How to cope at the office Christmas party if you have anxiety

We are only hurting, we are not criminals

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There have always been misconceptions of mental health sufferers as being scary, violent and “crazy”.  Of course, that is what the stereotype of mental illness is. No wonder why people are so afraid to get help.  If you have met the people I have met in psychiatric hospitals, you’d see that they are not even near that. They are often gentle, friendly and amazingly intelligent people.

Yes, my illness can make me do certain things I shouldn’t be doing, such as impulsively and uncontrollably messaging and calling someone when angry or going on a massive spending spree and buying anything and everything that takes my fancy, without thinking of the financial consequences.

But why should someone who is struggling, deeply hurting inside, someone who desperately needs understanding, love and care, spend time detained in custody in a cell with drug addicts and real violent criminals? How is that going to help a person who just suffers with depression and a personality disorder, perhaps due to traumatic experiences in the past, get better? How can someone’s behaviour, out of their control, land them in a police cell? In fact, it could make them even worse.

Mental health patients need help, not a criminal offense or a warning, because their behaviour is never intended to hurt others but rather themselves. They need to see friendly psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses who will understand why they do the things they do. They will have tools that can help them to get better. They need supportive family and friends. They don’t need the police to scare them. In fact, someone suffering with a mental health disorder is often always scared, is always battling in what they think will be a life sentence, why would anyone want to make that worse? Mentally ill patients are often prisoners inside themselves, desperately trying to find a way out.

Whenever someone is in a crisis, police is not what we need. Seeing a police officer immediately confirms to us that we are a bad person. We already feel like that anyway. I am not a bad person. I am sure you are not a bad person either. Having a mental health problem does not mean you a bad person. I am not a criminal. We are not a criminal.

Keeping mental health patients locked up in a police cell could possibly be one of the reasons why some police stations are incredibly busy and overcrowded. Instead of locking them up, who are often very innocent, driven by their illness and need psychological help, why not catch real criminals who are the ones who deserve to be locked up.

Mental illness is not a crime. Suffering is not a crime. We are not criminals. We just need people to understand and help us get better.

This post was published on The Huffington Post UK

Battling an Eating Disorder in the Workplace

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I am sitting at my desk in the newsroom, watching my colleagues working, preparing for their next report. They seem to be full of energy and not a care in the world about whether they should eat or not or how they look like. Why can’t I be like them? I ask myself. I am sat twiddling my thumbs with tears streaming down my face, trying to work but keep thinking about food, if I look fat and debating in my head how much exercise I will need to do if I eat today. Taking regular toilet breaks to check myself in the mirror – if my hair and make-up is perfect and if my outfit makes me look big. I cannot look normal or average. I must look amazing outside because I do not feel amazing inside.

I have my dream job; I am good at what I do, people praise me for coming this far and tell me to be proud of myself. But how can I be proud when my eating disorder is stopping me from achieving my full potential in the workplace? I realised that not eating does not help me as much as I thought it did. Yes, I can complete a task and make it perfect, but it is only done in punishment and in the end, I am still left miserable.

I am 22 years old and at the age of 21, I landed my dream job as a news journalist, working for the BBC. I suffer from anorexia nervosa and have done so for many years. I thought it was isolating enough in school and university but suffering in the workplace, or rather the shame of admitting it to bosses and colleagues, is tougher and scarier than I had ever imagined. Why? Because I don’t want to be seen as not capable of working. I worked so hard to get to where I am and I do not want my eating disorder to take it away from me.

Work equals success, success equals perfection and perfection equals “good enough”. At work, being perfect is what I strive to be. Everything I do has to be immaculate and one bit of criticism I get, I turn to anorexia. I cannot and will not be a failure. My eating disorder has got me this far. I achieved so much with it. I went to university, graduated and I got my dream job, all with my eating disorder. What makes work any different?

