Disability and Humour – My Story, Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month

March, while being the month of many other important occasions; personally, nationally, and globally; it is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Now, I have never contributed to the discussions that take place during this, I thought I would this time.

Every time I mention my disability on my social media, I preface by saying, ‘I know I don’t really speak about it too much,’, which is completely true. When comparing this topic of conversation to mental health, my life in a psych ward, food, tea, films – the thing I mention the least is my disability. I find this strange, however, because it is an integral part of being me. Unlike others with a disability, I wouldn’t class it as part of my identity, yet I would say it has deeply impacted the way I look at myself and the way others look at me. It also has an effect on the way I interact with others.

For anyone who knows me personally, outside of the realms of social media, they will be able to note that my cerebral palsy is one of the main things about me that I frequently make jokes about. From calling myself a cripple to the hilarious idea of slipping around on an icy pavement, cerebral palsy is the butt of the joke on a daily basis. When I am with people sometimes I am aware that I talk about having cerebral palsy a lot, but what many may not realise is that when I make such jokes is usually at the time when I am the most self-conscious about it. Comedy has been recognised to be one of the most mature defence mechanisms – though, my maturity is very much debatable! Whenever someone makes me uncomfortable, I have to overtly make sure that they know just how much of a freak I think I am to deflect from the fact that I was upset that I was the butt of another person’s joke or that person made me feel inferior.
    Whenever I am in pain or my muscles are bothering me to a degree that I am holding myself in strangely comfortable positions, I simply have to tell people! It is almost compulsive to turn to someone and say, ‘Hey, look what a freak I am!’. Of course, the main thing to note when using dark humour is to know your audience. I don’t just yell that to passers-by on the street – although, in doing so, they would most certainly agree with such a statement!
    One of my main jokes is the ‘T-Rex’. Due to the nature of cerebral palsy, it causes the vast majority to hold their arms up near their chest with quite loose wrists. When I am aching, especially, this posture is leaning forward too – it is just what is most comfortable for me! Now, with this comes I great joke. The amount of times I turn to people and say, ‘Oh God, I’m aching, look at my t-rex arms!’ is so funny to me. When I was younger and living with my parents, the ongoing joke with my dad is that I was Mr. Burns from the Simpsons! I’d know instantly that my arms were placed up by my chest when I would walk into a room and my dad would say, ‘Smithers…’ in Burns’ trademark voice! Along with this, the limp wrists naturally give way to a number of queer jokes – being trans* and questioning sexuality, of course I had to! I have often said that my cerebral palsy made me almost destined to be queer!

Growing up with cerebral palsy meant that these comments were not always welcome, however. I was always extremely self-conscious that people were looking at my legs or were laughing at me if I fell over. In fact, from the age of fourteen to this very day, I began to refuse wearing shorts that were high above the knee because you could see where my knee turned in. While many will tell me that, because my cerebral palsy is mild, it isn’t that noticeable; I know this to not be the case, though, every single time I see a person staring, or a teenager does a really shitty impression of my turned-in, drop foot (no, really, these impressions are often horrendously bad, so if you are reading this as someone who has ever done this, just know that you look way more stupid with my walk than I do, it suits me, you just look ridiculous)!
   At school over the years, my disability coupled with severe anxiety was the perfect target for bullies, as you can imagine. As if my awkwardness wasn’t enough to attract the lowest of the low, I also constantly walked like I was intoxicated! Despite learning how to stand up for myself (mainly when I had fallen over for the thousandth time), it didn’t stop people pushing me down. This, surprisingly, didn’t change when I went into a CAMHS ward. One patient attacked me in the garden one day. I lay there in shock and as I tried to get up, I was pushed back down with the words (literally) spat at me, ‘and don’t try to get back up, you fucking spastic…’ Funny thing is, that patient will have had no idea that that word was actually part of my diagnosis! Suddenly it dawned on me that even in a ward of mentally ill teenagers, somewhere I thought would finally understand me, I would continue to be bullied.

Anyway, enough of the sob story, because what I was actually talking about was the innate hilarity of being disabled! Over the years, I have had a laugh with many of the people I know, but even some of the things people say that are meant to be mean can be humorous. There are so many jokes which I sit there and think, ‘why didn’t I come up with that?!’ it’s infuriating that my best jokes haven’t even come from me. I will never forget a small group of guys I went to school with. One of the best running jokes was singing the first line of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking out Loud’ when I limped past them, ‘When your legs don’t work like they used to before,’ what made this even better was when a friend told me next time to respond, ‘Well, I was born like this, so they never really worked in the first place!’, the banter thrown back had an even better reaction by his mates!
Another song related ‘insult’ (that was really just a great joke) was another guy and whenever I walked past him, he’d sing the chorus line ‘Walk this Way’ by Aerosmith. Incredible!

