Simone Yemm

@simoneyemm | contributor
Crazy hair, solitude seeker, at peace in the natural world. After a series of crises led to an emotional breakdown and multiple psychiatric admissions I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, PTSD, depression and anxiety, and I have a long-standing eating disorder. I have a passionate interest in mental health and now share my story in the hope it may benefit someone else. I dedicated over three decades of my life as a professional flautist and teacher. In 2008 I completed a Master’s in Journalism, specialising in editing, and continue to hone my skills as a writer. My first book, "Stalked by Demons, Guarded by Angels: The Girl with the Eating Disorder" is now available with all online retailers! With 29 years of marriage under my belt, I successfully raised three and a half young men and a chocolate-brown Burmese cat. A mean feat never to be underestimated.
Simone Yemm

How I'm Coping With a Relapse in Eating Disorder Recovery

Living with mental illness is a shit. Whether that illness comes from nature or nurture is neither here nor there. Through the course of the illness, you learn ways to manage distress and those ways are frequently unproductive. Often numbing. I have found that a lot of people with psychologically poor health are highly sensitive. Acutely aware of others’ emotions and all emotions run deep. They cut into the flesh of the soul and the wounds bleed freely. It is no wonder that those of us with deep wounds and high sensitivity seek ways to make life more emotionally comfortable. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, work, food, self-harm, starvation. All these things can be used and abused to distract from the onslaught of distress that comes with the gaping wounds. I think those of you born with the tough flesh that doesn’t easily scratch, struggle to understand what it is to bleed so freely. Something has to happen to staunch the flow of emotions. What That Something Is, Becomes the Choice We Have I have learned to binge, purge, starve, self-harm, abuse prescription drugs, obsessively play games on my phone or hide away in books. I even dabble in mindless shopping and excessive Netflix binging. Anything to stop the leakage of emotional pain. I have mood stabilizing drugs now. They’re like magical pixie dust. And through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) I have also learned distress tolerance and emotional regulation skills. Lots of mnemonics like TIPP, STOP, DEARMAN. Simple skills like deep breathing and muscle relaxation. Difficult skills (for me) like mindfulness and meditation, and riding the waves of emotional pain. Really difficult skills like talking. Distraction skills like walking, journaling and music. All These Things Are Wonderful Combined with a determination and willingness to change old habits, I have made significant recovery over the past two years. I no longer self-harm or purge – two behaviors people found particularly distressing. And, most surprisingly for me, I no longer think about those things or miss them. I confess I can still become obsessed with phone games, books and Netflix. Sometimes they are little periods of emotional numbing and sometimes a compulsive insistence that comes with bipolar hypomania to just push through and do something to the exclusion of all else. Disordered eating – binging and starving – is my oldest and most ingrained habit. I have worked so hard on these in the past two years and it has not been a flawless process. Regardless, I have learned to eat really regularly – even when I don’t want to – and as a consequence of reliably predictable eating, my binging behaviors have almost disappeared. And then this week happened, which demonstrates that the evidence of true recovery is best gauged when life’s curveballs come and slap you around the head. It Turns Out My Recovery Is Not Fully There Yet I can’t face food anymore. I have crashed headfirst into restriction even while knowing the logical outcome. I feel confident I can get my feet back on the ground quickly and I am busy gathering tools and support structures. But right now the psychological and the physiological have merged and I feel sick – physically and mentally. And my temporary Band-Aid is restriction. I feel like a disappointment, to be honest. Nobody wants me to relapse. I don’t want to relapse. While on the one hand, I have full control over the situation, on the other hand, I feel out of control in this situation. I know the best thing I can do at this point is to seek professional support and to never hide in silence. The level of shame I naturally feel all the time just exponentially increases when I stay silent. So Here I am – Yet Again – Confessing to a Relapse I want to leave you with hope though. I know that every time I fall down I always get up. I have a 100 percent track record of standing back up. Sometimes more quickly than others, but I’m confident nonetheless. All I need is patience and understanding, and with time I will once again find the willingness to commit. That time has just not yet come.

