Monday, 5 February 2018

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

I go to university, I go to lessons, I chat to course mates…But I battle with fear of failing and fear that no one really likes me.

I study, I write essays, I do coursework…But I’m not allowed to sit down and I’m constantly distracted by thoughts of food and weight. Terrified of gaining weight and deliberating what I can eat today.

I go out for dinner with friends…But I’ve scoured the menu looking for what fits in to my calorie allowance. It’s no a question of choosing a meal I want, but what meal is the right number.

I eat dinner at home seemingly with ease…But I’ve barely eaten anything all day. And should I be served a meal that looks larger than I am expecting, I’m riddled with fear and anxiety, needing reassurance.

I go running every week and power walk every day…But I’m physically exhausted. Trying to run with barely any muscle is harder than you can imagine.

I can meet up with friends and have a chat and a laugh…But I’m overwhelmed with depression and loneliness the 95% of the time I am on my own.

I worked as a chef for 2 and a half years, cooking food for other people…But I have never tried any of my own cooking and never ate a morsel of food whilst at work.

I watch the latest shows on TV…But again, my mind is distracted by food and weight, a sudden panic that I’ve eaten too much, that I’m going to have gained lots of weight.

I commute with others on a daily basis on the train…But again, I’m not allowed to sit down.

I get dressed in the morning and have a shower at night…But I look in the mirror and feel utter repulsion and disgust, wishing I could take a carving knife to my body.

I smile at the lady in the shop as she asks how I stay so slim, how she wishes she could be thin like me…If only she knew. If only she knew what it was like living with an eating disorder. Living with depression and anxiety.

Appearances can be deceiving. I do normal things, I go about daily activities. But there is an inner battle, an inner torture, an inner suffering that is like no other, that I can’t even describe in words. I dream of going out and doing things with friends, having a life…But I lock myself away, scared and alone. Convinced I’m not capable of being sociable, convinced no one actually wants to spend time with me, convinced my life is destined to be this way.

That is what having a mental illness is – living in constant fear. Having hopes and dreams but then behaving the exact opposite through shear fearfulness. And it is not all about appearances. Eating disorders are not just about weight, you don’t have to be skinny to suffer. Depression isn’t just about being sad and how many times you cry. It is not like physical illness, you don’t get a bandage or crutches. You often cannot see mental illness. But it can very much be there, despite of appearances. Just some food for thought.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Tests, Tests and More Tests

What a testing month it has been. Not only have been tested in several exams for my course, but my strength to keep fighting anorexia…and to keep fighting for a life has also been tested.

I’ll start with exams. I have spent the past two weeks doing exams and coursework…which means I have spent the past month with my head in books revising. I can’t say it’s been particularly enjoyable, revising for 8 hours a day everyday…even on Christmas day! But I’ve done it and thankfully the exams/coursework are over. I wasn’t hopeful for the results of my exams – I genuinely thought I had failed. There have been many tears, many “I can’t do it” and “I want to give up” and “I’ve failed” but I have passed and so for now, I carry on, albeit convinced that I will fail the next assessment.

So, for just over a month now my life has been taken over by preparing for these exams. Although, anorexia still likes to try and keep itself my number one priority. I was weighed by my nurse early in the new year. My eating hadn’t changed over Christmas (except for maybe eating a few Brussel sprouts), my exercise had stayed exactly the same…yet I stand on the scales and I’ve gained a kilo! An F***ing Kilo! I was distraught. Since August my weight has slowly been creeping up, for no apparent reason. I’ve cut things out of my diet but still, it continues to go up. So on the 2nd January 2018, tipping the scales a kilo heavier…the heaviest I’ve been in 10 years, I just felt in complete despair.

From then, it was a real struggle to concentrate on my work. All I could think about was my weight, how disgusting and repulsive I was to have let this happen…how dare I have allowed myself to eat Brussel sprouts when my weight was doing this. So, whilst everyone else is sat there helping themselves to an extra roast potato, or another chocolate from the box…I am wracked with guilt for having eaten 5 Brussel sprouts. Revision took a back seat as I tried to think about what I could cut out to lose the weight, what from my already reduced diet could I take out to reduce it even further?

I discussed it with my mum and we agreed on an amount to take out. She was very reluctant but in the state I was in we had to do something. And I would much rather do it openly than secretly, something that is very different to how I was before. And I am not trying to lose a lot of weight, just to get back to where I can cope with…to what was agreed would be my upper limit, to which I am now several kilos over.

