Living with OCD

Laura Ivy blogs about living with OCD

I remember sitting in a psychology lesson when I was fifteen, flicking through my textbook and writing down the definitions of keywords in the glossary. One of those keywords was ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’. Upon reading the definition I was shocked at how strongly I could relate to it.

Since the age of eleven I had been having intrusive thoughts. Having developed an irrational fear that my intrusive thoughts would come true, I began doing what my mum called ‘rituals’ which I imagined would stop my intrusive thoughts from coming true. I had never once considered that I might have OCD because, as many of us are, I was under the impression that OCD meant you liked things to be clean, or that you liked things to be in a certain order – I was unaware that there was more to it until I realised I had it. A while after that psychology lesson, I watched a television program about people who had OCD, which is where I first began to understand that there were many different types of OCD and started to realise there was more to the disorder than I first thought. After a bit of internet research I built up the courage to confide in my mum, who is a mental health professional, and hear her thoughts and opinions on me possibly having it. After having a discussion with her she agreed that it was possible I was suffering from the disorder.

“Before realising I had OCD, I – like most people – didn’t really take it very seriously”

 

I struggle the most with the intrusive thoughts that come with OCD, which have affected me more than I can even verbalise. Before realising I had OCD, I – like most people – didn’t really take it very seriously and considered it a mild inconvenience rather than the harmful disorder I now know it to be. Having OCD has made me feel constantly anxious and impacted my self-esteem, making me feel somewhat incapable of making decisions and being a functioning human being as I feel like I can’t do anything without having an intrusive thought. I have too many intrusive thoughts to count, completely irrational ones too.

The main focus of my thoughts is my parents and my constant anxiety that something bad will happen to them, which I believe spawns from A) The fact that I am an only child and am very close to my parents, and B) My mum has a chronic illness that has impacted her health drastically. Typically I will have an intrusive thought when I’m crossing through a doorway or touching something. If I’m crossing through a doorway to a different room and I have an intrusive thought I’ll have to leave the room and re-enter, thinking of a ‘good’ thought to counteract the ‘bad’ one. And similarly, if I’m touching something and I have an intrusive thought I remove my hand from the object and have to touch it again with a good thought, as many times as it takes until I feel like the bad thought’s gone. Rationally, I know that this sounds ridiculous and that simply thinking of something can’t make it come true. But in practice, it’s hard not to pander to intrusive thoughts when every single fibre of your being is telling you that you need to.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/image-8.jpg”]

 

Trying not to react to my intrusive thoughts is the best way I have found to overcome OCD. This is much harder than it sounds, but also so helpful. It’s important to rationalise and remember that it is completely safe to ignore intrusive thoughts. This is something I still struggle with, denying intrusive thoughts is extremely stressful but I have found from experience that not trying your best to not acknowledge them has reduced them by a large amount. There are times when it gets worse and there are times when it gets better – the biggest piece of advice I can give for the bad times is to not be too hard on yourself about it. Recovery does not look like a straight line ascending upwards, it looks like a giant messy squiggle that goes up and down constantly. There is no shame in admitting you’re going through a rough patch and need a bit of help to get through.

“I will often hear people making offhand comments about how they’re “a bit OCD” and not realise how harmful saying things like that can be”

 

Luckily I have not experienced bullying due to having OCD. The only people from my real life who know I have OCD are my mum and my best friend, who found out after I uploaded a video about my experiences with OCD to my YouTube channel, and all the people who watched that video. I have been teased occasionally for the traits I exhibit as a result of OCD, such as my compulsions, however thankfully this hasn’t grown into bullying. When I was in school I mainly kept to myself and didn’t really talk to anyone outside of my small circle of friends, so no one else was really around me long enough to realise I had OCD and mock me for it.

The main piece of advice I would give to others with this condition is don’t be ashamed. OCD is something that’s not often taken seriously, a lot of jokes are made about OCD and many people really don’t understand how hard living with it is. I used to be, and unfortunately sometimes still am, ashamed of admitting I have OCD as it is a disorder that has a lot of misunderstanding and stigma attached to it. I will often hear people making offhand comments about how they’re “a bit OCD” and not realise how harmful saying things like that can be to someone who does actually suffer from the disorder. Secondly, remember that there is always help available. Even if you’re not in the position to receive professional help, there are still endless amounts of resources and incredible communities of people who have OCD online. The mental health community on YouTube has been extremely helpful for me in understanding and feeling less afraid of having the disorder.

