Florida – Day Five 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

Our fifth day in Florida was spent in Naples, where we experienced the exciting privilege of visiting the FCGU (Florida Golf Coast University) research centre, visiting the majestic, stunning botanical gardens and driving our way to The Everglades.

We first stopped at the research centre. Listening to three different, informative, talks about different kinds of research carried out: including information about water flow and the movement of water in the wetlands, presented from a former masters student at the university and a bubbly lecturer from Spain.

After a morning spent in the research centre, we then proceeded to spend two hours roaming freely around the magnificent botanical gardens, viewing hundreds of unique, colourful plant and tree species. Some native to Florida, and others that were not – but gorgeous all the same. I thoroughly enjoyed the Botanical gardens and quickly became mesmerised by the vast amount of breathtakingly bright, beautiful and colourful sights and flowers around.

I even witnessed a plant therapy section of the garden, which I found to be an amazing idea. I hadn’t heard of plant therapy prior to this, so it was thrilling to expand upon my knowledge and understanding in that given area.

I could’ve happily spent an entire day in the gardens, simply strolling along and appreciating the natural beauty of nature.

The gardens were magical, peaceful and very scenic. I enjoyed the visit and I would definitely recommend it to other people. I loved witnessing new species I hadn’t previously encountered, alongside gaining further knowledge, such as vanilla being derived from orchid plants. (Vanilla being my favourite scent!) And embracing another stunning Floridan attraction.

The drive to The Everglades took approximately two hours from the botanical gardens, which I can confirm was completely worth it since it stood as a highly enjoyable, and unforgettable, experience, especially because we took loop road: A popular site to view wide abundance’s of wildlife – including alligators.

We made a few stops and eagerly left the mini buses to gain a closer look at the animals spotted along the way. We spotted alligators (including a juvenile on a log) anoles, and a range of bird species, like egrets. Spending time in Florida studying animals meant I was gaining more knowledge (and confidence) with identifying bird species!

We arrived at Coopertown Air-boat Tour, which I’d firstly like to admit I personally didn’t find a very pleasurable experience, from both an animal welfare and a personal perspective. And I can confirm that other students shared my unfortunate views of the attraction. However, I did feel that the experience was important as it allowed me to understand more about animal ethics in different parts of The World I hadn’t previously encountered.

Whilst visiting Coopertown, I found that the information issued to the public by workers wasn’t always accurate and could therefore be very misleading. The animals had very little space to roam around freely throughout their enclosures, especially the snakes, and they didn’t replicate their natural environment even in the slightest way, which was extremely disheartening to see.

Since a selection of the animals at the centre were invasive species, it became apparent that their welfare wasn’t really adhered. These animals are viewed as pests and tactics are routinely carried out in order to unkindly remove them, which I feel contributed to the unreasonable conditions the animals were kept in.

Our group and one of our lecturers took a ride on an air boat – a popular tourist attraction in Florida. It was loud, and disturbing to the animals inhabiting the surroundings, causing them unnecessary stress. Which, as Zoologists, we didn’t particularly admire. I personally believe that other, kinder, ways could be carried out in order to view animals up close, but in a way to reduce unnecessary stress to animals.

Additionally, at the end of the boat ride a worker proudly appeared in front of the small crowd armed with a tiny, juvenile alligator with the encouragement of getting people to have their photos taken with it. I strongly disagreed with this and believed that this shouldn’t have been carried out at all, never mind just for the sole purpose of entertainment. In my opinion, the rights of the animal weren’t taken into consideration and I believe it wasn’t a mindful idea to be handling a knowingly dangerous predator in front of visitors.

Florida – Day Four 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

Beginning the day at 7:45am, we embarked on a 45 minute drive to Corkscrew Swamp, listening to our new favourite American radio station (Bob.fm) along the way, excited to find a range of animal species and to gain a further insight into the work carried out throughout the popular attraction.

Arriving at the swamp, we were quickly divided into two groups, each touring with an experienced volunteer. My group had Sharon – who was approachable, very intelligent and knowledgable.