The other way I draw comedy from my disability is just the idea of a scenario when encompassing my cerebral palsy into that moment. Some examples include when someone asked me why I didn’t want to go ice-skating, talking about wearing stilettos or any other footwear that I would find extremely difficult to walk in, or even that time that I made a joke about being a ballerina with my physiotherapist!

Now, why did I choose to talk about cerebral palsy and the jokes I make about it and not something more important? It is awareness month, after all. I could sit here and moan about how all of the information about the disability as about children with it, or how if you have it mildly almost all help as an adult drops off a cliff, or how, despite getting no help as an adult, 75% of people with cerebral palsy experience chronic pain. I could moan about my pain to you, or how I didn’t know about a wide variety of symptoms I experience I didn’t know were attributed to my CP until I moved to the rehab I now live in, but the truth of the matter is – using humour is more important to my experience of my disability than any of these aforementioned topics that do need to be talked about when discussing cerebral palsy.
   Using humour makes the pain better, using humour takes away much of the impact of people’s ignorance. Without the ability to laugh at myself and everything I have experienced, I don’t know how I would have gotten through. It is not just my disability either, it is my mental health, it is my trauma, it is everything.
   As much as we’d like to think that tolerance is increasing, there will always be people out there who treat people disrespectfully when they’re different. Many people will not like the jokes I make, or the fact that I would rather talk like that about my disability than be a damaged and tormented soul.

We need humour.
Humour is our best defence mechanism when the world has let us down over and over again.
We could cancel people over and over, but how often does that promote positive change?
Beating people down when they have made a mistake rarely makes them better people.
To look at something and destigmatise it, make it known that these people have struggles is one thing, but to hold a mirror to the world and see how funny that distorted image can be is the best we have.
We need to laugh.
We need to remember that there is brightness in every dark moment.
The way we tell our stories is the way we write our future.

This is a photo I was once reluctant to share, because I was standing so awkwardly, with my foot quite significantly turning inwards. That’s just the way my foot is most comfortable!

And thank you for listening to mine.

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Moonrise Kingdom – A Film Review

It has been a little while since I have written a film review, I am a little out of practise, so please be patient!

Over the last few months, I have become somewhat of a Wes Anderson fanatic. His notably individual, eccentric and odd style of presentation attracted me immediately. From the very first frame of each of his films, it is immediately apparent which director is at the helm. The colour palettes of Wes Anderson’s films is another thing that attracts me to them. He goes for pastel, non-abrasive tones to further add to the nostalgic atmosphere to his films.

Moonrise Kingdom is set on the fictional, small island of New Penzance just off the coast of New England, United States. It is set in the summer of 1965. From the opening, we are introduced to the Bishop family. Before seeing the members of the family, there is a long tracking shot, showing the walls and rooms of the family home.
The opening frame is of a red house, with a gloomy sky, later revealed to be the Bishop’s family home. We are introduced by the brothers and parents. We linger on a teenage girl reading on a large windowsill, who we later come to know as Suzy Bishop. Suzy then grabs her binoculars and looks out to the horizon, as the house zooms out, revealing the red house standing in front of a gloomy, grey sky.
We then see Suzy receive a letter – this is where the story really begins.

Start of opening credits

After following the Bishop family, we are given a short, direct informational scene about the fictional island in which our story is set. This scene starkly contrasts the intimacy of witnessing the family dynamics of the Bishops’. We are informed of a storm that is going to soon happen on the island.
Introducing Scouts Camp Ivanhoe and Scout Master Randy Ward (played by Edward Norton). We are given an overdramatic, unrealistic look at the Scout Camp – this solidified, to me, that this film was told from the perspective of the child main protagonists. As is a Wes Anderson story, I was not surprised to see the unrealistic portrayal of any of the events that would follow!
After being introduced to our camp, we discover one of the campers, Sam Shakusky, is missing – after making a ‘Shawshank Redemption’-style hole in his tent, covered by a poster. With the boy missing, a search is swiftly conducted and our story begins…

It transpired that the reason for twelve-year-old Shakusky’s ‘great escape’ was to run away with the love of his life, Suzy Bishop. Throughout the film, we watch the chaos that ensues following the adventures of two children who have ran away, and the desperate attempts of those around them to save them from their own stupidity!
We watch, as the two evade attempts of capture and their love blossoms. Shakusky shows his skills that he has leant overtime as a Scout, while Bishop shares her love of books and other such beautiful pieces of art.

What I enjoyed most about the film was Anderson’s ability to show real, hard-hitting topics that children experience from the child’s perspective. Rather than having a hard hitting drama, we are shown the innocence of a youngster’s mind, yet also their understanding of the world around them. It gives credit to them, as they show how knowledgeable they are of the world and of their social relations. They are aware of more than the adults of the story give them credit for. However, they also show that they are still just children, and they react to things in irrational and unpredictable ways.
Their irrationality may also be a consequence of their fragile states of mind, though. Both children discuss their difficult relations with their families and also the behaviours that have gotten them into trouble over time.