Ultimately, recovery is very possible. It may feel isolating and suffocating at times but it won’t always be. Help is available readily and your struggles and the battles you fight are completely valid. To anyone else struggling with OCD, your are not alone in this fight, there are other people all around the world fighting the same battle as you and people who have won- you can too.

Written by Laura Ivy

Follow Laura on YouTube

 

Tyler Clementi

In 2010, Tyler’s death became a global news story, highlighting the impact & consequences of bullying

Tyler was smart, funny and talented, with a big heart and a determined spirit, but internally he was struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies. He ultimately took his own life at just 18 years old. It has been surreal to piece together these two very different people: the Tyler I knew and loved, and the one I never knew at all.

I have struggled to process how anyone could want to hurt Tyler. He was hard not to love. He never had problems with people that bullied in high school, so when I learned that he had been violated and abused by his college peers, I was in total shock. Tyler was the good kid that never got in trouble. And when he finally was in trouble, he didn’t know what to do.

In September 2010, my brother was starting his freshman year at Rutgers University in the US. He had come out to me (actually, we came out to each other) earlier in the summer. I was very supportive and encouraged him to reach out to me no matter what the situation. Tyler came out to our parents only two days before leaving for college. They were shocked, but they advised him to be careful and guarded in his new environment. A new living situation with strangers can be risky, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people are at a higher risk of being targeted than their straight peers.

“Tyler was the good kid that never got in trouble. And when he finally was in trouble, he didn’t know what to do”

 

My brother had been closeted in high school and he was excited to finally be out, to be himself for the first time. He was expecting to find a world that embraced him, but instead he soon realised that the start of his college experience had become a nightmare scenario that was far worse than he could have anticipated.

Tyler asked his roommate for and was granted permission to have privacy in their shared dorm room so that he could be alone with a date. What he didn’t know was that when Tyler’s roommate left, he went across the hall to another student’s dorm room and turned on her computer and remotely accessed his webcam, which he had left deliberately pointed at Tyler’s bed. The roommate invited a group of students to have a “viewing party” in the room and sent tweets to students at Rutgers as well as high school friends, detailing exactly what was going on. Tyler’s privacy was violated in a vulnerable moment.

My brother soon realised what had happened. He read his roommate’s Twitter account, which was filled with nasty, homophobic comments about Tyler and the encounter, which clearly was intended to be private. Tyler spiralled into crisis mode, and could not see any way out. I was there, and would have dropped everything to go to him and help him. But he didn’t reach out to me. The shame and stigma of what Tyler experienced pushed him toward a permanent choice that cannot be undone. That much cruelty and intolerance was too much for one gentle, shy young man to bear.

Over the last several years, my family has had to grapple with the questions of why this happened, and how we could have prevented it. No matter how much we want to, we can’t travel through time to bring Tyler back. But we have channeled our love for Tyler to serving other youth who feel isolated and targeted by bullies by creating the Tyler Clementi Foundation. We have chosen to use our personal tragedy as a teaching tool for others, so that more lives like Tyler’s are not senselessly lost. This fall, our foundation launched a research-based initiative that we believe will help other families avoid the sort of tragedy and pain that befell ours: the #Day1 Campaign.

“The shame and stigma of what Tyler experienced pushed him toward a permanent choice that cannot be undone”

 

The two biggest questions we have wrestled with are: “Why would someone want to hurt or humiliate Tyler?” And, “How can we make sure that other youth who are being bullied reach out for help before they take a self-harming action?” #Day1 addresses both of these issues. While it may seem obvious that we should always treat others with respect and dignity, the reality is that middle, high school, and college level students are not hearing this message from their teachers or administrators at school.

The #Day1 campaign explicitly spells out for young people exactly how they are expected to behave towards their peers. It states that mistreatment and abusive, cruel behaviour that will not be tolerated against any student for any reason. After students have heard the #Day1 pledge, they know exactly what is expected of them as part of the school community, and there is no room for misunderstanding. If Tyler or his peers had heard this statement at the beginning of their freshman year, it may have drastically impacted the way he was treated.

In regards to my second question, I believe the biggest obstacle for young people reaching out for help is the shame and stigma they feel when they experience bullying and harassment. It is my hope and belief that by having teachers and school administrators read the #Day1 pledge to students, it will send the message, “You are not alone. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Let us help you. We are here to help, and we want to help.” When a student hears their school’s principal read the #Day1 pledge during an assembly, or their history teacher read the pledge in the classroom, it sends them the message that they are not the only person that this is happening to. It lets them know that their school has an environment of support and acceptance for those who are different, and they are empowered to speak out if their dignity is being violated in any way.

