Mental Health · Review

Review: Gravity Blanket

Last year, I invested in a weighted blanket after months of umming and ahhing over it. I’d heard a lot of good things and spent a lot of time reading reviews before investing, as they aren’t cheap.

I ended up going with a Gravity Blanket for several reasons. They offer a 28 day guarantee whereby if your sleep doesn’t improve they will refund your money, no questions asked. As someone totally indecisive this seemed necessary!

They also come with a super soft cover unlike some brands who go with material akin to a seat belt! As I wanted to use my blanket to aid my sleep this didn’t seem appealing. The soft touch cover did however. At the time I ordered mine it only came in grey, but is now also available in a beautiful blue.

Gravity Blanket also allow you to choose your weight, and offer guidance on what to go for. They have 5 options and suggest going for the closest option to around 10% of your body weight. For me, I went for the 10kg option.

I’ve had mine since autumn/winter last year. I got a really good deal and think I paid around £100 for it. This included shipping from Poland, where they are manufactured.

The blanket arrived quickly (around 4 days later) and came in a fancy bag with tonnes of guidance on how to use it and care for it effectively.

The cover is removable and machine washable (this is great for me as I’m notoriously clumsy and have 2 dogs who love to jump on my bed). The blanket is also useable without the cover for warmer nights. As we haven’t had many of those this year I havent actually had a reason to remove it. There is also a summer cover now available for those wanting to avoid damaging the blanket itself, but these are quite costly. This wasn’t an option when I got mine and I don’t own one.

The included cover is so soft, one side is textured and the other more plain. It’s just like a warm blanket. The microfiber texture is less suffocating than some other materials though – I never find myself getting uncomfortably warm under it – it’s just right!

I went for the smaller size (due to cost) and it still covers me fully. It’s around the size of a single duvet, so works great!

In terms of the weight, I was worried it would feel suffocating, having never tried one before buying mine. But it absolutely isn’t. I liken it to a similar sensation to my dog (a medium size cocker spaniel) laying on my lap, but all over my body. Whilst I find the blanket hard to lift (as I’m incredibly weak!) once it’s over me it distributes the weight really well, as the internal beads are sewn in square pockets to ensure an even distribution. This means all my nerves are sent a calming sensation, and almost instantly relax. It’s a really difficult sensation to describe but incredibly comforting. Some describe it like getting a big hug!

In terms of practicalities, I personally prefer having my blanket cover my entire body covered as opposed to my lower half , and find it much more effective at aiding my sleep this way. I once read the pressure across your chest of what’s particularly effective at calming your nervous system, so perhaps that’s why I find it much better.

It doesn’t feel too different to a normal blanket until you try to move! It is slightly harder but this is part of its effectiveness. It almost forces your body to just relax and stay put as opposed to tossing and turning.

My only real issue is that the cover and inside blanket being disconnected can sometimes mean they move around a lot, and you have to fiddle to get both facing the right way, but this isn’t a massive thing and only happens after a few nights constant use.

I personally don’t use my Gravity Blanket every night. Having BPD some nights I do find the sensation a little overwhelning and would prefer free movement with just a light duvet but I do use it most nights. I also always use it when I nap as it helps me get to sleep much faster, and I tend to wake feeling more refreshed than when I don’t.

My sleep has got significantly better since using my Gravity Blanket. I sleep more solidly and deeply, waking feeling significantly more refreshed (and far too comfy to get our of bed!)

I also use it when I go into BPD crisis and become hysterical. It’s been incredibly effective at grounding and calming me quickly and safely.

I’d honestly recommend one if you struggle with insomnia or nightmares (as I do). Its also been great for calming my general anxiety. I get quite overwhelmed by sensory stimuli (particularly noise) and have found it helpful at allowing me to feel safe. I go to my room for 10 mins and wrap it around me and its game changing. I also think the blanket would help even people who just find their sleep quality isn’t great.

I appreciate they’re not cheap, so keep and eye on their Facebook for deals – I got mine around Black Friday I think which is how I got such a great deal. They also run giveaways sometimes!

If you have any more questions about this product please let me know!

