Laura shares her experiences of overcoming negative body image whilst recovering from an eating disorder.
“A body does not have to be a prison. Instead, our bodies can be precious vehicles for life.” - Jenni Schaefer
Recovering from an eating disorder has also meant attempting to rebuild a positive body image. My focus has been forced to shift from hating and starving my body to nourishing it with the food it deserves. It’s changed from cursing my arms and legs and stomach for being too ‘big’, to allowing my body to regain the weight it desperately needed to.
It hasn’t been easy, and I’m not there yet. I have never felt comfortable in my skin. I always, and wrongly, believed that if I was thin, I wouldn’t have a problem. I equated thinness to happiness, and I thought if I achieved what I perceived as a perfect body, I would also achieve a perfect life.
But when I fell victim to anorexia, for reasons far more complex than simply what I looked like, I realised I had been wrong. The voice in my head was never pleased, no matter how much weight I lost. I had to be thinner. If I wanted to feel better in my body, I’d just have to lose more.
It’s only now that I can see how wrong this voice was, and how disordered its logic. It’s only now, with hindsight, that I can see that at my thinnest, I was also the loneliest, saddest and emptiest version of myself. At my thinnest, I hated my body more than ever.
Over time, I’ve learnt that my body image is dependent on how I feel inside. On a good day, I can breeze through without a thought to my weight or shape; on a bad day, when I feel anxious or sad or stressed, I am painfully aware of the size of my body and the space I take up. On those days, I want to starve and shrink my body more than ever before. Perhaps I think if I am smaller physically, my feelings will be smaller too, or maybe I just want to disappear completely. Who knows the rationale behind an eating disorder? All I can do is tell myself it is wrong.
The thing is, we are all so much more than our bodies. We are the sum of the friendships and relationships we invest in, the hobbies we love to pursue and the talents and strengths we possess. As it turns out, your body image is just a reflection on how you feel about yourself. If you dislike who you are, you’ll dislike how you look, regardless of your weight or shape. I am learning to appreciate my body for what it can do instead of how it looks. Shifting our focus from the size of our thighs to the contents of our hearts can transform the way we see our bodies for the better.
Positive body image comes from the inside: nourish yourself, respect yourself, and slowly you can grow to love yourself.
My name's Laura and I'm currently studying for a Master's degree in journalism. I'm really passionate about improving student mental health having been unwell for a lot of my degree, and I'm one of the editors here at the Student Minds blog. I believe sharing our stories is one of the most powerful things we can do!
Annie shares her body image journey and fashion and sex have positively changed the way she feels about her body.
- Annie Bocock
As someone who has been consistently overweight for most of their life, the way I have felt about my body has been complex and has fluctuated between multiple extremes. This is okay! In fact it’s incredibly common to feel this way no matter who you are and what your situation is.
To explore my own history with body image I can tell you roughly the different feelings I’ve had about my body over the years and how the last 12 months have completely shaken the way I feel about my body.
“My body is alright” For many (MANY) years I would describe my body as “fine” and “okay” to myself and others. That’s because I really did think it was just okay. Perhaps a bit too large but it was nothing I couldn’t ignore or try to solve with diets I knew I wouldn’t stick to. My body did its job. I thought it was both pretty and ugly, therefore my perception of it was passive and neutral.
Feeling passive about my body didn’t build the foundations for good mental health, as I almost consistently viewed myself as incapable of being anything more than “okay-looking” rather than beautiful or worthy of any compliments that may have come my way. Over the years, this made me believe that my body was just acceptable, rather than something that could be loved or admired.
Summer of Body Positivity Comedian Sofie Hagen completely changed the way I viewed my body. Having discovered her through The Guilty Feminist podcast last year, I started to see the work she was doing to combat the idea that “fatness” is inherently a bad, shameful thing and it really made me rethink the way I thought about my body and the concept of “fatness”. I started to just view it as a descriptor rather than something I should be ashamed of. Seeing her and others across social media unapologetically be themselves really did inspire me to appreciate, be proud of and love the way I look.
