Prisoner Self-Help

tools for healing, changing, growing

Grounding Techniques

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

When we suffer with anxiety, have been shocked or traumatised, it is not uncommon for us to feel disconnected from our body or from reality (psychiatrists may call these states “depersonalisation” and “derealisation”).  We may feel numb, spaced out, distracted and generally “not with it”. It is a way our mind protects us from difficult feelings. However this disconnection or dissociation from our bodies can cause problems, as it numbs positive emotions as well as negative ones, and can also prevent any healing or therapy you undertake from working effectively. When we are ungrounded we are also more likely to suffer flashbacks to traumatic experiences.

The so-called grounding can be very important especially during stressful times, and helps us to reconnect our body and mind. It involves some very simple techniques that can help us feel calmer and safer. Grounding is also very useful to do in preparation for learning and practice of any form of relaxation, meditation or self-hypnosis. (If we are ungrounded when we attempt to relax, it is possible that the relaxation process itself may, paradoxically, provoke anxiety.)

Photo by gubgib atwww.freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by gubgib atwww.freedigitalphotos.net

To put it simply, grounding refers to our sense of connection with the ground (the earth or the floor) – with our physical environment.

The basic principles of grounding are straightforward – it is about paying attention to the sensations of your body being physically connected to the ground, floor, chair or any other surface you are in contact with. For example:

  • Feeling your feet standing firmly on the floor
  • Feeling the weight of your body in the seat
  • Feeling your back against the chair
  • Feeling your elbows on the armrest.

That’s it! When practising grounding, you will probably notice that your attention drifts from the physical sensations of your feet on the floor and your body in the chair to something else – e.g. everyday thoughts or worries, and that’s completely normal. When you notice that just gently bring your attention to the physical sensations of connecting with your environment again.

Touching and holding objects with your hands also has a gentle grounding effect – hugging a pillow or a soft toy, touching wood or metal and noticing their temperature and texture, focusing on the feel of fabric of your clothes or bedding – all can help to practise being in the “here and now”.

If you get a chance to try grounding outdoors, that is even better – when we can feel the ground or the grass with our bare feet, we re-connect with the Earth naturally. Hold a handful of soil, touch (or even hug) a tree, feel a leaf or a twig with your fingers.

Some people like to enhance the pleasant feeling of relaxation that is often associated with grounding through visualisation techniques (making pictures in your mind)– for example, imagining that there are “roots” growing from the soles of their feet, reaching deep into the ground, anchoring them firmly to the Earth, supporting them and holding them. The well-known holistic teacher and author Dr William Bloom suggests a range of grounding visualisation techniques in his book The Endorphin Effect, including imagining and sensing  that you are:

  • a tree with a strong trunk and deep roots
  • a mountain rising out of the earth
  • the big fat smiling Buddha sitting firmly on the ground
  • the wide-hipped “Earth Goddess”

tree

You can also ground yourself whilst walking – just pay attention to the sensations in your legs when you move them and the feeling in your feet as they connect with the floor.

If you are beginning to feel anxious and it seems like a part of you is disconnecting from your body, or when you are getting a flashback to a traumatic experience, you can bring yourself back to “hear and now” by stamping your feet hard on the ground or floor a few times (if there are people around you, it may be helpful to explain what you are doing, so that they don’t think you are having a tantrum!) Any other strong sensory input can be helpful – for example, holding an ice cube or putting your hands in cold water (or splashing it into your face. Strong smells can also be useful for grounding too – if you can get hold of spices or herbal teabags, you can use them to help yourself ground.

Eating food also has a grounding effect (meat, root vegetables and starchy foods especially so) so try to make sure that you don’t miss your meals, and pay conscious attention to the food whilst eating it. This may be one of the reasons that some people who have experienced trauma develop eating disorders – with the numbness and painful emptiness inside being temporarily soothed with food.