The character of Suzy Bishop was an example of the ’emo-girl’ stereotype, yet shown living in the sixties. Despite my hatred of this trope and glamorisation of mental illness, I found Anderson’s choices in telling Suzy Bishop’s story to be understanding and well thought-out. Rather than settling for a depressed character, who hates the world around her and needs a male character to save her – Anderson shows a strong and independent female mind, who rather than fawning entirely for Sam Shakusky, she allows herself to be angry towards him, to help him in his times of need.
Sam Shakusky comes across as much more juvenile than the more mature Suzy Bishop. However he demonstrates that he can also be mature by being a chivalrous gentleman who can set up camp and keep the two of them fed. Shakusky also has his family issues. Rather than being the depressed, loner outcast, he has extreme behavioural problems which has lead to his foster family to disown him.
A very important character in Sam Shakusky’s story is that of Social Services. I found this character (played by the ever-wonderful Tilda Swinton) to be both well-cast and well-constructed, as she is shown from a child’s perspective; cold, dressed in dark clothing, with sharp facial features and wants the worst possible outcome for the child she works for.

From fairy tale endings, to the grainy cinematography and colourful scenery, every aspect of this film has a nostalgic and comforting feel. Alexandre Desplat constructs a whimsical score to perfectly accompany the tone of the film, yet contrasts with much of the storyline.
This is what I find so wonderful – when a story can be filled with such sad and dark material, yet shows each and every moment from the eyes of a fond memory. It is pure escapist beauty. Anderson at his most absurdly Wes Anderson.

Out of five stars, I would rate this film four and a half. Highly recommend!

I just have a love of Wes Anderson and his ability to take harsh reality, soften the edges and make it into something to look back on and smile. I kind of wish my worst memories would do that to me!

Film poster for Moonrise Kingdom
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Disconnected Anticipation

Stood, waiting, as if the life I so
desperately want to live will
come to me, creep up on my and I
will finally find purpose.
Floating in the liminal space that I
pray will someday be over.

In limbo.
Not here, nor there.
Simply anticipating a connection
to a life I once had.
A life where I remember feeling
something, anything bit the
emptiness that fills me.

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Thoughts from the Shadows

If only I could banish my
innermost dark thoughts.
Cast them away to hell like
fallen angels.

With their once helpful warnings,
morphing into life-absorbing
demands.
A set of rules you must follow, and
major consequences for the most
minor of offences.

It hurts to think that I had a life before
these demons took hold;
They gripped my body and mind into
complete submission. Obey their every
taunting command.

Sometimes, it is as though they’re laughing
at me. Like bullies on a playground,
they giggle.
The giggles turn to cackles and now
I know that they are in charge.

Abusive in their nature,
they manipulate.
Once happy thoughts are now
sad and dangerous. Terrifying.
They do not let you rest.
They do not let me rest.

Even in bed, they prey on you.
Knowing that this vulnerability
could allow them to penetrate the
deepest corners of your mind.

They always hope that these
moments are when you will finally
succumb to their final demand and
give up,
because they know that it is
the only thing
that will provide you with comfort,
while consumed in your darkness.

They promise me that their
final demand
is what will set me free,
and sometimes, standing up
and fighting is not even something
to bear thinking about.

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Salvation – A Poem

In what world have I found myself?
Am I dreaming, or am I
awake? It is so hard to tell with
all the edges of everything in
front of me – they are blurred and frayed.
Someone has pulled the thread of
my consciousness, only leaving a
gaping whole. I am missing…
I am alone.

Whoever is brave enough to venture
forth into the darkness may be
making their biggest mistake.
While salvation may seem
like what is needed,
really it is better to walk away…

The sunset shines over the corners
of your mind, while my canvas is blank,
only the walls of my mental confinement
is left. Banished to the corners of
which I cannot escape.
Maybe I will ask if you can save me,
maybe I will ask for guidance?
Don’t listen. Don’t listen,
for the help I ask for is floating
in a parallel universe to this one,
never to be touched, never to be seen.

The universe in which my cure resides is so
far away that any calls into the dark, linger
there repeatedly. They stay in the ears of strangers
and even those who dare. Dare get too
close to me. Leave me, then.
Leave me in the darkness I have
created for myself.
Salvation still lies in the place
we cannot travel to.