But I hate anorexia for making me feel like this…and making me behave like this. Having to count every calorie that I eat, living in fear of gaining weight. And I know reducing my diet is not the best option, it is not the option that is going to help me beat anorexia or get a life…but it was the only option at the time that would enable me to carry on, to try and keep revising for my exams and not go full throttle back to complete restriction and quest to be skeletal. With all the other stresses in life, it is taking every effort to just manage anorexia. So for now, I am sticking with that. Management. I still hope for a life where I am free from its chains but that fight is not something I am up for at the moment. I will be in the future…but not right now.

And then there was also the situation with the dentist. Mid December I went to the dentist with toothache, similar to what I have experienced before so I was just hoping for some antibiotics. Boy was I in for a shock. He wanted to remove my wisdom tooth there and then. So as a good patient I agreed. I had no idea what it would be like, having never had tooth removal before. I can’t say it was a particularly pleasant experience, but over the years I’ve spent in hospital, I’ve dealt with much worse.

I spent the rest of the day revising, although it was difficult with the immense pain. 15 minutes into eating my dinner of soup, I passed out. The next thing I know I am on the floor with my legs in the air, my mum telling my dad to call an ambulance. The ambulance crew arrive, do some checks and try and sit me up. And I pass out again. The ambulance crew want to take me to hospital. I reluctantly agree…it’s not as if I have fond memories of going to hospital.

We bypassed A and E and were taken to a small waiting room with several other patients and their families. And that’s when anorexia really started to kick in. Firstly, I was made to feel a fraud for being in hospital when I wasn’t thin. At least when I’d been in before I’d barely been able to walk, now anorexia just made me feel like a fat failure. Then anorexia started to lure me in with its temptations. How nice it would be to be ill again, to have an escape from the stresses of life…to be too ill to barely breathe let alone think about trying to get qualifications and a career. Anorexia was luring me in like a dog to a bone.

As I sat there, anorexia convincing me how good it could make me feel, I looked at my parents sat beside me. And I was overwhelmed with guilt. All the previous times I have been in hospital I have been too out of it, too brainwashed and taken over by anorexia that I have lost a sense of reality. But whilst anorexia was now trying to convince me to escape the reality once more, I have been living in the real world for over 6 years, living in reality, and I could see how worried my parents were.

And then all I could think was how I could never do that to them again. As much as I sometimes think I want to go back to anorexia, I could never put my parents through it again. They were worried about me now having just passed out… I can only imagine how they must have felt when I could barely walk, or talk, or keep my heart beating. They have spent years by my side, in and out of hospital, always there for me no matter what. Anorexia has ruined the past 10 years of my life…it has also ruined theirs. And whilst not quite ready to try and beat anorexia, I am doing my best to manage it, to stop letting it completely ruin mine and their lives. I will beat it one day. But I have to manage it for now…hopefully this time next year I will have managed…and beaten it.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Let it Snow!

Snow…isn’t it pretty – when it settles on the rooftops and trees, people look out the window and feel excitement. So much fun can be had in the snow – building snowmen, playing on sledges, making snow angels…these are all activities I saw people doing last week when we had the snowfall. Everyone was out there having fun.

However, to me, snow is just an inconvenience. A real pain that just stresses me out. I hate it – How am I meant to do my daily power walking when the grounds are covered with snow? And then when the snow starts to melt, the grounds are covered in ice. The stress it causes is unbelievable! So while everyone else was out having fun in the snow or staying cosy inside as they looked out of the window at the pretty views, I dug out my wellies, loaded up my layers and went out for my 45 minute power walk.

As I pounded the streets and fields in 5-inch-deep snow, with little snow flurries blowing onto my frozen face, I thought “What the hell am I doing?” Who in their right mind tries to power walk for 45 minutes in these conditions? It’s utter madness. And for anyone who tries to tell me that anorexia is a choice – this is proof of the polar opposite.

No one would ever choose to do what I went out to do. I didn’t want to do it – I would never actually choose to do that – it was hell and I hated every minute. But I HAD to do it. There were no ifs or buts, I had to do my walk, no matter what, no matter how much I hated it or how much I wanted to cry while I was doing it, anorexia had taken over my head and was making me do it. it had complete control of my behaviour; I certainly wasn’t in any control of what I was doing.