We were shown the drastic alterations in both human and bird populations over generations with looking at three large scaled maps. Evidently, with an increase in human population, meant the (unfortunate) reduction of bird species. It really was insightful to gain a view into just how negatively the Human population can have such drastic and negative implications on our stunning wildlife.

We walked across the boardwalk, witnessing cypress trees in the near distance and then going on to head on into the cypress trees, with the ability to view them from directly above. Listening to insightful talk of how some species of plants and trees at the swamp have adapted to withstand wildfires. And, additionally, some species can only grow with the assistance of fire – but will die three weeks after the fire has died down.

The walk lasted approximately 3-4 hours, with Sharon sharing her wide range of knowledge as our understanding of the swamp and it’s entailments increased. During the walk, we had the privilege of witnessing a wide diversity of animals in the swamp, which were all stunning and characteristic in their own ways. We noticed alligators, carrying out their camouflaging abilities extremely well as they remained immensely still whilst resembling a log.

The green anole – a Native species in Florida, with noticeably few than the Invasive brown anole. It was in Corkscrew we witnessed our first green anole, after days spent counting handfuls of brown ones.

The Great Egret.

Raccoon.

We then had the option of walking on the boardwalk again, or taking water and soil samples from a nearby location. My friends and I opted for the boardwalk, which seemed to be a refreshing decision as we witnessed more animal species we failed to see the first time around, whilst also viewing a feeding raccoon up close in the habitat of the stunning, tiny hummingbirds.

SPECIES LIST

  • Racoon
  • Great Egret
  • Alligator
  • Ruby throated hummingbird
  • American bittern
  • White ibis
  • Blue heron
  • Blue dragonfly
  • Red bellied tortoise
  • Lampkin
  • Green anole
  • Painted bunting
  • White spotted deer
  • Cardinal bird

Behavioural Ecology – Oystercatcher practical and measuring vigilance

Behaviour Ecology, University

A component of my second year Behavioural Ecology module (BSX-2018) was carrying out an Oystercatcher practical in order to learn more about, and measure, vigilance.

Vigilance: The action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties

Prior to the practical experiment, we learned about vigilance during a lecture. And, evidently, vigilance can easily be measured in animals through assessing the number of times the animal raises their head, thereby scanning their environment in search of predators aswell as other potential threats.

Oystercatcher

Noticeably, animals in larger groups are known to be less vigilant following the ‘many eyes hypothesis’, since there are more eyes available to scan for predators, and more bodies to count for safety in numbers, it significantly reduces the need for individuals to scan on their own accord. In comparison to animals staying on their own, who need to scan more frequently in order to search and to keep themselves safe.

The experiment:

In order to successfully carry out the experiment, we were each assigned three videos of Oystercatchers to watch which had been previously recorded on Bangor Harbour.

We watched each video for a duration of three minutes, recording the number of times the Oystercatchers were vigilant (raising their heads) to measure the head-up rate with the use of a clicker, to provide accuracy to the experiment by ensuring we didn’t take our eyes away from the screen. Simply, whenever the animal raised their head, we were to press the clicker to count the head up rate.

During the experiment, we also had to assess which diet the Oystercatcher had to understand whether this did or did not affect vigilance in the individuals. This was done by monitoring how deep the animals searched for food. Noting that the animals engaged in a range of different searching methods, including:

  • Pecking
  • Boring
  • Sewing
  • Ploughing

And the prey handling methods for Bivalves consisted of:

  • Stabbing
  • Hammering (Dorsal)
  • Hammering (Ventral)

The information gathered was then recorded in the class datasheet for each of the Oystercatchers we observed, to which we could compare with the results of other students. Though, this wasn’t a component required for the completion of the practical experiment.

During the next part of the experiment, we were informed on how to use R statistics for the first time. Admittedly, I’ve always been nervous around stats, but I loved grasping the concept of using a new software and stepping aside from SPSS, and I quickly felt confident with using the software. The practical handout was a blessing and our knowledgeable, and kind, lecturers were around and keen to issue support and guidance if and when we required it.

