3 February 2016

One Holiday at a Time...

Imagine that you have had a year that involves being diagnosed with an eating disorder, 6 months trying to find help, 4 months in hospital and several weeks at a day patient clinic. What do you do to continue with your very slow reintroduction into life in the early stages of recovery…you go to Norway on a skiing holiday two days after Christmas of course!

I hope that my sarcastic tone came across in that first paragraph because this holiday, although a tremendous challenge, was the best thing about my year. Of course it was kind of frowned upon by many of the professionals that I was seeing at the time, in terms of it being a skiing holiday, and the obvious understanding of me challenging eating out at almost every meal. However, I thought that I was ready, as I had been doing a lot of preparation beforehand to make sure that I wasn’t completely thrown by everything I was phased with.  Being able to spend time with my family, doing a sport I love, in a country I have never been to before, this was one of the things that I had been working so desperately hard for, and I was so determined not to let anything spoil it. However, this strong-minded attitude has caused a real mix of emotions throughout my entire recovery, and this holiday was no exception. You will notice throughout all of my posts so far, there is a real emphasis on the frustration I feel almost every day, and this is because of pressure. I put so much pressure on myself to make sure that everything is perfect, and it is not. It won’t be perfect for a very long time, and in fact even when I am fully recovered, it will still never be perfect; perfection doesn’t exist! So as I write this post, I am continually reminding myself that everything that happened on this holiday is OK, it is all part of the journey.

Planning. I cannot mention enough about planning. I discussed with mum and dad essential foods that we needed to take with us; Weetabix, belvitas, eat natural bars, flapjacks etc. This eliminated my worries regarding two key parts of my meal plan, and as trivial as it sounds, this had a huge impact on reducing the negative thoughts throughout the entire week. Although I had this aspect planned, there were however things that I couldn’t control, such as time. This was the primary obstacle that I came across, and it consequently acted as catalyst for anxiety and panic over the first two days.

We arrived at the hotel at 7:30pm. I had not yet had my evening meal and being aware of the need for supper as well, I started to become agitated about the quantity of food I needed to eat before I even considered going to bed! However, this evening meal was delayed even longer because of the need to collect our boots and skis. When we were settled in our room it was 8:30pm, and then it was decision time. I heard the words that I absolutely detest “what do you fancy?” If only it was that easy to formulate a conclusive answer. As a family we agreed on pizza, and surprisingly I was comfortable with this. To be honest, at this point I was genuinely hungry! I have found that the negative thoughts quieten if I am hungry, and also because I was aware of the calorie intake I needed, I found that this would be the best solution to the dinner/supper issue. After being informed by the dietician that I would need to boost my intake even more due to increased activity levels, I also had a pudding. I didn’t want to undo all of the hard work I had done over the past 5 months in just one week. On the other hand, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the next obstacle.

Again, I would like you to imagine that 6 months ago it took me about 3 hours to go around an English supermarket to choose food for just one meal- my pack up at work. So think about how I felt walking around a Norwegian supermarket, trying to gather food for our self-catering apartment to eat for breakfast and tea. I paced up and down the aisles trying to decipher what was what. Even simple things like milk was difficult to understand in terms of what was full fat or semi-skimmed. Yoghurts were another issue, and these are something that I still struggle with in England, so my anxiety was understandably overwhelming when it came to making a decision. Of course, the only thing that was translatable was the nutritional information labels; the one thing that I have tried so desperately hard throughout my recovery to not take any notice of. Instead, I tried to remember what I had learnt at Evolve, and looked at price, expiry dates and the image to distinguish the flavour; this wasn’t easy. I found it easier once dad had picked a yoghurt, as I then followed his lead and picked one of the same brand. Again, it sounds childish, but I still struggle to make decisions for myself, however I know that this is something I will become more confident in doing with time. In terms of dessert, I picked something that I felt comfortable with, Ben and Jerrys. This felt like a dream, to be able to walk over to the freezer section and pull something out that was recognisable! After the whole experience it came as no surprise to my family that I was frustrated. I was sure that I was well on my way to mastering food shopping, but this proved otherwise. It was only afterwards when I was talking to mum and dad about it, that I realised that it wasn’t just a challenge for me. They reassured me that it wasn’t exactly easy for them to choose products when they don’t know a word of Norwegian either. It’s this communication about my issues that is repeatedly helping me with my thoughts and feelings, and it is something we did together throughout the entire holiday, making the majority of the time an absolute joy.

Waking up in a morning to the sight of snow-covered mountains, it confirmed in my mind that everything I had gone through in the past few months was so worth it. Enjoying breakfast with the family at the table, we discussed our skiing routes for the day. Unfortunately, the amount of runs open was limited, however, this did mean that I pushed myself to go on some of the higher difficulty ones! I felt pure elation when I realised just how much my body was capable of doing again; my strength, stamina and energy levels had improved dramatically. Considering 5 months ago I was being pushed around hospital in a wheelchair, to now be skiing in Norway was in my eyes, a miracle. This recognisation of the improvements in my health and wellbeing spurred me on to try hot chocolates for snacks, test out my portioning skills at a buffet restaurant I felt comfortable at, and continue to challenge these pesky food rules I have logged in my mind. It wasn’t easy at all, but to finish off a day eating a home cooked meal as a family in our room, followed by some games, it seemed to cloud over everything I had dealt with during the day.

I could go into so much detail about every individual challenge I faced, but I don’t want it to seem like the holiday was a disaster, because it wasn’t at all! As I have mentioned before, I put so much pressure on myself, and consequently I always focus on the negatives of everything. I always expect myself to be that next step forward and if I am faced with a difficulty, I instantly put myself down for it. But this time I am not. I overcame a lot during the Christmas period and this holiday, and I am proud of myself for that. Every journey has its own pace, and if I am honest, I think I am going full steam ahead with mine, but it’s this fight and determination that I don’t want to give up. It has gotten me so far already, but I know I need to look at my position in my recovery realistically. I agree that in some places I need to slow down, but the thought of losing this drive and relapsing strikes fear through every part of my body. 


  1. I think you've climbed mountains in more ways than one Jess. If I could give you any advice, as someone who has mental health challenges myself, try to be kind to yourself. You have been through so much and still have so many challenges to face but that doesn't mean you have to go at them in full Xena Warrior Princess mode! Take a minute sometimes to remember how far you've come and congratulate yourself on that. Your strength and determination will (and already have) get you through anything. Feel the fear but don't let it control you xx

    1. Hi Debbie
      I am sorry to hear about your own challenges, but I find it so motivating to receive advice from somebody who is going through difficult times as well; it gives me a real sense of hope! Thank you so much for your guidance, I do need to learn that I cannot do everything all at once, and I am slowly accepting just how long this journey is going to be. Thank you xx

  2. When you get a chance, listen to F**kin Perfect by Pink. Really listen to the lyrics. It's very relevant x

    1. I love that song! It is very relevant, I completely agree x