28 March 2016

One European City at a Time...

Bruges most certainly did not disappoint. A quaint city with beautiful architecture, it was everything I imagined, and more. Walking for miles, a canal boat ride and a nighttime trip on a horse and cart, allowed us to view the picturesque city from all angles. I was astounded at how quiet it was; no bustling crowds, no queuing, it was just so peaceful. Of course the market square was the hub where groups gathered, but venturing off into the outskirts, you could walk for miles and not bump into another soul. Although, it may have been handy to have met a couple of locals from time to time, as we did find ourselves walking with no sense of direction whatsoever!

The trip started with a 13 hour journey across the water via ferry. I am not going to make out that I was utterly relaxed, as I knew I had the buffet to contend with in the very near future. However, as with all challenges, I tried to focus on how I have dealt with them in the past, using that knowledge to guide me this time round. I suppose the ‘beauty’ of a buffet is the choice. You always know there will be something you will like, and true enough that was the case. In fact, I am not ashamed to say that I indulged in a hearty three-course meal! Following the crowds, I challenged the initially distressing scents that wafted around the restaurant, and viewed the array of foods on display. I applied what I have learnt throughout my time in treatment to make sure that my plate had adequate portions of all food groups. The most prominent battle was trying to ignore the recurrent thoughts that I had ample opportunity to bend the rules, with nobody to challenge me. I didn’t succumb, but the thoughts turned into an argument as the night progressed, and I was left questioning everything that I had chosen. This is just something that I have to get used to, as it happens all too frequently. I suppose I can appreciate my progress at this stage, as I do not act on these feelings, in terms of continuous restriction or over exercising to compensate for the potentially ‘wrong’ decisions I have made.

Arriving at Bruges was quite an experience within itself. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed, but when you pull into a dock and all you can see for miles around is shipping containers and concrete, I think my doubts around our destination choice can be somewhat validated. Fortunately, as Frank (the coach driver, that really did not know how to drive a coach!) dropped us of at the city border, I was elated. A mix of greenery, water and complex building structures, was the confirmation that we had indeed chosen a wonderful city to spend the weekend. Walking to our hotel, cobbled streets were lined with chocolate shops, cafes and waffle bars. This was when I realised that I was going to have to try extra hard to fight the thoughts in my head; but again, I didn’t let this overrule my mood or intent on the trip.

To many other visitors, the eateries and food shops that covered the walkways would bring joy and excitement. However, for myself it awakened a complex mixture of feelings; temptation, frustration and guilt, to name just a few. I felt guilty about being tempted into trying some of the goodies and delicacies on display, but then I was frustrated that my eating disorder was still influencing my decisions. A prime example of this was my desire to enjoy a waffle, smothered in chocolate sauce topped with fresh strawberries. I was set on confirming this decision, but the overwhelming reminder of what I had already eaten, and the fear of not knowing what else I would be nourishing my body with throughout the rest of the day stopped me in my tracks. But this was just one minor niggle of the trip. I am proud to say that I did enjoy a wide range of foods that I would have denied myself of a few months ago; a delicious chocolate mousse, crème brule, chips and a meal that came with a sauce. Although it may seem trivial to an average onlooker, to me these were huge improvements, but even more so for the fact that they did not affect my ability to enjoy the beautiful city we were visiting.

An issue did surface, and I recognise it as one that I now need to conquer; observing other people’s plates. I constantly analyse my own plate in comparison to others. Should I have chosen that meal? Do they know something about my meal that I don’t? Have I made the wrong choice? I need to stop doing this, and remind myself of the fact that I am enjoying the meal that I have decided upon, and that should outweigh any negative thoughts. This is something that I will work on, and I am pleased that I have acknowledged it as another stimulus to the contribution of damaging thoughts.

The trip was a huge success; I enjoyed a wonderful weekend away with my incredible parents and I managed to see another incredible European city! To say that I am excited about my further exploration of Europe in summer is an understatement- I absolutely cannot wait!

23 March 2016

One Adventure at a Time...

This post will be split into two parts; the first detailing how I am feeling about my trip away this weekend, and the second is a piece that I wrote the day that I booked my trip to Europe for summer 2016. I wanted to upload the blog post exactly as I initially wrote it for the second part, because I think it is important that I capture the raw emotions and positivity that I experienced on that day.

