Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Mental Health Treatment & Suicide

I was 21 years old and suffering from severe anorexia nervosa. I had recently been admitted to hospital – my third eating disorder admission in 2 years. I was becoming a revolving door patient. But this time, the eating disorder hospital I was sent to refused to admit me – my health was too compromised, and my weight was too low. So I was sent to the general hospital until I reached the required weight to go to the eating disorder unit.

I was in the general hospital for nearly four weeks before being moved to the eating disorder unit. They were the worst few months of my life. I was sectioned, tube fed, nil by mouth, and not allowed to shower. I could have coped with all that. But what I couldn’t cope with, in my already very vulnerable mental state, was the complete lack of caring, understanding and empathy from the staff, and the barbaric philosophy of how anorexia patients should be treated.

I had been in the general hospital for nearly two weeks and I had not been allowed to wash since my arrival. Surely it is basic human rights to be allowed to wash? They hadn’t even bought me a bucket of water and soap. I kept asking the staff – please can I have a shower and, please can I be taken in the wheelchair to use an actual toilet rather than a commode. I may have had a mental illness, but I was still a person. My hospital notes read “Rebecca keeps asking to have a shower and to use a toilet. We have told her that these are rewards and privileges that come with good behaviour and compliance.” In my opinion, this is abuse. I can’t believe that this sort of behaviour and so called ‘treatment’ is happening in the 21st century. You do not have to earn the right to have a shower. The staff were in a position of power and they were certainly abusing it. (And I would like to add here that I was actually compliant and the majority of my notes explain that I am resting in bed all day, every day).

In the hospital where I was suicidal
The eating disorder unit provided guidelines to the staff at the general hospital on how to deal with anorexic patients. One sentence read “They will try to manipulate staff so you must be very firm with them at all times.” I was being treated like a naughty, deviant school child, not someone suffering from a severe mental illness. And yes, anorexia can cause sufferers to tell lies, but this is part of the illness. It is not us, the person, simply being manipulative to get our own way – it is an indication of how much we are struggling with our eating disorder. And from my own perspective, anorexia had beaten me black and blue. I was destroyed. At a time when I was at complete rock bottom, both physically and mentally, what I needed most, more than anything, was for people to care. But instead, on top of the abuse from anorexia, I was further destroyed by the heartless staff and their punitive regime.

The staff should have been trying to help me, not punishing me, but instead they were driving me to complete hopelessness. Anorexia had taken me to the edge, and the staff and their regime pushed me over. The answer was now clear. I couldn’t live with anorexia and there was no way I was going to be able to fight it, not with the staff and their brutal attitudes and regime. I decided to kill myself. I didn’t want to live anymore, there was no light at the end of my tunnel. My world was consumed in darkness and I didn’t want to be in it anymore.

I was supervised by staff 24/7 so I had to plan my suicide. When I was moved back to the eating disorder unit, I was allowed to drink two cups of water a day to take my medication orally. I was prescribed antidepressants. They were going to be my life line. Well, more of a death line. I would pretend to take the antidepressants but I spat them out and stored them in a box of tissues. I was going to store them until I had enough for an overdose. When I had enough for the overdose to actually work, I was going to take them. I was going to escape. I was going to be free from this hell.

However, before I had stored enough to take an overdose, my parents won a battle to get me transferred to a more local eating disorder hospital. I arrived at this hospital on the brink of suicide, but they couldn’t have been more different to my previous experience. The staff listened and cared. They supported me and, along with my parents, helped pull me out of my darkest place. They showed me that I had a life worth fighting for and helped me in my battle against anorexia. The stark contrast in treatment approaches was clear for anyone to see. One drove me to suicide, the other gave me my life back.

Approximately one in four people experience mental health problems each year. Suicide is the largest cause of death in men aged 20-49 in the UK. Mental health problems are real. I was driven to suicide by my mental illness and the complete lack of care and support from so called health professionals. When someone is suffering from mental health issues, it can be very hard to open up and seek support. If we are faced with a complete lack of empathy and understanding when we do, and treated as if we are deviant children, then what hope do we have. There is no darker or more lonely place than where you find yourself when you decide you want to end your life. I was lucky, I received the care and support I needed before it got too late. People need to know that they can talk to others and share their feelings, and that they will be supported and cared for when they do. Suicide can feel like the only option but with talking, care and support, we can find our path to life. So please, make sure you check in with people. Ask if they are okay…and then ask again. And importantly, be caring and be kind. We have no idea what is going on in other people’s lives, what struggles or battles they may be facing. But being kind and caring, and reaching out, could just save someone’s life.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Eating Food When You Have Anorexia - It's all about the numbers!!!

My life is controlled by numbers. I don’t eat food, I eat numbers. The only meal that isn’t exactly calorie counted is my dinner, but I know it is always roughly the same. I know how many calories I can eat in a day, so all my food is based around this. If I eat this for breakfast which is X calories, it means I can have X calories for lunch, and that leaves me X calories for my evening snack. Every evening is the same. I tot up how many calories I have eaten in the day to see how many I have left. This dictates what I am allowed to eat. And this is ludicrous!

