“Guilt and stress do more damage to your body than a slice of chocolate cake ever will…”
May is Mental Health Month and this is my fourth post in this series regarding all different aspects of mental health. We all have mental health to take care of and there are so many things can affect our mental health, whether that be disorder, illness or trauma. There are however things that don’t necessarily count as mental health issues that can have serious and detrimental effects over our mental health and one of the most common in today’s society is body image.
Body image can be influenced by our relationships with family and friends and how those people speak about bodies and appearance, exposure to idealised or unrealistic images in the media or social media and more so the pressure felt to look a certain way or to match an ‘ideal’ body type.
Shockingly, The Mental Health Foundation carried out a study where 50 percent of adults aged 18-25 said they were worried about their body image after seeing images on social media. More worryingly, 1 in 8 adult people in the UK stated that they had been so distressed by their body image at some point in their lives that they had suicidal thoughts or feelings. It is not just females that are part of this study either, ¼ of those with Anorexia are actually male.
My Granny, Agnes Drysdale Jack, had many wise and wonderful sayings and she taught me a lot with them through the years but one of her most used was: “Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead”. It’s definitely something that in the last few years I’ve tried to remind myself of more, especially when I’m having one of those days where finding a clear perspective within myself is difficult. I battle a lot in my own head, but aside from the daily war of chronic illness, my biggest demon is Body Dysmorphia (BDD). Some days I have a better control of it and I’m on a good path, when I look in the mirror I can see potential, I have gratitude and I can thank my body for carrying and birthing my two beautiful sons but there are days where the bitch rears her head and comes out to ‘play’, she’s my inner saboteur and the aim of the game is pull everything positive apart.
BDD has taken a lot from me. There are so many wonderful memories I’ve made with my sons that there are no pictures for me to look back on because the thought of having my photo taken makes me feel sick to the pit of my stomach. I don’t see a proud mum or a happy moment when I look back at pictures, I see everything I feel I lack and I feel disgust, shame and disappointment deep within myself.
If I’m at a family gathering and there are people taking pictures it is genuinely terrifying for me. I have anxiety attacks at the thought of attending family gathers or events. I hate walking past mirrors or windows and on the worst days I’ve even hated my own shadow. Comparing myself to others has always been one of the biggest issues with BDD that at times can become obsessive. In the times where I’ve been struggling the most, I have compared myself to nearly every female I would walk or drive past, wishing that I had their legs, their hair, their figure, their confidence, their presence without even knowing them or their lives.
I don’t see what other’s see when I look at myself.
I always see a very overweight, unsure, geeky, sad little girl, the most prevalent of those being “overweight”.
I make it a mission of mine to raise other people up because I know what it is like to be taunted and bullied for things about yourself that have made you miserable. I know what it’s like to have no one stand up for you and make you feel supported when you need it most. I know what it’s like to be picked apart piece by piece and wishing you that you could just disappear. The difficulty for me, is turning that pep talk around and saying it to myself. Changing the narrative that I use to speak to myself.
I have done a lot of work with my mental health the past 18 months, I’m not embarrassed to say up until recently, I have been having weekly sessions with my counsellor. I think it is something that we should advocate more, like I said at the start of this article, we all have mental health and we need to take care of it, counselling helps me do that. My main focus going into counselling was to not be so negative anymore because I feel that the real me isn’t at all an angry or negative person. I felt that I had become the person I was being because of exposure to certain situations and people. I soon learned that it’s not about NOT being negative because let’s face it, we can’t be ‘Peppy Polly’ all the time, can we? It was actually about learning how to change my view point of situations and gain awareness to navigate the negative in a whole different way.
It’s not just about doing the counselling sessions every week however, it’s about actually making the changes needed to help continual growth and as one of the things in my life that affects me most mentally is my body confidence and the bad relationship and correlations I’ve made with it over the years, I had to re-set and re-focus and gain a new perspective.
I started researching ‘body positive fitness’ and found a lot of amazing people and companies out there who were branding themselves as being ‘body positive’.
It was in my research that I first heard of an amazing guy called Dan Hancock, who is known as the Mental Health PT. The first I heard of Dan was actually in our local newspaper about the opening of his new private gym in the area and how his main focus for the gym wasn’t another “guaranteed to get you Beach ready” mentality but he was focusing on the mental health aspects of fitness. I instantly gave kudos to Dan as let’s face it, the fitness industry isn’t stereotypically an industry that cares about what your personality is like or what your life story has been to lead you to this point. It is an industry that has, I’ll be honest, left me feeling demoralised and embarrassed on many occasions.
As someone with chronic illness, going to a gym isn’t an option for me and having the ‘typical’ Personal Trainer also isn’t as they don’t understand how my body works. I can be following a program to a ‘T’, leaving no stone unturned, yet due to inflammation of my chest, lungs, joints or – worse so, because I’m a woman with Endometriosis – I gain weight. I don’t have the stamina in me to do HIIT or a lot of intense cardio either due to how my energy bank works, I have to be careful with how I spend my daily ‘spoons’. Upon reading more about Dan and his PT journey I decided to reach out to him, so with hands shaking and nerves building in my stomach, I wrote him a message on social media congratulating him on his new chapter but also to explain more about myself and wondered If he could help me. I didn’t expect to hear anything back from him, I had reached out to other PT’s before and my messages were read every time but not one of them ever replied. Dan however, not being like the others did reply and from our first conversation it was clear to me that he was a genuinely lovely person who had a lot of passion for change; not just individuals changing their lives, minds and bodies but change for society on the whole. Dan told me about his program and the amazing things he hoped that he could achieve in the future.
