SEPT 2019 £4.00
THE MAGAZINE DEVOTED TO MENTAL HEALTH
FREE WALL ART
THE CONFIDENCE FORMULA
Stuck in a career crisis?
The self-love guru has got your back
(Solution = p68)
easy acts of kindness
The whole truth about trich
No t xic talk. No more BS. It's time 'fad diets' faded out
West End Les Misérables star Carrie Hope Fletcher shows that anxiety can affect even the most unlikely of people
THE REALITY OF ACTING ON A DREAM
'T DON S S I M
GBBO's Kim-Joy • BPD myths debunked • Grace Victory
Photography | Svetlana Pochatun
Photography | Aditya Saxena
Those who don’t believe in magic will never ﬁnd it – ROALD DAHL
We’re all on this journey In a world where we’re more connected than ever before, it’s easy to look around us and feel pressure to be something we’re not. To conform to how mainstream and social media tells us we need to look, think, or even feel. From those polished Instagram squares, to media headlines about ‘who wore it better’, to reality shows discussing body parts as if they are shop-bought. We can feel bombarded by conflicting messages on all the million things we’re supposed to have achieved, while looking our best, and never letting our smile falter while we do it. We’ve packed this issue with content to shatter those expectations, and empower you to see that who you are, exactly as you are, is enough.
This September, the charismatic Carrie Hope Fletcher puts anxiety in the spotlight, and shows that even those who seem the most confident can struggle as the curtain falls. We delve into the neuroscience that could be key to reclaiming confidence in your career, open up a dialogue about dangerous ‘diet talk’, and chat to Gok Wan about self-love in the digital age. If you take away one thing from this issue, know that we’re all in the same boat. We’re all paddling forwards, and sometimes the current can take us off course, but there’s always something to keep moving towards on the horizon.
It’s OK to not always feel in love with yourself, or to not be on top of the world, but don’t let external forces dampen your spirits.
We love hearing from you, get in touch:
And, when needed, know there’ll be someone to help steer you back when the waters get rough.
REBECCA THAIR | EDITOR
The Uplift 8 In the news 13 The wellbeing wrap 14 What is cyber self-harm?
What motivates people to send themselves hate online, and how can it be helped?
74 Mini donks for wellbeing
The social enterprise enhancing lives with their seven miniature donkeys
Features 16 Carrie Hope Fletcher
The actor, author, and YouTuber opens up about rebuilding after a relationship, and the importance of setting boundaries
28 The truth about trich
What's behind the condition that gives people the urge to pull out their hair, and how can it be treated?
58 Gok Wan
13 years after How to Look Good Naked first aired, Gok talks body confidence in the digital age
68 Know your neuroscience
Could understanding our brain functions be the key to unlocking confidence?
36 Katie: facing the future
26 Back to school
Katie struggled to manage her mental health for more than a decade, until a diagnosis of bipolar offered her the answers she needed to move forward
52 Ashley: in it together
Living with mental health and neurodiversity, life hasn't always been easy for Ashley. But in finding love and a supportive online community, he's finally embracing who he is
ce colum's n
Columnist Grace Victory explores the anxiety that flares up in September
46 Live life, unfiltered
Read the life-affirming novel that gets frank about what it takes to be the best you
51 Things to do in September 90 Quickfire: MH matters
87 Brian: a new me
It wasn't easy for Brian to admit that he had developed a problem with drinking. Today, he's renewed his passion for life after reaching out for the help that he needed
Lifestyle and Relationships
READER OFFER Print
33 Good deeds for days
Five acts of kindness to help you give back
42 Bake Off's Kim-Joy
Social anxiety, and the benefits of baking with the queen of cute cooking
57 This month's top picks
Content creator Simone Powderly shares what she is loving right now
SEPTHAPPI AT THE CHECKOUT
80 The Anna Edit
Blogger Anna Newton reflects on the lessons she's learned as she approaches 30
83 BPD myths debunked
We break down some of the most common misconceptions about BPD
MMER W ALL ART
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Food & Drink
62 Got granola?
24 Sing for joy
Start your day right with this blissfully easy, homemade fruity granola
64 Spot diet BS
Cut out the toxic talk and fad diets, and start living your healthiest life
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48 Treating panic attacks at work
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72 Bathing benefits
40 Hang up on phone phobia
Meet the team of experts who have come together to deliver information, guidance, and insight throughout this issue
EDITORIAL Rebecca Thair | Editor Kathryn Wheeler | Staff Writer
DipION mBANT CNHC
Simon is a psychotherapist who supports adults, children, and families.
Michelle is a nutritional therapist and health coach.
Tia Sinden | Editorial Assistant Keith Howitt | Sub-Editor Fe Robinson | Expert Advisor Amy-Jean Burns | Art Director Charlotte Reynell | Graphic Designer Rosan Magar | Illustrator
DR AUDREY TANG
PhD MSc BSc (hons) (cPsychol)
Audrey is a chartered psychologist and mindfulness expert.
Fe is a psychotherapist and couples counsellor, based in Durham.
Kat Nicholls, Bonnie Evie Gifford, Victoria Williams, Grace Victory, Becky Wright, Audrey Tang, Lucy Donoughue, Ellen Hoggard, Pixie Turner, Fiona Thomas, Anna Newton, Hattie Gladwell, Katie Conibear, Ashley Ford-McAllister, Brian Parker
BA MA NLP Mstr
MBACP (Accred) BACP Reg Ind
Rachel is a life coach encouraging confidence and motivation.
Graeme is a counsellor working with both individuals and couples.
Paul Buller, Tom Buller, Krishan Parmar, Alice Theobald, Simon Mathias, Graeme Orr, Louise Watson, Rachel Coffey, Michelle Boehm, Fe Robinson, Simone Powderly, Eleanor Thom
COMMUNICATIONS Lucy Donoughue Head of Content and Communications email@example.com Amie Sparrow PR Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
MA MSc CPsychol AFBPsS
Pixie is a nutritionist, science communicator, and author addressing food myths.
Louise is a chartered psychologist and integrative counsellor.
Aimi Maunders | Director & Co-Founder Emma White | Director & Co-Founder Paul Maunders | Director & Co-Founder Steve White | Finance Director Happiful c/o Memiah, Building 3, Riverside Way Camberley, Surrey, GU15 3YL
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GENERAL LISTENING LINES SANEline SANEline offers support and information from 4.30pm–10.30pm: 0300 304 7000 Mind Mind offers advice Mon–Fri 9am–6pm, except bank holidays: 0300 123 3393. Or email: email@example.com CALM The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a line for men, and is open from 5pm–midnight: 0800 58 58 58 Switchboard Switchboard is a line for LGBT+ support. Open from 10am–10pm: 0300 330 0630. You can email: firstname.lastname@example.org
IN THIS ISSUE
CONFIDENTIAL SUPPORT FOR YOUNG PEOPLE Childline offers young people a confidential phone line, and relatives can find support on their site. Visit childline.org.uk or call 0800 1111
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ANXIETY Find support and information about the most common forms of anxiety, and read about other people's experiences on anxietyuk.org.uk, or call Anxiety UK's infoline on 03444 775 774
BIPOLAR ADVICE AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT Charity Bipolar UK hosts advice, information and an online community. Visit bipolaruk.org to find out more.
DISCOVER NUTRITIONAL ADVICE YOU CAN TRUST Browse hundreds of articles and fact sheets on a host of nutrition topics, and find a professional nutritionist in your area at nutritionist-resource.org.uk
INFORMATION ON BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER Founded to offer specific support for those with BPD, bpdworld.org offers information, and a community forum with more than 50,000 members.
UK tour triumph for drag troupe with a difference
8 • happiful.com • September 2019
Follow @dragsyndrome on Instagram Writing | Kathryn Wheeler
Photography | Damien Frost
Founded in 2018, Drag Syndrome – a drag troupe featuring performers with Down’s syndrome – have been touring the country, slaying the stage, and putting visibility realness in the spotlight. Run by performance and dance company Culture Device, the idea for Drag Syndrome was born when artistic director Daniel Vais took one of the performers to a drag show with him. Previously having put on ballet shows and fashion shoots, Daniel suggested the performers tried drag. From there, Drag Syndrome was born. The project has self-expression at its heart – and for Daniel, that’s what makes a show from Drag Syndrome so compelling. “I’m working with master performers. They’ve got the skills and talent to light up a stadium, and touch each and every audience member,” Daniel tells Happiful. “Their commitment to their art and career is astounding and inspiring. If you like a good performance, go see them in action.” Driven by the performers, and challenging perceptions of Down’s syndrome while capturing the energy of drag, Drag Syndrome is a celebration of creativity that tells stigma to sashay away.
WhatsApp could have a positive impact on your wellbeing
Lessons on the menopause will now be taught in schools Successful campaign will see changes made to secondary school sex and relationship lessons in the UK After a hysterectomy led her to experience severe symptoms of the menopause, psychotherapist Diane Danzebrink has been campaigning to raise awareness and improve understanding, leading to lessons on the menopause being added to the school curriculum. Speaking about her experience of the menopause, she says it caused her to fall into a dark place. “I was lucky; I had a supportive husband and family who got me the help I needed when I was not capable of doing that for myself,” Diane told the BBC. “Since then, I have become increasingly aware of just how many women are not receiving the right support and advice about
menopause, from their doctors, employers, and sometimes even their own families and friends.” Diane’s campaign began in October 2018, and the government now says the menopause will be added to secondary school sex and relationship lessons in the UK. While the details are still to be finalised, the then education secretary, Damian Hinds, confirmed the government’s support, saying it was an important part of reproductive education, and “all children should learn about this at school”. With education comes understanding and support – here’s to more of both in the near future. Writing | Kat Nicholls
When it comes to health and wellbeing, social media has a pretty bad rep. But a new study from Edge Hill University, Lancashire, has revealed that WhatsApp may actually have a positive impact on our psychological wellbeing. Researchers have revealed that spending time chatting via the popular messaging app may lead to a higher sense of self-esteem, reduced levels of loneliness, and could help us feel closer to our friends and family. Prior research has suggested social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat may be detrimental to our health, with studies linking the time spent on social media with increased levels of depression and anxiety. But when it comes to our wellbeing, group chats and oneon-one interactions are thought to be some of the most beneficial aspects of social media, thanks to the increased sense of social support. It could still be too early to judge, but these latest findings suggest tech may be able to help us create new channels of communication, and feel more connected with others. Now that’s something to text home about! Writing | Bonnie Evie Gifford
September 2019 • happiful.com • 9
All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a child
â€“ MARIE CURIE
This is how long you need to spend in nature From sweet little succulents to cute cacti, we’re all a little preoccupied with plants at the moment. While getting a little greenery into our homes and offices can do wonders for our wellbeing, new research suggests that spending just two hours getting back to nature each week could be enough boost our health and wellbeing. Researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School have revealed that spending time exploring your local country park, relaxing on a bench, or going for a jaunt in the countryside, can improve our physical and mental wellbeing. The study of almost 20,000 participants revealed that regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, we may still see a benefit from just 120 minutes a week in nature, and those with a disability or long-term illness reported similar boosts. If you ask us, this sounds like the perfect excuse to ditch your desk for a leisurely lunch break outside! Stuck in an office with not a leaf in sight? Try spicing up your commute by exploring the path less trodden, and sneak in a little extra time enjoying the fresh air. Writing | Bonnie Evie Gifford
September 2019 • happiful.com • 11
Get those thinking caps on and put your linguistic skills to the test as you tackle this monthâ€™s puzzling picks
Find the following mental heath related words in the grid CATS SAMARITANS
EARTH SENSES RAIN MIND SPEAK NATURE CALM
Wheels in motion
Using the letters no more than once, make as many words as possible of three or more letters, always including the letter in the How did you middle of the wheel. Want an extra do? challenge? Set yourself a time limit â€“ Search 'freeb ie s' at three minutes, GO! shop 5 = word wizard 10 = gaming guru 15+ words = Shakespearean superstar
.happiful.com to find the an swers, and more!
Cheesy does it Reading for six minutes a day can reduce stress by 68%
Rock on! Climbing can benefit our mental health
Rosé-flavoured berries are now a thing in the US – berry nice
7% of Brits have more takeaways than home-cooked meals
47% of Brits considered ending a relationship due to bad kissing
The sushi bar meets cheese aficionados' dreams, as Pick & Cheese – a new restaurant where food is delivered on a 40 metre conveyor belt – is coming to London. It's not to brie missed!
Bats? Frogs? Rats? A new study has revealed the animals we fear most – and, unsurprisingly, spiders came out the clear winner! In contrast, cats came out on top as our faves!
Hug it out
In a recent study, 52% of people admitted to kissing their dog more than their partner – and prefer sleeping in bed with their dogs! Paws for thought...
Did you know that a good hug can not only boost our immune systems, but can also reduce the chances of you getting in to conflict afterwards as well? By releasing oxytocin (the feel-good hormone), it can soothe you throughout the day, meaning your fight-or-flight response is less sensitive, resulting in fewer impulse reactions to stress. I make that cuddle o'clock.
In a win for both the environment and travellers, a pioneering new resurfacing system is being used on a road in Yorkshire. The process recycles the old road surface using 'cold repave' machinery, meaning the work can be completed more quickly than with traditional methods, and sees around 60% less waste going to landfill! Sounds like a route to success.
Restoring some faith in human nature
Contrary to previous findings, new research suggests that people really can rely on the kindness of strangers. In a study reviewing CCTV footage of real-life conflicts in multiple cities around the world, researchers found that 91% of the time, at least one bystander will intervene to help victims of aggressive behaviour! In the past, the 'bystander effect' was expected, but these findings suggest a more positive outlook on helping each other.
If goats weren't adorable enough (if you haven't seen the pyjama party video, Google it immediately!), new research has revealed they can perceive emotions in each other's voices. 'Goat-ally' incredible.
Searching for support
Monthly UK Google searches for 'mental health' have more than doubled in the past four years –from 27,800 in 2015 to 69,200 in 2019. It's also been revealed that 893 phrases related to mental health have seen searches increase 37% – the highest being 'anxiety', 'depression', and 'bipolar'. This could be a sign of growing awareness, and people ready to reach out for help...
Cutting edge ideas Non-profit group, Steel Warriors, is tackling knife crime in the capital, by melting down confiscated knives, and creating outdoor callisthenics parks around London. Since 2018, there has been a 22% increase in crimes involving knives, and so finding a way to address this that raises awareness while bringing communities together in a positive way, is an incredible feat.
Since 2018, there has been a 22% increase in crimes involving knives
The symbolic and striking creations are also offering people an opportunity to get involved in one of the world's fastest-growing fitness trends – actively tackling knife crime with steely determination.
cyber self-harm? What is
Nasty messages, vicious comments – we’ve all seen or heard about online trolling, but what would cause someone to send such hurtful comments to themselves? Writing | Kat Nicholls Illustrating | Rosan Magar
eing a teenager is tough. This is often when mental health conditions first appear, questions of identity, and ‘where do I fit in?’ hang heavy in the air. This was something I certainly wrestled with as a teenager. It was also the time I started self-harming. Self-harm is when a person intentionally causes themselves harm, usually through cutting, burning, or putting themselves in dangerous situations. Those who self-harm often use it as a coping mechanism to help them deal with difficult emotions. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then that, according to the Mental Health Foundation, the majority of people affected by self-harm are aged 11–25. Something I didn’t have to contend with at school, however, was social media. Times have changed, and so has the mental health landscape. The realm of self-harm has now expanded and gone digital.
WHAT IS CYBER SELF-HARM?
Cyber self-harm is when someone uses an anonymous social media platform to send themselves abusive comments or messages. 14 • happiful.com • September 2019
While cyber self-harm is not as well understood as cyber-bullying and harassment, it’s thought to be a growing problem. A US survey published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2017 sampled students between the ages of 12 and 17, and found 6% had sent themselves anonymous abuse online. Looking at the gender split,
they found males were more likely to cyber self-harm (7.1% compared with 5.3% females).
If someone is cyber self-harming, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are harming themselves physically. However, this can act as a catalyst. Cyber self-harming can become a habit, just like physical selfharming. It may lead to conditions like depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, or suicidal thoughts.
WHY DO PEOPLE CYBER SELF-HARM?
To get a better understanding of why people do this, I spoke with
Times have changed, and so has the mental health landscape. The realm of self-harm has now gone digital
psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member, Simon Mathias. Simon has worked with teenagers who have cyber self-harmed and says, in his experience, there are three main reasons why they do this: to get attention, for social compatibility, and to receive positive remarks. The attention-seeking reason may appear controversial. In the self-harm community, the misconception that it is attentionseeking is fiercely refuted. This is where cyber self-harm differs. Those who engage in it often want others to notice. “They see others being supported when they report trolling. This is then endorsed by the reactions of the media when celebrities report incidents. They tend to want to have attention paid to them by friends, peers, or teachers, rather than by parents,” Simon explains. Social compatibility is often the reason when the cyber self-harm activity results in being accepted or liked by others, and the desire for positive remarks can go deeper than simply wanting attention. “This is where the child wants specific and direct positive comments, on aspects such as their physical appearance, what they have done etc. It may be directed to get a response from parents or family, but most certainly friends, and usually to counter the specific trolling comments.”