Lorna

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borderline personality disorder · Mental Health Stigma · Personality Disorders · University

My university taught me to stigmatise people with Personality Disorders… Then I got diagnosed with one

As some of you may know, I studied Psychology at the University of Bath, graduating in 2016.

As part of a second year unit on ‘Personality’ we had to learn about Personality Disorders. It was a two hour lecture (which isn’t very long at all to go through 10 distinct disorders, their symptoms, prevlance and treatment options). We spent time exploring the various clusters and possible interventions but the main body of the lecture was an exercise titled

“Imagine a Party Where Everyone Has a Personalty Disorder”

At the time, although mentally unwell, I had no psychiatric diagnosis. In fact, I’d never even heard of Personality Disorders before and neither had most of my peers.

I vividly remember this lecture, primarily for this exercise. It had the entire lecture theatre (around 100 people) howling with laughter over these freaky people and their wonky personalities.

We received no further lecturing on Personality Disorders, and to be honest I never thought about them again until I was sat in my GP’s office being told I might have one. Immediately my brain jumped back to this exercise.

Nearly 6 years later I look back on this exercise, and my reaction to it, with absolute horror. So I took the time to track down the activity (by which I mean I Googled it after failing to source it from a university Facebook group).

And low and behold… Here it is!

Whilst I appreciate this is intended to be somewhat of a characature of Personality Disorders, it is incredibly stigmatising.

As I wouldn’t want to focus too much on disorders I don’t have experience with, I’m going to focus on my disorder, BPD, as depicted by Sherry.

Firstly, I didn’t even recognise this as BPD. I had to look up the answers (yes, I’ll post them at the end)! It’s so far removed from what I know BPD to be I couldn’t even identify it.

There might well be a small handful of people like Sherry with BPD, and that’s fine, but it’s certainly not even close to my personal experience, or the experience of others I know with this diagnosis. Sherry is written in a way that makes her appear slutty, overdramatic and attention seeking and the implication is that this is due to her personality disorder.

No mention is made of Sherry’s need to be drunk to face a social event, as she feels so awful about herself without. Nor how she seeks out approval and validation any way she can, even if this through risky sexual encounters, which stop her feeling empty for a fleeting moment.

Her response to her drink taking “too long” is written in a means of mockery over such a small issue. I would suggest to Sherry it felt like she had been rejected or forgotten, causing her severe emotional distress.

It doesn’t mention how the arguement left her feeling worthless, with emotional pain so excruciating taking over her she saw no other way out than to make an attempt on her own life to free herself from it. It doesn’t highlight how the thought of being alone in her own head in her apartment felt like the equivalent of being trapped in a coffin and burried alive, with no escape from the vile thoughts about herself and her life.

I personally have never exhibited behaviour like this. At parties I feel overwhelming anxiety and stick with people I know. I hate the thought of being centre of attention and generally just count down the minutes until I can go home. I’ve never been sexually promiscuous and my self-harm has been contained so as no one ever knows it’s happened.

When I think of the 100s of students who have gone through my university and been taught that this is what an individual with a Personality Disorder is like it makes me sick. Some of these people may never learn more about Personality Disorders again and this will be their only knowledge on the matter! Heaven forbid they ever meet someone with a Personality Disorder, with such a warped understanding of what it means. I can imagine the fear they would feel, and the assumptions made in their minds.

When I myself was told I might have BPD I vividly remember asking a friend (from the same course, a year below me, who I was working with at the time) “so I’m the manipulative attention seeker then?” This was the memory we both had.

I’d internalised this activity and stigmatised myself as a result. I felt I was being told I was somehow a bad person, and exaggerating my difficulties to seek attention. I believed if I told anyone off my course, which included some of my closest friends, they would judge me against this activity and fear me. It stopped me from speaking up and getting the vital support I needed for years.

I wish my lecturers could see the potential damage this activity could cause to those suffering and find a way to provide a compassionate introduction to Personality Disorders. To educate their students to be empathetic and understanding, as we were taught to be with depression, anxiety and OCD. Instead this exercise continues to spread stigma and fear towards those of us living with Personality Disorders amongst those who really should understand us better.

