A busy day – is it a happy day?

fitness, Mental Health

This post has been brewing for a while now, so I finally decided to A) finish it and B) publish it. You might not agree with me, or understand where I’m coming from with this one, so bear with me!

If anyone has ever read any of the Just William books by Richmal Crompton, you might recall one chapter when William receives a birthday card with the immortal inscription: “a busy day, is a happy day.” Of course, the young boy thinks it’s rubbish, but it popped into my head as I was writing this and I thought maybe it has a ring of truth after all.

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In the weeks before I left university, I felt the first twinges of panic begin to curdle in my stomach. Leaving Durham. Going home. Having no structure, no waves of routine to tide me along. See, I am a creature of habit. I cling to what I know like a barnacle to a rock. As I mentioned in my last post, even when it comes to food I tend to follow the same general pattern.

(I’m aware that this makes me sound super boring and I swear I am not allergic to spontaneity or fun or anything BUT -)

The problem is, when I have nothing to do, I tend to slump into depression, or into a high state of anxiety. Looking at the empty days stretched out endlessly ahead is like staring directly into the abyss – how on earth am I meant to get through all those days, stuck inside my own head with nothing but my own dark thoughts for company? And with my impending move to Croatia on the horizon, looming threateningly in the distance, I have become almost frantic. I! Must! Distract! Myself!

Stillness and stability seem like the worst thing that could possibly happen to me right now. I try not to even have a moment alone with my thoughts, to the point where I’ll listen to an audiobook to fall asleep to, or always having the radio on in the car.

My anxiety is, like, through the roof right now. But I know that all I’m doing, by giving myself so many tasks, is fuelling it! 😨

I don’t know if wanting to avoid your thoughts, and the fear of the feelings that you know are waiting for a chance to creep in, is normal? 

I feel like a piece of thread, ducking and diving through life trying to avoid the inevitable tangle that I know full well is waiting at the end.

Please, don’t think I’m not trying to change this. I know that by, essentially avoiding the problem, it’s going to bite me in the ass eventually. But, and imagine me saying this like a petulant child, I just don’t WANT to. Who wants to actually sit and think about how depressed they are and then try to combat every single thought, like a game of mental whack-a-mole? NOT ME. It’s exhausting!

Maybe you think I’m crackers, at this point. What kind of weirdo is afraid of relaxing?

Yup, it’s me.

Stasis = negative thoughts. So in my lil brain, clearly somewhere along the line I have gone yup, well, the most logical answer to that is to NEVER RELAX.

Things I do to try and help myself 

  • Exercise – not only is it just good for you in general, but the endorphins released are a natural antidepressant, which boosts mood, and the physical strain forces you to relax afterwards.
  • Eating well – I’ve been trying to FUEL MY DAY with like, fruit and shit. Healthy body = healthy mind
  • Yoga – I don’t think meditation is a good idea for me just yet, as I think I need to calm myself down more generally before tackling something I know, right now, I’ll just give up on. So I’m approaching the whole thing slowly, by doing yoga videos (I like Yoga With Adrienne on YouTube!), where I can re-introduce the idea of mindfulness and peace, whilst doing something active.

Alternatively, this Could Just Be Me. I personally hate sitting on my ass all day anyway. But I think because I am so freaked out by the potential for a depression slump in the wake of this “free time”, I have gone into WARP SPEED over the whole issue.

If anyone reading this has any tips or advice, or similar experiences you might have had, please let me know your thoughts!

Love,

Cam

Things my therapist taught me

Mental Health

I am sat on a train and I just realised that it’s my SIX YEAR anniversary of recovery from anorexia!!! Yeah, baby!! In recognition of this, I want to tell you about the woman who changed it all.

 

My therapist is kind of my life idol. She was ACE. I met her when I was sixteen years old – broken, desperate, in complete despair with myself and my situation.  Even then, I realised, here was a force to be reckoned with.

The first time I met her, I got on the scales and she looked at me and just said: “why have you done this?”

And for the first time, I realised, I didn’t really know.

She had this dyed orange-y, fire-y hair that was long and bright, and wore kind of boho-y clothes that looked liked they’d been snatched up at some market in an exciting, exotic country that she’d just finished visiting. She’d swish into her office with a mug of peppermint tea, or a bottle of Lipton’s ice tea, and say “right! Let’s get this over with!” and point to the scale for my weekly weigh-in (I never looked at the numbers). Some days she’d scowl at the number, and grimly mark the chart with a red pen, and some days she’d be pleased, and congratulate me on what I can only presume was my increasing weight.