There is food that I want to eat but am not ‘allowed to’ because it doesn’t fit in with my numbers. I’ve lost count (no pun intended) of the number of times I’ve thought about what I fancy for my evening snack, then added up the numbers only to find I’m 20 calories (or whatever number) over my ‘allowance.’ I’m so fed up with living like this…yet I’m also terrified to be brave and change. I long for the day that I can eat food because I WANT to eat it, rather than it being the correct number. When I eat out for dinner, I eat the meal that fits in with my calorie allowance, not the meal I would actually want to eat. And everything is portioned exactly – I weigh and measure food so I know exactly how many numbers I am eating.

Anorexia and counting calories has been a part of my life for so long and it is so ingrained. I do it on automatic pilot. I have counted calories for the best part of 2 decades…and I have only lived for 3! And whilst I hate being restricted by the numbers, they also make me feel safe. It is far less stressful and anxiety provoking when I know I am having the right numbers every day & it keeps anorexia quieter in my head. But, after 2 decades of eating numbers, I am realising that this HAS to change.

If an actual person was telling you what you could and couldn’t eat every single day, you wouldn’t stand for it. No, you can’t eat that cereal, it’s too many calories. There’s no way you can have that sandwich, look how many calories it is! Only in your dreams could you have pasta for dinner. You wouldn’t stand for it if someone was saying these things to you. But when it is our own head saying it, it is absolutely fine; it is normal and we don’t question it.

But I am questioning it now. Yes, that’s right anorexia – I’m questioning you. Why do you get to tell me what I can and cannot eat every day? Why do you get to tell me what number I am allowed? Why do you get to tell me I can have 80ml of milk and not 100ml, or 100g of chicken rather than what I fancy? This has to be challenged. It is absolutely terrifying and I am not sure I can do it but I have to try. Because if I don’t try and change, then nothing will change. I will have lived for 4 decades and eaten numbers for 3.

My first non calorie counted lunch
My first unportioned cereal
The main fear is that not counting numbers and eating unportioned food will lead to weight gain. I will simply eat too much and I will gain weight if I am not exactly portioning and counting my food. But the fear of being stuck like this for the rest of my life is also very scary. So I am starting the challenge. In fact, I started it on holiday at the end of July. For the first time in a VERY long time, I had unportioned cereal for my evening snack. My god was it scary…but I did it. And I am alive to tell the tale. But it is all well and good doing something once…now I need to continue. My plan is to (hopefully) start eating food as breakfast, lunch and dinner, whatever their calories. I’m going to have to take it slowly, step by step…after all, changing decades of ingrained rituals is not going to happen over night. And I know it is going to be hard, very hard. And also very scary. I’m getting nerves and butterflies now just thinking about it and writing my plan on paper. The fears of weight gain are immense. But you only get one shot at life and most of mine so far has been dictated by anorexia. And this cannot continue. And since I wrote this blog nearly a month ago, I have gone out for two meals – one at lunch and one at dinner…and I have not known the calories! It was incredibly difficult, particularly at the end of the day when I was trying to decide what to have for my evening snack without knowing how many calories I had eaten earlier. But I told myself, lunch is lunch and dinner is dinner. Whilst be very scary, it was also quite liberating. Courage does not mean you don’t get scared. It means you don’t let fear stop you. And I cannot…I will not, let it stop me.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Age, Career & Happiness

Last week, my job as a sport science intern at a football club came to an end. I started a new job this week doing admin in my local general hospital. At this point in my life, I don’t really know what I am doing or where I am going. I know what my hopes and dreams are, but I can’t just magic them to happen. Other people my age seem settled in careers and have started or are looking to start families. I just feel so far away from this. I feel so far behind other people my age.

I went for a job interview a few weeks ago and the interviewer asked me why I was only at the stage that I am in my career given my age. And this made me want to crawl into a hole and hide. I have been working as intern for a year at the age of 30, when most people who intern are in their early 20’s. I feel like I cant afford to not know what path I need to follow at the age of 30 because time is ticking on. It’s alright for someone of 22 to not know what they want to do and to try different jobs and internships because they still have so much time ahead of them. But not me. That is what my head says anyway.

I know that anorexia froze me in time. I spent the ages of 19-23 virtually entirely in hospital and when I returned to the real world at nearly 24, life had moved on…my age had moved on, but I was still that scared teenager I had been. And even when I was back living in the real world my life has been so restricted by anorexia that I still feel like a teenager. That is not to say I haven’t made progress because I have; a lot. And now I do things in my life that I never thought possible. But I still feel like I am playing catch up and I still feel like I am a million miles away from most other 30 year olds.

So I am trying to come to peace with my mind at the moment; when I am at this cross roads. I know this new admin job is not going to be long term – it is just a pit stop as I try and think about what I want to do…and give me time to try and focus on achieving my dreams. I think that because I have felt that I have missed out on so many years, I am terrified of life passing me by and I feel like I want to achieve EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW! But I know this isn’t realistic, I just have to be patient. And with regards to life passing me by – I am just committing myself to keep progressing my recovery to make sure this doesn’t happen. Living with a mental illness is hard and it can have such a big effect on your life, I know this all too well. But I am determined that it is not going to stop my life any more. Only I have the power to make this happen. Only you have the power to take the risks or make the changes that will help you get the things that you want. Yes, I do believe there is a lot of luck involved with life, but if you never try then you will never know. The only things you will regret in life are the things you didn’t do.