Simone Yemm

Diet Culture Makes Eating Disorder Recovery That Much Harder

I’ve been on holiday. It’s nice to go away, but it’s even nicer to get home. The older I get, the more I appreciate the unique comforts of my own house. The weather was hot and sticky, a climate I’m not terribly fond of, and a tropical cyclone was annoying the coastline so aside from the occasional frolic in the ocean, we spent a lot of time inside. We watched a lot of television. As we did not have access to the normal array of subscription television services we are spoiled with at home, we spent a fair bit of time watching free-to-air television. I’m Shocked at the Incessant Bombardment of Weight Loss Products I mean, we all know it’s out there. I experience plenty of diet culture messaging in everyday life. But free-to-air television feels like one big weight loss commercial interspersed with the occasional over of cricket. And it’s triggering. The marketing gurus are good at their job because despite spending five years of my life actively teaching myself to fight the diet mentality, after two weeks of advertisements for weight loss and “health” promotion products I feel like I have to submit. Diet culture espouses thinness as a ticket to beauty and happiness. As someone who has lived in almost every sized body, I can assure you that my happiness was not impacted by a number on a scale. Something I need to remind myself of when I’m fighting the urge to skip breakfast. After three weeks of insidious messaging, I want to count things and buy shakes and get a fancy app that’s going to magically transform me from an overweight middle-aged woman into a slender 20-something nymph. Because that’s what the ads claim. The Shadows of Eating Disorder Voices Want to Starve My Body Into Submission To punish it for being the fattest, whitest, oldest body wandering around Byron Bay – a town that seems to singularly cater for those wanting to splash semi-naked, nubile bodies across their Instagram feed. We are surrounded by messages of the absolute necessity to be young, slim, tanned and beautiful. Whatever beautiful actually means. A message that says body size is inversely proportional to a level of happiness. Less body equals more joy. My Instagram feed is all body positivity, eating disorder recovery and general mental health accounts. Still – there is no avoiding the before and after pictures. The proud and joyful faces of men and women who have lost enough weight to fit into sexy clothes. Thereby associating health and happiness with a waist measurement. The endless photos of “what-I-eat-in-a-day” that range from beaming pride at the consumption of a doughnut, to a sense of superiority for living solely on fresh mangoes and quinoa. As though I’m somehow meant to be impressed with someone else’s food choices. Facebook and Instagram target me with ads for weight loss products and exercise regimes – all of which are promoted by sculpted visions of perfection. I constantly hear messages – in real life, in books, on television, in podcasts – that glorify beauty. Where the first compliment a woman is paid is about her looks: “She’s very pretty!” “What a gorgeous girl!” “They’ll make beautiful babies together!” The food we buy is judged harshly based on its perceived health benefits. Carrots are good. Cheese is bad. Apparently. By today’s standards at any rate. Who Knows What Tomorrow Will Hold? Every diet fad is regularly rebranded – count things, eliminate things, eat at prescribed times, fast, fast, fast. Anything except following your body’s natural hunger cues. Diet culture is insidious and we all play a part. I play a part in it because, despite all the therapy and all the public declarations of a willingness to accept myself in a larger body, I still desire a smaller one. I still fight a daily desire to both binge and restrict. Because my ticket to happiness is still associated with my body. I know it is irrational, but we live in a society that worships slim, young bodies and discards the rest of us. It is all fine and dandy to theoretically believe every body is beautiful and health at any size, but our media is bursting at the seams with an association between beauty and happiness, and that kind of messaging sinks deep. As a society, we need to fight diet culture – to stop subscribing to weight loss programs and whatever fad comes along in 2022 to replace intermittent fasting. Food is food and is not inherently good or bad. Restricting foods (carbs, fat, sugar, whatever) creates a psychological obsession and most of us become more likely to want to binge in response. Counting things (calories, points, macros, etc) makes us acutely aware of every mouthful of food consumed and creates a deprivation mentality. Consciously skipping meals or fasting for periods of time overrides natural hunger signals and increases the chances of binging when you finally do eat. Binging and restricting are not limited to those of us with eating disorders. We are all subject to the endless barrage of “lose weight now” messaging and weight loss promotion always endorses dietary modification. Imagine a World Free From Diet Culture Where bodies are accepted in every shape, size, color and age. And beauty is defined by words and actions and the lovingness of our hearts. Where we eat because we’re hungry, stop when we’re not and food is eaten for pleasure. Where we move our bodies because it feels good. Imagine a world where diet and exercise are not associated with guilt and shame. I want to live in that world.

Community Voices

SHAME

Part 1 of 2 I feel ashamed.

I always feel ashamed. Of something or other. I have come to the realisation that not everybody feels this overwhelming and constant level of shame.

I am ashamed of the way I look. My body, my face, my fingernails, my skin, my height, my eyes. Name a body bit and I’m probably pretty ashamed of the way it looks.

I am ashamed of my body itself. Going to the toilet. When it used to menstruate. Farting. Crying. Sunburn. Orgasms. Shitty metabolism. Most of the things my body does just make me feel embarrassed.

I am ashamed of the things I’ve done. simoneyemm.com/a-sense-of-hopelessness. Hurting people I love. Estrangement. Binging, purging, restricting, self-harming. simoneyemm.com/too-good-to-eat.

I am ashamed of the person I’ve been – or not been. A failed musician. An inadequate mother. An inattentive wife. An absent friend. A half-arsed writer. A useless social media marketer.

I AM JUST ASHAMED OF EVERYTHING
It is at about this point in time that I need to mention brenebrown.com/about. The world-famous researcher who specialises in shame – and other things.

“Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough.” Brené Brown

I feel small, flawed and never good enough. And that feeling came when I was a child. I was small. I was flawed. And I was made to feel not good enough.