 

A vegetarian for twenty years, she said she’d given it up recently in order to save her health, as she had an autoimmune disease and trying to stay healthy on all fronts was just a bit too much. But, as she said, she’d done her bit, which is more than most people do in a lifetime. That was seriously refreshing to hear. A chilled-out attitude to food, to life in general. No pressure to be, or to live a certain way. Just to be yourself.

 

Some days I’d fade pale-ly into her office and just sit there, staring at my hands, feeling numb, nothing, nada. I’d get on the scales and they’d reflect how I was feeling – empty. Sometimes she’d sigh and chastise me, on the days when she thought I needed tough love, and some days she’d let me talk about something else, or show me pictures of her two cats, and I’d feel relieved that today I didn’t have to dredge up how lonely and lost I was feeling, how much I just wanted to vanish into nothing.

She was herself with me, not like I was a student and she was the teacher, more like she was my concerned older friend who knew exactly how I was feeling. She was funny and smart and kind to me, even when I was being completely unreasonable. She made it seem so simple. Like, how did I not understand that this wasn’t the answer?

 

For example, I’d say, “I do not want to eat because I’ll get fat.”

And she’d say: “why do you think eating will make you fat?”

“Because I’ll lose control and spiral”

“But if I weigh you every week, and you eat what’s on the meal plan, how will that happen?”

“It just will!” This was my petulant mantra.

We had this conversation All. The. Time. After a while, I realised how dumb I sounded. Of course I wouldn’t lose control. I was in her hands, and as long as I stuck to the plan my weight would go neither up nor down, for as long as I needed to get my head straight. It was safe. I was safe. But putting your trust in someone else is hard, and she understood that.

 

Or –

 

“Why do you want to be thin? Why does that matter?”

“Because it just does. Then I’ll be pretty, and people will like me.”

I remember her pulling an exasperated face in response to this, every time. “But”, she said, “I think I’m pretty, and I have friends, and I’m not thin.”

I didn’t really have an answer to that. Maybe it was just me that thought that was the way I needed to be, to achieve everything I had in mind.

 

I learnt pretty quickly that the problem really wasn’t the food, or even the eating of it. It was the other stuff, the issues that had caused my anorexia in the first place, that needed sorting more than anything. So sometimes, for weeks on end, food wasn’t mentioned at all, perhaps. Instead, we talked about school, my friends, my family, my genes, and tried to untangle my cerebral cortex, which had seemingly tied itself in a knot.

 

Like a kitten playing with a ball of string, we batted issues back and forth, played with them, chucked them around a bit. And slowly, like the playful kitten, I grew and learned and rationalised, and finally understood that my tangle of yarn was just a thread, that with patience and kindness, could be untangled.

 

The way I see my own situation, looking back, is that it was a divergent, twofold path. Down one road was the actual, literal disordered eating, and down the other, were the causal factors.

 

The disordered eating, to some extent, mattered less whilst we looked and understood the issues surrounding the subject. We put it on hold by agreeing a 4kg bandwith of average weight I could bounce about it, whilst following my meal plan. It kept my weight high enough to stop me being admitted to hospital, but low enough that I wasn’t freaked out. I came to trust this plan, and to cling to it tightly for almost two years following the start of my therapy.

 

(This is what it looked like:

 

AM: 2 slices of toast with butter and honey.

Snack: flapjack 150 cals. Smoothie 100 cals.

Lunch: Cheese sandwich. 2 slices of Soreen (malt loaf) with butter. One piece of fruit.

Snack: 200 cals (usually Belvita biscuits)

PM: 500 cals of dinner.

Snack: 200 cals of pudding, usually a slice of cake or a yoghurt.

 

By the way, I still kind of mindlessly stick to this routine. I think I did it for long enough that it’s sort of ingrained in me now! I like my #snacks tho)

 

Tackling food fears is easier than you might think. You just have to eat the damn food. And see that nothing bad happens when you do. Understand how much better you feel, how it helps you. Prove to yourself with every bite that this isn’t wrong, it’s something so simple you don’t even have to think about it. That’s not to say it isn’t difficult. Even now, I hate eating big meals in the middle of the day, as it throws me off for the rest of the afternoon. I don’t like crisps because they’re oily and salty, and therefore equated with “bad.” It’s a dance – one step forwards, two steps back. Maybe this week I realise that I have depression, and that’s why I starve myself, but with that realisation comes self-punishment, and I decide I won’t eat my morning snack any more. How is that rational? (Hint, it isn’t). Or maybe I manage to go out for a coffee, in public, but something at school hurts me badly.

