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INTRODUCING

A little bit about me…

Hello, how are YOU?

I wanted to introduce myself, tell you a little bit about me. I’m Charlotte but most call me Lotte. I am 20 going on 21 and I’m studying Counselling and Psychotherapy at Edge Hill. 2nd year. Now that the formal introduction is out the way, I want to let you all in on, that this is my first time ever writing a blog post so please bare with me, practice makes perfect (currently writing whilst watching the Polar Express and gulping a cup of tea). However, my intention behind beginning to write these posts and contribute to the amazing work conducted by all ears is nothing like a first-time experience at all. Instead it is an opportunity for me to hopefully help whoever reads this in any way I can. My plan? To be the most open and honest about my own experiences, give guidance and support anyone who needs it from me. You are never ever alone.

Now, acting upon the first part of my plan, the openness and honesty about my own experience. Firstly, something I am confident in knowing about myself, is that I am a very emotive, passionate and determined person when it comes to things I feel very strongly about. However, this part of my personality stops applying whenever I am struggling with something personal. For those situations, I find myself very emotionally detached. This is something I didn’t realise about myself until I went through the worst experience of my life. 22nd May 2017, the day that my life changed forever, the day an ISIS terrorist exploded a bomb in the Manchester Arena, an arena that I was in.  I had just finished watching Ariana for the second time (first time being in 2015 in the same arena – I cried many tears being in the same room as her for the first time, 16 year old me was very excited), a concert that meant more to me than most due to what Ariana herself means to me however that’s a story for a different day. No more than 30 seconds after she walked off stage, it happened, the loudest and most indescribable noise I had ever experienced, I had never heard a bomb before, but I just knew. I just knew. What followed was a phone call with my mum, (the person who literally means more to me than life itself) that I never want to have again, a phone call that was left on ‘I am running for my life, I love you’.

A traumatic event that I would not wish on my worst enemy for the implications and imprint it has left on my life ever since. However, after the first week of shellshock, I then finished my a-levels, went on my first girls’ holiday and started university without even a second thought of that night. Until one night in September, where I experienced the worst panic attack of my life and to me at the time it was for no reason at all. I later realised it had come from everyone leaving the club I was in all at the same time when it closed and being stuck in that momentary squeeze trying to leave. A squeeze I did not know would suddenly resonate within my body, after many questions and a dismissive mindset of the behaviour it happened again on a different night out, and again, and again, and again. 26th December 2017 I had been out with my friends Christmas celebrating and I had to leave early and ran home by myself, panicking for the entirety. I told my friends I was tired and was working the next day, this was not the case it was the avoidance of being honest that I was not okay. Something I had got into a habit of doing, lying to cover how I was really feeling. I woke up the morning of the 27th with my mum having booked me a doctor’s appointment. This was when it hit me, I had not taken myself back to that night since it happened, I had avoided every possibility of it and had completely blocked it out, but now, life itself had kicked in with reminders here there and everywhere as to what had happened to me but I couldn’t work out why. Why? It was the signs of PTSD, gone unnoticed by myself as I put it down to timings, if I felt nothing straight after, why am I feeling it now? Credit I then didn’t give myself, I didn’t die or get physically hurt, why should I be struggling? A lot I had to learn about myself and a lot of love I had to grant myself, it was finally okay that I wasn’t really okay, not in anyway at all. I used to speak about Manchester with such a factual tone, yep this is a b and c, this happened to me, next question. No emotional attachment at all, and being honest? I still struggle with it today, 2 and a half years down the line it is a continuing thing I am getting stronger and wiser with all the time. The one thing I tell myself? It really is OKAY not to be OKAY, it’s okay to not have got your head around it just yet or have all of the answers to all of the questions.

I learnt to take ownership as to what had happened to me and from that came a massive amount of strength within myself, a fire that had gone from a raging one to a cosy one where I can sit around with a cup of tea and really allow myself to be proud of where I am at with it, what I stand for and most importantly WHO I AM. I am a strong ass person who experienced a shitty thing, which is still testing me in more ways than one, however I am not allowing it to define my future experiences, but instead tattoo my heart with the strength and courage I have mustered and grow with that each and every day.