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO HELP?
The nature of cyber self-harm can make it difficult to spot. Ensuring communication between you and your child is open and honest can help them feel more able to come to you for support. Regular conversations about social media and negative comments will also show that this is a topic they can come to you about. If you discover that your child is self-harming in this way, it may be tempting to ban social media and take away their devices, but this is rarely helpful. Instead, it’s important to talk about what’s happening, without any judgement. “Once a child or teenager has come for help it’s important to build a confidential, safe and trusting relationship. It’s best to take the time to listen to their story and allow them to open up.” Helping your child identify their strengths, and finding the words they need to express their emotions, is key too. It also helps to focus on the underlying reasons behind the cyber self-harming, rather than the behaviour itself. Finally, Simon says when your child feels ready, you can suggest visiting a counsellor. “Today, most counsellors and psychotherapists like myself use a variety of approaches. It isn’t all about talking. I have games, outdoor activities, and a dog, that help my clients work through their thoughts and emotions.” Support from friends, parents and counsellors can be essential in helping teenagers make sense of their feelings, and to find healthier ways to get what they need. September 2019 • happiful.com • 15
Star of the stage, page, and internet age â€“ award-winning actor, author, and YouTuber Carrie Hope Fletcher knows better than most what it takes to live life in the spotlight. From times when her personal life has been put under a microscope, to the collision of her online and offline worlds, here Carrie speaks candidly about rebuilding yourself after a relationship ends, her experiences with depression and anxiety, and the importance of having your own back
Interview | Kathryn Wheeler
Photography | Paul Buller
Blouse | Topshop, Skirt | H&M, Belt | New Look, Shoes | Kurt Geiger
Here I am
t was the night of the 30th anniversary of the first London production of Les Misérables; that, Carrie Hope Fletcher tells me, was the pinnacle of her career so far. At the time, Carrie was playing the role of Éponine, and following the curtain call, the current cast were joined on stage by the original actors for a half-hour concert, concluding with a rousing rendition of ‘One Day More’. In the shuffle to fit everyone under the spotlight, Carrie found herself standing centre stage next to Colm Wilkinson – the original Jean Valjean. As the song ended, and confetti cannons and applause erupted, Colm took Carrie’s hand and said: “You were excellent.” Of course, this was far from Carrie’s first rodeo. Her big break was aged five, featuring in a Honey Nut Cheerios advert – and by the time she was 11, she’d already starred in three West End shows. >>>
18 • happiful.com • June 2019
Blouse | Topshop, Shorts | H&M, Headscarf | New Look
Today, Carrie’s fingers are adorned with rings – one for each show she’s starred in – and this year she won ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ for her performance in Heathers: The Musical in the WhatsOnStage Awards. But despite all this, Carrie admits she still has ‘pinch me’ moments, and struggles with imposter syndrome, and feelings of self-doubt. “It’s an insecurity of mine that I always feel I have something to prove because I never went to drama school. I convince myself that I don’t deserve to be here,” Carrie says. “But then you talk to other people who have been to drama school, and they think the same thing. Everyone convinces themselves that they don’t deserve to be where they are.” Meeting Carrie – who is calm, attentive, and warm – you may not suspect the current of anxiety that, she explains, is often meandering below the surface. “I feel like I walk through life with a bubble over my head,” Carrie says. “It’s just my own thoughts bouncing around, and I come up with every single scenario of what could go wrong, and then a contingency plan for each.” Carrie shares how recently she was due to meet her boyfriend – fellow West End actor Oliver Ormson – and his castmates for drinks after rehearsals. As she approached the bar, Carrie felt her heart begin to beat faster as anxiety, at the thought of walking into a room full of people she didn’t know, set in. The evening went absolutely fine, and afterwards Carrie was frustrated that she spent so much time worrying about it.
It’s something that many others who experience anxiety will relate to. But putting feelings and experiences that are rarely articulated into words is something of a speciality for Carrie. In 2015, at the age of 22, Carrie published her first book, All I Know Now. Written on train journeys between her job at the West End, and home where she would film, edit and upload YouTube videos – and aimed at her then-teenage following – the book sought to address the worries and hurdles that Carrie herself had come up against as a teen. And it did so with huge success, topping the charts as a Sunday Times best-seller.
“Everyone convinces themselves that they don’t deserve to be where they are” Fuelled by a cocktail of rapidlychanging hormones, bad haircuts, and general angst, our teenage years are some of the most memorable, but also most challenging. It makes perfect sense that so many people would jump at the chance to read a guide like Carrie’s. But, now 26, Carrie looks back at the four years that have passed since the book was published, and sees them as equally formative. “There are times in your life where even a year or two makes such a difference,” she reflects. “I think about myself a year ago and say: ‘Oh God, what was I thinking?
Why did I make that decision? Why didn’t I just calm down?’ “Then I look around at the people who are exactly the same age as I am, and one of them has three kids, one of them is single and travelling, one of them has created her own business and she’s just bought a mansion. “There’s no one way to do things. There’s no: you get a house, you have kids, and you live out the rest of your days with your husband and your children.” Carrie’s right. While there may have once been a check-list for a good life, now things are increasingly less directed. We have much more freedom to choose our own paths, but that doesn’t mean things are easier. The conundrum of modern life is something Carrie explores in a recent heart-on-her-sleeve blog post, ‘Trips with Exes’. Following a visit to Disneyland Paris in July, Carrie reflected on how she had also been there with previous boyfriends – in 2012 and 2015. She notes how, as a society in 2019, we’re in a strange situation where we no longer expect to have just one partner for our entire lives, but we haven’t yet learned how to deal with the legacy of past relationships. “Especially when they’re archived on the internet,” adds Carrie. “Someone asked me why I hadn’t deleted all the photos with my exboyfriend, and I’m like, because it happened! I’m not going to erase every trace of my ex. I was with him, I spent two and a half years with him. I’m not going to pretend it didn’t happen.” While Carrie finds being open about such topics cathartic, having
been active online for eight years now, she’s had to learn where to draw the line when it comes to letting people into her life. “You know where your line is, and you know that your line is here. But other people think your line is much closer to you than it actually is – and they don’t realise that when you put a 10-minute video up, that’s 10 minutes of a week.” That said, Carrie looks back on a time when YouTube, and sharing her life, was her whole world. Her journey into the online world began in 2011, when she first began uploading videos to the site. A mix of singing covers and chatty vlogs, Carrie quickly amassed a following that today sits at more than half a million. “When I started I was 19, which is fetal now I think about it,” she says. “That’s a weird time to be sharing yourself with strangers, because you still don’t know who that self is. “And then I got into Les Mis, and I had to move my focus somewhere else. I was still making videos, but I wasn’t so much a part of the YouTube community, and I realised how much I enjoyed that. When you’re submerged in one thing it’s all you ever think about, it’s all you ever do, and the people you’re speaking about only ever have one perspective – which is being a YouTuber.” That ‘YouTube community’ was the focus of much attention in the early years of this decade. A level playing field, mainly driven by young people like Carrie, where everyone was welcome to join the movement – YouTube was revolutionising the media landscape at a drastic rate. >>>
September 2019 • happiful.com • 19
Blouse | Topshop, Skirt | H&M, Belt | New Look, Shoes | Kurt Geiger
20 • happiful.com • August 2019
And while much of the same can still be said today, 2014 remains a difficult time in the platform’s history. “A lot of things happened; there were a lot of scandals,” says Carrie. “People didn’t want to associate themselves with others too heavily, just in case something went wrong. I think everyone’s still a bit scared of that now.” From early 2014, sexual abuse scandals shocked the YouTube community, with numerous allegations made against several UK creators. At the centre of this was Carrie’s ex-boyfriend – a prominent creator who was accused of abuse and inappropriate behaviour in 14 separate allegations. “It was such a horrendous time for everybody,” Carrie says. “When I started dating him, people told me: ‘He’s cheated in the past, so just be careful.’ But I was that girl who thought: ‘I’ll change him, it’ll be different with me.’ He was very charming, and he was quite aloof, so when he was giving me attention I felt special. And I was 19 – I was so young. “There will be people who will read this interview and say: ‘I’m 19 or 20, and I know better.’ I promise you, you don’t. I thought I knew better, I thought I knew it all. But I was so oblivious to what was going on. I was surprised when I found out he cheated on me with one person, and then I found out it was seven. But you couldn’t have told me, there was no way.” Carrie describes the incident, and the allegations, as driving a wedge through her life. Looking back, she sees her life in two acts: ‘before it happened’ and ‘after it happened’.
“Of course there are things that are different now, like how I conduct my relationships – when emotional things like that happen, you’re left with a few soul scars. But I’ve surrounded myself with an amazing group of friends, an amazing boyfriend, and my incredible family, so I never need to worry because I’ve always got people to fall back on.” Five years on, Carrie’s willingness to be candid about her experience, as well as her mental health, is one part of what makes her such a real and refreshing person for all those who follow her.
“I think it’s the actor in me,” Carrie says, as she ponders what’s behind her emotional veracity. “I’m very happy to be like: ‘Here I am, take it all!’” She explains how the depression she experienced for years was a side-effect of the birth control she was on – something women have been reporting anecdotally for years, but was only confirmed in 2018 by a study from the University of Copenhagen. “I’ve finally found a pill that works for me, and the >>>
September 2019 • happiful.com • 21
depression side of things is something that I don’t really have to deal with now. But the anxiety side of things…” Carrie puts her face in her hands, and laughs in exasperation. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a nervous person. But when you’re in an industry where you won’t get a role because you’re an inch too tall, or too short, your eyes are brown or blue, or even because you’re too fat to play that role – you’re constantly very self-aware. That’s just within the industry – then when you have fans, and there’s a whole other side.” The stage door is the place where Carrie’s online and offline worlds collide. Fans wait for Carrie to come out after a show, and while she has had incredible experiences, the attention has been overwhelming, and even scary at times. Carrie’s open, nurturing nature has meant that people often come to her for advice. What began as messages online, soon translated into real-life encounters; Carrie recalls a time when someone approached her after a show, to tell her they were planning to take their own life the next day. “What do you do?” Carrie asks with dismay. “It’s happened on more than one occasion, and it’s hard because I want to help, but I don’t know how. I’m not a counsellor, I’m an actress. I’m not equipped to deal with people’s emotional trauma.” It’s an unimaginable load, and something that Carrie – and others in similar influential positions – have to bear, never quite knowing what the outcome will be. Another, albeit milder, challenge of Carrie’s multifaceted career is the way that she’s perceived by others.
While some artists have been able to break free of the YouTuber bubble, into the mainstream, capturing a three-dimensional career on platforms that demand you to stay ‘on-brand’ isn’t easy. “It’s funny, I get this weird sense of pride when someone says: ‘Oh, you’re the author!’ It’s not because I value being an author over everything else, it’s because it takes me off-guard. If someone comes to my show, they will always think of me as an actor first – and if they find my videos, they’ll always think of me as a Youtuber.
“It’s not my business what other people think of me – that’s my mantra” “But it’s not my business what other people think of me – that’s my mantra,” says Carrie, though she admits it’s a journey, rather than a destination. “I don’t think there will ever be a point where I’m happy just to forget how I’m perceived by other people. But me now, compared to me three years ago – we’re completely different people. It’s a miracle.” As we’re finishing up our interview, we get chatting about tattoos. Carrie has several on her feet (“But if I wasn’t an actor, I’d be covered!”), and one on her side that features the line, ‘An inexplicable sense of happiness’ from her 2016 novel On the Other Side. In the story, a couple called Vincent and Evie write love notes to each other on the wings of a dove. As the dove
flies by, he’s so covered in love that he leaves the people he passes with an inexplicable sense of happiness. “That’s what I kind of wish for myself,” says Carrie. “That’s the goal; that’s how I want to live my life. I want to spend time with people, and then leave, and have those people feel better than they did before.” While Carrie disappears into the changing room to try on the first look of the photoshoot – singing along to Cliff Edwards’ ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’, as it plays over the studio speakers – I’m struck by the self-sufficiency there is in living by your own words. But more than that, from her passion and creativity, to the seriousness with which she takes supporting the strangers who turn to her in their time of need, Carrie Hope Fletcher is a woman who went through personal challenges – both in and out of the spotlight – and came out stronger, wiser, and full of hope. As for whether Carrie leaves people feeling better for having spent time with her? I know that I speak for the whole team on the shoot that day when I say, she’s a natural. Carrie is starring in ‘Les Misérables: The All-Star Staged Concert’ which opens at the Gielgud Theatre on 10 August 2019 for 16 weeks. Find out more at lesmis.com/london Follow Carrie on Instagram @Carriehopefletcher, and search for ItsWayPastMyBedTime on YouTube. Styling | Krishan Parmar Hair & Makeup | Alice Theobald at Joy Goodman using Burt’s Bees, L’Anza, Dollbaby, Lord & Berry, and Mavala
September 2019 • happiful.com • 23
Five benefits of
singing your heart out Whether you have vocal pipes to rival Beyoncé, or would describe yourself as ‘musically challenged’, singing can do wonders for your wellbeing. Now that’s music to our ears... Writing | Victoria Williams
s children, we sang nursery rhymes, joined in with the radio, and (much to our families’ delight) belted out that one song we loved so much it was on repeat for a fortnight. Growing up, though, many of us stopped. I loved singing when I was young, but a crash in confidence before my teens meant that I suddenly didn’t want anyone hearing my voice – not even myself. Taking the leap and joining a choir was scary, but remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Singing has physical, mental, and social benefits, and it’s certainly done wonders for my nervous mind. Opera aficionado or tuneless warbler, here are five ways it can improve your wellbeing.
1 DEEP BREATHS
Singing requires controlled breathing, and is used carefully to make sure the sound doesn’t die away before the end of a line. Regulating the breath like this acts much like yoga breathing, calming the body and mind, and promoting lung and heart health. Taking deeper breaths increases blood circulation too, improving
Artwork | Charlotte Reynell
concentration, and boosting your immune system. Good singing breaths need to be supported by good posture to give your lungs room to expand, and allow the sound to travel freely. Standing tall benefits your back, relieves muscle tension and, over time, can help you to feel more confident.
2 ALL TOGETHER
Anyone who sings in a choir will tell you that it’s great fun, and they really feel part of something special when everyone sings together. Studies have shown that just 40 minutes of singing in a group reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and that people taking a group singing class bond much faster than people in other group activities. A study by Gothenburg University, Sweden, even found that choir members’ heartbeats synchronise when they sing together. It’s often this bond, and shared love of music, that makes choirs appealing, and they can be incredibly beneficial for people struggling with loneliness or low moods.
3 HAPPY HORMONES
I’ve mentioned that cortisol drops as you sing, but what’s even better is that it’s replaced by a cocktail
of feel-good hormones called endorphins. Finally getting a tricky bit of music right, putting a beautiful harmony together, or just belting out a favourite song triggers endorphins like oxytocin and dopamine, creating a rush similar to the feeling after a good laugh, or a hug. The deep, controlled breaths used increase the flow of blood as it transports the hormones around the body, helping them to have an even greater effect.
4 CONFIDENCE BOOST
A combination of endorphins, posture, strong bonds, and heartswelling music, make group singing an ideal confidence booster. If, like me, you don’t feel comfortable in the spotlight, it’s a perfect environment for expressing yourself without the pressure of having all attention on you. Over time, you can build up to singing solos, or taking lessons to push the boundaries of your comfort zone. You might surprise yourself. If joining a choir really isn’t for you, singing can still do wonders for your confidence; simply standing tall and becoming comfortable with your voice can have powerful effects on your everyday life, and the way you communicate.
5 ANYONE, ANYWHERE
Is there anything more freeing than singing along to the car radio at top volume, knowing no one can hear you? You don’t have to sing seriously, or well, to feel the benefits, so don’t let an inability to stay in tune, or a tendency to make up lyrics, hold you back. Try putting together a set of playlists for different situations: an upbeat one for down days and mornings when you’re struggling to wake up, a calming one for bedtime and anxious moments, and an empowering one to help you through any confidence wobbles.