 

I could never be an eating disorder therapist because damn, it’s hard to argue with someone that’s convinced that peanut butter is the end of the world and that because they ate a sandwich made of crust pieces on Tuesday (which are bigger than normal pieces and therefore more calorific), that they shouldn’t eat dinner on Saturday.

 

My therapist showed me how stupid the whole premise was. So what, something has happened at home that has made me upset, so I’m going to declare war on salad? That’s just crazy. Why not just sort the problem out instead, and carry on eating like normal?

 

Like dude, chill out. You did crappily on some homework aaaaand you’re dealing with it by doing sit-ups in the middle of the night? How on earth is that going to help? Talk to your teacher instead! Do it again! Take charge of your own happiness!

 

Okay, I’m nearly done. But here’s some of the things that I learned from her that I will never forget, that made me who I am today.

 

  • Be SELFISH! Stop living for other people, at their mercy. It’s your goddamn life.
  • Marks and Spencers do the best nibbles.
  • At the end of the day, calories are just…calories? As long as you get ENOUGH of them, per day, it really doesn’t matter what form they’re in.
  • If you like something, you can do it all the time… make it happen. For example, she religiously had a cold Lipton’s ice tea for breakfast, every day.
  • Write your thoughts down. It’ll clear your head, and you can learn a lot about yourself from it.
  • Exercise, who?
  • Friends and food are two of the most important things in your life.
  • There is ALWAYS, ALWAYS a solution.
  • Cats are fab.
  • If something sucks, or is toxic in your life, drop it like a hot potato. And then eat a hot potato to make yourself feel better.

 

One of her treatments for me actually included going out for lunch, so I could get used to eating in public (another big fear which we’ll tackle some other time). I think that’s hilarious, and kind of cool.

 

She went to Grey College, Durham, which is kind of why I picked it. I wanted to be as strong, as sassy, as rational as she was. She made me into this person full of life, who wanted to live, and I admired her so much for that, that I still try to emulate her, six years later.

 

So thank you, therapist, for sitting with me for hundreds of hours, for showing me true catharsis, and changing the path of my life forever.

 

(and thanks to my family for making me go in the first place!)

 

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Would I have been able to be a vet if I was still sick? nOpE! ps this is my dog i love him

Ghost stories: inside the mind of an anorexic

Mental Health

Now, this is a topic about which I have a LOT to say. It’s not pretty, or uplifting, or even very funny, even with the passing of time. It’s really shitty, in fact. However, today I felt the stirrings of some old insecurities, and with that came the urge to write. 

Someone asked me if I was writing this blog in an attempt to “let go” of this history, and at the time I denied it, saying I simply wanted to share my story. But I’ve thought about it and I think what my friend said is probably true. I’m not over it. I can’t just pretend it never happened. Although maybe letting go is something I can share with you, in the same way.  

By the way, this story isn’t going to be published in neat, chronologically-ordered chapters. It’s broken and messy and probably quite incoherent. I hope you don’t mind because I, too, am messy and broken and quite incoherent. Heh. 

THIS POST MAY BE TRIGGERING TO THOSE WHO HAVE HAD SIMILAR EXPERIENCES. IF YOU DON’T THINK IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO READ IT, PLEASE DON’T. 

The Prozac Diaries: Episode 1

Mental Health

It’s Saturday morning, and I have a headache. Not from alcohol, as you might expect of a girl who recently finished her degree and is enjoying the feeling of freedom. No. It’s because I ran out of Prozac, and am going into withdrawal.

Briefly, Budapest

travel

My experience of Budapest was a heady mix of aching feet and awe at the beauty of the city.

Highlights:

  • Food
  • Scenery
  • History
  • Cheap

Lowlights:

  • Effect of large quantity of dairy on Cam’s stomach.

Admittedly, the latter problem was my own fault and I can’t really blame the city. 

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Hello and welcome!

General
Hi there!
 
If you hadn’t already guessed, the inevitable has happened – and I have decided to start BLOGGING *everybody cringes.* As if I wasn’t embarrassing enough anyway (check out my Insta). Still, I remain shameless about my propensity to over-share online. If reading about my trials and triumphs makes even one person feel better about themselves/ their own life, I will have won. Also low-key, my therapist told me that most of my problems would be solved if I just wrote them down and thought them through, so I will also be testing that theory.
 