We made our way through the practical handout, each of us working at our own pace and facing our own individual (but expected) hurdles along the way. The experiment took approximately four hours to complete as we were issued with codes we had to transfer into the software in order to create a graph, which could simply be done by running the code.

Following on from this, we made our own codes and plotted different categories on the X and Y axis, thereby allowing us to formulate our own graphs which could then be used to gain an insight and a further understanding into different relationships between Oystercatchers and vigilance. For example, how the diet affects the head up rate, or how group size affects head up rate.

And then we simply had to perform a stats test for each of the 6 plots we had previously created in earlier steps. Which, again, could be done by simply creating a code, running it and noting down the important parts of the test, such as the p-value to determine whether each of the relationships were significant or insignificant.

Behavioural Ecology – Habituation and morphology in the green shore crab

Behaviour Ecology, University

In a component of my Behavioural Ecology module (BSX-2018) we began learning about habituation, one of my favourite subject areas, which we were then able to study through a practical experiment using green shore crabs obtained from The Menai Straits, North Wales.

Habituation: Diminishing of an innate response to a frequently repeated stimulus.

The experiment:

In order to successfully carry out the habituation and morphology experiment, we paired up and collected a crab from the bucket sitting at the front of the lab after carefully reading the practical handout and stating our practical hypothesis.

We placed the crab in a large tray of salt water, setting the timer for thirty minutes for each individual crab, and the experiment was carried out on three crabs in total, per group. Though, Rosie and I opted to use a forth crab following our enjoyment of the experiment, and because we were keen to experiment using a Female after already using three Males. And that way, it would be interesting to distinguish differences in results between the two sexes.

Asked to label each of our chosen crabs, my friend and I excitedly named each of ours (appropriately, of course…)

Fred, Leo, Barney and Penny. 

Fred, our first crab and the largest we experimented with, was noticeably aggressive nearing the beginning of the experiment and would raise his claws as an indication of a warning signal to fend off predators. And our third crab (Barney) was unfortunately missing his right claws, which could’ve given him a disadvantage throughout the experiment in comparison to the fully-clawed crabs, since he had less limbs to assist him in turning himself back around.

The task was to gently flip the crabs over on their backs, distinguishing whether the individual was a Male or a Female. So we could time how long each of the crabs took to get themselves back over to an upright position. We carried this out for thirty minutes for each of the crabs, noting down in a table the duration of time the crab took to turn back over (without assistance!)

Hint: The Male’s abdomens are more triangular in shape whereas the abdomens of Females are more rounded, as pictured below.

Crab

We then measured the crabs carapace height and width alongside their left and right minor and major claws – also referred to as cutters and crushers – described which crabs were small (< 45mm) and which were larger (> 45mm) and recorded the information into a table.

The hypothesis being: When an animal is exposed to a stimulus, they’ll react differently to it over time and will no longer become affected, or stressed, by it. Similar to if a Human was constantly exposed to the ringing of a car alarm. At first, the alarm would be annoying and would cause distress, but over time and following more exposure to the stimulus, it would become more tolerable and significantly easier to deal with. The more times we flipped the crab over, the longer they’d take to flip themselves back over, since they learned that the situation wasn’t threatening and therefore didn’t invest as much energy into manoeuvring themselves.

We noted that different crabs had different reactions. Therefore, some were quicker at flipping themselves in comparison to others. For example, one of our crabs (who we named Leo) took approximately one second to turn back around to begin with, and a crab monitored by our friend took several minutes to obtain an upright position. Though, a series of factors could contribute to this, including: size, sex, exposure to the stimulus and possibly whether or not the animal has experienced a similar situation in their natural environment.

Additionally, one of the crabs we experimented with (Penny) appeared to be pregnant! As were many of the crabs used throughout the practical since it was mating season; we had permission from our lecturer to flip them over. So this may have also had implications on the results gathered. Ie: Her reaction rate could’ve been quicker due to predation risk and her maternal instinct to protect herself and her offspring.

Florida – Day Three 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

Today, we ventured out at 8:45am, filling our backpacks with cameras, swimwear, binoculars and (of course) plenty of water, amongst other zoologist necessities. Essential in the dazzling 40°c heat!

