Social Anxiety No Longer Controls Me

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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.

I Need To Do This For Myself

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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?

Reasons To Recover From Your Eating Disorder

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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

Ramadan and Eating Disorders

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/

Should Mental Health Lessons Be Taught In Schools?

There are calls for young people to be taught about mental health in schools as part of the national curriculum after a study revealed today that one in three children in Britain have contemplated suicide by the age of 16.

The reason for this is a lack of education surrounding mental health as many young people go without help and therefore struggle to cope. There are issues in schools that young people face everyday such as bullying and schools often do not take into consideration the result of bullying and how severely it can effect a person, espcially when they at an age where they are trying to find their own identify. They could resort to self harm, eating disorders and have low self-esteem.

There could be a shy and quiet pupil in a classroom and perhaps they are naturally shy but it could be more to it than that. That person could be depressed and suicidal because he or she is being bullied and does not know where or who to turn to. If that person was taught about mental health in school, then they could at least know that they could have a problem and know where to go for help.

There is still a stigma attached to having a mental health problem and people are still quite weary of even talking about it.

Having been through my school years but not once was I ever taught about depression or anxiety disorders or even eating disorders. I do believe if I was taught about those issues, maybe I could have handled them well and perhaps know what to do and feel less alone.

Early intervention is key to any illness and a mental disorder is something like cancer. If it is not treated early, then it will grow and grow and keep on growing until it eventually gets worse.

I strongly believe lessons on mental health will benefit young people in a positive way. However, mental illness is not a choice so having lessons on mental health will not prevent them developing a problem but they will get to understand it and break the stigma attached to it. They will talk about it and know who to go to for help if they unfortunately develop one. Schools need to start preparing students for real life and real problems because frankly that is where the problem lies – there is lack of education out there.

Eating Disorder Recovery Is Not Just About Weight

For those who are recovering from eating disorders especially Anorexia, tend to think that weight is their main priority and what recovery is all about. You obsess about how many calories you should be eating, how much you should increase, what time your snack is etc… That is still  obsessing over your weight and to be honest, that is not recovery at all. You still have that eating disordered mindset. Sometimes, your treatment team do not make it any easier either because the focus is all on weight gain.

Recovery is a lot more than your body and food. Weighing yourself in recovery and thinking about how much you have eaten could trigger you and you could fall into the same cycle all over again.

However, as part of your treatment, they will have to weigh you. At the end of the day, that is their job. Seeing your weight yourself could trigger you again and thoughts of losing weight will come back to haunt you so this is where ‘blind weigh-ins’ come in. Blind weigh-ins is being weighed backwards so you do not get to see your weight which could then lower your anxiety and take the focus off of the number. If you are a person who is easily triggered by your weight, then it could be helpful to ask to be weighed backwards.

Think of recovery as a new life. It is about enjoying the little things. It is about going out and buying that amazing dress you saw. It is about watching your favourite TV show or movie and enjoying it. It is about going out with your friends, reading books and being with your family. It is about enjoying yourself and being good to yourself. It is about your dreams, your passions, your future.

Recovery is realising that there is so much more than the calories in your food or how much exercise you have done. It is so much more than what size you are. It is so much more than the number on the scale. You are not a size. You are not a number. You are a person who deserves happiness and a successful life.

It seems quite rich coming from me, however, even though I may still be struggling, there is still a glimmer of hope and excitement for me and that is down to my future goals and dreams.

Of course your body is a big part of recovery, however, use your body in a healthy non-destructive way. Do not use it to measure your self worth. Use recovery as an excuse to nourish your body. Pamper yourself. Get your hair and make-up done. Get a massage. Treat yourself. By doing that, you will be slapping your eating disorder in the face by saying ‘You are not going to ruin my life anymore!’

Making recovery just about your body and weight can send your thoughts back into that obsession of ‘thin’. You will not be recovering and instead you will be shattering all your hopes and dreams and by doing that, do double think about your future, because for me, my future is what is keeping me alive, quite literally.

Exercise in Eating Disorder Recovery

Exercise addiction is very common indeed for eating disorder sufferers and it can lead to serious consequences. It is a cycle. Eating, feeling guilty then exercising to burn it off. So, in other words, it is a way of purging but rather a more ‘safer’ way to get rid of the calories. It may be safe for most people, but when you have an eating disorder, it is not safe at all. Some take it to the extreme and almost become addicted to it.

Exercise in the midst of an eating disorder and after or in recovery from an eating disorder are very different things comprehended by very different minds.

When you are suffering from anorexia or bulimia, or both, your mind could tell you to exercise, but not because it is ‘healthy’ and good for you, but because it is a way to lose weight and in a way, you will be purging the calories as a punishment. You will not exercise because you enjoy it, you will exercise because you hate yourself for eating and being ‘fat’.

When you are recovering, you will probably be advised to not exercise at all as it could be unhealthy for you at this moment. However, when you have had an obsession with exercise, it could be very hard to give it up. Slowly, try to cut down how much you exercise and work around how much you should eat, with how much you should exercise. Do ask a health professional if it is safe for you to exercise. Eating should be your first priority, because health comes first.

It is important to keep these things in mind when recovering…

  • Are you exercising because you enjoy it, or because you think you must do it?
  • Make sure you take a rest day and give yourself that much needed break from exercise
  • Are you eating enough?
  • Stop if you are hurting
  • Drink plenty of water and remember to eat before and after exercise
  • Never exercise on an empty stomach
  • Nourish your body and mind
  • Know that exercise should be a part of a healthy lifestyle and not a punishment

Also, counting calories and how much you burned is not a good idea when you are recovering. Numbers are sure to trigger you, so it is best to not count those things. The last thing you want is to set yourself into a relapse.

I think Yoga and Pilates are the best exercises to do when in recovery, because it gives you time to think and free your mind. It is peaceful and helps you get in touch with your inner self, as cliched as that sounds.

It also of course comes down to your mindset. You have got to be in a good place mind wise and you have to have that logical and rational belief about exercising healthily and about your body image. There is a time in recovery where your mind will start to rationalise things and you will see things in a more positive and healthy light.

Exercise should be enjoyable and a lifestyle, not because you want to lose weight and get ‘skinny’. This goes to people in general. We are bombarded by messages from society that dieting and exercise is the way to lose weight, but honestly, for us eating disorder sufferers, it is the most triggering thing to hear. Exercise should be a part of everyday life, not to lose weight in my opinion. Messages saying exercise helps to lose weight makes people think it is the only thing to do to lose weight, thus the reason why many girls and boys in this day and age have an unhealthy obsession with exercise.