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.

16 October 2016

One Volunteering Placement at a Time...

Before I started studying again, most of my negative thoughts were fuelled by this notion that if I did not at least try to redesign myself, then once again I was going to experience the isolation, the loneliness and the regression that I did two years ago. I thought that once I started university again I would feel the usual pressure to be that person I am not- the one that goes out, the one that drinks, the one that stays up until ridiculous hours in the morning. The truth is, I am never going to be that person, but I know deep down that I do not have to put on an act just to be accepted. I am who I am, I enjoy what I enjoy and after being at Sheffield Hallam for a month now, I can quite confidently say that I am happy with being just that.

Socialising when you are not into the whole going out scene can be a bit of a challenge at university, but so far I feel like I am doing quite well. I am spending time with those that I have formed close friendships with, doing activities that we all like to do and honestly, I could not think of better ways of spending my time than going to the cinema, watching the ice hockey and baking cakes. But as my timetable can be quite sparse some days, I have decided to embrace the opportunity to volunteer within the city. As somebody that loves nothing more than raising money, giving back to a worthy cause and working to improve peoples lives- I felt like this would be a great way to not only gain some experience for my career, but also to fulfil these passions of mine.

So far I have joined up to a project called FoodCycle. This fantastic scheme uses donated food from leading supermarkets that are unsellable due to being close to their ‘best before’ date, and transforming them into a three course meal to be served to the community in a local church. As the shopping bags are emptied on to the table at 9:30am every Wednesday, we are challenged with formulating a menu based on the products in front of us, ready to be served 3 hours later. Not only is this project a fantastic way for me to gain experience for my nutrition course, but it is also incredibly rewarding and socially interactive, as I then get to eat the food whilst conversing with the visiting members of the community. It is great to work as part of a team with people that are like-minded in their goals about wanting to make a positive difference by helping others and also in reducing food waste. It is inspiring to hear their stories, as well as those of the visitors, to find out how and why they have come to know the project and their motivations for spending their time volunteering. It is a truly fantastic project and I am looking forward to dedicating more of my time there throughout the year.

Whilst attending one of the many fresher’s fairs during the first few weeks at Sheffield Hallam, I came across a relatively new healthy food business that really captured my interest. A recent graduate from Sheffield Hallam University, Sophie Lane, launched Slaaw in May 2016. With a mission to change people’s preconceptions about healthy food, she has formulated recipes for various salads and clean treats, which she serves up at a pop up café every Tuesday at Union Street in Sheffield. Being a nutrition student with a keen interest in all aspects of the industry, I was excited to see that somebody was trying to put a healthy stamp on the food scene in Sheffield- and I wanted to know more! As soon as I got home from the fair, I began searching for Slaaw on Twitter and Instagram to get into contact with Sophie to find out if there was any way that I could volunteer and help out with her growing business. Just one week later and there I was, stood behind the counter in the café with my Slaaw apron on, ready to serve up delicious food to the public. For somebody that this time last year, could not even go into a supermarket without becoming overwhelmed with anxiety, I feel extremely privileged to have had the help of professionals throughout my time in recovery to enable me to feel comfortable working in a café. It is only as I take these steps that I look back on the past few years, even months, and evaluate my progress; undoubtedly filled with a small sense of pride.
Sophie is fantastic in allowing me to experience various aspects of her business and I am so grateful for the opportunities that she is providing for me, one of which being a recent trip to the Northern Vegan Festival! As we spent around 4 hours preparing for the trip on Friday night by making hundreds, and I mean hundreds of her delicious clean treats- Bliss Balls, I could not help but admire her determination to satisfy her customers and see her business succeed. Getting the 7:32am train (just!) to Manchester, armed with a granny trolley, a cool box and 5 shopping bags, I was excited to be back in a retail environment, meeting new people and sharing a passion for Slaaw’s products. I had a fantastic day and learnt so much about business, but also about myself.
I know it may not seem like a big deal, but for the entire day we were positioned next to an amazing gentleman and his son, who were serving hot falafel. Now, during my recovery, I have been incredibly sensitive to smell- to the point where I would cry due to anxiety over the presence of fish and chips or a pizza takeaway being in the car. However, this falafel was incredible, and although I still smell of it even after a shower, it is another sign of how far I have come. In fact, I am going to be honest now and say that I had a fair few samples of the falafel with hummus. I then enjoyed one of the wraps that he was making, again filled with falafel and hummus. You could then say that I enjoyed a dessert from the stall at the other side of us, as I sampled some of their ‘camembert’ cheese on a cracker. But the most incredible thing of all was that I did not experience any negative thoughts, any anxiety or any damaging compulsions. I was having such a fantastic day alongside Sophie, interacting with customers and immersing myself in the fairs’ atmosphere, that I did not let the remnants of my Anorexia grasp onto any potential opportunities to pull me down.