The day was spent at Lovers Key, a barrier island consisting of three islands (Lovers Key, Inner Island and Black Island) – approximately a ten minute, scenic, drive from our accommodation where we saw unique mailboxes, ranging from dolphin and manatee themed to mermaid themed.

Evidently, Americans truly embrace their individualities and it was a delight to see.

Following a talk from our fabulous Lecturer, Christian, about Lovers Key, mangroves and fascinating barrier islands we perched ourselves excitedly on the bridge, keen to witness manatees in their natural environment, following the success of other students in previous years.

Binoculars at the ready, hopes running high, it wasn’t long before we joyfully encountered a manatee swimming elegantly in the distance. My first manatee sighting! Unfortunately not close enough for a high quality photograph, but enough for a breathtaking experience and long lasting memory. We manoeuvred quickly to another area close by and luckily witnessed another manatee within close proximity of us.

We walked for roughly 4 hours around Lovers Key, embracing high abundance’s of the stunning nature (including mangroves – which consist of 3 types) we had the privilege of experiencing. Also spotting more gopher tortoises, a juvenile included, anoles, butterflies and dolphins. I adored seeing such a wide diversity of animals up close, Florida is blessed with such fascinating wildlife!

We then made our way to the beach, accidentally becoming caught up in a man’s fishing net, to his disapproval, and being taken in by the biggest crashing waves.

Later on in the evening, promised a good view of the sunset, we made our way to the beach, walking the short route together as a friendly group of 16 students. The sky was a very pale pink and the bright sun was heading down, approaching it’s setting. I loved spending time with friends, whilst embracing our surroundings and having thrilling conversations. The sunset was truly stunning and an exceptional way to end another magical, fulfilling day.

We spent a while on the beach, relaxing and laughing. It was great fun!

SPECIES LIST OF THE DAY

  • Manatee
  • Dolphin
  • Brown anole
  • Turkey vulture
  • Black vulture
  • Black racer snake
  • Orange barred butterfly
  • Mangrove crab

Florida – Day Two 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

BAREFOOT BEACH RESERVE

Following a well needed sleep after a lengthy (though enjoyable) travelling period, we were ready to embrace our first full day in Florida, whilst fending off jet lag!

Meeting at 8am, lathered in sun cream and covered in protective gear, filling two buses we eagerly headed off to The Barefoot Beach Reserve. The drastic temperature increase was a delight, the sun was beaming down blissfully. Although it felt odd to be wearing minimal layers after succumbing to Bangor’s identifiable declining temperatures.

We had a scheduled talk from Jimmie Trulock – an (extremely knowledgeable) ex park ranger at The Everglades and a current volunteer at the reserve. And Florida’s Master Naturalist.

Jimmie kindly guided us around the reserve, showing us an array of beautiful fauna and tree species, aswell as telling us about their histories and their uses. Ie: some trees being used for pharmaceutical purposes. The talk was super interesting and Jimmie displayed a strong passion for nature and his work, which we made notes about in preparation for our assessed blog posts.

We were blessed to see animals freely inhabiting their natural environments, some of which included stunning gopher tortoises, brown anoles, raccoons and feeding pelicans.

We then had another lecture, listening to another naturalist talking about sound pollution, the different types of sound and the ways in which we can be kinder to our senses.

Following a few insightful hours at the reserve, we had 3/4 of an hour free time to roam around the reserve as we pleased. The majority of us headed to the beach, captivated by the stunning, soft, white sand and the dashingly beautiful blue water. We swam, splashed, and experienced animals feeding naturally – and peering for fish, whilst laughing lots and creating wonderful new memories.

Canoe time! We paired up and ventured out on the canoes, it was my first time canoeing so I was a little rusty; I soon grasped the concept of manoeuvring around the peaceful reserve, after frightening Carla a handful of times with my unpredictable steering methods (oops!) and it turned out to be a pleasurable experience, navigating around mangroves and embracing our surroundings.

