Anxious About Life After Lockdown

Lockdown is easing in the UK and things are slowly going back to normal…well the “new normal”. People are outside in the sun, on beaches, having picnics in the park with their friends and family. Some are social distancing and some are not. Of course, it’s normal to feel angry at those who aren’t following the rules and I’ve had a lot of those angry feelings during these past four months.

All over my social media, I see people enjoying their time outside, not a care in the world. I think to myself, how are people doing it? Have they forgotten that we have been in lockdown for most of this year? How can they just go back to normal?

Mental illness thrives in isolation.

I have been really sticking to the rules of this lockdown. I barely went outside. Four months in lockdown, no work, no social contact other than with my own household – it’s bound to get comfortable. It’s certainly comfortable for my anxiety. Mental illness thrives in isolation.

What is making me upset at the moment is readjusting to life outside of lockdown. I haven’t been on public transport in four months, I haven’t been in an Uber in four months. I haven’t been shopping (something I love to do) for four months and I haven’t even worked for four months. I haven’t even stepped outside of the house by myself, without a household member. My anxiety is all over the place at the moment due to the thought of doing those things again.

It’s easy for some. I know lots of people who haven’t really followed the government guidelines so readjusting to life outside of lockdown is no problem for them.

But for those of us who have stuck to the rules but also have concerns about lockdown being lifted, it’s very tough to suddenly start seeing people again and being social. I’ve been safe at home all this time and now after a long time, we are allowed to do normal stuff again.

I’m scared and worried about the new normal and how we all need to change the way we behave in public.

It’s scary for me. The thought of going outside, by myself, even to the park is making me feel anxious. I’m scared of the virus, I’m scared of a second spike. I hate that it’s something that is out of my control. I’m scared and worried about the new normal and how we all need to change the way we behave in public. Change is terrifying.

So spare of thought for those of us who are struggling with the thought of lockdown being lifted. For those of us who haven’t been working for four months, for those who have lost their jobs and back on the job hunt again – it’s going to take a bit longer for us to get used to all this.

I recognise that I need to do this at my own pace and that’s okay.

Don’t rush your friend who might not be feeling up to going to that BBQ or that family member who might not be ready to go into a different family household. For me, I think I’ll be okay if I start slowly, avoiding big crowds at first such as on public transport. I need to start easing myself in slowly by taking a walk locally. I recognise that I need to do this at my own pace and that’s okay.

Things have dramatically changed for everyone in the world and it has affected some more than others but that’s okay. Listen to them, don’t minimise their feelings and let them do things at their own pace. It’s going to be okay. After all, we are all in this together, right?

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.

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!

How to cope at the office Christmas party if you have anxiety

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?

Why Am I So Open About My Mental Illness?

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A lot of people tell me that I am “brave” for being so open about my mental health problems. But one of the reasons why I am open is because I don’t want “brave” to be a connotation for opening up mental illness anymore. I want people to talk about their issues without being scared of people’s reaction.

I share my story to the world because I want people to realise that anyone can have a mental illness, even those who report on the issue, like myself. I am a journalist and sometimes it does frustrate me that the media portray mental health to be a crime. Of course, there are those who commit serious crime driven by their mental state but not everyone who suffers is like that. There are people who are controlled by their mental illness everyday, but they can be seen as normal, living their daily lives whilst being broken inside. They have their strengths and achievements like any other person.

For the past 11 years, I have struggled with clinical depression, anxiety, an eating disorder and most recently Borderline Personality Disorder. But I am not my illnesses. I used to label myself as my illnesses. I felt like that is all I am and all I’ll ever be. But I realised that is not what I am. I am a person who has a degree and a brilliant job that I love. I am actually successful despite my struggles and I am proud of that. But, whilst trying to live a normal life, I am in treatment and often in hospital. However, my mental illness makes me no less of a person than anyone else.

