Mental health and Unhealthy Friendships

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Being friends with someone who also has mental health issues can be great because they understand how you feel. Having a mental health disorder can make you feel lonely because you think “normal” people don’t understand you so finding someone who is going through the same thing can be a wonderful thing. You can both support each other and encourage each other to get better.

But it also can be incredibly detrimental for both parties. From personal experience, every friend I had who is also struggling with mental health issues, I lost. I have problems keeping friends in general due to my Borderline Personality Disorder but I have noticed it is more difficult to keep the friends I met at hospital and online with mental illnesses. It’s nice to relate to someone but sometimes, forming a close friendship with that person can make both parties worse. It can become unhealthy.

“Triggering” each other is one factor. Even if both have different conditions, there are ways we can unintentionally say or do something that can set each other off, causing each other to act on destructive behaviours. However, this is more common if both have the same illness such as an eating disorder or are struggling with self harm. I may be at a different stage in my eating disorder recovery and the other person may at a completely different stage. I may be in a relapse and the other person may find that hard to be around. I have had friends who openly said they cannot be friends with me because I am triggering them due to my behaviours and weight loss. I completely understand that as I don’t want to be the cause of someone relapsing. Ending that friendship can be the healthiest option for both.

Constantly comparing each other is another factor why a friendship won’t work. Mental illness isn’t and shouldn’t be a competition but it can unfortunately become one. Comparisons such as…

  • “They seem to be coping better than me but they have the same illness as me.”
  • “How can they manage a career, but I can’t?”
  • “She is in eating disorder recovery too, but why is she still skinny and I gained so much weight?”

I have come across people with chronic illnesses who constantly compare themselves with others with the same condition. “It’s not fair. She can do so much but I can barely get up in the morning.” It can send a negative vibe and it isn’t nice to be around.

There have been people who try to put me down because I can hold down a challenging job whilst struggling with mental health issues but they can’t. It can almost seem rather selfish. It’s like both of you are trying to drag each other down, not lifting each other up.

However, sometimes we can compare in a different way. Competing to see who is the most sickest. Trying to prove to each other that one of you is more sicker than the other by saying things like “Look, I have more diagnoses than you. I have attempted suicide more times than you. I have more pains than you. You don’t know the half of it.” That doesn’t mean the other person hasn’t had it hard. You cannot compare such things.

Everyone’s illness and journey is different and it is silly to compare. Everyone copes differently and have different experiences because our illnesses affect us differently and our lives are different because of this. But, unfortunately when it puts a strain in your friendship, when it gets extreme and competitive, maybe it is time to end it for each other’s own sake.

My ‘glampacking’ journey in Europe

(May contain triggering content)

My friend and I decided to book an Interrail trip around Europe this Summer. I decided to call this trip ‘glampacking’ as opposed to backpacking because we are in our 20’s and we are not students (well I am not anyway) and I had a healthy budget to spend on luxury accommodation. I do not want to go away for the first time in my life and stay in hostels. If you know me, you’d know that I am a rather glamorous person. I cannot stand uncleanliness and dirty environments. If I have to splash out on a nice hotel, with a nice view, a comfy bed, a clean shower, a gym and wellness area, then I would.

We were both quite weary about going on this trip because we both have physical and mental illnesses that limits our ability to travel but we decided to give it a go to try and not let our illnesses win.

Rome, Italy

The first day was like a slap in the face. We flew from London Stansted to Rome and when we landed, the weather was so hot and I immediately couldn’t hack it. First of all, my eating disorder was already quite bad. Second of all, I’m very weak and cannot lug my luggage around for too long as I get tired very easily, especially in the hot weather.

We went to the Colosseum on the first day we got to Rome. We decided to get a guided tour but it was so boring that we ended up not listening to the guide and seeing the sights ourselves. The weather was very hot! 40 degrees. I just couldn’t cope. Along with my eating disorder, hot weather makes me cranky and moody and somewhat rude to the people I’m with.

On the second day, we visited Vatican City to see the Pope (well not really!). We ended up getting a guided tour and again, it was very boring. Most people in the group just wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. We realised in the middle of the tour that the tour guide will not take us to the chapel until another hour!

We decided to ditch the tour and head their ourselves. The chapel wasn’t what we were expecting but inside was very cool, so it calmed me down a bit.

But as soon as we left and decided to take a rest outside and see the beautiful architecture, I got moody and cranky again. The hot weather made me sad and I craved to be back home to the UK. Bearing in mind, this was a long trip (10 days) and I’ve never been away from home for that long.