Victoria is a science writer, with a background in evolutionary biology. Find a choir in your local area at bigbigsing.org
BACK TO SCHOOL ANXIETY ce a r G h AND HOW TO MANAGE IT wit Author, TedX speaker, and queen of empowerment, Grace Victory shares her experience and insight each month
remember the feeling like yesterday. Waking up before my alarm, staring across my bedroom to see my uniform laid over the giant pile of clothes on my chair that I should’ve tidied weeks before, and a brand new backpack that I just had to have. The energy of anticipation about starting a new school year would trickle through the morning air. All I could think about was if anyone would look different, if I would look different, and the friends I couldn’t wait to see. I’d brush my teeth a little harder, dab on an extra layer of clear lipgloss, and leave for the bus 10 minutes earlier – you know, just in case. When September arrives, both parent and child may experience an increase in anxiety, and while this can be normal, most of us know how difficult it can be to manage. It can feel like impending danger, confusion, panic, and like you’re floating but wishing your feet would touch the ground. For parents, maybe you’re picking up on your child’s energy, and can sense they’re a little anxious about the year ahead? Maybe you have childhood wounds that start to open during this time? Whatever the reasons, I have compiled a few ways to manage this anxiety for both of you.
PREPARE & PRACTISE All parents know that the key for a somewhat smooth life is to prepare. Although this doesn’t always guarantee there will be no mishaps, it does mean less stress if difficult feelings and situations arise. A dummy school run is a good way to help decrease anxiety, as you can both experience what it will be like. You can also write a checklist of all the things you need to remember, and pop it on the fridge. Practising a situation will help it to feel less scary when you experience the real thing. This also eliminates the fear of the unknown – especially if your child is starting school for the first time, or is starting somewhere new.
COMMUNICATE It’s really important that the child can communicate how they feel. Sometimes anxiety will manifest into the physical with symptoms such as withdrawal, heavy breathing, and sweaty palms, but you also might not always be able to see anxiety with the naked eye. Ask your child how they feel, and create an environment where they are able to express their feelings – even if they can’t identify that it is anxiety. Empower and encourage them. Remind them that feeling nervy before a new school year is normal, and tell them they’re brave and strong.
HAPPIFUL’S NEW COLUMNIST! @GRACEFVICTORY
LEARN PHYSICAL TECHNIQUES Although communication is great, it doesn’t always decrease anxiety, and for some, it can heighten it. The energetic path of any feeling needs to leave the body at some point, so that we can reset to the present moment. Grounding techniques are something I learned in therapy, and often appear in my counselling training. Focusing on sounds around you is a great way to bring your heart rate back down, and to distract you from difficult feelings. Hear the birds, the washing machine, the kettle boiling. This is a reminder that you are here, and you are safe. Another simple but effective technique is to feel your feet underneath you. This helps to stabilise you, and to give a little nudge to your brain that you’re OK.
Photography (black and white) | Paul Buller
+ + + + CREATE AN ANXIETY TOOLBOX When it comes to managing my mental health, I have a toolbox full of things that make me feel better. Maybe have a drawer in your house, or a box in the car, that you can reach into when needed. I suggest the following for anxiety: •L avender essential oil (calming and relaxing), or bergamot is a great alternative.
• Affirmation cards can be a gentle reminder that you’ve got this, you’re amazing, and these feelings will pass. • Water and snacks, because drinking and eating regulates your breath, which is definitely needed when you’re anxious. • And lastly, something comforting – a teddy, a photo, whatever suits the individual.
So there we have it. My first ever column complete! Sending love and courage to those experiencing anxiety of any kind, but especially those who are going back to school. Until next month.
A compulsive desire to pull out one’s own hair 28 • happiful.com • September 2019
In the spotlight:
Hair-pulling disorder Have you ever had an urge to do something and not really understood why? I have. Throughout my adolescence, I was plagued by trichotillomania Writing | Becky Wright
richotillomania, or trich for short (because who’s got the time for seven syllables when you’re an impulsive hair-puller?), is an old friend of mine. For me, it meant years of pulling out hair from my scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes but, for others, it can be hair on any part of the body. At the age of 13, I had near enough no eyelashes, no idea why I couldn’t stop pulling them out, and an ever decreasing sense of self-esteem. I hated myself for what I was doing but, equally, I couldn’t make myself stop. I came to rely on makeup as a masking tool, hiding the physical signs that something was going on inside my head. I can’t actually place a finger on the first time I had that urge, but, of all the struggles I’ve faced in my life, this is one that I’m still yet to understand.
What is hair-pulling?
From my own research, I know that trich is often triggered by anxiety, and is commonly linked with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). However, while there are some similarities between the two, there are a couple of key differences.
To understand more, I spoke to chartered counselling psychologist Louise Watson, who explains: “The main difference is that OCD rituals are driven by the need to rid oneself of an intrusive thought, whereas the urge to pull a hair out in trichotillomania is often not preceded by a thought. “Pulling hairs can be a response to anxiety, and instances of pulling can often increase at times of stress, but pulling can also just as often be a response to other mood states. And, it can happen entirely unconsciously,” says Louise. So, rather than being initiated by an intrusive thought, it is a bodyfocused repetitive behaviour that is done to reduce tension, stress, or even out of habit. The reality of the condition, in a world that prizes hair (in all the right places), means that trich sufferers feel even more isolated and at odds with their feelings. Particularly as symptoms typically rear their head during adolescent years, which can already be a tricky time for self-esteem and body image.
How common is trich?
If you do a Google search (and, believe me, I’ve Googled it a lot over the years), there isn’t much >>> September 2019 • happiful.com • 29
in the way of UKbased information. Nor will you come across many reallife experiences. I know that it’s not one of the more common mental health problems but, according to Anxiety UK, it is now thought to be more prevalent than previously acknowledged. Although there have been no large studies to date on the prevalence of trichotillomania, one in the US showed that, among a sample of students, 1–2% had a past or current history of trich. So, it would seem that perhaps it’s more about the reluctance of people to open up about their struggles that is adding to the elusiveness of the disorder.
The reality of the condition, in a world that prizes hair (in all the right places), means that trich sufferers feel even more isolated and at odds with their feelings
GET SUPPORT For more information and advice about treating trichotillomania, visit: nhs.uk – The NHS site has further details on symptoms, causes, and support, along with information on treatments, and self-help advice. counselling-directory.org.uk or hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk – For information, articles, or to find a professional who can support with treatment options.
30 • happiful.com • September 2019
Author: Becky Wright
I spoke to Natalie Richardson about her experience. “I struggled with trich briefly as a young child, but it resurfaced in my 20s and it’s something I still struggle with today,” she tells me.
“I’ve no idea what the trigger was as a child; I used to twirl my hair around my finger and then rip it out in chunks. But, when it restarted a few years ago, I think it was triggered by the breakdown of a long-term relationship.”
So, why does it occur?
For anyone who’s not experienced these feelings, I bet it’s a hard one to comprehend. Why not just stop? It’s a question I’ve asked myself hundreds of times before. But, for anyone with the impulses, I’m sure they’d tell you the same thing. Telling someone not to do something they feel an overwhelming urge to do is like telling someone not to scratch when they have an itch. The problem is, it’s not entirely clear what causes trich. Experts have hypothesised it could be a way of dealing with emotional distress – perhaps even a type of self-harm. Louise isn’t convinced though: “Sufferers can find the pain from pulling the hair out rewarding, which is what has led to trichotillomania being likened to self-harm. However, trichotillomania sufferers rarely report a desire to punish themselves, and the behaviour can be triggered at times of under-stimulation – rather than always being a response to intense emotions, as self-harm usually is.” Others suggest it could be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, or due to changing hormone levels in puberty. For some people, though, it’s thought that trich could even be a type of addiction; the more they act on the impulse, the more they want to keep doing it.
However trichotillomania first occurs, the brain begins to associate the completion of the urge with a sense of relief. Louise provides some insight: “Many people report of a building physical urge to pull, which is replaced by a feeling of release, or discharge of physical tension, when the hair is pulled out.” So, whenever the body feels stressed, anxious or tense, the brain’s automatic response is to compel the person to pull out their hair. “My hair-pulling is less regular than it used to be, but it always gets worse if I am stressed or anxious,” says Natalie. “I would also definitely refer to myself as a perfectionist and, to be honest, even a bit
traits, which explains why pulling is frequently preceded by the search for ‘the right hair’. This may be a hair that feels different from the rest, such as being rougher or thicker, and can often make it difficult for sufferers to resist pulling out new hairs as they grow back after an episode,” Louise explains.
How is trich treated?
A commonly used treatment is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) called habit reversal training, but it’s also thought that hypnosis could be effective
What that response is will differ from person to person, and situation to situation. Ideally, though, it should be something that keeps your hands occupied and away from your hair – perhaps even simply holding something, Louise tells me. “An advantage to having something in your hands is that you will need to put it down before you act upon the urge to pull. This not only brings the pulling into conscious awareness, but it also gives you those critical few moments where you can decide whether going along with the urge is something you really want to do.” Am I over these urges? For the most part, I think so. But, sitting here writing this now, I can feel the same sense of dread that used to haunt me almost on a daily basis. Perhaps that is a good thing, though. Even after all these years, the memory of how trichotillomania made me feel still hangs heavy on my heart. This article has been difficult for me to write, but I feel I have finally acknowledged the torment of my teenage mind and addressed the stigma (and, indeed, the lack of knowledge) around this condition. If you’re dealing with trich right now, or if you’re a parent worried about your child, please know that it won’t last forever. I’m now free from these urges and, with a little time and patience, you could be too.
Telling someone not to do something they feel an overwhelming urge to do is like telling someone not to scratch when they have an itch
of a control freak. I do think that those traits contribute to being a sufferer.” The perfectionist thing is something that I whole-heartedly relate to. And, interestingly, when I asked psychologist Louise about this, she concurred. “Trichotillomania sufferers often appear to have perfectionistic
in helping sufferers break the habitual thought-patterns. To be successful, you have to replace the urge with something that’s not harmful. “In my experience, the most significant factor in breaking the habit cycle is having an increased awareness of times when you are likely to pull, so that you can preempt them,” says Louise. “Equally important is finding a competing response (or range of responses) that can be used to replace the pulling behaviour at those times. Carrying out the competing response instead of pulling should help reduce the urge, although it may not eradicate it entirely.”
September 2019 • happiful.com • 31
Photography | Bruno Cervera
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it 32 • happiful • December 2018
– FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF
Kindness is contagious, and this month we want to see it go viral. Below are some easy ways you can give back
Spread a little kindness
Writing | Kat Nicholls
Do some litter-picking
There are lots of ways we can be kinder to the environment. Sometimes it’s the small, simple steps that make the most impact. Picking up rubbish when you see it is something we can all do. Visit keepbritaintidy.org to join a clean-up in your area, or get involved in the Great British Beach Clean taking place 20–23 September (visit mcsuk.org/ beachwatch/greatbritishbeachclean for more info).
Leave positive feedback
When things go wrong, we can be quick to make a complaint, but when was the last time you told someone what a great job they did? A great way to incorporate this into your routine is to start your day with a compliment. When you first look at your phone, send a text to a friend you haven’t seen in forever, or write a quick complimentary email to a colleague, before diving head-first into your inbox.
Reminisce with the elderly
Talking about past memories and reminiscing with the older community has been found to be beneficial, especially if the person you’re chatting to has dementia or Alzheimer’s. Try bringing up
music or films they loved when they were younger, and ask them about their lives. (Visit ageuk.org. uk for more advice on caring for the elderly.)
Pass on a book that impacted you
Have you read a book recently that made you laugh out loud, cry, or gasp in disbelief? Rather than stash the book in a drawer, never to see the light of day again, why not pass it on to someone else? Offer it to friends, family, or colleagues, or use a book swap service online. We love bookcrossing.com, where you release a book ‘into the wild’ for a stranger (or another BookCrossing member) to find and track where it ends up via journal entries around the world.
Leave a note of encouragement for someone
Arm yourself with some Postit notes, a pen, and some encouraging words to spread a little kindness wherever you are. Waiting rooms can often be a place of vulnerability for people, so why not pop some notes into the pile of magazines? Reading your words may help someone feel a little calmer about their upcoming appointment.
Ask the experts Ben Bidwell, life coach, personal trainer, speaker, NLP practitioner, and co-host of ‘The Naked Professors’ podcast, answers your questions on self-esteem Discover more about Ben and coaching at lifecoach-directory.org.uk
I’m worried about a friend. More and more often she is avoiding coming out with us or not joining in conversations. I know she thinks she’s not interesting, but I’m worried she is going to push everyone away. What can I do to help?
I was bullied throughout my childhood. I’ve moved on, but whenever I’m stressed or under pressure at work, I fall back into those feelings of doubt, self-hate, and worthlessness. How can I get past this?
The role of our mind is to keep us safe. When those feelings of doubt, self-hate and worthlessness come up, understand that our mind is simply trying to keep us safe. Your freedom will come when you acknowledge what your mind is trying to do, but explain to it that you are safe, and are not under threat. Your goal is to counteract the negative self-talk with words of resilience, strength, and of how much you’ve grown since this experience. 34 • happiful • September 2019
Find a way to get time with her, give her space to talk to you, and ask open questions that invite her to explain more about how she is feeling. Be compassionate and empathetic with her, let her know you understand, that you are there for her, and that you are not judging her.
“Build her trust and help to rebuild her confidence” Be patient, kind, and curious; you are interested and she is interesting. From there, see if you can get to the bottom of her challenges, and reassure her that you understand. Build her trust and help to rebuild her confidence. Look to do small things with her where she feels comfortable, and slowly build on that.
Life coaching advice RELATIONSHIPS
BEN’S TIPS FOR IMPROVING SELF-ESTEEM “The more you love yourself, the more you will allow yourself to be loved by others”
I came out of a longterm relationship recently and I’m struggling with dating. I love the closeness of being in a relationship, but don’t feel good enough for a new love interest yet. How can I move on?
Sometimes we do need time. Don’t force yourself to feel differently if you don’t feel ready. While you sit in this space, use the time to fall in love with yourself. The more you love yourself, the more you will allow yourself to be loved by others and have a healthy, fulfilling relationship. Learning to love yourself starts with getting to know your deepest values, then aligning your behaviour with those values. A healthy relationship starts with the one you have with yourself – get that right and the rest, including healthy relationships, will follow.
Connect with your deepest values, then live by them. Don’t sacrifice what you want most, for what you want now. Do what makes you proud, fall in love with yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. When you do you’ll become proud of your achievements, and realise how uncomfortable it was to stay the same. Be brave, explore what excites you, and don’t be scared to fail. Live to please your own soul, not your ego or other people.
Find coaching support at Life Coach Directory | Part of the Happiful Family
Bipolar doesnâ€™t control me, and Iâ€™m more than a diagnosis
From manic highs to depressive lows, without a diagnosis I felt hopeless For more than a decade, Katie fought a lonely battle with her mental health and had no answers. But now, after finally being diagnosed as bipolar, she faces the future with confidence Writing | Katie Conibear
t 26, it seemed I had my life sorted. I had a successful career, an active social life, and a steady, loving relationship. However in my head, in my own reality, my life was crumbling. I had been trapped in a cycle of extreme mood swings since I was a teenager, and all I wanted was for it to stop. In the months before, I had been manic and out of control. I hadn’t slept and spent money I didn’t have. I caused two car accidents and acted on impulse, while being extremely intense and talkative, or angry and irrational. Now, vicious voices in my head shouted and screamed at me to end it all. I couldn’t see a way forward, and I felt eerily calm about the idea of taking my own life. >>>
Katie married her partner Jimi in 2015
My life had changed at 14. Although I was living in a stable, caring family home, I became severely depressed. It had been building for months, and I became more withdrawn; I didn’t understand why I felt numb and worthless, or why I no longer cared if I was alive. I ended up not going to school for six months. But then I saw
38 • happiful.com • September 2019
a psychologist and felt I could speak openly about my feelings. I wanted to get better, which was vital to the process. Yet something strange happened when I returned to school. I became increasingly confident, loud and brash – everyone noticed, but I felt like nothing was wrong. I felt the best I ever had. I decided to go to university, and that’s where my behaviour and moods started to unravel. I would sleep less than three hours a night, hardly ate, and started to hear voices. I would go out partying, straight to my job at 5am, then lectures, and start all over again that night. I never felt tired, just full of life.
Without warning my mood crashed. I hid in my room, scared to bump into anyone and have to explain why my behaviour had changed so drastically. I dropped out of university in the first year, desperately depressed. My life became a cycle of churning moods – from ecstatically high to incredibly low, and seemed to be controlled by them. I studied childcare at college, but became angry and combative towards my lecturers. I ended up walking out in a fit of rage, two months before graduating. Luckily, I found an apprenticeship in childcare. This was when I first started taking antidepressants. But instead of stabilising me, they made me feel superhuman and I would stop taking them, convinced everything was all right. I had two serious relationships, which both ended because they couldn’t deal with how much I would change, month by month. They never knew which Katie they were going to get.