If you enjoy listening to or making music, deep low notes also tend to have a grounding effect – if you have enough privacy to do this comfortably you could hum or sing to yourself at the lower range of your voice and notice the effect it has on your mind and body.

Regular grounding practice is especially important for people who experienced trauma, suffer with anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and addictions, and should become an integral part of your healing process.

References and further information

Bloom, William (2011) The Endorphin Effect. Piatkus.

Behaviour Health Resources www.bcbhr.org/Articles.aspx?7

Mosaic Minds www.mosaicminds.org

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

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How to Get Over Grief

by Pete Michaud www.petermichaud.com

I was 21 years old when my dad killed himself.

Dad had left after a big fight with my mom. I had been talking to my mom for the whole week he’d been missing, and that morning was no different. I had to hang up with her to go to class, and I called her back afterward to keep her mind busy while we figured out where dad was driving to.

A man picked up the phone and asked who I was. The detective passed the phone to Mom when I told him I was her son, and that’s when she told me they’d found Dad at a reststop a few miles outside of town. His body baked for 2 or 3 days in the back of his Denali before someone found him. His toxicology report told me what I already could’ve guessed: cocaine, narcotic pain medication, and a bottle of red wine.

My family had been normal. In his youth my dad had been wild, but he was sober since before I was born, he was a middle manager at a major corporation. He was a good dad, always joking, everyone liked him.

Pete MichaudWhen we lived in Mexico, he decided to have a taste of the old times while he could, and he got just a little coke. Five years later, his body rotted in the back of an SUV at a rural Ohio reststop.

The news literally knocked the wind out of me and knocked me off balance for a moment. That’s why people need to sit after news like this. I remember the exact view I had when I fell into my office chair, looking at my wife at the time, who immediately understood what I’d heard on the phone. Grief instantly struck her face as she fell back onto the couch. She, like everyone else, loved my dad.

A couple of numb hours later, I picked up a video game controller and pretty much didn’t put it down for the next three days. When I stopped playing, I’d start crying.

Reimagine

Grief is the process of reimagining what your life will be like now that something or someone you expected to be part of it, no longer will be.

You had one idea before your dad died, or before your husband left you, and now that idea doesn’t make sense anymore because those people aren’t in the picture anymore. They aren’t there, and the needs that were being met by their presence will no longer be met by them. Your subconscious goes into overdrive, deep down into the recesses of your brain, and has to tear that whole future narrative out from the root.

That whole process hurts like hell, and we call it grief.

I flew to my parents’ house to help with the funeral, and I was busy for about a week. I felt nothing really, I was just doing things like writing the eulogy, and arranging flowers and that sort of thing.

Someone had picked up a Stevie Ray Vaughan CD to play at the funeral, as that was some of my dad’s favorite music. I popped it in to figure out what song to play. I was sitting on my mom’s couch when “Life Without You” came on, and I lost my shit. I bawled like a heart broken toddler.

Distracting myself felt better than sitting and dwelling on my dad, that’s for sure. But remember what all that pain is for: it’s rebuilding the mental image of your life.

It’s identifying needs that used to be filled by someone, going through the pain and fear of feeling that those needs will no longer be met, then connecting with new resources to get those needs met in lieu of the departed.

So all those video games, busy work, alcohol, long work hours, only serve to slow down and stop the process of grief. You’re trying to make it go away, but the way you’re doing it is just making it stay longer.

Take breaks from the pain if you must, but let the tears, rage, and desperation flow through you until it’s said its piece. Then you’ll be free.

Pete Michaud is a catalyst. He accelerates change by pulling you toward the ingredients necessary to transform, and pushing you away from anything that keeps you static. Pete’s website is www.petermichaud.com

Sources of information and support

Cruse Bereavement Care is a UK charity offering information, counselling, practical advice and support with bereavement and grief. In Northern Ireland Cruse provides specialist Prison Support Services as well as services in the community.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide provides emotional and practical support to those bereaved by suicide of a close relative or friend.