Lorna

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Answers:

Donna – Histrionic

William – Schizotypal

Sherry – Borderline

Winston – Narcissistic

Peter – Obsessive Compulsive

Doreen – Paranoid

Harold – Schizoid

Margie – Avoidant

Body Image · Body Positivity · eating disorder · Uncategorized

My Best Self…

As part of #MHAW19 I was fortunate to sit on a panel of young activists with Dell EMC & the Princes Trust discussing body image amongst young people. I had an amazing time and met some wonderful, inspiring people but I didn’t quite get the chance to fully answer one of the questions. So, I thought, why not turn it into a blog!?

The question was…

What does your best self look like?

Some panel members spoke of their desire to keep improving, be this through fitness or diet, and the impact of small changes. For me, my best self looks quite different.

For so long, I was convinced the best version of myself revolved around my weight, dress-size, and calorie intake. I was sure that I would only be worthy once I was thin enough (a goal that no matter how small I got, always felt just a few extra pounds away). My sense worth was so intrinsically linked to my body size, shape and the amount of food I ate. And I lived in a world where I would never quite be good enough.

Was I a better person at this time?

My social media feed might lead you to believe I was; I was posting endless full body mirror selfies in tiny clothes, my social life was full and I seemed open and honest about my struggles with depression and anxiety.

The reality?

This was possibly the worst version of myself to ever exist. I was consumed with obsessive, intrusive thoughts every waking minute. I was lying to my loved ones on a daily basis and didn’t really care. My brain was so starved of nutrients that would snap over the smallest thing, unable to regulate my emotions properly. I was so wrapped up in myself and my weight that I had little time or resources left to dish out to my family. I was never present in the moment, always consumed with my own minds negativity.

So, what does my ‘best self’ look like?

For me, my best self is a self who places no value on her appearance. Who knows her worth comes from her qualities, not her beauty. Who prioritises being kind, compassionate, and loving to those around her. Who prioritises the opinions of those she loves, not those whose insecurities cause them to emit hatred. Who spends more time laughing than considering the calories she could burn today. Who wears clothes that allow her to feel comfortable and happy without giving too much thought to whether it shows her flaws too much.

My best self focuses on making life easier for the generation coming up behind her, sharing her story to allow others to know it’s okay to feel sad, to feel you are not good enough, or to feel imperfect. But who reassures other they do not have to live a life compelled by these thoughts. Who instills hope that things can improve, and empowers others to seek help when they need it and know this is a strength, not a weakness.

My best self spends time learning and growing, accepting mistakes as inevitable. My best self seeks to become more understanding of others, and of her own experiences. She always wants to allow those who come into contact with to feel heard and validated.

My best self has no space for loathing herself for pockets of fat or cellulite. She doesn’t care if her hair is out of place or her make-up off trend. She eats food that fuels her, and allows her to feel fulfilled. She exercises as a means to celebrate her body, not shrink it. She loves herself as she is, and knows her weight, dress size or BMI play no role in her worthiness.

I may not quite fully be my best self yet, but I’m sure enjoying working towards her.

Lorna

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Body Image · Body Positivity · Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Week!

So as you know this week is Mental Health Awareness Week and for many of us this is a super busy time.

I’m adding my guest blogs/articles etc to this blog so it’s all in a nice easy place. I’ll update it as a few more bits are released.

Student Minds – Universities need to do more to promote positive body image

The National Student – What it’s like living with borderline personality disorder as a student

OneMoreLightLB – Maladaptive not Manipulative – What I Wished Mental Health Professionals Understood About Borderline Personality Disorder

Princes Trust & Dell EMC live webchat on body image in young people (links available soon!)

MHFA England – It’s our responsibility to teach children about body image

Lorna

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anorexia · Body Image · Body Positivity · eating disorder · University

My open letter to my university on promoting unhealthy body image this #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

Dear Student Union, Sports Training Village, Wellbeing Service & Faculty of the University of Bath,

Earlier this academic year I returned to the University of Bath to host a range of events with Student Minds Bath relating to eating disorders. This included a focus group for those experiencing eating disorder’s, and an event in the evening promoting discussion around student mental health. I also stood on Parade (the main campus walkway) for three and a half hours selling raffle tickets to fundraise for Beat and Student Minds Bath during lunch hours.