Written by James Clementi (Tyler’s brother)

Learn more about the Tyler Clementi Foundation at http://tylerclementi.org

 

Autism, Disordered Eating and Bipolar – Joe Plumb shares his story

From the very first day of school I was treated differently. Other kids didn’t seem to want to talk or interact with me and neither me or my parents understood why.

I felt so alone.

At the age of six, I was diagnosed with Autism, a social-communication disorder. Although I am really low on the autistic spectrum, people are still able to notice the subtle difference in my characteristics. Because of this, school was a very difficult place for me to navigate. I received both verbal and physical abuse, not only from other students but also from teachers – the people I was supposed to be able to depend on for support.

Things got worse during secondary school; I was beaten up, cyber-bullied and even received death threats. I started to skip meals and purge, because of the remarks people made about my looks. I felt so depressed and started to self-harm. At the time, I couldn’t see a way out – I felt like I had no one to turn to, no means of escaping the misery. I was suffering in silence – too embarrassed to speak up or tell anyone what was happening to me. At my lowest ebb, I tried to take my own life.

Because of my erratic behaviour and intention to harm myself, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and put into the care of a psychiatric hospital for almost three years. Looking back now, I wish I had opened up and told somebody what I was going through, maybe I would have been able to process what was happening to me if I had just sought help.

Personally, I found my eating disorder the hardest thing to open up about, mainly because of the stigma attached to it. I honestly thought ‘no way could a guy have an eating disorder’, even though I was living proof that we could! I just tried to shrug it off as something else, rather than label it. In my mind, it was something women and women only suffered with; traditional stereotypes that enforce how a man should look, or act, makes us feel as though these things can’t happen to us, and if they do, then we can’t talk about it without compromising our masculinity, or being judged. It’s ridiculous. Talking about my problems has made my life so much better.

I now campaign and run my own organisation, helping hundreds of people open up and talk about their feelings. I want to make people realise they are not alone! I implore those that are being bullied, or suffering from a mental illness, to not be afraid to speak up! Help is out there! Things do, and will get better. Stay strong.

Written by Joe Plumb

Follow Joe on Twitter: @TheJoePlumb 

Lauren Rose on living with anxiety and agoraphobia

If you had told me at the age of 22 that I’d spend the next three years incredibly anxious and housebound, I wouldn’t have believed you.

My issues with anxiety seemed to come completely out of left field – one day I was a normal twenty-something; enjoying life, working part-time and travelling abroad multiple times a year, and then a few short months later I was too afraid to leave my house.

What happened?

I started having panic attacks. My first one was not triggered by anything in particular; I didn’t even know what was happening to me when it occurred. I was at work and suddenly I felt faint. My heart started beating faster, and I thought I was going to be sick. I went to the bathroom, looked at my face in the mirror and I actually watched as the colour drained from my face. I figured I must have eaten something bad, so I wrote it off as no big deal. But the next day, it happened again. I felt so unwell all of a sudden, and so nervous because of the attacks. What was happening to me? Why did I keep feeling so faint and weird? Panic attacks are tricky things, and the more you fear them happening, the more they happen – that can start the vicious cycle of a panic disorder.

I would freak myself out so much at the idea of having another ‘attack’ that I’d have them daily, sometimes multiple times a day. I started to associate having panic attacks with leaving the house – as that was when I seemed to have them – so I figured the logical thing to do was to stop leaving the house. I didn’t realise at the time, but this was the beginnings of agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is a condition whereby the sufferer avoids being in places or situations where there appears to be no escape. For many, including myself, it leaves us unable to leave our ‘safe place’, which is usually our homes, or in more extreme cases, even one’s bedroom. Maybe you’ve seen agoraphobics depicted on TV or in movies, where the agoraphobic is perfectly OK inside, but then as soon as they open the front door, the world starts spinning. Unfortunately for sufferers, agoraphobia is a lot more than a bit of wonky vision.

I would wake up anxious. Before I’d even opened my eyes, the anxious thoughts in my head would be on loop. ‘What if this happens? What if that happens?’ I would think about going out that day, only to have the thought immediately shut down by both my physical and mental self. My hands would shake. My gut would churn. My mind would start visualising every possible bad outcome. You can’t go out, I’d think. You might panic. You might get sick. You might not be able to get home. You might embarrass yourself. And then I’d spend the rest of the day feeling resigned, failed, and trapped. Because that’s the problem with agoraphobia – you spend all of your time desperately trying to feel safe, and yet the more you isolate yourself, the more fearful you become.

