Jesska Denise is an Irish beauty, fashion and lifestyle blog


Social Distancing and Mental Health: Week One

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At the beginning of this year I set myself a goal, a simple goal by any stretch of the imagination, but one that was important for me to achieve none the less. The goal? Push myself outside of my comfort zone. To basically do things that scare me and upset my routine and normality a little. Learn to say yes to more things and not think about the consequences (within reason). Go for it. Stop living my life like I'm wrapped in cotton wool. Be easy breezy and not a rigid mess.

We're three months into the year and so far, things were going good. I've been more spontaneous. I've been out of the country. Been to two concerts, with the aim of attending more. Opened up my social life. And all-round, just challenged myself more with everyday things.

This goal may seem pitiful to some. Non-challenging. Easy. But to me it was, and still is everything. I've lived the last five years of my life in the bubble of anorexia. And there is an extreme comfort in that. Life becomes simple. Food. Appointments. Medication. Rinse and repeat. There is no danger in it, it is safe. No expectations. No feelings. Nothing. It's monotone and grey. And then something clicked. I wanted color and HD. I craved life. I envied what my friends had. I wanted to travel. Explore the world. Hop on a train to Dublin, never mind a plane to London. I wanted messy and chaotic. A relationship and friendships. The whole nine yards. Give it to me.

Anorexia stole all this from me. I was afraid. Afraid to feel anxious. Afraid of failure. Afraid of confrontation and expectations, my own high standards and the opinion of others. Anorexia offered me numbness from all this but it stole in the process. My health. My sanity. My grace. The thing about all the above? Not compatible with anorexia. There is no room for both in your life. In the height of an eating disorder life is food, numbers, and structure. You can't think about anything else. It's consuming.

That is why my goal became so important and still is, very important. I have to challenge the rules anorexia has rooted deep within me. Go against my better judgment and close the door on my instincts. Increasing my anxiety in the process, but knowing I was going to win in the long run. The old saying of temporary pain for long term gain placed firmly in my mind.

But then I didn't factor in a worldwide pandemic. None of us did.

My New Year goal of living a life with no routine and flirting with a bit of chaos? Hello, 2020, I want a redo, this is not quite what I wanted.

Life has been turned upside down. And I know I'm not alone in feeling like this. Logically I know this. I do, I do. But sometimes, in the last day or two, it feels like it. It seems like everyone around me is adapting to our new normal. And I can't quite wrap my head around it. I count the hours until it's time to go to bed every night. Turn off my phone and hope I wake in the morning to find out this was all some bad dream. It's surreal, and I feel sick every time I think about things not returning to normal anytime soon. There is no end in sight to this.

I can't do another week of social distancing, never mind another month. This is not a world I'm comfortable existing in. And as each day ticks by, it seems more and more never-ending. Suffocating.

I have done social isolation before. In the depths of my eating disorder and anxiety, this current reality would have been my dream. Now it's my nightmare. I so desperately want to crawl my way out of this lockdown, but I can't. This is for the safety of others. I get that. But it still doesn't stop me feeling so sad and angry. I spent 14 weeks of my life last year as an inpatient in hospital. I promised myself I would never be in that situation ever again for as long as I live. That another admission had no place in my life. And I've fought. So bloody hard these last few weeks to explore and entertain a life that I am proud of. One that I can look back on in December and say yes, that was a good one. I lived life to the fullest. I made mistakes that were normal and not berated because they were eating disordered ones that affected my recovery.

And yet, here we are. No one is to blame for this. It's not usual. But it has made me realize that my motivation for recovery is dependant on so many things. That, upon reflection, my recovery is fragile, hanging on by a thread and this has thrown a spanner in the works. I know I don't want to feel how I do right now. I'm scared. Growing more depressed by the day because I can't pursue my normal life. And anorexia is whispering in my ear. Making every bit of food harder. Tempting me with numbness and distraction. A way to destress. No time to think about the impending doom of the world when you're knee-deep in anorexia. I hate that I'm vulnerable to these thoughts. That I'm not as strong as I thought I was.

