photo of a oier

How to emerge out of Lockdown and find our Selves again…

On Thursday I went into Brighton and wandered through the North Lanes. I bought a coffee and sat outside at a café. Later I bought a falafel wrap from “I Love Falafel, an old favourite of mine.

As I sat at the café watching people go past, I felt part of myself returning. In the past, I would cycle into Brighton along the seafront daily to work.  My bike currently sits rusting in my garden….

I would go to the office, chat with my colleagues in between clients and wander the Lanes. I may sit in the Pavilion Gardens for lunch, observe the buskers and the street goings-on. I may take in a film at the Duke of York Cinema after work, or meet friends for a few drinks in a pub.

What I realised is how much of myself I have lost this past year.  I have predominantly become an Online Therapist and a Mum. Many are talking of losing their ability to make conversation, how our memories are foggy and it seems we need to relearn how to do those everyday tasks we took for granted. Our brains over this past year have processed those regular occurrences as past experiences and stored them as memories. We need to learn our way of being again.

How do we bring back those parts of our identity we have lost?

Our Self-concept is our personal knowledge of who we are, encompassing all our thoughts and feelings about ourselves physically, personally, and socially. Self-concept also includes our knowledge of how we behave, our capabilities, and our individual characteristics.

Our self-concept develops most rapidly during early childhood and adolescence.  As a baby we develop our sense of self by having it reflected back to us by our caregiver. If we receive love from our mother, we grow up believing we are loveable. The holder of the mirror then switches to our peers at school, hence that time of life for so many who have difficult experiences at school can be so crushing for developing a positive self-concept.

However, our self-concept continues to form and change over time as we have new experiences, and it changes as we develop new friendships and relationships with others. Our self-concept is dependent on the social situations in which we find ourselves and the feedback we receive from that environment.

Our isolation this past year has meant that many of our interactions with others has been very restricted.  We have lost our sense of self. 

This week I returned to CrossFit, an important community that I have been part of for the past 5 years. A place outside my four walls that I have a sense of belonging.  There, I am not “Mum” or “Therapist” but someone who does some crazy exercise routines, laughs and connects with others on all sorts of levels. I have missed that person. She needs to emerge again.

There used to be this person who would jump on a train to London Victoria and take herself off spontaneously to explore the delights of London. She would take that free spirit further afield and find herself on a solo trip to Goa, looking for new environments and connections with people from different backgrounds and cultures. That part of myself has laid dormant for this past year, rarely making it past the end of my road at times. I want her back.

So, as we start to emerge out of lockdown, is it safe for us to start to give fuel to these lost parts of ourselves? Can we allow ourselves the space to grieve their absence? For many of us, they may not return. Certain relationships and parts of our Selves are lost, and we feel irrevocably changed by this past year.

But just maybe…..as Spring is here….a new Self can now emerge and our Lockdown Self can take a backseat.

I’m off to get my bike fixed….

assorted sliced fruits in white ceramic bowl

Has Lockdown caused a rise in Eating Disorders?

The media is now full of stories of body transformation tales. Tiktok has been rife for months with young women sharing online what they are eating throughout the day and showing their reduced waists. Teenagers are mimicking the smoothie bowls they see these new found influences making and are receiving messages from them about what is a healthy diet. Many of us have been without our preferred form of exercise and the last three months of winter lockdown has taken its toll on us emotionally and physically.

So now the diet companies are rubbing their hands with glee. Working as a Counsellor, and someone who was bulimic as a teenager, I am concerned for the impact on young people. They have been trapped in their bedrooms with nothing but online schoolwork to do. Everything that enables them to thrive has been taken away from them. GCSES were cancelled, their A-levels are a confused mess. Should they bother going to Uni this September? They are all in the throes of grief having lost a fundamental year in their development.

When we feel overwhelmed with feelings and emotions and our lives feel out of control, we revert to doing things that make us feel we have some mastery. What we put in and out of our mouths is a way that we can feel in control. For teenagers, their clothes and apperance is of paramount importance. So add in the teenage pressure of wanting to look good, making friends, and stepping into their emerging sexuality. The idea which is constantly sold to them by the media of changing your body shape to assist you with this can be tempting.

Woman shows off her incredible 4st weight loss in viral TikTok video after  reining in 'mindless snacking'

How do Eating Disorders start?

What can often start as a desire to lose a few pounds can escalate into skipping meals. As the weight starts to drop off, you start to feel better about yourself. You may feel a sense of achievement and you attract positive comments from family and friends which encourages this behaviour. However, there can be a point when this tips and starts to move towards an eating disorder.