So to the person that interviewed me and questioned my lack of career progression given my age – I am sorry that I don’t fit your neat timeline of reaching certain milestones at certain ages. My life is different. My life, your life, everyone’s life is different. We don’t have to fit into neat boxes at certain age categories. I do believe that everything happens for reason. My life is my life for a reason. Your life is your life for a reason. We don’t live to have made certain achievements by a given age. Yes, anorexia had froze me in time. But it has also taught me that more important than anything, to me, is happiness, family and friends. That is what I live for. So please, live for what you makes you happy. Happiness can come at every age…I believe that to have happiness in your life is the biggest achievement of all.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Feel The Fear and Eat It Anyway

What a weekend. It wasn’t just a great weekend in itself, but it was a great weekend for making progress with my recovery. It was my friends 30th birthday party and it involved a meal at a tapas restaurant with about 20 people (most of whom I didn’t know) and then everyone onto Popworld (a nightclub). I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I was determined that I wanted to be able to do it…and I did! And it was brilliant!

Although I am now quite used to eating out in restaurants and can do so with relative ease, the only way I am able to have done this is by looking up the calorie content of the meals beforehand and choosing a meal I know fits in with my daily allowance. So, every single time I eat out, it is to a restaurant that displays the nutritional information, to enable me to feel comfortable with eating out. I know a lot of eating disorder sufferers hate the fact that some restaurants display nutritional information and that this should be stopped however, for me, it has been a real help. It is only through them displaying their nutritional information that I have been able to go out for meals and start to socialise with friends and without this information, I wouldn’t have been able to. I do acknowledge that it is not ideal or the healthiest approach to take, but for my stage of recovery, where I had previously never been able to eat without my parents there, knowing the nutritional content of the food was the only way I could make a step forward in my recovery and eat out with friends. It was a starting block and it has actually changed my world as it has given me the chance to eat out in restaurants with friends.

So this strategy has served me well for a couple of years now. But as I say, I know its not the healthiest approach and I did want to be able to challenge it, but it was felt too scary. But this weekend was going to be the time it had to be challenged. The tapas restaurant did not have any nutritional information and we were not going to know what varieties of tapas we were going to be provided with in advance. To say I was scared was an understatement. I have religiously counted calories for the last decade of my life and now I was being faced with the prospect of eating an unknown meal out in a restaurant. My initial instinct was to say I wouldn’t go. But this wasn’t actually what I wanted, it was just fear making me too scared. So I decided this was the time that this element of my recovery needed to be challenged.
Please click the link to watch my video

A mixture of tapas was brought to the table. After an initial feeling of panic and thought that I couldn’t do it, I looked at everyone else around me helping themselves and I knew I wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to be able to join in like everyone else and enjoy the occasion. So I did. I tried meat paella, seafood paella and chickpeas with spinach. And it was delicious. It was the first time I had tried chorizo and calamari and I loved them! It felt amazing to be able to relax, chat, eat and be a part of the occasion. Yes, I was still anxious and apprehensive, but it was my first meal out without counting calories and it felt liberating!

The following day I received an impromptu message from the birthday girl inviting me out for lunch with a couple of others. Spontaneity doesn’t feature in my vocabulary. My anorexia likes me to have a routine and to stick to it, to have a plan and know what I’m doing and when. So my response to this offer of going out for brunch was no. It wasn’t what I had planned as part of my day. But I did actually want to go. So again, I plucked up the courage to challenge anorexia and I said I would go. Given that the night before I had made a major achievement of eating a meal without knowing the calories, I had decided that the next day, I would get back to my familiar routine of breakfast, lunch and dinner. So, I explained to my friend that I would come out for brunch, but that I wouldn’t have anything to eat and she was fine with that – she’s very understanding.
Please click the link to watch my video:

I know some of you probably think that me going out for brunch and not eating is not very good but it had been such a huge step forward for me eating the meal the night before and to have to do it twice in the space of 15 hours was too much. It was enough of a challenge to break my routine and get me to go to the brunch at all.

But as I sat with them at brunch, I knew that in future, I wanted to be able to eat with them. As I say, it was a bit too overwhelming to try and do it twice, one after the other but I had done it once and that was the first step. A big step. And now that I have done it once, I am determined to do it again. I am going to challenge myself so that once a week/fortnight, I eat a meal that is not calorie counted. It may not seem like much to some but for me, it is a huge challenge. To anyone with an eating disorder, they know what it is like to calorie count, and how incredibly scary not doing so is. Calorie counting has helped me manage my recovery but now I’m ready to challenge it. It is an incredibly daunting prospect but one that is so important for my recovery. And to anyone out there reading this that also has an eating disorder and religiously calorie counts, but wants to make progress but is too scared – You can do it and it will feel incredible when you do. I know exactly what it is like to eat numbers rather than food, I have been doing it for over a decade. Just take it in baby steps, like I am. If I can do it, you can too. It is scary but it is so worth it. Life is worth it! As I have said before in my blog – being brave doesn’t mean you don’t get scared, it means you don’t let fear stop you!
Please click to watch my final video on the weekend:

Monday, 14 January 2019


So I have attempted a vlog this week instead of a blog. It was a first attempt, only one take, so a bit rough and ready. But I wanted to document my experience of Christmas with an eating disorder and my plans to fight for recovery. As you know, I normally write a blog so this is my first vlog - Let me know what you think.

Please follow the link to access the video

Monday, 3 December 2018

I Believe I Can Fly

I generally struggle to be positive. I have a very negative outlook on everything. At the moment, particularly with my job and with Christmas approaching, my negativity is heightened. I am, however, trying to change my overly pessimistic outlook. There have been some changes recently that I have made which have been positive and which, actually, I feel quite proud of and which have given me hope and positivity.

