Weight Is Just A Number

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No one likes stepping on the scales to be faced with the horrible reality that they probably ate too many slices of cake last week. The chances are you’ve had your suspicions about those extra couple of pounds for a while but have been in a firm state of denial with yourself. Finally, you pluck up the courage to see for certain and can deny it no longer – the numbers don’t lie after all. While to most, a little weight gain is a minor confidence blip, an inconvenience, for me it’s a minefield. No matter what size I am, I spend my life both dreading it and trying to avoid it, in equal measure.

So when I started to return to health after an illness that saw me shrink to just under 8 stone, the joy and relief of recovery was tainted by the fact that I would inevitably gain weight. I knew it was something that needed to happen – I was the thinnest I’ve ever been, even when in the throws of an eating disorder, I just wasn’t prepared for how horrific it would be when it started to become physically noticeable.

I didn’t notice for a while, I was too busy thinking about what I was going to eat next, high on the excitement of being able to enjoy food again and while I was aware that the food I was shovelling into me wasn’t particularly good for me, I was powerless to my appetite. White bread, smothered with Lurpak became the staple of my diet, I would go to bed dreaming about McDonald’s double cheeseburgers and my boyfriend watched in awe as I devoured sticky toffee puddings every weekend at dinner. Concerned by these new eating habits, I broached the subject with my dietician and of course, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation. My body was starving. I should point out that by this point I had been ill for a considerable amount of time, struggling to eat barely anything most days and what I did manage to eat, my body wasn’t absorbing any nutrients from. It turns out the human body is a pretty intelligent organism and it knows what it needs. I was craving these calorific foods, high in fat and carbohydrates, because my body was severely lacking the nutrients that they provide. The dietician reassured me that once my health and weight began to return to normal these cravings would stop and my diet would stabilise and she was right. Now that my body is nourished again, the bizarre cravings have stopped and I’m back to eating the balanced diet I had before, I’m back to myself again.

What isn’t quite as simple however, is accepting myself. As much as I know that gaining weight is a good thing, I can’t help but be disgusted every time I look in the mirror. When I step on the scales and the dial inches up a few more notches, my heart sinks a little bit more. Each time I’m offered a well-meaning compliment along the lines of,  “You’ve gained weight,” I die a little bit inside.

My arms – the only part of me I have ever considered as slim enough – now appear twice the size they used to be, my collarbone is no longer protruding and the gap between my thighs is getting smaller by the day. While all of these are positive signs, physical indicators of good health, I hate each and every one of them and I also hate the fact that I hate them. I’m happy my body is healthy again, yet I can’t accept it in its healthy form.

The worst part is not knowing if what I’m seeing in the mirror is as it really is or if my mind is lying to me, distorting my view with it’s dysmorphic tendencies. I might feel bigger than I’ve ever been, but the scales say I’m no heavier than I was before I fell ill – a healthy weight – and the numbers never lie, right?

I may be healthy physically, but mentally there’s still some work to be done. I need to listen to my body and to trust it, if I’m craving that slice of cake it’s not because I’m fat and greedy as the voice in my head would have me believe, it’s because my body needs sugar. I need to train my mind to work with my body rather than against it so that the dinner table is no longer a battlefield. I need to learn to love my body and to look after it, because it is healthy and for that I am grateful. For me gaining weight is the first hurdle, but the real recovery begins after.

Be Balanced Not Clean – The #EatClean Backlash

Food, Uncategorized

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The ‘clean eating’ phenomenon has been clogging up our Instagram feeds for too long. It is finally starting to face its inevitable backlash and I for one, am glad. The ‘eat clean’ hashtag has been deceiving us for long enough, with Instagrammers and food bloggers convincing us that their raw, vegan, plant-based or superfood diet is not in fact a diet, but a simple lifestyle change resulting in a healthier way of living. We are led to believe that not only will eating clean help us lose weight, it will give us clear skin, shiny hair and resolve a whole range of health issues from digestive disorders to reducing the risk of certain cancers. Sounds too good to be true right? That’s because it is, unfortunately behind all those filters lies an unhealthy truth.

