Ramadan: Still in the grips of anorexia

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Every year when Ramadan comes around, I open up about my experience with an eating disorder. It can be such a tricky time for those of us struggling with an eating disorder. For the past seven years, I’ve been strictly told not to fast by medical professionals who were treating me for my eating disorder in hospital. In the past, I had to be monitored extra closely in case my weight dramatically dropped due to fasting secretly.

This year is different. This is the first year that I am not in treatment for my anorexia in seven years, so I feel anxious because now I have a choice. I hate having a choice because I’m more likely to choose the unhealthy one. I’m not being watched anymore and I’m not being threatened with inpatient if I lose weight, so this is the perfect opportunity. I am in no way recovered. In fact, I’d say the thoughts have been creeping back in, especially recently.

A year into my recovery without treatment has been tough. Every day is still hard, and there have been both massive relapses AND recovery wins in the past 12 months and I truly believe this is how it will be for the rest of my life. I don’t think I will ever be fully recovered.

Ramadan brings out a lot of negative emotions and triggers for me. But this year, having a choice to fast or not to fast and still seeing Ramadan as a chance to lose weight and to become sicker is not helping and confirms, yet again, that I am not in a good state of mind to fast safely. I don’t see it as a religious thing. So if I fast, I will be doing it for the wrong reasons.

Rationally, of course I know that I must not fast if I am still in that eating disordered mindset. I know that health and my recovery comes first. But anorexia is so powerful that even if I say I will not take part, I will most definitely act on behaviours because everywhere I go, there will be someone fasting, someone talking about how much they’re “starving” and restricting will be inevitable. Plus, there will be triggering food everywhere and everyone will be talking about food.

I have made the choice, however, to not take part. People close to me have been expressing their concerns about me fasting. I’d be lying if I said I don’t engage in behaviours anymore so fasting in the month of Ramadan can absolutely land me back in hospital.

I’m in a good place career-wise. I’ve got a new job that I love, but I’m worried if I’ll be able to hold it down if I go down that path again. Anorexia makes me not believe in myself. Every day now, it tells me that I don’t deserve this job, that I don’t deserve to be successful. It makes me question if I’m capable of holding down a full time job without getting sicker. It makes me anxious about disappointing my colleagues and managers. It’s been keeping me awake at night worrying about how anorexia, especially in Ramadan, might impact my mental health this year.

In the past, it was anorexia that made me become this successful. It was anorexia’s perfectionism that made me work hard (without food) graduate and get my dream job. People tell me it wasn’t anorexia, but they don’t know how strong anorexia can be. It was this illness that demanded I prove to people that I can do things. The less food I ate, the more weight I lost, the more successful I became…and it worked.

I cannot keep letting anorexia take credit for everything I’ve achieved. I cannot let it take over me anymore. People tell me that I can do things, that I am capable without this illness. Maybe they’re right?

Ramadan is a spiritual month. It’s about health and helping others and about being kind to oneself. I cannot fast because I am sick, but what I CAN do is help others and take care of myself. I can be thankful to God that I am here in this world. I am alive and I am living.

Ramadan shouldn’t be just about controlling yourself from eating food. It should be about taking care of yourself whatever way possible and if fasting isn’t right for your mental and physical health at the moment, it’s okay not to take part.

For others like myself who cannot fast in the month of Ramadan due to an eating disorder or mental illness, why not turn it around and work on your recovery? This year, I’ve come to realise that putting your own health is more important than religion, career or opportunities. Look after yourself first. Make yourself a priority. That is what I will try to do.

This was originally posted on Beat‘s website.

25th Birthday Trip To Bruges

For my 25th Birthday (6th April 2018), my best friend Hannah and I went to Bruges in Belgium to celebrate. Last year, we went to Paris. This might just be an annual thing!

Bruges is a beautiful city. It’s exactly what I look for in a holiday. The peaceful, cobbled streets surrounded by medieval buildings and dreamy canals; it is certainly like a fairy tale town as people often describe it.

We stayed for three nights in a beautiful hotel (pictured below).

Even though the weather there is very much like England, it’s what I love. I don’t need sunshine and beaches. Give me a quiet city with glorious views and I will be happy.

People with mental illness are not unemployable

Employers need to give those who suffer from mental illnesses a chance. I get angry because as someone who struggles with mental illness, I find that in the workplace, in job interviews, I am seen as someone who is not up to the job because I am and have been ill. People at work know. They’ve seen my articles. They’ve read my blog. They know I’ve been in hospital.

But just because I struggle, don’t I deserve a chance to get ahead? Crippling anxiety can ruin job interviews for me because of extreme nerves and intrusive thoughts. The fact that I get interviews means they see something in me. I admit, I am so much better at writing than talking.

Maybe my anxiety, my mind blank, has ruined the interview. Maybe someone else showed that they’re so much more confident and assertive in the interview. They showed that they’re the “stronger” candidate? I’m not those things in interviews but I know I am those things in the job itself.

