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

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

Be The Goat – Finding happiness amongst my animal friends

BonnieStan.jpg

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.

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.