The irony is, that I actually enjoy many of the foods that fall into the ‘clean eating’ category, but it’s the term that I dislike. Describing a particular way of eating as ‘clean’ implies that any other way of eating is ‘dirty’ ‘unclean’ and generally negative, therefore shaming those who are not on the bandwagon. It’s that issue again of labelling certain foods and in this case, even entire food groups, as ‘bad’ and if we consume them, that makes us bad too. This is not just true when it comes to others, but also ourselves, leading to self-persecuting behaviours which are at best a very unhealthy way of thinking and at worst the early symptoms of an eating disorder. Lets remind ourselves that being healthy is not just about the body but the mind too.

Great British Bake Off star Ruby Tandoh, who has spoken publicly about her battles with eating disorders, has been one of the first to lash out against ‘clean eating’, penning a controversial column for Vice in which she attacks food bloggers – and now authors of their own cookbooks – such as Ella Henderson (now Mills) and the Helmsley sisters, the leaders or shall we say, instigators of the clean eating craze.

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/ruby-tandoh-eat-clean-wellness

Like Tandoh, I bought into the clean eating concept, believing that I was heading towards a healthy lifestyle and that eating clean was a positive way to deal with recovery – I could concentrate on what I was eating, rather than not eating at all – and not only were these foods okay to eat but were actually good for me. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I was actually not recovering from my eating disorder at all, just channelling in a different way. I became obsessed with what I could and couldn’t eat, overcome with an astonishing sense of guilt if I so much as looked at a carb. For me, and for many, eating clean is just another way of controlling what you’re putting into your body.

Orthorexia, an eating disorder which stems from an obsession with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ foods, is not yet officially recognised by the medical profession, but this doesn’t mean it is any less dangerous. I don’t want to presume, but the fact that there has been an increase in the number of people suffering from this disorder in recent years, correlating with societies preoccupation with clean eating, I think speaks for itself. Food snaps and selfies of post-workout abs on Instagram, are just a part of the latest wave of thinspiration. These images which fill up our news feeds are just as detrimental as the photos of thigh-gaps and collarbones which I used to scroll through on Pro-Ana sites. Only now, the problem is that it brands itself as ‘wellness’, fooling us into believing it is a positive, healthy lifestyle. ‘Wellness’ is a term that should mean caring for and nourishing the body, but in this case, it is quite the opposite. While it is true that not everyone who chooses to ‘eat clean’ will develop an eating disorder, we need to be aware of the dangers and we need to stop branding these trends as healthy, preferable ways to live.

To me a healthy lifestyle is about being balanced, not clean. Cutting out entire food groups unnecessarily is not balanced and certainly not healthy. Eating healthy is not a new concept or a latest trend, it is what we’ve been doing for years – eating three meals a day which include fruit, veg, meat, fish, dairy and carbs. There’s a reason that these foods make up a balanced diet and that is because they contain the nutrients that our bodies need to survive. It’s incredibly simple, so why is this so often forgotten? Food is a resource for life, not the object of living.

Near the end of Tandoh’s column, she cites an experiment in which a group of women were fed foods they knew and enjoyed and then the same foods in a pureed form. The results showed that their bodies absorbed more nutrients from the meal they had enjoyed eating than from the less-palatable pureed form, proving that taking pleasure from what we eat leaves us better nourished.

So there you have it, scientific proof that enjoying your food is good for you. What you enjoy is down to you, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to diet and the best part of being balanced is finding foods that both you and your body love. Try new foods, experiment with recipes, learn to cook, go out to dinner and most importantly, ditch the #eatclean for #balancednotclean.

13 Things No One Tells You About Depression

Features

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1. It physically hurts.
Although depression is a mental illness it can cause physical pain too. From muscle ache and joint pain to stabbing sensations and that physical dull ache you feel in your gut when totally overcome with misery.

2. You literally feel like you are going insane.
Depression manifests in various different ways, including panic attacks, irrational thoughts and social anxiety. It can make you feel like you are crazy, you’re not you’re just sick.

3. You can’t differentiate between which thoughts are rational and which are the depression speaking.
Suddenly your head is filled with intrusive, depressive thoughts. Identifying these against your rational thoughts is tough and confusing, but an important step towards recovery.