The Compassionate Friends offers support for parents, grandparents and siblings after death of a child or children.

Young servicemen at high risk of violence

A recent study of 14 000 armed forces personnel in the UK returning from Afghanistan and Iraq Over suggests that 20% of the young servicemen under 30 had gone on to commit a violent offence after coming home, compared with 6.7% of young men outside the military, with PTSD and alcohol being major factors.

Read the full article on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21790348

Coping with Self-harm

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

Among approximately 86,000 prisoners in UK jails in 2011, there were over 24,500 recorded incidents of self harm that year, affecting just under 7,000 prisoners. The good news is that the figures for women self-harming in prison are seemingly going down – with women comprising only 5% of inmates, in previous years they often accounted for almost half of self-harm incidents, and for 2011 it is just over one third of them. (We should bear in mind that these figures refer just to those instances of self harm which were recorded – it is likely that many went unnoticed, as many people who self harm try to hide it – despite the popular belief that they do it for attention.)

A quote from my good colleague and friend Dr Mike Smith of Crazy Diamond“Self harm is one of the most misunderstood and heartlessly represented  areas of British healthcare…  Traditional psychiatric responses to selfharm are to see it as an illness, a deviancy, attention seeking, hysteria, weak mindedness or suicidal intent. As a selfharmer, or as someone who works with someone who self-harms, it is readily apparent that none of the above models have any roots in reality.”

There are many reasons why someone may self-harm, and it is simplistic to assume that the individual who injures himself is “attention seeking”. Much of self-harm is hidden, and whilst some people may hurt themselves to communicate their distress to others, this is only one of the possible motivations. Self-harm can be a strategy to cope with unbearable emotional/ psychological pain, a way to survive, to release overwhelming emotion, to punish self, to gain some control when feeling out of controls, to re-gain feelings when numb or disassociated, or can have several functions at the same time (and the sufferer is not necessarily aware of these functions).

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Self-harm is commonly associated with the following mental health issues: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (especially trauma associated with childhood abuse and neglect); Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality); Eating Disorders; Substance Dependency; Clinical Depression; Personality Disorders.

However, you may not have a mental health diagnosis but still have the urge to injure yourself. It is a widespread problem, and you may have heard of a few well-known people who have been affected, including Diana Princess of Wales, Kelly Holmes (UK athlete), Bradd Pitt and Angelina Jolie (US actors) and Sia Furler (Australian singer) whose beautiful song “Breathe Me”  refers to her own experience of self-harm – even for celebrities with money, status and freedom, self-injury is a painful, distressing and traumatic issue. Self-harmers who find themselves in jail may find that the urge becomes much worse – and some only start injuring themselves when imprisoned as a way to cope with their distress.

Some forms of self-injury or self-harm are socially acceptable and some are even fashionable in the western society, such as tattooing, piercing, cosmetic surgery, overeating, binge-drinking, dysfunctional relationships. Many professionals mix up self-harm and attempted suicide, whereas there is a big difference between the two. There are a lot of myths and stigma around self-harm, but generally it can be understood is a coping mechanism for emotional and psychological pain, used to soothe and tranquilize unbearable feelings.

Below are some ideas for people who want to cope better with the urges to self-injure, with some possible alternatives and strategies which you could, if you choose to do so, use to prevent yourself from hurting yourself. Depending on the type of emotion/feeling which creates the urge to injure yourself (which could be rage, grief, fear, numbness, feeling out of control etc.) different things may work at different times. Some of these activities may simply act as distracters, others have a soothing and healing effect, some allow to express overwhelming emotions safely, and some others allow to experience a limited degree of physical pain (e.g. when someone who feels numb and injures themselves in order to actually feel something) without actually causing injury.

