It really is okay to eat

When you’ve had an eating disorder for so long, you become numb to the feeling of not eating. The fear that food will harm you is entrenched into your mind, so you just don’t allow yourself to enjoy food. The act of eating almost turns into a mundane chore. I never thought I’d be able to stop feeling guilty about eating. But slowly but surely, I am getting there.

Being in recovery and actually working hard in it has taught me a lot of things. Before, I couldn’t allow myself to feel the guilt in all its glory. I could never sit with the fact that I had food in my stomach. Something had to be done to get rid of the guilt, to get rid of the food. I know all compensatory behaviours too well.  

My anorexia was never really about food. It never started because I wanted to lose weight. It was about controlling and coping with a very chaotic mind, stemmed from emotional childhood trauma that I had faced but had never acknowledged. I wanted to feel something else, something other than loneliness and worthlessness. I wanted something that I could feel powerful by and excelled at. Losing weight was my thing. Anorexia made me feel in control when my life was out of control. I only wanted to lose weight not because I wanted to be thin, but because I saw it as a way to disappear completely. I wanted to match how I felt outside to how I felt inside. Empty.

In the midst of all that, I forgot how to enjoy food and enjoy it socially with others. I never really gave myself a chance to stop and be thankful for the food in front of me. I have been allowing myself to open up to others about feeling “shameful” about eating and learning how to enjoy food again. It is okay to admit that eating makes me feel greedy and fat. But to challenge this, it meant constantly reassuring myself that this meal will not make me fat and lose control. I can now see the rationale of it all. I can now see how distorted anorexia made me. 

Each day, I work on my recovery and challenge the disordered thoughts. I have noticed I am now fighting for myself more frequently than I am fighting against myself. I say yes to invites that involve food. Saying yes hurts. It still does because it makes my disorder angry. How can I say yes to food, greedy pig, I hear the voice say. But what hurts more is missing out on socialising opportunities with friends and family and capturing fun and memorable moments together. So yes, it really is okay to eat.

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.

Medisafe app review

When you have a long term or a chronic illness and need to take a variety of medications at different times of the day, it can be hard to keep track of it. You might even forget to take them, which isn’t ideal.

I’m on long term medication for mental health issues and joint pain and the amount of medication I need to take, at a specific time with a specific dose can overwhelm me. But, I’ve come across an app called Medisafe and I don’t think I can live without it now.

Medisafe is an app (on iOS and Android) that reminds you to take your medications at the correct time. It has a simple design with daily pill schedules which is divided into four sections – morning, afternoon, evening and night. It also has reminders to refill your medication too.

The app allows you to manually enter all your medications and the dose/frequency into the app and set up reminders for times that is required.

Getting a rather friendly notification on my phone from Medisafe really helps me to take my medication on time. It also has a feature to “Take all” so when you’ve clicked it, it confirms that you’ve taken the medication. If you haven’t taken it after the first reminder, it will remind you a few more times – which I find helps me even more if I don’t act the first time round. It’s nice to have another nudge.

I’ve used other reminder apps in the past, but they weren’t as simple and easy to use as Medisafe. The app keeps me organised and up to date on all my medications. I would highly recommend it, especially to those who are on medication long term.

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.

I Need To Do This For Myself

-do-it-for-yourself-

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?

My experience with anorexia at university

feeling-lonely-in-a-relationship-live

Having an eating disorder whilst being at university is not pleasant at all. It may seem like you need your eating disorder and therefore it is harder to let go but at the same time, you are destroying yourself.

Many anorexics and bulimics are perfectionists. I can vouch for that. Battling an eating disorder for many years has not stopped me from trying to achieve and be the best I can at everything, despite hearing a voice in my head telling me that I will fail at everything and that I must try harder. Every good grade I received at university was an achievement along with every pound I lost was an achievement and when they both happened together, I was on top of the world. Calories, weight and scales ruled my student life.

In lectures, the voice of anorexia frequently would appear out of no where telling me I need to listen more attentively or I look horrible and fat today and I should just go home now and exercise because I do not deserve to be out in public looking this awful. The voice is so overpowering that not listening to it rather impossible because it is so strong.

Being the perfectionist that I am or rather my eating disorder tells me to be, I did all my coursework weeks even months before it was due in. With no food, I thrived in the hunger and typed away at my laptop all day and night. If I received a grade I was not happy with, the voice would tell me that I am not good enough and I should just stop eating completely.

Socialising is another thing that my anorexia has prevented me from doing. Special events and course get‐togethers were terrifying because it usually involved food. Being around food scares me let alone eating it and therefore my chances of making friends has not been great at university but I have been lucky to have made a fair few supportive friends during my third year. The disorder was so strong that believe it or not, I did not eat anything inside campus for the three years I have been there. No one has seen me eat. Is that an achievement? My anorexia seems to think so – but it certainly isn’t.

All that seems pretty exhausting, does it not? To be honest, I have no idea how I am managed it. Being in and out of hospital and studying – it wasn’t easy. I don’t think anyone can comprehend how hard it is to have an eating disorder whilst also trying to juggle university at the same time. It has been a challenge. It is a very isolating thing to be dealing with.

My eating disorder did get me good grades in the past but not in a positive way. I would rather do it all again but without the voice of my eating disorder screaming at me. It demanded me to be the best at everything by doing things in an unhealthy, destructive way.

If you have an eating disorder and are at university this is not the way to live. It is such a waste of time and energy. You may feel like you are in control of your life but in actual fact, the disorder is controlling you. It keeps you from enjoying yourself and takes all your freedom of university life away.

Get help as soon as you can. Go to your mental health or counselling service at your university and let them know about your eating disorder so they can find the right tools to help you. If you have moved away for university, ask your GP to refer you somewhere near your university.

Get in touch with Student Minds (formally SRSH) who are a volunteer led charity for students. They work with hundreds of volunteers across the country to provide support to students with mental health problems. They run eating disorder support groups at different universities, which gives you the chance to talk to other students in similar situations. http://www.studentminds.org.uk/

Also, talk to someone at your university. A tutor, lecturer, a friend, flatmate – anyone who you can trust so they can know what is going on with you and can give you the support you need. Do not stay quiet or hide away because that would only just make your eating disorder stronger. Sometimes, you need someone else to tell you that everything is going to be okay and that you are not alone.

Waiting Times In Eating Disorder Treatment

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.