I started to believe that I was a broken person, who was intrinsically flawed and would never find happiness. Then I started seeing Jimi when I was 23. We instantly clicked. He had a calming influence and wouldn’t overreact at my sometimes bizarre behaviour. We moved in together and I started as a family worker for a group of children’s centres – a job I was passionate about, making a difference. From the outside I seemed to have a perfect life, but inside I was struggling. Doctors didn’t understand why my physical health was suffering, or why I kept coming back depressed and exhausted. The voices in my head grew louder and more intrusive. When I was depressed, I would lie in bed begging them to go away. Sometimes they would urge me to be more impulsive, more reckless. These voices filled me with confidence and a surge of adrenaline. They became a major part of my life and I missed them when they were gone.
I started to believe that I was a broken person, who was intrinsically flawed and would never find happiness This experience of psychosis, along with a long, intense period of hyperactive behaviour, led me to the lowest I had ever felt. I had to leave the job I loved, and became suicidal. It was like my life had come full circle, and I felt like that frightened 14-year-old again. I was exhausted from spending a decade in a battle with my mind. I felt there were no answers, and no hope. Finally, in December 2012, I was given an answer: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Although the diagnosis didn’t solve everything, it showed me I wasn’t flawed; I was ill. Eventually I found a mix of medications that worked for me, and I began to experience times
when I felt stable. I started going to a Bipolar UK support group, where I no longer felt alone. The group discussions helped me spot the warning signs and identify that alcohol, a lack of sleep, and stress triggered my episodes. Jimi and I got married in 2015. He is compassionate, caring, and the most supportive person in my life. I feel truly lucky to have found someone who has taken my illness in his stride and been able to see beyond it – to see me as a person. With his support, I’ve been able to accept my diagnosis. I started writing a blog, Stumbling Mind, and I’ve found it really therapeutic. This lead to me writing for charities and websites. I’m not afraid to be open
Katie blogs at stumblingmind.com, and has a podcast, ‘A Life Lived Vividly’, with a focus on hearing voices
with others, and have had so much support from friends, family, and complete strangers. Although I can’t work full-time, writing has given me a renewed sense of purpose. I’ve learnt that although I’ve had to make adjustments to my life, I can still live well. Bipolar doesn’t control me, and I’m more than a diagnosis. Bipolar is a life-long condition, but it can be managed with the correct treatment. I still suffer from difficult episodes of mania and depression, but I’m continually learning to educate myself and manage my condition. I no longer feel frightened and alone, but instead I feel in control and positive about the future.
OUR EXPERT SAYS Katie experienced mood swings and critical voices from her teenage years, which impacted her education and relationships. Things improved on meeting her partner, who helped her to cope. After getting her bipolar diagnosis, she finally found her selfbelief, started receiving treatment, and met support groups. Mental illness can overwhelm us, and seem like we’re the only one feeling this way. But recognising symptoms, and getting support can really change our lives. Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred) UKRCP Reg Ind counsellor
September 2019 • happiful.com • 39
Tackling phone phobia As more of our day-to-day communications move online, are we losing the knack of talking on the telephone? For some, the less they do it, the scarier it becomes. So, if you fear using the phone, here are some tips to get you chatting again
Writing | Audrey Tang
n a world dominated by texting, messaging, and emails, we may be less and less likely to use our phones to actually talk to people. In fact, as we reduce our talking time, we can begin to lose the knack – and even our confidence to converse. The advent of the internet, with its forums, chat rooms, and social media, means that it’s possible to connect with people without ever leaving home. This is great for those who struggle with social anxiety, as they don’t need to go out to chat or shop. Research from charity Anxiety UK reveals that one in six adults has experienced some form of ‘neurotic health problem’, and more than one in 10 are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage, with 13% likely to develop a phobia. Phone anxiety is part of this broader social anxiety, and is characterised by similar physiological responses – often triggered by having to speak on the telephone, or the thought of doing so.
Artwork | Charlotte Reynell
Symptoms of phone anxiety
Anxiety often comes with a range of debilitating physiological symptoms, including a racing heart, tingling in the hands, feeling faint, a sense of terror, sweating or chills, chest pains, difficulty breathing, and a feeling of a ‘loss of control’. Unfortunately, as scary as it may sometimes seem, talking on the telephone can be an essential part of work, or the most efficient way to get things done.
What might cause phone anxiety?
The original source of the fear may be something unconscious – a past experience which you don’t think about, but a sense of fear remains. Or perhaps a conversation in the past ended badly, with a huge life upheaval? Perhaps you were on your mobile when you witnessed a terrible incident? Perhaps you couldn’t access a phone when you needed to in a moment of fear? It may also be part of a general concern of looking or sounding ‘silly’, or simply ‘messing up’. Then, the fewer times we use the phone, the harder it becomes.
What can I do?
If speaking on the phone is integral to your lifestyle, then you can take steps to reduce anxiety and help manage the fear. And there are also practical techniques you can use to get through the call itself. As soon as you feel anxiety growing…
1. Focus on your breathing.
It can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out, while counting to five.
2. Stamp on the spot or move about. It can be helpful to channel
your nervous sensations into something physical.
3. Focus on your senses. Try
mint sweets or gum, or touch something soft. Have an emotional first aid pack – I personally love fluffy things, and have a pompom as my alternative stress ball.
4. Think about self-care. Pay
attention to what your body needs; you may find that resting, or going to the toilet, or eating or drinking something light, can alleviate the sense of fear.
5. Tell someone you trust. If you feel able to talk to others about your phone phobia, they may be able to help.
6. Tell yourself ‘these feelings will pass’. Using positive coping
statements or affirmations can focus your mind and help you feel more in control. Try these practical support techniques…
Have an agenda. Write down
what you need to say – even write a script if you want. But be aware that using a script can cause more anxiety if you feel you are not following it, so bullet points are probably a more useful tool.
Find a time when you are not rushed, or are in a private place. This can help, because if you feel the dreaded call has gone wrong, the number of people who may have noticed is limited. It may reassure you to know that other people are not looking at you.
Practise. Speaking is a
‘performance skill’, so you need to practise it to feel more comfortable.
Speaking is a ‘performance skill’, so you need to practise it to feel more comfortable
Once you’ve made that call, be proud of your achievement. What may seem ‘silly’, because others do it easily, is still a big step for you. Measure your success by your own benchmarks – and consider how best to tackle the next call.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist, mindfulness expert, TV psychologist, and author of ‘The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness’ (FT Publishing, £14.99)
Homemade happiness Her adorably unique creations and endearing personality made Kim-Joy a firm fan-favourite on The Great British Bake Off in 2018, but beyond the bakes she’s had social anxiety to contend with... Writing | Kathryn Wheeler
hen Kim-Joy first took to our screens on The Great British Bake Off in 2018, she blew the judges away with her delightfully cute creations. But before she was a Bake Off finalist, Kim-Joy was working on the front line of mental health care as a psychological wellbeing practitioner – offering guided self-help to people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression. Now dedicated to her bakes – and with her first book, Baking with Kim-Joy, out soon – she’s a long way from her role in mental health care… Or is she? We caught up with Kim-Joy to chat about life before Bake Off, the benefits of baking, and what helping others can teach us about ourselves. 42 • happiful.com • September 2019
Hi Kim-Joy! Let’s go back to the start. What’s your earliest baking memory?
I have two, but one is bad! I remember I used to go to Chinatown a lot as a kid, because I grew up in north-west London. We used to go to the bakery and get pandan cake, which was really soft and light – the kind of cake you really like as a kid. I got home and because my mum is Malaysian – and pandan is Malaysian – she had a little book with a recipe in there for it. So I made one myself. It wasn’t as soft and fluffy as the Chinatown one, but it was still really good!
Now I’m curious about the bad baking experience...
It’s not really too bad! My dad wanted mince pies for Christmas every year. I think I enjoyed
making them the first time, but after a few years it’s like, ugh. And also I don’t like the taste… Well, I do now but only when there’s not loads of filling.
Before Bake Off you were working as a psychological wellbeing practitioner. What drew you to that career?
I’ve always been drawn to people, and wanted to understand how they work. I grew up really, really socially anxious – but part of that makes you want to learn about people. So I think that must have started it. And also my family have a lot of mental health problems, so I grew up with that – but there was never a moment where I connected it all and thought: ‘Oh, my family has mental health problems and I have these thoughts, so I want to go into this.’ >>>
I grew up really, really socially anxious, but part of that makes you want to learn about people
Did you enjoy the work?
I did, though there was part of me that didn’t. But it wasn’t the side that was helping people. I think it’s because your caseload is so big, and you can only have half an hour with people. Also, because a lot of people don’t turn up for their appointments, the way the service deals with that is that you will be fully booked, back-to-back, but the expectation is that people won’t turn up – so you can do your notes. But then you get a couple of days in a row where everyone turns up. And you’re like: ‘Ah! That’s cool, but I can’t do my notes!’ I think it gets you into a negative mentality, because you’re hoping that someone doesn’t turn up.
You mentioned that you had your own problems with anxiety when you were younger. Did you feel supported?
I didn’t, because my older brother had very severe mental issues, so I felt like my issues weren’t really significant in comparison. I was also quite good academically, so the school didn’t really bother. I started not going to school for quite a while. The headteacher spoke to me about it, and I just said: ‘I’m going to the library to study.’ And she was like: ‘Oh that’s fine then!’ I had been going to the library, but not studying. I was just taking a breather – all the time! The main thing I did was go to university and decided I was going to reinvent myself. But I didn’t really know how to interact with people very well, so I was trying to bond with people by asking them where the buses went! *UK mainland only. Entries close 30 September. 44 • happiful.com • September 2019
Win a signed copy of Baking With Kim-Joy* To enter, email email@example.com telling us which cake was voted the UK's favourite in 2018: A. Red velvet B. Carrot cake C. Lemon drizzle
That’s a good line!
It is! I think I’m still a bit socially anxious now, but only with specific things. I think by helping other people, you also help yourself. Part of working with other people is dealing with my social anxiety fears, so I just got used to it.
And then you went on Bake Off – what a huge achievement.
Yeah! I think the reason I applied for it was partly I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
Do you have any favourite behind the scenes moments?
I remember one of the weeks I was crying... [Laughs]. We had a lady who caught up with us after every episode to check we were OK, and looked after us. I said to her that I thought crying made me weak, and she taught me that crying is a strength because you’ve put yourself in a situation that makes you vulnerable. Then I was like: ‘Right I’m going to cry about everything!’
I think by helping other people, you also help yourself
Do you find that baking helps your mental health? Definitely. I think that’s probably what drew me to it. Probably not as a child, but as I grew up, because it’s something that you have to focus on. I started with getting things right, like with croissants you have to focus on folding it the right number of times, and weighing the butter and flour. I think it really links to mindfulness because you have to be in the moment, and fully focused on that thing. But as well as being mindful, at the end you get a cake.
Photography | Ellis Parrinder
You’re known for bakes that look impossible to eat because they’re just so cute. But when did that come in? Were you Kim-Joy-ifying your mince pies?
No, no, back then it was just a straight-forward mince pie! I think people assume this is what you have been doing for a long time, but actually I was more interested in baking bread, and getting things right. I always thought I couldn’t decorate things until a year before Bake Off when I started doing cakes. And then I just fell into this niche, which I really enjoy!
You have a new book, Baking with Kim-Joy, out in August. Do you have a favourite bake from your recipes? I love them all, but I think one of my favourites is the pig profiteroles. They’re covered in chocolate, and look like pigs bathing in mud. I quite like those because I think they’re quite simple, even though it’s choux pastry.
What’s next for you?
There’s something else in the pipeline but I can’t really say… I’d love to do more TV and stuff like that. So we’ll see what happens!
‘Baking with Kim-Joy’ (Quadrille, £18) is out from 22 August
September 2019 • happiful.com • 45
Funny, fresh, and surprisingly frank, get ready to have your illusion of #MyBestLife shattered Writing | Bonnie Evie Gifford
’m not really an Instagram kind of person, but even I’ve been sucked in by certain hashtags showing off the perfect #OOTD (outfit of the day), sharing #motivational words of wisdom, and creating the kind of #jetset #lifestyle it’s hard not to envy. It can be easy to forget that a single, flawless shot doesn’t show us the full picture. In Living My Best Life, debut author Claire Frost gives us a quick glimpse behind the glittering veneer into the myriad of everyday struggles (big and small) that we experience – influencers and all.
What’s it about?
Bell never thought she’d be approaching 40 single, and struggling to move on after her partner of 10 years dumped her.
Sick of feeling like her life doesn’t live up to everyone else’s, she decides it’s time for a change, to find out who she really is, and who she thinks she should be. In parallel, it looks like Millie has the perfect life. A successful influencer on the surface, behind the scenes she’s a single mum struggling to make ends meet, dealing with trolls, and an ex who cares more about his career than their son. Her life feels more like #BestLie than #BestLife. A heart-warming and humorous novel for the Insta-weary, Living My Best Life gives readers a glimpse behind the curtain of perfection.
Friendship, community, and finding your own happiness Nearly all of us have experienced the heartbreak and upset
of a relationship that has come to an end. For anyone who has had a relationship fizzle out, or felt they haven’t had the catharsis of knowing where things went wrong, Bell’s journey will ring true. Claire shows a side of modern dating and break-ups not often seen in fiction: hours lost to scrolling through your ex’s social media feed looking for answers, dreading an update that shows they’ve moved on already, and an underlying knowledge that we really shouldn’t be using our time and energy on could-haves and what-ifs. Bell’s bordering-on-virtualstalking is as equal parts refreshing as it is unsettling to read. Touching on how the modern dating scene has changed for women in their 30s, Living My
Best Life feels like an empowering book of self-discovery. Bell and Millie are fairly different, yet each of them struggles to an extent with isolation, finding a support network, and making more friends. While Bell has a best friend and some family, it isn’t until post-breakup that she is able to see how dissatisfied and out of touch she has fallen. Despite her perfect facade online, Millie is still a struggling single mum with no family or real support network nearby to lend a helping hand. As we follow Bell and Millie on their journeys, we soon see the importance of making new friends throughout our lives, as well as the impact helping others – and focusing on defining our own happiness – can have.
It can be hard to remember: a single, flawless shot doesn’t show the full picture #LivingMyBestLi(f)e
An influencer more by chance than choice, Millie’s dreams of having her own fashion line are far from reality. While her Instagram feed portrays a perfect life – filled with new outfits, a spotless home, and perfect shots of her little boy – in reality, Millie struggles to make ends meet.
Claire shows us firsthand the impact online trolling can have on someone’s confidence, sharing with us Millie’s building anxiety and dread around the comments section whenever she posts an update. This snapshot is a gentle reminder that there is another person at the other end of our screens, who can be more hurt by harsh words than we may realise. While Millie’s struggles to balance authenticity while crafting an inspirational, aspirational feed are interesting to read, it’s the glimpses into her experiences with postnatal depression (PND) that really make readers stop and think.
Embarrassment and guilt still plague Millie at times. Despite all that she does for her son, she still can’t help but fear she isn’t doing enough. Both reassuring and heartbreaking, it’s great to see big issues being woven naturally into the overall narrative, rather than being the sole focal point of the novel. Millie’s experiences with PND are clearly a part of her, but they don’t define her.
Should I read it?
Living My Best Life is a fun, light-hearted read. Filled with new friendships, relatable struggles, and just a touch of glam, it’s refreshing to see a
If you liked this, you’ll love... Why Mummy Drinks by Gill Sims Approaching 39, Mummy isn’t content with the future she is facing. Clutching her glass of wine, she mutters FML over and over, until she remembers the gem of an idea she’s had…
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur A collection of poetry and prose about survival, the experience of love, loss, violence, abuse, and femininity. Journey through the most bitter and sweet moments in life.
novel featuring women of an older age than is typical for the genre. If you’re looking for a book that weaves in relatable issues without losing its charm and style, Living My Best Life could be the right book for you.
Must Reads Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth has a house, a husband, and they’re trying for a baby – and she doesn’t want any of it. Emerging from a bitter divorce, it’s time to search for the things she has been missing...
Living My Best Life By Claire Frost (Simon & Schuster UK, out 5 September, £7.99)
GREAT FOR... • Fans of light-hearted fiction • Readers looking for feel-good vibes • Insta enthusiasts looking for a healthy dose of reality
How to help a colleague having a panic attack Rapid breathing, a racing heart, or upset stomach – alongside the intense fear, panic attacks can come with some scary physical side-effects. With so much of our lives spent at work, and it often being a stressful environment, knowing some practical steps you can take to support a co-worker with panic disorder could make a world of difference Writing | Kat Nicholls
anic attacks are, by their very nature, a scary experience. And even when you’re not the one having the attack, knowing how to help can be tough. The situation can become even trickier to navigate when it happens in the workplace. Do you call an ambulance? Do you suggest meditation? What’s appropriate? The first thing to note is that everyone is unique. Panic attacks can look different for each person. As they share many of the same symptoms as a heart attack, it can be hard to know which they’re experiencing. If you’re in any doubt, please call 999 and get medical assistance. If you’re sure it’s a panic attack, remember that everyone will have their own ways in which they prefer to be supported. This is why communication before an attack, where possible, is key.