Likewise, the day after, I went out for my powerwalk in the torrential rain. I was absolutely soaked, cars splashing me with muddy water, hands bitterly frozen. Absolute hell. But I had no choice. I can’t cope with the guilt, anxiety and fear with not walking so I have to do it. Anorexia wins. But it’s at times like this that I hate anorexia more and it makes me more determined to not let this become my life forever, to not spend the rest of my life marching round streets powerwalking in all conditions. I don’t want that. I hate it. and I hate anorexia for making me do it.

If another person was making someone do what I had to do in the snow and rain, there would be outrage for it being so cruel. But when it’s someones own mind making them do it, no one even notices. But it is not acceptable. And it is not acceptable for treatment for this illness to be so sparse, for treatment to only be offered when anorexia has literally driven you to the brink of death. Anorexia severely impacts in every aspect of a sufferer’s life. And even people who appear to function, who appear to get on relatively normally, can still have anorexia impinging greatly on daily life.

I’m going to keep fighting. I’m not going to be like this for the rest of my life. And to help me, I’m going to keep paying to see my therapist…because I’m not allowed this treatment on the NHS…because I’m not ill enough. But anyone who had seen me out walking in the snow would know that isn’t the behaviour of a ‘well person’. But not everyone can afford to pay for therapy like  I am and it is not fair that we are expected to live with serious mental illnesses, receiving no funding or treatment until we are ‘thin enough’ and our BMI ‘low enough’. No one would accept the abuse we suffer from anorexia from another person. Early interventions and better treatment for mental illness is needed. We need help to get us out of our blizzards. Not wait until we are completely snowed under before help is offered.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Say it Loud

“Say it loud, say it clear…It’s too late when we die.”

The words from a song by Mike and The Mechanics which came on the radio the day after my Grandad died nearly two weeks ago. And the words are very true. We can’t tell the people we love and care about we feel once we or they die. And I haven’t told the people in my life enough.

I have some wonderful memories of my Grandad from when I was a child – taking us to the park to feed the squirrels, listening to my sister and I endlessly singing as we repeatedly jumped off a wall into his arms, the parties on New Years Eve, the fun at Southend, playing board games for hours…and him sitting on Professor Plum from Cluedo and breaking the playing piece, always trying to give me a wet sloppy kiss on the cheek but me refusing…oh how I wish I hadn’t refused now.
Me with my grandparents and sister when we were younger

I look back with very fond memories. And I feel sad that life couldn’t stay that way, that we can’t freeze time. I also feel sad that for the last 10 years of his life I have spent the majority of that time either in hospital or being so preoccupied with anorexia that I never really took the time to see him much, that I never really took the time to tell him I loved him and that I thank him for helping make my childhood so happy and enjoyable. I’d like to think that he knows this, but it doesn’t stop me hating anorexia for ruining virtually all of my relationships with family and friends.

I can’t change the past but I can change the future. I am going to make every effort to not let anorexia seep in and further destroy relationships that I have started to rebuild. When I think about how I treated my mum and dad when in the deepest grips of anorexia, and virtually froze out all other family and friends – it’s devastating. And I hate myself now when I find I sometimes slip back into that old, horrible me…as much as I try not to…sometimes anorexia wins.

But I’m going to fight it stronger now. My family and friends, the ones that are still here and have stuck by me even though anorexia pushed them so far away – I am sorry and I am eternally thankful to you. It is their care and their love that keep me fighting anorexia. So please, tell the people that you love and care for how you feel – Say it loud. Say it clear…because they can go at any time…and it is certainly too late when we die.
My family and friends who mean the world to me. Thank you: 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Problems and Answers

“If only I could lose weight,” I said this week, “then I’d be able to cope with everything else a lot better.” This is what I said and it is genuinely how I’ve been feeling. The stresses of uni, the disappointment of a bad running session…you name it, everything is getting to me. And the stresses of life aren’t helped by the fact that I keep gaining weight, albeit by small amounts, but it is showing a general upward trend and I’m struggling to cope with that.