Firstly, I have been making good changes to my walking regime. I mentioned in my blog about a year ago that I wanted to reduce my walking and I had started devising plans with my therapist to do so. However, with the workload from university, these plans got put on hold. However, the past couple of months I have set about trying to make progress again.

Originally I was walking for 50 minutes a day and now I have managed to reduce it to 40 minutes four times a week and 30 minutes three times a week. It is a very scary and daunting prospect trying to reduce my walking and I was very tempted to just let it carry on as it was. But I had to challenge myself and force myself to try and change. I want to be able to control my walking and not have it control me. So I have been pushing myself to make the changes. And although it may not seem like much to others, for me to have reduced my walking to what it currently is, this is actually a major achievement. And I’m not going to let myself stop there. I’m going to keep making the changes – yes they are very gradual and over a relatively long period of time, but I am making them and in the future I will reach a point where I am able to decide whether I walk or not and for how long. Positive tick number 1.

I believe I can fly
Over the past week, I have also made positive change to my eating regime. In a recent blog I spoke about how I have been introducing breakfast and lunch and increased my protein at dinner. Along with this, I have also been challenging a routine I have followed for the past 7 years. When I was discharged from hospital 7 years ago, I had a meal plan in place that said for my dinner I was to have fish four times a week and some other form of protein three times a week. Making me have a different form of protein three times a week was to stop me restricting my diet to just eating fish all of the time. And this structure is what I have followed ever since I left hospital. Until last week. I decided that if I wanted to make progress, if I wanted to stop letting life pass me by, stop letting anorexia waste year after year, then I had to force myself to make changes. I have to take risks. So I replaced one of my fish meals with something else, with the plan to replace another fish meal next week. Which would just leave 2 fish meals a week and 5 of something else. I was actually terrified about making this change and I did try to back out last minute. But ultimately, I knew I just had to do it. I don’t want anorexia to keep restricting my life. To someone else, eating a chicken breast is an everyday occurrence. To me, it is a huge challenge. But I am achieving it and I am going to keep going. Positive tick number 2.

My final positive tick is about my mindset. As I said earlier, I am very negative. Part of this is for protection. I feel that if I am ever positive and hopeful then it just sets me up for disappointment. So I protect myself from this disappointment and misery by remaining negative all the time and never feeling hopeful. But I am fed up and tired of feeling so miserable all the time. But my negativity is so ingrained that it is going to be incredibly difficult to change. But I am going to give it a try. Life is short and I am missing out on pleasures and happy moments because of anorexia. Anorexia has ruined so much of my life and I cannot let it ruin any more. So I am going to try and start thinking with a more positive attitude. And to start this, I am going to think of one positive thing that has happened every day. This completely goes against my natural instinct because if I ever think of something slightly positive, I instantly counteract it with a negative, and any positive thought gets dismissed. But from now one, I am going to have at least one positive thing everyday…and it will remain positive. I am going to write it down and post it on Instagram/Twitter (rebecca.quinlan.319, @LittlebexQ) so that is there in writing. And I am hoping this small change will have a huge difference. Positive tick number 3.

And I just want to say that if I can make these changes, anyone can. I know it’s not easy, believe me, I have struggled greatly over the years and still struggle today but often, you are stronger than you ever believed or realised. You have to look for the rainbow in every storm.

There are miracles in life I must achieve. But first I know it starts inside of me. If I can see it, then I can do it. If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it. I believe I can fly.

Monday, 19 November 2018

My Life in Their Hands

Without it, I risk losing a lot of weight, becoming very ill, being hospitalised and, more than likely, dying. Not only has it helped me build a life, it now helps me manage anorexia so that I can live this life and go about normal things (going out to work, seeing friends etc). Without it, I could not fight anorexia. And if I can’t fight anorexia, I know what will happen. Anorexia will kill me.

With this in my mind, whatever ‘it’ is, whatever ‘it’ is that has saved, and is saving my life, you would think it would be common sense that I keep it, to continue helping me on my journey of recovery. Surely something that is preventing anorexia from killing me should be unquestionably accepted? Well, it turns out it’s not. I have had to fight to keep ‘it’, to keep ‘it’ from being taken away because I know what will happen if ‘it’ is taken away. A choice between ‘it’ and death? It has to be ‘it’ and why I had to fight for this actually beggars belief.

This ‘it’ that I am referring to is a Community Treatment Order (CTO). I have spoken about CTO’s before in my blog but for those that don’t know, a CTO is basically like being sectioned when you are in hospital (you have to have been sectioned to be put on one), but you are allowed to live out in the community, live a ‘normal’ life, but you have certain rules you have to follow and if you break those rules, you can be immediately sent back to hospital. The rules that have to be followed will be different for each person. For me, my rules outline a weight that I cannot go below. If I do, I can be immediately sent back to hospital.

