It’s Okay To Not Do It All

img_7557

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

ramadan-still-in-41Nv

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.

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!

Why It’s Important To Talk To ‘Quiet’ Colleagues

Today is World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is mental health in the workplace.

As a sufferer myself, working in a demanding and stressful job can make the job itself ten times harder than most people around me. But, recently I have been getting rather annoyed at how colleagues with physical disabilities are treated with extra care and everyone in the team are made aware of their difficulties. Why can’t it be the same with mental health? Why are we still ashamed of being open about it?

I always envy my colleagues who seem so confident because I wish I was like them. The ones who are so loud and talkative. They’re the ones who get noticed. I am someone who is known to be very quiet, mainly because every single day, I battle with anxiety and intrusive thoughts led by my eating disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Sure, it has gotten better with putting myself out there and my medication definitely helps. But, there are those days where my anxiety gets very bad at work and I end up getting angry at myself. I tend to isolate myself because that’s where I feel most safe. Being alone.

On bad days, I have to pluck up the courage to ask someone for help on something. It can take a while. I might not even do it because I am that scared. Actually physically talking to someone can makes me very nervous some days. So on those days, I avoid it. I just stay in my comfort zone. Afterwards, I regret it.

I used to do that at school. If I needed help, I would stay silent. Years of treatment taught me that by avoiding things you fear, it will only get even more bigger and scarier. So just do it. But that is easier said than done. Sometimes, you need a bit more support and encouragement from those around you.

On those days when I’m struggling at work, what I would like is more support from colleagues. But because I have isolated myself so much due to my mental health problems, I have failed to build close friendships with colleagues and so it is incredibly hard to know who to go to and who to trust. It gets me down a lot because I always see colleagues laughing and talking to each other, and I’m just there fading into the background. As a child, I felt invisible and sometimes at work, that invisibility feeling comes back. I feel worthless a and useless.

If there’s someone in the office who is quiet, why not approach them? What’s the worst that could happen? Talk to them. Build them up. Help them. Praise them on their work. It’s those little things that can help them in such a huge way.

We can get so preoccupied with work itself and forget about some of the colleagues around us and how they could be feeling. Work will always be there but your colleagues might not. So, why not start a conversation today?

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

img_0046

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.

Anorexia: A Letter From My Body

I have been told to write a letter from my body to myself as part of my treatment from anorexia, so I thought sharing it publicly may help.

TRIGGER WARNING

untitled

Dear Habiba,

I wish this was a positive letter but I’m afraid it isn’t. I’m going to have to be blunt with you. You made most of my 23 years of life a misery. You denied me food, the most important source of energy. You made me sit through hunger pangs for hours, even days. I was begging for you to feed me. Even a sip of water would be enough at times but you denied me of that too, leading me to suffer severe dehydration which destroyed my kidneys.

You made my hair fall out and made my nails become brittle. You made me work through the pain, even though I couldn’t concentrate properly. You made me fake a smile, pretending everything is alright, when I know all you wanted me to do was hide away. When my stomach made a hunger noise, you’d punch me, telling me to be quiet and that I don’t deserve food.

On the rare occasion you did feed me, it wasn’t enough or too much too quickly, so much food crammed into me until my stomach hurt. Then you would make me put my head down the toilet, with fingers down my throat, forcing me to throw up everything you just fed me. It happened so often that sometimes nothing but blood used to come up. Then you’d be lying on the bathroom floor crying, telling yourself that this would be the last time but we both know that was a lie. You never allowed me to keep food down no matter how much I needed it.

You never allowed me to enjoy food. You never allowed me to nourish myself. You constantly called me fat and other horrible names. The lack of nutrition made my skin look awful, which you attempted to cover up with a face full of make up.