It’s bad enough gaining weight when it’s planned, when you know you have had a calorie increase, but when there’s no reason why, I’m not eating anymore, so why am I continuously gaining weight? That makes it really difficult. And with everything else going on in life it just feels a bit overwhelming. And my default mechanism – focus on weight and then everything else will feel better. If I can just sort my weight out, I can deal with everything else. However, my stresses then increase because I feel I can’t sort my weight out as it feels I only have to look at food at the moment and it makes me gain weight. That’s how I feel anyway.

It is at times like this that support from my family is so important. My mum is there as the voice of reason, when my head can’t be, telling me that my coping mechanism of losing weight is in fact absolute bollocks, doesn’t solve anything and doesn’t actually in the long run make me feel any better.

I look at young kids going to school, riding on their scooters or running along with their Disney lunch boxes and I think ‘God I wish I could go back to that. To go back to my childhood when everything was fun and stress free.’ When I’d play outside all day, every day with friends on weekends, when coming home from school meant watching Rugrats or Mary-kate and Ashely, when I could eat anything without thinking about it or feeling guilty. All that has gone. Adult life isn’t like that and this leaves me very depressed.

But it is possible to be happy and have fun as an adult. However, not when you have anorexia. I considered the possibility of going travelling, thinking this would be less stressful than dealing with daily life; an escape from reality. But as my sister pointed out - it wouldn’t matter where in the world I was, anorexia would still be there and I would still have my same troubles. Ultimately, it is anorexia making me stressed and unhappy and until I beat it, that won’t change.

One day I will beat it. not while I’m doing my Masters however, I am still holding onto my plan to try when I finish. This thought is terrifying and often I want to back-track and say actually, I’m alright as I am and that I really don’t need to gain weight. But the reality is that I’m not okay as I am. I’m not happy and in the 10 years I’ve dedicated to anorexia, life most certainly has not got better. And where anorexia feels like the answer to all my problems, my sister is right – anorexia is the cause. I refer to a saying I have used previously “to succeed in anorexia is to fail in life.”

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Bit in The Middle

So I’m nearly 3 months into Uni…I’m definitely back into the swing of it, with work coming out of my ear holes! It is still very stressful and there are many times when I feel I can’t do it, but I desperately want to make it to the end of the course so I’m going to keep slogging away. I really like the people on the course and it’s nice to have that social interaction again-to feel part of a group and have things in common…I like it and I like them.

It’s a million miles away from my last experience at Uni in Loughborough when I was isolated, with no one talking to me…or even smiling to me. Now I’m involved in conversations, laughing and joking. I have become a lot less reclusive than I was at Loughborough, I have changed a lot since then and I have worked really hard to do so-to make myself more sociable, to be able to just talk to other people.

Me and my friend out for dinner
Other progressions have happened recently as well. I met up with my friend in London last week and we went to the pub and a few weeks ago I went out shopping and for dinner with my other friend which was good…something little but of big importance to me-to go out with a friend and have fun. I have mentioned before how cheese has been my fear food for years and that last year and that last year I did try eating again on the odd occasion when I went out for pizza. So, when I went out with my friend a few weeks ago, I faced the challenge again and I had Halloumi! And it was delicious! This is not to say cheese doesn’t still scare, it does, and it scares me that I liked it. But I have to accept that it’s ok to like it and just because I like it, it doesn’t mean I’m going to end up eating masses of cheese every day and gain lots of weight.

That is my mind thinking all or nothing again. Either I don’t eat it at all or I will end up eating it all the time. But as my Psychologist is trying to teach me, there is middle ground…everything isn’t always one extreme or the other. But that is exactly how I think-everything is either perfect or awful. And because most things in my life aren’t perfect, I think they are bloody awful. This is a thought process we are working on changing.

Me going out with my friends these past few weeks is evidence of that. When I was at Uni in Loughborough, I would spend all my spare time studying, never seeing anybody or doing anything. A classic case of me doing ‘all or nothing’. I either had to study every spare minute of the day because otherwise I was convinced I would fail. I do still have that thought but I also don’t want to go back to that old routine and lose touch with the few friends I have managed to get back.

So I’m trying to find a balance…that ‘grey’ middle ground, studying enough but not overly excessively and certainly not to the detriment of friendships. Now that I have these couple of friends and can go out occasionally and enjoy myself, I’m not willing to sacrifice this. So here is the start of the search for middle ground and trying to accept that middle, average, normal…is okay.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Mental Health Awareness Day 2017

It’s Mental Health Awareness Day on Tuesday 10th October 2017. A day to raise awareness of mental health. 1 in 4 people every year suffer from mental health problems and more awareness and understanding is needed. But does it actually make any difference-an awareness day? That’s debatable.

