13 April 2018
Last night, Kev (Jess’ Dad) and I travelled to an awards ceremony at Sheffield Hallam University, which Jess had invited us to, and as always, we never turn down the opportunity to go and support her in all of her achievements. We knew to go smartly dressed and that it included a meal, but neither of us were prepared for the high level event that it was.
We are always so proud of whatever Jess does, but last night was on a totally new level, and whilst sat at the presentation it gave me time to sit and reflect on how far she has come.
We were sitting at the Inspirational Student Awards ceremony and our daughter had won one of these prestigious awards. Watching her engage with the staff and other award winners was a pleasure to see, especially when thinking back to our situation 2/3 years ago, when she was extremely weak and isolated, fighting for help.
We sat with staff from the university who were very welcoming, hospitable and engaging, but were also very interested in Jess’ achievements to date and her plans for the future.
When Jess was called up for her award, the lady presenting the award gave a lovely speech about her; some of it was pre-planned but part of it was ‘off the cuff’, based on information she had gleaned from chatting with her during the meal. I could not have been any more proud and I sat there with tears in my eyes; 2 years ago I would never have imagined in a million years that we would be in this position.
I know a lot of people read this blog and I wanted to add this post to say that however hard it is when you are trying to find help, keep fighting, keep pushing and don’t give up. You will come up against brick walls but keep pushing forward. As a parent, carer or family member, you have to fight the corner of your struggling loved one because they are not strong enough. Most importantly, don’t trust what you are told if you feel that there is a problem.
I confessed to Jess a few weeks ago that prior to her diagnosis I had expressed concerns with professionals before a couple of her appointments to pre-empt them, but was subsequently told that there was not a problem, when clearly there was. If help had been sought at an early stage when I had flagged up these problems then we may not have been in the position we found ourselves in. However, we did and now we have come out of the other side.
I hope that by reading this blog, carers will also see that recovery is possible and that it consequently gives hope to others. Eating disorders awareness is increasing, but there is still a long way to go and there is still a lack of resources.
KEEP FIGHTING and you too will one day have the sense of pride for your loved one that I have for Jess in everything that she does and continues to do for her own recovery and rebuilding her life whilst also trying to support others.
Well done Jess!
2 April 2018
I made it! 3 years ago I saw the Eating Disorders International Conference 2016 advertised on a poster at the front door of the specialist eating disorder unit I was voluntarily admitted to at the time. I was desperate to go because I wanted to learn more about the illness I was suffering with, but more significantly, I just wanted to meet other people that would know exactly what I was going through! I knew that the conference was not going to be discussing any magic cures, but I hoped that if I attended then I would at least be able to hear of some positive treatment developments or stories of hope; but unfortunately, the cost of the tickets was so expensive and if I am honest, treatment became so intense that it soon became a distant memory.
Fast forward a couple of years and whilst planning Sheffield Hallam SU Student Minds’ involvement in Beat’s Sock It to Eating Disorders campaign, an advertisement for Eating Disorders International Conference 2018 caught my eye. As soon as I saw the line up of keynote speakers, short papers and workshops I was desperate to go. There were so many amazing researchers, clinicians and individuals with lived experience attending that I wanted to listen, learn and talk to people that are just as passionate as I am about raising awareness of eating disorders. If anybody knows my parents, you will know that as soon as I mentioned the conference, there was absolutely no way that I was not going to be attending. If anybody doesn’t know my parents, then firstly, I am sorry because they are the most amazing people that you will ever meet, but secondly, they believe that every opportunity is just that, an opportunity, which is why they so kindly enabled me to attend!
I can honestly say that I have never left an event feeling so enthused, motivated and fascinated. At the end of both days I walked away feeling so incredibly passionate about this field and wanting to start a career supporting those that are suffering. Hearing of individuals that have spent their whole lives devoted to researching eating disorders, developing treatment methods or investigating the risk factors for developing the illness was awe inspiring; I wanted to thank each and every one of them for everything that they do! I have always been thankful of professionals for their role in my recovery and I think that this conference showcased the role that they have exceptionally well. However, what I thought was the most important message of the event, and what I am going to focus this blog post on, is the role of the carer in the treatment of somebody suffering with an eating disorder.
I am not lying when I say that as soon as I returned to my hotel room, I rang my parents and repeatedly thanked them for everything. To this day, I still have flashbacks about some of the aggressive tantrums that I had or the lies I told them and I feel overwhelmed with guilt. I remember accusing them of putting fat in my food, ‘victimising’ me by serving a larger portion size or watching their every move in the kitchen. It makes me feel ashamed and I cannot imagine how hard I made their life. However, this conference made me put myself in the role of a carer in that situation and although I still felt incredibly guilty, it did make me realise that actually, this was not me and that I was not the only person in the world at that time causing this kind of tension within a household. Whilst on the phone to my parents after the first day at the conference, we actually discussed which kind of animals they embodied following the theories of the wonderful Janet Treasure in her book ‘Skills-based Learning for Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder: The New Maudsley Method’! I think that these kinds of discussions have been crucial in my recovery because it makes me realise that my parents tried so hard to understand what I was going through and that has enabled them to acknowledge that I never intended to cause them any pain, it was just my way of dealing with the horrific situation I was experiencing in my head at that time.