I have found a lifestyle that suits me. Alongside my studying, I am socialising, I am learning and I am having a great time. I may not fit the usual student ‘norm’, but that just is not me. Finding activities such as volunteering are playing a vital role in my time here at university and I would recommend them to anybody. Regardless of whether you are studying, working or maybe trying to integrate back into normal life through the first steps of recovery from an illness, I think that volunteering is a great way to develop new skills. It is rewarding, distracting but most of all, it is enjoyable.

‘Be who you are, not what the world wants you to be.’

Make sure to have a look at Slaaw via:
Twitter: @SlaawFoods
Instagram: @slaawfoods

Website: www.slaaw.com

6 October 2016

And then I disappeared...

Since my discharge date from hospital in November last year, I have visited the doctor on a monthly basis for a check up, blood tests and an ECG. Granted my health has been stable for a few months now, but as this difficult period of transition has loomed as my life adapts to that of a university student, it is as if my illness never existed.

After experiencing a little blip one evening this week, I found myself clawing on to those closest to me for reassurance and support about the feelings I was facing. Fortunately, the blip was just that- an unexpected, minor, and typically temporary deviation from a general trend; and the next morning I awoke feeling absolutely fine. However, with my parents being as proactive as they are, it suddenly dawned on us all that the professional infrastructure I once felt supported and reassured by was no longer there. For my psychologist, this is not her fault, but this was only realised after an infuriating conversation with my previous doctors surgery.

I had applied through my private health insurance to receive psychologist support from a professional that I have worked with continuously since January. A referral was put in place before I transferred to the doctors surgery in Sheffield, however, from that moment on, things have become very unclear. A phone call to my doctor’s surgery at home revealed a severe response of denial in acknowledgement that I even existed. Apparently my records are not present at the surgery any more; therefore it is not their responsibility. This prompted me to visit the surgery at Sheffield- again another frustrating experience.

When I arrived in the city, I immediately registered at the doctors, as well as submitting a letter written by my GP at home that stated exactly what has happened to me in recent years. This letter was transferred to my ‘new’ medical files in Sheffield and I stated that I would need a check-up, as I was a new patient at the surgery. Now, I am not quite sure what the process is, but as somebody that was once critically ill and in hospital just a year ago, I would presume that a GP would read my file and communicate with me to arrange an appointment. Well, that did not happen. Today I made my way over to the surgery for it opening and requested a same day appointment, as instructed by a phone call I had made the previous day. Unsurprisingly, the closest time I could get that fitted in with my timetable was next Thursday. We are all aware of how long it takes to see a medical professional nowadays, but my point is that if I had not have gone in to request an appointment myself, would I have just slipped under the radar?

The relapse rate of Anorexia sufferers is incredibly high and as I myself know, the triggers can be involuntary, unprovoked and most of the time unrecognised; that is until it gets to crisis point. This poses the question, is that what the healthcare system is willing to do? Expect people to continue as they are until they reach a stage of urgent crisis. As a student living away from home, I could have quite easily allowed my anorexia to consume me as I try to adapt to the new surroundings, new routines and new responsibilities. I could have quite easily gone through the next three years without visiting home, without my friends raising concern about my behaviours and without recognising that my situation was reaching a critical level. So when would an intervention have taken place? When would my GP have requested I come in for a check up considering my medical history? Would it have ever happened, or would I have collapsed and required urgent medical treatment for the healthcare services to even notice?

Thankfully, I am, in my opinion, doing very well! I have managed to adapt to my new environment, shop for myself and cook meals that are balanced (and enjoyable!). I am managing my emotions and dealing with the pressure in a healthy way, without sacrificing the nourishment that my body needs. Food is still a prevalent thought every day, but in an exciting way. I am enthusiastic about food; curious about its properties, and engaged by the effect it has on everybody’s lives. I am excited about what I am going to learn, the positive impact it is going to have on my life and the experiences this knowledge is going to give me. The difficulties that I am going to have to endure over the next three years may at some points seem undefeatable; but so did the first few stages of recovery, and look where I am now…

So next week I will attend my appointment, I will address the concerns I have and I will, once again, initiate the referral that I need. I am incredibly thankful to have such caring parents that have my health and wellbeing at the forefront of their mind. However, following on from this experience, I could not help but express my feelings about the system, for the fear of lots of other sufferers of mental health conditions that have to go through this transition phase and may well be the ones to just disappear.