BEFORE AN ATTACK
If you know a colleague is prone to panic attacks, have a conversation
with them about it. Ask them if there are any signs you can look out for that may suggest they are feeling panicky (for example, they may get up for walks more often). You can also ask what helps them when they’re experiencing an attack. Some people want to be alone when they have a panic attack, while others appreciate company and support. Ask them if there’s anything you can say or do to help. If they say no, check to see if there’s anyone they would like you to call for help.
DURING AN ATTACK
Your first instinct may be to tell them to ‘calm down’ or ‘relax’, but this can be unhelpful – after all, if they could simply relax, they would. Instead, it’s important to recognise that what’s happening is a scary experience for them, but reassure them that you are there if they need you. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help, or if they want to go outside for some fresh air. You can suggest a breathing exercise if you know this is something they’re
open to. If you’re at work, it can be helpful to let others know what’s happening, such as HR or their manager (if they give you consent to do so). You could also offer to take their calls while they’re away from their desk. Some people find it helpful to be distracted. This may mean talking to them about something completely unrelated to work, or encouraging them to play a game on their phone. Again, this isn’t suitable for everyone, so establishing what they find useful is really key.
SIGNS OF A PANIC ATTACK • Feelings of impending doom • Pounding heart • Sweating • Dizziness • Difficulty breathing • Chest pain • Choking sensation/ tight throat
AFTER AN ATTACK
Panic attacks typically last between five and 20 minutes, but can last more than an hour. Try not to assume you know when their panic attack is over; wait for them to tell you. Once you know it’s finished, validate their experience, and offer some space for them to talk about how they’re feeling. For example: “That must have been scary for you, do you feel like talking or do you want to rest?” Taking the time to talk can help both of you to feel calmer. You can also check in to see if what you did was helpful for them, or if they would prefer you do something different in the future. Finally, be
sure to check on them throughout the day. If they’re finding it hard to work, maybe suggest they take the rest of the day off. Sometimes anxiety and panic attacks are a symptom of workplace stress. If this is the case, encourage your colleague to speak to their manager and/or HR for support, and ask if there’s anything you can do to make things less stressful. Finally, it’s important to remember to look after yourself after helping someone with a panic attack. Making time for self-care will help you feel better mentally and physically, so you can continue to support others.
Once you know it’s over, validate their experience and offer some space for them to talk about how they’re feeling If you and your colleagues want to be better prepared for situations like panic attacks, consider getting trained in mental health first aid. Happiful and Simpila Healthy Solutions provide courses across the UK to teach you how to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis. Learn more and find a course near you at happiful.com/mentalhealth-first-aid-training
September 2019 • happiful.com • 49
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50 • happiful • December 2018
S E P T E M B E R
Images | Downton Abbey: Carnival Film & Television, Journey to Wellness: Instagram @journey_to_wellness_
This month, feel connected with the world around you at the art show asking the big questions, a podcast that celebrates our failures, and the app that introduces us to our neighbours in a bid to cut food waste
PAGE-TURNERS Neal’s Yard Remedies Complete Massage
Whether you’re a massage beginner looking to pick up some tips, or simply want to discover the wellness benefits, this beautiful guide will set you on your way. Covering the main massage disciplines, as well as treatment ideas and recommendations, learn your Swedish from your shiatsu in this journey into the power of touch. (Out 5 September, DK, £18.99)
Lone Wolf, Devon
Arriving in the UK for the first time, Lone Wolf is an endurance challenge where runners have one hour to complete a 6.5K course. Everyone who makes it back within the hour then has a chance to run it again at the start of the next hour, and so on until there is just one runner left. Be in with a chance of winning the Lone Wolf Trophy, or take in the stunning natural surroundings and cheer on the competitors.
World Suicide Prevention Day
(10 September, join the conversation online by using the hashtag #WSPD2019)
TECH TIP-OFFS OLIO
Connect with neighbours and local businesses to make sure that surplus food is shared and not thrown away. Whether it’s food nearing its sell-by-date, or spare homegrown vegetables, simply add a photo to the app, along with a description and where the item is available to pick-up, and be part of the move to cut food waste. (Download from the App Store and Google Play, find out more at olioex.com)
(1 September, find out more and book your space at dynamicadventurescic.co.uk/lone-wolf)
Eyewear that gives back
Pala make sunglasses with a difference. Profits from their sales go towards grants that support eyecare projects across Africa. From building vision centres, to creating long-term solutions to facilitate eyecare, Pala’s stunning range of sunnies look good and do good. (Browse the collection at palaeyewear.com)
WIN A PAIR OF PALA SUNGLASSES In ancient China, sunglasses were made from which material? A) Thin seaweed, B) Smokey quartz, C) Stained glass To enter, email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org. UK mainland only, entries close 15 September.
On this day, organisations around the world come together to raise awareness of the ways that we can work to prevent suicide. With previous years seeing more than 300 events taking place across 70 countries, it’s time to make some noise, and reach out to others.
SQUARE EYES Downton Abbey
Calling all Downtonians, the moment you’ve been waiting for has arrived as the much-loved story hits the big screen for the first time in Downton Abbey, the movie. Picking up a year on from the TV series’ finale, immerse yourself in the drama as the Crawley family receive a very royal visit. (In cinemas 13 September)
LEND US YOUR EARS
‘How to Fail’ podcast with Elizabeth Day With guests including Nigel Slater, Jamie Laing, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, each week Elizabeth Day speaks to people about their failures, and the lessons that they learned from going through them. (Find out more at elizabethdayonline.co.uk, and listen to the podcast on iTunes and Spotify)
PUT ON A SHOW Arts by the Sea
Travel to the south coast for an intriguing celebration of the arts, at venues across Bournemouth. This year the theme for the festival is ‘Mind Matter’, which will see artists exploring the biggest mental health questions that we’re all facing today. (27–29 September. For more information on the festival, head to artsbythesea.co.uk)
Journey to Wellness For regular self-care reminders and daily pickme-ups, Journey to Wellness offers sweet and simple illustrations exploring everything from anxiety and depression, to practising selfcompassion.
(Follow @journey_to_ wellness_ on Instagram)
OUT AND ABOUT
The Handmade Festival Head to Hampton Court and get hands-on at the festival that offers three days of creativity, with a packed schedule of more than 150 workshops and 300 exhibitors. From watercolour to chalk paint, and crochet to cake decorating, there’s something for everyone. (13–15 September, tickets start at £16, find out more at thehandmadefestival.com)
I was trans before social media took hold. I was schizophrenic before people talked openly
Finding safe spaces online Contending with mental health and neurodiversity, Ashley and wife Morgana faced even more difficulties than most when it came to embracing – and showing the world – who they truly are Writing | Ashley Ford-McAllister
married Morgana on Halloween in 2015. We didn’t have a lot of money, so our reception was a buffet at a friend’s house, and the music a YouTube playlist. In a nice touch of synchronicity, the neighbours were having an early Bonfire Night; the spectacular fireworks at the end of their display coincided with everyone heading outside for taxis home. Morgana wore a full-length, crushed velvet dress in crimson. My waistcoat and tie matched perfectly. Our first dance was The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’. There was a cake smash, photos, and a lot of laughter. Just a normal, slightly alternative wedding. Except that Morgana and I are both trans. I’ve medically and surgically transitioned, finishing things to the >>>
Ashley (right) and wife Morgana (left)
Social media makes it easier for the defiantly different to find each other; a refuelling stop before we go out into the world again extent I wanted to take them in 2010, having changed my name in 2005. I took the full version of a nickname I’d chosen in 1996, when I was 10 – the year I’d cut my hair short. There had never been a time, in the five years my parents had allowed me to choose my own clothes, that I’d gone for dresses, despite growing up with several friends who were happy being girls, and saw no reason why tree-climbing and skateboarding couldn’t be done in pretty, feminine clothes. I knew women who were practical and competent. But I’d always headed for jeans and T-shirts. I built dens, drove go-karts, climbed trees, and created elaborate stories that I acted out with my toy cars and Lego. Morgana had just started to bring her feminine self into the world when we met in 2013, having gone through the route of not really identifying with
54 • happiful.com • September 2019
gender or sexuality at all, thinking she must be a gay man, because she didn’t feel anything for the girls her male friends were pursuing, and then coming across the idea of asexuality, and feeling that made a lot more sense than anything else. She is still asexual, as am I, but her hair has grown out into a long, thick waterfall of dark curls, while the summer dresses that contrasted so strikingly with that short hair have been replaced with pastel jeans, vintageinspired blouses, and humorous T-shirts. Morgana and I both live with mental health and neurodiversity, and this has caused a lot of difficulty in our path to introducing the world to ourselves. My initial referral to Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, London, was delayed for almost a year and a half, because I have schizophrenia.
This, it was believed, meant that a ‘lack of a permanent sense of self’ made it impossible for me to be trans, even though I’d been permanently identifying as ‘not a girl’ for at least a decade prior to making it in front of a gender identity specialist. Despite the unwavering insistence of just about every part of the medical community that people with schizophrenia don’t have a fixed sense of self, my identity as a working class bloke who prefers to form intimate relationships with women, has more of an affinity with dogs than cats, enjoys both the reading and the writing of books, and starts to get restless if he’s kept indoors for too long, has never shifted. Morgana has Asperger’s, and, since hers came without the ‘brilliant at IT’ upgrade, but did have the free add-on of social anxiety, she has struggled to find paid employment.
Those who decide whether trans people are allowed to have hormones and surgery (assuming they want either, which they may or may not) don’t like it if you’re not working. For Morgana, the anxiety of being criticised for ‘not working’ means that, for the moment, she has chosen to simply ‘get on with being a woman’, and let go of the investment in doing things ‘officially’. Social media makes it easy for the defiantly different to find each other; a refuelling stop before we go out into the world again. I’ve spent years living and working stealthily, going in to maledominated workplaces, biting my tongue as I sat through ‘equality and diversity training’ led by someone who was clueless about a transgender person working at the company. I’ve had managers try to force
Social media has allowed Morgana to find other autistic women, many of whom happen to be trans
me into sexual situations with female colleagues, to ‘prove you’re not a f****t’. I’ve had to come up with an explanation as to why a ‘bit of banter’ made me so uncomfortable, that doesn’t out me. After days like that, knowing my social media feed will include people who’ll make me laugh, inspire raging hair and fashion lust, and provide enjoyable, intellectually engaging discourse, is essential to my wellbeing. For Morgana, social media has allowed her to find other autistic, nerdy women, many of whom happen to be trans. She gets the respite of being in a society where she’s not out of step, or running to catch up, and where people engage with her naturally, and respect her without conditions. Even in the communities we’ve found, the opinions of the rest of the world still get in, as people try to process hate-filled
The ‘safe spaces’ that the media mocks are where people like us go to rearm and fortify, not where we go to fall apart headlines, inaccurate representation, and personal encounters. What it is, is our space – filled with and dominated by people who understand and accept us, even if they don’t like us. And that makes it safe. It gives us the same ‘world-adjacent’ respite as people who experience the privilege of being automatically accepted by society. I was trans before social media took hold. I was schizophrenic before people talked openly. Morgana grew up as an autistic person without the benefit of a social media
scene that allowed her to meet others like her. She was trans in the physical reality first. We would get by without it, but social media makes it a lot easier to manage our mental health and neurodivergence. The ‘safe spaces’ the media mocks are where people like us go to rearm and fortify, not where we go to fall apart. Being trans, being neurodivergent, having mental health issues, will never be easy, but the same social media that gives those who object to our existence an outlet, also provides us all with an enjoyable, accessible way to affirm our personhood, and our right to enjoy the world, as well as embracing our own definition of success.
OUR EXPERT SAYS Ashley and Morgana’s story shows the importance of being true to who you know yourself to be, especially when others do not understand, or even seek to undermine you. Managing more than one aspect of diversity, it is heartening to hear how social media has allowed them to build the sense of community we all need in our lives. Their resilience is a moving testament to what is possible if we stay true to our own values, and way of being in the world.
Fe Robinson | MUKCP (reg) Psychotherapist and couples counsellor
September 2019 • happiful.com • 55
Photography | Joel Mott
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise
56 • happiful • December 2018
– VICTOR HUGO, LES MISÉRABLES
Simone Powderly Recommends Simone is the co-host of The Sister Space podcast. Listen to new episodes on Spotify and Soundcloud
Model, content creator, mental health advocate, and girl with big hair, and a bigger heart, Simone Powderly is making a real difference in the lives of her followers. But when she’s not working towards her goals, what does Simone do to relax? Here, she breaks down some of her favourites, and the things that inspire her day-to-day
QUOTE YOU LIVE BY
A NEW SKILL YOU’VE RECENTLY LEARNED How to take care of my plants… Don’t laugh! I was determined to make sure I take care of them, they’re my babies and I love being around greenery – living in a city is hard, so I’ve created my safe space! Yes… I do give them special names and talk to them! FAVOURITE FOOD I never know what I want to eat... But homely food is always the way to my heart! Good ol’ Irish stew, or a Caribbean dish, is everything!
Remember who you are
– Mufasa, The Lion King. My nickname is Simba, because of my hair!
GOING UP I’m just turning 30, and really stepping into my power, and just pushing forward with my passions. My home, work, and social life balance is really up in the air, and I don’t feel grounded. I need some organisation, ASAP!
Book cover | amazon.co.uk
FAVOURITE PLACE TO VISIT New York for the drive and ambition – I love the energy there. Home is where the heart is, and for me that’s being near greenery or water, so I will go to any place that gets me near those two! PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT Finding my voice and speaking out on my childhood sexual trauma, which has led me to be able to raise awareness, and given me a greater purpose. WHO TO FOLLOW I truly believe in following pages that educate, make you laugh, inspire, and empower you. So here are my top five: @gracefvictory, @willsmith, @alex_elle, @tanyacompas, @mothecomedian
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
My therapist recommended I should read more fiction, as my shelf is full of self-help books. But wow, this book is hard-hitting and so beautifully written!
I’m a lover of music, so this is hard! But my go-to song at the moment is DaniLeigh’s ‘Easy’. The song reflects my motto right now: ‘Let’s take it easy.’
GOK WAN GOK WAN: BARING ALL
The go-to guy for teaching us to love the skin we’re in, Gok Wan has put being kind to yourself and others firmly in fashion. With the show that launched him into the nation’s homes, How to Look Good Naked, back later this year, and a UK tour this autumn, we chat to Gok about the topics he holds most passionately in his heart: body acceptance, appreciating life, and waking up to the mistreatment of LGBT+ communities across the globe Writing | Lucy Donoughue
first really considered the concept of ‘body confidence’ after watching Gok Wan’s How to Look Good Naked many years ago. With his now famous warmth and familiarity, Gok spent each episode working closely with the people who appeared on the Channel 4 show to understand their self-esteem struggles, and issues with their own reflections. He then challenged this by encouraging each person to view themselves positively, and by celebrating the features they were proud of. How to Look Good Naked was feel-good TV with strong messages of body acceptance and self-love at its core, prompting discussions about self-image and body dissatisfaction in living rooms up and down the country.