Of course in a prison the choice of activities you could do easily is likely to be restricted as you may not have access to equipment or space required, and your privacy may be very limited. However I tried to include at least some things that would be possible for most people even in prison. Some of these can be done very quickly, and some will require time and a bit of practice:

  • Break some sticks
  • Choose a random object and list 30 different uses for it
  • Clean your room
  • Create a secret code
  • Crush an empty plastic bottle
  • Do some vigorous exercise
  • Draw a picture
  • Draw an outline of your own body and colour in the areas where you feel strong feelings
  • Draw on the place you want to cut with a red pen
  • Draw your own comic
  • Go for a walk (if you can)
  • Have a rant
  • Hit a punchbag/pillow/cushion
  • Hum a tune
  • Imagine a special box or container where you can hide away your troubles
  • Imagine yourself as your favourite superhero and create a story about yourself
  • Learn a martial art
  • Learn acupressure points for calming down
  • Learn grounding techniques
  • Learn mind training games and do them in your head
  • Learn relaxation techniques
  • Look at a tree (touch the bark if you can) and imagine having a conversation with it
  • Look at stars
  • Look for pictures in the clouds
  • Make a wish list
  • Make your out-breath longer than your in-breath
  • Meditate
  • Play a real or imaginary musical instrument
  • Play music
  • Pray
  • Re-arrange your room
  • Remember your favourite joke
  • Remember the best moment from your favourite comedy
  • Rip up a cardboard box
  • Rip up an old T-shirt that you don’t need
  • Sing an upbeat tune
  • Snap your wrist with a rubber band
  • Squeeze a stress ball
  • Squeeze ice hard (if you can get it)
  • Stomp around in heavy shoes
  • Take a shower and imagine the water washing away the pain and bad feelings
  • Talk to a Listener (in UK, a prisoner trained by Samaritans to counsel other prisoners)
  • Talk to a member of staff you can trust
  • Tear some old papers you don’t need into shreds
  • Throw a pillow at the wall
  • Visualise different colours of the rainbow one by one, and notice what effect each colour has on you
  • Visualise your favourite place in nature and imagine being there
  • Visualise an imaginary Healing Room (where you can have  magical equipment and potions that would make you feel better)
  • Watch birds out of the window
  • Watch your favourite comedy
  • Write a letter
  • Write a list of things you are grateful for
  • Write a poem or story
  • Write a song
  • Write down your feelings

An important note for prison staff, carers and professionals – please remember that the self-harm in itself is not the problem, it is a coping mechanism for another problem, so don’t be punitive or force the self-harmer to stop the behaviour (unless of course it poses an immediate and serious risk to their life).
The best you can do is to support them in a non-judgmental way, to help them understand the emotional reasons for self-harming behaviour, and encourage them to seek appropriate support and professional help – if psychotherapy or group therapy is available, consider making a referral, discussing this with the individual.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

References

UK Ministry of Justice – Safety In Custody.

National Self-Injury Awareness Day (2000). Self-injury: Beyond the Myths.

Townsend, M. (2012). Women prisoners: self-harm, suicide attempts and the struggle for survival. The Observer, 11 February 2012.

Sources of information and support

A helpful booklet on Self-Harm published by the UK mental health charity Mind.

National Association for People Abused in Childhood is a UK charity offering support and information for people who suffered any type childhood abuse.

Bristol Crisis Service for Women  is a UK organisation that supports girls and women in distress nation-wide, in particular those who self harm.

Mosaic Minds  is a primarily internet based organization founded by a group of dissociative survivors of childhood trauma and their loved ones.

Survivors UK  is a charity offering help for men who have been sexually abused or raped.

PODS (Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors) is UK organisation providing support, information and training for people suffering with dissociative disorders.

Mentors for prisoners

In an effort to cut re-offending the UK government plans to extend a mentoring programme to prisoners serving short sentences. Typically, prisoners serving less than 12 months have fewer opportunities for support and rehabilitation, and it’s hoped that mentoring could help redress the balance. One of the challenges is that the mentors, who are often ex-offenders themselves, have a difficulty in getting inside prisons because of the strict security rules.

Read the full article on the BBC website.