But anorexia destroys my confidence. It makes me isolate myself. The more I isolate myself, the less noticeable I become. Sometimes, it is scary to even do the simplest things. Anorexia wants me to be perfect and says I don’t deserve to eat until I complete a certain task and make it as perfect as I can. I tend to take on a lot of work, despite burning out in the end. Why can’t I say no? Because I want to be seen as someone who is perfect and strong. Working a 10-hour shift on an empty stomach is no fun. It leads me to isolate myself even more.

I have to be pure and empty at work. Or at least that’s what anorexia tells me. People think of me as an inspiration and I cannot ruin that by feeding myself or get seen eating by colleagues. I’ll get fat and then what will happen? No one will praise me. No one will think of me as capable. People will think I don’t deserve to be where I am just because I eat. I have to be different and special.

At first, I did not tell anyone about my eating disorder. Transitioning from education into employment seemed like a fresh start for me and I wanted my anorexia to be kept a secret. Pretty soon, I realised this was impossible. Working as a journalist includes shift work. The times are irregular, so my eating will be irregular too. For someone with anorexia, this is quite dangerous. I tend to starve myself throughout my long shifts, mainly because I cannot bare to eat in public and inevitably it does takes a toll on my health. I often feel dizzy, weak, lose concentration and faint.

I know I need to eat so I do make myself go to the canteen to get something small to eat. I stand there, staring at all the options but fail to get anything. I cannot get myself to eat at work, especially on my own. Too many calories, too much fat and I then I realise, I don’t deserve to eat at all. Sometimes it gets too much that I break down in tears and hide away. Anorexia is very controlling and the pressure to be perfect at work is all too consuming that my health is put at risk.

This is why I could not struggle alone anymore so I slowly started opening up. Luckily, I have understanding colleagues who go out of their way to help me eat and make sure I am okay. Even just a chat about my struggles makes all the difference and I feel less alone. I did not expect the level of support my colleagues gave me. I feared rejection and discrimination but the colleagues I have told understood the illness and the impact it could have on my work and knowing this was a relief for me.

I am receiving psychiatric care at a specialist eating disorders unit and have regular appointments there. Getting time off from work has not been a problem as of yet due to the flexibility of my job. My treatment team have also been very helpful, providing a written letter to my employers explaining why I may need time off.

Having an eating disorder at work can be very isolating; this is why talking about it is very important. Even telling one colleague who you can trust can be helpful. If they don’t understand, educate them about it. It will make a difference. Some organisations have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), where you can seek counselling for any issues you are facing in or outside of work and it is 100% confidential. My work provides this and it is comforting to know they are there whenever I need to use the service.

If you are worried about a colleague who you may suspect has an eating disorder, I would suggest speaking to them privately but do not jump to conclusions. Let them tell you in their own time but do let them know that you are there for them if they ever need to talk. Sometimes, it is nice to know someone is there, willing to listen.

It is useful for employers to find ways they can best help staff struggling with an eating disorder, allowing time off for therapy and medical appointments. Holding staff events and talks about eating disorders and mental health to let them know what support there is available at work, will be so beneficial for individuals struggling. Even taking some time to privately talk to them once in a while to see how they are coping can make a huge difference. Having an eating disorder does not mean the individual is not capable of holding down a full time job. We are still humans and an illness does not have to stop us from living a normal life.

This post was published on The Huffington Post and Beat for Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016.

Why Shorter Waiting Times for Eating Disorder Treatment Is So Important

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This week, the Prime Minister announced new plans for extra support for people with mental health issues. David Cameron promised to cut down the waiting times for young people with eating disorders. Now, patients will have to be treated within a week, under new government waiting time targets.

As a long time sufferer myself, this was a relief to hear. Waiting times for treatment of any disorder is a frustrating thing. We are dealing with a health problem, which could kill us, and they put us on a waiting list, which can last for months, if not years, but for people suffering with an eating disorder, it is even more dangerous.