First aired in 2006, it was at its height as Facebook was in its infancy, Instagram was years away from existing, and the words ‘selfie’ and ‘influencer’ were not yet commonplace in the public domain. Now, Gok harnesses these social media platforms to informally continue the conversations around body confidence he started in the early noughties, and reaches more people than ever before on a daily basis. Scrolling through Gok’s feed, one post in particular catches my eye. It reads: ‘Body confidence is not about waking up and loving every part of you. It’s about waking up and not hating every part of you.’ “We all have those moments, and for some of us, we have weeks, months or years where we feel
so bad about our bodies,” Gok explains when I mention this quote. “Then we concentrate so much on goals like, ‘I am going to be 100% confident with my hair, my skin, my nails, my body, my weight,’ and sometimes that can be so unachievable. “You’re already setting yourself up to fail, and what I want to say with that statement is just do baby steps. Give yourself a break, make your goals realistic, and then they won’t feel like such a daunting task. “Work at just trying to appreciate, trying to accept, and have parts of your body you can welcome to the world every single day – instead of having to try to love every part of it, which could be massively unachievable.” Now, 13 years after How to Look Good Naked first aired, Gok is >>>
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Follow Gok Wan on Instagram @therealgokwan, and visit gokfashion.com for more about the One Size Fits All tour. To support LGBT+ communities across the world, visit allout.org, a global movement fighting for a world where no one has to make sacrifices because of who they are or who they love.
every bit as passionate about helping people to feel better about themselves. However, Gok believes that there are some aspects of the continuing social media phenomenon that exacerbate issues around low self-esteem – and he’s particularly concerned about younger people who have never known a life without these platforms. “We’re in a dangerous position at the moment; the majority of the images that we see are no longer just unrealistic, they’re computer
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generated, and people are aspiring to look that way. I don’t think the world knows what is beautiful any longer. “We’re aspiring to be something that is completely artificial – it’s not real. And I think that’s really confusing to a lot of young people. “As a 45-year-old man who works in an industry that is governed by how we look, I can talk about this quite freely and understand the right and wrongs of that,” Gok explains. “However, if I’m a 13-year-old girl or boy, then I have
no background knowledge, no research, and no references on this. I’m just thinking: ‘Why don’t I look that way?’ And I think that this can cause quite severe mental damage.” Gok has real gravitas when he shares his opinion on these subjects, not only because of his professional background, but also because of his personal experience with eating disorders, stemming from his young adult years. And now, how does Gok view himself today?
Photography (teal background) | Chris WR Cox Photography, (bottom right) | Sue Lacey Photography
I think that we need to fight for our brothers and sisters, so all voices can be heard
He takes a moment before responding. “It’s a really difficult question to answer, because I am nowhere near 100% happy with my body – no way – but I have other things in my life that I feel so grateful for, and that I feel so proud of. My work, my relationships, and all of that gives me confidence, and actually has taken over how I felt about my body all those years ago.” This autumn, he’ll be taking these skills on the road with his One Size Fits All Tour (after
filming the hotly-anticipated returning series of How to Look Good Naked), and Gok is keen to point out that he is rewarded by continuing to spread the body confidence message up close and in person: “It’s not a selfless act doing One Size Fits All, I get a huge amount out of it. “Even just talking about how I felt in the past about my body, how I feel about it now, the dangers of negative body image, and what that can do to you – I get a huge amount of confidence from that because I get to help people, to share their stories, and it confirms my beliefs and politics when it comes to the body confidence movement.” Gok is driven to work on projects where he can make a difference. I’m reminded of the Gay Times Global Pride campaign he supported last year, helping to shed light on the appalling mistreatment of the LGBT+ community in countries across the world. Gok tells me sadly, this isn’t an issue that is going away. He’s just returned from a press trip in Warsaw, Poland, where civil rights activist Elzbieta Podleśna, was arrested, and her laptop, phone, and private communications were seized. Her
‘crime’ was sharing an image of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo, to protest against the Church’s exclusion of the LGBT+ community from religion. “She’s now had her entire work and her entire life, personally and professionally, investigated over this one image,” Gok says, with deep frustration in his voice. And this isn’t an isolated incident. “We’re in such terrible shape at the moment. Look at the Sultan of Brunei and the death penalty for LGBT+ people,” he continues. “Now, they’re not going to enforce that as a law, but we kind of forget that actually you can still be arrested or beaten in that country for your sexuality. “Just the fact that people are not being killed, it makes it kind of a positive, or a step in the right direction. Tha’s a problem that we’ve got with LGBT+ treatment – almost a reverse of the body confidence issue. We can’t just focus on the stuff that’s ‘kind of alright’, like the fact that it’s OK to get married in this country. “We’ve got to focus on the fact that our brothers and our sisters in the community, some of them are dying, some of them are being beaten or living in persecution in their own homes – unless they decide that they want to take asylum in a country where they can live freely as an LGBT+ person,” Gok says emphatically. “But then, not everybody wants to leave their country, their friends and their families. “For those of us who are slightly more privileged, I think that we need to fight for our brothers and sisters, so that all voices can be heard.” We’re with you all the way, Gok.
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Breakfast BACK TO WORK
Start your week the right way with our homemade granola Writing | Ellen Hoggard
ranola is one of my favourite breakfasts. The first time I made a batch at home, I couldn’t believe how simple it was, and it was so delicious I don’t think I’ll ever go back to shop-bought. Whether you go for a classic milk and granola combo, as a yoghurt topping, or simply a snack, the flavour and texture is just so good. A bit of sugar, a dash of spice, and the fruits that fill your fancy, this recipe is the basis for a breakfast you can make your own. As summer rolls into autumn, we often fall back into a routine. School starts, everyone is back at work, and new projects are set to begin. So, you need to be nourished ahead of your day. As you prepare for the week, simply set an hour aside to bake this delicious granola, and you’ll be set for at least the next few days… as long as you don’t eat it all at once. Our nutrition expert Michelle Boehm gives us some insight: “This is a well-balanced breakfast with plenty of carbohydrates (oats), fats (coconut oil), and
protein (nuts). It’s vegan, and can be gluten-free if you opt for gluten-free oats. The carbs are slow-releasing, keeping you fuller for longer, reducing the urge to snack and overeat at lunchtime. “Adding protein and cinnamon to your meal supports blood sugar balancing. The slow release of sugars in the food helps to boost energy levels, control mood swings, and reduce cravings. If you would like to reduce the sugar content further, omit the syrup and dried fruit, although this may make your granola slightly less sticky. “The fats in coconut oil are medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are said to provide your brain with quick energy, and raise the good HDL cholesterol in your blood. This breakfast is also rich in fibre, with almonds containing more fibre than any other nut. Fibre binds to water and waste in the colon to pass out of the body easily, regulating bowel movements.”
You will need... 4 cups rolled oats 1 cup pecans 1 cup almonds 2 tbsp agave or maple syrup ½ cup coconut oil ½ tsp cinnamon ½ tsp salt 1 tbsp dried cranberries 1 tbsp dried apricots, chopped ½ cup coconut flakes
Optional: Chocolate chips
Michelle Boehm is a nutritional therapist and health coach. Find out more at livebetterhealth.co.uk
Method 10 SERVINGS Preheat the oven to 180C/350C, gas mark 4, and line a large rimmed baking tray with parchment paper. Put aside. Combine the oats, salt, cinnamon, pecans and almonds. In a small bowl, melt the coconut oil and add the agave syrup. Slowly, combine the wet ingredients with the oats until fully coated. Add to the baking tray, distributing evenly and pressing down so the mixture sticks together. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring halfway. For larger clusters, press the stirred granola down with your spatula before returning to the oven. When golden brown, remove and leave to cool. When the granola has completely cooled, break the granola into pieces with your hands. Add the dried fruit, coconut and, if using, chocolate chips. Gently mix with your hands, ensuring you don’t break the clusters. Store in an airtight container at room temperature (this will keep your granola fresh for up to two weeks). Alternatively, you can freeze your granola for up to three months – simply remove it from the freezer 15 minutes before serving. Serve as a yoghurt topping, or with a milk of choice. Delicious. Find a nutritionist near you at nutritionist-resource.org.uk September 2019 • happiful.com • 63
HOW TO SPOT
D I E T C U LT U R E B S As the summer hits its stride, it’s near impossible to avoid all the attention-grabbing headlines about the latest fad diet, ‘bikini body workout’, or obesity epidemics, designed to make us feel guilty at mealtimes. But diet culture doesn’t need to make its claim on you! Here, we put the BS on blast Writing | Pixie Turner
iet culture is like that song by The Police: every breath you take, every move you make, it’s watching you. And judging you. All the messages that are ingrained in us by society, that health, beauty, happiness, and success have an aesthetic, and a very particular aesthetic at that, are encompassed by diet culture. If you don’t fit this image, then you’re wrong and need to change. Diet culture conveniently sells us all the tools we allegedly need to mould ourselves to the ideal image, and when they don’t work, it shames us for not trying hard enough. These messages have incredible power over us, and seep into the way we think and talk about ourselves, our family, our friends, and strangers. Diet culture is built on lies. Health doesn’t have one look, beauty is multi-faceted, success
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comes in many forms, and happiness doesn’t often come from being constantly told you’re not good enough.
Here are just some of the diet culture headlines I’ve spotted in recent years, that I wish people would stop using:
“THIS FOOD IS TOXIC! AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS!” The toxicity narrative can come in a number of forms. With sugar in particular, we’re told that it’s toxic and addictive, and that’s why we’re all fat: we can’t stop eating it. This is absolute nonsense. Firstly, weight isn’t a behaviour, and we should stop acting like it’s something we have complete control over. Secondly, using fear tactics to scare people out of eating certain foods is unhelpful. It’s a very effective short-term motivator, but it also often leads to bingeing behaviours, secret eating, guilt, and is not conducive to good mental health. Using weight gain as a fear tactic implies that
all weight gain is bad (it’s not), and shows just how much value society places on a thin body. Much of the ‘toxicity’ narrative very much feeds in to the ‘thin bodies are good bodies’, ‘fat bodies are bad bodies’ narrative, as we take on the concept of ‘you are what you eat’. If you eat ‘toxic’ foods (sugar, processed food, chemicals, gluten, whatever is negatively trending) then this must manifest in the body in the form of weight gain, because toxic foods make toxic bodies. It’s an incredibly harmful narrative that attaches moral value to food, which is then transferred to our bodies. All bodies are good bodies.
Instead of encouraging rapid weight loss, let’s instead focus on health-promoting behaviours and self-acceptance
“HAVING FAT MANNEQUINS IS ‘PROMOTING OBESITY’”
All bodies are good bodies
Or subsitute this for any body positivity narrative. Humans come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and this should absolutely be reflected in the images we see around us. The very people who are so outraged at the fat Nike mannequin tend to be the same people who make fun of fat folks in the gym. So you want fat people to get smaller and engage in health behaviours, but you also don’t
want them to go to the gym? These people don’t actually care about fat people’s health; they simply want fat people to cease to exist, because they don’t find fatness aesthetically pleasing. We should absolutely be encouraging anyone who wants and is able to move their body in ways they enjoy, and that includes giving everyone access to comfortable and practical workout clothes that fit. >>>
“THIS IS THE FIRST GENERATION THAT WON’T LIVE LONGER THAN THEIR PARENTS”
“THIS FOOD MELTS FAT FAST!” Any kind of ‘fat-burning’ foods, or foods that ‘melt the pounds away’, don’t exist. There is no such thing as ‘fat-burning’ foods, and there is no magical food that will lead to instant weight loss. Food doesn’t work like that. The language of ‘melting’ fat is incredibly strange, and implies that the fat stores
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inside our body function the same way as a slab of butter: work it and warm it up, and it converts from a solid to liquid state, which then… leaves your body? As sweat? No. Instead of encouraging rapid weight loss, let’s instead focus on health-promoting behaviours and self-acceptance.
This statement has spread like wildfire through the media and social media. I can see why; it’s a great soundbite. But it’s also totally wrong. When you trace it back to its origin (which is not easy as one article seems to get it from another article, which copied it from another article…) it wasn’t a finding in a scientific, peer-reviewed paper. It was from an opinion piece. This statement, which is shared as fact, is simply one person’s opinion. They didn’t even back it up with any evidence. This statement is simply untrue, and the average life expectancy is still going up as medical diagnoses happen earlier, treatments get better, and communicable diseases are hugely reduced. Who knows, we might even bring it up to 100 years old one day.
PIXIE’S TOP FIVE HEALTH CLAIMS TO AVOID: 1. A nything that suggests there is one way of eating for everybody. It does not exist. 2. C laims that food is toxic. It’s not, as it wouldn’t be edible otherwise. Also, any chemist will tell you that the dose makes the poison. In other words, anything is toxic in the right quantity, even water.
“WE HAVE AN EPIDEMIC OF FATNESS!” Using the word ‘epidemic’ for a non-contagious phenomenon is misleading. It creates panic and implies that you can ‘catch’ fatness from someone. Actually, we have research suggesting that fat folks tend to eat less around thin folks, usually due to concerns about being judged if they eat more than the thin person. Fat people already face so much hate and discrimination, and implying that you shouldn’t have fat friends in case you become fat too, is cruel. All humans need social interaction to thrive, not just the thin ones. Diet culture is insidious, yes, but that doesn’t mean we’re paralysed by it. Having an understanding of these societal structures allows us to be more compassionate to ourselves and to others. We know from research that shaming others, or ourselves, into losing weight doesn’t work. If we can learn and practise self-acceptance, we are actually far more likely to treat our bodies well, and see them as wonderful machines that deserve to be taken care of. In the end, I’m willing to bet you know your body better than any headline or Instagram ad ever could. Trust that. And if that feels too hard right now, reach out for help, because I promise, you deserve it.
3. ‘ Guilt-free’ food. All food is guilt-free. You need to eat to survive, just like you need to drink water, breathe, and go to the toilet. None of those should involve guilt. 4. Anything that mentions the word ‘detoxing’. The more someone uses that term to talk about food, the less likely they are to actually know anything about human physiology and biochemistry. Lucky for you, I have a biochemistry degree, and I can happily say that you have a liver and kidneys that work 24/7. No one food can replace that. 5. ‘ This food cures this disease!’ Food is not medicine. Food does not cure disease. A healthy, balanced diet is important for health, yes, but there is no such thing as a specific food that can cure a certain disease. (If you’re being really pedantic, you could say that removing a food that you’re allergic to is a ‘cure’, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing!)
Pixie Turner (ANutr, MSc) is a nutritionist, science communicator, and author. Her books ‘The Wellness Rebel’ and ‘Become a Diet Rebel and Make Friends with Food’ are available now. Follow Pixie on Instagram and Twitter @pixienutrition
NEUROSCIENCE: THE KEY TO CONFIDENCE Regret over missed opportunities, terrified to ask for a pay rise, or dread in the pit of your stomach at the thought of an upcoming presentation? We’ve all been there, but a lack of confidence doesn’t need to hold you back any longer… Writing | Fiona Thomas
tand up straight. Talk loudly. Sell yourself. Words that are drilled into us before we attend a job interview. But once hired, how do we keep up the momentum? There are so many aspects of work that make us feel inadequate, and research suggests that we may be in the midst of a confidence crisis. Unsurprisingly, public speaking ranks as one of the biggest pain points, with 52% of workers claiming they lack the confidence to present in front of large groups. Added to that, 35% of employees are too shy to ask for a pay rise, while 32% are afraid of putting ideas forward. We look at the most confident people in the office and think that they’re lucky. They were born that way, right? Well, kind of. It’s true that many of our personality traits – from shyness to creativity – are rooted in our genetic makeup. But just because some people are
naturally confident doesn’t mean that the rest of us are sentenced to life in the shadows. Confidence can be genetic, but it can also be learned, and that’s where neuroscience comes in. Our brains are made up of millions of nerve cells, which are responsible for our thoughts, mood, emotions, and intelligence. The British Neuroscience Association says that our brain affects our physical movement, breathing, heart rate, and sleep. It makes us who we are. I spoke to Kirsty Hulse, founder of Roar Training, who has a passion for social neuroendocrinology (a field of study in neuroscience, focused on how hormones impact social behaviours) to find out how we can get strategic with our own selfconfidence. I took part in one of her practical workshops recently and, although I was eager to learn, I thought I would struggle to match Kirsty’s
confidence. She’s so at-ease on stage that on this particular day, she incorporates burping into her talk, and still comes off as the ultimate professional. With a background in stand-up comedy, I felt like she had an unfair advantage in the world of work, but I was wrong. What Kirsty graciously admitted to us all that day, is that she, too, suffers from major confidence dips at work. The secret for Kirsty is knowing that these feelings are intrinsically linked to our brain. It’s all just chemistry. Here are her tips:
Scenario one: Someone else is taking credit for your work Having the confidence to stand up and get recognition for your work can be hard. It can feel like bragging, and most of us hate to do that. Kirsty explains that it all lies in our brain’s perception of the situation. >>>
What is power posing? Made famous by Amy Cuddy in her 2012 Ted talk, it is the act of commanding a powerful stance (think Wonder Woman) to alter your brain chemistry. Her latest study, published in 2018, demonstrates a link between expansive postures and feelings of power.
“Actions and how we construe situations can have an impact on our hormonal profile. So perceiving a situation as difficult and threat-inducing will ultimately make it difficult and threatinducing.” Confronting someone about taking credit for your work can feel like a threat because you anticipate a negative response. This can lead to increased cortisol levels, which can trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response – that comes with unhelpful physical symptoms such as sweating, increased heart rate, and muscle tension. The problem here is that we lose our ability to think, and are overcome by physical reactions. The good news is that there are practical ways to dampen this limbic response, and they’re pretty simple. Laughter is a proven way to lower cortisol levels, as is a talk with a trusted friend. So before you head into a difficult conversation, phone your funniest pal for some reassurance. You can also encourage an optimal hormone balance with 30 minutes of moderate exercise and power posing.