We also went to see the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.

In Rome, or rather the Romans we came across, are quite rude to Brits. Brexit revenge perhaps? Plus, the language barrier didn’t help either.

Florence, Italy

So the next day, we headed to Florence by train. The weather was still extremely hot. We dropped our stuff in the hotel and planned our day. The city is very beautiful. We saw the Florence Cathedral. The buildings are so pretty and different. I passed some shops and I really wanted to go shopping. As I felt homesick, shopping is the one thing that calms me down when I’m sad or stressed. I realised then that my friend and I had different ideas for this trip. Yes, I wanted to sightsee and be tourists but I also wanted to shop and window shop as I’m a massive fashionista.

When you’re travelling with someone, there’s bound to be disagreements. As my friend didn’t want to shop and only wanted to see the sights, and I was still cranky and moody from the hot weather, I got angry and walked away, leaving her alone to sightsee herself. BPD got the better of me and I stopped eating. I headed back to our hotel to rest and when she finished, we met at the train station to head to Venice, with things still awkward between us.

Ever since this happened, everything started going downhill and I wanted nothing more to be back home.

Venice, Italy

Next stop was Venice. We stayed in a nice apartment, which I booked from AirBnB. We arrived in the evening so had time to plan the next day. Venice is a rather beautiful city. I love that it is surrounded by water. We travelled with the waterbus and saw the Rialto Bridge. We then got on the Gondola, a rather luxury type boat, passing all the major sights and also very small parts of Venice people rarely see.

Venice was definitely my favourite city I’ve been to in Italy and I would definitely love to come back one day, in the winter and that goes to Italy in general! Never going to Italy in the summer ever again!

This was our last stop in Italy and it felt like we’ve been there for weeks! We were thrilled to see the back of it.

Vienna, Austria (pit stop)

Next was a pit stop in Vienna before Budapest, after leaving Venice in the morning for an 11 hour train journey. We got to our hotel in the evening around 8pm and slept as we had another early morning to head to Budapest.

Budapest, Hungary

We left Vienna at 6 in the morning for a 4 hour train journey to Budapest. We stayed in a cute little apartment which was like a hotel with a reception and breakfast. When we arrived, we planned our day. We went to see the usual tourist spots including the Buda Castle and the Houses of Parliament.

After about 4 hours of sightseeing and the hot weather, we decided to head back to our apartment for a nap, planning to go to the Thermal Baths in the evening. As we were both so tired we overslept so we didn’t manage to go after all.

Vienna, Austria

We came back to Vienna, this time for sightseeing. It was 20 degrees and it was raining. For me that was the perfect kind of weather minus the rain. After a week of heatwave, it was so nice to see some rain and cooler weather.

Again, we were both so exhausted so when we arrived at our hotel room, we immediately went to sleep. My friend has M.E and Fibromalygia including mental health issues and I have mental health issues too including an eating disorder which also causes physical pain such muscle and joint pain (osteoporosis), so I get tired in general so quickly and so does my friend.

When we woke, we decided to go and see a bit of the sights, but we weren’t going to stay out for hours. We decided to go out for an hour. We only saw the Austrian Parliament and then returned back to our hotel.

At this point, I haven’t had anything to eat for days as I was so scared and in a starvation high. My friend and I weren’t getting along still, so the only way I could cope with the pain of that was to not eat and exercise.

My friend had an unusual pain in her stomach so we decided to go to hospital to get it checked out. I was skeptical because we are in a foreign country and I felt weak as I obviously had no food in me for over 24 hours. All I wanted was to hide under the covers and sleep the fear away.

But as I am a good friend, I went with her to ER. We spent half the night at one of Europe’s biggest hospitals in Vienna and after getting the all clear, we headed back to our hotel at 3am.

We had another early morning to head to Prague so we managed to get some sleep.

Prague, Czech Republic

After an awful night in hospital, we managed to head to Prague. However, we did not see any sights. We got to our hotel and just slept the whole day. After waking up, we decided to cut our trip short and book a flight home the next day and not go to Barcelona, which was supposed to be our last stop.

As I’ve been very homesick and we both haven’t been getting along, I jumped at the chance to go home to finally see my family and my cat.

Summary

Overall, this trip has been so hard. I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but I didn’t for the most part. I have never in my life been away from home for this long so it was an experience. As we are both unwell in general, we knew it would be hard for us but we didn’t want to let our illnesses ruin opportunities for us.