My caregivers didn’t set out to make me become intensely ashamed of myself at the very core of my being. On the contrary, their goal was to make me the best version of myself by helping me get better at all the things I wasn’t good at. And even the things I was good at could be just a little bit better, “Because you’re not perfect you know.”

OLD THOUGHTS DIE HARD
Shame and humiliation have been constant companions my entire life. Walking by my side and casting shadows over all the good bits of my life and highlighting the bad. It hasn’t been helpful.

We all make mistakes. We’re all flawed. But it is very hard to learn and improve in an environment of shame.

Guilt can be a useful emotion. If I do something wrong or hurt someone and I have guilt then I have an opportunity to repair the wrong or apologise. Guilt that hasn’t turned to shame is often proactive. It doesn’t hide in silence like shame.

“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” Brené Brown

Empathy can coexist with guilt – accepting situations while holding space for the inevitability of the human experience being wholly imperfect.

EMPATHY DOES NOT COEXIST WITH SHAME
Never feeling good enough is more than just an unpleasant way to lead your life. It leads to poor #Topic with #Topic and #Topic . It makes decision making extremely problematic. There is an incessant fear that is wrapped around every human interaction, causing a desire to avoid humans altogether. And everything is felt in silence. Alone.

As I navigate the recovery waters – trying to improve my #Topic after the long decline – I need to come to terms with shame. It is most singularly unhelpful. There is nothing to be gained from shame.

“We desperately don’t want to experience shame, and we’re not willing to talk about it. Yet the only way to resolve shame is to talk about it. Maybe we’re afraid of topics like love and shame. Most of us like safety, certainty, and clarity. Shame and love are grounded in vulnerability and tenderness.” Brené Brown

Speaking out about my feelings and fears is part of my way of combating shame. Becoming vulnerable to the possibility of change. Bringing light to the darkness within me. And acceptance is a concept I have long struggled hard with but it is essential to healing.

Acceptance of my body – the way it looks, the way it behaves. Size, shape, age, unique attributes. It is what it is and fighting reality is pointless and exhausting.

Acceptance of the things I have done because they cannot be changed. All I can do is look back and learn and hope to do better next time. Apologise where appropriate. Bring empathy to situations that require understanding and compassion. Even acknowledge the possibility that sometimes things have gone well – I do good sometimes.

THAT IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR ME TO WRI

Community Voices

SHAME

Part 2 of 2 TE. BUT HERE WE ARE
We all experience shame – I am no Robinson Crusoe here. But like a great many things, some of us have more than others. As part of my recovery journey, I’m trying to practice acceptance of the woman I am and shower her with the empathy that I so easily dish out to everyone else. It is a solitary journey – nobody can change me, but me.

Simone Yemm

Why I Want to Decrease My Mood Stabilizers for Bipolar Disorder

I’m quiet. Because I don’t have a lot to say. When I’m well, I have “oomph” for talking, whereas when I’m unwell, the thought of ordering coffee is completely overwhelming. The opposite is true with writing. When I am unwell, words drip from my fingertips, but when life trots along nicely, I dry up. So here I am, all dried up. And that’s good news. Right? I’m so well I have nothing to say. My mood has become extremely stable in recent months, which is apparently an aim of recovery in bipolar II disorder. No big highs. No big lows. But the other thing that happens without highs and lows is mood becomes very flat. And that, I do not like. Mood fluctuation is a normal part of the human experience and isn’t necessarily reactive to circumstance. How wondrously cheerful would you feel if the boss wandered in to say you’re getting a raise. Sadness descends if your beloved dog passes away. These are situational emotions, and for healthy functioning people, just part of life’s journey. Then there are mood fluctuations outside of situations. One morning you wake feeling well, rested, energized, positive, and ready to face the day ahead. Another day, the clouds are grey. You feel fatigued and drab and with no real desire to even feed the cat. So, when I say my mood is stable, that’s what it looks like. A few highs and lows, but on a gentle fluctuating wave. But my wave is almost flat. Due to mood stabilizers — surely nothing short of a modern medical miracle — I struggle to feel “up.” There’s no get up and go. I rarely feel energized or excited. I just function. Getting out of bed and feeding the cat is all doable. I occasionally dust off the vacuum cleaner. If a friend wants to go for a walk, I can walk. When I’m finalizing details for my book launch, I feel cheerful. There is movement at the mood station, but it’s not a lot. I expend the energy I have trying to look “normal.” I can do it — don’t get me wrong. This stabilization business sees me getting out there and conversing with people. I get a few things done. Occasionally wander off for a walk. But I miss the highs. I really miss them. Bipolar is a spectrum of moods from major depression through to mania. Bipolar II doesn’t go all the way to full mania — we have instead, what is called hypomania. These are periods of overactive and excited behavior that can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. Hypomania is a milder version of mania that lasts for a short period (usually a few days). I gotta say, hypomania feels good. And that’s when I can really crank up the vacuuming. To the outside observer, I might seem completely driven and focused, talking too fast, walking too fast, obsessing over details, completely sleepless, and coordinating a plethora of tasks simultaneously. But on the inside, I could climb a mountain. And I’m sure a few of the mountains I’ve climbed were inspired by hypomania. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? But it’s part of a swinging pendulum, and when I’m not well, all that machine gun energy will crash and burn to major depression. This is what happened to me. And it is this dangerously low major depression the mental health professionals are trying to steer me away from. I gotta say, I don’t want to go back there either. The mood wave with phenomenal peaks and troughs. I have been on two mood stabilizing medications for 18 months. They appear to be doing a good job and aside from feeling flat all the time, there are no side effects. Everyone else seems pretty happy with this state of affairs. I’m not. Now that I’m stable, I’m wanting more. It is not enough for me to just think about all the things I want to get done, I want the energy to do more than the basics. I want the energy to be self-motivated. And so, I have made a decision. I’m going to start reducing my medication. Just a little bit. And only under medical supervision. If the wave gets wobbly, I can always go back, but if I don’t at least try a lower dose, I won’t know what happens. Prior to the overdose, I had — for a long time — skipped my antidepressant medication on a regular basis. I never felt comfortable on it and the first thing the doctors did in hospital was take me off it. Antidepressants are apparently a bad idea for bipolar patients. I haven’t skipped a single, solid dose of my current meds. Not one. I’ve been a very good girl and the results are paying off. But my psychiatrist agrees the ultimate aim for anyone is to be on the lowest working dose, so I’m about to begin the great dose-modification experiment. Time will tell how it pans out. My secret hope is I become infused with enough energy to feel inspired and excited, but remain stable enough to sleep at night and stay focused. The most likely outcome is I won’t notice a difference. At which point I will corner my psychiatrist and beg to go down another dose. If things go a little pear-shaped, I can always go back up. Stability is a lovely thing to have. My life just sort of meanders along. But it also feels pointless. It is hard to find purpose in a life that does nothing more meaningful than stack the dishwasher and write the occasional blog post. I miss feeling like a fully functioning adult. So, I guess long story short, if I start writing blog posts on a daily basis, you’ll know I’m starting to flirt with both ends of the mood spectrum. Watch this space.