For people that suffer with mental health issues like myself, it is not just about being aware for one day. Mental illness can affect people for months, years….and lifetimes. Mental illness is often so misunderstood and stigmatised that it can make the period of suffering, however long or short, very difficult.

There have been numerous occasions over the past few years when I have had abuse shouted at me in the street. “Are you a man?” and “Eat a burger” bellowed at me as I innocently go about my business. It beggars belief that people can think it is acceptable to say thing like that to anybody and it shows a complete lack of understanding of how comments like that can seriously negatively affect people suffering with mental illness, who already have shattered self-esteem and find it difficult to go out in public through fear of people staring or thinking they are different.

But these types of ignorant idiots are not alone. Recently, Amazon put a jumper up for sale with the slogan “ANOREXIA: Like Bulimia but with self-control” – absolutely disgusting, and research found that only 50% of people thought it was necessary for someone with an eating disorder to see a specialist. Seriously?! I wonder how many of those people would be happy to see a foot doctor when they were having serious heart problems? Trouble that could potentially kill them. Would they be happy to see someone who knew in great detail about in-grown toenails but very little about potential heart conditions? Probably not.

But eating disorders (and other mental health issues) continue to be deeply misunderstood, with many thinking a sufferer of anorexia chooses to be that way, that they simply choose not to eat because they want to be thin. And therefore they don’t warrant NHS treatment-they are not worthy of it because their condition is self-inflicted. And this could not be further from the truth. It is an illness of the mind and just like physical illnesses, there is no control over it and it can affect anyone at any time. And just like physical illnesses, it needs specialist treatment.

So is one day enough to make everyone aware and understanding of mental illness? I very much doubt it. It’s a start…but there’s a very long way to go before those with mental illness are not judged or discriminated against and instead shown compassion and an attempt to understand. But this is not to tar everyone with the same brush, many people do try to understand and show sympathy, support and help. And to those people – thank you. and I do appreciate it is very difficult to understand when you haven’t experienced it yourself. But there are still far too many people who are happy to remain blissfully ignorant and don’t want to know about it. I’m trying to help raise awareness and understanding – please help me.

Have a look at this link to see my article to try and start raising awareness and understanding of eating disorders

Monday, 25 September 2017

The Ultimate Success

So, I’m into my third week at uni. I can’t say it hasn’t been stressful – it certainly has. Mainly from all the work and assignments etc – it’s definitely been full on! There have been tears, lots of “I want to give up” and “I can’t do it.” But I continue to persevere. It is hard, there’s no doubting that and it’s a whole new experience and change from what my life has been these past few years. But I know that the things you want in life don’t come easy and you have to work hard for them. Which I am certainly going to do.

However, it would seem no surprise that under this time of change and stress that I have found myself thinking more ‘anorexically’, with restricting food creeping back in. I am very aware of it and whilst it hasn’t come to much at the moment, I know it is a slippery slope. You restrict a little bit here or there but justify it in your mind as ok because it’s only small. But it was enough to reassure you that you still have anorexia and it was enough to give you that addictive buzz; the buzz of knowing you can defy food. I haven’t felt that buzz in a long time but last week I did and it made me want to have it more. And that is dangerous. Little bits of restriction build up and before I know it I will back to losing weight…which is only going to end me up in one of two places – hospital or a coffin.

So the past few days I’ve made a real effort to force myself to have everything I am meant to. And I have. It’s bloody ultimate escape of anorexia seems so appealing in times of real difficulty to take me away from the stresses of life. But the ultimate escape does not lead to ultimate happiness. I’m back on track and I must give every effort to keep it that way. I want to achieve things in life, not have my only ‘success’ be that of being an anorexic. Because that would be the ultimate failure.

And I am having little successes. I really like the people on my course…and I chat to them! Yes me…who spent over 3 years at uni not talking to anyone, I’m now having lots of contact and conversations with others and enjoying it. And hopefully over the year, friendships will develop. I’m also succeeding in reducing my walking. The plan now is to reduce it by 5 minutes, 5 times a week, which I did last week. And I recognised my ‘blip’ and I’ve acted on it to try and stop it. Anorexia may feel like the ultimate escape but in fact it is the ultimate life sentence. And I’m going to keep rolling the dice for my ultimate double to get out of jail. The ultimate success.

