Autism and me: Suffering or growing?

Autism

It’s vastly approaching the 3-year bracket in which I received my Autism diagnosis back in 2016.

Time has truly flown by!

I often hear the term “suffering from Autism” which I felt encouraged to shed some light on, as somebody on the complex Autistic spectrum.

I understand that the spectrum is large and people enlisted upon it face their share of physical and mental difficulties. Everybody, of course, is entitled to their own opinion.

This is a reflection upon my story so far.

Autism for me has been a challenge, a continuous one beginning with acceptance and understanding, to growing the strength to challenge myself daily and to overcome any hurdles lingering in my direction.

Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colours every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter every aspect of existence.

Some days I can wholeheartedly conquer The World and my intrusive thoughts. I can surprise myself with my strength and determination to tackle scary situations. Other days I simply cannot hinder the complexity of my thoughts, I cannot leave the house or tackle a conversation.

Balance is the key to life and that is okay.

I no longer devote time to questioning my struggles and areas of weakness. Instead, I accept them and the stage I am at. I use them as stepping stones for overcoming future hurdles and as indicators of the times I’ve refused to be beaten.

I’ve not once considered myself to suffer with Autism. Although, initially, I struggled to associate myself with my condition and would easily become distressed when the subject was mentioned. I remained ridden with questions until I attended support groups and met other like-minded people like myself.

Adults on the spectrum with inspiring stories to tell, achieving amazing milestones and overcoming the biggest obstacles in life.

I once believed receiving an Autism diagnosis would be the end of The World. It seemed catastrophic and daunting and it certainly does frustrate me at times. But I began to realise that my Autism wasn’t the issue, the way I viewed myself was.

I have so much to thank my diagnosis for.

My Autism diagnosis wasn’t the end of The World, but the beginning of a new one.

I face my fair share of mental problems stemming from anxiety and fears of the unknown. But I’ve slowly (but surely!) transitioned as somebody embarrassed of my diagnosis to somebody sharing my story willingly with The World.

And that is such a beautiful concept. Acceptance is wonderful and massively freeing.

I started to acknowledge that Autism is a profound strength of mine. With the likes of a well-known animal loving Scientist Temple Grandin and Broadcaster Chris Packham, I feel overjoyed to share a diagnosis with such intelligent people.

During one stage, where I began struggling with my lowest bouts of Depression, I narrowly avoided talking about my Autism. Over the years, I received multiple diagnosis’ and it felt like another label to add to the pile, I felt ashamed and every inch of me wanted to be normal.

I’m not suffering. Even throughout the days I struggle to leave the comfort of my home, the days I simply cannot maintain a meaningful conversation or on the days I cry following an Autistic meltdown or from a sensory overload.

I’m not suffering. I’m learning and I’m growing. And although the journey may be painful at times, often leaving me ridden with masses of questions with regards to myself, my worth and my abilities, I can acknowledge the progress I’ve made so far, which only encourages me to keep going.

To find strength, to seek happiness and to be brave.

I look back at my past self with pride and admiration for enabling myself to thrive in places I never imagined myself to. I’m learning the art of speaking to new people without assistance, the task of creating long lasting friendships and visiting new places.

My Autism isn’t making me suffer, it’s making me resilient.

I’m not suffering, I’m growing. Every day I am finding myself and transitioning into the person I’ve always longed to be.

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

Mental Health Monday – Working on myself, healing and finding happiness!

Mental Health

Hi everybody!

Today, I wanted to welcome a new component to my blog:

MENTAL HEALTH MONDAY

I’ve noticed recently that I overwork myself and take very little time to focus on myself, my happiness and the art of recuperating after the stresses of every day life. I allow my anxieties to build up, with the tendencies to dwell on my Depressive thoughts. In short, it’s been leaving me very tearful and increasingly more anxious.

Being busy is a fabulous way of keeping myself distracted from my (often hard to manage) mentality. But, life is about balance and this is my journey to finding that, taking time to heal and to rest my mind and my body – after years of neglect. It isn’t okay to work myself to a constant state of exhaustion, which is my current stage.

This means taking time to rest and recharge. No longer piling masses of amounts of pressure on myself, relaxing and practicing the art of self care. My Nurse and I are working on acknowledging the reasons behind my negative coping mechanisms and, instead, incorporating them for new, healthier ones.

I’ll also be using Mental Health Monday to write weekly blogs in honour of mental health awareness, delving into my experiences (past and present) with battling my mental illnesses, whilst continuing to issue support and advice to those in need of love, encouraging words and kindness. I’ll also be sharing my journey to finding happiness and balance upon my recovery pathway!