So that’s a little bit about me…

If you take anything from reading this post…IT REALLY IS OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY

From me to you, you got this, you really are amazing.

Charlotte Mckean

INTRODUCING ARTJOLA

My battle with anxiety started during summer 2018. From when I was diagnosed I knew I was about to embark on a tough and challenging journey. Not just me, but everyone who was close to me as well. It was really hard to come to terms with the fact that it would take time to be okay again and even harder to accept that it could hit me again at any time.

My dad had battled with anxiety a few years earlier, so he knew what was going on and he was the greatest help. It didn’t take long for my siblings, parents and close friends to get used to my disorder. They knew what to do when I wasn’t feeling well and knew just about all they could about my symptoms, how they could help, and how they could provide a safe space for me to be in. But it was very hard to explain to others.

At first, I was very hesitant to talk to others about what was happening to me. Where I live, mental health is very rarely spoken about and people know very, very little about it. It is like, if nothing hurts physically, then you are not sick. I knew that not everyone would understand. I got so many different reactions when I tried to explain, most people would just stare at me like I was some kind of alien. If I was to tell people that I was having a hard time with my mental health, they would just think I was ‘crazy’ – so I preferred not talking about it at all. I got a lot of unnecessary advice that would make me very angry. People would suggest that I go to a magician of some sort, because someone might have to put a spell on me. Or to go to an Imam (person who leads the prayers at a mosque), because they assumed, I was somehow possessed.

I tend to have more anxiety, and several panic attacks when I go out. To begin with, I used to avoid going out unless it was necessary, so people around me would then criticise me for “just thinking about myself and never going with them.” I wish people knew how hard it was to live with it. To just know what a big step it is just to go for a walk sometimes. I really wish they would understand that it’s not as easy to manage as it may look, and that I really am trying my best.

At some point after you struggle to just feel a little better, everything else becomes so unimportant. So I started talking about it. Writing about it. I keep trying to show people around me, to just understand how precious it is to be healthy; how little problems should not matter as long as you are healthy and happy. Anxiety might have turned my entire life upside down, but it has taught me so much. It has taught me to put myself first. To put my health and my happiness first. Before, I used to feel very insecure about my weight and my body. I used to try all sorts of diets and other methods to help me lose weight. But since anxiety showed up, I have learned to love my body just the way it is, as long as it is healthy and as long as I feel healthy.

I really feel more confident in my own skin now. I have leaned to love myself with all of my flaws. It has shown me a power I had inside, but was never really aware of. And it has taught me to enjoy every single moment in life. I think it has served for good, for the people around me too. They have actually learned to take care of their mental health. It has opened their eyes to what is more important in life. Anxiety is very hard to have and to fight, but so is any other mental illness. When you experience any kind of disorder, it is important to find what works best for you. But keeping a positive mindset is one of the key steps to getting better. The stigma is present, but we can change that for our kids and the generations to come.

“Be the change you want to see in the world”

INTRODUCING SOPHIE

Hi! I’m Soph – a 21-year-old blogger studying Sociology at Edge Hill university. I’ve struggled with mental health issues for pretty much the entirety of my life, and today I want to speak to you about my struggles with food. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder at around 15 years old, but I started struggling at around 13.

It began as a ‘diet’, which is what I continued to think it was. Even when I was on the brink of death refusing to feed myself, all I could think was ‘Why can’t everybody just leave me alone? I’m just dieting and losing a bit of weight, just like everyone else.’ See, the problem with diet culture is that it’s everywhere; the media, your family, your friends… everywhere. More often than not, we grow up being told fat = bad. This is such a damaging view to have, as being underweight is just as unhealthy and dangerous as being obese.

Anyway, I’m getting side-tracked! I began counting calories and restricting my food intake at around 13, and it was at around 14 that those around me really began to notice. I constantly believed those trying to help me were the enemy, and my disorder was my friend. My disorder was the thing that wanted the best for me – everyone else was just trying to sabotage my progress. It sounds insane now I’m writing it, but when you’re that unwell you can’t think rationally.

