Ambassador voices: Learning self-compassion after recovery

Illustration shows a young person holding flowers, as well as a tiger with a bird sitting on it.

My name is Maria Sharp. I study English Literature, German and Law. I am delighted to work with The Mix to help make reliable mental health resources widely available to young people.

Give yourself a break

There has been excessive pressure from social media to be “productive” during quarantine. My antics have included downloading a workout app, alphabetising my book collection and attempting to create an oragami flower.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to avoid dwelling on the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic. How do we avoid feeling guilty for “wasting time”?

There is no right reaction to this situation. It’s ok to give yourself a break. Binge Netflix. Treat yourself to a self care day. Do whatever you can to keep mentally healthy.

Self isolation has given everyone space to reflect. Perhaps the skill we should be developing during self-isolation is self – compassion. An ability I lost during my battle with an eating disorder.

Road to recovery

Mental illness can devour you. Eat you up. It can leave you numb and directionless. Your identity fuses with your illness. You morphe into a person you don’t recognise. You forget who you are.

At my sickest, I was a shell of my former self. Completely hollow. I didn’t understand who I was or what was happening in the world around me.

Everything was overwhelming; smiling, speaking, getting out of bed. To function was to acknowledge reality. I wasn’t ready for that. It was too hard.

After a while I realised my only option was to get better. I came to accept that I had to give up control. I had to move on from my illness. I realised I was more than my diagnosis. I became stronger. Braver. Even happy.

Reaching recovery

Eventually, I recovered. I did it! Recovery does not mean one’s experience of mental illness is  over, but it shows incredible progress. I was so excited to get back to being “the old Maria” that my family and I missed so much. And I did, for the most part.

You are “recovered”. Healthy. You are ready for life to go “back to normal.” So, it can be crushing to admit to yourself  that your experiences may have changed you. Perhaps, permanently.

This is not necessarily a “bad thing.” My self destructive behaviour was detrimental to my mental health. I have learnt the importance of self-compassion.

Nevertheless, I still feel incomplete. Sometimes, I miss my old life. I used to be a textbook overachiever. My teachers always said I had an “exceptional work ethic”. They didn’t realise that I was only able to achieve top grades if I sacrificed my wellbeing.

What next?

Sometimes “wellness” feels like a burden. We make unhealthy choices because we have nothing to lose. Once we are recovered, we have the responsibility to try to protect our emotional wellbeing. I am acutely aware of how hard my  doctors and loved ones work to keep me healthy.

I was told recovery is a journey. A long and winding road. For me, it feels more like a maze; You are desperate to find your way out, to reach the centre. But, once you find health and happiness you can’t help thinking “Ok. What do I do now?”

Some people find themselves back in the maze. I think it’s easy to get lost in our mental illness because at least it’s familiar. I can’t think of anything scarier than the unknown.

Everybody needs a break sometimes. Society seems to have interpreted quarantine as an opportunity to do more, to live an ever more hectic life. Instead, shouldn’t we grab this chance to step back?

The truth is lots of people have a complicated relationship with recovery. Its ok to not be ok, even if you think that you should be. Ask for help. You deserve to be the happiest and healthiest person that you can be.

Things to try to help with recovery

Below is a list of activities that helped me cope with recovery and maintain my mental wellbeing. They are all free or low cost, and you can easily adapt them to your personal ability level or preference. Feel free to try them out with a friend or family member!

Do something shocking

Has anyone ever told you to “Snap out of it”? Ridiculous. But there is a milligram of truth to it.

A shock can trigger the release of dopamine in the brain. This chemical increases our mood and staves away difficult emotions. Therefore, sometimes a sharp shock can “snap” you out of a low or anxious mood.

Fun and safe surprises include taking a cold shower or snacking on a spicy food.

Give yourself a makeover

No matter your gender or sexuality, experimenting with your appearance can be fun.

Temporarily adapting your look can help you cope with body image related anxieties you may be struggling with.

Experiment because it’s exciting, not because you are attempting to achieve your idea of the “perfect” appearance.

Make up or accessories do not have to be about striving for conventional beauty. Clothing is not about appearing to be a certain weight or body type.

Wear a bright eyeshadow or a fake piercing. Switch it up with a wash out hair dye or bold eyeliner. Even, try on an old Halloween costume! You don’t have to go out in public; it’s your choice how you practice self-care.

Change your environment

This could be as simple as changing rooms in your home throughout the day. If you can, create a comfy corner you can retreat to when you feel anxious. If not, fill a portable box with things that make you smile, and grab it when you need it. That way any space can become your safe space.

Make an “activity jar”

Decisions can be difficult. To save time, write a list of simple, complicated, quick and time-consuming activities. Then snip them up and pop them in a jar. You have made yourself a lucky dip! Simply choose a random activity and get started.

My jar includes watching a black and white film, reading a classic novel, and making a snack for my family.

Get outside

Sit, admire the scenery, and take a deep breath. If you want to take on a new sport or exercise regime, my tip is to focus on the goal of a happy and relaxed mind; your body will follow.

Before you begin, discuss with a trusted adult and doctor. Choose your time and place carefully to avoid crowds.

“It’s all right, you can afford to lose a day or two”

If you’re recovering and you need some extra support

If you’re impacted by any of the issues mentioned in Maria’s article, know that you’re not alone and we’re here for you. Get in touch with The Mix’s team for free and confidential support about everything and anything.

Read our article on how to cope with an eating disorder during lockdown.

Next Steps

  • Beat help people overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups. Call 0808 801 0677 or, if you're under 18, call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711.
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Eating Disorders Support has a telephone helpline with 24/7 answer message service and email support for people with eating disorders and anyone concerned about them. Call on 01494 793223.
  • The Self-Esteem Team (SET) run workshops in schools across the UK to help tackle young people's issues with body image, self-worth and mental health.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Maria Sharp

Updated on 10-Jul-2020