The CTO has enabled me to complete my undergraduate 
degree at Loughborough
I have been under a CTO since my last discharge in the summer of 2011. Every year it comes up for renewal and it has to be considered whether I still need it or not, and an independent panel of people review my case. And this summer of 2018, when I was coming to the end of my 7th year on the CTO, it was reviewed whether I should stay on it for an 8th year. I acknowledge that I have come a long way in those 7 years, but when I was thinking about the possibility of being released from the CTO, anorexia started to run wild. I was imagining all the weight I could lose and how thin I could get again. How no one would be able to stop me. And whilst the anorexic side of my head loves this thought, the other side of my head, the side that has started to build a life and do normal things, that side is terrified. But I knew, without the CTO, I would not be able to fight the anorexic side of my head. So, it made sense to me, to my parents, to my community nurse, that I stay on the CTO. I am not yet ready to fight anorexia without it. 
The CTO has enabled me to go out
with friends
But the independent panel had different ideas. Firstly, they thought being on it for 8 years is too long. Well, why should there be a time limit on it? If it is keeping me safe and well, and I need it to keep safe and well, surely the issue of time should be irrelevant? If it turns out that actually, I need to stay on a CTO for the rest of my life in order to prevent me succumbing entirely to anorexia, then what is the problem with that? I hope that I don’t need the CTO for the rest of my life but if I did, then I can’t see what the issue would be if it is allowing me to live the life I otherwise wouldn’t with my anorexic head.

Going out with friends
Secondly, they viewed the fact that because I have gained weight and haven’t needed the CTO to recall me to hospital, this suggests that I don’t need the CTO. However, the fact that I haven’t lost weight and needed the CTO to send me back to hospital is proof that the CTO is working well for me, not proof of the fact that I don’t need it. Because of the threat the CTO brings, I have been forced to maintain my weight. And by maintaining my weight, over time, this has allowed me to realise that I want more from life, that I don’t want a life completely dominated by anorexia. The CTO has allowed me to experience life and realise I want more from it. The CTO has eliminated the option of weight loss, so I have been able to start to build a life. But without the CTO, when weight loss is an option, I know I would not be able to fight this. And the seven years I have worked so hard to try and build a life would be completely lost. So, whilst I haven’t needed the CTO to recall me to hospital, I do need the CTO to help me continue building my life.

The CTO has enabled me to complete 
a Masters
Thirdly, the independent panel have to consider the “least restrictive option”. And, as you can imagine, a CTO is considered, theoretically, to be quite restrictive. However, for me, it has not been restrictive at all. The only restriction it places on me is preventing weight loss. This is a restriction to my anorexic head, but a life saver to my other head. And, as I explained to the panel, living with a CTO is far LESS restrictive than living under the dominance of anorexia, where every waking minute is spent slavishly obeying its orders; exercising, restricting food etc. There is nothing more restrictive than anorexia and actually, the CTO has been liberating.

The independent panel, quite bafflingly, were not interested that the serious weight loss with anorexia posed a huge health risk and risk of death.

“We are not here to protect your physical health”, they said, “we are here to protect your mental health.”

I have been able to go on holiday
To them, it didn’t matter if I lost weight, it only mattered how my mental state was. However, as I explained to them, a deterioration in my physical health is a representation of my deteriorating mental health. If I were losing weight, this would be a sign that anorexia was taking over. I couldn’t quite believe that they couldn’t understand that if I were becoming a walking skeleton then my mental health would also be significantly declining.

After hours of discussion and arguing from myself, my mum, and my community care team, the panel reluctantly agreed to renew the CTO. The fact that my life actually lay in the hands of that decision is quite scary. That those 3 numpties on the panel, who were not open to listening and who had their own fixed ideas, that they were basically going to decide whether I continued to live or die, my god it is terrifying. And also, it was incredibly hard for me to actually admit that I need the CTO and go against my anorexic inclination to try and get the CTO removed so I can do what anorexia wants and lose lots of weight. And for them to turn around and argue it should be removed was very hard to deal with. If I am explaining to someone that I need the CTO to prevent anorexia taking over my life, that I know what will happen if I don’t have it, that I know I cannot resist anorexia’s temptations without it, then surely there should have been no question or debate.

The CTO has allowed me to do go out 
and experience things
As I said earlier, the CTO has saved, and is saving my life. And I believe it could save many more who suffer with eating disorders.  I’m going to fight for my CTO for as long as I need it. And I also want to fight for greater use of them within eating disorders. When used properly, they can safe lives. Everyone deserves a chance at life and a CTO can give this chance.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Daring to eat

Old habits die hard. A very true saying. Anorexic habits die even harder. And it is some of my anorexic habits that I have been challenging these past 3 weeks. It has been hard…very hard. But I know I can’t keep staying in the safety of my anorexic comfort zone, never making any changes, telling myself that at some point in the future I will make a change but not just yet. And then the years pass by and I can’t believe I’m still in the same situation, still no changes, still too scared to take any risks. Well, no more. These last 3 weeks I have started to make changes. Very daunting and very hard. But it has to be done.

Someone who suffers with anorexia is often very regimented about their eating habits. They will have their ‘safe’ foods – foods they feel comfortable eating and will often eat the same foods most days of the week, at the same time in a set order. And I was no exception. I am not as regimented anymore about eating at certain times and I can also now eat a slightly wider variety of foods, but I have been stuck in a routine that isn’t normal or healthy for a while now and as comfortable as I was staying in this routine, I knew it had to change.