China phasing out prisoner organ harvesting

Last week Chinese health officials have been quoted as saying that the use of organs from executed prisoners for transplants will be gradually phased out over the next five years.

China carries out the largest number of prisoner executions every year of any country in the world – the actual figures are not known but Amnesty International estimates that they far exceed the number of prisoners executed by all other countries put together.

Voluntary organ donations are currently scarce in China for cultural and religious reasons, and a huge number of people are waiting for transplants. Chinese officials have said that death row prisoners volunteer to give their organs but human rights groups believe that prisoners are pressurised into agreeing to this.

Escape of a woman on death row foiled

Two men, including a former prison staff member at Tennessee Prison for Women, were charged yesterday for the alleged escape plot of Christa Gail Pike, 36.

Pike was sentenced to death by electrocution in 1996, for the murder of a fellow student, Colleen Slemmer, who she suspected of trying to steal her boyfriend. She was 18 at the time of murder and 20 at the time of conviction.

Justin Heflin, 23, a correctional officer at the prison, Heflin, was arrested by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and charged with bribery, conspiracy to commit escape and facilitation to commit escape. Donald Kohut, 34, an acquaintance of the killer who frequently visited her, was arrested and charged by New Jersey State Police with bribery and conspiracy to commit escape.

Christa Gail Pike is the only woman currently on death row in Tennessee. During her time in prison she was also charged with attemted murder for strangling a fellow inmate with a shoelace in 2001.

As of December 31, 2011 there were 58 women on death row in the Us. This constitutes 1.8% of the total death row population of about 3,250. In the past 100 years, over 40 women have been executed in the U.S, including 12 since 1976.

 Sources

Death Penalty Information Centre http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/women-and-death-penalty

Jail Life http://jaillife.co.uk/jail-break-plot-fails-to-free-tennessee-death-row-inmate-christa-gail-pike.html

From Hurt to Wholeness

by Michael Mallows

Hurt – Hate – Hope – Healing – Wholeness

Inevitably,  the elements overlap and intertwine, and no matter how hard we’ve worked, or how far we’ve come, it is always possible to relapse, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to start over!

Hurt is the pain we carry, like a burdensome thing, as a result (or so we tell ourselves) of our past; all the betrayals and abuse, the rejection and ridicule, the physical assaults, all psychological as well as psychic blows. And the shadow of the past might be very long indeed because it probably echoes not only our own childhood, but that of our parents and grand-parents, and beyond.

Hate is usually externalised in our contempt and disdain for others. We talk to or about the bosses or bullies who have caused us distress. We build walls against people who are different, we treat children with disrespect, we betray the partner we cheat on. Blaming them (or our past) is a smoke screen for the deeper hurt and the greatest hate – that we are out of love with who we think we are, as evidenced by the countless ways in which we treat ourselves unkindly or even dangerously! In short, when ever we treat others in ways that demean or degrade them, we reveal how we really feel about our selves! 

Hope by definition, hope is wishful thinking; if we have it already, hope is redundant! We hope for something that does not yet exist. When we focus on what’s wrong with other people, hoping they will change so that we will feel better about ourselves, we are not paying attention to our own faults and failings. This is hardly surprising if we don’t really like ourselves very much, which is evident in the way we deny and delude ourselves that the problem is caused by other people – past or present – and we are only the effect. If we have nor resolved, let alone recognised how our sense of self is riddled with feelings of inadequacy, hurt and hate, then hope is already contaminated.

Healing will only truly start when we recognise our meanness of spirit – to self and others, when we acknowledge our spiteful thoughts and gossip, when we admit our narrow minded prejudices, when we take responsibility for our vindictive acts and attitudes.And we can heal deeper wounds if, in the moment that we hurt the most, when we believe, and others agree, that we would be perfectly justified in retaliating, in seeking revenge, in hitting out with words or actions, in getting our own back by making others suffer, if, in that moment we choose not to seek vengeance or retribution.In that fleeting moment, even though we are hurting, if we go against the habit of hurting back, we have transcended the terrible weight of personal and collective history.We have chosen to act from a wellspring of love (even though we might still feel hateful), and to create a little and yet a vast space into which we and others might choose to grow.

