredible journey of survival. Shipwrecked on a small life boat with Richard Packer, a Bengal tiger, Pi faces not only the wrath of the sea and weather, but also the threat of the tiger. Exploring issues of safety, survival and spirituality, this book takes you on a journey of joy, fear, shock, revulsion, happiness and sadness.

My shit therapist and other mental health stories by Michelle Thomas

My shit therapist and other mental health stories is funny, relatable and sad in all the right places. It covers all aspects of Thomas’s life, from having a job whilst mentally ill to moving house. It is not only inspiring, but refreshing to read such real and raw accounts of what it’s like to live as high functioning and what happen when you crash.

The salt path by Raynor Winn

The salt path explores loss and illness and homelessness. You are transported on an adventure through the costal path to find answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask. Winn’s writing puts you right in her shoes, feeling the scorching blisters on her nose and the hammering rain soaking her through. Their journey is beautiful and heart breaking and leaves you desperate for more.

The subtle art of not giving a fuck by Mark Manson

The subtle art of not giving a fuck isn’t your ordinary self help book. Launching you into a journey of self discovery, self awareness and self improvement, this book is definitely designed to help you wake up to the ways you live your life and open your eyes to the possibilities of making life better.

Those are my top five books to help lift your spirits during isolation! Let me know if you read any of them and what you thought of them.

Lots of love
Libby x

What do you do when the world is in panic and your eating disorder is triggered?

The thoughts swim around your head in the middle of the night. Everyone is quarantined and your eating disorder sees this as an opportunity.
“Go on, stop eating, lose all that weight.”
A new challenge. A new competition. A new reason to starve. That voice screams at you when you think of food.
“You shouldn’t be thinking about food, don’t you want to be the winner?.”
Food is all you think about. Food and weight and that rush when the scale drops another pound.
“Imagine the faces when you come out of quarantine thinner.”

We are going through a difficult time right now, even more so if you have an eating disorder. I have been battling thoughts of restricting and purging since self isolation began. It has been a huge trigger. The thoughts and urges are almost irresistible. The promises the eating disorder makes are tempting and I find myself close to accepting the challenge. And then I feel guilty. Why is my brain trying to use a global pandemic as a challenge to lose as much weight as possible?

So what do you do when the world is in a panic, your eating disorder is triggered and everything in you is screaming for you to lose weight?
Okay, so it’s not as simple as that, but you get my point. Use this time to throw yourself into recovery.

  1. Make a list of fear foods you want to tackle – what better time to challenge your eating disorder that when self isolating? No public meltdowns, no pressure from outside parties, no one to tell you you’re doing it wrong. Use this time to kick ass and fight like hell to recover. Instead of taking on the eating disorders challenge to lose weight, take on the challenge to beat the eating disorder.
  2. Fill your day with activities that keep you busy – this is so important to help you through the tough days. Filling your day with fun things that help distract you when the eating disorder is particularly loud. Things like: writing letters to friends and family, reading a book, writing a book, playing board games, knitting, embroidery, doing your make up, painting your nails, having a whole pamper session, making a scrapbook or memory book.
  3. Talk to those you live with about the thoughts you’re getting – when struggling, it can be incredibly beneficial to communicate those struggles with the people you are living with. They can help prompt you and encourage you and remind you of the important things.
  4. Don’t be so hard on yourself – forgive yourself for having these thoughts. Mental illness doesn’t take a break, not even in a global pandemic, so take it easy on yourself. Try writing a letter to yourself as if you were your best friend. Show yourself the same love and compassion you would show a friend.

Eating disorders are a constant daily battle, and recovery isn’t easy at the best of times, but I want you to know, and yes Libby I am talking to you too, that you are stronger than your eating disorder. You deserve better and more. You are allowed to eat. You are allowed to enjoy food. You are allowed to to let go of the rules and restrictions that you’ve been tangled in for so long. Don’t let what is happening in the world ruin the progress you have made. Don’t let your eating disorder take hold of the steering wheel. You are in control, and you will be okay.

Lots of love,
Libby x

Life update | March 2020

We are three months into 2020 and I have neglected this blog quite a lot. I really want to get back into posting regularly and felt it best to give a little update before I start posting again.