However, we have realised it is difficult to go away together when both of our illnesses are so severe. There were times when I didn’t understand my friends’ severity and there were times my friend didn’t understand my severity. It was almost like a competition, trying to prove to each other who is sicker, when it was blatant that we both were as equally as sick as each other.

I need time to lug my luggage around. I need to stop for breaks and to reset. My friend didn’t understand that and snapped at me whenever I stopped. It made it so hard.

I find it incredibly hard to cope with heavy luggage, hot weather, walking too much, eating regularly especially in a foreign place when food is unknown to me, waiting a lot etc…which had annoyed my friend and made her angry at me. I cannot cope with criticism and someone yelling at me, so when I experience this, I stop eating and punish the person I’m with. A lot of people close to me always say I don’t act my age. I act like a stroppy teenager or a child. I haven’t grown up mentally that’s why. I still have so many issues I haven’t faced up to or tackled. So I am sorry if I don’t act my age. It’s hard for me like many things is hard for you.

Many times on trip I had panic attacks and nearly collapsed. My eating disorder got the better of me and I ended up exercising on an empty stomach a lot. I was angry at myself a lot. I was scared and felt incredibly alone. I felt like I had no one to turn to. Not even the best friend I went away with as she is battling her own demons herself. We said we will look after each other, but it didn’t work. Our illnesses are too severe.

I won’t go on a trip like this again anytime soon, especially not with someone who is equally as sick as me. I have realised for me, one place is enough. My family didn’t want me to go because of my health and maybe they were right. I do need to get better psychically and mentally to go abroad.

Anorexia and BPD wins this time.

What I Thought of Netflix’s ‘To The Bone’

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TRIGGER WARNING (and contains spoilers)

There has been a lot of controversy about this film ever since the trailer came out. To The Bone was finally released yesterday on Netflix and I was very excited to watch it.

Lily Collins plays Ellen, a talented artist who happens to suffer from anorexia. She is sent to a residential treatment facility under the care of Dr Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves.

What I liked about this film, even though it is triggering, is that it shows how unglamorous eating disorders are. I don’t understand when people say it glamourises it.

Is exercising excessively to the point of collapse glamorous?  Is having a messed up family glamorous? Is being locked up in hospital glamorous? Is vomiting secretly in your room and hiding it under your bed glamorous? Is knowing every calorie in every food glamorous? Is looking like a ghost glamorous? Is feeling weak glamorous? Is waking up everyday body checking glamorous? Nothing about this film is glamorous.

The film makes me sad that this is my life. It makes me sad that this is how I live on a day to day basis. The only parts that made me cry was when Megan, the pregnant patient, purged and lost her baby. It hurts everyday thinking whether I’d ever be comfortable having a baby myself or if I ever could have one. I don’t ever want to be pregnant because of the selfish reason that it will make me fat.

The other part which made me cry was when Ellen’s mother fed her like a baby, with a bottle. I bawled my eyes out at that scene because anorexia turns you into a baby again. Everything is scary. You are always terrified. You just need someone to cuddle you and feed you and tell you everything is okay. You don’t feel safe but all you want to feel is safe. You just want to be looked after by an authortive figure.

Ellen’s mother said maybe one of the causes of her anorexia was that her mother wasn’t there for her when she was a child. This shows how deep rooted eating disorders are. It’s not always about wanting to be skinny to look beautiful. It’s a cry for help. It’s a coping mechanism. I certainly can relate to that scene. It was heartbreaking.

Dr Beckham’s approach reminded me of my psychiatrists approach. He is funny yet serious. He has a different attitude. Not what you’d expect a therapist to be like. He told Ellen she needs to be able to save herself and not wait for someone to save her. That’s exactly what I realised only this past year. It’s such a strong illness and it won’t let anyone save you. It has a grip on you and only you yourself need to find something, a purpose, to be able to get better. You need to save yourself. Dr Beckham spoke with honesty and what he did was he listened to Ellen. Tried to understand how she feels.

Despite all that, Ellen chose recovery at the end. At least the ending was positive and it shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When she dreamt that she was dead was a powerful scene. It even gave me goosebumps to realise that I am alive. I am still alive and fighting this. Death isn’t the answer and its never too late to get better.

I do understand how it can be harmful to some and I’m not going to pretend it didn’t trigger me. When Ellen kept on putting two fingers around her arms trying to see if her fingers touch, I found myself doing the same thing (not that I don’t do this on regular basis anyway). But it’s very real. It shows how disgusting and excruciating eating disorders are. It’s not a life. It’s hell.

