26 February 2016

One Word at a Time...

Why do we struggle to talk about mental health? Is it because those suffering feel ashamed? Is it because we have this perception that those with mental health issues are dangerous and out of control?

I was surprised to find out that each year 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems. That is a staggering amount, especially considering that nobody ever talks about it! Imagine just how many people out there are suffering in silence, afraid to speak up or talk about what they are going through. I think it is incredibly sad, and that is why I have chosen to be so open and honest about my experiences; in the hope that it will encourage people to seek help and realise that they aren’t the only ones affected. I anticipate that those listening to or reading my story will understand that I do find it difficult to open up, but I can honestly say that speaking up is helping me more than I ever thought it could. It allows me to reflect on my experiences, realise the severity of my illness and motivate me to continue towards full recovery. Every time I write a new blog post, do an interview or write an article, I cannot help but wish I could have had access to an honest account of what it is like to suffer from an eating disorder, by somebody that is going through it. This is another reason why I want to resume speaking out, because I would like to think that there is at least one other person benefiting from what I am producing.

I began sharing my story back in September 2015 when I was in hospital. Viking FM were coming to interview staff about the new development of five new bedrooms, which would accommodate more individuals that were in desperate need of specialist help at the unit. They asked if any patients would be willing to share their experiences, and I obliged. Of course it wasn’t something I was proud of discussing, but I wanted people to be aware of just how severe the condition can get, and how little help there is in the community for mental health problems, particularly eating disorders. However, I did not anticipate the reaction that this would have on my recovery. I became incredibly motivated, not just to heal myself, but to help others. I began to think more closely about how I could reach out to make people aware of the condition, but I knew I needed to be healthy enough both physically and mentally before I could pursue this venture.

When the time was right, I decided to create my blog. I was just coming out of full time treatment and was unsure of what the next move would be in terms of how I would cope without being supported 24/7 by specialists. I regularly referred back to my diaries from hospital when I was struggling, and I thought to myself just how much writing these entries helped me to reflect on the difficulties that I experienced that day. Then I remembered how hard I tried to find positive blogs that documented people’s recovery, being honest but optimistic. It was so difficult to find such websites and I thought, “Why shouldn’t I create my own?” That was when Every Step Another Story was published. Since then, it has been displayed on the Humble Tart Kitchen, SEED charity, Mind charity and NEDA Proud2Bme websites. I am so grateful for their support in believing that my writing is worthy of being promoted under their reputable organisation names. The response it generated was way beyond what I would have ever imagined, and I am so proud of the continuous positive comments I receive, demonstrating that the blog is fulfilling its intended purpose. To hear from established charities, authors and publications, telling me just how inspiring and well written it is, makes my self belief and confidence go from strength to strength. Therefore affirming, that once again, the blog is doing so much for my recovery than I would have imagined. As I continue to wait for psychological help, it is becoming my therapy.

On 22nd February, I heard some very exciting news, that I had been asked by The Yorkshire Times if I would become a Lifestyle Correspondent and have my own column within the online publication! I was absolutely thrilled with the opportunity to engage a wider audience, but also to push my writing skills in order to adapt to cater another media source. At first I panicked, thinking that I would just be spending my entire life writing, and reverting back to my previous habits of declining social events in order to meet work demands. However, I am pleased to say that I am learning to balance my life, prioritising other events, whilst still meeting deadlines. Having this column is allowing me to conduct more scientific research into the illness, as apposed to just thinking about my own story. This is challenging, in particular reading about the reality of recovery, or the tragic end that it can cause. However, I need to be aware of this in order to increase peoples understanding of the cruel reality that mental illnesses are! I am looking forward to producing more articles for this publication, and I hope that it will encourage others to think twice about the complexity of the condition.

My determination to help others has seen me do another interview for Viking FM. This time detailing my journey beyond hospitalisation and my perspective on the services offered in the community. I figure that the more people voice their opinions about the mental health treatment offered, the bigger difference it will make. As I have just mentioned, I am still on the list for psychological support within the community, and I have been on said list since June 2015. Now I think that this is appalling, and if I hadn’t have had the intervention from hospital, and was relying on this support, I don’t think I would have had the strength to continue on my own. This is just from my experience personally, as I know that I tried for six months and could not find the courage to fight what was going on in my head. However, I do know of people that have recovered by themselves using books and family support, and I cannot commend them highly enough; it is an amazing feat! I hoped that doing the radio interview would prove to people that recovery is possible, but that professional support is vital. I can only wish that someone who makes the decisions on funding, services or specialised treatment will have listened to that interview, and it has made them think twice about where they make the cuts next.

During Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to be a guest speaker at the University of York’s Mental Health Awareness Project- Understanding Eating Disorders: Mind and Body event. I personally felt a special need to speak at this event, as it was at university where my health really declined. Of course, I was nervous about speaking in front of an unspecified amount of people, but once I got up there and started my presentation, I felt so at ease. The feeling of empowerment over my illness was amazing, and every time I speak out, I find that it gives my eating disorder the massive kick it needs. I know that it is not embodying a miraculous cure, but it does give me that boost of motivation, when I recite everything that I have been through. Not only that, but being able to raise awareness of eating disorders whilst being stood next to Marg Oaten MBE, the co-founder of SEED Eating Disorder charity in Hull, was an absolute honour. I admire every aspect of her determination to make a change to the way that this mental illness is viewed within the local area. Together, along with a lecturer from the university, we were able to give an interesting talk that encompassed a variety of insight into the illness, from different experiences and knowledge.  We also did a question and answer session, which allowed me to continue with providing detailed accounts of living with the illness from my own perspective. I was really pleased with how I performed during the event, and it cemented in my mind just how much I want to be able to do this to help others and raise awareness.

21 February 2016

One Motivation at a Time...

I cannot even begin to put into words just how important motivation is throughout recovery. Whether it is self motivation, messages from others, or tangible incentives, these are genuinely what give you the push to fight another day.

After being diagnosed with Anorexia, I honestly believed that I was enthused with self motivation to recover. However, as my inability to accept what I had to do was getting stronger and stronger, my mind and body were becoming weaker and weaker. Every time I tried to challenge one of my behaviours, I would have something else there telling me “just do it tomorrow.” This way I still felt as though I was motivated because it wasn’t as if I was completely dismissing the idea of change, I was just going to do it a bit later. Obviously this is not the way to achieve recovery. There is no time to ‘just do it tomorrow’; it is seriously a case of now or never.

Particularly whilst trying to challenge ‘fear foods’, I found that I was saying to my parents that I would try it next week, then as the next week arrived, I would repeat the same sentence. I was preparing the same things over and over again, eating the same things over and over again, and consuming it in the same manner over and over again. It becomes a cycle, and at the time it seems so much easier to just keep rolling with it, as it causes enough anxiety as it is, so considering altering it in some way just seemed barbaric. I was bored of what I was eating; I was desperate to try new things, or even consume the things that I had done previously in my life, but then I would feel guilty for even thinking about these potential ideals. I convinced myself that I hated foods, and some foods I couldn’t even come near to, because if I could smell them then the fear of being tempted to try some was overwhelming. I just wanted to pluck up the courage to push the boundaries that my anorexia had set out in front of me, and all that I needed was motivation- a realisation that there was something beyond these restrictions.

Unfortunately I was so weak in both mind and body that this motivation didn’t come very readily to me. I could see, talk and dream about all of the incentives to get better, but doing what I had to do to achieve them was far beyond what my mind was allowing. However, as my therapy in hospital started and the constant reminders from the staff became a prominent part of my everyday conversations, I started to feel the desire to push myself. Granted, I didn’t have a choice about what I ate, apart from the selection of one of three meal options, but soon I began choosing foods that I wanted, not my anorexia. This took a lot of time, but the motivation to exceed what I had limited myself to gained strength. Nevertheless, there were times in hospital where I began to doubt my desire to succeed with the treatment plan. The prospect of being able to go home at the weekend became the biggest incentive for me to get better, but I started to question whether this was for positive or negative reasons. I am going to be honest and say that at first I saw the weekends at home as an opportunity for a break. Nobody watching me 24/7, making sure that I don’t move around too much, making sure that I eat everything on my plate and making sure that I challenge my eating behaviours. However, I soon realised that even if I was weak enough to fall back into my old habits, my parents certainly were not. At first this caused me a lot of distress, as my anorexia made me angry that I could not fulfil the ‘mission’ that I had come home with. On the other hand, I tried to channel my parents’ determination to keep me on the straight and narrow, into my own motivation. As with all aspect of recovery, this isn’t easy to accept, and trying to prove to your anorexia that there is something better and more worthwhile to listen to, is definitely a challenge.  

I wish I could have had the strength to improve my health and wellbeing without the intervention of hospital, but it just was not possible. I do have to say that I have spoken to people who have managed to do it, and I completely admire them for their fight and determination. I am not ashamed that this wasn’t a possibility for me. At that point in my life I was just too weak and overruled by something that became a bigger part of me than my actual self. If anything, I think that asking to go into hospital still showed motivation, it was just a way of accepting that I wasn’t capable of doing it myself.