This was actually the second keynote speech of the whole conference, but it is the one that has resonated with me the most- the role of fathers in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. I think my Mum will admit that she really took charge of my treatment, whether that was taking me to appointments or helping me with meal planning. But I think she will also agree that she was a little bit of a jellyfish- too much emotion! This often caused me to become angry and upset, which originally stemmed from the way I was feeling about myself but then Mum’s reaction would heighten everything because I hated the fact that my behaviours were distressing her! So it would often become a vicious circle of escalated emotions, consequently causing me to inflict more harm to myself because I could not deal with everything that I was doing and the impact it was having on my loved ones. However, this is where my Dad comes in…
Dad was a little bit more of a cross between a St Bernard and a Rhino- he was calm and compassionate but did not let the eating disorder win. I will admit, most of the time I hated this because I knew he was right! But I needed this type of support to help reduce my continuously escalating reactions and stabilise my emotions. Even now, I remember a few days before I begged for a bed in hospital, I sat curled up on my Dad’s knee crying and I told him that I could not do it any more. With his arms wrapped around me, he instilled hope in me, whispering that he knew I could. At that moment, that was exactly what I needed- a calm, soothing, familiar voice convincing me that I was going to through it.
Reflecting on the role of a carer has made me think so much more about how important they are in a sufferer’s recovery. I think this has really highlighted to me how much more support carers need to be offered, at all stages! Firstly, they need to be educated about what to look out for and how to deal with starting a conversation about their concerns. Secondly, they need to be well informed about all of the support options available for their loved one and they need to be offered support for themselves! Finally, they need to be aware of what recovery looks like and how they can support their loved one throughout every stage. I think this is so crucial within any support network, not only for the sufferer’s wellbeing, but also for their wellbeing.
There was so much that I learnt at this conference and it would be impossible for me to be able to reflect on every single piece of knowledge I gained. However, I just want to thank Beat and all of the organisers of this amazing conference. Also, I want to give a special thank you to all of the Beat ambassadors and volunteers- speaking to you during the 2 day event has made me feel incredibly inspired to continue with my efforts to support others and raise awareness of eating disorders. I hope I can attend the next conference in the near future!
Don't forget our petition!
We still need as much support as possible to try and initiate action to be taken on the access and use of websites/blogs that encourage harmful mental health related behaviours. Please add your signature and share it around:
24 March 2018
I should be used to the experience by now, but this time it did catch me a little off guard.
Obsessively weighing myself is a habit that I tackled a long time ago, but every now and again when I return home from university I do step on the scales to see if I am on track with maintaining my weight or gaining. Since being discharged from all healthcare services I am not weighed on a regular basis, which I used to rely on as a way of monitoring if I was implementing what I have learnt during my treatment as to how to stay physically healthy. Therefore, I agreed with my family that I would just weigh myself on my visits home to check that everything was still going in the right direction. It goes without saying that the best way for me to keep in tune with how I am controlling my eating disorder is to reflect on my thoughts and behaviours, but I am pleased to say that although the intermittent episodes try to drag me back, my mental health and wellbeing is generally stable. However, it is coming up to that time of year with assignments and exams looming, which from past experience, I know that these are some of my major triggers. So when I returned home yesterday I weighed myself to check that I have not been letting things slip.
Let me start off this explanation by reminding you that recovery is not a smooth process. I still have aspects of my journey that I need to work on and accepting weight gain is still one of them. I don’t normally share numbers related to weight, but I want to write this out and prove to myself how far I have come and how much I should not let this experience push me back.
Over the last couple of years I have managed to maintain my weight nice and steadily with a little bit of natural fluctuation. However, yesterday I had a bit of a surprise. When I stepped on the scales, instead of the number reaching its usual result, it kept increasing; not by a lot, but just enough to release a few of those horribly negative thoughts that I have managed to keep nicely suppressed. I glanced down and started to examine every possible area of my body; panicking that somehow I had “catastrophically” changed in body shape and nobody had told me. I started to question everything, allowing those thoughts to start getting louder and louder. And then it stopped. I stopped checking my body; I stopped overanalyzing everything and I started to reflect.
Since starting my treatment, I have gained 16kg. But in all honesty, that means absolutely nothing. Every gram of that weight gain equates to a hundred more positives that I have experienced since embracing recovery. Friendship, happiness, achievement, education, memories, courage; these are all of the gains that they don’t tell you about recovery. And it makes me angry that on this occasion, I too forgot about those gains. I succumbed to the negative thoughts that have been trying to resurface in response to the stress, anxiety and self-doubt that university life has cast over me. Weighing myself was the golden ticket that those thoughts needed to test my strength and motivation to recover. But this time I proved to myself that I am capable of dealing with them. Every time I experience a hurdle in my recovery I know that it is just that, a hurdle. I have the tools that I need to tackle it and most importantly, I have my family and friends that I can talk to in order to give me that extra push I need if I find myself scrambling.