Then I remind myself, this is a situation no one could have prepared for. I cut myself some slack, and try to refocus my energy elsewhere. Anywhere. I have great insight into my illness, I know my triggers well. It is both a blessing and a curse to be so in tune with myself because I'm afraid of knowing how much I know. Knowing what can derail me. But then knowledge is power. And I'm not the same girl I was last April who was being admitted into the hospital.

I've had a lot of time to think since this all went down. Reflecting. Panicking. Being. Just to 'be' is a challenge in itself for me, I'm addicted to my busy lifestyle, my eye on my goals, constantly on the go. This is alien to me and I'm just itching to get back to how things were and should be.
I know there is a more optimistic way to view all this, be grateful for the gift of slowing down, being at home etc etc. I know. Trust me. I just fear that without being able to engage in all the things that motivated me to recover in the first place, that I don't know where I'll find myself amongst all this chaos.



Top 5 Kindle Reads - The Lockdown Edition

Top Five Kindle Reads

You're stuck in lockdown or your self isolating, whatever the reason, you now have a lot of free time on your hands. I don't know about you, but there is only so much Netflix I can stomach, I am not a binge-watcher. Okay, if it really hooks me á la Spinning Out, then I am. But the vast majority of the time I prefer to read. Losing myself in a good book feels more fulfilling in a way. Probably because of my GoodReads reading challenge not gonna lie, but it's good. I love it. This year I've challenged myself to read 50 books and so far I've read 12 out of that 50. Pretty good going, and putting me 2 books ahead of schedule. Last year my goal was 30, and I hit that goal of 30 pretty easily. Was 50 a bit optimistic? Maybe. But guys, my schedule has blown wide open for the next two weeks at least so I'm thinking I can squeeze a few books in during that time?

This is why considering our current situation, I thought I would share with you all my 'Top 5' books to read, the eh Lockdown Edition? Books that you can just lose yourself in. Forget about the world around you. The ultimate checkout. That's what we all want right? To escape for an hour or two? I do anyway. Now, I read everything on Kindle. Kindle for iPhone to be specific. I know some people shudder at the thought of eBooks but I find them really convenient. If you're on the go, if you find yourself with a few spare minutes waiting for a friend or yano, it's 1am and you've finished the second book of the Crazy Rich Asians series and you desperately need your next fix. One-click Amazon purchase and ready to continue reading into the night - class.

Below are just some of my favorite books that stick out in my mind. The ones that I've told others to read, that I've bought for others or just can't shut up about. I'm not going to go into a synopsis because you can find that all at the link, but I am going to tell you why I enjoyed it which is usually how I find what I'm going to read next.

