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.
This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb 23rd – Sun 1st Mar) and a very important week to raise more awareness. I want to write about something that I have been recently doing and which has been helping me a lot. Opening up to people about my illness.
It is a sensitive thing to talk about with people. People are ashamed of it. However, the power of talking about it is quite amazing and it is something I have not realised until recently.
Telling someone that you struggle with food can be embarrassing but, if they are a decent person, they will listen and won’t judge. For me, telling someone is a relief. It means, I don’t have to feel all alone in this. It also means the person you tell can support you through this.
A lot of people with eating disorders feel like they need ‘permission’ to eat, which is exactly how I feel. When some reassures me that it is okay and nothing bad is going to happen if I eat that particular meal, then I feel encouraged and try. Recovery is a long process but with the encouragement and support of others, I have realised it can be such a weight off your shoulder.
So if you are struggling with anorexia, bulimia or even binge eating disorder, try and open up to just one person about this and see how you feel. Honestly, it can change your mindset quite dramatically, regarding food and guilt.
You are all stronger than your eating disorder. Keep fighting.
For more help and advice, go to Beat.
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.
I wrote a post about this a few months ago but as a media volunteer for Beat, I took part in their waiting times survey about my experiences and today it has been revealed that a large amount of people have waited for treatment for more than six months. The charity are now calling on the government to do more to help people with eating disorders.
Susan Ringwood, the chief executive of Beat says “Eating disorders are fatal in up to 20% of cases. That’s the highest death rate of any mental illness. We know that when people have to wait a long time for treatment, their illness can get worse. In the most serious cases, people’s lives can be lost. We were shocked to find that 26% of the people we spoke to had waited more than six months. We want clear waiting times to be set, so people can know when their treatment is going to start.”
Waiting lists for any treatment does really get to me because it is as if they want the sufferer to get more ill. I understand why there are waiting lists but for eating disorder treatment, it can be even more difficult for the sufferer and their family and for some, the waiting list is around 8 months to a year and by then, the sufferer may get severely ill.
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. The longer you leave a patient waiting, the harder it is to get better. All the sufferer wants is help whether they admit it or not.
Care minister Norman Lamb says this has to be a “very urgent priority”. He says “In mental health, we don’t even know how long people are waiting, That’s why this survey is of great value, because it demonstrates the seriousness of the problem. I want to get to a point where, by 2015, we introduce access standards, so that people know how long they should be expected to wait as a maximum” but he admits that he does not know whether he will achieve that yet but will try.
Another thing I would like to point out is that eating disorders are mental illnesses but some specialist units focus merely on monitoring the weight, behaviours and the intake and of course that is the main issue that does need to be dealt with first but some units, not all, do not provide proper psychological help straight away. They just give you a few antidepressants and that is it. I feel like if I get my head sorted out first, then perhaps I would do better in terms of recovery. But, of course they put you on a waiting list and more waiting lists and more waiting lists. I do not understand how I can get better if proper therapy is not put in place. Eating means nothing if you are not mentally better.
I think treatment should be offered at the first sign of an eating disorder. As soon as a patient shows signs of an eating disorder, they should put in place a therapist, a dietitian, a psychiatrist, a nurse – everything they will need in order for the patient to get better. When you have eating disorder, all you need is the right support and sometimes I feel like I am not getting that which does hinder my chances of recovery.
Today’s big news is the one about Asda selling ‘mental patient’ fancy dress costume for Halloween. Tesco and Amazon have been too, which is now taken off sale following public criticism.
This is absolutely disgraceful. This is exactly why people are ashamed to talk about mental health because it does not have a decent connotation attached to it. It is seen as a horrible thing, a shameful thing, which can explain why people are still adamant to talk about it.
When people think about the mentally ill, they think ‘crazy’ ‘messed up’ ‘loony’ ‘psycho’. They are often seen as violent. Why? The mentally ill can be victims of violence. People judge without knowing the reasons. I have met a lot of people in mental health units and not one seemed ‘crazy’ to me. In fact, they were the most understanding and warm people I have ever met. That was probably due to the fact that I could relate to them but that is besides the point.
You could be walking down the street passing someone who suffers from depression but they could look absolutely normal. People who have mental health issues are not crazy and people really need to understand that.
Yes, we often hear the word ‘stigma’ and you are probably sick of it but it is true. There is still a stigma attached to mental health and unfortunately I think that stigma will not go away anytime soon because of the likes of Asda, Tesco and Amazon.
People are slowly starting to understand it a bit more which is great but there needs to be more done about this stigma. It took me a while to be open about my problems and one of the reasons why I am slowly opening up my mental health problems is because I want to help break that stigma and also help and inspire people along the way. I was ashamed before because I thought people would judge me but after speaking to others and mental health specialists about it, they have made me realise that there is nothing to be ashamed of.
People who suffer from mental health problems are often weary about what people will think. I wrote an article for Time To Change about talking about mental health in the Islamic community, which will be published very soon. This is because it is something I am facing currently. In my culture, the mentally ill is often seen as someone who is not worthy of anything. They are seen as an insignificant, crazy and scary person, which is also the case in the wider society.
Hiding my problems has not helped me with getting better. In fact, when you hide your problems, it gets worse. I want to see a change in the way we talk about mental health. The attitude to it completely disgusts me. I will not say I faced any discrimination at work or at a place of study but I know people who have and this needs to change.
Labour leader Ed Miliband raised this issue in his party conference speech earlier this week and MP’s do occasionally come out about their own mental health problems, which is very admiring and allows others to be open about their problems too. I really think if this issue is often raised in Parliament, more people will start to talk about it.
We must accept the fact that mental health is something that is normal and should not to be hidden or kept secret, just because society thinks it should be. Asda may describe the stereotype of mental illness but know that mental illness is far from that.
The blessed month of Ramadan is upon us once again and for those of us with eating disorders, it can be somewhat of a triggering and a stressful time. If you are in recovery or in treatment and are still physically unable to fast due to health concerns, then you should not be fasting, which is the case for me this year. You need to be able to fast with a healthy body and a healthy mind. There is no point if you do not have those two important things.
In Islam, you are excused from fasting during this month because you are sick and instead, you give Fidya (charity) which is paying for someone else such as the poor to be fed. However, the eating disorder could be so strong that you could be faced with a dilemma leaving you to choose between God and your eating disorder.
It does not help that Ramadan is still all about food. Food seems to be everywhere. Iftar preparations fills the whole day and everyone talks about what they are going to eat for Iftar. It can really mess with a disordered persons mind.
An eating disorder is a mental illness that the individual cannot control without the right help and it can certainly be worsened by fasting. The point of Ramadan is to bring someone closer to God, however if you have an eating disorder, it could get stronger during Ramadan and it turns into a battle in your head.
During this time, you need to be focused on what is good for you. Distraction techniques is a useful tool to prevent any destructive behaviours during this time. I find that writing down all my feelings helps. Praying should also be a massive thing during this month. Your recovery is the most important thing. Have an intention in your head to be healthy for next year’s Ramadan so you can fast for the real purpose.
You could be unsure about recovery and still in the grips of your eating disorder and if that is you then be sure to reach out for help as soon as possible. Alternatively, talk to a religious leader. Without health, nothing is possible.
This article was published on the UK’s eating disorder charity Beat website. – http://www.b-eat.co.uk/get-help/online-community/beat-blog/ramadan-and-eating-disorders/