Over the summer the part of my blog really had to be put to one side whilst I reconnected to myself and made positive steps towards overcoming a relapse. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do, as this series has been so inspiring for me (and hopefully for you too!) because I was able to ask remarkable individuals about their lives both in their professional career and their personal life.
Though after taking time to prioritise my health, I am now able to welcome back ‘The Real Matters’ series!
To get things underway once more, I have had to pleasure of asking Phoebe Douglas the lovely lady behind ‘The Dopey Vegan’ blog, which is a wonderful place to find a whole range of content, especially delicious vegan recipes and honest accounts of Phoebe’s own experiences related to mental health.
Could you start off by briefly describing your journey to this moment in time and what led to creating your blog ’the dopey vegan’?
The conception of The Dopey Vegan happened long before I ever actually had the courage to start a blog. The idea was conceived in the darkest depths of a mental health crisis that would turn out to be my worst so far. I had just started a degree in English literature and creative writing and was hating every second of it. I was incredibly stressed and anxious and could barely make it to lectures. The lectures I did make it to were crushing blows to an already critically wounded self-esteem. Creative writing classes were the worst, I was sure I had once been good at writing but now I couldn’t think of a single word to write. The idea of the blog was ok, but I had no self-belief and eventually folded it away, along with a collection of other unfulfilled ideas and dreams. A couple of months later I ended up in A and E after taking an overdose, a couple of months after that I dropped out of university. And I was left wondering what on earth I could do with myself. I spent a year working on myself, with the help of my lovely boyfriend. I started to begin to believe in my own future again. But the question of how to shape that future was every bubbling away, and every so often would simmer over. And I would explode with angst about my future and self-worth. But there was this idea I had left discarded, folded up and pushed to the back of my brain; a vegan food blog. And so, at long last began The Dopey Vegan.
I had been vegan for over a year and found cooking greatly enjoyable and therapeutic, combining that with my first love of writing was an ideal for solution for me. I have learnt and accomplished so much more than I ever believed I could. My writing style has developed, my food has improved and I have an acquired a new skill in food photography. I had barely ever picked up a camera before beginning my blog, and now my food photos are something I am hugely proud of. I soon realised that visually conveying just how tasty my food was going to be as important. This blog has also offered me a platform to write about my struggles with mental health. As my productivity is directly related to how I feel about myself and my mental wellness, I first felt like I owed people an explanation as to why I couldn’t post a food picture once a day like so many other vegan Instagrammers/bloggers. But once I started writing about my mental health I realised it was therapeutic and something I was incredibly passionate about. And I hope to dedicate more posts to solely mental health in the future. A year and a half down the line and I have just released a vegan and gluten-free cookbook zine called The Dopey Vegan’s Little Book of Summer. Which is full of vegan and gluten-free summer recipes. All of this from a girl whose most common phrase is probably “I can’t do it”!
What is the message that you are hoping to share with your readers and followers?
The message I hope my blog conveys is first that vegan food is fun and can be achieved by anyone. Trust me I am the dopiest ditsiest girl ever, hence the blog name! Secondly that you can achieve big dreams despite having serious mental health problems. I genuinely didn’t believe I had a future when I started my blog, any time I thought about where I would be in 5 years’ time my mind always seemed to slide to suicide. I saw it as my inevitable and only way out. Now I’m excited about my future, I believe I can and will live a happy, fulfilled life! But also, to achieve those dreams it isn’t all plain sailing, and there are really tough times along the way.
Have you experienced any sort of negative stereotyping when it comes to your own mental health or that of others?
I recently received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD). The diagnosis process was long and hard. And I had to place a formal complaint. A member of staff implied on more than one occasion that the reason I had been suffering for 7 years was that I wasn’t ‘trying hard enough’, to defend his diagnosis of a moderate depressive episode. I was arguing that the issue was far more serious, and I, thanks to my own research, believed I had BPD. I have faced this stigma before, that mental health sufferers are the only ones who can cure themselves, and their failure to do so shows they are not trying hard enough, rather than they haven’t been given the help/therapeutic services they require. Mental health is a very hard war to fight alone, and we shouldn’t dismiss anyone as not trying when just to get up each morning is probably a battle.
