6 December 2016

One Assignment at a Time...

I knew that starting university was going to push me. I knew that studying nutrition and public health was not going to be easy. But what I did not know is how proud of myself I would feel after tackling some seemingly small challenges.

Every lecture, seminar or practical presents itself with potentially triggering information and each time I find a useful way to cope with the knowledge I have gained. Whether that is a rational discussion with myself, a phone call to my parents, or a distraction such as going out for lunch or a drink with my course mates. Of course, some information is easier to handle than others, but every time I register just how important this knowledge is in supporting my own recovery as well as leading me on to a career that I dream of.

However, the mention of one particular assessment during the first few weeks of the semester did cause slightly more discomfort than others- a three-day diet diary analysis. Having quite gradually made the step down from continual recording of the foods I am eating, the recurrent meal planning and constant self-analysis of what I am consuming, the thought of this task did not appeal.

During a previous conversation with the course leader, my medical history was raised and it was addressed that this task could potentially cause some distress. I was given the option to record and analyse somebody else’s three-day diet diary, or simply make one up, but that was not what I wanted. I felt strong, stable and confident in my ability to record and analyse my diet for those three days, and I knew that it was another challenge that I needed to tackle. I started this course wanting to get the most out of it and I am not going to let my eating disorder snatch that away from me.

I prepared myself for the fact that there was a strong chance my diet diary was going to be dramatically larger and varied than others within my group. I am still on a weight gain diet, and that means three meals- two with puddings, and three snacks every day. I know that for a lot of people it may not be normal, but for me, it has become a habitual routine that I think I will find difficult to decrease when I reach that ‘all important’ goal weight. I say ‘all important’, but I do not think that should be a significant focus for those recovering, there is far more importance on mental stability, but this works hand in hand with weight gain. I would not be where I am today mentally if had not have nourished my body and provided it with the fuel I need! So as I began to write out my three day diet diary, I reminded myself of all of the important steps I have taken to get to this point, and that my diet is not their to be judged or critiqued by others.

Fortunately, the recording of the diet diary was to be done using an estimated measurement- no scales, no emphasis on precision, just a general estimation on the quantity I was eating. It was refreshing to think of how far I have come in terms of the fact that weighing food and ingredients was normal to me 18 months ago, and the thought of weighing it now seems strange! Of course, some things I still have to roughly measure using cups and tablespoons but that is to make sure I am eating enough and using the tools I have learnt throughout my time in treatment. As the spaces filled up on my diet diary, I am not going to deny that it was difficult, in my head I still eat a large amount of food, but I can rationalise the need to do that. The next part of the task was the part I dreaded the most, but it was something I could not dismiss…

Nutritics. If anybody is not familiar with Nutritics, it is a database in which you can analyse the individual nutrients in your diet- basically a more precise version of MyFitnessPal. For those who have followed my journey right from the start, you will know just how significant MyFitnessPal was as a contributing factor to the triggering of my illness. Inputting each element of my diet diary into Nutritics, I was reminded of just how time consuming engaging in this behaviour used to be! I cannot believe how much time I must have spent doing this in the past, but more importantly, how valuable and beneficial I used to think it was! It was feeding into nothing but obsession, negative thoughts and outrageous behaviours that I somehow believed was totally normal. However, I did worry that having access to this database may develop a compulsion to engage with the software on a regular basis, but I have surprised myself with how resistant I have been. As I have acknowledged previously, inputting this data is time consuming, tedious and unnecessary for individuals like myself, unless of course, for the purpose of this assessment! There is no way that I would ever resort to this behaviour again- I have too much to do with my life.

Unsurprisingly, the information generated was initially quite alarming for myself to take in. In comparison to the dietary reference values for my age and gender, I am consuming more than what I need to be of various nutrients, but I am on a weight gain diet, and I cannot do that if I adhere to the dietary reference values! After lots of rationalisation with my psychologist, the course leader, and myself, I have managed to absorb this information in a healthy manner and crucially, not let it impact on my dietary choices.

I am still in recovery, I am still striving towards a healthy weight and, I will be honest, I am enjoying life too much to let this assignment set me back!

20 November 2016

One Year Today...

On 20th November 2015, I sat on the sofa at Rharian Fields Specialist Eating Disorder Unit, crying my eyes out, trying to find the words to thank all of the staff for everything they had done for me. After 127 days, I was being discharged from hospital and the emotions were overwhelming. I was given a second chance at life- an opportunity that a few months prior, I never thought I would have been granted, or that I deserved.

