How dependant have we become on our ‘devices’? The world wide web has enabled us to be outside our immediate world, expand our knowledge, networks and connect with people we may not otherwise have the opportunity to do. I hear many conversations about the possible effects of social media on mental health. There are so many contributing factors that could lead to the development of mental illness. There was no social media when I developed anorexia nervosa. The development of the illness for me had nothing to do with body image, concern about my weight or dieting.
There were a whole range of unhealthy emotions and thoughts that I had been experiencing for a few years before that. Things that I did not have the ability to express or the skills to deal with. These and the accompanying anxiety and depression were not apparent. What became apparent were the physical signs and these became the focus of those around me. How defensive I became when anyone tried to talk to me about the unhealthy behaviours that emaciated my body yet made me feel I had control over those emotions.
“Don’t you dare take this away from me as I do not know how to cope if you do!” This is what screamed in my head. What a lie! These behaviours were out of control, and they fed the unhealthy emotions and thoughts I was trying to manage. I saw the pain in the eyes of a homeless man who told me he had been in and out of rehab for substance misuse problems and he said not once was he asked why. He knew his why. This reinforced to me how much we miss the mark in helping people rehabilitate when we only focus on the ‘external’.
And here lies the problem. The external becomes our reflection. We can’t, don’t know how, and often put the internal things we need to be looking at in the ‘too hard basket’. Anything external becomes a blindfold to the things we need to be healing. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that physical signs and symptoms need to be addressed, but this is not going to fix the problem. Ignoring the ‘weeds’, that are often buried deep means that they will pop up again as we continue to try and manage them the only ways we know how.
We are told constantly to be and feel positive but life is not like that! We can become uncomfortable and feel like we are failing when we have not got it all together. So we try to ‘fix ourselves’, often with unhealthy behaviours, so that all appears well. It is normal and ok to feel a range of positive and negative emotions. What is NOT ok is to judge ourselves on these. It is NOT ok to not be supported to share when we feel low and NOT ok to not be taught how to develop good coping strategies and build resilience. My psychologist likens it to resistance training, with little increments and the correct technique you get stronger to deal with the heavier load.
While we have connection with the world at our fingertips, we often have no connection with ourselves. Sometimes it is too difficult to look at the underlying cause. Actually, these become buried so deep that they have become our ‘normal’, that you no longer see the beautiful ‘flowers’ in yourself. The qualities that you may have forgotten you have. The best thing I did, with the help of a professional, was to go to those deep places. IT HURT! It especially hurt to know the destruction that these undealt with thoughts and emotions caused to others around me and to my own life. I wish I got this help earlier in life to examine those emotions and thoughts. It would have saved many mistakes that compounded mental ill health.
Let’s go beyond the surface! At an individual level, this is where true healing came for me. My sense of self has never been better but it took ploughing through a whole lot of ‘junk’ to get to this point, including experiencing the criminal justice system. I was supported to work through these issues. But I have found that at a system level, the same problem exists. The surface issues are dealt with – and they need to be, and then people are left, hands wiped clean, that part of the ‘treatment’ done.
People with eating disorders are discharged from hospital as body weight (external) has stabilised to a healthy ‘target weight’ and other physical body functions have returned to normal levels. The person that was addicted to substances has got through detox or the person that cuts or burns themselves to relieve pain has been ‘patched up’, so they are they are ‘good to go’. The person who is released from prison has done their time, but don’t give them employment or trust them as they have a ‘record’. Hang on! Have the underlying issues that got each of these people to the valleys of their lives been addressed?
When a man sits in front of you crying, saying he bought ice on purpose so I could be taken back to prison where he can at least get food and a bed “cos I can’t get work”- this indicates society is not right. When people’s sense of worth is so low and that they can’t share how they are feeling, or that they need to keep up appearances, this is an indication that society is not well.
When we stop judging each other at every level, we allow a person to stop judging themselves. I love the line from Snow Patrol’s chasing cars: “ I need your grace, to remind me to find my own”. Let’s support one another and allow each other to go beyond the surface – to the stuff beyond the ‘reflection’ and get real with ourselves and each other. At an individual level, family level, community level, system level and society level. Yes it’s hard work but the change has to start somewhere!
Written by Eleni Psillakis