Actively loving my body, combined with starting to find happiness at university for the first time, did wonders for my mental health. I felt a new sense of positivity and energy. Something that really helped with this is fashion!
Shorts, culottes, interesting band shirts, tops that make me feel sexy, summer dresses… The way I dressed myself in the summer changed with the newfound confidence I had and so did how I feel about my body. I grew more comfortable with my body and the things about it I particularly used to hate (like my body hair, the way my breasts are shaped and my stomach) all became things I loved about myself.
Sexual Odyssey Recently I became sexually active for the first time. The way I look and think about my body has been sporadic. Let me explain why.
Having had nobody show an interest in my body before (the magical yet haunting world of) Tinder it was suddenly the best thing in the world to find out others found me attractive. That’s the good thing about dating and sex, even if you think you’re beautiful, it’s just reassuring and (simply put) nice to hear people you’re intimate with say that they find you sexy and desirable.
The issue I’ve found is that I seem to need the approval of partners to have a positive perception of my body and this is a problem I’ve had with growing frequency. How do I deal with this? By remembering that I am gorgeous, desirable, interesting, funny and wonderful and that I don't need to be approved by anyone but myself (even if it does feel good). Yes it doesn’t always work immediately but I believe that my core perception of my body image is now strong enough that nobody could make me feel like I’m unworthy of believing I’m beautiful.
Having a complex (and sometimes difficult) relationship with your body is normal. The best thing to do if you feel like the relationship with your body is getting confusing and negative is to make sure you talk to friends/family/GP/university support networks/anyone else you feel comfortable talking to about how you are feeling about your body and how these feelings are impacting your mental health!
Hi! I’m Annie Bocock and I’m a second year mathematics student at the University of York. As a Press Ambassador for Student Minds I enjoying writing and speaking about my own experiences of mental health and the general complexities of mental health. It’s so rewarding seeing how others can gain something from my experiences.
Lorna shares her experience of body image at university and calls for universities to do more to promote body positivity.
University can be a really scary time. You leave all you have ever known and trek halfway across the country to live with strangers and work harder than you ever have before.
It’s not surprising therefore it’s a particularly risky time for the development of mental health disorders. Whilst universities are becoming increasingly sensitive to the need to reduce stress and support those facing depression and anxiety, I feel they continue to fail in regards to promoting positive body image.
I went to a particularly sporty university in the South West. Millions was spent on campus gym facilities, and the university prided itself on pumping out a significant number of Olympic athletes. This was great, as it brought huge funding to campus, and there was always a sense of pride when one of our own did well in national and international competitions.
A side effect of this focus on sport however was what I considered an institutionally warped sense of body image. All promotional images for campus contained individuals who looked like they had walked off the cover of a fitness magazine. I rarely saw people across campus who weren’t in sporting gear – at times it felt like skin tight leggings and running tops were some form of uniform!
Every single food outlet on campus served some sort of protein fuelled food, including shakes, bakes and meals. All menus contained calorific content, and some café’s even added protein to hot drinks at your request!
It was standard for people to spend long periods of time in the gym, pushing themselves way beyond any norms, and no one batted an eyelid. I know loads of people who continued to work out when injured, desperate to push themselves and maintain their place on their sporting team of choice. The gym staff never questioned anyone on their extreme workout habits, and were not trained in spotting the signs of dysmorphic or eating disordered behaviour – to the contrary, I feel they often promoted it.
To me, it came as no surprise to hear eating disorder rates at this university are extremely high, according to a recent survey. I too developed anorexia whilst studying here, having been left feeling inadequate whilst walking across campus alongside in what felt like a sea of models. I had never wanted to join a gym, but during my time at university not only did I join one, I became obsessed; going often and pushing myself even when exhausted.
I feel universities could do so much more to promote body positivity or a less dysmorphic way of thinking about body image. From educating students of the dangers of excessive exercise to helping gym staff spot the signs of disordered behaviours. They should be always willing to put the wellbeing and safety of their students above their sporting accomplishments.
I'm Lorna, a psychology graduate from the University of Bath. I love spending time with my two dogs, Poppy and Pippa! I'm passionate about challenging mental health stigma, particularly relating to Eating Disorders and Personality Disorders.