Every week, I’m going to challenge myself in a collection of ways. Whether that’s challenging a fear food, wearing clothing out of my comfort zone (like leggings or jeans!) or tackling anxiety by making a phone call. I’ll be taking a little time out for myself to clear my foggy mindset. Whether that’s going to a coffee shop, journaling, reading a new book or taking myself for a scenic walk. It’s important not to get too caught up in our own minds (easier said than done, I know) and I personally believe that this can only be done if we work on positive and distractive techniques to free ourselves and our thoughts.

After all, we all deserve happiness, contentment and good health.

I want 2019 to be a year of healing. I want to practice mindfulness, yoga and to work on using my compassionate side towards myself and my recovery.

We live on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea. And you don’t believe in miracles?

I know this transformation is painful, but you’re not falling apart. You’re just falling into something different, with a new capacity to be beautiful.

I know it’s been hard and draining and almost unbearable, believe me, I know. But I also know you are stronger than you will ever admit. You are only met with obstacles you have the capability of conquering. That is one thing I know for sure.

I hope you can join me in my journey and find the courage to find something that truly makes your souls shine! Let 2019 be the year of evolving and positivity ‪♡‬

Lots of love and hugs,

Laur xx

2019: Diet culture, breaking rules and finding body positivity

Mental Health

I desperately want 2019 to be a revolution, the riddance of diet culture and fad diets in place of body confidence and the focus on the many benefits food has for our bodies. As a society, we’re fixated with our appearances and the number on the scale – easily forgetting that neither of those factors determine our worth.

Constantly striving for a perfection met by an Instagram filter that simply does not exist.

Eating Disorders manifest their way into millions of people’s lives and the turmoil we experience can only be described as a constant war against ourselves and what we know is right, whilst obeying the wrong and viewing our bodies (and food) as our biggest enemies. An epitome of darkness and never ending feelings of failure categorised by the voices in our head. Not just a diet, or a phase. Fighting against our bodies that have issued us with energy, advanced our first steps to waking or dancing, allowing us to hug and to learn.

Don’t miss out on 95% of your life just to weigh 5% less.

January can be a difficult time for those suffering from an Eating Disorder, following bouts of diet talk after Christmas indulgence. People around us committing to gym memberships or signing up to slimming world, engaging in fad diets or silly detoxes. It’s toxic and it’s harmful, but we most focus on ourselves and our own wellbeing. “New year, new me” shouldn’t be about depriving ourselves, it should be about reinventing ourselves, finding happiness and making memories.

The acceptance that we are enough, we are beautiful, capable and strong – irrespective of how we may feel or what we may be thinking at times.

So many of us (myself included) maintain a negative relationship with ourselves and the bodies that have housed us for the entirety of our lives. Unsatisfied if we haven’t reached our target weights or if our tummies stick out slightly.

Instead of this, shouldn’t we be focusing on more desirable factors? The fulfilment of the first bite of a crisp apple, or the first scoop of ice cream on a warm Summer’s day, as opposed to calories and guilt? I cannot accentuate enough that one day, we will grow older wishing to have fully experienced our lives, saying yes to a pizza date or stepping out of the comfort of a meal plan, regardless of how scary and uncomfortable at times. We’re supposed to live, not just merely survive, and that includes fighting our fears and challenging our thoughts.

I hope 2019 is a year filled with mental and physical growth, happiness and most importantly – acceptance in both the body and the mind. Being kind to ourselves is important, showing ourselves compassion is important and staying safe is important, too.

Helpful Instagram accounts:

Unbeknownst to me, I had previously been following a series of toxic accounts on social media. And I cannot express how much of a positive impact is met when replacing those accounts for positive, self-help accounts. The things we expose ourselves to can often have a big influence on our moods: both good and bad.

1) bodyposipanda

2) bodyposipower

3) recipesforselflove

4) ourmindfulbloom

5) catielynclcsw

6) thebalancebee

Hello 2019: Diet culture and recovery

Mental Health

Hello and a Happy New Year.

I wish everybody a year filled with happiness, kindness and self love. And I’m sending masses of strength and courage to those in need of it.

We can do this!

I believe the start of a new year isn’t an indication of diets or weight loss as displayed in the media. As explained by my Therapist: it’s a money making scheme and companies fail to acknowledge those with Eating Disorders when filling The World with possibly triggering content. Though, happiness and success isn’t sought by the number on a scale and it’s time we learned to measure our self worth differently and in a less harmful manor. I believe 2019 should be the end of diet culture and the encouragement of self love and body positivity.