People around me would constantly try to make me eat food, as if that would make the whole issue go away. Oh, Sophie ate something? She must be cured! The problem with this is that eating disorders are a mental illness, not physical. I developed an eating disorder as I desperately needed to control something in my life as everything else (school, being bullied, my anxiety and depression) felt so unbearably out of control. So, I controlled my calories.

Or at least I thought I was controlling my calories. In reality, this disorder began to control my life and left me more out of control than I’ve ever been. It may seem as easy as ‘just eat’ but, trust me, when you’re in that mindset, eating food just seems impossible. It’s completely irrational that something that comes so naturally to most humans is so hard for someone with an eating disorder, but that’s the whole illness summed up: irrational.

Fast forward a few months to around 15-16, which is when I started binging and purging, whilst continuing to over exercise. My body was trying to make up for all the food I had denied it for 3 years, and it’s way to do that was through binging. My brain couldn’t handle the thought of having all this food inside me, so I started purging. This is by the far the WORST decision I have ever made. Purging is so dangerous and downright disgusting. There is nothing comparable to the pain and if anyone is thinking about starting, please don’t.

Binging and purging made me gain a lot of weight, so guess what? Everyone thought I was better. I wasn’t underweight anymore, so of course I’m better, right?! Wrong. So very, very wrong. I was more unwell than ever, and I couldn’t stand being inside a body that I didn’t even recognise anymore. This is when my body dysmorphia became rampant, as I didn’t feel I belonged in my body anymore. I had genuinely no clue what I looked like – everyone was saying I wasn’t fat when all I saw when I looked in the mirror was an obese girl I didn’t even recognise (I’m not even exaggerating).

Fast forward to now – I’m 21, I study at university and I run my own mental health & beauty blog. I’ve struggled quite bad with my depression and body image for the past few years, and still do, but my medication seems to be guiding me on the right track. I actually see a future for myself now, which I never thought I would. I still struggle massively with food and my weight, which you wouldn’t expect as I’m not skinny. I still very much have an eating disorder, and I always will. What’s important is that I tell people around me, E.G. doctors, when it’s getting out of control again and allow them to help me, because I will never allow myself to go back to where I was at 13 years old.

If anything, I hope my story can help you feel less alone. The earlier you recognise the signs of disordered eating, the better. Believe me when I say that your family and friends begging you to eat want the best for you. They are trying to save your life whilst your eating disorder is trying to kill you. You don’t have to be underweight to have an eating disorder, and anorexia and bulimia aren’t the only serious eating disorders. If you’re really struggling, get yourself to the GP and explain what you’re struggling with. I really hope everyone reading this is doing okay, and my DM’s are always open. Stay strong. ❤

-Soph xx

INTRODUCING CONNOR

Hello! My name is Connor, I’m a 21 year old guy and I want to help change how we talk about mental health. As somebody who has suffered from Bulimia, I have realised that our culture around how we deal with mental illnesses is fundamentally flawed. For the most part we are not educated on mental illnesses. Rather, when we experience problems we are told to try and move on, grow up, get over it etc. We aren’t educated on the fact that we may experience issues that we cannot overcome alone, so we instead keep it silent due to avoid feeling weird or even broken for reaching out to others. I want to help try and drive this education through sharing my story and emphasise the message that it is ok to speak about these issues.

So what is my story?

Before I went to University, I was very obese. I was this way for most of my life. It never really bothered me per se, however I do remember feeling different and would sometimes be subject to jokes because of my weight. Overall, I was a happy kid despite my obesity. Around a year before I went to University, I decided that I wanted to make a change. Over the course of a year, I slowly adopted new habits and attitudes around food and exercise that led me to losing a lot of weight over the year. This wasn’t a bad weight loss by any means, it was controlled, sustainable and healthy to my wellbeing. I could do things I was never able due to my weight; it was amazing. I would constantly receive compliments from friends and family about how good and healthy I now looked.