Caitlin shares her top 10 tips to be more body kind and how we should start being nicer to ourselves and our bodies.
For a lot of us - myself included - the way we perceive our bodies can often be distorted, and the things we say about our appearances can unfortunately be very unkind sometimes. We really can be our own worst enemies, but it is possible change this! It’s time we all started being nicer to ourselves and our bodies. Of course it’s not an easy job or an overnight success, so to help you, here are some little tips you can use which will hopefully encourage you to view your body in a more positive light and appreciate it for how beautiful and wonderful it really is.
1. Appreciate how your body works Our bodies really are miracle-workers. Just think of all the tasks and functions they perform every single day without us even having to worry - it’s incredible! We should be thanking our bodies for looking after us, and in turn, look after them. I think it’s also important to appreciate what our bodies can do and not what they can’t do.
2. Treat your body When I think of ‘treat’, the image of eating chocolate brownies and watching TV springs to mind. For others, it might be cooking up a new recipe, having a duvet-day or going out for a run. Whatever it is that makes you feel good - go ahead and do it! You deserve to feel happy and your body will love you for it.
3. Use social media to your advantage We all know the internet can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to body image. So, my tip is to ask yourself whilst you’re scrolling through social media: “is this making me unhappy?”. If the answer is ‘yes’, stop. Make sure you’re having a good time! Try following body-positive blogs like nonairbrushedme, bbcbodypositive and i_weigh.
4. Talk to people Talking about body image can be quite daunting but it’s definitely worth it. Whether you’re sharing feelings about your own body with a friend or seeking advice from a GP or university support system, it’s good to start a conversation. You’ll not only be helping yourself but you may inspire someone else to be kinder to their body or even get help.
5. Set positive goals Setting goals and targets is something we all do, and many of these may be body-related. The best kind of goals are the ones which aren’t based on restrictions and instead focus on things you can improve on rather than omit. A challenge can be great, but keep in mind that both your mental and physical wellness is your priority.
6. Understand that your mind and body are linked I believe that the key to happiness is knowing that a healthy mind is a healthy body, and a healthy body is a healthy mind. They work together. Getting enough sleep, nutrition and exercise will make you feel happier, and if you feel good in yourself mentally, you’ll feel physically better too. As they say, it’s all about a healthy balance.
7. Celebrate your uniqueness Your uniqueness is what make you special, and body diversity allows us to celebrate our individual differences. Comparing our “weird and wonderful” bodies with others can be fun and interesting but it should never be a negative thing or feel like a competition. Be confident and happy in yourself exactly as you are. The things that make you you are beautiful.
8. Take those compliments! It’s easy to brush off or reject a compliment, especially if it’s about your body image. Though it may feel strange at first, actively try to respond positively and accept the compliment - and believe it too! Teaching yourself to do this is a great way to be body-kind and makes both the giver and the receiver of the compliment feel good.
9. Accept that your body changes As we grow and develop, our bodies naturally change in terms of how they look and how they work. This is just part of life, and accepting that your body is different now to how it was ten years ago or even ten months ago can help you see yourself in a more positive light. In essence, don’t compare yourself to yourself!
10. Know that beauty is subjective I strongly believe that we shouldn’t set our appearances against a certain standard of beauty because there isn’t one. It simply doesn’t exist. There is no one way we should look, no one way we should dress and no one way we should define ourselves. Create your own beauty and allow yourself to find happiness and strength within that beauty.
And there you have it - 10 ways to be body-kind. It might take time, but I hope these little tips help you feel positive about your body, as you deserve to.
Hello! I’m Caitlin and I’m a student at The University of York. I’m writing for Student Minds with the aim of encouraging people to be kinder to their bodies as well as their minds - and to have fun whilst doing it!
Michael shares three strategies for rebuilding after mental health difficulties.