Numbers are just numbers: They cannot highlight our personalities or make us better, kinder or more intelligent. But they can cause us to become miserable and obsessive if we let them. And the only numbers we should be focusing on are the numbers of hugs we’ve given, the number of animals we’ve passed by in the street or the number or times we’ve made somebody’s day brighter.

In a World with so many disordered, confusing rules and rituals surrounding food, this is a reminder that food is fuel and a necessity. The fuel for our happiness, our adventures, our abilities to learn and to hold treasurable conversations with our loved ones. The energy we need to thrive and flourish. Although it seems as though everybody around us is dieting in a bid to “shift Christmas weight”, it’s vital we focus on ourselves to prevent our health from declining.

It’s also important to distinguish the differences between diets and eating disorders.

  • Most people will announce that they’re dieting in a bid to fit in, but have no intentions of doing so. Or the diet will last a few days maximum before the dieter gets bored and gives up. And people dieting will not punish themselves, or determine their self worth on what they’ve eaten.
  • And, importantly, Eating Disorders are MENTAL illnesses with devastating impacts that cannot just switch off.

It’s important to put our needs into consideration and to distance ourselves from negativity. We’ll struggle to make progress (and to find happiness) if we constantly compare ourselves with others and what they’re doing.

And (easier said than done) we must distract ourselves from the things going on around us that we find harmful. Acknowledge our struggles, reach out, find happy distractions and focus on the now. January can be exceptionally toxic for those with Eating Disorders and the increase in diet talk, but year after year we survive and become stronger for doing so!

2019 creates an opportunity to work on ourselves by welcoming positivity and surrounding ourselves with people who truly make our souls shine. A new year indicates a clean slate, 365 days to stay safe and well, not to push ourselves to extremes because of a diet fad.

The concept of a new year can add unnecessary pressure to our lives in the sense that we must be doing certain things or feeling certain emotions in order to fit in. But it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be overwhelmed and it’s okay to struggle.

Life is up and down, a combination of good and bad. The World is filled with enough toxicity, the least we can give ourself is kindness and understanding.

Let’s be kind to ourselves and others, whilst learning to find peace and contentment with ourselves and our bodies.

University second year – An update into my student life!

University

Hi everybody!

Apologies for the absence; life as a second-year university student has been quite chaotic to say the least. With assignments, dance and revision fixed in my agenda, it’s been almost impossible to sit down and write.

Today, I anxiously decided to take a break from my studies to focus solely on self care. An act I have been shamefully neglecting recently and I began feeling extremely run down. Listening carefully to my Teachers’ advice and applying it to myself has worked wonders and will only benefit me as I continue to work hard in the upcoming days, weeks and months to obtain my degree.

Disclaimer: Self care is more than applying a face mask or painting your nails. It’s taking the time to engage with something that makes your soul happy and that makes you feel relaxed. Taking time out from the stress of the world around you.

My second university year has been an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. I often disregard my issues and my feelings in a bid to make myself, and those around me, feel better (which is something I am working on…) I’ve attended counselling sessions and have had countless meetings with my tutors who give me the kindness and understanding I forget to give to myself, constantly reminding me of how well I’m doing academically which always brightens my mood.

Admittedly, I have faced an anguish of tough days with regards to my mental health and well-being. Battling Anorexia whilst maintaining a good student persona is tricky. But still, every day I am trying. Times I felt I couldn’t go on, but nonetheless, persisted, and have pushed myself to reach out during my darkest days. Times I’ve cried over food, resisted self harm urges or over the concept of sitting in a practical session due to high intensities of anxiety or worrying over the torment issued by my own mind.

Still, I am approaching the Christmas break and the end of my first semester. I’ve made it. It’s fair to say I have met some major challenges along the way, whilst learning more about myself as an individual.

I’ve challenged myself in a collection of ways, stepping outside of my comfort zone and finding the confidence to speak to new people. Going against my anxiety attempting to convince me that “I can’t” with my greatly needed “can do” attitude.

Strength, determination and persistence.

My tutors often remind me of the way I treat animals, upon reflection, I must treat myself in the same way. With compassion. Learning to no longer deprive myself of the things I need, in the same way I would for my animal friends.

And I am extremely privileged to have my supportive network of friends, family members and tutors who support me, whilst furnishing me with love, understanding and the best advice, always.

I partook in my first winter dance show, an honour to dance with such incredible people and to show off our hard-work and commitment during the past couple of months.

Joining Jazz has issued me with abundance’s of happiness and a newly found confidence since joining in September. Winning Dancer of the Semester and feeling incredibly blessed to be part of a club where I feel so at home, a place I can be myself and still be so accepted.

Whilst continuing with Contemporary. The first club I joined in University, again, standing as a place where I feel extremely comfortable and joyous as I make new friends and learn new skills.