Wholeness requires that we include rather than exclude other people, even if they are not as we would wish them to be. We treat them as we would like to be treated and would treat ourselves if we were filled with self-validating self-esteem. In this place, we become exemplars of the way we’d like to world to be. We stand as the possibility of love where, all too easily and all too often, we have previously been willing to hit out, to hurt, to hate, ‘just to teach them a lesson’! The lesson they learn when we pass on our hurt and hate is hopelessness in a bleak world because what we do is what we teach. And everything we do says who we think we are! If the above does not apply to you, you might anyway find it a useful frame of reference when you listen not only to what people tell you, but what they don’t say.

Michael Mallows is a psychotherapist, supervisor, trainer, consultant, author and expert on adoption. He is developer of SET (Social Effectiveness Training) and CRAFTY Listening. 

Simple Relaxation

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

One of my favourite relaxation techniques is the so-called “Betty Erickson Induction”, which is really a type of self-hypnosis approach that relies on using our senses to induce relaxation. It is used by some hypnotherapists to help a client go into relaxing trance, and also overlaps with some aspects of Mindfulness.

When I worked in a women’s prison, I taught this technique to many of the girls suffering with insomnia. Clearly, a prison is not a tranquil or relaxing place and sleep problems are really common. The women found it helpful, especially as the technique incorporates noises or sounds in the environment into the process of relaxation.

So, to start off, sit or lie in a comfortable position, and begin to notice what you can see, hear and feel.

1. Say to yourself gently:

“I can see… [name any object in your field of vision]” and repeat for 5 different objects, for example:

“I can see a window”
“I can see a wall”
“I can see a lamp”
“I can see a book”
“I can see a radiator”

2. Then say to yourself:

“I can hear… [name any sound you can hear]”
and repeat for 5 different sounds, for example:

“I can hear the ticking of the clock”
“I can hear traffic outside”
“I can hear my breathing”
“I can hear a door creaking”
“I can hear the wind”

3. Then say to yourself:

“I can feel… [name any feeling or sensation you experience]”
and repeat for 5 different sensations, for example:

“I can feel tension in my shoulders”
“I can feel my feet on the floor”
“I can feel my tongue in my mouth”
“I can feel heaviness in my limbs”
“I can feel my hand on my lap”

4. Repeat the sequence, this time naming only 4 things you can SEE, 4 things you can HEAR, 4 things you can FEEL. The pictures/sounds/sensations can be the same as last time, or different – it doesn’t matter.

5. Repeat, naming 3 things you can SEE, 3 things you can HEAR, 3 things you can FEEL

6. Repeat, naming 2 things you can SEE, 2 things you can HEAR, 2 things you can FEEL

7. Repeat, naming 1 thing you can SEE, 1 thing you can HEAR, 1 thing you can FEEL

By now, if you are not asleep yet, you should feel more relaxed and with much less “chatter” in your mind. If needed, you can repeat the procedure more than once.

This technique can be used for insomnia as well as general relaxation in stressful situations, e.g. in a waiting room before an interview or meeting, during a test or an exam or when preparing for a difficult conversation. Please make sure you do NOT practise this technique whilst driving or operating any machinery, as it can quickly make some people  feel very sleepy!

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Do I have an eating disorder?

by Deanne Jade www.eating-disorders.org.uk

If you had an eating problem before going to prison, the stresses of prison life could potentially make it worse. Research suggests that female prisoners are twice as likely to have an eating disorder as women in the general population  – it has been estimated that up to 5% of women in prisons have obvious severe eating disorders, and it is suggested that up to 25% may be at risk, less severely affected or hiding their problems; in my recent visit to one prison I found that the prevalence of bulimia was 70%! There is very little information on eating disorders in male prisoners available at the moment, but it does not mean that men are not affected – they are less likely to seek help so true figures of men suffering with eating disorders are not known; it is likely that men with alcohol problems could be more prone to develop eating problems.