  • The Woman in The Window - I read this book well over a year ago and I'm still recommending it to anyone who will listen to me. Its set to be a movie with Amy Adams, and is due for release during Summer, which probably will be pushed back now, the way everything has been pushed back but oh boy was this glued to my hands. It's a psychological thriller which isn't something I would typically go for but I read it so fast and it was so good that I wanted to savor every last bit of the end that I told myself to slow it down. I was reading it in the car, at home, on the sly at work. It was too good. There's so many twists and turns that you can barely keep up, and the whole time you're just trying to guess what is going on.
  • Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling (the trilogy) - I'm cheating here a little and including three books in one. But trust me, once you start reading about Aisling and all her little antics between Dublin and Ballygobbard, you won't want to stop. I read the third book way too fast and now I'm here, counting down to the day that book four eventually releases. When will that be? God knows. Sometime soon preferably. If you're Irish, you will absolutely appreciate the hilarity that is Aisling. You either are Aisling or you know an Aisling. Every reference, anecdote, and phrase is so uniquely Irish you will be in bits because you'll know. You'll have uttered something similar to yourself. You'll have been right there. You'll have a Majella in your life. It's appealing to everyone and so light-hearted. The perfect pick me up. And like I said - three books to completely get lost in.
  • All the Bright Places - like every good Young Adult Fiction, this book is now on Netflix (Spoiler alert this links to the trailer). I read it in two sittings. Yeh. Two. I was addicted to the intertwining stories of Finch and Violet. Their individual struggles. The path that brought them together. I appreciated the real, honest approach to mental illness and how despite the love of those around you, sometimes their love is not enough. This book was raw, emotional, and frankly, pretty damn painful. Maybe it isn't a book to distract you from the world, but it is a book that will distract you from the sorrows of your own life and make you wonder about those around you. To appreciate the simplicity of life. The beauty of simple friendship that flourishes into more. It's heartbreaking on a scale similar to that of The Fault in Our Stars, and you will cry. But this book can't go without being recommended. I swallowed it up. Perhaps too fast. At times I even found it difficult to read so I will add a slight trigger warning for mental illness, suicidal ideation and just urge you to read with caution if you're vulnerable to this sort of content.
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - this one is a bit of a slow burner, but please, trust me with this one. You will not regret it. Eleanor is one of those characters you will grow to love, you'll want to protect her at all costs. She's loveable, endearing, quirky in a way that you wouldn't necessarily expect and her story is one of unique sadness. It is not a happy go lucky book, but some of the best books aren't. Everyone I've spoken to about this book is in collective agreement - it is tough to get into, but once you plow through those first three chapters you're just itching to read more. You'll find some bits of her story you relate to, you'll see bits of yourself in her and despite the title of the book, Eleanor is far from fine but you hope she will be.
  • Supernova - another book with a theme of mental health/illness. Again, I became immersed in this. I related deeply to April's experience of anxiety. I could see parts of my own struggles, albeit massively different, in her. Writing about anxiety, especially in the young adult genre is always tricky, but I feel like this book encapsulated it in a way that others have failed to do so. I never see anyone raving about this book which is why I opted to include it, it's a rare anonymous gem. A story of friendship, young love, and the difficulties of living life with a constant bully in your head. This one is definitely worth a read if you'd like to understand a bit more about how the mind of someone with anxiety sounds like. It is a bit heavy on the 'teen', but relatable none the less.

There you have it, just a few books for you to submerge yourself in over the next couple of weeks. If you head over to my GoodReads account you can see more of what I've been reading. There's a mix between young adult, thriller, and memoir so if you're stuck for something to read and you like what I mentioned above, it might be of help. If you're self-isolating and don't want to leave the house, this is another reason why Kindle is so so practical. You can download the app on your phone, log in through your Amazon account and just buy your next read. No need to run to the shops or the library. It's a great way to pass the time. If you've read any good books lately, make sure you comment them below so I can check them out.


Remaining Calm When the World Has Begun to Panic

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My biggest fear in life (after spiders), is the end of the world as we know it. Irrational. I know. Trust me. I have been over this multiple times in my life. When I was younger and I was convinced we were all going to die because it rained a little harder than usual. When I watched The Day After Tomorrow and Contagion and was without a doubt certain that either would be our faith in life. When I heard the old age tale about 2012 and how we were all to meet our impending doom that one faithful day in December 2012. To more recently, two and a half years ago when I became sick with fear. I was convinced, no matter how many people told me otherwise, that life was ending. I was watching the news and scrolling through Twitter and reading various news articles, and my irrational long term anxious mind made a connection between all these very separate events. The world was ending and I was certain of it. The earthquake in Mexico in September 2017, the ridiculous number of hurricanes in September. Everything. I was so wired into the world that for whatever reason, this all made sense to me. The world was ending and I didn't know what to do about it. The signs were there. Everyone was ignoring it. I thought my friends and family were all going to perish in some nightmarish disaster and that I couldn't leave them. I didn't want to be away from them in case something did happen. So many thoughts entered my mind and it was so unbelievably exhausting.

This took over my life for the guts of three weeks. Three weeks of hysterical phone calls to my friends. Texts to my cousin. Crying in work. Unsettled. Hypersensitive to every noise. I was a nightmare to be around. I admire my friends for putting up with me at the time. I was so driven by fear. Something was coming. I could feel it. I spent half my days internally freaking out. Shaking. I couldn't eat out of fear. I kept it to myself other than the calls and texts. Tried to hold myself together. I became afraid to leave the house, other than for work. How I made it to work is a miracle in itself. My anxiety stepped up to another level that resulted in me having to take medication to come back to myself. Two years of medication to get me functioning again minus anxiety. Anorexia isn't a character in this story but it's certainly an accomplice. I'm still unwinding myself from it to this very day.

