It’s Okay To Not Do It All

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This summer has been a true awakening for me. I finally realised that I don’t have to do it all. I realised that it’s okay for me to take it slow and just stick to one thing. I don’t have to do everything I want to do all at once. There is no rush. Life shouldn’t be a rush. I now understand that just because I’m not doing something I want to do YET, that doesn’t make me a failure.

Years of being a workaholic, a hunger to succeed, driven by my eating disorder made me obsessive and even more depressed than I already was. Why? Because I was trying to do it all…at once!

Working at my previous job had a huge impact on my mental health. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored working there, dreams have come true whilst I was there and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. But, many many rejections for job promotions and not feeling like I belonged or appreciated in a team caused my mental health to deteriorate. I had to leave and see what else was out there. It was the hardest decision I made but I don’t regret it one bit.

I now work for ITN (ITV News/Channel 4 News) – so I am still in broadcast journalism, it’s full time, it’s one job and I feel like I am being praised and appreciated. I feel happier and most of all, I enjoy the job. It’s more responsibility too and I learn something new everyday. It has also given me huge amounts of confidence.

But at the beginning, I was still in the mindset that I need another job. This job was full time but I needed something else. I had an interview at Sky News as a Text Producer (driving on screen texts and graphics) and I got offered the job! I accepted the offer (it was freelance). But, as I started training at Sky, I realised that it was too much. I was feeling the pressure. Two demanding, equally exciting jobs in journalism. As much as I always had an ambition to work at Sky News, I turned down the offer because I am not superhuman and I cannot do it all and saying no was okay and did not mean I was a failure. I realised that I need to focus on one thing for now, on one job. I need to be and feel normal for once.

All these years, I listened to the voice of anorexia that told me I need to do it all at once otherwise I’d be a failure, but that is not true. Self care played a part in this realisation. Taking breaks was like a reward to myself after doing something well. I would feel guilty if I ever rested. This is what living with a cruel illness like anorexia can do to your mindset. It’s twisted and full of self destruction.

I admit, I still find it difficult to take breaks but it’s getting better. People/colleagues around me giving me a nudge to take a break helps so much too. I didn’t realise how reassuring that feels. Again, this isn’t good but having someone tell me to take a break is like having permission to do so. It shouldn’t be like that and I am working on it.

Sometimes, saying no to all the things you want to do means saying yes to offering the best you can, to relax and enjoy more of your journey, your path. Because, in the end, that’s what it’s all about. It’s okay to not do it all.

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.

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.

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!

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.