There are broadly speaking three types of eating disorder: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder. An eating disorder is not an illness like measles. It is not something that you either HAVE or DON’T HAVE. Most women and many men are concerned with what they eat and how they look, and many people do strange things to control their weight.

People with an unhappy relationship with food do not necessarily fit neatly into the three main categories of eating disorder. Some people have features of all these problems and some people start with one disorder and then evolve into the other.

The Three Dimensions Of Eating Problems

Whether or not you have an eating disorder depends upon how you are functioning in three significant dimensions.

Thoughts

  • How are you THINKING about food, eating, your weight and your body?
  • Do you obsess about everything you eat or what you weigh?
  • Do you have bad thoughts about yourself as a result of your eating habits?
  • Do you compare yourself constantly to other people?
  • Do you have a lot of very strict rules about what you should or should not be eating?

Feelings

  • How do you feel about your eating habits?
  • Is there a lot of guilt, anxiety and fear?
  • Do you feel fat even though others say you are okay?
  • Do you hate yourself for what you put in your mouth?
  • Are you scared of eating normally?
  • Do you feel helpless around food?
  • Are you depressed and anxious a lot of the time?

Behaviour

  • How do you behave with food?
  • Do you eat normally in front of others and binge in secret?
  • Vomit or use laxatives?
  • Are you always either on or off a diet?
  • Do you gorge certain foods or exercise excessively to control your weight?
  • Do you keep on eating when you have had enough or starve because you are afraid that you would never be able to stop eating once you had started?
  • Do you jump on the scales whenever opportunity arises?
  • Are you always on or off a diet?
  • Do you take slimming pills?
  • Do you feel that your behaviour is not normal – even perhaps dangerous to your health?

Where behaviour is concerned, many people lose sight of what is normal. They are so used to doing these things, they don’t remember what it was like to enjoy food and look forward to eating. Some people who behave dangerously with food are in denial about how serious their problems really are. But some people who have a serious eating disorder think they have no right to seek help because they aren’t “bad enough”.

What Kind of Eating Problem Do I Have?

If you…

  • Overeat in secret, either all or some of the time
  • Feel that your eating isn’t normal
  • Feel guilty about what you have eaten and feel like a bad person
  • Are constantly trying to lose weight or prevent yourself from gaining weight and ultimately failing
  • Think and anguish about food all the time
  • Feel out of control around certain kinds of food or any food.

…you are probably suffering from BINGE EATING/COMPULSIVE EATING

If in addition to the above you are…

  • Normal weight or slightly overweight and you vomit, or take laxatives to get rid of unwanted calories whether you have binged or not

…you are probably suffering from BULIMIA

If you are…

  • Normal weight or underweight and feel fat or are terrified of weight gain
  • Very fearful of eating
  • Hearing a voice telling you to keep eating less
  • Vomiting or taking laxatives after normal meals, snacks or any binge

…you are probably suffering from a form of ANOREXIA.

Eating disorders are extremely distressing and can be damaging to heath, and anorexia can be life threatening. If you recognise yourself in the above descriptions, please seek support. Expert psychological help in relation to eating disorders may be hard to access while in prison, but do speak to a member of staff you can trust who may be able to investigate what’s available for you.

Sources of information and support

National Centre for Eating Disorders www.eating-disorders.org.uk

Beat www.b-eat.co.uk – the leading UK eating disorders charity offering informaiton resources and support

First Steps Derbyshire www.firststepsderby.co.uk – UK charty which has a prison outreach project

Deanne Jade is a psychologist and one of the first eating disorder specialists in the UK; she has over 30 years of experience as therapist and trains practitioners in working with issues such as binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia, and obesity. She is the Director of the National Centre for Eating Disorders www.eating-disorders.org.uk

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