- Michael Rigby
Getting back up from a dark place can be the biggest challenge. Whatever the situation, it will take time to repair. I haven’t written a blog for a long time because I’ve been focused on making changes in my life. At first, I made excuses and ran away from any confronting challenge that came at me. But over time I realised that wasn’t me and I can’t do that. I wanted to make a change. I understand that we all respond to mental health difficulties in our own ways. However, we can experience similar paths and benefit from similar strategies. Here is the three changes that I’ve made to help break the barriers of mental health difficulties.
1. Create a Routine
Start this routine slowly and build on it. Wake up, stretch, make your bed and drink some water. Carry out your day as you intend. This helped me to stay focused and on track.
2. Less Social Media
Limit the time you invest into your mobile. Use it for necessary reasons. If you look down at your phone whilst sitting/ walking in a park on your lunch break, how about look up? Enjoy your surroundings in the present moment, and create opportunities to connect with others.
3. Become Comfortable with Yourself
This includes everyday life. Be yourself in any situation. It’s easy to say, but confidence is built up. I tried to build up my confidence gradually. For me, I had to recognise and accept that nobody is perfect, and that we all make mistakes. Also, be comfortable with your ambitions in life. Create your own happiness where you can.
Small decisions can change your whole life. I’m still rebuilding, but I’m on the way to building my own fortress. We are all able to make positive changes. I understand that mental health difficulties can try to stop us, but we can all make small changes to rebuild our lives, ourselves and our situation.
For more information, advice and strategies for looking after your wellbeing, click here.
Hi, I'm Michael Rigby and I study Sports Business and Broadcasting at UCFB Wembley. I have experienced mental illness, including depression and social anxiety since the age of 14.
In this blog, Alice talks about how even though her undergraduate experience wasn't the best, she's determined to have a more positive time studying for her Master's degree.
University wasn’t the place for me. I’m not saying it was bad. I’m just saying it wasn’t good. I didn’t care about the Mexican Revolution, religious symbolism in the work of J. L. Borges, or the exploration of the self and form in twentieth-century France. Likewise, I did not care about the difference between the pronunciation of “vu” and “vous”, “pero”, and “perro”. I did not care about getting an F in a relatively unimportant presentation. I did not care that my tutor declared my essay on feminism to be “decidedly mediocre”.
Instead, I cared about evenings in pubs, walks in the park and sessions at the gym. I cared about staying up all night watching films and reading books not on the syllabus. I cared about cycling from a bar to my friend’s house at 1am on a Monday morning. I cared about going to gigs, visiting photography exhibitions, and rummaging through Spitalfields market on a Sunday.
When it came to studying, I tried, but only sort of. Half an hour before class was due to start I would open my workbook and frantically scribble something down. In the evenings, I would read novels of my own choosing before embarking on (and then later abandoning) the set texts. As for the presentations, I would usually just miss those classes and carry the fail. Invariably, I would turn up to every class utterly unprepared, having no idea about what was about to be discussed, and caring very little.
At the end of my three-year degree (which took me five years to complete), I received a transcript of my results, telling me that I had received one fail, two thirds, 2:2s, 2:1s, and firsts – all of which averaged out into the most meaningless 2:1 the uni must have ever given.
What the transcript didn’t say was that, during my studies, I had experienced debilitating depression, unrelenting OCD, one terrible coming out, one terrible relationship, one terrible break up, and the onset of Tourette’s syndrome.
OK, maybe university was bad.
This year, though, I have a place on UEA’s Creative Writing MA, and I’m determined to go back to my studies.
But if my undergraduate was so tumultuous, why am I doing this?
The answer is simple: university is, for me, unfinished business. I need to go back: get consistently OK grades, stay on an even keel for the duration of the course, keep my depression and OCD at bay. There’s not much I can do about the Tourette’s, given that it’s both chronic and incurable.
It’s going to be hard. I have the stereotypical swearing kind of Tourette’s. I will be yelling out “fuck” in lectures. I will find it hard to concentrate. I will inevitably be a distraction to myself and others.
But, unlike my BA in French and Spanish, this course has been a dream for a long time. I will spend a whole twelve months doing what I love: reading and writing. Reading helped me through depressive episodes before, and getting my writing published since leaving university has given me a much-needed self-esteem boost.
