Remembering why

So last night, I was sorting out my bedside drawers & I decided to look through one of my old notebooks from when I was using other treatments – I came across a page entitled ‘Reasons to recover’ and seeing this made me SMILE. It acted as a great reminder of why I’m doing this & why I want to get better – I have to remind myself of this everyday. I may not be there yet, but I know I’ve come a long way – believe me, this is worth every second of fighting. This made me think of the Lucy who’s still here – for a reason. If you’re losing motivation, feeling stuck or struggling to remember why you’ve chosen recovery, I urge you to have a go at your own list…. (Oh, I really love the last point on my list!)

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So today, I’m recovering for me. For my life.

What about you? 

DBT skills group – distress tolerance (week 2)

I’m struggling to maintain balance at the moment – and I’ve realised I’ve been neglecting my blog (too much) – I’ve got two weeks of DBT skills to catch up on!

So – let’s crack on with it…

It was a bit of a difficult start – I was very anxious, so I was grateful (and touched) to receive a text from my therapist on the morning of the group offering me a chance to talk things through & giving me some helpful grounding exercises to manage the anxiety effectively and skilfully. For the first half of the group, I was feeling very vulnerable and exposed – I retreated into myself somewhat, which helped me to feel safer & more secure – but I became disengaged very quickly.

In this group, we were introduced to distress tolerance skills. In short, these skills are aimed at learning tolerate painful events, urges and emotions when you cannot make things better right away. A big part of this skill is about learning to accept reality, as it is – and learning to ‘sit with it’. Something which I really struggle with – as I’m constantly looking for instantaneous relief! We spent the first half of the session learning distraction skills, which are best remembered with the acronym ‘Wise Mind ACCEPTS’.

I think I threw myself in at the deep end last week (unintentionally, at least) and with the help of my DBT skills (my ever-growing toolbox) and some crisis coaching from my 1:1, I was able to effectively use some distractions of ACCEPTS. I’m going to try to link this back to my own experience, and how I have been able to best utilise the skill.

Distracting with;

Activities – cleaning my room, writing e-mails, jewellery making etcetera.

Contributing – give away old clothes to a charity shop/friend, volunteer, message somebody to ask how they are (for me this is about shifting the focus from my own internal distress, and think about what I can do for somebody else).

Comparisons – I like to think of this as ‘comparing how you are feeling now to a time with you felt different, and observe how far you have come’. (Some people have mixed views on this one – so you’ll need to make up your own mind).

(Opposite) Emotions – do something to promote the opposite emotion to the one you are feeling – watch TV, films, comedies, emotional music and so on.

Pushing away – imagine yourself pushing the situation away, and building a wall around yourself. I like to imagine a little box which can hold all of the painful emotions locked up, on a shelf. Direct your attention to other thoughts.

Thoughts – I think the simplest way to use this method is to count to 10; count animals, count anything. Other ideas may be reading books, writing poetry – anything to keep your thoughts away from the emotional pain.

Sensations – a strong sensation can help to jog your emotions and break the connection between yourself and your emotional pain – an example could be using a elastic band on your wrist (this was a favourite on mine as an in-patient in hospital); use ice cubes on your skin, cold water etcetera.


In the second half of the group, I felt far more regulated – and we looked at ‘Pros and Cons’ as a skill to use in times of crisis (or before the crisis occurs!), by making a list of the pros and cons of acting on your crisis urges, and another list of the pros and cons of resisting crisis urges – that is, tolerating the distress. The end goal of this process is to encourage you to decide between two courses of action. I personally love this skill – as I find it really useful to see the pros and cons as a clear, visual aid to help me weigh up the consequences of resisting/acting on an urge.

I’ve found pros and cons useful in any kind of distress/stressful decision…. Whether or not to become vegan, deciding whether or not to go back to Nursing School…

DBT skills group – mindfulness (week 1)

I missed the first week of the DBT skills group as I was on holiday, so I had the opportunity to meet with the group facilitators and my therapist to catch up on what I missed (mindfulness). I’ll summarise what was covered in this session, and then move onto week 2 (Thursday’s session). I believe the best ways for me to understand and get to grips with these skills is to write about them, and hopefully, write about them in a way which will allow others to understand as well.