Monday, 11 September 2017

A Night For A New Start

10 years ago, I was embarking on my journey at Loughborough, entering as a very nervous fresher, worried about making friends…looking forward to losing weight.

Obviously, things didn’t turn out as expected and over the 10 years I have literally been to hell and back and dragged my parents through it with me. But here I am 10 years later about to embark on my new journey, starting a Masters at St Marys university. It took hours, days and weeks of agonising to finally commit to St Marys and not go back to Loughborough. It was a very hard decision and most definitely not the easy option. Everything is going to be new and unfamiliar – I will be completely out of my comfort zone and writing this the day before I start my first official lesson on Monday 11th, I am absolutely terrified. I will always feel a tie to Loughborough and coming to St Marys is a big risk and I guess we will have to wait and see if it was the right decision.

A big milestone did happen on Friday night though which needs mentioning and one which made me so happy. I met up with my old uni friend for dinner in London and then went back to hers to stay the night. And it was bloody brilliant. Being able to sleep round a friend’s house has been something I have wanted to be able to do for the best part of a decade.
Me sleeping at my friends
To spend an evening with a friend, chatting and relaxing in front of the TV, to stay over for the night – it has always been a wish yet felt a million miles away. Firstly, I didn’t think I would have the friend(s) to do it with (but the return of this friend in my life last year has been wonderful) and secondly, I never thought I would be able to manage my anorexia to the point which would enable me to sleep round a friend’s house. This time two years ago, probably even one year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. The anxiety over food, exercise etc would have been too much – how I’d fit my eating plan around staying at someone’s house, how I’d fit my exercise routine in – I just wouldn’t have been able to cope and I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

But on Friday night I did it. Without much stress and with a lot of happiness. To most, sleeping round someone’s house is nothing out of the ordinary. To me, it is huge. And for me to be able to do it, to fulfil a decade long wish…something I have desperately wanted to do for so long but have been locked up by anorexia – it feels liberating, it feels incredible. A step towards unlocking my anorexic prison cell. And if I hadn’t chosen St Marys I wouldn’t have done it. I stayed over her flat because I had to register at St Marys on Saturday morning and she only lives 15 minutes away. So everything happens for a reason? Maybe. And whatever happens with my Masters and St Marys, I made a huge personal achievement on Friday night and that is just as important.

Monday, 4 September 2017

A Feeling Of Anxiety

Anxiety. What a horrible feeling. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go through life never feeling anxious, stressed or worried? Or at least not beyond the point that keeps us safe…as we need a certain amount of angst and worry to prevent us doing dangerous, harmful things. But life to me, particularly at the moment, just feels like one gigantic worry.

I worry about everything…and by everything, I do literally mean ‘everything’. And if I’m not worrying, I worry that I’m not worrying. I used to be quite laid back and never really let my worries and anxiety take over. But anorexia has changed that. Anorexia has made me incredibly anxious, although less so now than about 7 years ago when I was having constant panic attacks. But my three hospital admissions took a lot out of me and anorexia left me as a nervous wreck. I have come a long way since then-from being too scared to go into my house, or wear different clothes, or put food in my mouth; I have managed to tackle a lot of anxiety provoking situations, yet my daily life still seems overridden with worry.

Everyone develops coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and anorexia is my maladaptive one. When faced with a lot of stress, fear and worry, I turn to anorexia to help me cope. And this can be over ‘anorexic worries’ but also normal life worries. Anorexia helps me cope by isolating me, taking me out of the real world and away from all it stresses and giving me something else to focus on-weight loss, food and exercise. And yes, these in themselves bring a lot of worry and anxiety but I am used to dealing with them-they are familiar and safe and if I focus all my attention on that I know I can deal with them…and I won’t have to deal with real life. Take where I am at the moment as an example. I am due to start a Masters very shortly, at a new university, on a new course, with a load of new people…and I am absolutely terrified. My instinctive reaction is to run away, to run to anorexia and focus on that; to set about losing weight and taking myself away from the daunting real-life situation. That would most definitely be the easy option. Easy? Yes. Safe? Yes. An escape? Yes. But will it truly make me happy? No. I have tried it before and I know for a fact that no matter how much it tries to convince you that it will, anorexia never makes you happy. It doesn’t make everything better, even though it is so convincing in persuading you otherwise. So I need to try and develop new ways of coping with my stress and anxiety because whilst anorexia is the easy option, it is actually just the option that reinforces and strengthens my anxiety and worry.

