Since sharing some of the facts about my own mental health, a lot of people have reached out to me. They tell me that I am brave for speaking out. That they admire my courage and my honesty. Some of them have gone on to share their own experiences with me, and others have been genuinely lost for words.
I don’t think I am particularly brave or courageous. I’ve met plenty of people far braver than me. But I am glad to know that I got some of you thinking and maybe even talking about it.
That being said, those of you who know me probably had no idea that I had experienced some of the things that I eluded to, in particular my history of self-harm and suicide attempts. And that is because I have always been too ashamed to speak up until now.
That’s the thing about mental health issues – no matter how far we have come, there are still so many things that we are too ashamed to talk about.
It’s good to talk
Next month, I am going to be hosting a LinkedIn Live with an amazing mental health activist, LinkedIn Changemaker, and all round amazing human being called Ben West.
When he was just 17, his younger brother took his own life. Ever since, Ben has been doing everything he can to advocate for improved mental health training within schools and the workplace. It is an honor to be able to work with him, and I am really looking forward to it.
If you are reading this in real time, I would really love for you to join me and I will post more details on all my social media channels and my website as soon as I can.
OK, shameless self-promotion over!
Mind, body and soul
Now some of you might be thinking, what on earth does mental health have to do with being overweight? Isn’t this a weight loss blog?
Well first of all, no it isn’t. I made that clear some time ago.
I am not here to tell you how to lose weight. There are thousands of other people out there who want to do just that, and many of them will be more than happy to accept your money in exchange for their services. And yes, I am aware of how dirty that sounds. But no, I am not sorry. I think using people’s insecurities and body shame as a means of making coin is shameful, and I ain’t afraid to say it.
But I digress. I started this blog as a means of sharing my own personal struggles. And when it comes to me, my weight has everything to do with my mental health. In fact, my weight is bigger than everything else.
[Metaphorically, of course. Although I haven’t stood on the scales for a while, so make of that what you will.]
How weight and mental health are linked
My depression is linked to my self-esteem and my low self-worth. And my weight is the cornerstone on which my self-worth is built. If you ask me how I feel about myself, it’s the first thing I think about. If I have lost weight, then I feel good about myself but if I have gained weight, then I am full of shame and self-loathing.
Now I am not a particularly self-conscious person. I’m actually not all that bothered by my appearance. I rarely pluck my eyebrows, shave my legs or find time to do my makeup. Not that there is anything wrong with these things. I’m just lazy and I set the bar pretty low for myself. As far as I am concerned, if I’ve had a shower, cleaned my teeth and brushed my hair then I am #winning.
What I am trying to say is that I don’t assign much value to my appearance. And part of that is probably because I do not think I will ever be beautiful, so why bother? It’s like living in a cheap rental as opposed to owning a house. The paint is peeling, the furniture is chipped so what’s the point of dressing it up? It’s still going to look like a dump no matter what you do, so why waste the time and effort?
But at the same time, I was raised to revere certain qualities more than others. Like kindness, a sense of humour, loyalty and resillience. I was brought up to chose intelligence over beauty and success over popularity. So why, oh why, do I care so much about my weight?
Why is it so important to me when other things like ageing don’t really bother me at all? Why is it that when people ask me how I am doing, the first thing I think about is how much I have had to eat that day? What’s wrong with me?
No seriously, what is wrong with me?
It’s a genuine question. One that I have spent hours and hours agonizing over and I still haven’t come up with a decent explanation. One thing is for sure, it’s complicated. There isn’t just one simple answer. And every time I peel back a layer, I find another one underneath.
Wanna hear something kind of twisted? If someone were to guarantee me a magical cure to my obesity so that I would never again have to worry about my weight and my BMI would remain under 25, but in exchange I would have to give up a limb, I would do it. I’m being serious. I’ve thought about it a lot. Left arm, ideally below the elbow. But if I had to, I would sacrifice the whole thing.
I know how awful that sounds. There are people out there who were either born without a limb or have lost one at some point in their life. And most of them probably want to beat me over the head right now. Ideally with the arm that I just offered to sever in order to lose a few pounds.
[OK, more than a few pound. But is it really worth an arm?]
The price of the perfect body
Still, I stand by it. I would rather lose a limb than stay obese for the rest of my life. And of course, I have no idea what it is like to live without all 10 of my fingers let alone my entire left arm. So this is all theoretical and rather ridiculous.
But maybe now people will understand why my weight is bigger than everything else. Why the voice inside my head that once told me I would be better off dead, sounded something like this:
You’re fat. You’re useless. Nobody wants you. You’re so fat. You can’t do anything right. Nobody loves you. Because you’re fat. And worthless. And people are disgusted by you. Because you’re fat.
Why does the number of inches around my waist carry so much weight in my life? And how on earth will I ever get past this? All my life I believed that the only way was to get down to a healthy size. To finally achieve the perfect body. To be normal. And then everything would magically get better.
But now I’m not so sure. I think I need to fix what is inside of me first.
Why I can’t stop talking about suicide
In preparation for my LinkedIn live with Ben, I have been reading up on suicide rates in the UK and around the world. And I’ve come across some really worrying facts. Firstly, did you know that suicide rates in the UK are the highest they’ve been since the early part of this century? Secondly, whilst men represent three quarters of all deaths from suicide, the largest increase in suicide rates is amongst young women.
I don’t want to speculate as to the reasons behind this because I am by no means an expert. But I do know that body image is something that massively affects young women in particular. As I said, it has certainly influenced my own mental health and my previous suicide attempts. I’d be really interested to find out whether there is a link between the two, so let me know if you have some light to shed on the subject. I’d love to hear from you.
Look, I think it is clear that there needs to be a conversation. But I also think we need to be really careful about how we go about having that conversation. Because there is no doubt that when suicide is sensationalized, the rates go up. And that is a fact.
So I have absolutely no desire to become a sensationalist. But I also don’t think that means that we should keep silent on the matter either. There are people out there right now who are struggling with very intrusive suicidal thoughts.
In fact, suicidal thoughts are a hallmark of severe depression. And when people keep those thoughts to themselves, they are more likely to act on them.
My experience on the frontline
Don’t forget that the statistics I quoted relate to deaths from suicide. They don’t give us any real insight into failed suicide attempts or suicidal ideation. But I will say this. In all my years working as a GP, I have never experienced this volume of mental health work in my day-to-day practice.
There are days when I feel like everyone I speak to has some form of depression or anxiety. It has been particularly bad since the clocks went back, the days got shorter, and we went in to our second lockdown. But I think it has been simmering for a while now. People are exhausted. They are beginning to lose hope.
Job losses are being announced in their thousands, we are on the brink of a recession and lockdown has put a strain on a lot of our relationships. People are drinking more. They are gambling more. Many health professionals fear that the rates of domestic violence and child abuse are on the rise (although, to be fair, I am not sure if there is currently any data that supports this).
You guys, in my opinion this is a recipe for disaster. It’s like we are all living in a pressure cooker, and people with a background of recurrent depression are particularly vulnerable. It’s clear that this conversation is long overdue and I think the time is now. We don’t want to look back in a couple of years time with regrets and wish we did things differently.
I truly believe that we have to find a way to have meaningful and open discussions about depression and suicide in a way that is positive and constructive. Which is why I chose to share my story. I am by no means an expert. But over the last few weeks I have been treating literally hundreds of people who are struggling just like I am.
And it’s time we start to talk about it.
Got something to say? Leave a comment in the box below. Wanna get in touch or sign up to my newsletter? Then what’s stopping you?