Mental health | At the moment I am struggling with a lot of things and I find I am often feeling very overwhelmed by how much I am struggling. In terms of borderline personality disorder, my mood is almost consistently low. I haven’t really felt any sort of joy or happiness in the past few weeks. My mood has been roughly a 2/3 for quite a while now, and whilst it’s not dangerously low, it’s low enough for it to be directly impacting my ability to carry out daily tasks and function properly. I haven’t really been using any skills to help combat the low mood as I’m finding that I just don’t care enough to try and make things better, though I do see that I am caught in a vicious cycle here. In terms of bulimia I have been doing well in some ways. I have reduced the amount I am binging and purging which is really great, however I have been struggling with restricting which is not so great. I am trying to work on this each day though. Strangely enough, my trauma symptoms haven’t been too bad. I am having nightmares most nights and I still get flashbacks daily but they’re a lot less frequent than they were and I’m able to ground myself a lot better than before which is really good. I have been struggling a lot with thoughts of suicide but I am managing them at the moment and taking prn as and when necessary. I decided this week that I would start planning out my weeks again to help me as much as I can during this difficult time. I have struggled to keep to what has been planned, but hopefully next week will be better.

Writing | I started off March really strong with writing and managed to write 38,965 words in under two weeks, however the past week or so I have hit major writers block and haven’t been able to get anything down on the page. So, whilst I am almost 40,000 words into the second draft of my first novel, it’s been put on the back burner for now. Hopefully this will only lasts for a few more weeks and then I will feel ready to get back to writing. I am aiming to have the second draft ready to be sent off to beta readers by May!!

Reading | Something else that I have been struggling with at the moment is reading. I am finding it difficult to focus for long periods of time and I am finding that my motivation to read is lacking. However, having said that, I have managed to read 103 pages of holding up the universe on the past three days which is very promising. Hopefully I am back in the game and will be reading a lot more soon, so look out for future blog posts that are book related!

Money | My IVA is now in place and I made my first payment towards it this month. Whilst I may not be great with money and still have a long way to go, I am proud of myself for admitted that I needed more help than a debt management plan could provide. I have a very long way to go with learning how to manage money, save money and generally be more careful. I am not sure why or what caused it but I’ve realised that having money makes me deeply uncomfortable and thus sparks the need to spend it. I think recognising that is a good step forward.

Alcohol | I am no longer sober, however I have drank responsibly and I have even stopped drinking the moment I started to feel unsafe. I still have a long way to go with my relationship with alcohol which may or may not result in the need to stay sober in the future, but for now I am enjoying the occasional casual drink with friends or family.

Coronavirus | It wouldn’t really be an update if I didn’t mention the coronavirus. Personally I am struggling with fear that my family members will die and heart ache for those key workers that are completely rushed off their feet right now. I am also feeling immense guilt for feeling suicidal during the middle of a pandemic where people are quite literally fighting for their lives. I am struggling with staying indoors and reverting back to old agoraphobic tendencies. Overall it’s been a big struggle for me, however I know that there is light at the end of this very dark tunnel and that I just need to keep holding on to that hope.

And that’s all I can think of to update you all on from the top of my head. I hope you are all well and staying safe. Sending my love to those struggling.

Libby xo

Are we taking the conversation about mental illness too far?

Note: I’m quite nervous to post this as I know people will have different opinions to what I have said, however that is okay and I am open to discussions about the content of this post.

I was recently talking with a friend about the topic of mental illness and how talking about it affects those in society and it was an interesting conversation to have so I thought I’d write a little blog post about some of the things we talked about.

Something that came up in the conversation was the misinterpretation of what mental illness actually is. Anybody can struggle with their mental health during their life, but that doesn’t mean you have a diagnosable mental illness. However, there seems to be an acceptance within western society that events that cause appropriate emotional reactions are in fact mental illnesses. By this I mean that, for example, your husband divorces you and therefore you tell people you are depressed, when in fact, you’re having a biological response in an appropriate way. Feeling sad for an appropriate amount of time after a life event like this is to be expected, the same as being nervous before an exam or going through the process of grief when somebody close to you dies. These situations have specific emotional reactions that do not deviate from the norm. It is only when these reactions are prolonged that it becomes a problem. You may notice in most of the issues of the DSM, a large majority of mental illnesses require the emotions, thoughts and behaviours to have occurred for a certain period of time. This is because there is a difference between appropriate reactions to life events and developing a mental illness. The terms ‘depressed’ and ‘anxious’ and even ‘anorexic’ and ‘alcoholic’ and ‘ocd’ get thrown around so often in every day conversation when referring to sadness or nervousness or a weekend bender or missing one meal or cleaning the kitchen at 3am.. that you start to wonder, has the conversation about mental illness gone too far? And by this I mean, have we focused our attention too much on diagnosis and not enough on treatment and prevention and education on what these illness are actually like.