My issues makes me a very sensitive person. I break easily. Many people can brush off any constructive criticism they get, at work, in their personal lives…But I can’t. I take it personally. I get upset, angry and automatically label myself as a failure. My illness drives me to be perfect at all times. The things I do to be perfect is actually laughable when you think about it. If someone shouts at me, I tell them I won’t eat and I won’t. If someone gives me constructive criticism, my blood boils. I automatically say I will starve myself until I reverse that criticism. I want to punish myself for not being perfect.

My anxiety can also make me delay a lot of things but explaining that to people is difficult because they don’t understand why it is hard for me. I can do it, but it’ll take time. Sometimes I won’t be able to do it because perhaps my confidence is low that day. Everyday is a challenge for me and I need people around me to know that and understand. I need support and I need people to know that sufferers aren’t bad people.

I live with the voice of anorexia and perfectionism every single day, drilling things into my head, trying to put me down, make me change out of hundreds of outfits because the voice says I look fat. Or take all my make-up off many times, only to do it all over again because the voice tells me I look ugly, or pull my hair out in frustration because it is not going the way I want it too, which can end up me burning myself with my hair straighteners and curling tongs because IT’S NOT PERFECT.

Do you now realise how hard it is to suffer but also trying to live a normal life? I don’t know how I would cope if I didn’t talk about it. This is my story, my journey. I am a person and I don’t want to be labelled as bad or stuck up, because I am not. I work hard with a voice every day in my head trying to put me down, and the voice usually wins.

This post is published on The Huffington Post UK

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.

#Take5ToBlog

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On 5th February, it is Time To Talk Day – a campaign by Time To Change to encourage people to talk about mental illness for five just minutes. As part of the campaign, Time to Change want people to share why they are taking part in the movement with just five sentences (above) and here are mine…

  1. My name is Habiba and I struggle with an eating disorder (anorexia), depression and anxiety.
  2. My mental illness has affected my life by making it rather difficult for me to do normal day to day activities because a voice in my head seems to control everything I say or do.
  3. My greatest source of support has been family (the ones who understand) and my friends who have always been there for me. Another strong support has been God and Music. Music has definitely helped me through some rough times. And believing in a higher power? Well, it is amazing what that can do.
  4. My hope for the future, in terms of talking about mental illness is that I would like to see more empathy, support and understanding for people with mental health problems.
  5. I am taking 5 on Time To Talk day because I am passionate about breaking the stigma of mental illness, especially in my culture where mental illness is not often talked about without bringing shame into the equation. Through my journey with mental illness, I want to inspire people and make them believe that it does get better.

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Celebrating small achievements with anxiety

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It has been a while since I last blogged so I thought it is about time I write.  I have been inspired to write about recognising and celebrating small achievements when you have anxiety because I don’t think people understand how even little successes matter. It is great if you have big dreams and want to focus on the main long term goal. Looking to the future and having big goals is a motivator to achieve them. But, without small achievements, you cannot get to the big ones. As the saying goes “You can’t run before you can walk.”

We all have bad memories when we may have failed something but when you think about it, there have still been many successes along the way. Have you really given yourself credit for the little things?

For me, I learnt to be proud of little things that I pushed myself to do within the last few months. I started a new job and slowly started trying to face up to my fears along the way.

For example…

  • Making small talk with a colleague: This might not seem like a big deal but my anxiety can make this difficult but whenever I go out of my way to talk to someone, to actually talk, even just saying hello…I feel like I accomplished something.
  • Answering the telephone
  • Offering to make tea for colleagues
  • Asking for a little help
  • Smiling at a stranger
  • Being honest
  • Managing to get out of bed and face the day when it is the last thing you want to do
  • Joining in a conversation rather than isolating oneself
  • Managing to find the time to workout within a busy schedule (even if it just a short walk)

There is so much to be proud of. A lot of people just focus on the negative and beat themselves up. Of course, there are times I still do that myself but there is always something to be proud of no matter how big or small they are. Even the mistakes you made or failed something, you still can be proud that you didn’t give up. Instead, you keep trying. Focus on what you can learn from the mistake and how it can motivate you to do better next time.