Simone Yemm

Why I Want to Decrease My Mood Stabilizers for Bipolar Disorder

I’m quiet. Because I don’t have a lot to say. When I’m well, I have “oomph” for talking, whereas when I’m unwell, the thought of ordering coffee is completely overwhelming. The opposite is true with writing. When I am unwell, words drip from my fingertips, but when life trots along nicely, I dry up. So here I am, all dried up. And that’s good news. Right? I’m so well I have nothing to say. My mood has become extremely stable in recent months, which is apparently an aim of recovery in bipolar II disorder. No big highs. No big lows. But the other thing that happens without highs and lows is mood becomes very flat. And that, I do not like. Mood fluctuation is a normal part of the human experience and isn’t necessarily reactive to circumstance. How wondrously cheerful would you feel if the boss wandered in to say you’re getting a raise. Sadness descends if your beloved dog passes away. These are situational emotions, and for healthy functioning people, just part of life’s journey. Then there are mood fluctuations outside of situations. One morning you wake feeling well, rested, energized, positive, and ready to face the day ahead. Another day, the clouds are grey. You feel fatigued and drab and with no real desire to even feed the cat. So, when I say my mood is stable, that’s what it looks like. A few highs and lows, but on a gentle fluctuating wave. But my wave is almost flat. Due to mood stabilizers — surely nothing short of a modern medical miracle — I struggle to feel “up.” There’s no get up and go. I rarely feel energized or excited. I just function. Getting out of bed and feeding the cat is all doable. I occasionally dust off the vacuum cleaner. If a friend wants to go for a walk, I can walk. When I’m finalizing details for my book launch, I feel cheerful. There is movement at the mood station, but it’s not a lot. I expend the energy I have trying to look “normal.” I can do it — don’t get me wrong. This stabilization business sees me getting out there and conversing with people. I get a few things done. Occasionally wander off for a walk. But I miss the highs. I really miss them. Bipolar is a spectrum of moods from major depression through to mania. Bipolar II doesn’t go all the way to full mania — we have instead, what is called hypomania. These are periods of overactive and excited behavior that can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. Hypomania is a milder version of mania that lasts for a short period (usually a few days). I gotta say, hypomania feels good. And that’s when I can really crank up the vacuuming. To the outside observer, I might seem completely driven and focused, talking too fast, walking too fast, obsessing over details, completely sleepless, and coordinating a plethora of tasks simultaneously. But on the inside, I could climb a mountain. And I’m sure a few of the mountains I’ve climbed were inspired by hypomania. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? But it’s part of a swinging pendulum, and when I’m not well, all that machine gun energy will crash and burn to major depression. This is what happened to me. And it is this dangerously low major depression the mental health professionals are trying to steer me away from. I gotta say, I don’t want to go back there either. The mood wave with phenomenal peaks and troughs. I have been on two mood stabilizing medications for 18 months. They appear to be doing a good job and aside from feeling flat all the time, there are no side effects. Everyone else seems pretty happy with this state of affairs. I’m not. Now that I’m stable, I’m wanting more. It is not enough for me to just think about all the things I want to get done, I want the energy to do more than the basics. I want the energy to be self-motivated. And so, I have made a decision. I’m going to start reducing my medication. Just a little bit. And only under medical supervision. If the wave gets wobbly, I can always go back, but if I don’t at least try a lower dose, I won’t know what happens. Prior to the overdose, I had — for a long time — skipped my antidepressant medication on a regular basis. I never felt comfortable on it and the first thing the doctors did in hospital was take me off it. Antidepressants are apparently a bad idea for bipolar patients. I haven’t skipped a single, solid dose of my current meds. Not one. I’ve been a very good girl and the results are paying off. But my psychiatrist agrees the ultimate aim for anyone is to be on the lowest working dose, so I’m about to begin the great dose-modification experiment. Time will tell how it pans out. My secret hope is I become infused with enough energy to feel inspired and excited, but remain stable enough to sleep at night and stay focused. The most likely outcome is I won’t notice a difference. At which point I will corner my psychiatrist and beg to go down another dose. If things go a little pear-shaped, I can always go back up. Stability is a lovely thing to have. My life just sort of meanders along. But it also feels pointless. It is hard to find purpose in a life that does nothing more meaningful than stack the dishwasher and write the occasional blog post. I miss feeling like a fully functioning adult. So, I guess long story short, if I start writing blog posts on a daily basis, you’ll know I’m starting to flirt with both ends of the mood spectrum. Watch this space.