Rowing our way eagerly around the calm waters, we witnessed gorgeous dolphins (my favourite marine mammal!) swimming both elegantly and closely to our canoes. The experience was incredible, it felt magical and captivating – to say the least. We also saw a number of magnificent bird and fish species, boats, and bubbly Americans.

Our accommodation gratefully has a pool, which we all went in afterwards for a swim and a cool down, before a debriefing about the day we’d experienced and the plans for the upcoming day. It was incredible to spend a day with wonderful people who share my passions and my admiration of animals, whilst experiencing new things and visiting new places!

SPECIES LIST OF THE DAY

  • Dolphins
  • Gopher tortoise
  • Brown anole
  • Ospreys
  • Red breasted woodpecker
  • Cuban tree frog
  • Raccoon
  • Ant lion

Day one – Arriving in Florida 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

Arriving at the meeting point following an agonising wait for the day to arrive, it was finally time to head to Florida, ready to engage in an incredible field course, offering new experiences and unforgettable memories.

With it also being my first time in The US!

6am sharp, we were packed up and rearing to go. Handing the bus driver my luggage proceeding to sit comfortably on the mini bus, gently wrapped up in my oversized fleece to accommodate the typical British weather. Freezing. It was dark, it was cold. But I was excited. All 16 students (myself included) alongside 3 of our wonderful tutors were set to go on a big American adventure!

We arrived at Manchester airport at approximately 8:30am, approaching check in, handing over our passports for checks and receiving seat numbers and boarding passes in return. The wait wasn’t too lengthy. And after successfully passing through security checks, my friends (Beth, Annabel, Carla, Beth, Georgina) and I wandered through to some shops, passing the time before boarding time approached.

Our trip to Florida consisted of two exciting plane journeys.

Plane one was our trip from Manchester to Philadelphia, lasting roughly 8 hours. To my amazement, we were issued individual televisions with a vast selection of movies, tv programmes, games and music. And watching Mamma Mia Here We Go Again millions of feet in the air, wrapped in a blanket and rested on a pillow, made me incredibly happy. The airline staff were wonderfully kind and accommodating throughout the journey, which definitely kick started my first American trip as a delightful one.

8 hours later…yay! We arrived in Philadelphia, undoubtedly restless but ready to collect our luggage so we could check it in for the next flight. The time difference already began to confuse me, but I remained confident I’d adjust in no time.

The second flight (Philadelphia to Fort Myers) lasted approximately 3 hours. In comparison to the earlier flight, time *literally* flew by and we arrived in next to no time. All of us feeling the exhaustion, but also the contentment of finally landing in our destination.

After locating and reuniting with our luggage, we headed over to the bus hire centre in order to receive the vehicle we required for our transportation to our accommodation – Vester Marine Field Station. We waited patiently and chatted away with minimal energy after a lengthy day spent travelling.

We finally reached our destination which was set to be our home for the upcoming 10 days. After a 30 minute drive, we unloaded the bus and chose our preferred rooms with the people we’d opted to stay with, afterwards packing and making our beds in preparation to fend off jet leg and to welcome our first full day in Florida.

A journey: How to be open about Mental Health

Mental Health

Today, I wanted to talk about how I’ve grown more comfortable with speaking up about Mental Health.

I’d like to view myself as a Mental Health advocate, the topic has become a passion of mine and something I enjoy speaking about and assisting others with. The conversation is important, always, not just when it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. When I am further along my recovery journey, I’d love to be more actively involved with charities and fundraising to keep the conversation going and to help improve the support services and helplines available.

Aswell as speaking up about my own issues and expressing myself with writing, I love raising awareness and speaking out about issues I see raised online. Such as diet fads, body shaming and common stereotypes. Ie: Needing to look a specific way in order to be unwell.

I’ve recently been receiving wonderful messages applauding me for my ability to speak up. Expressing how I’m an inspiration which was surreal – thank you! And in continuing my journey I can only hope to encourage others to do the same, to be open and less afraid, whilst growing in confidence myself.