Scenario two: You want a pay rise Money is a source of anxiety for many of us, and asking for more of it can be terrifying. We instinctively assume that the answer will be no, because we don’t deserve it. Kirsty says that this train of thought is totally normal, and that being aware of that fact can be helpful. “We hardwire negative beliefs, and remember threats more than 70 • happiful.com • September 2019
We hardwire negative beliefs, and remember threats more than rewards
rewards. So acknowledge that you’re more likely to remember the times you’ve failed than the times you’ve succeeded. This is a good reminder to yourself before going into a meeting. It’s natural to feel unqualified, because we’re always thinking about the times we fell short, instead of the times we did well. Normalising this sense of feeling unworthy can help you really focus on all the great attributes you bring to the table.”
Try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and draw on their natural confidence. Choose a role model who you believe would handle the situation effectively (think Beyoncé or Batman) and channel their energy. Ask yourself: ‘How would they walk into a room? How would they sell themselves effectively in order to get this pay rise?’ This can quickly get you into the headspace of feeling in control, instead of under threat.
Laughter is a proven way to lower cortisol levels, as is a talk with a trusted friend. So before you head into a difficult conversation, phone your funniest pal for reassurance
The science bit: We need the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the brain for high-level thinking, creativity, and decisionmaking. The limbic system deals with emotions, memories, learning, and stimulation. The problem is that the PFC and limbic system don’t work well at the same time. So, when nerves kick in and the limbic system fires up, it’s hard to think clearly (using the PFC) which is why people forget their words, stutter, or get choked up. Additionally, studies show that the optimal hormonal profile for confidence is increased testosterone, and low cortisol levels. Make it your mission to find that sweet spot where nerves give you energy, without taking over. And if you feel like they are about to take over, do something to lower your cortisol levels, like talking to a friend, laughing, taking a walk, or reframe the situation as an opportunity for reward.
Scenario three: You’re doing a big presentation One of the most effective ways to get more confident doing public speaking is practice. When we do the same thing repeatedly, we hardwire new beliefs, and the more you partake in it, the more you’ll realise your own capabilities. Imagine your belief system as a literal footpath on the grass. The first time you walk it you’ll have
to find your own way, but after making the same journey a few times, the path becomes worn in, more visible, and easy to follow. “Nerves just show that you’re doing something that you care about,” says Kirsty. “Nerves are a marker of wanting to do well. They’ve been societally presented as a weakness, but nerves are your body saying: ‘I’m going to do all of the appropriate things to help you nail this.’”
If you’re keen to find out more about how to boost your confidence, to help you thrive at work, Kirsty cites ‘Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work’ by David Rock (Collins, £10.99) as the basis for much of her training and advice. Fiona is a freelance writer and author, whose book, ‘Depression in a Digital Age’, is out now. Visit fionalikestoblog.com for more. September 2019 • happiful.com • 71
Soak it up
A good bath might be seen as a little luxury now and then, but beyond some essential self-care, it actually has scientifically proven benefits for your mental health Writing | Fiona Thomas
hroughout history, bathing has always been about more than just personal hygiene. Cleanliness was seen as a symbol of power and beauty in ancient times, and baths were taken publicly as a way to socialise and build communities. Nowadays of course, a hot bubble bath is associated with solitude and self-care, a little luxury that many of us look forward to after a stressful day, or a tough workout. But studies show that the benefits of bathing are more than just skin deep. In a German study, participants with depression reported a boost in mood after soaking in a 40C bath for 30 minutes. In fact, in this experiment, regular baths proved to be more effective in aiding depression than aerobic exercise. A Japanese study also looked into the mental health benefits of bathing, this time, in comparison to showering. They found that bathing resulted in less stress,
tension-anxiety, anger-hostility, and depression, in the people who took part. It’s believed that hot baths are particularly transformative because they warm us up. Increased body temperature at night helps synchronise our natural circadian rhythms, leading to better sleep patterns, along with improved quality of sleep and overall wellbeing. In an article published on PsychologyToday.com, Peter Bongiorno, ND, LAc explains that bathing can even lead to chemical changes in the brain. He writes: “Decreases in stress hormones (like cortisol) have been reported with water bathing (Toda et al., 2006). It has also been shown that water bathing may also help the balance of the feel good neurotransmitter, serotonin (Marzsziti et al., 2007).” But before you get lathered up, here are a few tips on how to create a soothing experience that will help you rebalance in the comfort of your own home.
1 GET THE TEMPERATURE SPOT ON
Warm baths help ease physical tension, relax anxious muscles, and give you that orgasmic, looseygoosey feeling when you’re tightly wound. They can even aid with digestion problems, and lower blood sugar levels. The perfect bath for a healthy adult should be between 40–45C, ideally in a room that is 25C. This magical combination will increase body temperature in a comfortable way, due to the reduced cold stress from the exterior environment.
2 ESSENTIAL OILS
Aromatherapist and Therapy Directory member Megan Viney explains that although lavender is a firm favourite with those looking to relax, it’s not the only choice. “Vetiver is a brilliant option for settling the mind, and frankincense is renowned for helping let go of worries,” Megan notes. For a good night’s sleep try ylang ylang, and to invigorate, try a citrus oil such as petitgrain or bergamot.
nt to It’s importa to a carrier oil always use n e tial chosen ess dilute your y cause ise they ma rw e th o , il o rule of on. A good ti ta ri ir in sk a 2% en making thumb wh ps add 12 dro dilution is to f oil. per 30ml o
Why not take it a step further and add fresh rose petals to your bathwater? This creates a soothing rosewater scent that is suitable for even sensitive skins.
3 LIGHT IT UP
Many of us are exposed to blue light all day in the form of computers and mobile devices, leaving us mentally drained and prone to headaches. If your bathroom has lots of natural light, then consider a daytime bath. Not only does it feel like the ultimate extravagance, but natural light can lead to an improved sense of wellbeing, and better sleep. In the evening, consider leaving the lights off and bathing by candlelight, as exposure to artificial light at night suppresses melatonin, interfering with sleep timing and quality.
4 SET THE TONE
It can be tempting to prop up your iPad and catch up on your favourite Netflix shows while you’re in the tub, but we recommend leaving technology out of the equation. Remember that draining blue light? Instead, enjoy the silence, or envelop yourself in a natural soundtrack like rainforest sounds or lapping waves. Studies show that nature sounds can decrease the body’s sympathetic response (that anxiety jolt that comes from fight-or-flight) and can increase feelings of relaxation.
‘The perfect bath for a healthy adult should be between 40–45C, ideally in a room that is 25C’
If you struggle to meditate in a normal setting, then try a few minutes in the bath. Your body is already physically relaxed, which should make it easier to empty your mind and zen out in your hydrating haven. Simply close your eyes and concentrate on long, deep breaths. Keep your mind quiet, and focus on the present moment. The sound of the water. The smell of essential oils. The complete relaxation.
BIG BENEFITS Through difficult times, animals have the power to offer relief and companionship. Inspired by her mum’s experience with dementia, Sarah McPherson is the woman behind Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing – aka Mini Donks – the social enterprise that takes their seven adorable animal companions on wellbeing visits, and changes lives while they’re at it Writing | Kathryn Wheeler
o cut a long story short... We lost a dog, went looking for puppies, and came back with two miniature donkeys instead.” Sarah McPherson is casting her mind back to 2017, and the series of events that lead her to found Mini Donks – the social enterprise that takes miniature donkeys into care homes, schools, and hospitals, to support community wellbeing across their home county of Norfolk. “Bo Peep and Saffy joined the family when my mum was in the early stages of dementia,” Sarah says. “When they were still able to, my folks used to come over and stay with us, and my mum always loved spending time with the donkeys. Then, her dementia got worse, and it became very obvious that my dad was going to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, too.” Sarah took a three-month leave of absence from her job to try to set up care systems so her parents could stay in their home. During this incredibly difficult time, Sarah found comfort in her two donkeys.
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“I’d come home, go and sit in the stable, and just spend time with them. Saffron would come and stand with me. I used to just sit and look up at her, and she’d rest her head on my shoulder and give me a big sigh. That was very special.” As Sarah’s parents’ conditions progressed, they moved to a nearby nursing home. Knowing how much they loved the donkeys, Sarah started to bring the animals on visits with her. “One of the nursing staff said: ‘There’s a lady who would love to see them, but she’s bedbound. Will they come in?’ I said: ‘Well, we’ll give it a go.’ “Shortly after, we took our two little donkeys to see this lady. And that was the beginning of it all.” When Sarah’s mum passed away in April 2017, the Monday following her funeral, Sarah handed in her notice at her job, and officially founded Mini Donks. Since then, the team has grown to seven donkeys and 12 volunteers – and together, they work hard to support and improve the wellbeing of everyone they can in their community.
WHY DONKEYS? The soothing effect that animals have on our wellbeing is truly incredible, but Sarah thinks there’s something particularly special about donkeys. “Our girls, they’re inquisitive, they’re bright, but they’re also very gentle. My Pippin, she’s very sensitive to what people need. She’ll suck on my hand, like a child sucking their thumb. It relaxes her and puts her into what seems a dream-like state. “So if we have somebody who’s end-of-life, or maybe someone with Parkinson’s who’s very shaky, I’ll just gently draw Pippin towards them, while she’s sucking on my hand, and then they can put their hands on her.” After the visits, Sarah has been told by staff at the hospital that the atmosphere is so much calmer, and Sarah sees first-hand how spending time with the donkeys can soothe stress and anxiety. Recently, Mini Donks began visiting a secure psychiatric hospital. What began as a one-off visit became every six months, before they were asked to come monthly instead. >>>
SUPPORT MINI DONKS Sponsor a mini donk for ÂŁ35 a year, and help them continue to deliver their life-changing wellbeing visits. Find out how at minidonks.org.uk/ sponsor-our-donkeys
Mini Donks has now grown to seven donkeys and 12 wonderful volunteers
They’re huge destressers because they’re just themselves, and they’re very gentle souls “There’s an adult ward and a children’s ward. The staff and patients say that the best day of the month is donkey day,” says Sarah. “They get to come and groom the donkeys, and we walk around the grounds with them, leading them. “They’re building a relationship with the donkeys, and one of the young patients saw from our website that it was Pixie’s birthday, so he made a special card for her.” TOUCHING LIVES Sarah has countless stories of the people who have been touched
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by the work that they’re doing with Mini Donks. But when she reflects on her time working with organisations in her community, one story in particular stands out in her memory. “There’s a chap who we met at a nursing home in North Norfolk, which caters for people with very severe dementia. He was non-verbal, and he suffered from a shuffling gait – so he shuffled with his hands curled up in fists against his chest. “A careworker brought him in to the pen with the donkeys, and they very gently took his hand. As his hand went down on to the back of the donkey, he opened up and started stroking. I put a brush in his hand and he begin to hum. “He groomed that donkey like a professional. He went from behind the ears, down the neck, along the back, down by the sides, down all four legs, then looked around, saw the other donkey, shuffled over, groomed the other donkey. Then he put the brush back in our hands, and off he went.”
A year on, Sarah and the donkeys went back to visit the same nursing home. “He was still there, but much worse. He was asleep in a chair, and the care staff very gently woke him up. He looked up, took the donkey’s face in his hands and kissed it.” Sarah explains how the five or so minutes that people spend with the donkeys can make all the difference to their wellbeing, and creating these moments is at the heart of what Mini Donks do. “My dad has got severe dementia, and he doesn’t always know who I am,” says Sarah. “He doesn’t care much for donkeys, but if something reached him the way that the donkeys reach these people, I would be delighted.” BEHIND THE SCENES The work that Mini Donks does is propelled forwards by 12 volunteers, who give up their time to take care of the donkeys, and come along on wellbeing visits. But for Sarah, and the others who support their mission, the work they do also supports their own mental health. “It’s been a saviour for my mental wellbeing,” Sarah explains. “And a lot of our volunteers come to us because they want something for themselves, to help them with their wellbeing. “People have come to us lacking in confidence, and with anxiety issues. But being around the donkeys, and them being a facilitator to help the donkeys help somebody else, is a really powerful thing.” But despite being the driving force behind the social enterprise, Sarah is quick to step out of the spotlight.
“I know it was my idea, but it’s so much more than me – it’s this amazing team, and it’s the power of positivity. If anybody is feeling low, doing something to help somebody else can be a lot easier than doing something to help yourself – but, in fact, you’re doing both at the same time.” A MEASURE OF SUCCESS From the people that they visit, to the team behind the scenes whose lives are brightened by the work that they do, Mini Donks is the social enterprise filling the small moments in people’s lives with joy and comfort. And for Sarah, all the hard work is more than worth it. “I haven’t gone to bed for two years without thinking about donkeys,” says Sarah, as she reflects on what drives her. “But when I worked for an agency, advising on how to create
It’s so much more than me – it’s this amazing team, and it’s the power of positivity
successful start-up businesses, the chief exec said we need to ask clients: ‘What does your perfect day look like, and how is your business going to give you more of your perfect day?’ My perfect day is messing about with my donkeys, and giving other people their perfect days, so I’m the most successful person you could ever meet.” Discover more about the work that Mini Donks do by visiting their website, minidonks.org.uk
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Photography | Riki Ramdani
Photography | Svetlana Pochatun
We think too much and feel too little
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– CHARLIE CHAPLIN
End your day on a grateful note… So often the negatives can consume our thoughts, but dedicating a little time to focus on the things we’re thankful for can do wonders for our wellbeing Studies have shown that collecting your thoughts at the end of the day, and focusing on what you’re grateful for, can improve your sleep quality, optimism, and even lower blood pressure. Why not give it a go tonight? 1 P ick a notebook or journal (any pen and paper will do, but having a special book might make this time feel like a real treat). 2 T ry to get into a routine and develop the habit by setting a time for writing in your journal every day.
3 Take as long as you like, but
Image | thehappinessplanner.co.uk
try to note down at least one positive thing you can take from the day or week.
4 Revisit and read your
gratitude journal for a mood boost, and a reminder of all the wonderful things in your life, no matter how small, when you need it most.
GRATITUDE JOURNAL PROMPTS: Struggling for what to write? Here are 10 prompts to get you started: • Who was the last person to make you smile?
Journals we love THE 100-DAY PLANNER (The Happiness Planner, £22) thehappinessplanner.co.uk
• What memory always makes you happy? • Describe your favourite smell • Describe your favourite dish • Describe the last time you helped someone • Note down a time you made a mistake, but learnt something from it • What are you most proud of in the past week?
Gratitude Journal (Selfish Darling, £24.99) selfishdarling.com
• What are you most looking forward to in the next week? • What teacher, mentor, or person, has had the biggest impact on your life? • List five ways you can share your gratitude with the people you love tomorrow
Q and A a Day: 5-Year Journal (Potter Style, £14.99) amazon.co.uk
Learning to grow
When we reach a big life milestone, it’s natural to want to reflect on where we’re at in our lives. Here, blogger Anna Newton pens a letter to her future self as she approaches the big 3-0, drawing on lessons she’s learnt so far, and those all important intentions for her future Writing | Anna Newton
Hello future Anna! How are you doing? Has The Office finally come to Netflix? Are avocados still trendy, or are they laughed at like the ‘devils on horseback’ dish from the 80s? Can you believe that we used to drive cars with our hands and feet?! Here’s the thing with writing a letter to your future self – one day you can actually look back at it and read it. If only I had access to the implanted microchips that you now use for diary entries, I’d schedule a reminder for 20 years time to check this out. Instead of looking back at what advice I’d give to my younger self, it’s a chance to review where I am now, how I got here, and have a look into a crystal ball to set intentions and hopes for the years ahead. This year, 2019, will see me turn 30. An age by which, when I was younger, I imagined I’d be
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married (I have found myself a lovely fella, so have checked that one off the list), own a house with a garden (haha!), and have started a family (hahahahaha! x100). But here’s the thing, life doesn’t always turn out how you planned – which I’m sure you’re even more aware of now. In fact, life has a funny old way of turning things completely on their head, providing challenges which hurt like hell sometimes, but can often give us a chance to grow, and teach us a lesson worth learning. So what have I learnt in the past 29 years? Well, sometimes what you think you want, isn’t actually what you want at all. I’ve learnt to forge my own path, and not the one drawn out for me by others. Hell, I went completely off-piste and became a self-employed blogger, and I couldn’t be happier thanks to my jump into the deep end, and off the corporate ladder.
I’ve learnt that family and friends are everything and, just like you need to be there to buoy them up sometimes, the ones that are worth their salt will return the favour when you need it most. I’ve learnt the hard lesson that you can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve learnt to congratulate a friend on their achievements, without comparing their life timeline to mine. I’ve learnt about teamwork, decisionmaking, interest rates, and what the hell to do when the pipes freeze over, and the shower doesn’t work. I’m learning to adult.