I always leave dance feeling refreshed (even after Izzy’s warm up!) and as though my problems have faded away. It seriously does work wonders for my mental health.

I’ve found it hard to maintain a balance between different aspects of my life, becoming agitated if I haven’t managed to complete something, or missing sleep to fulfil the demands of my, never absent, thoughts. Becoming guilt ridden over prioritising things other than work, assignments or revision. And part of my life as a student is coming to the realisation that finding a balance is the way to be productive, not sticking my head in text books 24/7 or exercising to the point of exhaustion.

Each day, Uni continues to provide me with lessons unlisted within my degree specification. Lessons of hope, gratitude, forgiveness and acceptance. And although times have been dark, there has also been lots of light and lots of smiles.

As I approach the end of my first semester, I remain optimistic that the remaining weeks will be wonderful, whilst looking forward to the upcoming semester, new modules and new life lessons made!

Anorexia and University – Studying and recovering

University

I want to talk about battling Anorexia whilst at University.

Initially, it was something I wanted to keep hidden from those around me. But then I figured it was pointless (and ridiculous) attempting to shy away from a huge aspect of my life. I’m no longer ashamed or embarrassed of the things I am going through.

It’s common for Students to develop mental illnesses whilst at University due to many different reasons. Not because they’re weak willed, lazy or unable to cope. However, I had been diagnosed several years beforehand so I had the advantage of developing my own coping mechanisms in order to help me manage my personal situation.

The pressure of studying, meeting deadlines and achieving “the best” grades. Being away from home, finding feelings of loneliness and increased anxiety levels when faced with a new situation. There are lots of factors which can trigger somebody becoming unwell.

I’m not a typical student, you could say. I don’t order pizzas and I tend to avoid eating out, or doing anything other than sticking to my *very* strict eating regime. I can spend lengths of time breaking down in my room due to my horrific body image or intense feelings of guilt. I have difficulties concentrating in lectures due to exhaustion and a tendency to reflect upon my darkest thoughts. Having an Eating Disorder does restrict you in many ways past eating and it tends to alienate you from those in your presence.

I turn to my Anorexia as a means of coping, a form of punishment, particularly when things go wrong. Such as receiving a slightly lower grade than I anticipated, fall-outs with friends, exam pressure and so on. Reminder: regardless of whatever happens I still need to eat.

I made it a goal of mine to allow those around me to know about my struggles, to avoid any awkwardness if I were to be asked to go out to eat or to avoid questions about my “abnormal” eating patterns. Opening up isn’t easy, I often worry about judgement or the fear of abandonment, worrying people will no longer wish to be associated with me. But, thankfully, the love and understanding I have received has been incredible and I am exceptionally thankful and filled with gratitude for that.

Battling Anorexia is a continuous, daily enervating task which takes significant amounts of strength, courage and determination. Even whilst studying something you’re truly passionate about, it doesn’t (unfortunately) ridden your illnesses. I’ve found it almost impossible to stick to a regular eating pattern due to my forever changing timetable and my other commitments, only motivating me to try harder (and to challenge my disordered thoughts) in second year.

Recovery and education are just as important as each other.

Waking up every morning to fight the demons which left you exhausted and agitated the day before….

That is bravery.

Eating Disorder recovery is often perceived as eating and being given a meal plan, when in reality, it’s often including battling excruciatingly painful and loud thoughts, relearning what a healthier relationship with food is, past diet culture, restriction and calorie counting. Alongside finding body acceptance, tackling the voice that continuously nags at you for not being “good enough or thin enough”.

Managing this on top of studying, a social life, volunteering and hobbies is still something I am learning to apply to myself. It takes a remarkable amount of power in order to do so. Ensuring I am busy enough to spend less time dwelling on my thoughts, but also finding the time to eat, even when I don’t particularly want to.

On my down days, I have the confidence to confide in those I trust as a reminder that I am not alone.

My marvellous dance teacher, and friend, Lucy has always been somebody I’ve felt able to speak to when I’ve needed somebody to listen. A very kind-hearted, beautiful person who inspires me daily with her strength, hard work and determination. Providing me with love, understanding and acceptance. Alongside two of my lovely tutors who have assisted, and advised me in countless ways.

Battling any Eating Disorder isn’t a quick fix. Or something that happens magically overnight. It takes years and years to recover, with every individual sufferer having their own unique recovery journeys, some people may never reach a full recovery due to the nature of the illness. But it’s key that baby steps are taken daily to challenge thoughts, behaviours and rituals.

I highly encourage everybody struggling to open up to those you trust. A tutor, a friend, or a family member. It helps to lift a huge weight from your shoulders and it acts as a constant reminder that you are not in this battle alone.