Every time an anorexic behaviour is used to cope with and relieve anxiety, it reinforces that behaviour and makes the fears worse. I feel very anxious when I reduce my walking by 5 minutes (in line with my new plan as mentioned on previous blogs) and my reaction to deal with this anxiety is to either do the final 5 minutes or cut my calories. And when I did that, my anxiety did come down. But then I associate the relief of the anxiety with that anorexic behaviour and conclude that the only way to relieve anxiety is to do the anorexic behaviour. And this can be applied to any scenario. But as my psychologist explained last week, anxiety never keeps on just rising and rising. It will in time hit a peak and plateau, and then start to fall. But you have to sit with it. You have to let it rise without doing the anorexic behaviour to control it and bring it back down. Because it will come back down without the behaviour, it’s just I’ve never tried because as soon as I feel the stress rising, I do the anorexic coping behaviour.

So with starting at university next week, whilst my default coping behaviour is anorexia; I am going to fight this. And I am going to have to apply this to all areas of my life in order to stop reinforcing anorexia as a way to cope. Whilst anorexia may help me cope in the short term, I will never break free from my state of constant worry and anxiety if the anorexic coping mechanisms just continue to reinforce these…which they do. I don’t want to keep running away from things and missing out on life because anorexia made me too scared to do otherwise. I am about to start a new chapter in my life and as terrifying as it is, I am going to face it head on.

Monday, 28 August 2017

A Walking Battle

If you have been following my blog then you will know that about 6 weeks ago, I devised a plan with my psychologist, for me to try and reduce my daily 50 minute power walk by 5 minutes once a week and test how I coped with this and if I introduced any compensatory behaviours.

So, for the first time 6 weeks I picked my day of the week to walk for 45 minutes instead of 50. I chose a day when I knew I was going to be quite busy, in the hope that this would act as a distraction from the fact I was walking less. I set out in the morning for 45 minutes and agonised as the time came to an end, questioning whether I should just do that extra 5 minutes. I managed to force myself not to and then went off to London for an appointment at a university.

For the rest of the day I was majorly stressing over those five minutes; I was nervous, I was agitated, I had butterflies, my mind was in overdrive. I felt desperate to just do those last five minutes…that would make my mind so much easier to deal with, it would ease my stress and make everything seem more manageable. I kept resisting the urges and as the day passed by it was soon time for me to put my PJs on and have dinner, after which the option of going out for five minutes was no longer possible.

However, as much as I had fought the urges to go out for the final 5 minutes, the stress and anxiety was still so strong that my mind told me I had to do something. I couldn’t just decrease my walk and that be it. Even if I was capable of it, by doing so it would mean that I wasn’t anorexic and as it is at the moment, I still need to know that I have it even if it is just a small part.

So, for my evening snack I decreased my calories. Not by much…but enough to reassure myself that it compensated for not walking the final 5 minutes…and proved I still had anorexia. As this had been my first attempt, it set up the routine for the next few weeks on the days that I was due to reduce my walking. I had reduced my calories the first time so this meant I had to do it the next time…and the next…and the next. Each time it was still a very big struggle to not go out and do the final 5 minutes but then I would compensate in the evening with the reduced calories. I knew this was a bad habit I had gotten into and I knew it had to change. It’s just it is so difficult. Knowing I have done my 50 minute walk relieves my anxiety and the reduced 5 minutes set my stress levels off the scale…which reducing the calories helped with slightly. But this was not what I wanted – I didn’t want to substitute walking for calories but the anorexic voice had control of me.

For 4 weeks I reduced my walking by 5 minutes but with a compensation of fewer calories. The next time I saw my psychologist after those first 4 weeks, I explained to her what had happened and how I had felt. So, after discussion we decided to try again, acknowledging that reducing my walking was going to cause a lot of stress, was going to make me feel very uncomfortable but that the more I do it, the lighter these feelings will become and the easier it will be. But I have to be prepared to put up with those horrible feelings initially. And I am prepared to do so. Because I do want to have a less restricted, regimental routine – to walk if I want and not if I don’t. It’s a long way off but I have to start somewhere. And I have started.