Life has a funny old way of turning things completely on their head, providing challenges which hurt like hell sometimes, but can often give us a chance to grow Now the key emphasis is on ‘learning’ there, because I’m not sure that we ever feel our age, nor do we ever feel like we completely have a 100% understanding on life. That is the one thing that I know to be true at the grand age of 29 – you never stop learning. Whether it’s facts and figures, problem-solving techniques, or you finally work out how to expertly apply eye-liner (please feel free to share), there’s always room for development. Here are two things I’m still working on – how have I done? I’ve spent my life being such a people-pleaser; always looking to appease others, whether I agreed with their actions and opinions, or not. It’s a work in progress, but going forward it’s something that I really want to improve on. Standing my ground, being more assertive where necessary, and learning to have a stronger stance. I think this confidence in your own beliefs is something that comes with age, but being the neutral-ground lover that I am, it’s something that’s going to require some effort, too.
The other thing that I’m learning is how to step away from work. Being a blogger, my home life, work life, and social life, can become a little tangled, and so I really hope that I’ve managed to find some balance between them all. That I’ve learnt not to have my phone in my hand five hours a day
(shudder), and not to feel guilty for stepping away from work when it’s time to play, because you’re never going to regret finishing early one evening to go out for dinner, a film, a meal, a walk round the park – those moments are the cherry on the top and hey, I have an extremely sweet tooth. >>>
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If you’re having a tough time, there is only one remedy. Laughter – and lots of it When you’re reading this, future Anna, ultimately I hope you are happy. I hope you’ve had a rollicking good time so far. I hope you finally have a garden! A house! I hope you managed to have a family of your own, and cry through every single Nativity play and carol concert like mum did at ours. And if not, I’m sure you’re a cracking auntie. I hope you’ve continued to flex your creative muscle in your job, and I hope whatever you’re doing for your career still makes you as happy as it makes me now. Life has probably thrown a couple of curveballs at you over the years, and I’m sure they’ve made you stronger. Loss completely sucks, and is inevitable as you get older, but I have no doubt that you would have developed a way to cope – and that it’s made you more thankful for the people in your life, and has given you even more of a reason to spend quality time with your nearest and dearest. If you’re having a tough time, there is only one remedy. Laughter – and lots of it. Remember when you and Mark used to crank up the Sonos (I’m guessing these are as archaic as a cassette now), dance
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around the kitchen, and give your neighbours a show that Craig Revel Horwood would have given a two? Or that time when Sammy jumped on top of the footstool and sang Britney Spears like her life depended on it? Call your friends immediately and book in a karaoke session. Is No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’ still your karaoke song? Essentially, future self, I hope you’re happy, healthy, loving life, and still learning – and that you continue having a hella load of fun.
Anna is a content creator and author of the life organisation manual ‘An Edited Life’ (Quadrille, £16.99). Follow Anna Newton on Instagram @TheAnnaEdit for more.
SIX BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER MYTHS DEBUNKED Most of us, at some point in our lives, will have felt a little lost, or numb. Unsure of who we are. But for those with BPD, this sense of instability persists throughout their life – in their relationships, their behaviour, their thinking, and even their own identity. Here we delve into the truth about BPD, and those experiencing it Writing | Hattie Gladwell
e all know the battle we’re fighting against the stigma around mental illnesses. Gradually, understanding is growing that they are just that – illnesses. We don’t control or choose to have them, and while it’s scary to reach out and accept help, it’s something that can help us to manage them in the long-run. But then we have personality disorders. Illnesses, just like the rest, and yet for those diagnosed, the very nature of the name means that misinterpretations are easily made, and it can feel like a person’s character is under attack. The stigma for these is still all too real, and one such condition you may have heard of, but don’t truly understand, is borderline personality disorder (BPD). Also known more recently as emotionally unstable personality disorder, BPD often emerges during adolescence, and continues into adulthood. This means it can be incredibly difficult to recognise, given it’s a typically emotionally tricky time for teenagers anyway,
with lots of hormonal changes affecting them. Additionally, due to the similarities between other conditions – such as depression and bipolar disorder – borderline personality disorder can be difficult to diagnose quickly, and just as difficult to treat. But the good news is borderline personality disorder is treatable, people can learn to live with it, and have a good quality of life.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF BPD? The main things to be aware of with personality disorders are that they tend to affect us through our behaviour, and connections to ourselves and others. You might be diagnosed with a personality disorder if you have difficulties with how you think or feel about yourself and other people, and are having significant problems in your life as a result. While it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular cause for triggering BPD, it’s believed traumatic life incidents could play a part, as with many mental illnesses. But if you think you may have it, the best
thing to do is speak to your GP first, describing your symptoms and how you feel, in order to move forward with getting help and clarity. With so much stigma around the condition, which might prevent people from speaking out and reaching help, it’s essential we break down the misconceptions and uncover the truth about BPD. And so, here’s the truth behind six common myths about borderline personality disorder: >>> September 2019 • happiful.com • 83
It’s essential we break down the misconceptions and uncover the truth about BPD
BPD DOES NOT MAKE YOU A TOXIC PERSON There is a lot of stigma around BPD, despite it being 2019, folks. If you find YouTube videos, or articles involving a person with the condition, you’ll often see a lot of people calling them ‘toxic’, or telling people to ‘stay away from them’ in the comments. But people with BPD are not toxic; they are struggling. The issue with BPD is that, unlike other conditions, there is no medication to treat it. And so, it’s all about coping mechanisms, meaning it may take a sufferer a while to learn to manage it on a daily basis. Going through a bad patch with BPD means this person is having a difficult time, and they need love and support to get through it – not fear, confusion, and judgement. 84 • happiful.com • September 2019
BPD IS NOT AS EASY TO TREAT AS SOME OTHER CONDITIONS Some people are under the impression that all mental conditions can be helped with medication, but BPD is actually not one of them. While some people do take medication for it, experts are divided over whether this is actually helpful – and no medication is currently licensed to treat the condition. It’s not even
recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence. Certain symptoms within the disorder may benefit from medication to manage, but not the disorder itself. Instead, therapies are usually suggested. So, the similarity to other mental illnesses here is that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else – after diagnosis, it can be a period of time trialling out various methods to manage it.
BPD DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD FRIEND OR PARTNER – STRUGGLING WITH RELATIONSHIPS IS PART OF THE CONDITION People with BPD tend to have quite intense friendships, due to one of the symptoms of the condition: having intense, but unstable, relationships with others. Because of this, a lot of people with BPD find maintaining relationships extremely difficult. Often they can be affected by a strong fear of abandonment, and having very intense emotions. So, a person with BPD may get upset and obsess over things that a person without the condition wouldn’t be as bothered by. But this doesn’t make them a bad friend or partner, and it’s important that people understand the condition in order to better support and help their friends through this element of their condition.
BPD AFFECTS MULTIPLE AREAS OF A SUFFERER’S LIFE
BPD IS DIFFERENT TO BIPOLAR DISORDER There is a lot of confusion between BPD and bipolar disorder – and often this is because bipolar disorder is abbreviated to BPD as well. But, bipolar is a mood disorder categorised by periods of mania and depression that can last for weeks at a time, while BPD is a personality disorder.
BPD is categorised by four parts: emotional instability; disturbed patterns of thinking or perception; impulsive behaviour; and, as mentioned, intense but unstable relationships. It’s more than just having outbursts of intense emotions – though that is a large part. People with BPD often feel worried about people abandoning them – and would do anything to stop that happening. They don’t have a strong sense of who they are, and their personalities can change significantly depending
on who they’re with. People with BPD feel lost and empty a lot of the time, and act impulsively, doing things that could harm them – such as binge-eating, using drugs, driving dangerously, or the overconsumption of alcohol. They can find it impossible to control their anger, and may have episodes of paranoia and dissociation.
People with BPD often feel worried about people abandoning them – and would do anything to stop that happening PEOPLE WITH BPD ARE STILL PEOPLE – SO DON’T CATEGORISE THEM BY THEIR DISORDER Though in all honesty, the disorder does have the potential to consume a person, it is possible to learn to cope with it with the right help, and to find ways to handle situations – such as controlling their anger and emotions before they get too out of hand. But remember that BPD is an illness, and it needs treatment. So please don’t give up on someone just because they have the disorder. Be understanding, offer support, and don’t be too quick to misjudge them when they’re struggling. People with BPD can make the most loyal friends. For more from Hattie, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @hattiegladwell September 2019 • happiful.com • 85
Photography | Svetlana Pochatun
Photography | Tyler Nix
Creative thinking inspires ideas. Ideas inspire change
– BARBARA JANUSZKIEWICZ
I beat alcoholism and made a new me
After years of misery and loneliness, Brian finally acknowledged that drink was slowly killing him. Now – after rehab, and with a renewed passion for friends, dance, and art – life has never been better Writing | Brian Parker
o one sets out to be an alcoholic. It creeps up on you until you reach the point where you cross the line, and you are hooked. Then it destroys your life – physically, mentally, and spiritually. But you can recover. For me it was a very slow process. I drank every day for 25 years, and was probably hooked after about eight. But it was only in the three years before I stopped that it started to take over my life. Alcoholism is a progressive illness, and as long as I continued to drink my situation only got worse. As it progressed, it became more and more of an obsession. All I did was go to work (to pay for the booze), come home and drink until I went to bed, pass out, then get up and do it all again.
It was slowly leeching my life away. By the end, I had no social life and I stopped doing all the things that make life worthwhile, like dancing, making art, and being with people. It was a sad and miserable existence. Then one Friday I came home from work, and had a nervous breakdown. This was partly because of the drink, and partly because I was overworked at my job. I was stressed and getting to my wits end. But this turned out to be my moment of clarity, and it made me seek professional help for the first time in my life. My doctor sent me to rehab at the Priory. They convinced me that I was an alcoholic, and that the solution was complete abstinence. They also explained that if I wanted to stop drinking, I couldn’t remain the person I was; that person drank. I had to change
into someone who didn’t drink, and who was happy about that. For me it looked like a way to get my life back. I remember thinking: “If I could only get back to feeling like how I felt in my 20s.”
All I did was go to work (to pay for the booze), come home and drink until I went to bed, pass out, then get up and do it all again Well, I can tell you, it’s turned out much more than that. In my 20s I never realised my full potential, or made proper use of my talents. For the first four years of my life without drink,
I concentrated solely on recovery and getting better. At the start it felt like I’d had the stuffing kicked out of me. I had almost no spirit left, and I seemed to be living in a befuddled fog. So I set about changing, although it wasn’t easy. To get anywhere, I had to make a continuous effort every day. But slowly it worked. My joie de vivre began to return, and I started to become the person that perhaps I was always meant to be. After the first four years, I started to look outward and began engaging with the rest of the world. I’d always been a dancer – not someone who just gets up and dances now and then, but someone who is defined by the word ‘dancer’. So I started dancing again, in performing arts festivals and clubs. I made friends. Through them, I discovered >>>
5Rhythms, which uses dance as a moving form of meditation and spiritual practice. It took me out of myself and helped me to grow, to recover my spirit. I kept changing, I kept looking for more ways to help me grow and rebuild both my spirit and me. I became an apprentice shaman for a year, I became a reiki practitioner, I started drumming, dancing and singing in public for the first time at festivals, and I kept meeting more and more people, and making more friends. That was vital to my rebirth, for although I have been a loner all my life, I am a person who needs people, and that connection with people was a very important part of the changes I made to get well. Most of my life I had been held back from exercising my creative talents by crippling selfdoubt, so tackling that was the next step. I’d sung all my life but self-doubt and selfconsciousness meant I never let anyone hear me. I was hanging out with people who sang and I wanted to join in but couldn’t. Gradually, I came to see that facing these fears was the next step in the
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process of change. So I spent a year learning to play the guitar – and rehearsing three songs – and eventually made my debut at an open mic event in Southend. I was shaking so much I could hardly finger the chords on my guitar, but I knew I had to do it. And I stuck with it, to the point where I formed a rock band called WorkInProgress. I was not only getting my life back – I was creating a new and better one.
Also around this time, encouraged by some of the new friends I’d made, I decided to put into action a dream I’d had since school days and return to university to do a degree in Fine Art. To do that I had to face some more self-doubt – although it was easier this time – and do an ‘access to art and design’ course. It was during this particular course that the feedback I had from both tutors and my fellow students convinced me
Brian’s solo retrospective show ‘The Journey So Far – It’s All About Me’ is at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery, London, from 7 to 12 October. For more information, visit brianparkerartist.co.uk
that I had real talent as a painter. I completed the first year of the Fine Art degree, but dropped out, as it wasn’t giving me what I was looking for. And by this time I was already having exhibitions and winning prizes for my art.
Left: Brian exhibiting his work, Above: Brain’s original painting entitled, ‘Saturday Night Sunday Morning 3.24am’
Over the next few years I established myself on the local art scene and became quite well known. Then, two years ago, I thought it was time I got involved in the London art scene.
I gradually tackled the elements that held me back I have spent a lot of time travelling up to London to meet people and make
friends, and I’ve taken part in around a dozen exhibitions. All this will culminate in my solo exhibition at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery on Pall Mall in October. So my message is: no matter how bad things are, you are able to change your circumstances by changing you. I was a loner with few friends, racked by self-doubt, with a negative outlook on life, and in the grip of the crippling disease of alcoholism. But I changed.
I gradually tackled the elements that held me back from being fully me. I had to, otherwise the drink would have killed me. It’s not easy, and requires real effort. I did it because I thought I was going mad and then, as realisation dawned, to avoid death by alcohol and to get a new and better life back. You can do it, too.
OUR EXPERT SAYS
Brian’s story will resonate with anyone who has had to face major life changes. They can be frightening times and, like with Brian, its easy for
people to feel lost and bereft. What his story illustrates perfectly, is those seminal moments actually create us, not destroy us. It’s easy to be afraid of change, however the really hard bit is trying to keep things the same when we know they aren’t working. Brian reached out to others, and made a commitment to himself. In doing so he set himself free to be the creative, happy person he is today! Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr Life coach
September 2019 • happiful.com • 89
Mental health matters
Mental health matters to me because… I know now that my brain and my body are entwined, and one won’t work properly without the other. I spent a long time resisting, and trying to ignore the effect of endometriosis on my mental health – but it turns out you can’t separate them, they’re talking to each other behind your back. When I need support I… call my family and friends, even if we don’t talk about whatever is happening, sometimes I just need some distraction from the pain. Three things I would say to someone experiencing mental ill-health are… It will get brighter, hold tight – you can do this. Ask for some help; it’s so much harder to do it on your own. Try to keep talking about it – if it’s not possible with loved ones, ask for some professional support – it really helps to untangle it all. When it feels overwhelming, try to remember how well you’re coping, and think of something kind you could do for yourself in the interim – sometimes it has to be the little things that keep you going.
Photography | Emma Bullivant
When endometriosis hit comedian and writer Eleanor Thom, she used her experience to fuel her performances. Her brutally honest and funny style puts an often misunderstood condition in the spotlight...
‘Private Parts’ by Eleanor Thom is out now (Hodder, £18.99) The moment I felt most proud of myself is… on the way back from the Edinburgh Festival in 2013 after my solo show, exhausted and in a lot of pain, but I had finished 34 shows in 29 days, hadn’t had to cancel a single one, and all without a single painkiller. I never thought it would be possible. The day the publisher bought my book Private Parts was a pretty good day too! The main thing I want people to know about endometriosis is... it affects 1 in 10 women – approximately 200 million women worldwide – so you definitely know someone with it. It’s not life threatening, but it can be life-altering if women don’t get the right support and treatment. Keep going back until someone listens. And to those who ask: yes, it is a long-term thing, and no there isn’t a magic cure I haven’t heard of.
One thing having endometriosis has taught me about myself is... while there are better and less persistent ways to have learnt this, it has taught me that I am strong, resilient and resourceful. You can (and must) have a full and wonderful life alongside this. When I’m lacking motivation I... let it be, and do something less exhausting – paint, knit, listen. I’ve learnt to allow for the moments of lethargy and being still. My dad taught me that sometimes you’re on the cusp of something creatively great in these moments too, which is reassuring. I try to think of it as marinating time – motivation will come back, it’s just hiding for a bit. The best lesson I’ve learned in life is... nothing stays the same good or bad, and there’s always time for a laugh.
Photography | Oliver Hihn
Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them – MARCUS AURELIUS
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Be inspired to celebrate the the things that make you who you are with our September issue. This month, we’re bringing you an uplifting rang...
Published on Aug 14, 2019
Be inspired to celebrate the the things that make you who you are with our September issue. This month, we’re bringing you an uplifting rang...