Our local Time to Change Champions are leading the fight against mental health stigma. With this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week being themed on ‘kindness’, Anna shares how kindness from her friends, family and herself has helped her, and how opening up to her friends meant they could support her and respect her triggers.
“In times of uncertainty like the current situation our country is facing, we often feel lost or out of control and to combat that feeling we may excessively focus on something we can control. For me for a long time this was my food consumption and weight. Self-confidence and body image is something I’ve struggled with from a young age. As a child I was often sick and I later began to associate being sick with feeling better. Being able to decide when that happened made me feel I could control something in my life where I felt like I couldn’t control anything else.
This negative association that had developed really came to a head during my teenage years where I was bullied for being “different” and for the way I looked. One memory that really stands out is some of my friends well intentionally saying that “at least you’re not fat”. Thus began the destructive pattern of when I felt that I wasn’t good enough socially, academically or physically, I would comfort eat and then purge. I felt guilty that I couldn’t achieve the unachievable of being “perfect” and was terrified of gaining weight, as if being skinny was the only thing I had going for me and I couldn’t lose that. This brings me onto why we all need to remember to be kind, the things you do and say have an impact on those around you!
Kindness to others
Fortunately for me when I left secondary school and started college I met some amazing people, who now over 8 years later are still some of my best friends and one of those people has since become my Fiancée! Those friends that I met in college, never judged me for being “different”, they saw me as their friend Anna first. I learned to accept the things I couldn’t change about myself that made me feel insecure and embrace my being different because let’s be real being “normal” is another word for “boring”.
During college I started opening up about my struggles with my self-worth and my difficult relationship with food, my friends didn’t try to “fix” me or tell me that I was being stupid or to just get over it. They just listened and supported me, especially my partner who has never gotten fed up of listening to me rage and cry when I’m in a bad headspace. This positive experience of opening up to my friends led me to being able to open up about my struggles to my family who have been super supportive and encouraged me to keep on the road to becoming a healthy weight and being happy in my own skin.
Later, when I went to University which is a place I never thought I’d go to when I thought about my future as a younger teen. I made sure to be very open about my past and present struggles with the friends I made there, I found this incredibly freeing and made some really close friendships I still hold now from it.
I now know that talking about the struggles with my Mental Health are nothing to be scared off and I shouldn’t be ashamed or feel weak for having lived through them. These days if my friends notice a change in my weight be that an increase or decrease they always ask me if it’s intentional rather than making flippant innocent comments like so many of us do of “have you lost weight? You look great!” or the well-intentioned family member who jokingly pokes you in the stomach after Christmas and says the dreaded “Look like you’ve gained some weight there!”. Previously the first comment would have been fuel to continue my negative relationship with food and the second would have sent me into a binge and purge spiral and an exercise frenzy. Thankfully, now those types of comments don’t have the same effect but my friends are kind enough to remember my potential triggers.
Kindness to self
I will be honest and say that changing my relationship with food to more of a positive one and keeping my weight healthy is still a daily struggle, with having to battle those negative thoughts that were ingrained in my head for so many years wanting to creep their way back in. This is where self-compassion and being kind to myself through self-care comes in, I have to accept my past self and understand why she felt the way she did in order to recognise when those old feelings are sneaking back in so I can confront them.
Self-care is different for everyone, for me, self-care means not excessively weighing myself and tracking every quarter of a pound; it’s not beating myself up when I have a re-lapse; it’s telling myself it’s ok to have the odd food binge of my favourite foods and not to feel guilty about it as long as I try to be healthy most of the time and exercise responsibly. It’s about taking time for myself and doing things that I love like reading and being artistic whilst making a mess! Sometimes it may even be staying home when friends are going for a night out if I’ve had a particularly busy week and I need time to recharge, it’s not selfish to take time for yourself. You aren’t letting anyone down because you can’t help others if you don’t look after yourself first!
Kindness to strangers
The last point I come to is remembering to be kind to strangers, it’s easy for us to be kind to our friends and family but we should always remember that before those people became our friends and family they were strangers. We’re told as children never to talk to strangers but how would we ever make friends if we stuck to that advice all the time? I’m not saying everyone should go around trying to talk to everyone you see and befriending them, but you can still be kind. This can be as easy and simple as smiling at someone on a train or bus so they know the seat next to you or across from you is free. I know from personal experience I’ve had some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in my life with strangers this way which have brightened up both my own day and theirs too.
So, if you can be anything in life, please be kind! You never know what difference a small act of kindness that may seem like nothing to you can mean the world to another person!”
The Portsmouth and Southampton Time to change hub is delivered in partnership by Southampton City Council and Portsmouth City Council, co-ordinated by Solent Mind.
We are committed to the Hub being led by Champions. There are many ways that registered Champions can get involved in the direction of the Hub, including joining us at Steering Group meetings. If you’d like to find out more please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are looking for support with your mental health or wellbeing at this difficult time, please visit our support page.