And if mental illness has taught me anything, it’s to do what you love, and do it a lot.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m determined to go back, and I’m going to smash it.
Alice Franklin is a writer who happens to have Tourette's, OCD and autism. She writes at a leisurely pace, runs at a leisurely pace, and hammocks at a leisurely pace. Previously, her work has appeared in two Spanish short story anthologies, the online magazine Liars' League, and the Financial Times.
Aaingel shares her experiences of dealing with difficult break-ups and how journaling helped her to come to terms with her emotions.
Breakups are hard. They are awful, we all know that. It’s well documented in every rom-com ever. But they really can be difficult to get through. I was with my partner for 2 ½ years before we broke up. I’d had just moved 50 miles away for uni, which doesn't sound far, but when you’ve lived in each other's pockets every night for the last year or so it feels like a thousand miles away, particularly when you are also starting a whole new course and getting used to living in a different city.
We’d been arguing all summer, and I for a long time I had felt anxious and paranoid about the relationship and the future of it. He spent the first week with me in my uni town before I started so I’d feel calm and settled in before my first week of uni. On all accounts, we were fine, on the outside we were happy but over time it came crashing down, and eventually, we broke up.
This had a huge impact on my mental wellbeing. I couldn’t eat for a week after the breakup. I decided it would be better if we limited contact so that I could get over him because I didn’t think I would be able to heal while being his friend and so far apart. Despite deleting his contacts on my phone and social media, we spoke on the phone and even though I still had feelings for him, he said he was in a different headspace and needed time to grow for himself without me. He visited my uni town and we eventually decided that we were what each other wanted but didn’t need, for our own wellbeing.
However, the break up did let me start to journal in order to reflect on the difficult emotions I had been feeling. Everything that happened I’d write down at the time, and include all my feelings so that I could have a fresh pair of eyes on it every time I looked back at a situation. I know now that not every relationship is meant to be put back together, but it doesn’t mean it is not shocking or difficult - it is okay to spend some time feeling sad about the break-up. But I also can reflect on why certain feelings I felt at the time were not always constructive for improving the situation.
Since the break up I’ve journaled everything, sought professional help, and opened up a little more about how I feel in a constructive way. I didn’t seek professional help just for the sake of my relationship, but for myself so that I can look after myself and not be dependent on another person. When all my pieces felt put back together it was easier to then work on a relationship in a healthy way.
Hello, I'm Aaingel Nathan. I'm a journalism and media production student at the University for creative arts. I'm a keen writer, podcaster and radio presenter. I'm just writing to help others, giving people a voice they haven't heard but they definitely feel.
Esther shares her tips for easing worries when travelling abroad.
Last summer I embarked on what was the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) adventure of my life thus far - working as a camp counsellor in America. But, not only would this be my first trip to the US, but it would also be the first time I’d be flying solo – quite literally!
I had nightmares about the impending travel; it was all I could think about. For me the worries started weeks before my trip: consumed by thoughts of packing the wrong things, forgetting essential items, my luggage getting lost or somehow ruined. What if airport security interrogated me? What if I didn’t have the correct Visas? Missed my flight? Thoughts like this kept me up at night - working out exactly how many hours before takeoff I should arrive at the airport…
Some may say that my fears were irrational, and okay yes - it was fairly unlikely that I was going to contract Ebola, board the wrong flight (Home Alone 2-eque) and end up in Timbuktu, but my mind was racing, and ultimately, the anxiety I felt about my impending trip was very real.
When it came down to it, whilst I was excited for my new adventure on the surface, my enthusiasm was dampened by fear and worry. Beyond the travel concerns, I was deeply worried about being in a new place, where I didn’t know anyone, without my usual support network. So, how did I combat this? I was fortunate that my cousin had worked at a summer camp the previous year, so I reached out. By expressing my worries and talking through them with someone who had had a similar experience, I was able to calm myself - it was reassuring to know that I was a) not alone, and b) that even though I would be away from home my support network was only a phone call away.