After being discharged from one unit, I had to wait a year to get assessed for another one and I was not getting any better whilst waiting. In fact, I got severely worse to the point where I just wanted to die and could not even function anymore. Even drinking water seemed like a scary concept.

When you do eventually get help after waiting for a long time, you just feel like you are past help, which explains why it is so hard to get better. I felt like I didn’t deserve help. The longer you leave a patient waiting, the harder it is to get better.

An eating disorder is a life-threatening illness and to many sufferers, being on a waiting list is a recipe for disaster because to them it means they are not “anorexic enough” to get help, which they turn into being “fat”.

Chloe, 20, from Suffolk who suffers with an eating disorder says, she hasn’t been referred to an eating disorder specialist yet because she isn’t “underweight enough”.

“I have a heart condition and other complications due to my eating disorder but because I’m not underweight enough I can’t receive help even though it is damaging my health greatly,” she says.

Some eating disorder sufferers may not be dying, however it is not just about physical health. Truth be told, the emotional pain inside is what is killing us the most and whether the person does not seem to be dying outside, I can guarantee you that the person is dying inside, which is why eating disorders need to be treated as soon as possible because it is a psychological problem. The physical problem is only the symptom of the illness so therefore, if it is not treated early, it gets worse.

However, the Prime Minister’s announcement this week may be positive, but the thing that left me and other sufferers rather angry is that the shorter waiting time target is only aimed at teenagers.

Andrew Radford, CEO of eating disorder charity Beat said:

“We urge the Department of Health to extend the waiting time target so that it also applies to adults with eating disorders. Eating disorders may predominantly start in adolescence but we know there are many, many individuals over the age of 18 who are still seeking support and are unable to find it because of the lack of investment in this area. Parity with physical health should mean for all, not just for those in Child and Adolescent Health Services.”

39-year-old Charlotte from London, who suffers from anorexia, says as underweight as she was, she had to wait 9 months to be assessed at a specialist eating disorder unit.

“I’m glad the government is finally doing something about this but I feel it also needs to apply to adults. An eating disorder is not just a young person’s illness. I waited 9 months to be referred onto a specialist eating disorder unit. Even though I was underweight, I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously enough because of my age,” she says.

As great as this announcement from the government is, we also need to start recognizing that eating disorders can affect not only adolescence but also adults. Eating disorders do not discriminate between sex, class, race or age. They can happen to anyone.

This post was published in The Huffington Post.

I Always Feel Invisible

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Of all the therapists I have seen, all the psychiatrists who have treated me (or at least tried to) trying to find out the cause of my eating disorder, one word is always at the forefront. Invisible. Ever since I could remember, I have felt invisible to people. ‘Felt’ is an understatement. I am invisible. Or at least that’s what it seems like to me…

It does sound rather ridiculous but a mental illness has very deep underlying issues and for me, it was mainly going unnoticed during my childhood, teenage years and now into adulthood. Being a naturally quiet person, it is of course inevitable to be overlooked, which is something I have experienced all my life, at home, at school and at work. Whenever I do try to speak up, it never gets heard. It doesn’t seem to matter. Which in turn makes me feel like I don’t matter and don’t deserve to be in this world.

Developing an eating disorder wasn’t a conscious decision. I slowly and gradually stopped eating. It wasn’t for vanity. In fact, after various mental health treatments, it is becoming clear that I developed an eating disorder because I didn’t feel part of anything or anyone. In fact, I never felt I fitted in. I always felt different, ignored and disconnected. I quickly made a name for myself, but in a negative light – “the quiet girl”. I stopped eating because I wanted to be invisible on the outside because that’s how I felt on the inside. I wanted that to show. It was a cry for help. Call it ‘attention’ if you please but it was a reason to feel like I mattered. The more worried people were, the more I’ll get noticed.

