Tag Archives: weight gain

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019: Body Image

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (#MHAW19) in the UK and the focus this year is on body image – how we think and feel about our bodies. I’ve talked about mental health in relation to our family before as there is no question that the ongoing challenges of M’s ill health and the restricted diets of both children have impacted not only them, but Mike and me too. Just because I’ve not written about body image issues before doesn’t mean we haven’t faced them and I thought it was finally time to try and put my pen to paper and talk about our experiences honestly.

It’s taken me a long time to become comfortable with the way I look. I am not a size 10 having, as I have often said, passed through it on my way to bigger and better things. I struggled as a teen being taller and bigger than some of my friends and again as a new Mum, when some of my antenatal group bounced back to their size 8 jeans within a ridiculously quick space of time, something I was never going to achieve. The depression that has haunted me since my early teen years didn’t help with my sense of self worth and it has taken me 40 years to finally accept that I am the way I am and that that is enough. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally have a crisis of confidence even now, but I have learned to wear clothes that flatter my shape and can truly step out with confidence when everything comes together to help me feel good about the way I’m presenting myself to the outside world.

There is no question that G is the spitting image of Mike and his side of the family, which gives her beautiful tanned skin and dark hair, although her build is very similar to mine. She has struggled at times with not being as slender as some of her friends and these days complains that she appears to have stopped growing whilst her friends are still inching past her. She is a beautiful young lady on the inside as well as out and we encourage her to find her worth in the way she behaves and reacts to the people who are around her and not her physical looks. We have all heard the criticisms of both print and social media and the airbrushed images that all too often create unrealistic expectations in our children and young people. The increasing popularity of taking selfies and then using social media filters to manipulate the image presented to the world can add to our unrealistic perceptions about the way we should look. I still remember a discussion we had with one of the paediatricians when she was little, who told us that the danger these days is that our perceptions and expectations of body shape and size are such that we fail to recognise when people are a healthy weight for their height and instead view them as overweight. G is learning to eat healthily, keep active, believe in herself and, most importantly, to not constantly compare who she is to her friends.

It is easy to believe therefore that if you’re slim you have no reason to have body image issues, but I can tell you that’s not true either. M is the complete opposite to the rest of us and has always been on the slender side. He is chatty, witty and can ooze absolute self-belief at times, and yet he has struggled with feeling too thin, too short and lacking muscles when compared to some of his friends. He refused to wear shorts during his Junior school years, even when the weather was gloriously sunny and we asked for permission for him to wear jogging trousers rather than shorts for PE – all because he hated the way his legs looked. These days he’s a little more prepared to reveal his legs, particularly when it’s too hot to be comfortable in jeans, but he frequently comments on just how much taller than him many of his classmates are.

Boys can be just as much affected by body image issues as girls can and we’re lucky that our secondary school is very aware of that fact and looks to support all of the pupils in its teaching about these matters. We are all aware that puberty is a tricky time and one that needs to be carefully navigated by all involved. At home, we look to help both G and M grow up with a positive self image and belief as well as teaching them the importance of balanced meals and regular exercise. We also encourage them to talk openly and honestly with us about how they’re feeling about various issues, not just about the way they look, and will help them find answers or solutions if they want. Our youngsters grow up sadly believing all too often that they need to be thin and conventionally beautiful to succeed in this world and I find it devastating that they do not truly understand and believe that there is so much more to achieving success than the way they look.

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Back to work for a rest

take_a_breakI’m sure I’m not the only working parent in the world who gets to the end of the latest school holiday with a sense of it being time to head back to work for a much-needed rest.  The last 2 weeks have been undeniably busy, with a mix of work, play, holiday clubs, hospital appointments and tourist attractions to more than occupy our time.

Surprisingly, the first hospital visit of the Easter holidays was with G, who tumbled from her scooter and ended up with a painful wrist that needed a x-ray.  Despite her best efforts to fracture her left wrist with 4 weeks to go to her SATS, G managed nothing more than a severe sprain, though she has also gained a ban from scooters, trampolines, trees and any form of gymnastics until those exams are done and dusted.  Fortunately G is right-handed, so even these desperate measures didn’t get her out of the revision homework set for her time off school.  We are extremely proud of the effort that she has made with her studies during the holidays as she did some work every day with relatively little fuss and it’s nice to know that the end is finally in sight!

2053064-alpha_flightLess surprisingly, our next 2 hospital visits were both with M.  The first was his scheduled tube change at our local hospital and it went just as smoothly as the last one.  Despite the continued problems we’ve experienced with the gastro team, the nursing team in the CIU (Clinical Investigations Unit) are amazing and have worked hard with us to find an approach to the tube change that makes allowances for M’s anxiety.  The play therapists are on hand straight away to provide a much-needed distraction from all that’s going on by entertaining M with a bubble-popping game on the i-pad or a lengthy discussion about the Canadian Marvel superhero team, Alpha Flight.  Our now-experienced team of Gill and Jo sort us a bed in a quiet area of the unit and encourage M to take some deep breaths of entonox before we even start to discuss the tube change itself.  This time the job was done in an amazing 20 minutes, which included M removing his old tube himself, me counting to 10 in an array of foreign languages and only a fraction of the negotiations we’ve had to endure from M in the past.

622d9490d50f3993393fa0084b4793e8We also spent a few days in London following M’s first outpatient check-up with his GOSH consultant since he had his NG-tube and started the elemental feed.  I’m delighted to announce that, at long last and after an anxious few weeks, M has not only regained his pre-admission weight, but has also managed to put another kilogram on.  Whilst we still haven’t progressed any further than his 3 safe foods, the move to elemental has done exactly what we needed it to and M is unquestionably the healthiest he has ever been in the last 9 years.  The next step is an important one: to find more foods that he can eat without compromising this new-found good health.  We are moving from a pure gastro clinic to a new one for those with “complex food needs”, which will mean he is seen regularly by both his consultant and our specialist dietitian, who will then work together, and with us, to plan the next steps on our new journey.  The future is most definitely bright!