With regard to my reasoning for this, I developed an eating disorder whilst studying at your institution in 2012. The reasons for this were complex, and it took me over three years to recover. I am now a campaigner with Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, and a Young Champion with Time to Change. Bath MP Wera Hobhouse recently shared my story in Parliament and asked for further information on the extent of the issue of eating disorders within the University, as well as whether current treatment pathways are effective.

I haven’t been back to Bath since I graduated in 2016, and I was genuinely surprised how little has moved on. Whilst I am pleased to hear people feel more able to disclose struggles with depression and anxiety, and receive appropriate support for these disorders, I was saddened that eating disorders remain, as once said to me by a member of Student Services, “Bath’s dirty little secret.” Please note the opinions I share are my own however are informed and supported by your current students that I spoke to throughout that day and beyond.

I am aware of the recent statistical research that found that 6% of the student population who identify as having a mental disorder acknowledge an eating disorder. And that statistic is only the people who acknowledge and disclose having an eating disorder, nevermind those who don’t! To put this in context, this means it is equally prevalent to anxiety and depression but with much higher stakes involved. As I’m sure you are aware eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric disorder, and 20% of people with anorexia do not survive it. You are literally dealing with a fatal condition here.

People with eating disorders accessing services on campus find they are being pushed from pillar to post, with no service directly able to address this condition, despite its prevalence. The campus GP’s come across as insensitive and ill-informed, and students consistently feel unable to approach them. Wellbeing Services have no capacity to support those with eating disorders, and people are often sent to the RUH for treatment, who then refer people as far away as Bristol and beyond (being forced to find and fund their own way there). Waiting lists mean once someone has reached acceptance of the need for treatment (which is a big feat in itself), then have to wait weeks or months, all the while getting worse, before getting any support.

I was unbelievably disappointed to find that the key source of support for those experiencing eating disorders remains peer support, offered by Student Minds Bath. Whilst I am unbelievably proud of SMB, having set it up myself following my own breakdown, it disappoints me that students are having to take care of one another when the university should really be the ones providing this support. You receive an abundance of fees from each student and hold a duty of care to ensure they are supported whilst studying at your establishment.

One of the biggest theme’s which came from discussions with your current students was the tolerance and acceptance from the university of disordered behaviours and unrealistic body image. Whilst I appreciate you are a proud sporting university, and receive a significant income from the Sports Training Village, I feel you irresponsibly spread a body dysmorphic ideal throughout campus.

You not only allow but encourage your students to push for an unattainable standard, once only reserved for professional athletes. It is normalised across campus to live off protein shakes, skip meals and exercise excessively. This is disordered behaviour.

Standing on Parade was one of the strangest ordeals of my life, which left me, a body confident weight-restored anorexic feeling like a whale. But when I observed some of these individuals behaviours I realised many are just as unhealthy as I was when I starved myself every day.

Whilst I appreciate you cannot change the average dress size across campus, I do see the high levels of eating disorders and your overemphasised on sport to be linked.

So many students commented on the normalisation of these behaviours; how the STV turn a blind eye to individuals pushing themselves beyond safe limits, with some trainers employed within your gym referring to those with eating disorders as “ideal clients”, how peers compete to eat less and less, and how you even offer (and push) reduced calorie, protein filled food in various food outlets. This in itself isn’t an issue, but when you then end up with a substantial number of students experiencing eating disorders, it is.

You allow students to take an entire afternoon off lectures to push your sporting agenda, but would you ever do this for self-care? I think not.

I see the competitive sporting and academic nature of the university as fundamental in the prevalence of eating disorders across campus, and I firmly believe you have a student population which consists of a widespread levels of disordered behaviour and thinking processes related to body image.

Let’s not forget that university students are so vulnerable to psychiatric disorders and are within the key age range for the development of eating disorders. You, therefore, hold a responsibility to help prevent this.