I also found when I was out of work that many people negatively stereotyped me as lazy for this. Maybe if I had told them I was suffering from mental health issues they would have been more considerate, but I often felt too embarrassed to do so. I have found that people are very quick to judge young people who are out of work, without ever asking them why that’s the case.
On the whole, most people I have spoken to about my mental health have been incredibly kind and compassionate, and I have been surprised about just how many people find themselves in similar boats.
What sort of things do you recognise in yourself when you are suffering from poor mental health?
I live with anxiety on a very day to day level. But on very bad days this anxiety becomes panic level. Invasive thoughts often around my death and the death of loved ones become obsessive. I will often struggle to leave the house or do ordinary tasks such as cleaning or tidying. I will struggle to focus. If things boil over I become hysterical and often angry with the people I love the most. This is the side of my mental health I hate the most, I hurt people I care deeply about. And I think it’s something that isn’t discussed enough; I thought for so long I was alone in angry outbursts and believed myself to be evil. I now know it is a very common symptom of poor mental health and BPD in particular. Feeling less alone has helped me to address this side of my mental health more.
How do you overcome the difficult days you have with yourself?
I don’t always overcome the bad days, sometimes the bad days really suck. But I’m learning that one bad day doesn’t have to lead to another. Every day is a fresh start, a new chance to feel good. And I try not to beat myself up for feeling bad if I need a day in bed with Netflix that’s ok. If I have a day where I think I can kick the anxiety into touch. I try to get clean and go for a walk outside. I have a blog post on bad day remedies here, I try to follow my own advice on that as much as possible, but sometimes I still fail.
With regards to your physical health, how has learning to live with diabetes been for you? What obstacles have you faced? What helped?
I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 13, and I don’t think I took in at the time what a crucial moment in my life that was. Before I was diagnosed I had lost a dramatic amount of weight, I was also constantly thirsty and consequently drank so much I was wetting myself. Your body tries to dilute the sugar in your blood by taking in more fluid, but this doesn’t work. People continually asked me and my mum if I had an eating disorder. I was tall for 15 but weighed barely 5 stone. After diagnosis, I tried to get on with things, but I didn’t want anyone to know I was diabetic. And a few years later, I went into full denial mode, and just stopped taking any care of my diabetes. Health care professionals started to really worry, my solution was to avoid them too. I would miss appointments, I still really struggle with appointments today, and hospital visits are a trigger for a lot of anxiety. I just wanted to pretend I wasn’t diabetic and run away from it all. The more doctors told me about the consequences of my decisions, diabetic complications, the more I ran. I was hospitalised on more than one occasion due to diabetic keto-acidosis (very high blood sugars). I would avoid conversations with my mum or become angry. This continued for years, and I put my body through a lot.
The one thing that finally helped was my mum, she sat me down. And I broke down and burst into tears and told how scared I was by it all. She hugged me and told me what I didn’t want but needed to hear. That the only way to stop being scared was to face my fears. Since that moment I have made a concerted effort to look after my diabetes. It has also improved since going vegan. I still don’t have perfect control, I have too many hypos (low blood sugars), but I’m working on it now. Facing this fear has shown me I can work to overcome my deepest fears.
Finally, what advice would you give to others out there who have experienced extreme life-changing moments and how to come out stronger?
This is tough. Give yourself time. You don’t feel stronger immediately after, you may not feel stronger for many years. The only healer is time. And that sucks as advice because when you’re in the darkest moments, it feels like the one thing you don’t have is time. But remember each day, no each moment can be a fresh start, a new chance. You aren’t your past. You can make a new choice. Lastly, in the dark listening to the quietest of whispers, that tells you, you are loved. Because that is the only voice that is speaking the truth, the others may be louder but they are liars. You are loved!
For more interviews from The Real Matters series follow this link here!