Recovery is not an easy process and you never know what is coming around the corner. A few weeks ago I may well have celebrated this weight gain without any negativity whatsoever, but with a combination of academic pressure and the dreaded ‘time of the month’ colliding at the same time, I didn’t see it coming. However, another challenge is another opportunity to learn!
3 March 2018
Please support Aiden Mortimer and I with our campaign to introduce a law enforced discouragement pop-up on harmful mental health behaviour websites! #PowerfulPopUp
You may be aware that there is an increasing issue with harmful content that is available for individuals to view and engage with online. Having experienced and noticed the potentially life threatening impact that this can have on somebody's mental health, we are taking action.
We want the government to implement a law enforced discouragement pop-up on harmful mental health behaviour promoting websites, to make individuals aware that the content they are about to view or post may have a significant impact on their own and others mental health. We also hope that the pop-up could feature a link to a support organisation that may encourage potential viewers to seek help.
There have been multiple studies that show the effects of viewing harmful websites such as pro eating disorder, pro self harm and pro suicide. Many list that the participants experienced lower levels of self-esteem, more willingness to engage in activities being encouraged and distorted perception of self. We believe that discouraging engagement and signposting to support would prevent individuals from being negatively affected by these websites.
We would very much appreciate your support by adding your signature using the link below in order to see this petition be discussed in Parliament. Changes need to be made and regulations need to be implemented so that individuals are aware of their own actions and the consequences that this can have on mental health and wellbeing.
Thank you in advance for your support and please share the link with your family and friends to get the message out there. Help us to gain as many signatures as possible by posting the link to social media accounts, with the #PowerfulPopUp to get this campaign going! We need to start using preventative methods when it comes to tackling mental health, not leaving it until people reach crisis point. Early intervention is key and we believe that enforcing this pop-up will be a step in the right direction.
Please follow this link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/213893
If you have been affected by content on these harmful websites, then please seek support by contacting the following organisations:
2 March 2018
I’m not sure how to pinpoint exactly how I felt yesterday evening. As soon as Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn walked into Hallam Hall I felt a wave of emotions- excitement, nerves and pride. Firstly, I couldn’t believe that the event was actually happening considering that everything was against us in terms of the weather, but secondly, all of the attendees that made it were going to have the opportunity to see one of the most inspirational speeches I have ever witnessed. Thank you to the wonderful society committee members, the Students’ Union and the university, the event was going ahead and I could not wait to see the impact it would have.
This next moment I am about to detail is something I never thought that I would be able to do. Neil asked me if this was the first time I had heard them speak and I detailed that actually this was the second time I have had the pleasure of hearing their story. Naturally he asked me where I had heard them previously, and whilst beaming with pride I told him that it was when I was at Rharian Fields Specialist Eating Disorder Unit in Grimsby. I say beaming with pride, but the pride wasn’t solely based on the fact that my illness had led to hospitalisation, but pride that I was now stood in front of them as one of the society committee members that had helped to bring them to the university. I had been at an incredibly low point in my life when I had seen them first time round, stood at the side of the room at NAViGO House buried amongst other attendees; embarrassed that they may notice me and ashamed of where my illness had left me. This time was completely different. I was so proud of my journey and how far I have come from the place I found myself in 3 years ago.
I hope that one day everybody will be able to talk about mental illness in this way. Of course it is important to acknowledge the low points, but these should be viewed like platforms that have pushed you on to that next step. When I was suffering I felt embarrassed, ashamed and like a failure, but now I can look back on those moments and see how much I have progressed. I know that some people look at a diagnosis of a mental illness as a label of shame, but why? I think that listening to Jonny last night demonstrates exactly why our mindset needs to change about how we perceive mental health conditions. He is doing amazing things and still struggles with the illness that has brought him to where he is today. That isn’t due to a miraculous turn of events; it is due to him making it happen. He chose recovery, he chose to speak out and he chose to see the positives in a situation that once led him to try and take his own life. I think that is incredible.
I am still in awe of what I listened to last night and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to speak alongside both Jonny and Neil during the question and answer session sharing my personal experiences. It felt like a dream and now I want to make it my career. I want people to see that mental health recovery is something to be celebrated, not something that should be hidden away, pretending it never happened. I am ready to share my story further and reach out to those that feel exactly how I did 3 years ago. It’s time for me to try and make this happen and follow in the footsteps of the role models I witnessed last night. I would like to thank Jonny and Neil for not only sharing their incredible story with an engaged audience last night, but for inspiring me once again to take that next step in raising awareness of mental illness.