I chose to watch it but my advice to those who are still in their eating disorders like myself, especially younger viewers and want to watch it, just be careful and be prepared.

Fighting my Eating Disorder in Ramadan

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Every year when Ramadan comes around, I am faced with a tough decision on whether I can start fasting or not.

This year, I personally don’t feel ready and again, I am still medically advised not to fast. For the past couple of months, I have been doing “okay” in recovery. I have been working so hard to fight the thoughts and not starve myself. I have been going to the gym and trying to eat regularly – or as regularly as I can manage.

But everyday I am still disgusted with myself. I still feel fat and ugly and want so badly to lose weight and become hospital bound, again. On some days, I still starve myself from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to sleep. This confirms that if I start fasting, I know I’ll be back to square one. The last thing I want is a massive relapse and fasting gives me an excuse to start losing weight again. The fact that I am recognising this is a massive step. My mindset is much more rational.

However, the unfortunate thing is, I don’t think I’ll be mentally or psychically healthy enough to fast in Ramadan ever again, without being triggered into a dangerous path. I want to fast but as I said in previous years, I want to fast, not for the religious reason, I want to fast so I can feel empty and ‘in control’ again. I want to fast to see the number on the scale going down. Losing extreme weight to me means people can see that I am not okay – that I am still struggling with this awful illness. Losing weight to me means that people will be concerned about me, and if they are worried, that means people care about me. On top of that, the psychical affects of my illness is still prevalent. I ache everyday, my bones are very weak and brittle, I suffer from extreme fatigue VERY quickly, and of course not eating makes me dizzy and I am prone to collapsing.

A lot also depends on the reasons for fasting, whether one is fasting purely for the sake of God or to satisfy the demon of their eating disorder. We should also not forget that fasting during Ramadan is advised only for those who are healthy. For those who are sick in any way shape or form, are exempt, that also includes those who are mentally unwell.

Fasting in Ramadan is so much more about the act of physically refraining from eating. As it is a religious duty, it is primarily about spirituality, to feel closer to God. For those afflicted with eating disorders, spirituality is the last thing on their mind. For me personally, I am so mentally damaged after years of listening to the voice of my eating disorder telling me how I should act, feel and what I should do, that now, the act of not eating is always seen to me as a self destructive thing. For me, it is a bad thing. I associate starving as something that is evil and demonising because it has destroyed my body as well as my life and everyday I still continue to fight it.

When Ramadan comes by every year, I am still so saddened by why eating disorders is still not talked about and why there is still a lack of awareness and help before the month begins. Ideally, I would like to be more well equipped on how to deal with people making insensitive comments and how to deal with triggers around meals, especially at Iftar (the meal when the fast is broken). Ramadan may be all about fasting but ironically, food is the main topic of conversation and everywhere you look, there is food.

For those of us who also come from a past of binging and purging, this can be a very overwhelming time. It is inevitable to be ravenous after 18 hours of not eating or drinking anything, so when it is time to eat, even non-eating disorder sufferers can end up binging. It’s what our bodies do. After months of trying to stop this behaviour, do I want to revert back to it?

Even though it is clear that I am mentally and psychically not ready to fast, this Ramadan will be another battle, another fight to resist the urge to not go back into old habits.

Managing Strong Emotions & Impulsivity

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One of the main Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) behaviour I struggle with the most is intrusive thoughts and impulsive acts. I have worked on it in therapy but it is still a major issue I currently face when it comes to relationships and how I relate to others.

My impulsive thought and behaviour is triggered by criticism – by that I mean the tone of voice (someone being rude to me/shouting at me), rejection and being ignored in one way or another.

When I am triggered, I automatically end up in a crisis. It doesn’t matter where I am, I’d either start crying, get angry, hurt myself or just freeze and not move for hours. Depending on who the person at the receiving end is, I could also blurt out stuff I don’t necessarily mean.

“I hate you”

“I am fat”

“I am disgusting”

“Everybody hates me”

“I should die”

“Why can’t I just be dead?”

“I am never eating again”

“I hate myself”

These actions is driven by anger. If someone is critical towards me, I feel attacked and feel like they don’t care about me. Saying and doing impulsive actions is a way for me to tell the person that they’ve hurt me. As I was being bullied at school, I bottled up my emotions and now it all seems to be coming out in impulsive and destructive ways. I feel emotions too strongly, can’t control it and lash out.

“Control” is another big word in situations like this. I’ve realised that, I lash out because I feel “out of control”. But what is it that I am losing control over? I don’t know. But there is something there, deep down.