“I would wake up anxious. Before I’d even opened my eyes, the anxious thoughts in my head would be on loop.”

 

After agoraphobia took hold, my life changed dramatically. I stopped working. I stopped going out. I missed going to birthday parties, I missed weddings, baby showers, holiday parties. I missed going on dates, I missed socialising with friends and family, I missed out on every single thing that happened beyond my front door. I said no to absolutely everything, because I was too scared of what might happen if I said yes. My anxiety became so bad in 2014 that I became too anxious to eat, too anxious to be awake, too anxious about any sensation in my body in case it meant something terrible. I was so afraid of the outside world that opening the door to my house seemed terrifying. The worst part was when people would tell me I just needed to calm down, or relax. Panic disorder and agoraphobia is irrational. Have you ever tried arguing with someone that cannot see logic? That’s what it is like having someone tell you to calm down during a panic attack. The body goes into fight or flight mode, a physiological response which sends adrenaline coursing through your bloodstream. It is survival mode at the most instinctual level. Agoraphobics know that their fear is irrational, but the body has already become trained to respond to the imagined threat.

In 2015, I gave birth to my daughter. The hardest part about it was getting myself to the hospital! After we brought her home, something changed in me. I knew I couldn’t continue living the way I had been. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up saying ‘Mummy is too scared to go outside’. I started to work on exposure sessions, which is where I would go outside and ‘expose’ myself to the fear, until I began to feel less afraid. At first I could only make it outside the front of my house. After a week I could walk a few houses away. After a couple of months, I was able to go to my first mothers group, which was a five minute drive from my house.

“Agoraphobia is an extremely difficult and uncomfortable disorder, but it isn’t a life sentence”

 

In the last year I have made huge progress with my agoraphobia – I was even able to spend Christmas away from home, with my family. In a lot of ways it has gotten much easier over time to face my fears, although I still have bad days. The most important thing that I’ve learned is to be consistent, because if I let myself believe that ‘I can’t’ enough, then I begin to struggle. The trick is to surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you, and to realise that it’s okay to be human. It’s perfectly okay to be afraid, but you cannot let that stop you from moving forward. Shutting yourself off from the world doesn’t keep you safe, it only keeps you locked inside your own fear.

If you are struggling with agoraphobia, be gentle with yourself. The idea of recovery may completely overwhelm you at first, but there is still progress in baby steps, just like there is in leaps and bounds – you just need to believe at some level that you are capable of much more than you give yourself credit for. Agoraphobia is an extremely difficult and uncomfortable disorder, but it isn’t a life sentence. You can and will recover.

Written by Lauren Rose
http://anxietymamma.com

Una Foye, Research Officer for the Mental Health Foundation on the link between bullying and eating disorders

I’ll never forget the day in secondary school when someone told me my legs were ‘too skinny’ and looked like ‘something that would hang out of a birds nest’. It’s not uncommon to hear things like this as a teenager (and sometimes as an adult too). How we look, our weight, or clothes and image can be a target for comments – in fact, recent Ditch the Label research found that appearance was cited as the number one aggressor of bullying. Whether it’s just ‘banter’, teasing or a more aggressive form of bullying, who we are physically is frequently something that is used against us.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising to learn that bullying is highly linked to eating disorders. In 2012 B-eat (the leading eating disorder charity in the UK) found that 86% of people felt bullying had contributed to their eating disorder and 75% felt that the bullying they experienced still affects them. It’s important to point out that not everyone who has been bullied gets an eating disorder, and visa-versa, but this strong link between the two suggests that there’s something there.

We’ve all heard the phrase “stick and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” but that that simply isn’t true. The comments about how we look and who we are hurt us – not because they say you look too fat/ skinny/ tall/ short/ whatever it is; they hurt us because they imply we are are less important, are a bad person or are worthless. And that affects our self-esteem. Self-esteem isn’t about loving yourself, or thinking you are amazing, it’s about how you see your own worth. For eating disorders, low self-esteem is believed to be one of the major underlying factors.

While anyone would (naturally) get upset or feel hurt by such negative comments, someone with low self-esteem might take them more seriously. Because self-esteem is about how you see and value yourself, being told you are ‘wrong’ in any way by another person can reflect and confirm your own self-doubts. This is how it’s been described by many people to me; whether they have anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. It is often when someone else starts to point out your flaws that these self-loathing thoughts begin to grow, and this can impact your mental wellbeing and lead to things such as an eating disorder.