Simone Yemm

Why I Want to Decrease My Mood Stabilizers for Bipolar Disorder

I’m quiet. Because I don’t have a lot to say. When I’m well, I have “oomph” for talking, whereas when I’m unwell, the thought of ordering coffee is completely overwhelming. The opposite is true with writing. When I am unwell, words drip from my fingertips, but when life trots along nicely, I dry up. So here I am, all dried up. And that’s good news. Right? I’m so well I have nothing to say. My mood has become extremely stable in recent months, which is apparently an aim of recovery in bipolar II disorder. No big highs. No big lows. But the other thing that happens without highs and lows is mood becomes very flat. And that, I do not like. Mood fluctuation is a normal part of the human experience and isn’t necessarily reactive to circumstance. How wondrously cheerful would you feel if the boss wandered in to say you’re getting a raise. Sadness descends if your beloved dog passes away. These are situational emotions, and for healthy functioning people, just part of life’s journey. Then there are mood fluctuations outside of situations. One morning you wake feeling well, rested, energized, positive, and ready to face the day ahead. Another day, the clouds are grey. You feel fatigued and drab and with no real desire to even feed the cat. So, when I say my mood is stable, that’s what it looks like. A few highs and lows, but on a gentle fluctuating wave. But my wave is almost flat. Due to mood stabilizers — surely nothing short of a modern medical miracle — I struggle to feel “up.” There’s no get up and go. I rarely feel energized or excited. I just function. Getting out of bed and feeding the cat is all doable. I occasionally dust off the vacuum cleaner. If a friend wants to go for a walk, I can walk. When I’m finalizing details for my book launch, I feel cheerful. There is movement at the mood station, but it’s not a lot. I expend the energy I have trying to look “normal.” I can do it — don’t get me wrong. This stabilization business sees me getting out there and conversing with people. I get a few things done. Occasionally wander off for a walk. But I miss the highs. I really miss them. Bipolar is a spectrum of moods from major depression through to mania. Bipolar II doesn’t go all the way to full mania — we have instead, what is called hypomania. These are periods of overactive and excited behavior that can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. Hypomania is a milder version of mania that lasts for a short period (usually a few days). I gotta say, hypomania feels good. And that’s when I can really crank up the vacuuming. To the outside observer, I might seem completely driven and focused, talking too fast, walking too fast, obsessing over details, completely sleepless, and coordinating a plethora of tasks simultaneously. But on the inside, I could climb a mountain. And I’m sure a few of the mountains I’ve climbed were inspired by hypomania. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? But it’s part of a swinging pendulum, and when I’m not well, all that machine gun energy will crash and burn to major depression. This is what happened to me. And it is this dangerously low major depression the mental health professionals are trying to steer me away from. I gotta say, I don’t want to go back there either. The mood wave with phenomenal peaks and troughs. I have been on two mood stabilizing medications for 18 months. They appear to be doing a good job and aside from feeling flat all the time, there are no side effects. Everyone else seems pretty happy with this state of affairs. I’m not. Now that I’m stable, I’m wanting more. It is not enough for me to just think about all the things I want to get done, I want the energy to do more than the basics. I want the energy to be self-motivated. And so, I have made a decision. I’m going to start reducing my medication. Just a little bit. And only under medical supervision. If the wave gets wobbly, I can always go back, but if I don’t at least try a lower dose, I won’t know what happens. Prior to the overdose, I had — for a long time — skipped my antidepressant medication on a regular basis. I never felt comfortable on it and the first thing the doctors did in hospital was take me off it. Antidepressants are apparently a bad idea for bipolar patients. I haven’t skipped a single, solid dose of my current meds. Not one. I’ve been a very good girl and the results are paying off. But my psychiatrist agrees the ultimate aim for anyone is to be on the lowest working dose, so I’m about to begin the great dose-modification experiment. Time will tell how it pans out. My secret hope is I become infused with enough energy to feel inspired and excited, but remain stable enough to sleep at night and stay focused. The most likely outcome is I won’t notice a difference. At which point I will corner my psychiatrist and beg to go down another dose. If things go a little pear-shaped, I can always go back up. Stability is a lovely thing to have. My life just sort of meanders along. But it also feels pointless. It is hard to find purpose in a life that does nothing more meaningful than stack the dishwasher and write the occasional blog post. I miss feeling like a fully functioning adult. So, I guess long story short, if I start writing blog posts on a daily basis, you’ll know I’m starting to flirt with both ends of the mood spectrum. Watch this space.

