30 January 2017

One Social Media Account at a Time...

Social media has become a fundamental feature of everybody’s life. From the moment we wake up to the moment our heads hit the pillow at night, we have at some point come into contact with one of the various platforms. To be honest, I cannot remember a time where this was not the case, and that frustrates me. I strongly believe that the use of social media has a lot to answer for in terms of an individual’s quality of life, and quite possibly their mental health- speaking from experience.

It is undeniable that sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have their positive features, such as talking to distant friends, sharing memories and reconnecting with individuals from the past. For myself, I have also noticed the benefits in terms of raising awareness of eating disorders through my blog, receiving supportive messages and communicating with professionals to help me with my recovery. On the other hand, I can too see the negatives of particular social media platforms.

I cannot count the amount of times that I searched for a positive eating disorder recovery blog, only to be horrified by the link that was falsely advertised. As a sufferer that was desperate to get better, I wanted to find a supportive community that would encourage and provide advice on how to do so. However, I quickly realised that finding such a network was very difficult. Instead, the Internet was crawling with destructive pro-Anorexia websites, subtly disguised, with the use of search engine optimisation, to give the impression that they were helpful and positive. This is worrying- very worrying. As an individual in an extremely vulnerable position mentally, viewing these websites could have been incredibly damaging, had I have not been in the mindset of wanting to get better. If the situation was turned on its head, and I was actively seeking what my eating disorder wanted, then access to these sites could have been fatal. The fact that individuals can gain access to these websites, regardless of their age, regardless of their intentions or regardless of their current health situation is scary. But it is not just a simple Google search that can bring up these websites; creators of such content can prey on their victims through the use of all types of social media. Following them on Twitter or Instagram, or sending a friend request over Facebook, all it takes is one click for a susceptible person to fall into a harmful trap.

Similarly to how damaging social media can be when somebody is suffering, viewing content online can also be difficult during the recovery process. I have realised that I cannot block myself out from the rest of the world in fear of something triggering a relapse, and so have decided to keep my social media accounts active. However, I did start to recognise how potentially testing this would be.

Instagram presents challenges with every viewing. Within a few clicks I can be sucked into observing what ‘healthy’ foods everybody else is eating. Beautifully presented plates, embellished with a myriad of vibrant vegetables- everything my eating disorder is telling me I should be surviving on. As I scroll through the images, I see less and less of what I have been informed I must eat, and somehow I feel tricked. If this beautiful, healthy woman can live on plates of vegetables, then why can't I? Why must I eat carbohydrates, fats and processed foods? I begin to question everything I have been taught, and slowly I can feel the anorexic voice becoming louder and louder with every decision I make, based on what I have viewed online.

But this is not real life! Is this gym-loving, all natural health goddess really going to share on her account the tub of ice cream she indulged in last Saturday night? Is she willing to post a photo of the home cooked Sunday roast with all of the trimmings that she shared with her loved ones at the weekend? Or is she honest enough to upload an image of the bag of popcorn she shared with her friend at the cinema? No, most probably not. The beauty, and beast of social media is that you can make yourself whomever you want to be- and consequently convince others of that too. For people like myself, I am still very vulnerable in terms of following others to satisfy, or add on to certain food and lifestyle rules that I have developed. I have to continuously tell myself that I must trust what the health professionals are stating to me, not the social media ‘specialists’.

Some days I convince myself that I would benefit more in my recovery by deleting all social media accounts- remove all temptation. But then I realise that this would not achieve anything. The nature of today’s world means that I would probably be isolating myself more by doing this. Not only that, but this would be avoidance- doing everything I can to not build up my resilience, instead just trying to block out all potential triggers. This is not going to aid my recovery, as what about if I am left with no choice but to access social media in the future for my career? Similarly to every challenge I am facing in my ongoing journey, I need to confront them, not run away.

2 January 2017

2016- What A Year!

I cannot believe it. This year has been one of the fastest years of my life to go by so far. When I think back to everything that has happened, I struggle to comprehend it. To capture the significance of this year, I am going to try to imagine as if a fortuneteller is predicting it from back in December 2015. I envisage that the conversation would appear as something like this…

“Jess, 2016 is going to be a year of achievement, opportunity and enjoyment. You will challenge your fears, you will document every step you take and you will learn that life does not follow a plan, but that is all part of the journey.

In January you will make the decision to share your story. Opening up about your experiences will not only enrich your own recovery journey, but you will educate others about what life is like when living with an eating disorder. Your blog will engage audiences both locally and worldwide and people will confide in you to help them with their own problems, or those of a loved one. What is intended to be a small scale platform to educate and aid others will conclude with a total of 33,000 views at the end of the year- it is only hoped that at least one of these lives has been transformed through the honesty of your documentation.

At the same time as establishing your blog, you will start a phased return to work at Bridgeview Whitehouse School. Your fears will subside as you enter back into the workplace and team of staff that cared and supported you continuously throughout your battle. You will be reminded of the significant role these people played in trying to help you at a time of complete desperation, and although not necessarily expressed vocally, you will be thankful towards them every day that you are around them. Being at work will become an important factor in establishing a normal routine within your life again after experiencing 6 months of feeling completely detached from normality. Gradually, you will regain the confidence to attend college again and this will contribute to the completion of your apprenticeship qualification in business administration- something that you never thought could be achieved! Leaving Bridgeview Whitehouse School will be one of the hardest things you will do in 2016. Saying goodbye to a group of people that were there for you throughout all of the difficult times will encourage a mixture of emotions- sadness, gratitude and pride. You will move on with your life, take those next steps to achieving your ambitions and remember everything that the team did for you.