Think of it like a garden (bear with me on this one). Hurtful comments, bullying, negativity from others and all of those things that people say to you are the seeds to an eating disorder. Some people are like concrete and are resilient to the comments – you throw the seeds there but they don’t grow. Some people are like freshly watered soil and absorb – you throw the seeds and they are quickly sown. The same seeds create different outcomes. The bullying might not “cause” an eating disorder, but it provides the seeds for it, if there is fertile ground for those seeds to sow those negative thoughts.

When I was told how skinny my legs were, I didn’t get angry at the girl for saying it, I didn’t think about why she was saying it, I simply agreed that my legs were horrible and ensured for the next ten years of my life I covered them up. And that’s something I’ve heard over and over again from people with all types of eating disorders; ‘the people that bullied me aren’t wrong, they’ve just reminded me what a worthless person I am’. An eating disorder isn’t about extreme dieting as a result of someone saying you are fat, it’s about hearing those words and letting negative thoughts spiral towards self-hatred.

“What makes eating disorders difficult to overcome without professional help is the insidious way they progressively damage an already impaired self. They ultimately become a person’s identity rather than merely an illness the person experiences.” (Andersen, Cohn & Holbrook, 2000, p.185).

If there is one thing that I’ve learnt from my experiences, it is that we are often our own worst bullies. And you don’t have to have an eating disorder for that to be true. Just think about how you talk to yourself when getting ready in the morning. Have you ever looked at yourself and said “look at the state of you” or changed ten times because no matter what you wear it is never good enough? We talk to ourselves in negative voices every day. Would you ever talk to a friend or stranger in the voice you talk to yourself in? When is the last time you gave yourself a compliment, or allowed someone else to compliment you (rather than arguing they are wrong)?

How we talk to ourselves and how we values ourselves is one the major predictors of our mental wellbeing. I’m not saying we all have to love ourselves, just try and value yourself as a worthwhile human. And remember, that it’s okay to feel a bit rubbish about yourself sometimes – behind every superhero is an alter ego who doesn’t feel good enough. It’s about not letting that take over and become the norm.

Written by Una Foye (@unafoyeResearch Officer at the Mental Health Foundation
Categories
Mental Health

What is Self-Harm?

Although sometimes misunderstood as attention seeking, those who self-harm usually do so as a way to cope with deep emotions, distress or traumatic experiences. It can sometimes be a way to try and show how they are feeling; a ‘cry for help’ if they are unable to voice this. It can be a way to relieve unbearable tension, take control of their life and to handle scary emotions, moods, and feelings.

People who self-harm may feel self-hatred and have very low self-esteem. They may also feel sad, anxious, lonely, guilty, numb, disconnected, empty, hopeless, unworthy or trapped. Sometimes the act of self-harming temporarily provides relief from these feelings.

Bullying can be a major cause of self-harming, with others including worrying about school and college work, difficulty with friends or family, money worries, issues around coming to terms with sexuality, alcohol or drug misuse, living up to cultural expectations, traumatic experiences, and bereavement or miscarriage.

We have support available here. If you are feeling suicidal or are in a potentially dangerous situation, we strongly advise you to speak to an adult or call 999.

Reach out to a dedicated self-harm organisation like selfharmUK (https://www.selfharm.co.uk)

To speak to someone at times of crisis:

In the UK – call The Samaritans on 116 123, they are there 24 hours a day, every day.

In the USA – call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Comedian Joleen Lunzer lists 10 Myths About People With Bipolar Disorder

1. We’re scary

When I tell someone I have Bipolar II Disorder, they always look at me with fear in their eyes and ask, “Are you going to be okay?” However, what they’re really asking, is if they are going to be okay. The answer: No. Since bipolar is a brain disorder, the only treatment is to eat your brains! Okay, that’s not true. But if I ever become a zombie, all bets are off.

2. We’re hyper-sexual

Sorry to get your hopes up, but this is a myth. Not everyone who is bipolar is Netflix and chillin’ every night. And even if we were, it’s none of your business.

3. We can’t be trusted

Don’t worry, we’re not going to steal your sneakers or share your secrets. I’m actually a very loyal friend. I’m great at keeping secrets. For example, I’ve never told anyone that my friend Victoria steals the toilet paper from her work and that I once caught her flossing her teeth with her hair. Wait…pretend I didn’t write that.

4. We’re not really bipolar because bipolar disorder is a made up mental health condition

Whenever I hear people questioning the legitimacy of bipolar disorder, I always ask, “Where did you go to medical school again?” That usually shuts them up. Then I remind myself that those who think bipolar disorder isn’t real are the same people who believe that the earth is flat and that Jay Z is a time-traveling vampire.