Simone Yemm

Catastrophizing: How to Stop Worst-Case Scenario Thinking

People, let me assure you, I am a grade A catastrophizer. I have it down to a fine art. Not only can I turn molehills into mountains, I can turn little green caterpillars into fire-breathing dragons. Catastrophizing is like really advanced worrying. We all worry — it’s unnatural to have nary a care, ever. Worrying can provide us with the opportunity to find potential solutions to potential problems. It is a way of mentally preparing for things that might reasonably be expected to happen. Catastrophizing is the next level up. It is apparently associated with chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and fatigue. I don’t experience chronic pain — except for my slow-healing Achilles tendinopathy. But I do experience depression, anxiety, and fatigue. I’m not sure if my catastrophizing is a learned behavior or just the way I was born, but either way, I’m really good at it. I used to be an eternal optimist — always looking at the bright side and hoping for the best. But slowly, somewhere along the way, I learned hoping for the best doesn’t always bring the best. So, I started to practice preparing for the worst. And I have to say, usually, the worst-case scenario does not come to pass and then I have the opportunity to be both surprised and relieved. Which are happy outcomes, but in the meantime, I imagine all the disasters. Catastrophizing is anxiety-inducing, and for me, illogical. I don’t have anxiety about my health, so I don’t really worry a chipped toenail will turn into a brain tumor. But I do have anxiety about other people — their well-being and my interactions with them. I want the best for everybody. And when I do something, I want to do the best I can and make things as smooth and easy for others as possible. I spend a lot of time worrying other people will become unwell (or die) or I’m not going to be “good enough” for them. Whatever “good enough” actually means. I don’t think these are unreasonable desires. Caring about the welfare of others is surely not a bad thing. Is it? But with my natural tendency to amplify worry, I become very anxious about doing the right thing. And as part of that anxiety, I imagine all the wrong things that can happen. All the wrong things. Like every single possible thing that could go wrong in a situation. And then I try to problem-solve all these worst-case scenarios and proceed to draw more tragedy from the already nonexistent problem. If, for example, I am catering for a dinner, I will agonize over the decision as to what to cook. So many things could go wrong. And I will have so much agony over the decision, I will end up at the point of deciding it’s all far too hard and I had probably best cancel dinner. I won’t actually cancel dinner. And I will do my very best to present a vaguely edible, non-allergenic, not-poisonous, congenial meal. But my heart will pound for a day and I’ll be terrified of the embarrassment. Especially terrified of the possibility of running out of food. At least, that’s what I used to be like. Now I have different skills. One of the upsides to being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is that I have received psychological support — which I have received for many years now. And as part of my therapy I have learned to — a lot of the time — deescalate the catastrophe in my head. To try and gain perspective. Part of my perspective-gaining strategy is to actually look at the worst-case scenarios and decide if they are: a) even plausible, b) potentially solvable, and c) if I can survive it. So, at my worst-case scenario dinner party I try to remember a) I’m not going to accidentally poison anyone, b) I can always over-cater to ensure I don’t run out of food, and c) I resign myself to the fact that no matter how well the dinner party does or does not go, the sun will still rise tomorrow. In dialectical behavior therapy  (DBT) terms, I’m a) fact-checking, b) problem-solving, and c) radically accepting the situation. And I do all this inside my head. Quite quickly sometimes. These tools are very useful for genuine real-life problems (how to deal with a bill you can’t pay) as well as those fire-breathing dragon-caterpillar problems (everyone will get food poisoning at my dinner party). Perspective folks, perspective. It is easy when worrying — be it about the weather, traffic, health, travel, relationships, work, finances, what to watch next on Netflix — to let the small become big. And then to let the big get bigger. The thing that works best for me is to write. Write, write, write. I have a journal full of pity-party worst-case scenarios that I have put in perspective simply by the act of writing. I know writing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it. Some people like to talk, it is a most useful therapy. That’s what therapy often is — talking about shit and getting a handle on how to deal with it. Talking things through can deescalate the silent conversation going on inside your head. I find talking a lot more difficult than writing. Just knowing I have to talk to somebody brings out my fire-breathing dragons. But I will be the first to acknowledge, once the talking is done, the flames have usually been doused. Some people like to engage in self-care activities that help them to mentally gain perspective like hiking, bubble baths, pet therapy, art. There are as many options as there are people. It’s a silent conversation with yourself that looks at all possibilities — not just the terrifying ones. Let it be known, however, that whiskey, sleeping tablets, and corn chips are not recommended as long-term strategies. There are as many maladaptive options as there are people, so a little bit of self-reflection doesn’t go astray. If your coping strategy is aimed at making you emotionally numb, then perhaps it’s time to crack out a pen or phone a friend. The vast majority of catastrophes in my life have never come to pass, and those that have — well, I have survived them. And the next disaster I dream up will also pass. Probably quite smoothly, and if not, I will be OK anyway.