Another week, another challenge. Although, this is not just one specific event, it is a weekend trip away to Bruges. Like a battlefield, both sides of my brain take their positions, firing away the negative and positive thoughts. But who will win? Right now, fear is taking the lead, as my research into the country and the local cuisine loads more ammunition to the negativity in my mind. But I will not be defeated. The positivity needs nurturing, but after multiple affirmations about how lucky I am to have the opportunity to visit another beautiful city, I try desperately hard to overrule the governing thoughts.

Why do I automatically think about food when I hear about the chance to visit a new place? Why can’t I focus on immersing myself in the culture? Why doesn’t the chance of observing the iconic landmarks override all other thoughts? I cannot get to grips with how my brain works. Even after reading several paragraphs of a wonderful book called ‘The Brain’, which was loaned to me by a very generous colleague, I still struggle to understand why my mind works so differently to how I want it to! All I want is to be happy, healthy and inspiring; yet my own brain fights everything I need and want to do in order to achieve that. But I am going to use my daily motivation, once again, to make sure that I view this weekend as an opportunity to make another crack in the boundaries of my eating disorder.

“I will enjoy myself. I will relax. I will loosen my need for control.” Like an actor learning a script, I repeat these sentences; in the hope that as stated in the previous literature I have mentioned, I do have the ability to retrain my brain. Yet the battle still makes an appearance in this scenario. “I will not put too much pressure on myself. I will acknowledge that there may be difficulties. I will not put myself down if my efforts do not fulfill my expectations.” This division seems somewhat balanced and rational in comparison to the erratic negative/positive battle that I was initially experiencing. This is why I appreciate the cathartic experience that writing my blog gives me, as I have a chance to reflect on my feelings and emotions. My whole mindset has shifted in just a few paragraphs from being anxious and overwhelmed, to calm and open minded about what the weekend brings.

Call me crazy, call me over ambitious or call me deluded; but I am not wasting anymore of my life with the fear of what might happen. Therefore, I have decided to take the plunge and book an 18 day trip around Europe for July 2016! I will be visiting 11 different cities/areas, 10 World Heritage Sites and participating in several excursions, whilst travelling on a coach with 49 other likeminded individuals. It is going to a trip of complete madness, but I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to it.

For the past few weeks, I have been researching an array of trips that I want to go on, but there has always been something or someone there saying ‘just wait a little while’, ‘don’t rush’, ‘you don’t have to do everything all at once’. I know all of this, but what is wrong with wanting to do something that my eating disorder doesn’t. Isn’t that what recovery is about? Demonstrating that I am stronger now, and ready to get on with my life? I am aware of the slow pace of recovery, and truth is, I could spend the next few years of my life wondering when I will be ‘fully recovered’. For me, I don’t know what full recovery will look like, but I know that at this stage, I am stronger and I am able to control my anorexic thoughts at a level that I can live at. Meaning that I comply with my meal plan, I eat a balanced diet, and every day I am confronting challenges that I know I can pick away at with time. I have learnt from my holiday in Norway that I can cope in a foreign country, and even though that was with the support of my family, they are only going to be a phone call away. I think when people question my decision to book this trip, I ask them to consider the fact that it is 5 months time. To put it in perspective, 5 months ago I was in hospital, and I have made a substantial amount of progress since then. Whilst I am writing this post, I realise that this is another habit that I need to stop- my need to explain myself. I have made a decision that I am proud of, and incredibly excited about, yet I constantly feel that I need to justify my reasoning behind it. Most likely in an attempt to convince others, and probably myself, that I have made the right choice. I am mindful of the evidence proven to suggest that chances of a relapse within eating disorder recovery are high, and that I have taken a huge risk booking this with a small break before starting university. However, I could end up putting things off for the rest of my life, purely due to not wanting to face the unknown. That isn’t how I want to live, and I will deal with the consequences should things not turn out the positive way I hope.

I want to travel, I want to be adventurous and I want to gain experiences. The past few years haven’t been an easy ride, and I think I deserve to reclaim back an abundance of memories that I have missed out on. I am doing this for me, and I am willing to take the risk, with the self belief that this will just be another step in overcoming this illness.

16 March 2016

One Thought at a Time...