So I’ll start at the very beginning – introducing the concept of mindfulness – what it means, its effectiveness & why mindfulness skills are important.

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts and feelings – or as Kabat-Zinn puts it, involves paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally to the unfolding experience moment to moment.

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We looked at the what skills of mindfulness;

  • Observe – noticing the experience without reacting to it.
  • Describe – put words on the experience. 
  • Participate – let go and fully immerse yourself in the experience.

and the how skills;

  • Non-judgmentally – notice judgments as they arise & accept each moment.
  • One-mindfully – let go of distractions and do one thing at a time. 
  • Effectively – focus on what works; do what needs to be done in each situation

I was introduced to the three states of mind – Emotion Mind, Wise Mind and Reasonable mind (an example of which can be seen on my mindfulness page).

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Emotion Mind is a state where our thoughts and behaviour are controlled by emotion. It is passionate, irresponsible, and impulsive. Being in emotion mind causes us to ‘act how we feel’ and react using self-destructive behaviours ‘in the heat of the moment.

Reasonable mind is a state where our thoughts are logical and rational. It is scientific. Things are well thought out and consequences are evaluated before action is taken, and action is based on fact and experience.

Wise Mind is the coming together, the overlap of reasonable mind and emotion mind. It is not only the sum of these two minds, however – when produced together, they create intuition – a ‘gut feeling’ if you like. Marsha Linehan states that “Wise Mind is that part of each person that can know and experience truth. It is where the person knows something to be true or valid. It is almost always quiet, It has a certain peace. It is where the person knows something in a centered way”.

She uses the following metaphor to describe Wise Mind:

“Wise Mind is like a deep well in the ground. The water at the bottom of the well, the entire underground ocean is wise mind. But on the way down there are often trap doors that impede progress. Sometimes the trap doors are so cleverly built that you believe there is no water at the bottom of the well. The trap door may look like the bottom of the well. Perhaps it is locked and you need a key. Perhaps it is nailed shut and you need a hammer, or it is glued shut and you need a chisel”. 

I hope to use my writing to draw on my experiences of mindfulness practice – and the learning of Wise Mind – which will take some practise. I’ve heard it is something like riding a bike – learnt only through experience, and which takes effort, balance and steering.

Getting back into the swing of things

I am now back home after a beautiful holiday at my parents’ house in Portugal (which included 7 days with 4 of my dearest friends who came to stay – absolute bliss). I can honestly say I had the most amazing, peaceful holiday. My parents loved it, I loved it, and my friends did, too. It was a great boost to spend time with my friends after having spent most of this year in hospital. I had a few difficult moments – but it was amazing to be with friends who accept me for who I am (flaws and all) and love me unconditionally. It’s a very special bond we share. So we had 7 days of bliss – sleeping in, sunbathing, sleeping and sunbathing, reading, swimming & pool time, bodyboarding, kayaking, beach time, feeding feline friends, adopting stray dogs, cocktails & visits to some of my most favourite places. I was able to have some moments of freedom from the usual chaos in my head.

It’s been hectic since arriving home; Thursday I attended my first day of DBT at the hospital, Friday I was at a wedding with my family (I loved seeing my brother as Best Man for the Groom – but it was a very challenging day in my recovery). Today I’ve felt very out of sorts – emotionally hungover, perhaps – physically unwell (hormonal changes due to re-feeding & weight restoration), so I’ve spent most of the day sleeping, enjoying cat cuddles & trying to rest up a little.

So I’m trying (and struggling) to reacclimatise to life at home – and I feel out of touch with my blogging, in a bit of a rut & lacking motivation to get writing again. I have to start somewhere though. I have a few blog posts in mind for the next week of so, but I’ll need to be mindful of balance as well!

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Staying mindful in Portugal; a home away from home

I’ve neglected by blog somewhat over the past week or so. I guess I’ve felt drained – I feel sapped of all energy – my mind, my body (and oftentimes, my writing), make that quite clear. I’ve needed a break. I’ve had brief moments of panic where I thought I may lose momentum with the blog (as it has provided me with such a great outlet, and is a new found enjoyment) – but as I’m learning, life goes on.