By being brave enough to ask for advice, I was able to implement strategies to manage my mental health condition whilst abroad. I also made sure to get comprehensive travel insurance for my trip, this meant that my pre-existing medical conditions were covered, and helped to put my mind at rest.
Now, the good news is that I thoroughly enjoyed my time in America, so much so that I’m going to be returning this summer! Whilst I am still anxious about travelling, I have been able to prepare myself in order to limit my anxiety. Thankfully my travels went smoothly last year and my preparedness definitely limited any stresses on the day of travel.
So, how did I prepare? Firstly, I made copies of all important documents (such as my passport, itinerary and insurance policy). I shared my itinerary with my family, made sure they knew the time difference and stayed in regular contact with my family and friends back home during my trip. I researched medical professionals in the area where I’d be staying, so should I need support whilst abroad, I knew where to find it. I also made sure that my medications were legal in the States (as rules differ between countries).
1. Be prepared – make lists, do your research. It’s obvious but it really helps reduce stress and anxiety.
2. Take a minute for yourself – It’s ok to take your time and gather your thoughts. Have a drink of water. Take a deep breath.
3. Take a little bit of home with you - download your favourite films and music, do those little things that make you feel at ease and are familiar. You might be travelling solo but help (and home) is just a phone call away.
My name is Esther, and I’m a second year history student at King’s College London. My hobbies include fitness and travel, I am also passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and improving mental health awareness
Meg talks about the struggles that students can face and how to look positively to the future.
The year was 2011. The season was summer and, boy, was I loving life. A young, fresh-faced 18 year old who had passed their exams and bagged a spot into uni. I’d ticked off a summer holiday with the girls, my 18th birthday and school prom. What a time to be alive! Little did I know how my life would change in the coming months.
Hey, the name’s Meg. Nice to meet you! I’m 25 from South Wales and here’s my story of how my first year of university changed my life.
My amazing summer had come to an end and soon enough I would be moving far away from the South Wales valleys. 3.5hrs on the train to Derby was my new home and as most budding students feel when they leave home, I felt a mix of excitement and fear. I’d been chatting to my future flat mates on a Facebook group and we were all so excited to meet each other! I remember my first day like it was yesterday. I was so nervous. We hugged our families goodbye and there we were, a bunch of awkward girls from different parts of the country about to live together for the next year. Next thing, we are socialising with a building full of people and alcohol was flowing. And here started the student life!
The student life can be a very overwhelming experience for some with so much change happening at a quick pace and that’s certainly how it felt for me. My social life was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was partying every week, sometimes every other night and all food and sleep patterns went flying out the window! It was exciting to meet lots of new people but also having to navigate around an unknown city and start a new course was very daunting. For a good few months I was building what I saw at the time as solid bonds with flat mates and constantly socialising but it wasn’t until a few months in did I realise how much it was all catching up to me.
After such a whirlwind couple of weeks, things started to go downhill very rapidly for me which felt like it came out of nowhere. All of a sudden, my emotions became very apparent and feelings of anger and upset constantly ripped through me (mainly whenever alcohol was involved). I was really disliking my uni course and I think I was probably very homesick and didn’t even know it. Nights out started to become very messy and dark and I soon found myself spiralling into a depression and started to self harm. I’d never known anything like this in my world. I’d always been the happy go lucky, positive bunny throughout my life and all of a sudden things were feeling very different. My feelings were constantly masked with partying and socialising and trying to nose dive deep into other people’s problems whilst I was also battling a tormenting habit myself. I was very much in denial and it took a very tragic moment of a thankfully- failed - attempted suicide whilst very intoxicated to snap me out of it.
Looking back now, it all feels like such a blur and I am thankfully not in that frame of mind anymore. It’s been a very long and continuing journey of recovery since those dark days but I am happy to be progressing and feeling stronger and happier. Although times were tough, I managed to push through it and I actually took the right steps to make things better for me by transferring to a university in my hometown and got to complete my degree, eventually earning a 2:1 and winning a student of the year award for my course. Woo go me!
And that’s really what this story is about is to just say, it’s okay and it can get better even at the lowest of points. I never thought I could get through what happened but here I am 7/8 years later, a homeowner and a fully fledged adult!!