Truthfully, I haven’t always been open. It’s taken me many years to speak up, to become comfortable, to find my voice and to raise awareness for myself and others. Funnily enough, when I first began treatment for my mental illnesses I struggled immensely to have an open conversation about mental health, my feelings and my thoughts. I’ve encountered many appointments filled with awkward and uncomfortable silences, staring at the floor and anxiously skin picking as professionals have been at a standstill with myself and my needs as I habituated to saying I was okay when I felt the complete opposite – willingly hiding my feelings in a bid to save others from upset, but costing myself more torment.

But now I believe that we should express the things on our minds. Whether it be verbally or in writing. The worry about burdening others may always stand, but allowing our deepest thoughts to linger won’t get us anywhere. Liberating our bad thoughts can only allow us to make room for brighter ones.

I turned to social media.

As somebody who struggles to express themselves verbally, I began writing on social media as an outlet for both positive and negative thoughts, it seemed easier and far less intimidating and I’ve always been better at expressing myself with words. I grew to understand that my words were helpful to others battling the same, giving them somebody to relate to, which only encouraged me to speak more and in a greater depth.

There’s lots of stigma surrounding sharing mental health online. Its often viewed as attention seeking. But it isn’t. And if it’s a way that works for you, don’t allow the opinions of others to prevent you from doing something you’re happy with. If expressing yourself online helps, do it! Let your health and happiness be your biggest priority in life.

I set up a recovery account. A place to express my thoughts (positive and negative) and to meet other brave, likeminded people enduring the same. I began feeling less alone, less alienated and more understood. Similar to a diary. The more I used it, the less daunting it seemed. And as time passed me by, I felt better able to share more about myself and my personal journey (so far).

I wanted to express my bad days, to highlight the realities of mental illness recovery, to demonstrate that relapses arent signs of weakness and the concept of “sunshine and rainbows” unfortunately not being applied here. Recovery isn’t linear. Climbing hurdles and facing obstacles in our journeys is okay, normal and expected. It no longer felt like I was attention seeking, it began feeling like I was making a difference, which I love.

I wanted to help people, whilst helping myself. And I believe the encouraging words I issue others with has enlightened me into the benefits of positivity and self care.

I’ve also found that helping others improves my feelings of low self worth. It’s as though I’ve found a purpose in helping others which makes me insanely happy!

Finding people with similar experiences and stories inspired me massively, and it’s still something that continues to do just that. As I see people recover from their illnesses, taking positive steps and being brave. The online community has not only issued me with knowledge and confidence, but with friends who I feel absolutely filled with gratitude to have on my side.

Advice for speaking up

🌸Cliche, but true… Don’t be afraid. Easier said than done, I know. But I can guarantee you that you have absolutely nothing to be afraid of. There is nothing to fear but fear itself. And, respectively, I imagine whoever you tell will appreciate you being open to enable them to support you.

🌸Remember WHY you’re speaking up. Keep in mind the reasons why you want to get better (because you deserve to!) and a list of positives and recovery motivations to keep you going.

🌸If you find communication difficult, write it down. Unfortunately, nobody can support you if they remain unaware of your struggles. I promise it isn’t silly, professionals will have seen so many situations before and they’re trained to know people and their personal battles, strengths and weaknesses.

🌸DONT WAIT ANOTHER MINUTE! You don’t have to wait to “get worse” because your worst is now. And you deserve help regardless of the thoughts in your mind.

Be brave and don’t be afraid to share your story!

Lots of love & hugs

Laur xx

Anorexia recovery – Studying, healing and learning!

Mental Health

Hello everyone!

Today I wanted to talk about battling Anorexia whilst at University. This isn’t to say that other Students don’t battle with other Eating Disorders or that Anorexia is more “severe” – it isn’t. I’m just speaking from my own personal, and current, experiences.

Battling an Eating Disorder prior to beginning my journey as a University Student proved to be difficult and challenging in a series of ways. I became bed ridden, anxious and a shadow of my former self. Though I learned coping mechanisms (such as the ability to reach out for support) to guide me through the days with the assistance of Therapy, support from my Teachers and loved ones. Though every day is a battle, I certainly have gained strength and resilience throughout the years.