Whilst reestablishing a normal routine during your phased return to work in early January, it will not disguise the burning ambition you have to use your experiences to help others. Within weeks of being discharged from the day patient service at Evolve you will have compiled a personal statement for UCAS, attended an open day at Sheffield Hallam University and set your sights on a new goal- returning to university to study BSc Nutrition and Public Health. Within days of the application deadline you will submit all of your documents and wait patiently for a response. Having taken a risk in being completely honest about what has motivated you to study the course, you will be prepared that the university may not think that the course is suitable. However, on the 10th February you will receive an email stating that you have been accepted onto the course with an unconditional offer! An overwhelming sense of elation and nervousness will consume you, but you will be ready for the challenge, and even more so with the activities that will be installed between the accepted offer and the date of enrolment.

Travel. You will fuel every fight with the negative thoughts, difficult days and moments of despair with the motivation to travel. Planning, booking and jetting off to various destinations around the world will bring its challenges, but these will not overshadow the happiness, enrichment and joy you experience from the ventures. Visiting Bruges with your parents will be a baby step for facing a new culture, new foods and new routines. You will take every difficulty in your stride and learn from your struggles with the help of the two most supportive people you could ever ask for. Next, you will take a beautifully restful break with your best friend, Abbey, in Majorca. Battling body image issues seeing your body in a bikini will become insignificant in comparison to cherishing the memories you are making with a friend you wish you had the opportunity to see every day. July will bring the most unbelievable experience you could have ever imagined you would do- you will travel on a coach for 18 days around Europe with 51 other people you will have never met before. You have the chance for people to get to know you as you, not the girl that suffers with an eating disorder, not the girl that struggled to cope with her emotions, but the girl that isn’t afraid to be independent and achieve her dreams. During those 18 days, you will meet the most incredible group of people you can imagine- a group of people that you could only have wished to spend your time travelling around Europe with. Seeing beautiful cities, gazing at picturesque scenery, saying ‘yes’ to activities you would never normally do, this trip will be one the redefines how you want to live your life! Your travelling experiences of 2016 will be concluded in the most magical way with a trip to Disneyland Paris! Once again, Abbey will encourage you to embrace the moment and book a holiday that you would have ordinarily just discussed, wishing it would happen. This holiday will surface childhood memories of excitement, happiness and contentment, which you will replicate, even at the age of 20! Memories of 2015 and your previous difficulties will melt away in the festive magic and your mind will be filled with only positive thoughts. You will start to look into the future for yourself and imagine children of your own being engrossed in the beauty of Disneyland- the grips of Anorexia Nervosa missing from the visions.

Do you remember how you were once afraid of heights, caged in a life of fear and constantly undermining your physical abilities? What about if I told you that during 2016 you will run off a hill and paraglide in Austria, or that you will go on the world’s fastest zip line alongside one of your closest friends in Wales, or reach the summit of Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain? Don’t believe me? Well just like every other aspect of your year, these too are activities you will conquer!

By now, you may think that 2016 is a vision of something you can only imagine, but it gets better, trust me. In September you will take a step forward in your life that for sometime will be tainted by negative memories of 2 years ago. Unloading the van, making your bed and putting up images of your family, moving into your own flat in Sheffield will not quite register as actually happening for a few days, but you must remember everything else that you have done throughout the year and see this as just another way of moving forward with your life. Any doubts, uncertainty or fear will drift away within the induction week. In fact, your first semester will be a blur of laughter, joy and positive memories. You will meet people that will make you smile every single day and quickly become your closest friends. You will find what makes you happy and abandon the need to fit a certain mould in terms of what others expect student life to look like. Alongside your studies, your schedule will become filled with social outings, volunteering opportunities and the chance to meet new people. It will quickly become apparent that even though these next 3 years are quite possibly going to be the most challenging of your life, it will all be worth it. Your previous associations between success and achievement gradually transform with the realisation that success is nothing in life without happiness.

Everything that you achieve and experience in 2016 would not have been possible without the help of two special charities- Mind and SEED Eating Disorder Support Service. Through the year, you will try your best to make even just a small repayment for the significant impact they have had on the life of yourself and your family. On 31st December you will receive an email from Virgin Money Giving to congratulate you on raising £992.45 to be divided equally between the charities. It will be hoped that this money can be used by the organisations to help improve the lives of others that have suffered as you have in the past with your mental illness.”

No, I cannot believe it either. Had I have visited a fortuneteller and been told all of this, I can honestly say I would have laughed and asked for my money back. I know I refer back to my time in hospital a lot, but I think it is important for people to recognise that with hard work, self-belief and determination, it is possible to begin a recovery journey from the dark depths of a mental illness. Having read back a few of my diary entries from the time I spent in hospital, I find it even more difficult to comprehend just exactly what I managed to achieve in 2016. I am not naïve in the knowledge that I am an extremely fortunate individual, and that most of these experiences would not have been possible without the support, love and encouragement of the fantastic support network that I am lucky enough to have. I know that some people out there are not as blessed with such reinforcement, but that does not mean to say that recovery is not possible without this backing. Yes, I have experienced a lot of activities and achievements this year, but these are only a result of what recovery really is to me. Recovery signifies an ability to handle emotions in a healthy way. Recovery resembles confidence, motivation and self-belief. Recovery abolishes the need to deprive yourself of a life you desire, a life you are worthy of living, a life you deserve. No two journeys towards recovery are the same and no two journeys can ever be compared. Everybody has different goals, circumstances and opportunities, but that does not mean that anybody should be denied the chance to work towards a life they deserve.

I have not made any New Year’s resolutions for 2017, as I am content with life and the mystery of my life as it is. However, if I were to have made any resolutions I can imagine they would have been tasks I can only dream of. But yet again, was that not exactly what my 2016 sounded like?