More so than being an anthropologist (the subject of my undergrad degree) or a veterinarian (the subject of my next degree – we’ll get to that), I have always been a writer. Someone once called me “fat and weird” for reading books a lot when I was a pre-teen, but my hobby did leave me with the ability to string together a few sentences in a way that’s easy to read. Who’s laughing now? Probably them, actually…
 
So what should you expect from avocamilla.com?
 
Food 
 
Food, glorious food! Yes, I’m a (mostly) vegan. BUT before you turn away in disgust, I promise you I am not one of those vegans. I don’t CARE if you eat steak three times a day or are a gluten-free milk-free Paleo pescatarian. As long as you don’t send me sausages in the post or something, we’re cool. I will not preach about veganism or anything like that. I will just share my reality with you! Which is, admittedly, mostly guilty bags of Malteasers and the occasional cheesy pizza. *gasp!* And some meals that are just cous cous and ketchup – I’m a student, let me live. Sometimes I do make nice food (or have it made for me), and when I do, I’ll be sure to share it. But me and my baked beans are probably not going to make it onto the #foodporn hashtag.
 
Fitness 
 
Ha! Ha! Good one, Cam. If you know me in real life, you’ll be well aware that I am super pale, sickly, dramatically asthmatic (no, seriously) and generally do not look like someone who is #bodygoals at any given time. Despite this, I love to run and to swim. I do my best. Occasionally, I dabble in yoga (at present, however, I am nursing a broken heart and am favouring more intense exercise as a form of REVENGE).
 
Rest assured, I suck at both running AND swimming (I didn’t learn to swim until I was fourteen), but maybe you can help me achieve some kind of fitness level or goal. We can encourage one another to get out there and get moving. I do think exercise is an important part of life, but as a normal person with a normal body you will not find me hanging out in the weights area sipping a kale smoothie because, well, I’m probably in bed with a slice of toast and a hangover.
 
Mental health 
 
Okay, this is where it gets a bit heavy.
 
I am someone who struggles with mental health problems. Throughout my teenage years, I had anorexia, which was incredibly debilitating. Thankfully, I got the help I needed and have recovered fully from that awful disorder. But it’s still something I talk about a lot and fight every single day – yes, I live a normal life and eat what I like, when I like (hence why I don’t restrict myself cheese or cake or chocolate if I want it), but the problems which anorexia developed as a coping mechanism for, still remain, and I struggle massively with body insecurity.
 
These problems take the form of depression and anxiety. Panic attacks, SSRIs, all that jazz. And sometimes it makes every day a struggle.
 
Mental health forms a big part of our media coverage today. But what is “mental health”? How do we know when it’s “bad” or when it’s “good”? And what can we do to not feel like crap all the time?
 
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some of them. Whether it’s books, or lifestyle changes, or quotes or websites or whatever, I hope to share what works for me. By letting you inside my mind, maybe you’ll see that you’re not alone, or be able to help a friend going through this stuff.
 
I am in no way qualified to give advice, so all I can do is share my experiences. Some of them are funny, and some are sad, but they’re all real, and from my heart. And if I got through them, you can too!
 
Travel 
 
I am fairly intrepid and I have some stories to share, mostly about the times I have visited Africa to spend my summers working with primates. One time I got hit in the head with a rock thrown by a chimpanzee! Also once I landed a drone a bit too near someone’s face. OOPS.
 
This September, I, a typical Yorkshire lass from the UK, will be moving to Croatia for SIX YEARS. From what I have described about myself, that seems crazy, doesn’t it! So I will definitely be posting about what it’s like to prepare to move away for such a long time, being an international student, and what life is like away from home.
 
Everything else 
 
I hope to share some of what I learn from my veterinary studies, as well as keeping up-to-date with anthropology. I promise to make it at least a little bit interesting, and not too gross. I’ll also be sharing music that is cheerful and uplifting, as I think music can do a lot to change your mood! Finally, I might share some of my fictional writing, some of which I’m quite proud of. Oh, and probably some “fashion” too. This will mostly involve me wearing brightly patterned shirts and grinning like a maniac because apparently I live in the 80s, despite the fact I wasn’t alive then. There’ll be some funny stories from university and from my family life, too. Plus I have a puppy, so watch out for pictures of him.
 
Anyway, enough rambling. I have a flight to catch. But I hope you are excited! I certainly am.
 
Love,
 
Cam
 
first post

It me! I was trying to show off my shoes but I look a bit silly instead. Still, you win some, you lose some.