Promoting Relapse – Thoughts on the Online ‘Recovery’ Community

Over the last few years engaged in the mental health recovery community on Instagram (and somewhat across other social medias also), I have noticed the lack of consistency in content. While some recovery accounts are actively promoting recovery and helping their followers and fellow content creators access support they need and promote each other’s content; other members of the recovery community are not exactly helping each other, in fact, some may say that they are even promoting their peers relapses.
   Part of the difficulty of this is that, naturally, people will be at all different points on their journey to recovery when first deciding to make their recovery account on social media – whether that be to post content or simply connect to others who are on a similar road to recovery. People being at different points of their recovery means that there will be people who have only recently decided to commit to the process, people who have been stable for many years, people who are only considering where to begin the journey and people who are only recently recovered. This means that not only will there be contrasting levels of mental stability amongst the community, but there will also be many people with contrasting viewpoints. There will be posts about the difficulty of a current situation, while others may be sharing stories of triumph, how they fought for so many years to be where they are. The posts of inspiration are what we need more of. We want to see everyone succeed, we want to see the achievements in your recovery and how that has helped you along your way to living a free life. We need more people sharing their coping strategies and how they got through their dark days safely. These people don’t need to be fully recovered; they just need to be on the road to recovery.
  Relapse is something that is commonplace in the recovery community online. This is not a bad thing, it is the way that we choose to acknowledge it, post about it and talk about it that is important. I am the first person to admit that relapses are a natural part of many people’s recovery. That may not mean that every person who commits to recovery will inevitably relapse – it is simply a statement to reflect that many who start this journey will face difficulties, relapses and slip ups along the way. It is not the job of the follower to make a person feel in any way ashamed for this relapse.
   Being a part of the recovery community has, in fact, taught me a lot about how to spot a relapse or mental deterioration in order to put steps in place, in case there is fear of my mental state worsening. This is part of what makes the online community great. It is what helps keep strong bonds in the community – members willingness to help and support their peers to get better.

The problem, however, lies in the contrast between the people posting the massively inspiring posts about what recovery means to them, reasons to recover, what has helped them along the way etc. In comparison to those who choose to post graphic content just before, during and directly following incidents in order to show how much they’re struggling. This can be triggering for people who are going onto the platform for support and not only that, it goes to normalise the difficulties that are present in the recovery community online, making those who are not engaging in certain behaviours feel like they may have to, to feel ‘normal’ or that they fit in – because they see it as a normal part of life if they have a mental illness.
    People do not want to see graphic images right after an incident, whether that be a selfie or a photo of your cannula or whatever it may be. People do not need to see fresh cuts or bandages covered in blood. When you are having a bad day filled with urge after urge, going to what you hope is a supportive community and seeing that instead can be so damaging. It is so hard to see people experiencing such darkness, especially when you feel trapped in your own. Plus, if someone has only just decided to start their process to recovery, seeing their new friends and followers struggling may make them begin to feel a sense of guilt towards starting to get better; for a while, and sometimes still now, that was certainly the case for me.
    Every single day I have opened social media since being an active member of the recovery community, I have seen post after post of people struggling and having incidents, expressing the darkest thoughts imaginable. At the beginning of my recovery journey – when I first felt I wanted to be a part the community on social media – it seemed almost normal to me to be experiencing constant lows so consistently throughout my journey, it seemed hopeless to me, because everyone around me was the same – everyone was having such a bad time. (Granted, when I first started really engaging in the recovery community online, it was 2020, so naturally spirits weren’t very high!)
      Often people excuse their graphic by saying, ‘Well, if you don’t like it, don’t follow,’, while I somewhat agree with this rhetoric, I also think it is quite naïve to think that followers will opt out purely because they are upset by the content. A person may not be able to gauge how triggered they are by something, because their brain cannot immediately process it. Furthermore, someone, due to their mental illness, may not even have the capacity to realise that the content they are consuming is only feeding into their mental illness. In recovery, your mental illness can still continue to take such a grip, meaning that when it sees something triggering, it will be fuelled by that content, knowing it will make you more ill. The less people post such triggering content, the less people will be triggered and the less and less people will be posting the things that will trigger in the first place – a butterfly effect.
   Openness to discuss issues and the difficulties a person faces during their recovery is one thing, it is an entirely different issue to talk in depth about each and every incident a person goes through and to tell each other about the ins and outs of their trauma. It is one thing to raise awareness, it is another to actively share triggering, upsetting and potentially dangerous content using the excuse that it is to give followers a ‘true reflection’ of recovery.
  On multiple occasions I have spoken out against trigger warnings, this is for the main reason that it is not a preventative to anyone – if you want to click on something that will feed your mental illness, you will, regardless of whether there is a blurred box or trigger warning. If anything, having a trigger warning there can sometimes be more detrimental to the mental outcome, due to the anticipation and anxiety it has already built up before even seeing the content. I liken using trigger warnings to adding tense music and a build up before a jump-scare in a horror film, there will naturally be a bigger reaction, purely because the viewer already knew that it was coming. My issue in this case is not the use of trigger warnings, but the content itself. If you are having to question whether your graphic post needs a trigger warning, often you must also question yourself on how necessary the content is that you are about to post, and whether it will actually be helping anyone.
   Now, I completely understand those who post triggering things in order to gain more attention. I do not say this to imply that those people are in any way in the wrong, because they are clearly people who need support, otherwise they wouldn’t be posting those things in order to gain support. My message to those people who are posting triggering content to be shocking and attention grabbing is: reach out to people privately if you need support, and always check in with that person before sending triggering messages. Reach out to support lines, helplines, groups, professionals you may be in contact with, ask permission for close friends stories, if that is where you are going to start posting your more potentially triggering posts – ask if those people would be comfortable seeing that before you add them.
    The mental health system is terrible (to paraphrase!). Especially in the UK, but that doesn’t mean we give up. We reach out to those services, and we make complaints to the relevant people if things have gone wrong. Friends, family, charities, support services, emergency services – there is always someone to listen to you. You can simply say on an Instagram story or a Snapchat story or a post, or even anonymous forums, ‘I am struggling, can someone drop in’, without posting the triggering details of your darkest urges or most recent incidents. There is always someone to listen, you don’t need to post the most shocking, graphic images and captions in order to gain that attention that you need. Help is always available to those who ask for it. You are not alone.