I often wonder what goes through the mind of somebody that doesn’t have an eating disorder. What do they think about? Do they ever worry? Is there anything that dominates their thoughts so much that they cannot concentrate on any task in their everyday life? As with every aspect of my eating disorder that I am trying to challenge, the thoughts that circulate my mind on a daily basis can be the decider on the general outcome of my day- good or bad. Since the beginning of my difficulties, I can say that thoughts about my body shape, food choices and self belief governed my mind; leaving little room for anything else to think about. For months I was convinced that these feelings were never going to subside and allow me to lead a normal life. However, I am pleased to say that as I continue to rebuild my life, I can now focus on so much more than what my eating disorder is telling me.

Controlling these thoughts doesn’t happen easily; and as with anything, it takes a lot of time. I still have times where I make a decision, and the effects of that one moment can ripple in my mind for the duration of the day. The difference now, is that I have the strength to acknowledge it, but not to let it have an impact. Sometimes this works, and others it doesn’t; but fortunately I have an extremely supportive network around me that know when these thoughts are beginning to consume me, and they rationalise the situation. Every time they help me, I learn from what is said, building my confidence to tackle it independently the next time.

I have had multiple questions about what actually goes on in my mind throughout various points in the day; whether it be decision making, eating food or looking in a mirror. I felt that writing these down in a blog post may not only allow people to gain a small insight into my mind, but also for myself to see just how much more time I could spend thinking about other things if I continue to push myself towards full recovery.

As with all of my posts, I want to express that this is my personal story, and what I experience will probably not be the same for other sufferers. I just want to highlight the complex considerations that channel through my mind on very regular occasions. The content of this next paragraph may also be quite triggering, so I urge those that are in a vulnerable place not to continue reading.

Have you thought about your meal plan? Have you thought about the calorie, fat and sugar content in what else you have to eat throughout the day? Have you eaten healthy enough products throughout the rest of the day for you to qualify to be able to eat that? Have you checked the label; is anything written in red? Do you actually want to eat this? Have you got to eat this? Do you know what effect it may have on your body? Has it got anything of any nutritional value inside it? Does it comply with your other rules? Are you eating out tomorrow? Don’t forget everything else you have to eat! Do you really want to spend money on that? Isn’t it better to just not buy it at all; that way you save money and reduce all of these thoughts? Are there any other options that you can get away with? Why don’t you make out like you really want to try this; when really you just know it doesn’t comply with your meal plan? Has it got the icon to suggest it is low calorie? Just have a quick look at the label again, are the percentages stated low enough? What is everybody else eating? Are you going to the gym tonight? Maybe have a drink, you might be thirsty not hungry? Is it the right time to be eating, or is it before the normal time? I know that looks tempting, but think about the effect it will have on your body. Why would you want to eat that, you know you will just feel guilty afterwards. If you cut it all up then it looks and feels like you are eating more. Just leave that last bit on the plate, no one will notice. Just leave that last bit in the packaging- you don’t need that. Don’t pick that up to bite it, do you realise how greedy you look when you do that? Are you preparing tea tonight or is another member of the family? Maybe if you took longer to eat this, then you won’t need to eat later on? Remember what you ate earlier, is there anyway you can compensate by restricting? I can’t believe you used to enjoy that, what were you thinking? Just walk that little bit further- it will not do you any harm. Why don’t you just go back downstairs and pretend you forgot something, every step matters.

Reflecting on these thoughts has been difficult, and I become frustrated that I still let the majority of these underpin the decisions I make. After writing them down, I can now understand how and why my eating disorder managed to govern my life, as the process of making a decision was just far too exhausting, that I gave up. Prioritising the ease that this reluctance to decision making had on me mentally, was becoming all the more damaging for my physical health. However, at my lowest point, that did not matter at all. The thoughts were consuming me every single day, so wherever I found an opportunity to somewhat relieve them, I would grab hold of it. 

When I think about how many times I make a choice during a single day, I can see why I am so exhausted once my head hits the pillow at nighttime. It is not healthy to be so controlled by all of these thoughts, and I wish that I had such a clear mind that not one of the above made an appearance every time I make a decision. Unfortunately, that is not the case, but as I continue to challenge myself, these deliberations will become quieter and quieter. I often wonder what else I will think about once my eating disorder fades. Hopefully it will leave a vast area of mind open to more positive contemplations.