So, a brief description of my old routine: I didn’t eat breakfast or lunch, only eating dinner and an evening snack. My dinner consisted of half a portion of protein and a MASSIVE amount of vegetables. Vegetables are safe and I enjoy eating them so I allow myself to. But the quantities I was eating were beyond abnormal and were actually bad for my body. But because I wasn’t eating all day, I was going into my dinner hungry, and as vegetables are the only food I allow myself to eat more of, I was eating masses of them. And I also knew it wasn’t healthy to go all day until the evening before eating. But is was stuck in my safe routine, bumbling along, convincing myself I didn’t need to change, that I liked my routine and it worked for me. But it wasn’t working for me. It was working for anorexia – keeping me locked up in my anorexic prison cell. But it wasn’t working for me wanting to live life, to be normal and be able to do normal things.
This used to be my old dinner: half a portion of fish and LOTS of veg

With the support of my mum, I found the strength to try and tackle this. I have started eating breakfast and lunch, having a whole portion of protein with my dinner and a much smaller, ‘normal serving of vegetables, and keeping my evening snack similar to what it was. The overall calories I am eating is the same but as you can see, the routine is completely different. And to say that I have found it difficult is an understatement. It has been so incredibly hard. To make myself eat during the day – I hate it, and to not be able to eat the vegetables I want in the evening – also hate it. But I have stuck with it. There have been tears and arguments and desperate pleads for me to go back to my old routine. But I haven’t. I have to challenge anorexia. As hard as it is, the only way life is going to get better is if I challenge anorexia. 
To most people, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner is part of everyday life, they do it without thinking. For me, it is like climbing a mountain. In fact, it’s like pushing a boulder up a mountain. It seems stupid that something that is so fundamental in a persons life as eating regularly throughout the day I causing me so much distress and anxiety. The easy option now would be for me to go back to my old routine. In my head, I feel like that would just make everything easier and it would help lower my stress levels. But in a year or two’s time when I’m in this same situation, hating that life is passing me by, when eating the vegetables I want is more important than anything else (besides my weight) – that’s not going to lower my stress levels and, ultimately, it’s not going to make me happy. I want to be able to live life, enjoy life, and do normal things and normalising my eating habits helps lay the foundations for this. I’m going to fight the desire to go back to old habits. I will not let another year pass by. I will not let anorexia keep wasting my life, convincing me that it’s all safe and ok and I don’t need to change. I do, and I’m going to give it everything I can. Yes, it’s bloody hard, and to anyone else who is also struggling, I know it’s bloody hard, but we have to fight. Whatever your own personal struggle or challenge – you can do it. It may only seem like a small step up the mountain, but it is a giant leap for life. A journey that takes a thousand miles begins with one small step.
Some of my new meals:
Mushroom soup for lunch

Full portion of fish for dinner (with accompanying, smaller veg)

Pizza for dinner at Ask!

Crackers & Dairylea for lunch

Full portion chicken casserole and smaller veg

My new veg to accompany my dinners

A cereal bar for breakfast on the way to work

Monday, 15 October 2018

Irrational Fears

When I did my undergraduate degree at Loughborough there was the option in my final year to do a dissertation or to not to. The idea of doing a dissertation terrified me and I thought that there was no way that I would be able to, so I chose not to. When I completed my undergraduate degree, I told myself that it was the last studying I would ever have to. I had heard others talk about doing a Masters and I thought that there was no way I would do that. Not only did I have no interest in doing one, but I didn’t think I was good enough or capable of doing the required work.

Completion of our dissertations
A year or so later when I decided I might want to work in sport, I realised that in order to pursue this career, I would need a Masters. There is no option in a Masters on whether to do a dissertation or not. You have to, and it constitutes the largest proportion of the work and largest contribution to your mark. So that was it – I couldn’t do a Masters because I knew there was no way I could a dissertation. Throughout my undergraduate degree and years that followed I had this ‘hang-up’ about doing a dissertation and my fear of it had grown out of proportion. And here I was, knowing that I needed to do a Masters but convinced it was an impossibility because of my fear of a dissertation.

So I decided a Masters and therefore a career in sport science was not an option. But working in catering was also really wearing me down and the thought of having to do it for the rest of my life was making me really depressed. Biting the bullet, I applied to do a Masters at Loughborough. I chose Loughborough because it was familiar, I felt ‘safe’ there and also I knew that you did not have to devise your own dissertation there but instead worked on a project that was already up and running. But I was also encouraged to apply to St Mary’s but the thought of going there was a lot more daunting, both in terms of having to start somewhere new and also with the dissertation which would have to be my own project.
My new bracelet 'Have faith in your dreams'
Despite the much greater fear attached with St Mary’s, I chose to go there. And if you read my blog 3 weeks ago you will know that I handed in my dissertation and gave a presentation on it too. I had actually managed to do a dissertation. I couldn’t quite believe it. I had been convinced for years that I couldn’t do it with my fear about doing one growing irrationally. Anorexia also makes fears about gaining weight, eating normally, being healthy and recovering completely irrational. They don’t feel irrational at the time, I genuinely live day to day feeling scared of all those things and convinced that I cannot live without anorexia. But I was also convinced that I couldn’t do a dissertation. Completing the dissertation was serious hard work. Hours, weeks and months of stress, tears and graft. And this is not minimising the struggles of anorexia to that of completing a dissertation. Believe me, I know full well that fighting anorexia is exhausting and harder than there are words to describe. But it is just to question how you think.