The isolation you feel whilst being surrounded with friends and family, abundance’s of support, care and compassion can not distinguish the constant torment of your own mind which leaves you feeling alone, trapped and frightened. It’s unimaginable. It’s terrifying and a daily battle: But one I can accomplish.

Imagine being faced with your biggest fear 6 times a day. Meal times and snack times filled with fears, doubts and tears. The fear of an element known to keep you alive and well. The worry of eating whilst attempting to retain new information, whilst trying to be a better student, whilst trying to thrive.

Studying whilst working my hardest to engage in my recovery journey for real, and not so much quasi recovery is a tough challenge. Though, I constantly remind myself of my abilities and the concept of recovery not being linear, or a simple overnight process.

Admittedly, I encounter my bad days and my better days and times where I have to seek encouragement (and reminders) to eat for the benefit of my studies, energy and ability to concentrate: which are factors always at the forefront of my mind. I constantly seek support from my Tutors and I have every trust in their willingness to listen. And am totally mesmerised and inspired by their kindness and support. I became distressed over my body image before my exam which I totally didn’t need when my head was full to bursting with Biology facts. Preoccupation is easy. But unfortunately, mental illnesses don’t consider that and it was up to me to persevere regardless of how down I was feeling in that moment – to power through and to believe in myself.

People struggling with Eating Disorders are ultimately some of the most intelligent, resilient, brave and compassionate people that I know.

I quickly become preoccupied with high intensified thoughts and worries over food and my body image which makes it progressively harder to concentrate at times. I constantly feel not good enough, or incapable. I can easily become distracted with the enjoyment of completing assignment work and engaging heavily in my studies. The preoccupation is an Autistic trait of mine and I find it hard to maintain a balance between work and other things – Eating included. I can become caught up with spending hours in the library where the task of eating hasn’t crossed my mind as it seems far less important, following my lack of hunger cues and the resilience of the Anorexic voice.

Still, this is something I have acknowledged and am working to overcome.

Funnily enough, being a University Student surrounded with others my age has taught me more about my relationship with food and how much I’m yet to overcome both physically and mentally. How I aim to enjoy pizza dates with friends or picnics on the beach. The acknowledgement that I have a long road ahead of me. I do lack freedom extending beyond the rules and the harsh grips of Anorexia and I find it strange witnessing just how freely other people can eat as I panic if it’s gone over my “safe time” to eat: with students stumbling into takeaways at 3am or eating ice cream to ease exam stress. At times, I realise how large a role eating plays in our lives and in society and it makes me feel completely alienated.

As a Scientist, I should appreciate the purpose food serves our bodies. The energy it allows us to thrive on, calories being energy sources and not indicators of greed and the benefits it holds for our traits and characteristics. I am well aware, after studying animals and dietary requirements. But thinking rationally isn’t always my strongest point. And providing advice is a heck of a lot easier than taking it and applying it to myself and my own circumstances.

I get that surrendering to your recovery seems terrifying, but where has surrendering to your Eating Disorder gotten you so far?

But most importantly, it’s taught me that there can be a normality surrounding food. Yes, I have fear foods. But fears are made to be broken and I believe I can do that. A positive step being, I wrote a list of my fear foods with the intention to challenge them all! Whether that’s eating breakfast at 10am, eating cake as a snack without the worry of calories or sitting in cafés for lunch. No two people have the same eating habits. And I guess it’s the diversification that makes life interesting! There shouldn’t be rules surrounding food with labelling them as good or bad and there ought to be more awareness of the benefits of food, and not so much the damaging reasons to avoid it.

The love and support I receive from my fantastic Friends and Tutors has been (and continues to be) amazing and I cannot express the gratitude I have that I am able to speak to people if I need to, or if I just need a shoulder to cry on. People who understand and issue me with advice and reassurance when I fail to embrace them myself. I believe that it’s due to the support I receive that I remain *mostly* positive, which is why I highly encourage others to seek support if and when it’s needed.