5. There’s no hope. We’re doomed

False. There ARE ways to manage bipolar. Medication, therapy, exercise, getting enough sleep and a healthy diet are just some of the great ways we manage our disorder. However, sometimes, lying in bed and eating a pound of chocolate while crying works just as well.

6. Bipolar is a weakness of mind and we should just get over it

Mental illness is difficult for some people to understand because unlike other illnesses, you can’t always see it. The wounds are internal and the pain is often hidden behind closed doors, but it is a legitimate medical condition that requires treatment. You wouldn’t tell a person with pneumonia to just get over it. And you wouldn’t look at someone with a broken arm and say, “You’re just being weak.”

If you would say those things, you need to enrol in a human anatomy class ASAP.

7. We’re manic all the time

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!?! I’M NOT MANIC! I’M JUST REALLY EXCITED! LET’S GO SKYDIVING WITHOUT A PARACHUTE! I’M THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE WORLD! I LOVE YOU! I HAVEN’T SLEPT IN A YEAR!

Never mind…everything is awful. I hate you. I’m going to bed.
Some people think this is what it’s like for us every day, but it’s not. Mania comes in episodes; it’s not constant.

8. Arguments and disagreements are always our fault

When you are honest about yourself, you run the risk of having it unfairly thrown back in your face. During a disagreement, the blame tends to fall on us. Why? Because it’s easy, and then the other parties involved don’t have to take any responsibility. But the truth is, it’s not always our fault. Sometimes I’m a jackass and sometimes you are too. It’s that simple.

9. We’re crazy.

Unfortunately, crazy has become synonymous with bipolar. Whenever someone thinks a person is acting “crazy,” they label him or her bipolar. Here’s the deal – we are somewhat crazy, but so is everyone else. We live in a crazy world and it rubs off on all of us. Own it. Embrace your crazy because there is no such thing as a normal person. The people who are willing to admit they’re crazy, are actually the sanest ones of all. Self-awareness is cool!

10. We’re all really attractive

This isn’t actually a myth. It’s true! Everyone with bipolar disorder is insanely attractive (see what I did there). We’re also very humble. We’re hot and we’re humble, but mostly hot.

Written by Joleen Lunzer

http://palegurl.com

We talked body positivity, self-love and naked selfies with three life models who subvert dominant ideologies, and unapologetically bare all to a room full of strangers on a regular basis. Amy, Caitlin and Olivia all make a living posing nude for artists; they tell us what it is really like to be the muse behind a masterpiece.


DTL: What motivated you to become a life model?

Amy: I’ve suffered from disordered eating, most acutely between the ages of about 19 and 22. I started life modelling when I was 20 as a conscious attempt to change my perception of my body, to try to see it as something to be used rather than as just something that was there to look a certain way, to conform to arbitrary beauty standards.

Olivia: I’m pretty disproportionate. I have quite an odd body shape and a life drawing class, I feel, is one of the few places where that’s a good thing. I spoke to other artists and they told me I would be good to draw, so I thought I’d try it out.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2016_Draw_photos-7757.jpg” alt=”2016_Draw_photos-7757″]

DTL: How did it feel the very first time you stood nude in front of a class? How did you build up enough confidence in order to do that?

Amy: I think when people ask me this they want me to say it was really scary and difficult, but it honestly didn’t bother me because I was so positive that doing it was going to help me love myself. In that moment, it didn’t matter whether or not I was happy with my body, because that wasn’t the point. The point was to do good poses with the body I had. Despite having had a bad relationship with body image, in the context of the life class, getting naked just felt so right.

Olivia: I’ll be honest, it didn’t really bother me. It’s an entirely different context from say, sex or burlesque or some kind of steamy fashion shoot. You’re there to help people and they’re really appreciative of that. People are so kind and grateful that you’re willing to sit for them. I went away from my first session feeling better than I’d ever felt about myself.

“Nudity seems to be okay as long as you’re skinny and tall but if you’re nude and your body does not comply with those standards, it is seen as controversial” – Olivia

DTL: Has your perception of your body changed since becoming a life model?

Caitlin: Yes! As a cis-woman bombarded with terrible, unattainable standards, the relationship with your body can be bitter, confused and isolating. To do something, any remarkable thing with your body; whether that is modelling, dancing, swimming or pogo jumping – provides you with a sense of wonder that we should all feel for our incredible, glorious, capable bodies. The body becomes an important part of the self when you model; it’s your instrument of expression and you come to realise the instrument may have some wonky keys and dusty bridges but it’s beautiful and valuable just the way it is.