4. Depression often makes you feel nothing at all.
People assume that depression means you are sad or “down” but it can actually mean not feeling anything at all. Feeling numb and emotionally exhausted is a definite a symptom of depression.

5. Except guilt, you feel guilty all the time.
If suffering from depression isn’t bad enough, imagine feeling guilty for suffering from depression. The guilt is a depressive emotion that makes you feel selfish, ungrateful and a failure, but the illness is out of your control, it’s not your fault.

6. The future is the most terrifying thing out there.
The future is a huge black, meaningless void that you cannot bear to even think about.

7. No matter how much outsiders try, they will always lose an argument with depression.
However much they reassure and argue with you, your people will never be any match for the arsehole that is depression. “You ARE worthless, useless etc…”

8. Most things people will say to you are not just not helpful, but categorically unhelpful.
Unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t understand depression which is why we so often here things like “just cheer up” or “don’t be so depressed.” This is not only completely pointless advice but it can also be detrimental to how the sufferer feels.

9. It doesn’t make you sad all the time.
Believe it or not, depression doesn’t have to mean lying, weeping in bed in the dark for months on end. Many people living with depression go out, carry on working and even make jokes. Stereotypes don’t allow for this.

10. Likewise, even people with a happy disposition can be depressed.
It is a medical illness, individual to the sufferer and it can affect anyone.

11. Everything that ever meant something, suddenly means nothing.
In a depressive state, you lose sight of everything that you ever loved or enjoyed previously – hobbies, interests and relationships. It’s like you never even existed before the illness.

12. You can’t just take a pill to make it all go away.
Doctors are pretty quick to prescribe antidepressants these days, but while they can help some people with depression to live a more normal life, they are not a long term or permanent solution. Getting better is a long and complex process.

13. It’s a lonely place.
Depression is a seriously lonely illness. It feels like no one in the world understands, and it’s no wonder, because a lot of people don’t. What’s important is that some people do and some are willing to try. Surround yourself with these people or be one of these people. They’re the ones who matter.

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Don’t Forget to Breathe

Fitness
Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Starting a new exercise that you’ve always wanted to try, is not dissimilar to asking someone you’ve fancied for ages to go out with you. It takes confidence and you need to build up the courage to make the first move. You are leaving yourself totally exposed, treading on unknown territory and you probably put it off for quite a while. For me, my date was yoga.

Yoga is an exercise I had wanted to try for many reasons but never knew how to go about it. I had always felt intimidated about making the first move, how would I know where to start? What would people think of me? What if I couldn’t do it? I looked up classes and stumbled across different types, which of course, meant nothing to me, so I freaked out and retreated back to my comfort zone. When my friend and I set off across South East Asia last year, yoga was on our bucket list. I finally lost my yoga virginity in Indonesia, in a small bamboo outhouse in Yogyakarta, just me, my companion and a fellow traveller were led by a beautiful french instructor. Finally taking a class made me feel silly for all the worrying and deliberating I had put myself through, I was completely defying the point of yoga. The atmosphere of the class was calm, relaxed and not in the least bit competitive, in fact it was so calm I actually nodded off at the end (this is highly embarrassing and I wouldn’t recommended it, but apparently it happens all the time.)

Now, in slightly different circumstances and certainly a less exotic setting, I have found a yoga class in my hometown and I am a convert. I am only on my second class, so am by no means an expert, but already I feel like a yoga enthusiast.

We practise two different types of yoga in each session, Yin and Yang. Beginning with Yang, which involves more movement and is more strenuous on the muscles, and finishing with Yin, for relaxation. That does not mean however, that the Yin is easy, it can involve holding positions for up to five minutes, which in practice is actually pretty tough.

Two classes down, I have learnt the importance of focusing on breathing and that this may be the best life advice I have ever received. When holding a position, particularly in Yin Yoga, it’s inevitable that wandering thoughts will sneak their way in, this is where you learn to patiently put them to one side, and return back to concentrating on your breathing. Breathing is the only bodily function we are able to control, and it will always be there, taking a moment to reconnect with it is something we should actively practice, and obviously not just in terms of yoga.