Simone Yemm

Engaging in Retail Therapy as Part of Eating Disorder Recovery

Today I bought new clothes. It might sound like a frivolous way to spend a Thursday afternoon, but for me, it was a big deal. It marks a line in the sand. I’ve gained weight. These things happen, I know. To lots of people. Possibly you. And if you’ve gained weight then you probably know how I feel about it – completely not thrilled. But I’m someone in eating disorder recovery (doing really well thanks!) and I’m a woman of a certain age (let’s call it fabulous). Weight gain is not unusual in either of these circumstances and weight loss is problematic for both. In eating disorder recovery, trying to lose weight nearly always equals relapse (in my completely non-expert but fully lived experience). And when the fabulous (?!) 50s hit, fat clings like a limpet on a large rock. So I was faced with two options – the only two I could think of. Fight it or face it. I’m tired of fighting So I cracked out the credit card. Now, if money were no object (rest assured, money is a rather large object) then spending over $400 on clothes would perhaps not be a big deal. But when most of the pennies are fairly tightly budgeted, it isn’t easy to make the decision to buy a pile of clothes two sizes larger than your entire wardrobe. My entire wardrobe that’s now neatly packed away in two large suitcases. After a session of psychological therapy this morning, I decided retail therapy would be a very nice (and practical) complement. It’s all fine and dandy to talk about recovery and how I’m learning to accept this body I’m forced to live in, but buying new clothes means putting money where my mouth is. It’s 18 months since I came out of the clinic and the last weeks of my stay were entirely focused on eating disorder recovery. While I can’t say it’s been entirely smooth sailing in the time that has intervened, I can say it’s been a fairly upward trajectory. I go from strength to strength – with the occasional face plant. In recent weeks I’ve been in contact with someone who I don’t know well but appears to struggle with an eating disorder. Eating disorders can feel contagious To those of us who are vulnerable, there can be an overwhelming temptation to regress when we see triggering behaviors. So as I watch someone in their own struggle, I have to make a decision about how I respond. At the end of the day, someone else’s behavior is none of my business and my behavior is nobody else’s responsibility. As I drove home yesterday I had to think really hard about what to do for lunch – if indeed I should eat lunch at all. But in the end, I decided my recovery can’t be compromised by anyone and I’d eat lunch (anything I fucking felt like thank you very much). So I stopped at the bakery and bought lunch. I didn’t binge. I didn’t restrict. I didn’t purge. I just looked at the display and picked the thing I most felt like and ate it. With a coffee and a cake. It feels so weird. Apparently, this is “normal” behavior. The more I engage in eating that reflects my needs and wants, the less obsessive I am. I no longer have an incessant dialogue in my head about the intrinsic moral value of food. I don’t have a list of things I can and can’t eat because they’re good and bad. There’s just food I like and food I don’t like. And it feels good When you live with a mentality of restriction (common in almost all eating disorders) then all food is mentally exhausting. You have to calculate whether it’s “OK” to eat something. Natural body cues are completely ignored and over time, you lose the cues altogether. I used to live in a perpetual state of never, ever wanting to eat while being completely unsatisfied by any and all foods. I could eat until I was literally vomiting and it wasn’t enough. But every bite was a failure. There was a hunger deep in my soul that wasn’t satisfied by food. That has gone now and I’m blessedly grateful. For many years I’ve tried to recover, but always secretly hoped recovery would mean losing weight and stabilizing at a lower weight. I had to let go of that. And it’s been really fucking hard. I can’t say I love this body. Part of me will always want to be thin and pretty because I grew up being told thin and pretty are the tickets to happiness. But I’m neither thin nor pretty by societal standards (I really don’t need anybody sending me messages to say otherwise… it’s irrelevant). I don’t feel thin or pretty by societal standards, but I’ve been working hard for years on learning that appearance is not the ticket to success and happiness. Happy people come in every shape, size and bone structure. As do sad people. If I want to be happy, I need to look inside, not outside Purchasing clothes may seem like I’m still focused on appearance, but I’m not. I’m being practical. We all wear clothes and I need something to put on every morning. Something that fits my body. Something comfortable. Something suitable for the climate and my activities. It’s not about being precious, it’s being practical. Buying a new summer wardrobe represents acceptance. Acceptance of the fact that this is the body I live in right now and that even if it changes in the future, today this is me. Trying to change my body for over 50 years made me really miserable. Even when I was at my smallest, I was still miserable. Nourishing my body and soul with food is finally bringing me a level of peace. There’s still room for improvement; this is not a flawless process, but now I’m going to be making continued improvement in comfortable pants.