Amy: My perception of my body has definitely changed since becoming a life model. I can’t say that it was life modelling alone that helped me overcome my fraught relationship with food and my body, but it has played a huge part. Now when I think about the parts of my body that I used to try to shrink and change, I see them as unique shapes and lines and textures that I can use to inspire people.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2016_Draw_photos-7715.jpg”]

DTL: How do you think nudity is perceived in today’s society? And do you think those perceptions vary depending on gender, age, race, disability?

Olivia: I think nudity is pretty normal. It’s everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s a very specific kind of nudity; whitewashed, overtly sexual and unrealistic. Nudity seems to be okay as long as you’re skinny and tall but if you’re nude and your body does not comply with those standards, it is seen as controversial. It’s so ridiculous. It needs to change. My friend’s 8-year-old daughter came up to her and asked if she could go on a diet because she thought she was fat. That is not ok!

Caitlin: There are socially acceptable and non-acceptable bodies. There are bodies we should be ashamed to walk around in, and some that we should flaunt. There are things we should do with our bodies and there are things we shouldn’t. And of course those perceptions are rooted in patriarchal, racist, ageist, ableist ideas that have been perpetuated by the whitewashed skinny media. Perpetuated because sex and shame sell. Dash that, and be nude in a safe place. We come as we are! And I think that’s worth celebrating. It’s also worth disregarding the guilt trip that makes you feel like you should be buying another god-damn yogurt product. You don’t need it.

“If a company can profit from your self-hatred, you can bet they’ll do anything to incite it!” -Amy

Amy: Where do I start?! The way we see nudity is absolutely contextual – women’s bare ankles were once perceived as obscene but now we don’t care about flashing a bit of skin below shin-level. Instagram has recently come under fire for deleting pictures of fat women in underwear under their anti-nudity policy, but not thin ones. And of course, our perception of nudity is gendered, you only have to look at the Free the Nipple campaign or the public breastfeeding debate to see that. What we see as the female body is sexualised in ways that our idea of the male body is not. Because our idea of nudity is so rooted in the sexual, it’s hard for anyone who isn’t young, thin, white and able-bodied – ie. conventionally attractive – to be naked without being shamed, ridiculed or attacked in some way.

There’s a perceived obscenity in naked old bodies, or naked disabled bodies, or naked fat bodies, because of the sex aspect that’s so tied in with nudity, but then when someone conventionally attractive like Kim Kardashian bares all, she’s slut-shamed. No one can win really.

I think life modelling really takes the sex out of nudity. You have to take the sex out before you can put it back in (if necessary)! When you life model, you’re not posing to be sexual, you have a body with breasts, genitalia, a bum – why is showing these things any different from showing your nose or your elbow?

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2016_Draw_photos-7763.jpg”]

DTL: What is your opinion on naked selfies?

Olivia: I take a lot of them because they make me feel good about myself. I don’t tend to share them, I just keep them to look at when I feel a bit rubbish about myself. It might sound a bit sad but it works for me! I see no reason why people shouldn’t do something that makes them feel good about themselves. The only worrying thing, is if they fall into the wrong hands. That’s why I don’t share mine, I don’t want them used for anything without my consent. I think that’s what people have to watch out for. If you are going to share them or send them to people, good on you! Just make absolutely sure that they are in the hands of people you trust. Your privacy is important and if someone is privileged enough to see a naked selfie of you they should know to treat you with respect and you should be sure that they’ll do just that.

Amy: This may sound pretentious but I do think selfies are a form of artistic expression, especially when women and girls and non-binary people do it, because in a patriarchal world that strives to tell you you’re not thin or pretty or otherwise conforming enough in order to profit from you, to love yourself is a revolutionary act. People can say it’s vain if they like, so what, I’m vain! Vanity is radical when you don’t fit the aesthetic status quo. I think taking naked selfies can be a great way to have fun with your body and your identity, whether or not the pictures are sexual.

There is a lot to be said for the desexualisation of nudity, but I don’t think it’s productive to demonise naked selfies that have a sexual connotation. As long as the picture is taken for the right reasons – for fun, for self-exploration – and the sharing of that selfie is consensual, I fully support the rise of the naked selfie!

“To love yourself is a revolutionary act” -Amy

DTL:  What tips would you give to our readers who may be struggling to embrace their body?

