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.
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.
For years, I have felt like I needed to recover from my eating disorder for external reasons. I needed to get better to go to university – well, I did go to university and graduated, but I am not recovered. I needed to get better for my family – they were always there, but I am still not recovered. I needed to get better to get a job – I have my dream job – but I am not recovered.
I used the word ‘needed’ for a reason. Of course I needed to get better but did I ‘want’ to get better? Well, considering I am still struggling with anorexia, I realised that I did not really want to recover. Instead, I focused on external reasons rather than myself. I did not feel like I deserved to ever recover.
But recently, I have felt so much more rational, and I truly feel like i do deserve to get better for myself and myself only. Not for anyone. Not for my family, not for my friends and certainly for my career. Because, if I focus on reasons to recover for something or someone, truth is, recovery will fail. It will not work. I have been in hospital treatment for years – no change. I simply wasn’t ‘ready’ to recover.
Now, I do want a life without my eating disorder (though I do believe it will always be with me but I will learn to manage it). Believe it or not, my eating disorder treatment team wanted to discharge me – not because I have gotten better but because I showed no passion to recover for myself. Even though I did not verbally say, “i don’t want to get better” – they soon realised this was the case, because i wasn’t actively making use of the help they were giving me. I took treatment for granted.
Discharging me was a worry for my family. They didn’t want me to get discharged because i am still not better – but is it up to them? No. It is my illness and I should take responsibility for it.
My psychiatrist once told me: “If your heart is not 100% in recovery, then you will never recover. Your family and friends might want it more than you do, but they cannot make you recover. Only you can do that. It is your choice.”
Then it just hit me. I have to do this for myself. I want to get better for myself. I have achieved so much in my external life and I am proud of that – I now need to believe in myself and do something for me. Get better for myself. That is not selfish, despite what anorexia is telling me.
You need to do this for yourself. Not for anything or anyone else.
Who says you’re not worth it?
Today is World Mental Health Day and I would just like to say that you are not your mental illness because I can admit that at times, the voice becomes too strong that I seem to think that all that I am is a list full of disorders and I know many people do too.
When you introduce yourself to someone, you would not say “Hello, I am depression/anorexic/anxiety/self harm/BPD” would you? I would not like to think so.
When you are so consumed by your illness, you do tend to define yourself by it because the voice of your illness is all that you hear – that you are fat, worthless, a failure. That is not you at all. There is so much more to you than your disorder. You could be a writer, a teacher, a musician etc… and that is what you should define yourself as. Yes, you have an illness but there is so much more to you than that. It does not define you.
Dissociating yourself from the voice of your disorder and your real voice can be very hard but you just need to notice what the voice of the disorder is saying and what YOU are really thinking and talk back to the voice.
Kati Morton has very helpful videos on this. Below is a video by her which I absolutely love and will help you talk back to your illness but this video in particular focuses on eating disorders but can apply to other disorders too.
When you have an eating disorder, it is very easy to forget about the good things that being well can give you. I always seem to forget about it because I get so consumed by the voice of the disorder, so I think it is time to remind myself and others why to get better. These are some of my reasons why you should recover from your eating disorder.
- To have more energy
- To smile and actually mean it
- To be able to eat whatever you truly want, enjoy it and most of all keep it in and not feel guilty
- Your hair will not fall out (and we all know how awful that is when it happens)
- To not feel cold all the time
- To be able to enjoy being with family and friends
- To become more social
- To wake up in the morning and not feel disappointed about it – to actually feel excited for the day ahead
- You do not have to spend most of your day stuck in a hospital
- To be able to concentrate in school, college or university more and thus get better grades
- To be able to get a job and have the energy to work and earn your own money
- To be able to take driving lessons and finally drive (which is a big reason for me)
- Calories, fat and the scale will not rule your life anymore
- To feel more free as opposed to feeling like you are in prison with your eating disorder
- To allow yourself to be happy, get married and start a family
- To be able to open up to people and distract yourself in a healthy way rather than destructive ways when you are stressed or upset
- To be able to go clothes shopping without worrying about sizes
- To be able to trust people