Why not give me a chance? Why not give someone who has struggled so much, has fought so many demons, has persevered through rejections after rejections in the workplace, why not give them a chance? Why not take a risk on them? Why not make them see that they’re not worthless? Why not make them see that they are valued? Why not make them see that they are good enough despite their illness? Because right now, I feel undervalued. I feel useless. I feel like I’m not good enough to take on a more higher role. I feel worthless. It’s driving me to hate myself more and more.

I’m not just talking about me. I want this discrimination towards people with mental health at work to end. We can do the job, we may need a bit of help, we may require a bit of time, but we can do the job. This needs to change.

I went to an International Women’s Day event at work today about careers and getting ahead in the workplace as a woman. The speaker said something about a ‘sponsor’ at work. I didn’t know that even existed. A sponsor is someone senior in the workplace who knows your struggles but also knows your strengths and achievements and will go out of his/her way to persuade someone to hire you and take a chance on you. That person is someone who sees potential in you but gives others a push to take a risk on you.

I wish I had a sponsor at work who would do that for me. I would love for someone to champion me. I am not my illness. I am not my anxiety. Dealing with various mental illnesses in general is tough let alone having to worry about it holding you back in the workplace.

I want to be given a chance. I want to be challenged. I want to show them that I can do the job, on the job.

EDAW 2018: Maybe I Am Worth The Fight? #WhyWait

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Eating disorders are a very complicated illness and I believe you cannot fully understand how it is like if you’ve never had one yourself. That’s why there is so much left to do professionally when treating eating disorders.

Anorexia lives inside my head every single day of my life. It wakes up with me, throws abuse at me throughout the day, controls my every thought, every move, every decision. On the rare occasion (actually quite a few regular occasions recently) I challenge it and do the opposite of it. Anorexia is my best friend and my worst enemy.

I believe the NHS has failed me when it comes to my eating disorder but I could look at it a different way. I probably have failed the NHS myself by not complying. I admit, every time I was offered treatment; I didn’t give it my all. I didn’t really want to get better. I always feel like treatment doesn’t focus on a ‘reason’ to get better. Many treatment centres focuses on gaining weight but what is given less time on is getting mentally better. My experience with the NHS has made me believe that eating disorders is only a weight disorder and can only be ‘cured’ by gaining weight.

Years of treatment, my weight has been the main focus, constantly monitored and that has really made me even more conscious about my body and how much I weigh. I scrutinise everything. I can’t even wear thick layers when the weather is cold outside because I have a fear of ‘looking’ bigger than I am, so I resort to wearing less clothes in order for me to look small and thin in public. Every single food I eat, I feel the guilt. I then have to make sure I exercise to burn the right amount of calories off. Maybe I’ve eaten something “extra” that wasn’t planned? That’s two more hours in the gym tomorrow.

What I am trying to say is, I’ve had years of eating disorder treatment, in and out of hospital, but I cannot seem to lose that focus off my weight. It’s always at the forefront. I worry. I panic. I cannot lose that control. But, I am somehow surviving. Maybe eating disorder recovery is worth it? Maybe I am worth the fight? Maybe that’s what I should keep telling myself? Maybe I’ll eventually believe it?

I believe others can stop getting to this stage later in their life if the waiting time for treatment is short and making sure the main focus of the treatment is on the emotional side. Once the mind is sorted (or at least in the process of being sorted) then the rest will follow.

The eating disorder charity Beat say: “On average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1,043 days. We know the sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and fast recovery.”

#WhyWait? Seek help now.

Useful websites and helplines:

Beat, call 0845 634 7650 or email help@b-eat.co.uk

Samaritans, open 24 hours a day, on 08457 90 90 90

Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393

Medisafe app review

When you have a long term or a chronic illness and need to take a variety of medications at different times of the day, it can be hard to keep track of it. You might even forget to take them, which isn’t ideal.

I’m on long term medication for mental health issues and joint pain and the amount of medication I need to take, at a specific time with a specific dose can overwhelm me. But, I’ve come across an app called Medisafe and I don’t think I can live without it now.

Medisafe is an app (on iOS and Android) that reminds you to take your medications at the correct time. It has a simple design with daily pill schedules which is divided into four sections – morning, afternoon, evening and night. It also has reminders to refill your medication too.

The app allows you to manually enter all your medications and the dose/frequency into the app and set up reminders for times that is required.

Getting a rather friendly notification on my phone from Medisafe really helps me to take my medication on time. It also has a feature to “Take all” so when you’ve clicked it, it confirms that you’ve taken the medication. If you haven’t taken it after the first reminder, it will remind you a few more times – which I find helps me even more if I don’t act the first time round. It’s nice to have another nudge.

I’ve used other reminder apps in the past, but they weren’t as simple and easy to use as Medisafe. The app keeps me organised and up to date on all my medications. I would highly recommend it, especially to those who are on medication long term.

Reflecting Back on 2017

I’ve been pondering about whether I should do this blog post. I just feel quite sad because 2017 has ended and I feel like I haven’t really achieved what I wanted the most, which is happiness. I wanted to be content with my life. I wanted more friends and actually feel like I belong in this crazy world.

