This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the theme is Body Image. A really important theme and one that affects so many people. When I think about my own mental health, I always think it started when I had Holly and I suffered with post natal depression, but actually it started many years before that. It’s not something that I’ve thought about in great detail, but when I do I can see that something that happened to me in my early twenties has affected my whole adult life.
When I was 22 years old I got married to someone that I had been with for 5 years and someone that I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with, obviously. But after we got married things changed, he started to make comments about my appearance. He told me I didn’t look good in dresses, I didn’t have the legs for them and I should just wear trousers. I started to listen! When I went to friend’s weddings, I wore trousers suits, whilst all my friends wore dresses. I worked for a company that had an annual ball and people would wear gorgeous dresses. I wore a trouser suit.
They were subtle comments made, little digs and over a period of time they had an effect on me. When I look back now at this period in my life, I think I was depressed. I would spend hours and hours sleeping at the weekend, because if I was asleep I didn’t have to think about the life I had. I became withdrawn, but it was so subtle over the years that people around me didn’t notice.
Then one evening, I was at a friends flat having drinks for a friends birthday before we went into town. We were all talking and I can’t remember exactly what was said, but it triggered something in me. I walked into my friends bedroom on my own and quietly sat there telling myself, that the life I had wasn’t what I wanted. My friend had spotted me come in and came to find me. I burst into tears and told her that I was going to leave my husband the next day. But I didn’t want to ruin our friends birthday, so I told her not to tell anyone. I wiped my years, put on a smile and carried on the night.
The next day I told my husband I was leaving him. I had got to a point where I thought, I would rather be on my own for the rest of my life than be in this life. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I felt like a failure, I was going to be divorced and I thought people would talk about me and judge me. Maybe they did. But, I still did it, because I knew I had to for me.
It was the best thing I did. I remember about a year later, my Mum saying to me. I’m really proud and pleased that you left your husband, because I have my daughter back. It wasn’t until I got you back, that I realised I had lost you. Those words stayed with me, as the hardest thing I had to do was tell my parents I was getting a divorce and to know that they now agreed it was the right thing, really made a difference.
I survived my divorce, I moved in with a friend and then I rented a flat with another friend and I rebuilt my life. I loved my life again. But something stayed with me.
I never wore dresses. Well, hardly ever!
Over the years, I have worn dresses to weddings or special occasions. But it’s always a big thing for me. I spend hours finding dresses that are long, or at least to my knee to cover my thighs. I would never feel comfortable in a dress. In fact even shorts have to be knee length.
When Andy and I went on our first date, we talked about my marriage, as Andy knew me when I was married so he knew my history. But he didn’t know why we split up. I told him everything, because he was a friend too, I felt safe and comfortable with Andy from day one. I told him about how I don’t wear dresses etc and when he messaged me arranging our next date, he said I could only come if I wore a dress.
This sent me into a panic over what to wear, but I did it. Because I really wanted that date! Andy has helped me a lot over the last nine years together, he always compliments me. He always makes a point of saying, I really pleased to see you wearing a dress, it suits you. And over time his comments have started to sink in.
It’s been 17 years since I left my ex husband. 17 years of not really wearing dresses. 17 years of agonising over any dress that I do wear. Feeling self conscious all the time I’m wearing it, constantly thinking people are thinking I shouldn’t wear the dress because I don’t have the legs for it.
You maybe reading this thinking what’s this got to do with Mental Health, and this is why Mental Health Awareness Week has chosen body image as the theme this year, because how we feel about our bodies, affects our confidence, which has an affect on our wellbeing.
I’m a summer girl, I love the warm weather. But as it approaches I can already feel in the pit of my stomach that its that time of year again, when dresses and shorts become part of what people wear.
Last summer we had one of the hottest summers and I thought to myself I’m just going to have to buy some more dresses and force myself to wear them. It was so hot! And I did. But I felt self conscious every time I wore them. But what is important is that I did wear them and that is a big step for me.
I wore more dresses last summer, than I probably have in my whole adult life. My mum noticed and said how lovely it was to see me wearing more dresses.
I have two girls and I’m very aware of the impact that what I do, what I say and what I wear will filter down to them. They are older now and I think if they never saw me wear a dress, they would start to ask me why and I don’t want them to question what they wear, like I do to myself. It’s important that they love the body they have, and it is my role to guide them and the best way for me to do that is to show them. For it to be natural.
Body image is not about what size you are, its about how you feel about your own body, whatever size and shape you are. I know people that will look at me, and think its crazy I feel this way about wearing dresses and tell me I have great legs. But if you don’t believe it yourself, for whatever reason, then it doesn’t matter how many times you’re told this.
I’ve never shared this on my blog, or to that many people in real life. I think that because this has been my life for so long now, I’ve just accepted it and buy certain clothes. But I shouldn’t just accept it. I will continue to push myself and learn to love my body more.
If you know someone that you’re concerned about their mental health in any way, even if its just a little something that is bothering you about them. Please ask them, please talk to them and don’t push it to the back of your mind. And if you think you need any help, then please get it. I lived with post natal depression behind closed doors for so long, and my inbox is always open if you want to talk.
You can find help and support at the Mental Heath Foundation.