What is on the menu today? Guilt.

How many calories would you like today?
     Why having calories on the UK restaurant menus will do more harm than good…

A topic I have recently seen a lot of discussion around in the UK mental health and eating disorder spaces recently is calories being put on the menus of all major food chains. As someone who has suffered with disordered eating and has been hyperaware of calories for almost a decade, it has definitely made me think a lot – it has made me question why the government has decided to do this, whether it will have the desired outcome or worsen the situation and how we adapt to such changes, if we truly can’t make those with the power to change their minds…

Looking at the gov.uk website, it states, “Calorie information will need to be displayed on menus, online menus, third party apps, food delivery platforms and food labels at the point a customer is making their food and drink choices. As well as listing the calories for each food item, menus and labels will also need to include daily recommended calorie needs.”
The justification for such legislation is “part of the government’s strategy to tackle obesity” and is to encourage people to make “healthier choices”. Unlike others who are discussing the topic, I do think that the obesity epidemic (arguably pandemic) is a growing concern; however, do I think putting calories on the menu is the way forward to combatting this and having a healthier population? No.

When typing in ‘calories on menus’ into Google, two of the top articles advertised are:

Both articles speak of the new legislation, however, follow this with calorific information for some of the UK’s top chain restaurants and their most popular dishes.
    Below the introduction of the Wales Online article (entitled, ‘We checked the calories on menus at Wetherspoons, Five Guys, Zizi, Las Iguanas and other high street chains and found a chicken dish which uses up your entire daily intake’), there is a link to an article called, ‘What is a calorie deficit and how can it help you lose weight?

This is another way of getting the message across that this is why the government are putting calories on the menu, implying that you should care more about the calories you are putting in.
   The Guardian’s article is titled: Calorific: which high street meals are the most and least fattening?
There are many things to pick apart with this choice of title and how the sentence is structured, most importantly the choice of the word ‘fattening’, rather than the highest calories, it is stating fat, when calories is simply a measurement of energy. Something can be much higher in calories yet lower in fat, while something could have a high fat content and be lower in energy. The choice of the word fattening is a choice to make the article both stand out and be more worrisome to its target audience, while fitting with the government’s policy to tackle obesity.

While there are many articles to pick apart that are very negative, there are also some that tell different perspectives. It doesn’t take much time to find more negative opinions of this legislation without even having to open Twitter or Instagram! The article just below the ‘calorific’ Guardian article there is another entitled: ‘I am responsible for what I put in my body’: consumers respond to calorie labelling’, which I could not agree more with. Not only this, but the article also has an interesting perspective from Stuart Flint (who is both a University associate professor of the psychology of obesity in Leeds and the director of Obesity UK charity respectively) who said that it focusing on calories alone is not a productive way to raise awareness, saying that there are so many contributing factors to obesity and, “better to focus attention on restricting the availability of food, rather than placing the emphasis on individuals”. I partially agree with this statement, I think that availability should not be a problem within itself, but I definitely agree that it shouldn’t be the person who is led to feel solely to blame for their food consumption or obesity.
 There are so many emotional, social, financial, physical, and mental health related reasons as to why someone may be struggling with food and their weight on either ends of the spectrum (that being restrictive or overeating). It should never be as simple as, ‘This person is fat because they eat too much’ – there is usually a lot more to it than that.