But then I realised that happiness isn’t a destination. You don’t “reach” happiness. You choose to be happy. I’ve always had this idea of what happiness is. To me, it meant having everything together, having that special someone in your life and just basically being “sorted.”

That is a dangerous idea which negatively impacts my health, especially my borderline personality disorder. I immediately think if I haven’t got it all together then I must be a “failure.” Now, I often use that word when I make a mistake, get rejected or if I haven’t achieved something I wanted to achieve. I have realised that failure actually means that I am trying and learning along the way, despite the hurdles. It isn’t and shouldn’t be a bad thing. It just means you must try again because you stronger than you realise. I am stronger than I realise. That, is something to be happy about.

2017 has been a year of learning for me. It has also been a year of risks. I actually started travelling to different countries, which is a big achievement for me. It is something I should be proud of.

But, I just feel in my career and relationships, I just kept it safe. I stayed in that comfort zone, which never really got me anywhere. So, in 2018, I know I need to be that little be “extra” when it comes to my career and personal relationships. I need to go and grab things as soon as they arise and never miss a good opportunity.

Something which is big to me that may not seem big to others is being discharged from hospital and all psychiatric care that I was under for 7 years. That was a huge chapter in my life because I have been so used to being under constant mental health care for that many years that I didn’t really know who I was without it. I wasn’t discharged because I was better, I was discharged because they felt I needed to learn to stand on my own two feet.

It has been hard without having to lean on a nurse, psychiatrist, therapist, dietician etc…but I have learnt a lot about my emotions. It has also given me a chance to actually use the skills I learnt in therapy whenever I’m in a mental health crisis. I don’t know if I can keep this up though, but we’ll see.

I am thankful to have made it through 2017. This might sound weird and corny but every waking moment is a challenge for me. Having made it to 2018, I can only thank God. I have always felt like I don’t deserve to be in this world, but I am starting to believe that maybe I do.

Okay, so writing all this wasn’t so bad after all. I did achieve a few things and I was happy in some areas of my life.

I won’t make a New Year’s resolution because it takes my perfectionism to the extreme and so is bad for my health, but what I will do is hope for the best in 2018 and be a better version of myself. That is all I can do.

Happy New Year!

It Shouldn’t Be ‘Wrong’ To Celebrate Christmas As A Muslim

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Far too many times, enjoying Christmas as a Muslim is looked down upon. “But we don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s haram”, I often get told when I say to those around me that I absolutely love Christmas time.

Yes, Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas but what is wrong with enjoying it and taking part in all the fun surrounding it? In Islam, Jesus is also one of our prophets. We’ve become a society where it’s so offensive to take part in other cultures, religions and their traditions, that we aren’t even allowed to talk about it.

Muslims often get told to integrate into British society but when they try to integrate, they get slated for disrespecting their own religion. Christmas is a Christian holiday but nowadays it is a universal holiday that is celebrated by anyone and everyone – even those who are not even religious. This can be offensive to some but it’s just the way it is now. It may have lost its purpose but the main thing about Christmas, I believe, is a time for everyone to come together, reflect and celebrate diversity.

As a Muslim myself, brought up in a Muslim household, we still get together as a family on Christmas Day and have a big Christmas lunch, with all the traditional trimmings. I’m British, all my family are British and we live in a mainly Christian country – we are integrating to that culture. What is so bad about celebrating Christmas the traditional way, but as a Muslim? We don’t exchange gifts or have a tree but we do what Christmas is meant to be about – which is being with family and friends and helping the needy. We often see a huge amount of effort by non-Muslims during the month of Ramadan, feeding the poor and even taking part in fasting themselves and as a Muslim myself, I am so grateful for those who do that. It makes me feel warm and thankful. It’s only right that we give something back. When it comes to charity and empathy, religion should not get in the way because at the end of the day, we are all human.

Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain has recently released a book about her favourite Christmas recipes, and many went onto criticise her because apparently, as a Muslim she has no right to cook festive foods. Many fellow Muslims are even questioning as to why she would write a book about Christmas. Well, why not?

Boxer Amir Khan and his wife Faryal Makhdoom have put up a Christmas tree in their house, with the help of their little daughter. As we’re the generation of ‘snowflakes’ it’s not surprising that they are getting death threats because of this.

What I like about Amir putting a Christmas tree up is that, he isn’t, like many Muslim parents, telling his child that it is “haram” (forbidden) to celebrate Christmas. Far too often, parents are telling their children this, and it just leaves a very bitter image about Christmas whilst their growing up in the UK. This is a very dangerous thing to do. Personally, I fear it can lead that child to an extreme path. Living in a western society, we must teach kids to be open about and respect other religions and cultures. Radicalisation can happen in any form and telling children that other religions and cultures, other than Islam, is “wrong” can lead to a very dangerous path.

Christmas is my favourite time of year. I like to decorate my room all Christmassy and watch Christmas movies and just generally feel festive. I would like a tree but for my family that is too much. When I have my own house and family I will certainly take part in Christmas in a more traditional way and I will never tell my children that Christmas is forbidden.