Now that I am no longer receiving full time treatment, the need for self motivation is more paramount than ever, and this isn’t easy. I dream of a time where I wake up and feel optimistic every day, but even I know that this wouldn’t be normal. I believe that if I have more good days than bad, then I know that I am doing something right. I still struggle with knowing if my desires are led by my anorexia or myself, and this can be really difficult to deal with. I constantly doubt my motivations, such as wanting to go swimming, picking food items at the supermarket, or picking something from the menu whilst having a meal out. I am so skeptical about my decision making, and I believe that is because it still frightens me just how much the disorder took over this role, and now I am unsure just who or what is carrying out this function. I know that as I continue to rediscover myself, these decisions will solely be my own, and I look forward to experiencing this. I just need to keep using the motivation within myself and from those around me, to allow me to reach that point.

16 February 2016

One Obstacle at a Time...

With every day comes a struggle. Sometimes these may be significant and others, practically unnoticeable. The majority of the time these struggles are related to food and these are the most obvious issues. Most days I experience repeated thoughts about what food to have in relation to the ‘food rules’ I have in my mind, however, I am determined not to let these control me anymore. With my new community dietician, I have written out these rules and every week I am going to challenge at least 3 of them whilst creating my meal plan. I feel like if I can nail these, then I will be well on my way to full recovery and be able to enjoy my life slightly more carefree.

The less obvious issues that I continually face are more related to my feelings and emotions. Lack of confidence, low self esteem and thoughts about not deserving things are prominent in my everyday life. Regarding my previous problem with university, I strongly believe that my anorexia was so powerful at this time that I really was in no frame of mind whatsoever to have embarked on this venture at that stage of my life. I was already riddled with thoughts of not being good enough, doubting my ability to succeed and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life after the fashion degree, that I was almost destined to leave. At this point, my thoughts were uncontrollable; I couldn’t stop them, fight them or dismiss them. All I could do was believe them; it was the easiest way to acknowledge and deal with them. Having those destroying thoughts in my mind, teamed with the feeling of inability to say anything to anybody about my struggles, it was inevitable that my health was going to suffer. I think the problem was that I couldn’t recognise what was happening to me at this point. I felt completely normal. I thought it was just a phase that everybody went through when they first started university, but it was only when the panic attacks started and the irrepressible crying, that I knew I needed to do something. It sounds crazy, but it is only as I write this blog, months after all of this happened, that I can now make connections between my mental state and my incapacity to remain at university at that time. Obviously I feel stronger now, and this is why I have chosen to embark on this venture again. The feelings do still surface the more I think about going back, but I have found that throughout my recovery, the build up of anticipation is far more anxiety provoking than the actual event itself. Therefore, I am not concerned about these thoughts at this time, and I have already established a plan for if these continue when I arrive at university in a few months time.

For the majority of my time in treatment I have tried to convince myself that the only obstacles I have faced have been the challenges related to food. However, I think that this has just been due to a fear of unraveling the underlying beliefs that I had about myself. I always envisaged myself as a strong, confident and outgoing woman; so the thought of investigating my actual mental state, consequently uncovering exactly how I felt about myself, scared me. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was at this point weak, uncertain and introverted, but I needed to in order to discover why I developed this eating disorder, and what it was serving me.

As I started to delve into my past, it became evident that there was really no pivotal moment in what initiated my problems. As listed in my previous post, there are several triggers that I can pin point, but in fact there have been lots of seemingly insignificant installments in my life, that were unknowingly contributing to the creation of this illness. The majority of my problems stem from the beliefs I had about success. I was utterly convinced that success was solely based on both academic and career achievements. I couldn’t just do my best, I had to be the best; and this was a harmful mindset right from the start of my schooling. It cost me my social life, my hobbies and my interests; it drove me to pursue academic routes that I wasn’t interested in; and it caused an absurd amount of damage to my mental health.

However, it is these obstacles that have shaped me to become the person that I am today. If I hadn’t have acknowledged these obstacles and challenged them, then I wouldn’t have reevaluated my life and values as much as I have to this date. I have to say that this has not happened because of the reasons I hoped it would, as it hasn’t exactly been an easy rediscovery and reeducation. There are so many things that I would change about my past; mostly my vulnerability to the detrimental influences that have had such an excruciating effect on my life. However, there is no point in thinking about what could have, would have or should have happened; it didn’t, and that cannot be changed. Instead, I must focus on the positives that it has brought to my life.