What I love about the class is that our instructor drums into us throughout, that every body is different. The more yoga you practice, your body will get used to the stretches and you will find you can push yourself further, but there is no competition.There is no right way to look when you are holding a stretch and there is no shame in not being able to push yourself as far as the person next to you, each of us is made up differently and we all have our own limits. Yoga is individual and unique to each person.

For me, this is what yoga is about, taking time out to feel calm, be myself and absolutely not think about anything else. In turn, I’m hoping this will make me happier, healthier and more productive in other – less calm – aspects of my life.

Time to Talk Day – Take 5 To Blog

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It’s Time to Talk day. People across the nation are taking 5 minutes to have a conversation about mental health, whether it be at work, with friends or online, and the response has been huge. Here is my #Take5ToBlog entry, have you taken your 5 today?

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1. My name is Sarah and I have experienced depression and Anxiety and have also suffered from the eating disorders Anorexia and Bulimia.

2. My mental illness has affected me in both positive and negative ways. Over the years, it has negatively affected every aspect of my life including family, friendships, relationships, and university. However, it has also helped to shape the person I am today. I would never choose to live with a mental illness but it has strengthened my character and become the source of inspiration for much of my work.

3. My greatest source of support has been… I wouldn’t say I have had one consistent source of support. More recently, there is one friend who has seen me at my absolute worst, never judged or abandoned me and was the catalyst for my recovery. After feeling consistently let down by the NHS over many years my blog has been my main source of support and motivation for getting better and staying healthy. Then there’s my boyfriend, who is responsible for making me happy on a daily basis.

4. My hope for the future is that people will no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about their mental health and that mental illness will be recognised and accepted just as physical illness is. I believe that if we can diminish the stigma we will save more lives. Mental health is not a taboo.

5. I’m taking 5 on Time to Talk day because openly speaking and writing about my experiences has helped me in overcoming my mental health problems and facing some of my biggest fears. I consider myself extremely lucky to have survived my mental illness and to be in a position where I can help others to do the same. My hope is that my words will encourage just one person to speak out, seek help or even simply, to not feel so alone.

10 Superfood’s to Add to Your Shopping List

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In my previous post I wrote about why we shouldn’t be “detoxing” this January, but that is by no means to say that we shouldn’t be trying to live and eat healthily. The problem with detox diets is that they more often than not – well pretty much always, actually – rely on cutting certain foods, and sometimes entire food groups out of your diet. I prefer to focus what I can add to my diet to improve it, rather than what I have to take away, or deny myself.

I’m getting personal now, but for me, restricting certain foods can be triggering, and what starts out as a seemingly innocent quest for a healthier diet, soon turns into an obsessive, guilt-ridden nightmare, over which I have no control. I find that concentrating so hard on what I can’t eat – the forbidden fruit, so to speak – sparks negative thoughts and sets me up for a fail from the very beginning. You know that old saying “we only want what we can’t have” yeah, that pretty much sums me up.

So, I have eventually learnt from my track record and am now taking a different approach to improving my diet, by adding new foods. Nope, not taking anything away, just adding some new ones into the equation – and yes I am feeling okay! For once, I am actually trying to eat better for the health benefits rather than to lose weight and I have to say I think I could get used to it.

Of course, I’m not just talking about adding any old thing you fancy to your diet, I’m talking about the foods that have proven health benefits, the foods that can do great things, I’m talking about, drumroll please, the superfood’s.

Obviously this list could go on and on, but here’s just a few of my favourites to inspire your tastebuds!

Quinoa

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Spinach

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Beetroot

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Sweet Potato

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Blueberries

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Greek Yoghurt

Pomegranate

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Avocado

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Make 2015 Your Best Year Yet

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January is a strange time, we are full of hope for the coming year, full of motivation to kick those bad habits, full of ideas about how we can better ourselves, convinced that this year will be the year we become everything we have always wanted to be. This time last year I wrote about why I didn’t believe in New Years resolutions, that if you want to change something about your life you shouldn’t wait until the start of a new year, do it whenever you like. While I still agree with last year me, this year I have found myself – or rather the underlying anxiety in me – coming up with endless lists of resolutions. These resolutions are not things I need to give up or change, they tend to be things I need to add to my life, in other words, ways to improve myself.