I want to be someone who is outspoken and confident because those are the people who are popular and have lots of friends. Confident people are liked by their peers and colleagues and they are not left out. People who are confident, get noticed, get the jobs, get praised and get invited out. Because I am quiet, I feel like people do not really understand me or even want to get to know me, which is the reason why I usually isolate myself even more leaving me to become this very anxious person I am today. I question myself on a daily basis – why am I like this? Why doesn’t anyone seem to notice me? Do people hate me? Why do I have to be so scared of everything? Why can’t I be someone else? Why do I have to be me?

It is easy to blame oneself and others for feeling this way. But I have learnt the disconnection from myself led to the feeling of being invisible to others. Which is why I am on a journey to reconnect with myself. I never felt visible in myself, so how do I expect to be visible to others?

Everything I write will always have some kind of message. My moral and message to this piece, is that if you notice a quiet person, please do not be afraid to approach them. Even a simple “how are you?” can make that person’s day. If you see them alone, make conversation with them. Because when someone actually notices me, it gives me a boost of confidence, raises my self esteem and I suddenly don’t feel that invisible. For someone who constantly feels alone, anyone reaching out like that can make me feel like I belong and that I am worthy.

This post was published in The Huffington Post. 

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Someone With Mental Health Problems

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If you are a friend or a loved one of someone with a mental health condition, you would know that it is not easy. You may have tried many times to help them but you seem to be failing each time. As worried as you are for them, you feel frustrated and hopeless. You may feel you cannot deal with them. So you give up and attempt to cut all ties and leave them. If you are friend or a loved one with a mental health condition reading this now, please do not give up on them.

People who have a condition such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) will most certainly have issues maintaining relationships which can make it hard to stay with them at times. Though not their intention of trying to make your life hard with the threats and rage – it is actually a cry for help.

Please bear in mind that this person did not choose to have a mental illness. It is not their fault, nor your fault. However hard it is to deal with this person, if you care enough for them, you should be there for them, no matter what. Leaving them is their biggest fear. In fact, the things they may do is their way of holding on to you because of the fear of losing you. They don’t know how to express this, so it often comes out in anger and rage. This often goes back to the sufferers past where they experienced this before or may have always been very alone, and because suddenly someone finally comes into their life and actually cares, it feels like a determination to make sure they never leave so they don’t feel like they did before.

This is coming from a person who suffers with various disorders including BPD. Love and care has been something I have always looked for but rarely found and if I did, it would not last for long. Constantly being disappointed by people leaving because my condition is hard to deal with. To me, the sufferer, it feels like people use me and then leave me like I mean nothing to them. It feels like the only person who you thought you could trust, who you love, who you care for, hates you. Giving up on this person can ultimately make them give up on themselves. Bearing in mind, they are already feeling low. By giving up, you may have just pushed them over the edge, as guilt-ridden as that sounds. This person does not need that along with what they are already feeling and you don’t need that on your conscience.

If you are a friend or loved one of someone with mental illness and finding it hard to cope with their problems, before even thinking of giving up on them, calmly talk to them. Get them to seek help. Listen to them. Try not to be divisive or judgmental and most certainly, be weary of blaming them. They already feel like they are to blame. Find another way to help them if what you tried is not working. Sometimes, the sufferer just wants to be heard or even just wants a simple hug. I can tell you that a person who has been deprived of love and finally gets the attention they so desperately need – it is a powerful feeling.

If all else fails and you just don’t understand how else you can help them, please go to therapy with them. Family therapy may help. Couples therapy may help. There are also carers groups where you can meet other carers in the same situation so you don’t feel alone. There is so much out there to help you both.

Whatever you decide to do, please hold on to them. There is hope.

This post was published in The Huffington Post.

How did I get into the BBC?

Many people are interested in how I got to where I am today, career wise, so it is about time I reveal all. Especially because it is now exactly one year that I have been holding down a job at the BBC – so it seems rather relevant to be writing this now (as I have been thinking about writing something on this for months!).