Article interviewing Rachel Egan

Another article is from the perspective of a young woman who has suffered from an eating disorder since her mid-teens. The Mirror article is called: EXCLUSIVE: ‘I’m recovering from anorexia – calories on menus is a disaster for people like me’. This is the perspective we see the most opinions coming from on social media, with many who have suffered from restrictive eating disorders (namely anorexia nervosa) sharing their own experiences in order to try to evoke change in the decision. So many people are talking about the detrimental effect of counting calories while in recovery from an ED.
In the article, Rachel Egan accounts the anxiety of going into a restaurant in recovery and seeing calories on the menu, “and saw the calories on the menu, she says she immediately began evaluating them.”.
    This article then goes on to say, “the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warned there had been a huge rise in cases of anorexia nervosa in children over the previous year. Some warning that they had seen cases quadruple.
Not only are these cases rising, but there is also a staffing crisis amongst healthcare jobs. This means that there is an increasing amount of people developing eating disorders, and less people to help them. By there being less people to support those with eating disorders, it means people have to reach quite dangerous levels in terms of their physical health before receiving adequate treatment. This makes all others suffering from disorders feel like they also have to reach that same level of unwellness to receive the help that they need. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and people having to reach a dangerously low weight for treatment is only going to worsen the statistics. Community support is few and far between and when it is there, it is often provided for those who have previously had inpatient treatment. The way the system currently works is dangerous. Even those who do survive without inpatient treatment may be left with a lot of physical health issues due to their struggles.
   Therefore, not only have cases of obesity and/or eating disorders characterised by overeating grown in cases, but so have cases of restrictive eating disorders. All of which sparks the question… Why is this happening?  

In my opinion, the only answer I can find as to why this is happening is advertising. What are the most common adverts we see on the TV or on YouTube on a daily basis? JustEat, Deliveroo, McDonalds, UberEats, Domino’s, copious amounts of different brands of alcoholic beverages, and then on the other side: adverts of home gym equipment, gym memberships, Pure Gym, ‘Eat Them to Defeat Them’ (a children’s healthy eating campaign), step counters, Weight Watchers, Jane Plan, Noom, Slim Fast…
One set of adverts catering to people who want to treat and/or indulge themselves, while the other half is catered towards people who are more inclined to channel their low mood into self-improvement, or those with low self-esteem who want to either start a new diet or want to start working out. Both of these are preying on a person’s emotional state in order to invest in their product – such is the way of marketing. How many of the memorable slogans we use on a regular basis come from advertising, particularly fast food? The power of marketing means that we are subconsciously aware of our impulses and desires all the time and when their is a catchy slogan, jingle or well-known brand name we are all the more likely to gravitate to their products. The more we see, the more we want. The more we consume, the more we desire.
With diet culture, they use the act of consuming the other products as a way to then invest in theirs. Just over-indulged yourself on McDonald’s? Why don’t you try the gym? Why not use Slim Fast or XLS Medical? Then all those perfume and clothing adverts that use conventionally attractive models will further our perception that we must better ourselves, we must look better and send us spiralling into a world of self-criticism. This can further our need to restrict/over-exercise and count calories to lose weight and look better. Over time, we will become obsessed with the idea that we will never look as beautiful and polished as the models in front of us.
Adverts serve to prey on our human instincts, but also purposely target the more vulnerable individuals into believing that they are so far from perceived perfection that they must do something about it. They use flashy images, bright colours, louder vocals and catchy pop songs and slogans in order to make them more memorable. We have been psychologically programmed into having these thoughts over time whether we wanted to or not, but somehow it is now our job to rewrite the narrative, despite the fact that the most popular media out there only serves to perpetuate ideas that people need to change themselves to please everyone else – only to make themselves more profitable.

Is it our fault that the same government who don’t want us to develop these addictions, is the same that is okay with distributing such advertisements to the masses? Are we to blame for a society that profits off of our own lack of self-worth? It is a vicious cycle of consuming media that makes us guilty for consuming, making us exhibit unhealthy coping mechanisms or self-destructive behaviour, which makes us then feel worse about ourselves, to then worsen our involvement in these behaviours.

In conclusion, it is my belief that if we want to be self-indulgent, we will be. Those who don’t care about calories will continue to not care, therefore potentially worsening the obesity crisis; while those who do, will become increasingly obsessed with them, increasing the risk of developing or exacerbating a restrictive eating disorder. The government’s efforts to make us more aware of our consumption will work, but not to our benefit, only so that we feel worse and therefore continue the maladaptive way we were behaving in the first place; while they (our government) continue to profit from companies and their advertisements through tax. If a person wishes to eat out, they will, regardless of the numbers there; people who do calorie count will, however, feel a lot more guilt towards this as consequence of a number next to what they’re eating.
Having such emphasis on calories is sometimes where the obsession can start. A vulnerable person may latch onto the idea of being ‘good’ and having only a set amount of calories a day and this can become obsessive. Seeing these numbers common place in more situations will further the anxiety around calorie consumption. Simultaneously, those who want a takeaway or to eat out in a restaurant who are not vulnerable to restrictive eating or calorie counting, or those who are prone to binge eating or simply overeating will care a lot less about the amount of calories that is in a product they’re buying. If someone wishes to treat themselves, they know that a takeaway is not necessarily good for their health. Having calories there, is either going to make them feel incredibly guilty for what they are having to make themselves feel good, or it will simply go ignored. All of this makes calories on the menu completely pointless.
   All of these points in mind, please remember, that your worth is not placed in value of a number on any sort of chart or measured in any way by your appearance. Although, going forward, it may be more difficult to ignore the calories seen on the menus, please remember that you deserve to treat yourself and eat the food that you like. To beat this, we must show that a number on a menu is not a reflection of us, but the society we happen to be a part of.