Although not obvious to an onlooker, this weekend I celebrated. Yesterday, I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon out with a group of friends; eating a meal and watching a film at the cinema. Today, I went food shopping and spent the afternoon with another friend before heading into the city centre to watch the Christmas light switch. I didn’t feel the need to share with them why this weekend was so special, but with a smile on my face for the entire duration, I knew within myself its significance.

However, as I returned from my food-shopping trip this morning, I checked the post box and found an envelope. As I headed back to my room, I opened the package to find something that really hit home how far I have come. Inside was a beautiful charm to add to my bracelet and a touching note written by my family. I say I had a smile on my face all weekend, but at this moment the tears came. Not tears of sadness, but tears of gratitude, happiness and determination. I would not have made it to this point if it were not for the professionals, my family and my incredible friends that have stood by me every step of the way.

I am so thankful to be where I am today- maybe not in a tiny room in student halls- but for the opportunities that I have been given. I want to prove to people that recovery is achievable- not easy, but achievable! If I can do it, so can you.

14 November 2016

A Mother's Perspective- One Year On...

When I think back to this time last year, I was backwards and forwards to Grimsby, visiting Jess in hospital. Now, I am travelling to Sheffield to visit her at university, as she has a full calendar and struggling to find the time to be able to come home.

I never thought that life would ever be normal again, but here I am, a year later, doing the things a parent does with their child- taking her clothes shopping, enjoying a meal out and going food shopping with ease- simple pleasures that were impossible this time last year.

It is lovely to see my daughter full of life, glowing, socialising and most of all being happy with life. As a parent, nothing compares to that feeling of witnessing your child healthy and content.

I do not have any concerns about her- she is healthy. However, if I am worried about anything I can ask her now and we can discuss it rationally- without the flaring temper and out of character behaviour. Just a few weeks ago, I expressed to Jess that I was concerned about the lack of physical monitoring she was having following her transition to the new doctor’s surgery in Sheffield. Without an argument or defensive response, she agreed to visit the doctor the following day and explain her medical history so that she could be seen regularly.

I have also noticed changes when Jess does visit home. On the rare occasion that she came home for the weekend, I was able to cook her tea on the Friday and Saturday night without her lingering in the kitchen, observing how I prepared the meals. This time last year, Jess would have scrutinised every move that I made, leaving me no choice but to allow the Anorexia to win even myself over. I know that I should not have let this happen, but you have to understand just how powerful this illness is and the control it takes over the whole family of the sufferer, not just the sufferer themselves. Every day I felt like I was walking on eggshells, unsure of how Jess or the Anorexia was going to react to anything that was said.

We still have days of uncertainty, but nothing compared to the level that we experienced before, and when this happens we just talk through it- we can be open and honest with each other. I notice that Jess is still not confident with her own perception of herself, with the odd questions about how she looks and if she still needs to gain weight. But before I have chance to answer the question, she responds herself by confirming that she needs to be a comfortable healthy weight that is not on the borderline of being underweight.

As Jess has been so open with her illness and written this blog, she has had a lot of people contacting her not only from the UK but also around the world, to which she responds with no hesitation and is only too willing to help. I obviously would have never wanted this illness to happen, but in some ways it is now leading Jess’ path in life. Obviously there has been a lot of heartache over the last few years, but it is strange how things turn out and that some good can come out of it. She is able to help other people in various ways, and ultimately wants to make a difference so that there is further help out there for other sufferers and carers.

As I have said, this time last year Jess was in hospital. If anybody had have said to me that next year your daughter would be living a fulfilled life again, and even climbing the highest mountain in England, as much as I would have wanted that to be right, I would have never believed it could be true. 


I could not be any happier or prouder of what she has achieved.

30 October 2016

One Moment of Pride at a Time...

This is not going to be a long blog post, but I just wanted to share a little success story from this weekend, in the hope that if somebody out there is struggling with a lack of self belief, that this may inspire you to never give up on yourself.

This time last year, I was packing my bags ready to head back to hospital after two days away in London with my family. Those two days away were granted following a tiring battle to convince the medical professionals that I was capable of looking after myself without their 24/7 care. Every week I worked hard to prove to the staff, and myself, that I could be trusted with the opportunity to leave the unit; and nothing can prepare you for the elation you feel when that occasion is approved.  However, I also cannot tell you how painful it is when you just manage to experience a sense of normality and suddenly it is snatched away from you. Not only that, but you have no idea when you are going to experience it again. There are moments when you believe that the day is never going to come around when you can walk out of the doors of the hospital for one last time. There are moments when you feel like it is not worth putting in the effort to fight those unhealthy thoughts and behaviours controlling your life. There are moments when you consider giving up- but you must not.