This is why now, that we're in the midst of this Coronavirus outbreak that I feel like I am living through the motions of my own irrational fear. Only, now it isn't irrational. It is very real and unavoidable. I have dreaded this since the start of January when I read that first innocent article on the DM about two people in Wuhan and their connection to the market in December. At the time I thought it was interesting, I bookmarked it to my brain. Keep an eye on this. This could be something you need to worry about. Normally when I read things like that, nothing comes of it. But then more articles came. And then the noise around Wuhan increased, and then the talk seeped into normal conversation and suddenly this was no longer an innocent DM article that my anxious brain bookmarked for just incase. This was a very real problem. This was the stuff from my worst nightmares. Yet now I'm not the only one panicking. Everyone is.

Up until the virus hit Ireland I was more panicked. I went to Copenhagen and it was on my mind. Going through the airport. Being surrounded by so many people from all over the world. In Longford, I was safe, but Copenhagen and the airports were new territories. I dealt with it. I always deal with it. Because in my head, I'm being irrational, illogical, driven by anxiety and unwarranted fear. We laughed about it sitting in the airport when a child coughed right on top of us. It was easier to wipe it off as a joke. The Irish attitude of sure it will be grand very much in force. And then Italy happened. And then Coronavirus invited itself into our country alongside an unsuspecting individual and things got a little more serious. Work got a little more serious. We had procedures. More hand sanitizer than physically necessary, but they wanted to protect us. This panicked me slightly. I've always considered work a safe place from the goings-on of the world, but this threw me. But we joked. It was fine. If anything the virus coming into the country terrified me less, because then I knew. It was no longer a what-if scenario. The enemy was here and we just needed to deal with it.

Then everyone started panicking, the people in my life who are normally so calm and collected, no longer so calm and collected. I wasn't allowing myself to freak out too much, because, to me, this sort of thing until recently was a very real, albeit illogical, fear. I had always been reassured that I was overthinking things too much, nothing like my worst fears would ever happen. I was being stupid. Overreacting. I needed to calm down. Yet here we are. The world is erupting in panic. Life 7 days ago is still within reach but now it feels like a lifetime ago. My worst fear a week ago was eating Wagamama's. Can you imagine how much of a luxury that feels like now? That my worst fear was anorexia driven. Can't eat out twice in 48hrs Jess! If only I knew what was around the corner. I might not be allowed to leave my house for two weeks never mind being subjected to eating out with two separate people on two separate occasions. I crave the simplicity of those worries because now I'm worried about my family and friends, my neighbors. Myself. Food is still a worry but God, does it seem so miniature now. Not to belittle my own illness, because it is still a massive struggle.

A month ago we were throwing a baby shower, and now I'm face timing my niece because her safety and my unborn nephew's safety comes first. Work is closed. My mental health appointments canceled. Regular service has been interrupted, please do not go about your daily life is the message. And yet, this terrifies me more than getting coronavirus. I'm scared to be trapped in my house. I'm scared that I'll slip back into something I clawed my way out of. I'm scared that my eating disorder will latch onto this, see it as an excuse to reduce my intake due to lack of activity. I was finally beginning to be more spontaneous in my life. I was you could say, living, for the first time in years and as pathetic as it seems, I'm angry that it's being taken away from me. I know so many people are lapping up staying at home, self-isolating, again, the Irish course of action of sure it's grand. But it's not? It's like that crazy limbo between Christmas and New Year. A limbo, I despise. I know it's all for safety, to protect us all. But this interruption from usual life is making me feel sick. I ache for routine. I am my own worst enemy. I find it hard to stay at home. I like to be run ragged. I like to be busy to the point I'm giving out about it. I'm addicted to the chaos of my routine. Much better than I used to be, though I still need that certainty.