Though every day is a battle, I am determined to carry on, to find positivity on my fight to health and happiness and to ensure I no longer suffer alone or in silence.

Helplines:

BEAT:

https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Suicidal thoughts: Stigma, encouragement and helplines!!

Mental Health

Hi everyone!

Today, I wanted to talk about an (unfortunately) common topic – Suicidal thoughts.

It’s a personal subject I tend not to delve too much into unless I’m having a conversation with my Nurse or Therapist as it’s quite a sensitive subject that admittedly frightens me the majority of the time. But I believe the more we talk about things (regardless of how difficult) the easier they will become. And the more likely it’ll be that others will do the same.

We shouldn’t stand with the obligation to hide away our struggles and our feelings of low mood. It’s okay not to feel 100% all the time, and it’s Human! We should be encouraging each other to speak up and to reach out for support during our darkest days.

The thing about social media in particular is that we quickly document the achievements and happiest moments in our lives whilst avoiding the conversation of the times things haven’t been so great. But that isn’t real life, and it isn’t healthy to believe everybody is happy and radiating positivity 100% of the time.

I began struggling with suicidal thoughts at the age of 18. I never documented plans to take my life, as in some cases but not all. For me, it’s mostly stemmed from my anorexia, low mood and body dysmorphia. Alongside other underlying factors. I’ve struggled to like myself and to accept myself for who I am, past my insecurities and doubtful feelings. There wasn’t a sole cause and maybe there never is. It’s been a challenge of acknowledging the thoughts, becoming fearful of them but reaching out for help when I’ve been in a crisis. It’s been sleepless nights and days with multiple panic attacks as I’ve fought back every single terrifying urge in an attempt to keep myself safe.

I’ve worked with many teams and medical professionals from across the board, who’ve helped me to develop coping strategies during my bad days. I’m aware it can vary from person to person, though, and certain techniques may not be effective for some. Although I do still struggle with suicidal thoughts, I have noticed that they’re becoming less frequent. Thankfully!

People may be confused as to why this was. Why I began struggling, why I was suicidal. I was young, I had a roof over my head, I was surrounded with my family and friends and I was privileged enough to be in education. Which, I hope, highlights that anybody can be suicidal. There isn’t one cause – mental health never discriminates. And although somebody’s life can look picture perfect from an outsider’s perspective, it may be the complete opposite behind closed doors (in an individuals’ mind)

It’s important not to stigmatise those suffering because they have certain elements or people in their lives. Or because they appear to be a certain way. Mental illnesses aren’t based on what you have, or what others can see, but on what you feel about yourself on the inside. Enforcing unnecessary stigma may prevent people from reaching out for crucial support as they begin to think they shouldn’t struggle, when in fact, anybody can struggle and lots of people do! Please treat them with respect, love, understanding and kindness.

I believe people encounter suicidal thoughts for a series of reasons – it isn’t always a tendency to end your life, but quite commonly in a bid to end the pain and torment rushing through your mind leaving you feeling desperate and exhausted, feeling as though people would be better off without you or as though you don’t deserve to be around. And they can occur from any age, stemming from masses of life events including mental illness, trauma and bullying (to name a few)

Feeling suicidal can be an extremely daunting, isolating and confusing time. It may feel like the only way out. But I do want to clarify that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about! Oh, and to offer big hugs for anybody in need of them. You’re capable, brave and you’ve got this!

Helplines (talking, text or email) are available for those struggling to cope with suicidal thoughts/urges, and those worried about another person who may be in danger.

THE SAMARITANS

116 123: A 24 hour helpline!

https://www.samaritans.org

A&E

999: Available 24 hours if you’re struggling to keep yourself safe, or know of anybody who is. Or you can go to your local hospital.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/

MIND

0800 123 3393:

Or TEXT: 86463

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/suicidal-feelings/#.XEuYYqSnyEc

Please take care of yourselves and seek support if you’re worried about yourself or a loved one. There is never a wrong time. You deserve to heal. I cannot express how difficult reaching out is, but how relieving it is once it’s out in the open.

Lots of love and hugs,

Laur xx