You made me dizzy and weak but never allowed me to take a rest. You took me to the gym, made me workout for four hours on an empty stomach. You put exercise before anything. You never let me see friends, you isolated me. You never allowed me to sleep or take a rest day. You made me stay awake every night, waiting for 4am on the dot, so you can force me to do exercise in your room whilst everyone was asleep. God, I was so tried and just wanted to sleep but you never allowed me that luxury. Even with an injured foot, you still dragged me to the gym and forced me to burn the calories of the one digestive biscuit you fed me last night. Everyday was a waking nightmare. I was exhausted but you kept on wanting to punish me. Your body. What have I ever done to you?

You destroyed me. You put me on death’s door. You wanted to kill me so many times. Overdosing on 25 pills. Attempting to jump in front of a train and nights spent planning suicide. Thank God you failed. You’re lucky to have me, to still be here.

I know this wasn’t all you, Habiba. I know anorexia was the one who made you do those things. But you are better than that. You are not Habiba the anorexic. You are Habiba the journalist. You are Habiba, who is kind, gentle and funny. I know you can recover. You have been doing well recently and I am proud of you for that. You’ve been socialsing more and going on holiday. Why and how? Because you’re starting to feed me. You’re starting to give me the energy I need to live a fulfilling life. Just think of the more amazing things you can do if you keep feeding me and nourishing me? You only have one body. Please don’t hurt me anymore. Please please take care of me. Haven’t I been tortured enough?

 

Lots of love,

Your body

Social Anxiety No Longer Controls Me

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 22.24.29

As I am writing this now, I couldn’t be more confident. I never thought I’d arrive at this stage because all my life, I suffered with crippling social anxiety. To overcome it, was something I’d always wished for but never thought I’d be able to. I am surprised that recently, people tell me that I seem bubbly and perky. That was never me in the past.

When someone finds out I suffer with depression and anxiety, they find it hard to believe because I apparently always seem cheerful and have a smile on my face despite my daily struggles. Smiling makes you appear more confident and I am glad people perceive me that way.

I know what it is like to feel invisible. To feel ashamed and embarrassed in public. To feel like every word that comes out of your mouth will be scrutinised and judged. To have that stomach churning feeling before going outside. Before, I had to mentally and physically prepare myself before going out. I used to feel sick at the thought of people looking at me. I always looked down when walking, hoping no one talks to me or sees my “ugly” face.

The purpose of this piece is make people aware that it won’t be like this forever because right now, I can safely say that I have overcome social anxiety.

The key to becoming more confident is simple. Just do it. The amount of times I pushed myself into scary situations and felt it went terribly – well it did go terribly and I have embarrassed myself numerous of times but did it kill me? No. I have been rejected and I still do get rejected. Yes, it does get me down but I learnt not to dwell on the mistakes. I learnt not to overthink. Instead, I learnt to keep trying, despite the knock backs and failures. The more mistakes I made, the more rejections I received, it only made me stronger. It made me try again and that has resulted in me not being scared anymore and in turn, it made me confident in myself.

Now, I do and say the most silliest and bravest things, which I could never have done previously. I walk with my head held high. I smile. I wear tiaras and flowers on my hair for God’s sake! I obviously stand out and I always get complimented on my style. That boosts my confidence. Looking good definitely plays a part in appearing more confident. Of course, there are mornings when I wake up and feel like hiding away but then, I wear my best outfit and rock it, and I automatically feel on top of the world. I like being silly, I like laughing and having fun and I like not being scared to just talk. I have a voice, why should I be afraid to use it? I ruined so many opportunities in the past because of my lack in confidence, so now I am on mission to face everything head on.

I don’t know if it is the amount of CBT I had or if it is my medication that’s helping, but honestly, I just feel like a new person (not taking into account my anorexia). I must be honest though – sometimes my confidence can be detrimental. I can almost appear too confident and become hypomanic as a result of my personality disorder. However, I am more in control of this now and aware of when it gets to that point.

No matter how anxious you feel, please know that it won’t be this way forever. The answer to overcoming anxiety is to just keep putting yourself into scary situations, face that fear, make mistakes and go back and keep doing it until ‘fear’ no longer means anything to you.

This post is published on The Huffington Post UK.