Autism

Autism and me: Suffering or growing?

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 likeminded 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.

Mental Health

Anorexia recovery – Studying, healing and learning!

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

Mental Health

Suicidal thoughts: Stigma, encouragement and helplines!!

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. 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.

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

Hello 2019: Diet culture and recovery

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

Anorexia and University – Studying and recovering

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.

Mental Health

Common ED misconceptions – from a sufferers perspective

Hello there!

As a sufferer of Anorexia Nervosa, I am prone to the stigma and common misconceptions which currently surround eating disorders (and other mental health illnesses, which will be mentioned in later blog posts!) We live in a modern day society, where technology and the world around is improving each and every day. Yet, disappointingly, our knowledge on eating disorders goes untouched and ignored and with eating disorders on the rise, it’s time to not only raise awareness. But to put an end to the stigma which currently surrounds eating disorders, the stigma which is preventing millions of people from reaching out for the help they need and deserve.

  1. ‘YOU HAVE TO BE UNDERWEIGHT TO HAVE AN EATING DISORDER’

    This is FAR from the truth. In fact, you can be ANY WEIGHT and be suffering from an Eating Disorder. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.Why? Because eating disorders are mental illnesses, not physical ones. Which means that they are mainly about the voices and thoughts in the sufferers head and the physical side is just one of the many signs of eating disorders. You can be underweight, a healthy weight and overweight and still have an eating disorder. The sufferers weight/appearance does not in any way, shape, or form determine how poorly they are or how much help they are entitled to.

  2. ‘EATING DISORDERS ARE ONLY SUFFERED BY FEMALES’

    False false falseee. Eating Disorders DO !!! NOT !!! DISCRIMINATE!!! which simply means that anybody can suffer from an eating disorder. Any age, gender, race during any point of their livesand so on. Why? Because eating disorders do not care about the people they are hurting and manipulating – they care about making the sufferer’s life a living hell. Boys and men are just as likely to suffer from an eating disorder, these aren’t feminine diseases.

  3. ‘YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE YOU HAVE AN EATING DISORDER’

    Eating disorders are MENTAL illnesses, which I will continue to mention until the day everybody begins to realise it. Therefore, they do not have a look. You can not see if somebody has an eating disorder just by simply taking a look at them. Unless you’re a therapist or a sufferer yourself, you cannot possibly determine whether or not somebody is mentally well. A HEALTHY BODY DOES NOT EQUAL A HEALTHY MIND. Eating disorders are primarily about what’s going on inside the sufferer’s head, not what the suffer appears to look like. This is such a hurtful and offensive comment which I’ve witnessed being said to others.

  4. ‘ANOREXIA IS THE ONLY EATING DISORDER’

    Yawn. There are so many eating disorders which are all as severe and as life-threatening as each other. Including Anorexia, Bulimia, EDNOS, BED (Binge-eating disorder) and orthorexia. People associate ed’s with anorexia alone, when in reality, we live in a world with a variety of illnesses which people turn a blind eye too. Just because the sufferer does/doesn’t have anorexia, it doesn’t mean their illness or battle is more severe than what other people are going through. ALL EATING DISORDERS ARE IMPORTANT AND ALL SUFFERERS ARE VALID AND SHOULD BE GIVEN THE HELP AND SUPPORT THEY NEED AND DESERVE.

  5. ‘HEALTHY WEIGHT EQUALS BEING FULLY RECOVERED’

    If only it was that ‘easy’. A healthy body does NOT equal a healthy mind. Just because weight has been restored to a healthy weight, it doesn’t mean that the eating disorder is no longer there, or as severe. In fact, lots of people struggle more mentally when they’ve reached a healthy weight because they begin to feel disgusted in themselves or as though they have ‘failed’ or ‘gotten fat’. Recovered is when you feel happy and content with your body, your eating disorder may still be there, but you learn to live with it and manage the difficulties it throws your way and your mindset is much more positive and relaxed, often with quieter thoughts and less disordered voices.

  6. ‘YOU’RE EATING, YOU MUSTN’T HAVE AN EATING DISORDER’

    Comments like this really make my blood boil because they are rude and unncecessary and will only add to people’s struggles. Eating disorder sufferers STILL !!! EAT !!! We just struggle with what we do eat, because of the feelings of guilt and failure. The common misconception is that people with eating disorders don’t eat at all – whereas that is far from the truth. People suffering from an ED just find it difficult to sustain a healthy/normal relationship with food and have scary, manipulative and controlling thoughts telling them what to eat and not eat. Giving into the thoughts is easy and it feels impossible to ignore what’s permenantly going around in your head.

  7. ‘YOU CHOOSE TO HAVE AN EATING DISORDER’

    Wrong wrong wrong. Eating disorders aren’t things that the sufferer chooses, they are illnesses which develop uncontrolably due to things which are happening in the individual’s life. EG – dieting, loss of a loved one, friendship/relationship break downs, exam/work stress, the thrive for perfection, wanting to get fitter, wanting to fit in with peers and so on. Eating disorders choose their victims, because they are manipulating and thrive in vulnerable people who are likely to give in to the demons in their heads telling them to control their eating habits/weight and so on.

Please be mindful of the things you are saying to somebody with an Eating Disorder. ED sufferers are vulnerable so can become upset or triggered by things said. ‘Small’ comments can be very harmful, even if it is unintended.