Unfortunately for me, as much as Dan has tried to help and make it easier, finances have never been on my side to be fully on Dan’s team in the gym or his program but that hasn’t ever stopped Dan from offering help to me and certainly not from the general public either. This is another area that Dan has shown he is different from others in the industry as he works hard not only for his clients – new and old – but he also works hard to help those who aren’t able to be part of it through social media and podcasts. I have learned things I didn’t even realise about my body and more so my mind, from Dan’s social media presence and his fantastic podcast series Dan Hancock – Truth Be Told. In a time where so many people are obsessed with focusing on the numbers; scale read-outs, clothing sizes, measurements of your body and limiting what you eat, Dan is changing the industry to make it about how you feel.
How much more motivated would you be if you saw a workout for the endorphins it could give, for the mental health benefits it can bring you, for knowing you took control and challenged yourself, to celebrate your bodyinstead rather than it being a punishment for what you ate and the only way to look like the person on the magazines or get ‘beach ready’?
Dan has made me aware of so many things, for example realising that 60% of our thoughts are actually negative so it is more difficult to be positive but the biggest realisation was that it doesn’t matter how much you count calories or workout, if your mindset isn’t right your fitness journey will never get real results because the results are all in the mind.
Another big part of why I think Dan is going to become one of the biggest voices for body positivity and mental health in his industry is because he is real, he is human and is honest. He’s not one of those people telling us we should be eating 50 avocados a day like he does but secretly he’s indulging in takeaway pizza and 60 mini donuts while binge watching Netflix but telling others this isn’t okay. The view point and change Dan is working hard to put out into the world is massive and very much needed right now as there are so many people feeling the pressure from the dreaded ‘Covid weight’. I, most certainly, am in this category but with the things I’ve learned from Dan and the likeminded people in the fitness community I have managed to stop hating myself for being human. If you are struggling with your fitness journey and are in place where you’re ready to change your outlook and want results with longevity then follow Dan or contact him via the links provided.
Pressure is another big factor in mental health, not just in the case of body image. In one of my first blog posts “Happiness Has A Secret…” I talked about how expectations and pressure are a big issues that I struggle with but once I removed expectations from situations and relationships the pressure on all involved dramatically reduced. I think it can most definitely be a big cause of body image issues too. Can you imagine how much money the media and beauty industry would lose if tomorrow, society woke up and just decided that they were going to be happy with exactly what they had and the body they were given? If tomorrow, people were just more accepting and less judgemental of people’s lives and physical appearances, the amount of pressure we feel, would demonstrably reduce.
Why do we find it so hard to be human? That is all it truly comes down to, all our so-called flaws and imperfections are only the after math of human events in life. Why do we as a society feel the need to focus on the effects of aging and try to hide it, when instead, we could be grateful for the life we’ve had leading up to the age we are at and realise that not everyone gets the privilege of growing old?
Why do those of us who have been graced with bearing a child, fear the changes of our body and feel we need to hide our beautiful stretch marks in shame? It is signs of new life and it is something that should embraced, it’s a badge of honour for which we should hold thanks and love, it shouldn’t be associated with negativity.
Why do we continue to strive for the unattainable? When we know all the filters, Photoshop work and light trickery used for the pictures in magazines and in TV shows, we know it’s not ‘real’ and yet we still see something wrong with ourselves because we aren’t like that image.
How about we, as a society, start to normalize more so that the pressure we feel could be relieved, anxieties reduced and restore better mental health?
Normalize stretch marks and cellulite, they are perfectly natural and happen because we are human. Normalize body diversity, accepting that everyone has a different shape and size and that there is no wrong and right for it. Normalize LGBTQ+ identities and instead of making judgements be willing to accept and show understanding, human to human. We need to normalize men talking about mental health and showing their emotions. We need to normalize same sex marriage and realise that love is to be celebrated and has no gender constraints, everyone deserves to have love and be loved.
Normalize starting over as many times as you need to, there is no guidebook for life, the way one person lives it isn’t necessarily right for the next person and that should be accepted and respected.
We are all human beings, most of the time we are all just winging it and trying to look like we have our shit together, but here’s a secret, nobody really has their shit together. We all just want to get through life the best we can and as unscathed as we possibly can. Life can be absolutely beautiful with the right perspective as much as it can be tough. Live life and just be happy being you. Why worry about if other people like you, when most of them don’t even like themselves?
Remember this, when your time to leave this life has come, there’s going to be nobody sitting there talking about the car you drove, the size of your clothes, those dimples in your legs that you never really liked. They will talk about the affect you had on their life, the way your soul captivated them and how you treated people because as cliché as it sounds, those are truly the important things, those are what makes you beautiful.
Love hard. Be fierce. Horns high.