Amy: I’m privileged to be able-bodied, and to earn enough money to feed myself, and it’s important to be aware of those privileges if you have them. I also think it’s important to realise that a lot of the time, the voices that tell us to hate ourselves aren’t our voices, they’re put in our heads by the diet industry or the fashion industry, the film and magazine industry – capitalism basically. If a company can profit from your self-hatred, you can bet they’ll do anything to incite it! Remembering and resisting that is radical.

Caitlin: Embrace your body as an instrument of fun and adapt your relationship with it. It is not easy to accept the parts of yourself that you do not like, but the effort to do so is worth it.

Olivia: Fake it till you make it. You may not feel wholly confident but if you act like it after a while you’ll start to feel that way too. It takes the same amount of work to hate your body as it does to love it. Body confidence is so important, not just for yourself but if other people see someone who loves themselves unconditionally then it will spur them on to do the same. I’ve found people who are the most confident in themselves to also be the most kind, the most giving and the most supportive. And, the most beautiful. Regardless of their size or age or the colour of their skin – they glow, they radiate goodness. You can’t buy that, no matter what the adverts say. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a hell of a lot of work but it’s so worth it.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2016_Draw_photos-7713.jpg”]

DTL: Final thoughts?

Amy: I think life modelling and life drawing is a good chance to celebrate body diversity. I think any way that more people of colour, disabled people, trans people, fat people and older people – anyone who isn’t the same white, young, thin, able-bodied cisgender person that we already see represented everywhere – can be encouraged to model is a step towards universal body positivity.

Thanks to Olivia Hancock, Caitlin Mckeon, Amy Squirrel, Mary Martin and Draw Brighton.

http://www.draw-brighton.co.uk/

We interviewed DJ Matt Howes

Matt Howes is an unofficial world record holder, charity ambassador and, amputee. In 2011, he was in Greece when his moped was hit by a car; he survived the accident but lost his right arm in surgery. Just two weeks after the accident, Matt was back behind the decks, despite having no practise. He puts his speedy recovery down to his love for music and performing.

DtL: What motivates you?

Matt: I am very lucky to be alive; if my accident taught me anything – it’s to appreciate life. Something I read recently, rung true, and it stayed with me: ‘If you are anxious you are living in the future and if you are depressed you are living in the past’. My advice to anyone who is feeling down, would be to always try the best you can to live in the moment – the here and now. Don’t worry about what tomorrow might bring, you have no control over that.

DtL: What has been your recipe for success?

Matt: I’m a big believer in positive thinking and the Law of Attraction – if you focus and harness your energy into thinking positively, things begin to change for the better. I noticed my own life start to completely transform when I began to think optimistically about things.

If you are struggling to rid yourself of negative thoughts, a good way to start is to write down everything you have to be thankful for, such as a roof over your head, health, food, water, good friends, family etc. It’s a simple and easy reminder that there are numerous things to appreciate, and things aren’t as bad as they might seem.

87693cfb-ed5c-45ea-92d2-19e409376784

DtL: Ditch the Label research found that 63% of those with a physical disability are likely to experience extreme bullying and social exclusion. What advice would you give to those experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in/doubt themselves because of attitudes towards a disability?

Matt: Remember that you are not alone. We are all in this together, and no matter how dark some days may seem, things do get better.

I was bullied throughout high school, and in reflection, I think it is important not to suffer in silence; speak to someone, tell them what you are going through – you need a support network during difficult times. People that bully are obviously projecting their own stress and trauma onto others. Everyone deals with their issues in different ways, and it is natural to want to vent your emotions, but inflicting the same pain and misery onto someone else doesn’t do anything to solve your own problems.

DtL: What is it like to have a disability in 2016? Have you faced any challenges/ prejudice?

Matt:I think we are heading into one of the most exciting times for disabled people, with opportunities opening up across the board. Important events like the Paralympics, are helping to raise awareness about all types of disability, and this has opened up a lot of avenues to people who would have perhaps otherwise, been ignored. In particular Rebekah Marine in the US & Alex Brooker in the UK are both friends of mine who inspire me on a daily basis.

Of course there are challenges – I can’t recall a time before my accident, when I was told I ‘shouldn’t’ or, ‘couldn’t’ do something, but since losing my arm I tend to hear this quite a lot. I have also received negative feedback, but I try my best to take this in my stride – criticism is an inevitable part of life as a performer, it’s what you do with the criticism that will make or break you. I choose to learn from it; every day I learn something new about music, performing or production. I believe with hard work, dedication and practise you can achieve anything you want to.

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?

Matt: Don’t worry, the best is yet to come.

You can listen to Matt Howes’s mix for the Ditch the Label Mixtape here!