The lightheadedness felt from hunger becomes addictive and for many, the internal critical voice can get louder and louder – shaming you if you have detoured from your diet and eaten something you shouldn’t. This voice can become so persecutory it can take over and those suffering with anorexia feel beholden to it. Women I have worked with have shared that however horrible this voice is in their head, it is also company. Anorexia can start up when people are feeling lonely and isolated and it is as if this persecutory voice is a replacement for companionship and care.

For others, when they detour from their resticted diet, the shame can lead to Binge Eating and /or Bulimia. Over exercising or purging can seem like a quick and easy solution to getting rid of those extra calories you have eaten. Before long purging one meal can lead to purging all meals. If you are going to purge, you might as well eat all the foods you don’t allow yourself to. So biscuits, cake, ice cream can all be eaten and then purged. Again, this gives the illusion of control. You often feel deeply shamed about overeating, but then the relief comes with the purging and you feel back in control.

Eating Disorders often begin because people want to lose weight. Messages in the media and society are constantly telling us we will be happier, be accepted, and be succesful if we look a certain way. They become an addiction in a similar way to drugs and alcohol as a way for us to manage overwhelming emotions and feelings. Once an Eating Disorder takes a grip, it takes a lot of work and support to change our behaviour.

How to get support?

We have to learn to value ourselves and care for our bodies. To nourish ourselves with nutritious healthy foods and to find other ways to manage our difficult feelings and emotions. As a hidden bulimic sufferer myself for years, the shame prevented me from telling anyone. I had buried my emotions and was unaware I felt anything other than shame about being overweight. Working alongside an empathic Counsellor and processing these supressed emotions, enabled me to start caring for myself and my body.

If you are concerned about someone who is showing signs of rapid weight loss, be mindul of what may be going on beneath the surface. They may need support with the underlying feelings that are going on and may benefit from Counselling so they can share this with someone who understands how they are using their relationship with food as a way of managing their distress.

As well as working as a Counsellor, I run workshops and events throughout the year. If you would like to be kept informed of those, please leave your details below.

September – A Month of Transition.

I noticed how the long-awaited relief of children returning to school was entwined with a feeling of loss and sadness this week. My mood dipped and I started to recognise this feeling as a familiar tone that sets in year after year in September. The sea suddenly becomes less inviting, I notice the evenings start to draw in and that abundant energy I had in June and July is no longer present. As the leaves start to fall from the trees and the seasons change, so do I.  The familiar feeling is one of grief.

As a child I was sent to Boarding School, so each September my trunk would be packed and off I would go, leaving behind my mum, my cat, my house, my bedroom and have to quickly make the transition to being one of 30 girls sleeping in an open dormitory. There was no space for grief and transition then as I had to adapt quickly with a brisk goodbye at the door to my mum and a goodbye to the summer holidays and the time I had spent outside of this institution.  As an adult I have always viewed September as a new beginning and am able to see how I have developed a pattern of often shedding jobs and relationships in the summer months, preparing for this new term to start. 

However, these days those feelings of grief show up and I am no longer able to push forward as I have in the past.  This has shown up in a cough in recent Autumns that I have struggled to shift.  As a child in that first year at Boarding School I developed Asthma out of the blue. Many of us associate sadness and grief with the heart, but In Chinese Medicine your lungs are seen as a repository for these emotions. We have all encountered so much grief in the past six months.  We may have individually experienced the physical loss of a loved one, we may have lost the job we cherished, the financial security we had, our space away from our children, our routine, our holidays, physical touch and our freedom of movement.  We have all collectively experienced the loss of the lifestyle that we once knew. The ground that once felt solid beneath our feet is now like sand as we move into Autumn uncertain whether another Lockdown is on the horizon and we are still unable to plan for the future.

 So, as the leaves have started to fall this week, and my energy levels started to droop, I have stopped in my rush to push forward and decided to be kind to myself.  To give my body and my mind what it is asking for.  Nourishing food, warm baths, and plenty of rest.  I have started giving myself a massage each evening before bed with Bergamot aromatherapy oil, known for its mood balancing and uplifting properties. So often our minds can race ahead of our bodies with all these intentions and plans, and our bodies then crash with burn out / depression or a physical ailment that causes us to stop.  Hopefully this year, I have spotted the signs early on and have started to slow down into Autumn and give my body and mind what it really needs and deserves. We are unable to fully go forwards and transition unless we make space to let go of our grief. We have all had to adapt so much these past six months and we are incredibly resilient to have done so, so make sure going into Autumn you give yourself the nurture that you need and deserve.