9 March 2016

One Blip at a Time...

Have you ever seen the inflatable challenge where the contestant is attached to an elastic bungee, and the aim is to run to the end in order to grab the prize? After the week that I have had, I now visualize my recovery journey as being very similar to this trial.

For the past few months, I have been coping with my illness by constantly running forward, in fear of being confronted with the realisation that there is still so much going wrong, and consequently being pinged back. I have not given myself the opportunity to reflect on the difficulties I am still facing. Instead, I have used the ineffective method that I am so accustomed to, of just pressing on. I often believe that if I just keep going then miraculously all of the challenges will just drift away, because ultimately I am choosing to fight it all, and surely that is the most positive method? Wrong. Until this past week, I have come to understand that although I may consider this approach to be the best way, it makes the less frequent difficult days all the more extreme.

I cannot quite pin point how and what started the depletion in mood, but after speaking to my GP, I believe it may have had a lot to do with, yet again, the increasing amount of pressure I am putting on myself. A culmination of that, with a dietician appointment, the incident with the news agency, that ‘time of the month’, and a constant need to prove to everybody and myself that I can live my life without my eating disorder affecting it. It all just got too much, and I did not know how to handle it. I could see it coming throughout the days before, with noticeable old habits creeping back in, but I didn’t take much notice. I tried to convince myself that the habits were normal, but after evaluation, I realised that once again they were having a very prominent impact on my life.

It scared me; it happened so quickly.

I had spent a lovely day with my cousin and I felt as though I had once again had another great day, consequently taking more positive strides in my recovery journey. A few hours later I was sat at home with my parents, and it was as if a light went out. I found myself sat staring at my computer screen with no emotion, just thoughts. All-consuming thoughts. I started to doubt everything that I had done- food choices, meals out, planning holidays, applying for university. I could not focus on anything other than how I could have been so stupid as to think so positively about my recovery, and myself.

I began to cry uncontrollably, without being able to say why. My parents were completely baffled, and I cannot blame them for that; I didn’t see it coming either. “What’s wrong?” They asked. I was trying so desperately hard to formulate an answer, but the wails were absent of any explanation. I was becoming incredibly confused as to what was happening to me and once I had calmed down to the point of being able to string together a sentence, I just listed all possible reasons for the outburst. This didn’t help in any way, as it still could not rationalise what was going through my head. The frustration escalated in conjunction with the confusion, leaving me absolutely exhausted. It was 6:30pm and I was in bed, worried about waking up the next day and experiencing the same emotions that had just overwhelmed me.

The fear became a reality, as I woke up as the same shell of a human being that I had fallen asleep as. I continuously tried to pick myself up, but there was no positive energy in my body. I felt no hope; no optimism, no happiness, and the tears began again. Alongside feelings of guilt from ruining Mothers Day, I was once again in a state of uncontrollable despair. I felt as though this was it; I am never going to be able to live my life; I am always going to be striving for something that I can never achieve; that I am always going to be controlled by my mental illness.

Then I reflected. Had I restricted my food intake? No. Had I made more forced trips up and down the stairs? No. Had I cancelled all of my upcoming social events? No. Does this prove that I have in fact made severe improvements in my coping strategies, and not let my eating disorder take a firm grasp of the situation? Yes.

I only seem to look at the negatives; in my eyes I had failed, I had lost control and I had caused nothing but disappointment to myself and everybody else. After speaking to my parents and my GP, they seemed somewhat pleased with the situation. Not that I had been through a few days of utter distress, but that I had experienced a natural process of recovery. My GP expressed that he was almost waiting for this blip to occur, and that he did find it slightly strange that I had not yet been fazed whilst tackling the illness independently. At first I found this difficult to understand, but I think that is, once again, my naivety around the evidence of eating disorder recovery. However, now that I can comprehend what he was saying, I feel comforted in knowing that this incredibly emotional couple of days is only natural.

I have learnt so much from the past few days. One, that it is OK to slow down and accept the natural pace that my recovery is developing at. Two, that it is important to notice and make others aware of the difficulties that I am experiencing. And three, that having a bad day does not mean that I am relapsing, I am merely taking that natural one step back that has occurred from my two steps forward.

I suppose there are worse treatment suggestions that I could leave the doctors with than ‘don’t put so much pressure on yourself!’