I appreciated these comments, however I never knew the true effect it would later have on me. When I left to go to University, these compliments quickly stopped. The people I had started to meet (obviously) didn’t know my past, particularly my weight. I was just your average guy. I didn’t realise at the time but the comments I previously got around my weight were sorely missed. In a sense, it gave me a feeling of value. Flashforward into my second year of University, I joined the University Boxing Club. I was having great fun as I was incredibly proud of the things, I could do that I knew I couldn’t have done if I didn’t lose the weight.

Around 6 months in, I was offered the chance of having my first competition. A fight. I was overwhelmed by this opportunity at first, but I grabbed it both hands. Little did I know that this would be the catalyst to one of the darkest periods of my life. After agreeing to the fight, I had to lose another significant amount of weight in a short span of time. This meant I changed from my regular routine of training 3 times a week and eating consciously to a regiment of training 5 times a week, twice a day whilst meticulously each calorie that entered my body. This was also supported with weighing myself every single day. To tell the truth, I was exhausted every day, but I pushed on.

As I began to lose the weight and get physically stronger due to the increased training, many would start to comment again. “Connor you’re looking lean!” Or “Hey, Connor you’re looking strong!”. The comments started to come back! I didn’t realise at the time, but I began to associate my self-value with losing weight. Reading this as I write, this can only go one way.

After finishing my first fight, I also had my first binge around 20 minutes after. Before my fight I had done more reading on uber eats than I had done for my University lectures. I was obsessed. I was constantly thinking about food but I could not have it due to this weight restriction. When you restrict for so long, the urge to have whatever is restricted is overpowering. However, I now had a new problem – I am obsessed with eating; however I am only valuable if I lose weight. What do I do?

At first, I doubled down on the restriction. I would lower my measured calorie intake, try and drink more coffee to stop feeling hungry, anything to keep the calories down. To make sure I would keep losing weight, I also started to up my exercise. However, as I was exercising to ridiculous amounts, my body needed the energy. Like I said earlier, when you restrict so hard and so long, the urge to eat becomes overpowering. Each night, I would lose to this urge and eat to the point of being painfully full.

This was both bliss and a nightmare. It was bliss as I was finally eating and it felt so good, however it was a nightmare as I couldn’t bare the fact of gaining weight. I was constantly stuck in this cycle of restriction, bingeing and purging through excessive exercise. However, throughout all of this, I did not open up about my problems. I simply believed that the pain I felt was just the way my life was meant to be and I couldn’t escape that fact. Although crippling, it was somewhat ‘normal’.

My habits started to become more dangerous and is something I’d want to expand on in the future, however I eventually realised that I needed help. I couldn’t figure out what exactly I was going through and I was constantly in denial of what I may be going through. I tried to make sense of my issues by looking online for other’s experiences of these issues. However, this only further reinforced my mistaken my idea that I did not need help.

When I reached out, I saw very few men discussing mental illnesses. Furthermore, I couldn’t find any who discussed their experience with eating disorders. This made it clear to me that men rarely suffer with mental illnesses, let alone eating disorders. I was so wrong. I could try and give you statistics to highlight this problem, however I don’t necessarily believe that it is the best way to more awareness on these topics. Yes I know 1 in 4 who suffer from eating disorders are men, but where are they? Why aren’t they speaking out? Obviously, there are many reasons for this, however I think a huge reason is shame. We are scared of opening up about these things due to the associated stigma with doing so. By opening up we may be viewed as ‘weak’ or ‘broken’. However, I want to open up and share my story to show that it is not any of these things, rather it is an indicator of strength. It takes a level of bravery to know yourself and what is going wrong so you can open up when they need to. Although it can make us feel vulnerable by sharing these messages, they are invaluable in the help they not only provide ourselves but also to others who also struggle.

For a long time, I refused to seek help as I didn’t believe I was experiencing anything worth getting help with. However, this simply led to needless suffering. Instead, by opening up about these things we can change the current narrative that says it isn’t ok to open up about these things. Rather, it is more than ok and we need to accept that we are deserving of help when in need. It is all good saying this, but by trying to share my message I want others to join me in trying to change this narrative. We deserve better for ourselves and those around us, reach out and share your powerful story.