Now, I’m not suggesting for one second you throw people out of the gym for pushing themselves, but I do feel you hold a responsibility to educate your students on how such behaviours could easily be considered disordered and could pose health risks; both physical and psychological. I also feel you need to provide more adequate training to STV staff to spot the early signs of eating disorders (this information is easily available online) and how to address these appropriately. I feel you should encourage a more healthy relationship with sport, exercise and food than you currently do.

I have a number of suggestions on how to do so:

  1. Remove calories from all food menus: Sure, have them available if people are desperate to know, but it really is unnecessary for the more general student population. It feeds into the idea that calories are “bad,” and need to be monitored, which isn’t the case. In reality, humans have survived thousands of years by intuitive eating, and this new obsession with calories is one based in dysmorphic thinking. Calories are also not a reliable indicator of the health benefits of foods, and therefore largely irrelevant. Whilst I understand the argument for people to make informed food choices, this can be done without having calories on every menu.
  2. Provide freshers with information on eating disorders: You have so many ultimately pointless and patronising talks during freshers week covering everything from fire hazards to sexual consent, I think its important you encourage freshers, who are incredibly vulnerable to psychiatric disorders, to develop a healthy relationship with sport, exercise and food on campus and provide details on developing an appropriate body image, to help prevent freshers failing into the trap of trying to reach Bath’s unrealistic ideal.
  3. Promote a more diverse range of activities: During freshers week students receive an entire day dedicated to the sport, a pattern that continues throughout their degrees, with an entire afternoon dedicated to it each week! Why not promote other activities, such as art or drama with the same vigour you do sport?
  4. Educate! Multiple students fedback the need for students to be aware the early warning signs of eating disorders amongst their peers, and how to highlight any concerns if they do spot them, as they do not feel able to turn to faculty or GP services. This will also help decrease the stigma around eating disorders, as felt by so many. You’ve done so much to allow people freely to discuss depression and anxiety, but eating disorders are equally common in your students.
  5. Improve the quality of personal tutoring: I get it, you’re very busy academics, but you have a duty of care to engage with your students and keep an eye out for them. If you have concerns, ask! And if a student discloses concerns, respond appropriately. It might be the 10th time you’ve heard a student discuss their mental health that day, but for that individual, it is their entire life, and they are seeking support. I would personally recommend all personal tutors become Mental Health First Aid trained.
  6. Train STV staff: Help the STV spot the early signs of eating disorders and encourage them to raise concerns where they have them. All too often people with disorders are in denial and need someone else to highlight their concerns in order to accept their difficulties. The STV more than any other service at Bath should be empowered to promote healthy living, not disordered behaviour.
  7. Encourage events and campaigns on eating disorders, body image etc: Engage multiple societies, from Student Minds to the debate group, art societies etc. Conversation and awareness can literally save lives.
  8. Engage in discussion with students: One thing that came from the focus group was why did it take a former student to bring this conversation forward? And where were the university representatives? Yet again it fell to current and past students to get to grips with how big the problem is, and what can be done.
  9. Improve Student Wellbeing Services: From what students told me, the University Wellbeing service is able to manage low-level depression and anxiety, but not much more. This is simply inadequate. Provide more adequate funding to provide a full range of services to students. If you can fund so much sport, you can surely fund more appropriate wellbeing services.
  10. Educate the campus GPs: Not a single student felt able to speak to the campus GP regarding mental health difficulties, and many had tried and had negative experiences. Again, whilst I appreciate GPs may be desensitised to mental illness, they need to again understand that each individual in front of them may be acknowledging their difficulties for the first time, and need compassion.

I would be more than happy to return to the University to discuss my findings further. Please do not hesitate to contact me.

Lorna O’Connor

University of Bath Alumni – 2016

anorexia · Body Positivity · eating disorder

I tried retouching apps for the first time. Here’s what I learnt…

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen that last Friday night I was inspired by the beautiful Pigletish to give retouching apps a try.

I wanted to do this to see how easy it can be to completely alter your face and enhance your beauty. I knew these apps existed, but I wanted to see how accessible and easy they are to find and use.

I have never used one of these before. Granted, I use Instagram filters, which adjust the brightness, contrast, etc. but I have never retouched an image before.