We are more than what the media make us believe we are.

See resources and links to articles used in research or mentioned in this post below:

Charities and Helplines:

Beat Eating Disorders UK – the UK’s Eating Disorder Charity

Mind – Mental Health Charity UK (link to page: ‘Eating Problems’)

Obesity UK – ‘… leading charity dedicated to supporting people living with obesity’

Samaritans – Suicide Prevention service UK (link to page: ‘Other Sources of Help’)

Change.org Petition

#CurbTheCount AND Stop Calories being displayed on menus! https://www.change.org/p/curbthecount-and-stop-calories-being-displayed-on-menus

Articles Mentioned

The Guardian: Calorific: which high street meals are the most and least fattening?

The Guardian: ‘I’m responsible for what I put in my body’: Consumers respond to calorie labelling rollout

The Mirror: EXCLUSIVE: ‘I’m recovering from anorexia – calories on menus is a disaster for people like me’.

Government Press Release – ‘New calorie labelling rules come into force to improve nation’s health’#

Other Articles Researched

BBC – ‘Calories now appear on menus in large restaurant chains’

BBC – Discussing costs of putting calories on the menu

Metro – ‘How to cope with calorie labels being added to menus’

Politics.co.uk – ‘Putting calories on menus will be devastating for people with eating disorders’

A Thought about Mindfulness – A Poem

Fresh air fills the space, but only momentarily.
We have to exhale, we have to let go
no matter how much comfort the air provides us
briefly. The moment ends.
Another begins. Whether we beg for tomorrow to
come or pray that only in this moment we remain –
the future is never too far away.
The choice to be present is conscious,
but we cannot stay there – that is
involuntary. We have to move on.
Mindfulness is choosing to be present.
We can’t choose to remain in a moment, though.
Our awareness of that moment is exactly that
momentary.
For tomorrow always comes, and the present ends
the moment we are consciously aware of it.
Humanity chooses to count the deaths of each and
every second we are gifted with.
Our gratitude spreads across a multitude of moments.
A collection of memories that we use to predict our
future.
For now we remain in the present, but we linger on
every minute that came before.
Because, despite our best efforts,
we can never be in the present – only ever
in the past.

The Question Queue

Crowds of people shroud my view.
They fall over each other to catch a
glimpse of the bigger picture. All gathered
to fain answers to their existential
questions, that apparently only this view can
provide.

The crowd growths both in width and
length. Before those at the front of the
infinite queue can catch their precious
glimpse of the answer they have
long awaited –
they fall.
Pushed by the impatience of those
following…

Millions of minds all congregated.
Humanity had escaped every single
one of them, so what use would their answers
be now?

The last person to join the line finally asks
the question that can be answered,
“Why are we here?”
He looks behind him and returns to his
home, he moves on to
tomorrow.

Darkness Among Us

Shadows dance in the light.
Distorted bodies that resemble
familiar shapes. Humanity disappears
from them and they become their
own being. Night approaches and the shadows lurk.
Now we can’t identify where they
have gone.
They live among us.

Who are the shadows and
who are we?
Are we all the same when the
light has gone?

Library of Memories

Lost in the library of memories,
trying to claw my way back to the
present.
Open the door to reality,
to my consciousness.
Understand the words I scream!

Locked in a life
parallel to my dreams.
Distant and nothing
more. Help me
find a way out.

My Story of Misdiagnosis – Part Two, The Damage of Incorrect Labels

Unfortunately, that was the point I relapsed. After our local authority had agreed to pay £100,000 annually for my placement at the school, I lost it due to being so mentally unwell. I was devastated. The disappointment I felt was entirely self-projected, I became ashamed that my mental health had put such a barrier between my education and I once again. Not only that, but now I was missing the opportunity to live somewhere I felt safe and secure too.

During this relapse, I had a month-long admission in Kent, which caused me significant psychological damage and also was miles and miles from home. This place was shortly temporarily closed, meaning I was readmitted to the psychiatric unit in which my first admission took place – the place which held a lot of bad memories for me and also had the same doctor.
    Eleven months later, I was discharged and was moved into a community placement. A residential placement. However, once again, this didn’t last long and, after a short admission in an adult acute service, I was moved to rehab. As you can imagine, at this point I was furious with myself and the only way I could see a way out of this was to further punish myself for ruining my chance at yet another community placement.