First year can be fantastic and exciting and I certainly did have positives during some parts and lots of fun but it is also an overwhelming time and a lot to take on. I think it’s just important to keep an open mind in that good and bad days can happen whilst you’re embarking on your uni journey and if it’s truly not for you then that’s fine but sometimes with a little faith and willpower, you’d be amazed at what you can go on to achieve!
My name is Meg. I am 25 and live in the beautiful Cardiff Bay. I work in events/venue management for a University and am a part time secret singer and music lover. Concerts and musical theatre are my thing and I also enjoy blogging about my life and mental health advocacy. You can check out more of my music stuff on my youtube (www.youtube.com/mwigleysongs) or my blog at https://meganwigley.wordpress.com/.
In this blog, Hanne describes how she uses her voice, and shares tips for others.
I am using my voice to speak out and break the stigma around mental health issues. I am using my voice to discuss eating disorders, depression and anxiety. I am using my voice to make a difference.
Eating disorders, depression and anxiety are all issues that I, myself, have struggled with, bringing them close to my heart. I understand their severity, but I also realise that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This is something I am passionate to share.
Initially, speaking up felt uncomfortable. What would people think of me? Would I be seen as strange, and would I be ostracised? I hid my struggles from everyone, including some of my closest friends. I felt ashamed and didn’t want anyone to know about my problems. I didn’t want to be perceived as weak. However, as time passed, I started to question these ingrained beliefs. Why would disclosing my struggles be weak? Wasn’t it an indication of strength? Gradually, I became less averse to sharing my past. After all, it is from my experiences that I have grown.
It is around this time, in 2015, that I published my first novel, followed by a second in 2017. In my books, I talked about my struggles with anorexia through the eyes of the protagonist, Christina. Whenever people asked me how much of myself could be found in the protagonist, I laughed it off and said that the work was just fiction… well, with a lot of my experiences incorporated into it.
Initially, writing had been a way for me to deal with my struggles and to gain a better full-picture view of my situation. However, once the first book was published, it became a means to break taboos. Once the prying questions streamed in, however, I reverted back to my hiding self, yet I realised that that was exactly what I was trying to overcome. Mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of, and if people show an interest, all the better! From my own experiences, I was able to share so much!
Hence, when I started a YouTube channel shortly after the release of my debut novel, that is exactly what I did: share my experiences. I shared my experiences, as well as the tips and tricks that had helped me navigate my mental health journey. My creative self-expression was no longer just a way to write things off and help myself, but it now also became a way to help others. What I discovered was that the response was largely positive. People were relieved to hear that they were not alone in their struggles. This, in turn, provided me with all the incentive I needed: if I could help or inspire even a single person by using my own voice, it would have been worthwhile.
Now, my channel has been running for four years. Its subscriber count passed hundreds and then thousands of followers. I get messages daily with questions and support. I know I am making a difference. Being able to make this difference by using my voice is the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
For this reason, I urge you to open up too. I know how easy it is to say you’re fine, and to hide behind your smile. But speaking up can be liberating. Speaking up can raise awareness. And speaking up can help others.
The first step to opening up is being open to yourself. Start a journal. Pen down your thoughts, your worries, and your ideas. Be honest with yourself. Learn to understand yourself.
Once you understand yourself, you can make yourself understood to others. Realise that mental health struggles are nothing to be ashamed of and allow this knowledge to generate conversation about these struggles. If anyone asks you how you are doing, dare to tell them you are not fine. Dare to tell them what is really going on inside your head. Moreover, as you become more comfortable with your own feelings and with sharing them, maybe you, too, will get the wild idea to start a blog or a YouTube channel. Maybe you’ll publish your own books. Go for it, and don’t second-guess yourself. One thing is certain: you can make a difference. And that is an incredible thing.
Hanne Arts is a twenty-two-year old student, YouTuber and author. She currently lives in the UK, but has previously lived in Slovakia, Belgium, Holland, and Hungary. Being passionate about breaking the stigma, she openly shares her own experiences suffering from depression and an eating disorder.