After I do and say those things, I am left feeling deflated. Having not spoken for hours, my voice hardly comes out. It is also embarrassing. Acting out and then suddenly acting normal again? That is hard to do. It takes me a while to return back to my normal self.

In therapy, I learnt how to handle situations like this. Keeping a thought record and using the DBT skill STOPP! is really helpful.

Stop!

Say it to yourself, in your head, as soon as you notice your mind and/or your body is reacting to a trigger. Taking a step back helps to put in the space between the stimulus (the trigger, whatever we are reacting to) and our response. The earlier you use STOPP, the easier and more effective it will be.

Take a Breath

Breathing deeper and slower will calm down and reduce the physical reaction of emotion/adrenaline. Focusing on our breathing means we are not so focused on the thoughts and feelings of the distress, so that our minds can start to clear and we can think more logically and rationally.

Observe

We can notice the thoughts going through our mind, we can also notice what we feel in our body, and we can notice the urge to react in an impulsive way. We can notice the vicious cycle of anxiety, sadness or anger (etc). Noticing helps us to defuse from those thoughts and feelings and therefore reduce their power and control. Are you feeling hot? Sweaty? What is your hands doing? Are you feeling tearful? Just notice.

Put things into Perspective

Challenge your thoughts before you act. Thinking differently. When we step back emotionally from a situation, and start to see the bigger picture, it reduces those distressing beliefs. We can do this by asking ourselves questions. Is it worth it? How would I feel after acting on the thought?

Practise what works

Rather than reacting impulsively with unhelpful consequences, we can CHOOSE a more helpful and positive response. I like to walk away, get out of the situation, because staying will not calm me down. Getting away and doing something else can make me calm down.

 

My Birthday Trip To Paris!

For my 24th birthday this year, I decided to challenge myself and book a trip away to Paris with my friend Hannah. I’ve only ever been to Scotland, which is of course in the UK but going to France was a massive step in my recovery. It’s the first ever proper country I’ve been to.

Travelling for me has always been something I have avoided all my life due to my anorexia and anxiety but I have always craved to travel somewhere (except for Bangladesh which I do not count as a holiday).

Of course, I had other fears – the increase in terror attacks in France for one. That’s why before, I never really wanted to travel to Europe because of the fear of Islamist terrorism – and that really increased my anxiety and panic levels. But what will you achieve if you just avoid going to places because you are scared a terror attack will happen? That is letting the terrorists win. You cannot stop living your life because of terrorism and unfortunately terror in Europe is the norm now, so you must be vigilant but not afraid.

On this trip (we stayed for 3 nights) I realised what I can actually do. I can be spontaneous and I can let go and have fun. I realised that I don’t have to be confined inside this little shell of myself anymore. I can go out and I can socialise and I can eat! Surprisingly, the pressure of eating eased off during this trip – I think mainly because I was in a different place and my hotel had a gym – so in a way, I felt safe. I have to say, I purposely chose a hotel that had facilities to suit my needs, where I know I can workout at the end of the day, so I don’t get too overwhelmed with what I’ve eaten.

Of course, I did feel overwhelmed but having a friend with me who understands what it’s like really helped me.

It was the perfect time to be in Paris because it was of course the French elections and the campaigning was in full force when I was there. An election, or anything to do with politics rather, is right up my street as I cover it at work. Being on holiday didn’t stop me from asking people what they think about the candidates – and when people found out that I am a BBC journalist, they did not hesitate to ask me what I think about it. As soon as I mentioned Marine Le Pen, the French people immediately wanted to debate with me. It was interesting to see what people thought about a Le Pen win. It was also interesting to see what the French think about Brexit. Now, it’s against Macron v Le Pen – we had Brexit, we had Trump, a Le Pen win could be a massive possibility!

Places we’ve visited…

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Louvre museum
  • A cruise across The River Seine
  • Arc De Triomphe at the Champs-Élysées
  • Sacré-Cœur

I completely forgot that I had Bangladeshi relatives (an auntie + family) who live in France. They found out (from my parents) that I was in France and decided to call me up and invite me to my cousins’ wedding! If you know me, you’d know that I hate Asian weddings and in the UK, I always avoid going to them. But since I was in a different country, I decided to go! My friend Hannah also wanted to experience what an Asian wedding is like, so this was a good opportunity.

All in all, I had an amazing time away and ready for my next adventure! I just experienced what recovery can be like and it is great, so maybe, I should keep going?