Within the first three months of being in rehab, my diagnoses were revisited (at this point, included EUPD too). After a long process of interviews, assessments, and general observations of my behaviours, it was determined that my symptoms that were once attributed to ASD, in fact were severe anxiety. My scores did not match up to the criteria of a diagnosis of autism. Some traits were higher than that of the average person, but some of this could be attributed to less commonly acknowledged neurological and emotional traits of my cerebral palsy (as, of course, it is a neurological condition – how did nobody consider it before?!).
   Following this, we also discovered that I do not have EUPD either. Once again, the traits did not quite match up and were not severe enough to categorise them as a ‘borderline type’ diagnosis. Immediately following this, of course, this then begged the question: what is wrong with me?
   I knew a list of traits and symptoms, which were all acknowledged and verified by my psychiatrist, but it felt like nothing was truly concrete. Three years after receiving my initial diagnosis, I felt lost – no labels to cling onto. I knew my experiences and I knew that I was not ‘normal’ (sorry, I had no other descriptors in my vocabulary to explain this!).
     When I asked my doctor, he said he treats symptoms, not labels. This was both refreshing and reassuring. I had never met a doctor who listens to a patients true account of their experiences and tackles each issue head on, rather than treating an overarching diagnosis. I respected and valued this approach. It made me feel like a human, rather than a collection of names. Those labels didn’t really tell anyone about me. If someone were to ask me to describe myself, I would not jump at my diagnosis of cerebral palsy, or at the time autism, because it doesn’t tell anyone anything. I enjoy writing, especially poetry; I make a fantastic batch of brownies at least once a week, I love long walks in forests and nature photography, you would get none of that if I plainly answered, ‘I have xyz’ would you?

The only problem I have with my lack of labels, is the lack of understanding from a professional standpoint. While it is fine for my current doctor to say he helps people and not labels, what about the next doctor? More often than not, doctors find more comfort in their patients having labels, as it may make them believe they are easier to treat.
   However, this is fundamentally wrong. Each patient is entirely different. Placing patients in boxes labelled ‘autistic’ or ‘borderline’ or ‘psychotic’ does not mean you can treat them any easier, as each patient’s presentation of these symptoms may drastically differ.

My misdiagnosis has made me look at labels in a completely different way. It has made me realise the importance of patient-centred and individualised care. It has made me realise that I will not change depending on which name my problems have, I will always be the same person. When I was diagnosed with autism, it gave me a sense of knowing and understanding – it made me understand my behaviour better. Over time, I have come to understand that I didn’t need this label in order to understand or validate my behaviour, we just have to learn to cope with our different reactions to things. Now I understand that my identity is not comprised of a list of labels. I am just me.

The problem with being misdiagnosed is that I was repeatedly offered the wrong course of treatment and the wrong support, due to having a label placed upon me that I didn’t have. This meant I was given the wrong therapy, wrong medication, wrong care overall. I was offered placements that costed a significant amount of money, when in actuality I was never eligible for them. This meant I wouldn’t have been getting the right help, and not only that, but someone else out there struggling may have missed that opportunity.  
    Having the wrong support may well have been a contributing factor to the breakdown of my placements and subsequent longer hospital admissions. It meant that people would only see a surface level reflection of my difficulties and nothing more. A list of symptoms to manage and not the root of the problem that was causing me such intense distress. It blocked my access for help, and it meant that people wouldn’t listen to the true difficulties I was having, because it was all easily explained away by the other diagnoses that had been placed upon me.

Years after being diagnosed with autism, I have had time to reflect on that ward I was on and had time to think about my experience there. The doctor who treated me suspected my diagnosis of autism from our very first interaction, when much of that could have easily been attributed to the extreme anxiety I had, especially when it was my first time in inpatient. However, within a matter of weeks under the care of that doctor, I had an autism diagnosis.
    On reflection, this doctor diagnosed almost every single patient who she met with ASD, if they didn’t already have that diagnosis. She made all of these within a couple of weeks of meeting these patients. There could be so many people struggling with so many things right now that aren’t being addressed because it is explained away by ASD – this is whether they have it or not. This doctor was a specialist. This to me is more of a problem, as she will see it in everyone, even if they don’t have autism. At one point on that ward of sixteen, every single patient who had that doctor as their consultant had an ASD diagnosis. This is a massive problem.

The main thing I have learnt from being misdiagnosed is that people put too much of their identity on a label. Although those labels may be a part of you, they are not your entire being and not every experience you have in life will be attributed to that label. They may help you be supported, but they shouldn’t weed out more problems than they cause. If something is going on, it should be treated as another symptom, not as a part of a much wider diagnosis.

Being misdiagnosed has taught me that I will not change depending on the name you give to my problems and in some ways, that is a good thing. No matter what label I am given, I will always be Kian. I will always be a writer, tea lover and brownie baking extraordinaire!

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