Be The Goat – Finding happiness amongst my animal friends

Mental Health

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The wind is blowing, the sun is shining and contentment is flowing through my veins. On a day like today, I am thankful to be alive. And, sometimes, taking a moment to appreciate the beauty around us really works wonders. I can breathe, I can learn, I can hug and love and those are all factors I tend to ignore commonly when I remain trapped within the deepest, darkest depths of my mind. The Brain is a complex organ with the ability to do and control many things such as retaining information like a sponge. Though, when you become stuck there it becomes very tricky to find a way out.

Struggling with mental illnesses for numerous years has been a definite, continuous, struggle. But today, on one of my brighter days, I am reminded of the importance of pushing through the darkest days. Because those rare moments of happiness are worth every negative thought and behaviour I endure. I’m thankful for my struggles for enabling me to appreciate the simplest things in life which often get taken for granted: the joy of leaving the house and hearing the birds chirping, witnessing flowers blooming as Summer starts to approach us.

Little moments of positivity remind me that better days are to come, I must keep pushing, I am stronger than I believe.

With mental illness, I often forget who I really am past my diagnosis’. It’s easy to perceive myself as a label as opposed to a person. Defining myself by numbers such as the sizing of my clothes is something I do daily or by my own reflection in the mirror which isn’t the easiest to see. Destructive thoughts often cloud my mind and erupt my logical thoughts, I treat myself with hatred rather than compassion and turn a blind eye to all forms of self-care and love. I still cry over meals, worry over my weight and calories, spend time wishing I was anybody but Me.

But nobody said recovery would be easy and healing isn’t linear, emphasising the normality of slip ups along the pursuit of freedom.

Recovery is like learning to walk. You pick yourself up many times but continue to fall despite every effort to stay up. But we never let falling keep us on the ground or stop us in our tracks. There are always stumbles along the way before any goal is met but determination and perseverance is the key.

One day, I will be able to walk again.

I’m an animal lover, a friend, a hard-working student with dreams and aspirations which I would much prefer to be defined by. In fact, my animal friends have (and continue to) assist me in achieving great things such as overcoming small challenges and tackling tiny victories. They never judge me for my struggles or use them against me in any way, nor do they care about my appearance. Being surrounded with animals and comforting myself with their hugs provides me with a feeling I fail to gain elsewhere, they allow me to feel at home and safe and being around them lifts the heavy weight of mental illnesses off my shoulders. My anxieties become vacant when I am with them, it’s magical! Cliché but true.

Animals make all the bad things go away. And I believe that when you’re kind to an animal, they will certainly be kind in return.

Animals make my soul shine and my happiness radiate. It’s like somebody flicks a switch when I’m in their presence, I change from being anxious and low in mood to being confident and happy. I feel empowered when I am with them, no longer alone, like I can conquer the darkest thoughts in my mind and the struggles in front of me. For them. They help me to believe that I am capable of anything I set my mind to, as long as I continue to Be The Goat.

The healing powers of animals amazes me each day, increasingly. I’m known for my passion and admiration for Goats, because without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. Goats were there during a time I felt completely and utterly alone, remaining isolated in my own little miserable bubble. It’s their friendship that saved me, knowing they valued me as much as I valued them. They continue to give me a purpose. Their constant love and affection warms my heart and aids in lifting my Depressive symptoms and seeing their hearty appetites fills me with relief during times of guilt due to my Anorexia and an important reminder that food is fuel, nothing that should be avoided or restricted, but something that should be valued for the energy it provides.

I am forever hearing wonderful stories about people in their journeys and how animals have assisted them in regaining health and happiness, from both physical and mental illnesses. Because when there is an animal, there is always a friend. Infinite love and copious amounts of compassion. Animals have been the friends I’ve needed when I’ve failed to be a friend to myself. Animal therapy is on the rise and I am confident others will only grow to appreciate animals for more than their cute factor, but for their healing and therapeutic properties too. Never underestimate the powers of being surrounded with Goats and their loving, cheeky personalities that could brighten the darkest day. The joy from feeding a Lamb her bottle or saving a Duckling’s life – they are much more significant than countless appointments I’ve had and they hold greater significance than the diagnosis’ under my name or the needles prodded in my arms.

My mental illness is a part of my life, but it isn’t my whole life. Whilst battling my mind, I have still achieved things which I ought to be proud of myself for and if anything, my illnesses push me to do better and lead me to believe that I am capable of achieving the things I wish to. But I have my animal friends to thank endlessly for providing me with a motivation and a purpose, a strive, a spring in my step and gratitude in my heart.