This leads on to something else that me and my friend spoke about, and that is teaching about mental illness in primary schools. Is this acceptable? Do children under the age of 10 really need to know what depression and anxiety is? There have been a lot of arguments for and against teaching children about mental illness. One of the biggest arguments against, is the statement that: ‘children will more be more susceptible to mental illness if they are taught what it is.’ And to a certain degree I can understand their point of view. For example, when I was diagnosed with bulimia at age 14, I researched all I could on the condition in attempt to understand it better, and as a result found that I actually unconsciously adapted my behaviours to include more of the symptoms. Why? Because my mind had concluded that I was bulimic and should therefore have all the symptoms of bulimia. As an adult I now know that this is not the case, however as a child I didn’t understand this. Teaching children, especially those under 10, what depression is may result in them being more inclined to think that sadness = depressed and it may then spiral. However, having said that I do believe it’s important to talk to children about mental health, but I feel it would be less harmful to focus on preventative measures like self care, self soothing and relaxation techniques as a way of looking after your mental health as opposed to teaching children the different symptoms of certain illnesses. Think of it this way: we don’t teach children about heart attacks, strokes and cancer as a way to get them to be more aware of their physical health, instead we teach them about preventative measures to take to avoid said physical illnesses like healthy eating and regular exercise. I feel the same approach should be taken when educating children about mental health.

Image found on google images.

There are so many complicated and complex layers to our mental health that it can be hard to distinguish between what is healthy and a normative emotional reaction and what could be warning signs of a mental illness. This is why I struggle to jump on board with self diagnosing, especially when it comes to a mental illness. This is because the brain is such a complex thing and not even the top psychiatrists and psychologists completely understand it. Of course people know themselves better than anyone else, but unless you have dedicated your adult career to the study of the brain, you are not in a position to diagnose a mental illness. There is no straight forward answer like acute physical illnesses. When a person has anaemia this can be confirmed with blood tests, however there are no scientific test that can 100% confirm or reject a suspected mental illness. This is why diagnosis usually comes after months, if not years, of observation via therapy, counselling, inpatient stays or prolonged contact with somebody with mental health qualifications.

I believe that as western society attempts to move forward and be more accepting and willing to listen, we have become obsessed with diagnosis, and the worst part is, people are invalidating each other and a lot of the time, I have seen on social media that it’s becoming a competition of who is worse. A few years ago I wrote something on twitter about mental illness, I do not remember what this was, however I do remember that one persons response was:

‘I know more than you, I have actual mental illnesses, not just depression and anxiety.’

And it made me think a lot about how society is moving forward in certain ways, but moving backwards in others. I have seen it most prominently within mental health communities themselves, in which individuals will act as though depression and anxiety aren’t real or serious mental illnesses because ‘everyone’ has it, which of course isn’t the case and is an incredibly damaging way to look at things.

I think that the conversation around mental health is very important to have, however I do struggle with the way mental health is talked about and the misconceptions of what mental illness actually is.

I would love to know your opinions on this, the best place to talk to me about it would be twitter @libbyxford

Libby x

Veganuary 2020 | A Q&A reflection

Veganuary 2020 has come to an end and what a journey it’s been. I wanted to share my experiences so I opened the space up to receive questions about my experience, here is a little Q&A:

How difficult was it to make the change to become vegan?