Though the most surprising thing? I am prepared for this. I know how to survive the panic and impending doom we're all feeling right now because I've felt this before. I've lived this fear. I've battled this fight when the opponent didn't exist, now it does. Everyone has said to me, you're surprisingly calm. Surprisingly calm for me that is. I am still anxious. I am not sleeping. But I am in control right now and that's because I know my triggers. I know what to avoid.

Those of you right now panicking? This is new. You've never experienced this mass hysteria, although mine has always been a solo hysteria, I get it. It's consuming. We live in a world that is so disgustingly connected. Which is a fantastic thing, but right now it isn't. It's detrimental to our mental health to be this clued into the crisis. It's overwhelming. We refresh our feeds and there's something new. There will always be something new because that is the world we live in. If you're reading this you want to know how to remain calm. That's a question I had for my therapist last week which inspired me to write this 'How can I stay calm when everyone else is panicking?'. The basis for my question? It's usually only me panicking, it's easy to get sucked into what everyone else is feeling but it doesn't have to be a reality for you. He had no definitive answer, to be fair, Thursday afternoon I was pretty wired with anxiety. I was hopping.

What I do know is things that have helped me before, two years ago when it suffocated me, things I started reimplementing last week after a tricky day.

  • Log off social media - no seriously. Social media has its benefits but its also the biggest spreader of fake news, and scaremongering. Everyone is freaking out so they're airing it on the internet. It is difficult to just logout. We rely on it for so much, but at this point in time, if you are struggling with all this info and talk of Coronavirus. Log the hell out. It will be the best thing you do for yourself. Given the way algorithm works, Facebook and the likes are going to think this is what you want to see if you've clicked on a few stories. It's honestly so freeing to just not enter that room.
  • Stop accessing the news - yes, some news is important. Clicking onto 7 different news sites within an hour and refreshing constantly for some sort of update is not important. Stick to the RTÉ news if you're Irish. 30mins of news. 5mins slot on Coronavirus. Everything you need to know will be there. You don't need to know every snippet of information from around the world. You're protecting yourself. If you're concerned you'll miss out on something you absolutely need to know, ask a friend to pass it on. That's what I did, and then when the schools shut on Thursday I found that out from a reliable source.
  • Develop a new routine - life is going to be different for the next few weeks. Let's face it. It is what it is. Get up in the morning. Get dressed. Read a book. Plan how you'll spend your day. Any chores that need doing. I think its important to get up and get dressed, I know we're not going anywhere, but it will help you still feel normal. I don't know about you but I despise sitting about in PJs all day so I know if I did that it would just make me feel more off.
  • Spend time wisely - We have been given a gift. That's how I'm trying to approach it. Time off from our usually busy lives. That room you've been thinking of decluttering? The table you want to upcycle? Now is the time. You have no reason to put it off. You're not going to be going anywhere else, they're closed. I know its easy to sit and think of all the things you could be doing but think of how rewarding it will feel to know you've finally cracked that to-do list.
  • Talk to friends - it sucks that we can't physically hang out but hey, at least we got WhatsApp and Facetime. If you're feeling isolated and lonely, chances are your friends are too. Better yet, watch something together. My cousin and I used to do this all the time when she lived in Malta. We watched Riverdale weekly together. We set up Netlfix, called each other and then tried our absolute best to hit play at the same time. It's nice.
  • Mind your mental health - take a bath Chandler Bing would envy. Listen to a jamming playlist on spotify. Paint your nails. Write down how you're feeling. Go for a walk away from others to follow social distancing guidelines. Be kind to yourself. For those who take medication, make sure you're taking it as prescribed. Reach out if you need to. A lot of services aren't allowing face to face appointments, but there are great services you can access online. If you have an Eating Disorder, Bodywhys have online support services here.
I absolutely cannot wait for life to go back to normal, I'm the type of person who goes crazy being off work sick. So I am weary of all this supposed free time ahead of me. But it's important we follow what the HSE recommend so we not only protect ourselves but those around us who are vulnerable. It isn't forever, I know you're thinking but how do I know that? and well, I don't but that's something I have to keep telling myself right now because I cant dare think of any alternative. Feel free to email me or contact me on Instagram if you need @JesskaDenise .x