Simone Yemm

What It's Like to Have Chronic Restless Legs Syndrome

“Relax!” Huh?! People keep telling me to relax, take a bit of time out, chill! My massage therapist flops my arm around telling me to relax it. I barely know what that means. I wake during the night with clenched fists and have to actively focus to unclench them. Relaxation does not come naturally to me. Not at all! I have restless legs syndrome – also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. (I suspect they gave it a new name so it sounds more impressive. It doesn’t help – everyone still calls it “restless legs.”) Now I have no idea if my permanent state of anti-relaxation is related to the RLS, but I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if it is. Statistically, many people have mild cases, and even more people develop RLS of varying degrees at different times in their life, but there are a small number of us who have chronic, life-impacting restless legs, and it is incredibly un-fun. The creepy-crawly, butterflies-flitting-around and worms-wriggling-up-and-down-the-inside-of-your-legs feelings accompanied by aches, cramps, muscle spasms, tingling sensations, electric shocks and/or nerve pain is pretty much impossible to explain. All these are just words. Words can’t accurately convey sensation. How do you explain the taste of a banana to somebody with no taste buds? You can explain texture, but that doesn’t convey the true taste of a banana. You can explain creepy-crawly cramps in your legs, but that doesn’t convey the true misery of restless legs. The urge to move the legs is unbearable. Yes, you can hold back for a while, just like you can hold your breath for a while. Eventually, one way or the other, your body is going to force you to take action. There is no arguing with inherent biology. The worse the RLS, the more urgent, incessant and frequent the need to move. It is well documented that for most people with RLS, the condition is worse at night, worse when at rest or trying to sit still and can be exacerbated by things like caffeine or alcohol. So if I were to have a couple of glasses with champagne with a friend, come home and have a cup of tea then jump into bed, I’m going to be wiggling around like a toddler in desperate need of a potty-trip. For hours. And every passing minute will be worse than the last. My level of exhaustion will be utterly irrelevant. If I try and stay in bed to sleep, eventually the restlessness will turn into a painful, throbbing ache, buried deep inside every bone from my ribs to my calves (I am fortunate to be someone who only experiences RLS in the lower half of my body – some individuals have it everywhere). Then the nerve pain will begin, and the electric shocks will start in my legs. It’s pretty hideous. As you can imagine, this doesn’t make for a very restful night’s sleep. Without medication, every night is like that for me – with or without champagne and chocolate. About ten years ago – maybe less? – I was eventually put onto prescription medications for RLS that changed my life. Prior to that, there was nothing available except sedatives – which if taken regularly can cause you to develop a tolerance, therefore making you need higher dosages, and it can be potentially very addictive. Naturally I wasn’t keen to add “prescription drug addict” to my list of problems. In the two years pre-medication, I was unable to sleep more than 20-30 minutes at a time, maybe four or five times a day. On a good day. I would average two to three hours of sleep in every 24 hours. Some days I got zero sleep. I was utterly, utterly exhausted. And yet I couldn’t sleep at all. I was catching up on a lot of late night TV and solitaire card games, which was of precious little comfort. Restless Legs Syndrome may be a benign condition – i.e. it’s not terminal – but the side effects of severe sleep deprivation over extended periods of time are extremely frustrating. These days, my RLS is extremely well managed. In addition to non-medical treatments such as stretching, cold packs, magnesium tablets and avoiding caffeine and alcohol, I am eternally grateful to the researchers and medical practitioners who found alternative uses for Parkinson’s and epilepsy medications. Even so, I still fidget all the time, I never feel relaxed, I get anxious at the thought of having to sit in a cinema or a concert, there is a constant feeling of tension and pulsing across my lower back and I always worry people notice me twitching incessantly. I have become an expert at doing pelvic floor exercises or vigorously tapping my big toe inside my shoe. As far as relaxation goes? I feel most relaxed when I’m stretched like a giant elastic band over a huge fit ball. On the rare occasions when I have required some kind of heavy duty painkillers, I have for brief periods of time understood what people actually mean by relaxation – a body that just sinks into the mattress and a mind that just does nothing. Nothing at all. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.