I’m off to Portugal, to my parents’ gorgeous house for 16 days with some of my family and close friends. I’m going to take this opportunity to switch off from social media, to reset and refocus a little. I want to experience this time away for what it is – a holiday – and I want to be present. I often spend far too much time living in the past or worrying about the future, that I forget to appreciate the present moment. Of course – I need to maintain some balance and my recovery still continues in Portugal – so I will be using my phone to stay in contact with my team at home (if needed at all – it would be unrealistic to expect no wobbly moments). Other than that, my plan is to rest, read lots, colour in the sunshine and have fun with my awesome friends (something I’ve totally missed out on recently having spent most of this year in treatment). I want to enjoy a few cocktails as well – and see if I can enjoy alcohol, without feeling the urges to abuse it or use it as self-destruction.

There will be anxieties around my food plan – and the change in my environment/routine can really throw me off – but I’m prepared with my mini supply of waitrose items (foods that I may not get in Portugal), as well as supplements. I agreed with my therapist that my scales will stay with my Mum (so I am not tempted to use them too much) and she’s also kept a supply of my PRN medication (as I’m trying to wean myself off this medication – and hopefully become less reliant on it in times of acute anxiety/distress).

I’m also going to continue my headspace daily meditation and mindfulness practise – in the hope that it will be much easier to keep it going when I am back in London. It will probably be an activity for the morning’s sunbathe by the pool. It does help me a lot (and it will in turn be helping my family and friends, too – as they will hopefully enjoy a more ‘present’ me!)

Signing off now to begin the social media/blogging vacation.

Take care, all.

The art of being mindful

This evening I have been creating another piece of jewellery, which has enabled me to utilise mindfulness meditation techniques to still my mind – whilst staying physically grounded with an activity that keeps my hands busy and mind focussed. As a beginner – and somebody who really struggles with sit-still-and-focus meditations, I have found this to be a great way to practise the art of being mindful.  I enjoy being able to ‘still’ myself a little and relax – and if I do find my mind wandering (which is totally natural, I’m learning), the act of using my hands immediately ‘brings me back’, allowing me to focus on what is in front of me. It also helps me to refrain from self-destructive behaviours – which for me today has been obsessive cleaning/tidying and compulsive exercise.

So, I created a space free of distractions in my living room – listening to a favourite playlist in the background & my phone has been out of reach. I’ve tried to be aware of critical & self-judgmental thoughts in the process. If a negative voice creeps in, I’ve tried to acknowledge it – and let it go – and get back to my beading.

And it’s been so peaceful – threading beautiful beads, and creating wonderfully intricate designs (or attempting to, at least).

I don’t yet have the finished piece – but that doesn’t matter, it’s been a meaningful experience for me.

How do you allow yourself to be mindful?

If you haven’t tried it – then try to be mindful now, in the present moment. Start small – and try it for 5 minutes.

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DBT mindfulness skills can be found here – more specifically, the WHAT and HOW skills – outlining what to do (observe; describe; participate) and how to (non-judgementally; one-mindfully; effectively). I’ll be writing more about this when I go to my DBT skills sessions on mindfulness. So watch this space.

Distraction toolbox

I struggle to remember ‘tools’ I’ve learned when I’m distressed – my mind goes blank, I can’t focus – and I can’t clear the ‘noise’ in my head. So when I was an inpatient on the EDU, I created a visual toolbox to enable me to use healthy & positive means to manage intrusive eating disordered thoughts, self harming urges and suicidal ideation. I have found this critical to my recovery – and moving forward.

  • Self-soothing (comforting yourself through the five senses)
  • Listening to music/podcasts
  • Creating a collection of empowering lyrics/quotes
  • Self-help websites
  • Movies
  • Reading a book
  • Puzzles
  • Mindfulness colouring
  • Knitting/sewing
  • Creating a scrapbook
  • Sudoku
  • Jewellery making
  • Journalling
  • Drawing/art work
  • Yoga
  • Breathing exercises
  • Holding grounding objects
  • Meditation or relaxation apps (I love ‘headspace’)
  • Crisis plan – talking to family/friends/therapists

Get these (and more) down on paper, or put them together in a box (decorate to your heart’s content) – and put it in a place where you’ll remember it.