Yesterday, with the support of my fantastic fellow members of the Fell Walking and Mountaineering Club at Sheffield Hallam University, I managed to do something that I never thought I would ever be able to achieve- I climbed England’s highest mountain- Scafell Pike! As the rain seeped its way through my clothes and the bitter coldness attacked my fingertips, I sensed nothing but determination. Yes, there were times when I felt like giving up could be an option- particularly when I found myself scrambling up a vertical cliff face on loose rocks- but did giving up on myself get me to where I am now? Memories replaying of being sat in the Monday meetings, clutching my list of requests; 20 minutes unescorted leave off the hospital grounds, or the opportunity to eat my snack independently in another environment other than the ward kitchen- those were the fuel I needed to take every step up that mountain and reach the summit.

So when you feel like that moment is never going to come around, the effort is not worth it, or you consider giving up, just think about all the times when you managed to push through and achieve the unthinkable. As a quote pinned on the corkboard in my room at university states:

‘Remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you feel and smarter than you think.’

25 October 2016

One Restoration of Faith at a Time...

It is out there. It exists. There really are medical establishments that care; that appreciates your needs; that are willing to take hold of the reins and piece back together the fragmented remains of an incredibly disjointed transition process. I literally could not be happier about writing this incredibly positive post following my visit to the Student Health Centre at Sheffield Hallam today. For the first time, since departing from my previous GP surgery, I felt listened to, understood and supported in achieving my goals for recovery and maintenance of health.

The positivity of this story actually begins a week or so ago, when I had an appointment to speak to a new GP at the Student Health Centre. Having explained my situation to the medical professional- because there was no clear communication of my medical history- the understanding of my situation was immediately appreciated. I was weighed, height measured, with blood pressure and pulse rate recorded and booked in for blood tests to be performed the following day. This routine procedure is something that I have become accustomed to, but not having it performed for a long while, during my transition to university, made my parents and I feel uneasy. Not only that, but the feeling of being forgotten and dropped enhanced the welcoming of the proactive systems displayed by the GP. It was also made certain that I would have my blood test results reviewed with one of the eating disorder specialist nurses that are present in the clinic. It goes without saying that this provided an overwhelming sense of relief for my family and I- an indication that I was still going to be monitored.

So today was my blood test review appointment and unsurprisingly, I anticipated that it would last no more than 30 seconds. Wrong. Having read through the letter that my previous GP had provided me with- which I did hand in on the first day of university and it did not get looked at- the nurse made me feel at ease by congratulating me on my achievements throughout my recovery so far. Raising concerns about the need for me to still be routinely monitored without me even having to ask, I felt safe and cared for. We discussed my physical and emotional state, my eating habits, any difficulties I was experiencing, where to find support, her willingness to see me at any time- it goes without saying that the sense of relief I felt was enormous. I know I have to work on my recovery with a certain degree of independence, but for anybody that has been through what I have, I think you will agree that the knowledge of having somebody there makes the process a little bit easier. Thirty minutes passed and another appointment was booked for 4 weeks time- as happy as I was, this is not to be mistaken for a countdown.

As I have mentioned, it is encouraging to have a medical professional supporting you, but there is still that niggling thought that every time you meet them you are going to have to go through the same process- being weighed. Not just that, but the thought of physical assessments is daunting. Memories of the ones I was having 18 months ago and being told I was days away from a heart attack, or that I was going to be wheelchair bound for the foreseeable future; they ricochet worryingly in my mind. But that is in the past. I no longer use the notion of satisfying a medical professional with an adequate set of results as motivation anymore. I have my own set of goals- achievements for health and a fulfilling life that I want to accomplish for me.

Having being left out of the loop and with a sense of being dropped off the radar, I cannot tell you how reinforcing today was for me in restoring my faith in the healthcare system. As grateful as I am to be receiving this level of support, and hearing about the fantastic establishments there are now available to me in Sheffield, it saddens me that not everybody can have access to these types of organisations. I suppose it only fuels my ambitions to succeed and hopefully contribute to more positive developments in the future.