The stigma surrounding mental health issues – such as depression and eating disorders – has started to improve in the past few years. As a result, celebrities have been speaking up about their own mental illnesses, social media is seeing more and more healthy nutrition accounts and body positive activists, and we’re constantly told to reach out for help if we’re suffering. Although we should appreciate and recognise these efforts, we can’t ignore that general support for the mental health community still has a long way to go to.
LET’S TALK ABOUT LIFE AFTER RECOVERY!
We now have an endless number blogs and social media accounts sharing their recovery stories to inspire us. But what about life after recovery? Are we supposed to live happily ever after just because we’re no longer producing whatever symptoms we had before, we no longer need to take anti-depressants and our BMI number is now completely healthy? Are we not supposed to feel bad in our own skin anymore? Is life meant to be perfect now that we’ve recovered? You should not give into all the pressure you receive from outside to be happy. You should, however, look out for a few things to stay healthy and prevent any potential relapses. So here’s what I think you should keep in mind on a daily basis.
DON’T: blame yourself for recurring thoughts
Don’t just think that once you’ve recovered, you’ll never have the same negative thoughts again. A friend once told me that we’ll never fully ‘recover’ from a mental illness, and that our harmful thoughts will always be at the back of our minds. But here’s the good news: they’re only dangerous if you listen to them! Life after recovery isn’t about not having any problems and the same negative thoughts anymore, it’s about learning how to manage those thoughts and not giving into them when crisis arises.
DON’T: pretend it never happened
I used to struggle with body image and depression, and, just yesterday, I felt like I had to punish myself for the two pieces of pancake I had for breakfast on my ‘cheat day’. I felt like I had disappointed myself, and that I was a total failure. Then I realised these were unreasonable, depressive and negative body image thoughts that were coming back to me. At first I ignored them, because I am meant to be healthy now, but then I forgave myself for having these thoughts and acknowledged that I might be in danger again. Remember, there is no problem as long as you can recognise what’s normal behaviour for you and what isn’t!
DO: follow body positive social media accounts
My life has become so much happier since I decided to only follow body positive social media accounts, such as @theashleygraham, @felicityhayward, @any.body_co and @debutmaguk on Instagram. Even if you deny it, consciously or unconsciously you will be affected by your Instagram feed every day, and it’s better for you to see a positive quote or empowering picture rather than someone looking unrealistically perfect every time you go online.
DO: identify what triggers the problem in you
Whatever illness you have had in the past, treat it as a lesson learnt. Now that you’ve recovered, try to identify what had started your potentially self-harming behaviour and be prepared for when that event will reoccur. You can’t just hide from life and its difficulties forever. You must identify what triggers your negative behaviour and you’ve got to start learning how to manage and overcome that!
DO: exercise out of self-love and not self-punishment
“Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do. Not a punishment for what you ate.” – Women’s Health UK
This is very important because I used to exercise out of anger and punishment, and I always felt self-hatred when working out or taking a fitness class, as I used to tell myself: ‘You deserve this. You had too much food, you’re not living up to your rules, yo have to make up for this’. If you just look at exercising from a different perspective, and treat it as a celebration of your own body, then you’ll enjoy it more and you’ll also gain more respect for yourself.
DO: build your own support network
What helped me the most during my recovery and still helping me to this day are my family and friends: they’re my support system. The friends who stuck with me through depression never judge me, and even on the days I wanted to disappear, it’s this bunch of people who made me stay. When I’m feeling down, I try to see myself through my best friends’ eyes – they see me as a beautiful, positive and inspirational person. Sometimes you have to take your glasses off and imagine to put on someone else’s.
If you or someone you know is suffering, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. This is the hardest step, but after that, it will only get better. The best option is to contact a GP or the NHS at 111. You can also contact the Samaritans on 116 123 for confidential support, 24 hours a day. Or, if this post inspired you and you would like to hear more of my advice, don’t be afraid to fill out the contact form or DM me on Instagram @herfashionmajor. I’d be more than happy to help!