So I headed over to the good’ol Google Play store and typed in ‘face editor.’

The first thing that struck me was just how many different options there were! Facetune, BodyEditor – even one called ‘Perfect Me!’ There were so many, most of which were completely free to download and use. They all generally had really positive reviews, including people saying they’d edited their bodies to their ideal as motivation to shrink themselves down. That breaks my heart.

I eventually went for ‘AirBrush’, an app with over 10 million users and an average rating of 4.8 (out of 5).

When you load the App it brings up a nice little tutorial which runs you through some of the key features. It even offers you stock photos of models to practice on. I threw myself straight in and uploaded a recent selfie I’d taken. From here I was offered a range of free features, including changing my make-up, hair, removing acne, smoothing my skin and even relighting the photo.

I chose to focus on the ‘sculpt’ section. This allows you to quite literally tweak every feature of your face. I thinned my face, made my nose smaller (it gives you options to alter the tip, bridge or both, and you can even make your nose longer!). I made my eyes bigger and angled them more before increasing the size of my upper and lower lips. I reduced my chin and reshaped my eyebrows and boom…(original on the right)

The thing that struck me most about these images was how subtle the difference is. The app contains a button to flip from the original to the retouched one and until you do this (or place them side by side) it’s hard to tell the difference.

The difference each little tweak made is very subtle, despite me pushing the scales as far along as they go for each altered feature. I reckon if I placed this image on my social media (without the original) I would be inundated with comments but few people would be able to tell it had been quite heavily edited.

Shockingly, creating this image took moments! Way under 5 minutes. Sliding a few scales left or right changed my entire face in seconds. I could download it easily, ready to share with the world.

So I tried with a few more. I even tried my recent ‘make up free selfie’ to see if I could alter an image where there was seemingly nowhere to hide.

In each of these the original is on the right. The key things I did to each was make my face thinner, nose smaller and my lips and eyes bigger.

This little exercise taught me a lot!

Firstly it’s scary, right? Even looking at some of them myself I had to look closely to see the differences. With each image I made sure I spent no longer than 5 minutes on each. The subtly of the impact was the thing that struck me the most.

Doing this also made me consider my friends who I always think look amazing in their pics and whether or not they were sneakily using these apps to alter themselves. I knew celebs did it but I had no idea it was so easy and accessible to do. A free app and 5 mins is all it takes! Even a ‘make up free’ image can be enhanced without you ever knowing!

Doing this also taught me how addictive this could be, even though I went into this with a view to call out these apps it did make me consider whether I could continue to use these apps and ‘get away with it’ – of course I’m not going to, I’m all about real beauty! But I felt like I looked better and wanted to portray myself as more beautiful than I am. At one point I even fleetingly thought about lip fillers! Like, what the hell!? I never thought of this as something I needed before and am completely against unnecessary surgery/procedures (for myself, if you’re into it, that’s fine!) yet an evening on this app made me think it wouldn’t even be such a big deal!

I was also shocked how professional the images were. I was expecting obvious warps or gaps where things had been edited to look smaller or larger but this wasn’t the case. There were no wobbly walls or unexplainable gaps like some of the Kardashian fails, and everything still seems in proportion!

It makes me sad to think of all the young girls and boys using these apps, changing their faces, bodies etc. and being left feeling that the true them will never be quite good enough. Even at 25 and reasonably body confident this app made me question my appearance and getting surgery, so I can’t imagine how much this impacts on young people!

It also made me realise we need to call BS on these apps. I remember reading that France have to declare when images have been edited in magazines and online and I firmly support us following suit. I never realised how exposed to altered images we might really be, and the message this is subtly sending us about our own beauty. It has to stop. We need to set realistic beauty standards and embrace the realities of our bodies, skin and lip size!

I uninstalled the app late on Friday evening and all day Saturday was itching to play around more. But now, a week on, I feel free of it and never want to go on such an app again. But I’m pleased I’m a little wiser to these apps, and just how easy it is to alter yourself now and I’ll certainly be looking twice at people’s pictures – you have been warned!

Lorna

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