INTRODUCING TAZMYN

Being asked repeatedly what is wrong is hard enough, but what’s worse is not being able to give an answer. I’ve been in pain physically and mentally for years and finally, at almost 21 years of age, I am being referred to a specialist at the hospital, regardless of seeking medical advice since the age of 16. This blog aims to highlight a link between mental health and Endometriosis and my experiences of living with this condition.

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Have you heard of Endometriosis? I hadn’t until I was passed to the 4th Doctor who suggested that this was the likely cause of the issues that I had. So what is it? “Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Endometriosis can affect women of any age and is a long-term condition”  (NHS, 2019).
Oh.

Statistically 1 in 10 females have endometriosis. However, on average, it takes a woman 7.5 years to finally reach a full diagnosis and get a treatment plan in place. So it is curable? No. There is not a “cure” as such in place for the condition, just treatments along the way which may ease the pain such as pain relief, surgery to remove some of the tissue or hormone replacement therapy. What’s the cause? Again, no one really knows. Most likely causes are genetics, endo being hereditary or simply just the way your body has formed as a tiny foetus when forming cells.

All Ears is a mental health awareness page, so how does this have any links to Endometriosis? I know, I didn’t think a physical condition could be a CAUSE of depression and/or severe anxiety. However, one common symptom of Endometriosis is depression, in which the majority of endo sufferers are also put on antidepressants in order to increase serotonin, a feel-good hormone that keeps a person happy. However, endo sufferers have a chemical imbalance within their bodies and thus are less likely/not able to produce enough serotonin naturally, leading to depression and low moods.

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My moods have been up and down since I first reached puberty, in which the extreme highs and lows started. My parents often described me as being such a “happy little girl” in my childhood, yet from 11/12 years old the famous “attitude” developed. I remember crying for no reason, feeling angry and hurt and extremely shy, feeling worthless and as if I was going nowhere. It was hard for the close ones around me to understand. I had a great childhood, supportive parents and a great education– why was I so angry and tearful and why when I cried was it never just a few tears but a full on breakdown?

As you can imagine, this created a lot of misunderstandings within the family. I wasn’t badly behaved, but I acted as if the world was against me and I would wake up some days feeling as if I didn’t want to get out of bed. However the extreme highs would come, I’d have so much energy I’d play fight my Dad and brother, run around at my netball and let out my aggression at Judo. I could be unnecessarily annoying with my energy and hyperness and I could laugh a little too eagerly or simply “play up”. But what goes up always comes back down, right? Yes. When these lows came I could hide myself away in my room for hours, be dismissive and cross and hurt.

Only at 20, having completed my first year training to be a Counsellor/Psychotherapist did I finally get to the point where I couldn’t take the extreme moods anymore. It was as if I had run out of “highs” and was stuck in one big, constant low. Nothing excited me. Things that would bring me huge joy in the past like painting or socialising brought me no pleasure. I would break down, have panic attacks and cry myself to sleep and it was only after I saw my GP and a mental health specialist that I was diagnosed with clinical depression. But isn’t depression just from a bad event happening that makes you sad or a bereavement or a trigger? It can be those things, but it can also relate to your physical health. Having been put on 100mg of Sertraline and being told that I should have been on these tablets at my first diagnosis of Polycystic Ovaries at 16 due to not being able to produce enough serotonin, I have noticed a huge change. The highs are returning. Now I’m not saying the tablets have “cured” my mental health, not in the slightest, but simply given me a kick up the backside to get my endometriosis sorted, to finally start being told about a treatment plan and to stop being in pain. The physical pain with this condition means that most days I am either in mild pain or severe agony. My stomach aches, I’m bloated, when my period comes I am in excruciating agony, my legs feel achy, my back feels broken and sometimes I’ve struggled to get to class because of the pain I’m in.