Remember – it’s a work-in-progress… Some of these work better for me on some days than others – and they will not always provide instant relief.

What do you do to help yourself in times of distress?


Please also look at my DBT pages to read about other skills to manage emotional vulnerability.

Being mindful & making jewellery

It was in treatment this year that I began making jewellery – I attended twice weekly craft groups as a part of my recovery programme, which had an amazing therapeutic effect on me. I remember the first bracelet I made – I explained to the lady taking the group I’d never made jewellery before, and I wouldn’t be able to (I have such low confidence in myself & my abilities). With a little encouragement and support, I attempted my first bracelet – and for somebody as fragile, broken and defeated as myself, the small act of making this bracelet was like a mighty triumph to me. I remember leaving this group with a little more hope, confidence & purpose – and as weeks passed, I formed a wonderful relationship with the lady who ran the group and began to love engaging in this creative process with others.

Some of the other patients and I decided to add a charitable element to our jewellery making – and so we successfully held two craft sales for the patients & staff of the rest of the hospital. I immersed myself in the jewellery making – and found that it totally reignited my creativity in me.

As is classic with borderline ‘all or nothing’ thinking, I eventually stopped making jewellery and only recently I realised I’d like to start again (whilst being aware of my tendencies & practising some balance in the process). I’m considering selling some of my jewellery – but I just don’t have the confidence just yet to start an online shop – so I may start by listing some of what I make on my blog – and see if there’s any interest there. I am also attending a jewellery workshop tomorrow – led by a charity for people in recovery from eating disorders & addictions, which runs peer-led support groups. All profits from jewellery sales go back into the charity, which allows this amazing support to continue. I’ve been meaning to go for a long while – but I had to slow down a little bit. I am hoping this will be the platform I need to continue my jewellery making independently.

Here are a few pieces I’ve made today;

Pic n’ mix wire wrapped

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Blues

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Swarovski inspired pearls

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Learning to live again

I am on a weekend away with my parents – and tomorrow an old friend of mine is getting married. I am honoured to be a part of her special day – we have known each other for 23 years (and thanks to social networking, we have recently got back in touch again). I also know the family very well (the mother was my teacher in nursery – and my favourite teacher from school) – over the years, I’ve maintained a friendship with the family. So I really do feel blessed to be a part of the celebrations with the family (whom I adore).

It’s my first weekend away since I’ve been out of the hospital – and it’s already proving to be a huge struggle (particularly on the eating disorder side of things). There are a number of mental struggles to eating – internal monologues & I feel so totally crippled by fear. I’ve already managed a meal out this evening (successfully) and I have dinner at the wedding reception to face tomorrow. I have supplements with me – if I don’t manage – but I also know I don’t want to live off ensure plus for the rest of my life.

I want to be spontaneous. I want to go into a restaurant like I did this evening – and not be dictated by RULES, but by my desires and wishes. I want to go on weekend breaks – and not feel plagued by fear of weight & numbers. I don’t want to carry 200ml plastic cups in my handbag for the rest of my life – out of fear that I may not be able to measure out orange juice.

Tomorrow I will also be having to deal with some of the consequences of my self harming. I am able to expose my arms a lot more than I used to – (I am less ashamed & worry less about others’ reactions) – but I do have a cardigan to wear tomorrow as I know I will be sitting with children at the reception – and I don’t feel it’s appropriate to have my arms on show then. I just hope it won’t unbearably hot.

So this weekend will act as a reminder of what I want from my life – even though I may be a long way off it yet. I must be kind & gentle with myself – be aware of the self-judgements which may arise & understand that the process may not look as perfect as I want it to.

Happy end-of-week, peeps – have an amazing weekend.

Taming the tiger

A quote I love, which speaks volumes for me right now;

“With addiction, you figure out how to lock the tiger in its cage and keep it there. With an eating disorder, you have to figure out how to take the tiger out and walk it three times a day”.

– Tennie McCarty