It wasn’t that 2014 was a bad year for me, in fact I would say it was pretty good as years go. I travelled to seven different countries, in Europe, South East Asia and North Africa, with two of the best companions I could ask for. I continued to write and blog and receive inspiring feedback from all of my readers, as well as reaching my highest views yet. I got a new job and I managed to stay healthy.

This said, I still find it much harder to write about the things I did achieve last year compared to the things I didn’t. Therefore, my mind has gone into overdrive with hobbies I must take up, classes I must start attending, books I must write, jobs I must apply for etc. etc.

I am attempting to think rationally, to think about small things that I could add to my life in order to take bigger steps towards what I want to achieve in the long run. So here I’ve shared my list of ideas – notice the lack of the word “resolution” – for how to have the best year yet. Just in case you are feeling overwhelmed by the January expectations too.

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Write – anything and everything. Makes notes, write a blog, start on one of the books I’ve been plotting in my head for years, try a new style of writing, write more poems.

Organise – start organising every aspect of my life, starting by buying a diary then moving on to my laptop, my room, documents, my wardrobe and so on!

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Eat – and enjoy it. Try new foods, new recipes, cook for others and myself. Learn to appreciate and have fun with food – eating isn’t just a necessity, it’s a life skill.

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Meditate – every now and then, make time to take time out.

Clear out – clutter, work my way through my space one draw/cupboard at a time. I have gathered an unhealthy amount of “stuff” over many years. They say a clear space means a clear mind.

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Laugh – all the time. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh and have a positive influence on your life, as I get older it becomes clearer and easier to recognise these people.

Work hard – at every endeavour, give 100 per cent to everything then I can’t blame myself when something doesn’t work out

Worry less – about everything. Shrug things off. Worry less about worrying less.

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Travel – continue to see the world, visit as many new places as possible and take too many photographs.

Have a good one!

Who What Wear – Mind Media Awards 2014

Fashion, News

Last night saw the Mind Media Awards take place at BFI Southbank in London. The awards ceremony celebrates the best examples of reporting and portrayal of mental health in print, broadcast and digital media and recognises media professionals, organisations, students and individuals who report responsibly and sensitively on mental health.

This year, Channel 4 won three out of the four television awards, My Mad Fat Diary won the Drama Award, Embarrassing Bodies: Live From The Clinic took the Entertainment Award and News and Current Affairs Award was won by Channel 4 News for their Life In Chains: Somalia’s Mentally Ill report.

The event, which was hosted by writer and journalist Helen Lederer, saw BBC’s Michael Buchanan and Community Care’s Andy McNicholl share the award for Journalist of the Year, for their investigations which exposed the crisis in mental health care, including shortage of beds, cuts to community services and children being placed on adult wards.

The event saw a diverse group of celebrities step out to show their support. Take a look at who was there and who wore what.

 

Denise Welch

Denise Welch, who attended with her husband Lincoln Townley, wore a bold monochrome mini-dress dress with black blazer and ankle boots.

 

JAMEELA

Jameela Jamil dazzled in a white strapless dress with structured skirt and an awfully cute pair of heels.

 

ceska

Made in Chelsea’s Cheska Hull was glowing in a floral strapless number.

 

DR DAWN HARPER

Embarrassing Bodies’s Dr Dawn Harper looked the picture of elegance a black off-the-shoulder satin dress and eye-catching necklace.

megan cox

Katherine Welby-Roberts and Megan Cox arrived together sporting glossy curls and delicate lace. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter made a statement with a cobalt shoe.

gail porter

Meanwhile, Gail Porter chose to go casual, in a camouflage jacket, her guest looking very of-the-minute in a wide-leg pinstripe trouser.

Is Depression Affecting Someone YOU Know?

Features

depression-13061 If depression affects one in five adults at some point during their lives, then the chances are we will all know at least one person to be affected by the illness. Recently, I learnt of two separate situations, where someone close to me could be suffering from depression and this compelled me to ask the question, had I not been made aware of it, would I of spotted the signs and symptoms before things went too far?