So why have I decided to share my story? If you are a woman who has experienced a story similar to myself, involving uncontrollable moods and pains such as cramps and extreme period pains, then I URGE you to see your GP. If you’re told it is probably just a heavy period and is very common, insist that it is not just that, share the agony, hurt and distress you are in. Because endometriosis has tried it’s best to take over my life, but I won’t let it any more. With the path that I am on, training to be a Counsellor, having Doctors and hospital appointments in place and finally reaching the drive to get my physical and mental health back, I will not let this condition beat me, and neither should you.

Thank you for reading and feel free to message me in relation to endometriosis, mental health or any questions you may have for me.

Tazmyn x

INTRODUCING EILIS

My name is Eilis, and I have anxiety. That sounds like some sort of AA introduction… why do they call it anonymous when the classic intro includes your name? Odd. OK, not what this blog post is supposed to be about, moving on. Anxiety is like that – I get side-tracked easily, one thought leads to another and before you know it it’s an avalanche of could bes and what ifs. Sometimes it feels like my head isn’t screwed on straight – other times it feels like it could burst. In the most obvious way, it takes a mental toll on me, but it has physical effects too. When it’s at it’s worst, my stomach feels as though it’s knotted up and tying itself tighter each second, and I feel lightheaded and nauseous. One of the many misconceptions about mental health issues is that the knock-on effects are all mental – physical effects can be devastating, including a weaker immune system, an increased risk of heart disease, and chronic fatigue. Everyone knows they need to take care of their body, eat healthy, exercise, get your five a day, don’t play in traffic (I hope this one is self-explanatory!), but do we take mental health as seriously? Probably not – even though we should! A happy mind truly does translate to a happy body. Even if you’re a gym bunny who drinks 2 litres of water every day, gets at least 8 hours sleep every night, has a 10-step skin care routine and has a diet full of fresh fruit and veggies, if you don’t check up on your mental health and keep it in tip-top condition, your body will show it.

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MENTAL HEALTH IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS PHYSICAL HEALTH

My own personal journey with anxiety has been a long one. I have always been ‘the worrier’ – so much so that as an 8-year-old child with no responsibility or cares in the world, I couldn’t get to sleep night after night and would panic about the consequences. Why can’t I sleep? What will happen if I don’t sleep? What if something happens while I’m asleep? I was 8! Ever since, I’ve had a habit of overthinking myself into a black hole of despair – something I’m only just, at age 22, managing to get control over. I know what you’re thinking. What happened to this girl to make her act like this? The answer is absolutely nothing. I had a great childhood, I never wanted for anything, I had plenty of friends and my family life was good. Nothing particularly tragic or scarring has ever happened to me. That’s the thing about mental health – it doesn’t care. It doesn’t care if you’re doing great in life or if you’re having a hard time, it doesn’t care if you’re excelling in your career or in a dead-end job with no future, and it doesn’t care if you’ve been happily married for 20 years or if you’re forever single. It just doesn’t care. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime – isn’t that a bitch?

INSTAGRAM : @EISOBELLA

Thankfully, if you’re reading this and thinking “oh my god, this is so me” – you know you’re not alone! There are so many people that suffer with anxiety and there’s a lot of things you can do to soothe it, both in terms of self-care and professional help. Personally, I found that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) helped me a lot, which I accessed via the NHS. There’s a lot of support available even if CBT isn’t your thing – medication can help, other types of therapy and even group therapy. For me, self-help has been the most important thing in my journey to mental wellness. I’ve recently got back into going to the gym regularly and eating well, and I looked into other factors that might make my anxiety worse, such as my contraceptive pill and lack of vitamins (B12 and iron are extremely important, so if you’re not taking them on a regular basis, try it!). All in all, I’ve got it under control 90% of the time. Will I ever get to 100%? Maybe not – most likely, it’ll be a long-time struggle, but I know I’m not alone in that, and neither are you. Speak to someone; your friends, your family, your teachers or tutors or boss at work, your aunt or uncle – it doesn’t actually matter who as long as they’re prepared to listen. Usually getting something out in the open is all you need to feel that weight being lifted. Or, if you want to talk to a stranger, message me at @eisobella on Instagram or message the All Ears Instagram page at @allears_mha. And remember – you’re not alone.

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