Life is there for the taking
I would have sworn that there was no way I could a dissertation and I nearly let my irrational fear stop me. But last week I got my result and I achieved 80% in my written work and 73% in my presentation, both a distinction. And I was over the moon. All that hard work had paid off and now not only had I done a dissertation, but I had also passed! I had achieved what I never thought possible. It feels impossible that my mind will ever quieten the voice of anorexia to the point where my weight, food and exercise doesn’t dominate my life. But you know what, achieving what I did with my dissertation has inspired me with hope. Things can be terrifying and it is easy to not face your fears, instead sticking with the safety of what you know. But sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. Scary? Yes. But who knows what you can achieve. The only risks you’ll regret in life are the risks you didn’t take. I know it is going to be really hard but if I don’t try and make changes now to my anorexic thinking and behaviours, I will regret it later on. Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you. With courage, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Monday, 24 September 2018

The End of an Era

In the space of 3 days, I said goodbye to my 20s and my Masters came to an end. Wow! Two major life events and they hit me one straight after the other. And they are both quite hard to deal with, as they would be for anybody. Ending my Masters has left me with a void – what do I do with myself? For a year and 2 weeks I worked solidly on coursework and assessments and the past 4 months have been all consumed by my dissertation. And now it has all finished. Yes I do still have my internship which keeps me busy but studying gives me a purpose and an aim, something to focus on. But now that focus is gone…and that is when the grip of anorexia gets stronger.

Me with my dissertation last week
Being in hospital with anorexia is an escape from reality. You don’t live in the real world – you focus on anorexia and that is it. The misery, disappointment and scariness of real life is avoided. And in a strange way, studying at university has a similar effect. You live in a little bubble where you focus on your studies and you don’t actually have to deal with the real world. But now I do have to deal with the real world, and it terrifies me. So all my head wants to do right now is focus on anorexia. I imagine what it would be like to lose weight and be skinny again. Just to be able to feel that one last time. It’s like a drug…I’m addicted. I crave the feeling of when I stand on the scales and see the numbers go down, I’m desperate to feel my body without flesh. And the added bonus of when I do all this…I escape reality. I’m back in my bubble where I don’t have to deal with the fear of life.

Me and my 3 closest friends on the course
Yet, at the same time, I am also well aware that I turned 30 last week. Whilst on the one hand my head tells me I can’t deal with life as a 30 year old and resorting back to anorexia would mean that I didn’t have to face up to that, on the other hand, my head tells me I cannot waste another decade of my life. I can remember clearly when I turned 20. It was during my first hospital admission in St Ann’s. At that time in my life I was completely and utterly possessed by anorexia and I was willing to destroy anyone that got in my way. I referred to anorexia as ‘God’. I was ill, very ill. And it feels that since then, my life has just past me in a flash. I am glad to say that my mindset has changed a lot since then – I try to fight anorexia now rather than be a slave to it. But this past decade has been spent either in hospital or living by the rules of anorexia. and I have gone from being 20 to 30 without much of a life.

I have been out of hospital now for 7 years and I do acknowledge that this is an achievement but for the first 5 of those years, in order for me to manage my anorexia and not succumb to its urges, I had to live a very isolated, reclusive, regimented life. I did go back to complete my degree but as I have said before, I didn’t talk to anyone, I never did anything, I never went out. I had my strict routine of studying, walking and eating set meals at set times with my mum present, and that was my life on repeat year after year. It was better than being in hospital, but it wasn’t a life, it was an existence. It has only really been the past couple of years where things have started to get a bit better, when I have gone out to work and started interacting, making friends, establishing old friendships and not just managing anorexia…but challenging it.

MSc Applied Exercise Physiology Class of 2018
In those first 5 years I wasn’t ready for that. I had to manage anorexia before I was ready to challenge it. And those first 5 years did make me realise that I wanted more from life. And life has got a bit better – I see friends occasionally, I can go out for meals, I am far more flexible around eating (and also a bit around exercise) but it’s still not great and anorexia still takes up a hell of a lot of head space. But at this time in my life, when I have just finished my Masters and anorexia and is trying to lure me back…I am determined to fight. I am determined to not let my 30s go the same way as my 20s. I have literally lost over a decade of my life to anorexia and as tempting as it is to start losing weight and get skinny again…I cannot, and I will not let anymore years be lost. It feels like, in the blink of an eye, I have gone from a 19 year old teenager just starting out in life at university, to a 30 year old who has spent the last decade locked up in an anorexic prison cell. Life is terrifying, being 30 is terrifying and I have no idea where life is going or what I am doing. But I do know that I will not go back. The thought of being in this same situation when I am 35 or 40 is even more terrifying. I cannot let life pass me by. I have turned 30 and I have finished my Masters. The end of an era. The start of a new chapter. Chapter 1: “Fighting anorexia”.

Monday, 27 August 2018

A night of terror

I woke up about 3.30am and heard a crackling noise but instantly fell back to sleep. I kept waking up over the next 15 minutes to the same noise but never properly woke up, always falling back half a sleep. After about the 5th time of semi-waking up I thought “what the hell is that crackling noise”. It wasn’t like anything I had heard before. I lay in bed eliminating my options – “it doesn’t sound like rain, or wind, or people or animals.” Within 30 seconds, after not managing to figure out what the noise was, I knelt up on my bed to look out of the window. And there I saw it. A massive fire. I wasn’t sure if it was in the house or right next to the side of it but in an instant, I ran out of my room and went to my mum and dad’s bedroom.