This thought process then escalated. If I, as someone who would consider themselves to be relatively familiar with the illness couldn’t spot the signs, then how could we expect someone who has never come into contact with mental health problems before to recognise someone close to them was suffering?

The signs of a mental health problem can be screamingly obvious to the sufferer but almost impossible for an outsider to spot, and when treating someone the focus is often on what has led to the illness, rather than how to prevent it.

On World Mental Health Day this year, Radio 5’s Stephen Nolan led an insightful discussion about the need for us to understand the range of mental health problems, just as we do for physical health. The answer to this is obvious yet proportionally absent, education and awareness.

If the people surrounding the sufferer, be it friends, family or colleagues, have been educated about mental health, have a good understanding of illnesses such as depression, and can recognise the signs, this gives them the ability to intervene in an appropriate way and begin to break down the three overwhelming thoughts in the sufferers mind –

“I’m the only one to feel like this”

“Nobody cares”

“Nobody wants to listen”

Here’s a list of symptoms for clinical depression, taken from the NHS website. Take it seriously, depression is real.

“The symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely between people. But as a general rule, if you are depressed, you feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in things you used to enjoy. The symptoms persist for weeks or months and are bad enough to interfere with your work, social life and family life. There are many other symptoms of depression and you’re unlikely to have every one listed below. If you experience some of these symptoms for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP.

Psychological symptoms include:

• continuous low mood or sadness

• feeling hopeless and helpless

• having low self-esteem

• feeling tearful

• feeling guilt-ridden

• feeling irritable and intolerant of others

• having no motivation or interest in things

• finding it difficult to make decisions

• not getting any enjoyment out of life

• feeling anxious or worried

• having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

Physical symptoms include:

• moving or speaking more slowly than usual

• change in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)

• constipation

• unexplained aches and pains

• lack of energy or lack of interest in sex (loss of libido) •

changes to your menstrual cycle

• disturbed sleep (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning)

Social symptoms include:

• not doing well at work

• taking part in fewer social activities and avoiding contact with friends

• neglecting your hobbies and interests

• having difficulties in your home and family life

Depression can come on gradually, so it can be difficult to notice something is wrong. Many people continue to try to cope with their symptoms without realising they are ill. It can take a friend or family member to suggest something is wrong.

Doctors describe depression by how serious it is:

•mild depression has some impact on your daily life

• moderate depression has a significant impact on your daily life

• severe depression makes it almost impossible to get through daily life – a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms”

If you’re worried that you or someone close to you could be suffering from depression there are various websites and helplines you can go to for advice: www.mind.org.uk www.samaritans.org  (08457 90 90 90 24-hour helpline) www.rethink.org www.youngminds.org

Stoptober – 2/3 Weeks Smoke Free

Features, News, Opinion

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Okay, I’m going to be honest here, after the success of my first week smoke free I have somewhat let myself down over the last week and a half. Lets just say I’ve had a few “moments of weakness.” According to my Stoptober app, at this point I should be in control of my cravings rather than being controlled by them and they should be gradually decreasing by the day, in other words I should have almost cracked it. As I write this I realise I am much more disappointed in myself than I thought, I am forced to ask myself the question, was it worth it? The answer of course, is no.

My first slip-up was last Saturday night during a long-overdue night out. I actually bought a packet of cigarettes – which is almost unheard of for me – but honestly, I think I was craving the idea rather than the actual smoke itself. After I spent the first two battling through the truly awful taste, I gave up. I suppose this is the silver lining here, realising that what you’ve been telling yourself is true, smoking is horrid. Sometimes you just need to make sure.

However I still didn’t learn my lesson, one morning last week I woke up severely lacking in motivation. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was as if the part of me which had been telling me not to smoke just didn’t wake up that day. In a moment of madness, I purchased my first packet of tobacco since the beginning of the challenge, fully intending to smoke the whole lot, I smoked two. I am both pleased and relieved to say that this (still full) packet is now lying dormant somewhere on my bedroom floor, and hasn’t been touched since.

As I near to entering the final week, my sense of achievement is severely lacking due to these discrepancies, which I feel are over-shadowing the main positive. I can only console myself with the fact that I haven’t given up all together, in fact it actually shows great willpower to slip up, get over it and get back on track.