Personally I didn’t find it to be too difficult. I made sure I had loads of vegan snacks in the house so if I was craving chocolate I could just raid the cupboard. After maybe a week it because the norm. I had been vegan before so I already knew the majority of what I could and couldn’t eat and there are so many amazing alternatives now that’s its super easy to be vegan in terms of substituting foods. Back when I was vegan in 2014 I was living on nakd bars and bean burgers but now the options are endless. I found that some of my shoes aren’t vegan, however having spoke to some vegans, as I bought them before I went vegan it’s okay to continue wearing them and just don’t buy any additional non vegan items. I’ve always been big on cruelty free make up, so I just had to check it was cruelty free and vegan which I think (?) it is. The main struggle I’ve had is finding a hair conditioner that makes my hair feel silky smooth that’s vegan, so if you have any suggestions I’d love to know!!

Photo | Vegan fry up from Morrison’s.

Cost wise, is it more expensive that being vegetarian or a meat eater?

I can’t speak for how different it is to eating meat as I’ve been veggie for 11 years, however in terms of comparing the prices to vegetarian food it’s pretty much the same. I find that even with buying the vegan meat and dairy substitutes, it’s pretty much equal to vegetarian costs. The only thing that I would say is more expensive is milk, however that’s because I drink alpro instead of store brands. But I’ve been drinking alpro for 6 years now and I love I personally prefer it to store brands of soya milk.

Photo | Tesco food shop that I did at the start of January.

Did you make any mistakes or eat anything that wasn’t vegan?

I did yes. I accidentally ate a salad with dressing thinking that the dressing was vegan when it wasn’t. I also bought an M&S meal that was in the same section as the plant based food so when it said chicken I thought it was vegan chicken, luckily though I realised it was actual meat whilst reading the microwave instructions and gave it to my mum instead!! I did on one occasion binge eat on Krispy Kreme doughnuts which I put down to a bulimia slip up where I just wasn’t thinking straight, however I drew a line and started again and I am pleasantly surprised that this only happened once as when I’ve tried to go vegan in the past it would happen all the time.

What has been your favourite vegan meal?

Hands down has to be the Costa vegan cheese & ham toastie!!!! I loved it so much I bought some vegan ham & cheese so I could make it at home haha.

Photo | Costa‘s vegan ham & cheese toastie.

Do you find that you’re judged for being vegan?

I wouldn’t say I’ve been judged, but some people do make passing comments. Because I’ve been vegan before and I’ve been trying to get back to being vegan since I stopped 6 years ago most people in my life accepted a long time ago so I don’t really get much judgement anymore. However I do get my nan asking ‘well can’t you just have a day off?’ when she’s bought me something that’s veggie not vegan and complains when I say no. She often asks if I want meat products too though which baffles me because I haven’t eaten meat in so long, but that’s just nan being forgetful.

Did you find being vegan affected your eating disorder?

Actually, it affected it positivity. In the past it’s always had a negative impact so I was hesitant to try veganuary in case it resulted in a eating disorder relapse, but it actually did the opposite. I have been able to eat meals and keep them down and I’ve ever found myself getting genuinely excited about food which I never in a million years thought would happen which has been really nice. I have had a few slip ups with purging which is only natural in recovery, but I’ve gone from purged multiple times a day to three times in a whole month which is amazing and I credit going vegan for that!!

Photo | M&S no mozerella sticks

Are you going to carry on being vegan?

I am yes. I’ve enjoyed it so much and it’s helped me find enjoyment in food again and I’m really pleased that it’s worked out as well as it has so I’m definitely going to be sticking to veganism!!

Have you missed anything you’d normally eat?

Honestly I haven’t really. I do miss extra mature cheddar as I am yet to find a vegan cheese that tastes like extra mature but apart from that I haven’t really missed anything. I miss being able to pop into a corner shop and buy any bar of chocolate more than I miss that actual chocolate if that makes sense? But veganism is becoming so much more mainstream now that it’s not a major problem as there are usually other options for you!!

I have had such an amazing time throughout veganuary, trying new and exciting foods and learning what I like and what I don’t like. It’s been a huge trial and error but now that I feel a lot more accustomed to what are to my taste I feel like maybe throughout February I will be able to step out of my comfort zone and start making meals from scratch, which will result in a while new type of trial and error that I’m very much looking forward to!

If you have any further questions feel free to leave them on this post, or ask me on Twitter @libbyxford or Instagram @soyamilkgal.

Libby x