“Quick! We’ve got to get out!” I shouted, “there’s a fire!” They both shot up. “Where?” They asked. “Outside or in the spare bedroom” I replied “but quickly! We’ve got to get out!” You could see the billowing flames from my mum’s bedroom window. Within seconds we were all running down the stairs, escaping the house which we all thought was imminently going to burn down.
As we got outside we could see the 6 huge evergreen trees inches from the side of the house in a mass of fire. Pillows of bright orange flames blew into the night sky. Flames 10m tall soared upwards. I had grabbed my mobile on the way out and my mum rang the fire brigade, screaming at them to hurry, the house so close to catching alight and burning down. I was terrified. As a child, I had planned for this moment, for what I would do if the house caught fire. All of that went out the window. It didn’t even feel like I was thinking. I was moving and doing things, but I wasn’t thinking. I was operating on panic. The flight response had taken over my body. I ran back into the hallway to grab my car-keys. My car was sat just a few metres from the fire and fearing the fire spreading to the car and causing a potential explosion, I quickly moved my car right to the end of the road, my parents doing the same with their cars.

What was left of our evergreens after the fire
I sprinted back down the road and stood and looked at the towering inferno, helpless. There was nothing I, my parents, or any of the neighbours could do other than stand at watch. I was terrified that any second a flame would catch the house and I would see what had been my home for 25 years burn to the ground. It took over 20 minutes for the fire brigade to arrive and it was 20 minutes of hell and terror. On arrival they immediately got the massive hoses out and tried to put the fire out. Eventually, when the fire started to die down, my fears for the house burning down started to die down with it. But I was really shaken up.

It took a good 30 minutes for them to put the fire out and then they had to check the house was safe for us to go back in. When we finally got back inside at about 5.45am we went back to our bedrooms. I stood in my bedroom, frozen. I couldn’t move. All I could see was the image of the fire burning away. During my time in hospital I suffered severe panic attacks and at that moment, as I stood in my bedroom, I could feel that same feeling of panic surge over my body that used to happen before an attack started. I tried to calm myself down and thankfully, I have learnt the skills to be able to do this.
After standing stationary for about 20 minutes I made my way over to my bed, only to end up staring out of the window to where I had originally spotted the fire. I started to panic that the fire somehow had got into the house somewhere and was slowly spreading. So I went downstairs to check everywhere. The house was all ok. But I wasn’t. I stayed downstairs from then on and slowly, as time passed by, my state of shock started to slightly reduce.

I have never been so scared in all of my life and even 4 days later, I still find myself slightly panicky, and having flashbacks and nightmares. This blog is not about anorexia or my recovery, but I have written it to try and highlight to myself, and others, how precious life is. So in the words of Ronan Keating: Tell that someone that you love, just what you’re thinking of, if tomorrow never comes.

Thursday, 2 August 2018


Stressed doesn’t even begin to cut it. My dissertation is so hard, I just feel like I can’t do it. Every situation I enter into I feel like it isn’t possible for it to be more stressful, but it is! I spent half of May, the whole of June and most of July carrying out the testing for my dissertation. This meant practically living at uni or at my local athletics track to get this done. I barely spent any time at home and it was a very stressful couple of months. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I went back to work at my old job in the tea-room. Don’t get me wrong, I liked being back to see all the people again and I didn’t actually mind doing the job, I just took on a bit too much. The stresses of trying to get my testing done, alongside the job and all the masses of reading I had to do for when I write up my dissertation just became overwhelming. So I kept telling myself that once I got my testing done it would get a bit easier. Now my testing is done….and I am more stressed than ever.

But there is some good news in-amongst. After hundered’s of applications, dozens of interviews and feelings of continuous disappointment and hopelessness, I actual got offered an internship at a football club as a sport scientist. This was back in June and I was so happy. I had my first day on the 9th July and I am enjoying it. I am there 3 days a week and learning a lot. I had to leave my job again because trying to fit in work with an internship, with a dissertation would really have been too much. And even now, trying to juggle the internship with the dissertation is very difficult.
Me on my first day at my internship
For years and years, I have had a huge fear of doing a dissertation, convinced I couldn’t do it. And now, in the middle of it all, I am still convinced I can’t do it. It is so bloody hard. And with trying to do my dissertation and my internship – I feel overwhelmed. Not helped by the fact that my weight is still continuing to increase for no apparent reason. My eating regime has gone to pot. It is not healthy, I know it is not healthy and that I need to change it but I’m stuck in a routine.

Because of being so busy with testing in May, June and July, I stopped eating during the day and just ate dinner in the evening. I still ate the same amount of calories, just all in the evening. And that is the routine I am stuck in. But trying to change it just adds to my stress. So it’s a routine I stick with. But I seriously do need to change it. And I am going to try. Over the next few weeks I am going to try and introduce lunch again. Whether I succeed or not is another matter. But I will try.

It is noticeable in my mind though how the more stressed I have got, the stronger my desire to lose weight and be thin again has also grown. I haven’t acted upon it, which is good, but the desire is strongly there. Anorexia does try to convince me that life would be so much easier if I was just thin. None of this other stress, just be thin. It is tempting, very tempting. But I cannot go back there. At the moment, I have to give every last will of body to trying to do this dissertation. If I ever manage to do it, it will be a bloody miracle. But God loves a trier. And one thing is for sure – I’m a bloody good trier. And I want you all to take hope from this blog – with dedication and determination anyone can achieve. I never thought I would get an internship and yes, although an internship is only the very start of my pathway, it is a start. And not only has it taken years of trying to apply myself in the sport science world, but it has also taken many, many years of trying to manage my eating disorder to get to this position of thinking about jobs, careers…a life.