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I don’t even know where to start to be honest. Many people ask me, how on earth did I manage to get into the BBC so very quickly at a very young age. Fresh out of university at the age of 21 and I get my first ever paid job on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, which was literally a dream come true – considering the Today programme was one of my dream programme’s to work for.

But, lets rewind back to university. I was an undergraduate at City University London from 2011 – 2014. Being on a media/journalism based course, we were encouraged to take on as many work experience placements in the media as we can. Now, back in 2013, I wrote a piece on ‘Is work experience worth it?’ and ‘How to find work experience placements and internships’ – so do have a read.

Half way through my first year, I luckily got accepted on a month work experience at BBC Radio 4. Since then, I made contacts and shadowed BBC Radio’s 1, 2 and 6 Music. Bearing in mind, my passion back then was radio.

I kept seeking for more work experience. I didn’t mind if it was unpaid – I just wanted to get as much experience as I can so that it can benefit me after I leave university. Month after month, I emailed radio stations and production companies asking for work experience. Long story short, that same year, I did work experience at Absolute Radio, Whistledown Productions for BBC Radio, Channel 4 and LBC. Not just that, I also got involved with the media team at uni. I took part in student radio and also became one of the editors of the university magazine.

During uni, I also had my own radio show at London’s youth station Roundhouse Radio, from the Roundhouse venue itself. The station matched me with a professional mentor to help me with my university to career transition (bearing in mind this was now my final year at uni) and luckily my mentor was from the Today programme – which I was honestly over the moon about. Big shout out to Steven (you know who you are, I wouldn’t be where I am today without his help!!).

Whilst being in the midst of writing my dissertation, I was also preparing for life after university. I was so terrified of being unemployed. I hear a lot of stories about people graduating and then failing to find a job. I was rather lucky to have a mentor, who did help me with my CV and covering letters and also recommended people I should speak to and most importantly reassured me that I have enough experience to get a job and not to worry.

One thing I mustn’t forget is getting my CV professionally done. Trust me, it is so worth it. I have never been so proud of my CV until I got it done by a rather amazing company so I do highly recommend it.

My mentor recommended I speak to someone at the Today programme so I sent my CV and a covering letter in an email. I got a reply back saying to come and have a chat with them and I was offered a two week trial period – which was basically shadowing someone for two weeks and then see where I go from there. I trained and after two weeks, I got myself a two month contract with the Today programme as a Broadcast Assistant, mainly handling Today’s website and social media. Of course, waking up at 4am every morning was incredibly difficult but I really didn’t mind, considering I was being made to wake up to work on a programme that I love.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 20.41.48After the Today programme, I went straight onto work for BBC News Online, for the Digital Video team (which I still do) and became a Broadcast Journalist (my current title). Then lots of other opportunities came up as I approached some of my favourite programmes including The Andrew Marr Show and Daily & Sunday Politics (current programmes I work for). As my background is within online, I look after their website and social media presence.

One of my highlights of working for the BBC is playing a huge role for BBC’s coverage of the 2015 General Election. During the campaign leading up to polling day, I covered a lot for BBC Politics (online) and worked closely with the Daily Politics debates. I was a Results Inputter on results night/day, inputting the results which went straight on-air.

At work, I have met the most amazing people/colleagues. I met rather big people including Prime Minister David Cameron and lots of others. Never thought things like that would happen to me.

This is not a 9-5 job. Some days I am up at 4am for a 6am start. Sometimes I start around 2pm and finish at midnight. Sometimes I am even working overnight. It is not easy and it is not structured, but I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world.

Without knowing the right people and getting as much experience as I could beforehand, I wouldn’t have been able to get those jobs. Contacts is key in this industry. You will get rejected. I was rejected many time before I got into the BBC but I persevered. I never gave up because this was my dream. This is my dream. I am determined to do more, experience more, learn more – so this is the beginning of an amazing journey. 
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