I know that most people, who suffer with a mental illness, wish that they could just completely draw a line under it and forget it never happened. At first, I was one of these people and vowed that I would never want to revisit this part of my life. However, I strongly believe that although this illness was the breaking of me, the recovery process has most definitely been the making of me. Particularly through writing this blog, I am finding that I am being able to project the personal qualities that I am proud of- my desire to help others, being a good communicator and being honest. I am reminded of this every time I receive a lovely comment about my efforts, and it has an incredibly positive effect on my self belief- something that was minimal prior to my recovery. This is enough evidence for me to realise that obstacles are just that, a slight bump in the road, not a definitive end. That is why every time I am faced with one of these daunting obstructions, I remember just how many I have overcome in such a short space of time, so why should this one be any different?

13 February 2016

One Month of Willpower at a Time...

January is recognised as the month to recreate and rejuvenate. This is evident in all of us as we recite our New Years Resolutions, vowing to make personal changes in an attempt to improve our wellbeing. For most, these include the new possession of a gym membership, the cutting out of a nutritional food group or a goal amount of weight to lose. Except what about if you are trying to recover from an eating disorder? What resolutions do you make for yourself, whilst still trying to achieve the same improvement of your wellbeing along with everybody else? For me, I promised myself that I would continue with my weight restoration meal plan, keep pushing myself to embrace social outings and consistently incorporate everything that I have learnt during recovery into my everyday life. I can imagine that most people are now thinking, “Where is the challenge in that? You have already been doing that for the past six months?” But I would now like everybody to think about everything that is displayed in magazines, on television and all over the media in an attempt to assist the majority of the population in their body manipulation goals.

Before treatment, I didn’t realise just how vulnerable I had been in succumbing to everything that is plastered in the media regarding advice on how to alter your body. It was only through exploration into the triggers that developed my illness that I understood just how weak I was in resisting these messages of guidance. As Christmas drew to a close, the prospect of being exposed to these potential triggers throughout January was daunting. As with most other challenges that I have faced during recovery, I vowed to keep my head down and remind myself of the scientific understanding I have gained about what I need to nurture my own body. However, these weren’t just challenges that could be tackled physically through picking up a knife and fork, these were potential triggers; a prospective facilitator to a relapse or breakdown of the mental structure that I had tirelessly worked on building up.

There were several instances throughout this month where I had to challenge just how susceptible I was in absorbing the information that I was exposed to through the media. Prior to my treatment, I would not consciously recognise just what I was reading, watching or listening to; it would just somehow worm its way into my head, without seeking it out or realising that it was influencing my day to day life. However, I have found that after my treatment I am so much more aware of just how much is in the media regarding weight loss. I think that I notice it more because I am trying so desperately hard not to be consumed back into all of the false messages or beliefs that I am continuing to challenge. I honestly do not think that most individuals would recognise the sheer amount of communications there are out there, purposefully set out to make people alter their lifestyles in order to change their body. Nobody will be able to comprehend just how hard it is to resist these messages whilst you are recovering from an eating disorder. It is not just about trying to ignore them, but I am constantly trying to remind myself just how much I have been through in the past from being so drawn into what they advise.

It is not about avoidance. There is no possible way that you could dodge everything in the media. It is about acceptance. You have to accept that this information is a huge part of our lives, whether it is in conversation, in the newspaper or on social media. We need food and exercise to maintain our wellbeing, and that is why I am striving to build a healthy relationship with them. There have been numerous times where I have heard passing comments about food; what to eat, what not to eat, new diet crazes or fad products. At first I found these a challenge to listen to, but then I come home, read a food diary that I completed before I went into hospital, and am reminded of the scenario that adhering to these silly ideas can create.

I have not stopped watching TV, reading my favourite fashion magazines or browsing on social media because of all of these potential triggers. Why would I want to have this illness restrict me in even more aspects of my life that I enjoy? Instead, I am using it as a way of building up my strength and tolerance. I know that there are going to be times when I doubt what I have been taught in treatment when a new piece of ‘evidence’ is printed in the health column of a publication. I am only human, and journalists know that the majority of people want to read these new findings, otherwise why would they publish them? However this time, the difference will be that I do not let these manipulate and influence my every day life. I am still challenging food rules that have been implemented daily for that past few years, and let me tell you, I do not want any more! I want to abolish these completely and create a healthy, clear and spontaneous frame of mind. I know just how easily these crept into my life, and I just wish they would rid themselves just as quickly.