These past 2 weeks after seeing my psychologist, I have picked one day a week to reduce my walking by 5 minutes and not compensate with cutting calories. And I am pleased to say that I have done it. Its’ been hard…really hard…and I have to fight the battle in my head to stop myself walking for another 5 minutes or reducing my calories but this is a battle I want to win. Yes, it makes me feel guilty, stressed and terrified but if I want my life to get a bit better, freer, less restrictive and exhausting then changing my attitude to exercise is a must. I can’t fight every aspect of anorexia at the moment – I do still feel like I need it, but I am making it slightly smaller and allowing other areas to grow. And it is small steps like this that will in time build and grow. This is a step toward anorexia becoming smaller…and life getting bigger and better.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Where's The Evidence?

“It makes me special. It gives me someone to be.”

“Without it you would be invisible?”

“Yes. I would be nobody. I would be non-existent in everyone’s lives.”

This was the conversation I had with my psychologist last week. I explained to her what anorexia gives me and she acknowledged that it is very much part of my identity. Following on from my feedback from my interview a few weeks ago, describing me as having ‘no personality’ and not being outgoing, I told my psychologist how this proves that I am completely unlikeable and boring – And this is why no one would want to be my friend…and why I need anorexia.

It is how I have felt throughout my life – feeling complete and utter hatred of myself and sheer unlikability. I described how I had friends throughout school but always felt on the edge, always felt left out. I also explained how when I went back to university after taking several years out due to hospital admissions, I completed the following 4 years without talking to anybody.

She asked about when I went away to university initially, whether I had found that difficult and if I had problems forming friendships. But actually, my first year of uni was different and I made really good friends and for the first time actually felt like I belonged. Ironic then that this be the time that anorexia took over. I started to feel left out, like they didn’t like me, that again-I was inherently unlikeable without any friends. So anorexia grew.

My psychologist questioned why I had felt like that, what evidence did I have that they didn’t like me? I explained that sometimes they would knock on each other’s bedroom doors before mine and of course, this meant to me that they didn’t like me as much. My psychologist explained that I am constantly looking for things that confirm what I believe and how I feel – I believe people don’t like me and prefer everyone else to me so I look for signs to confirm this. And ignore and dismiss everything else confirming the opposite.

“I had really good friends and we all got on really well.” My psychologist highlighted that this is what I had said initially. So she pointed out that this is evidence that I am not a completely unlikeable, boring person that no one likes or wants to be friends with. And having been at work for nearly 2 and a half years, I have made friends and got on well with them – another piece of evidence. And I see my other two friends from home/uni – evidence again.

But as my psychologist explained, I don’t acknowledge this evidence, I only look for that confirming my beliefs. She asked me if I ‘mirror checked’ and of course I do – I hate it…but I can’t help it. And what do I look for when I look in the mirror? Signs of fat, signs that my stomach sticks out and my thighs nearly touch…signs that confirm what I believe – that I am big.

I was never aware before that I did this – actively looking for evidence to support what I believe and how I feel. But now I can see that I do…and I do it A LOT, in every part of my life. However, as my psychologist explained, this means that I am always looking to support my core belief of self-hatred and unlikability; that this is the only evidence I ever acknowledge so I end up making these feelings even stronger. It is a vicious circle that continues to ensure I have absolutely no self-esteem.

So this is a habit she wants to help me try to change. To build up my pool of evidence that doesn’t support my negative view of myself. It feels a long way off – for me to start acknowledging that not everything in the world proves I am the worst person ever. Anorexia reinforces this negativity and that I can never be a person that people like so therefore convinces me that I must hold onto it. I can see that his chain of thought has to be broken but it feels like a near impossible task as it is such a deep, intrinsic belief. But I have to start somewhere and I am willing to try. Because I do want a life, I do want friends, I do want to start shaking these anorexic chains. And this is a terrifying prospect. But I cannot let fear stop me. As I said last time – the only things you regret in life are the risks you don’t take. I don’t want to be sat here in five year’s time regretting never to have tried fighting anorexia. I can’t fight it 100% of the time (not at the moment anyway) but I can start chipping away, making small changes…and one day I will get there.

Monday, 7 August 2017

How Do You Cope?

Before you start I would just like to ask you to read this blog to the end and not to give up half-way. I think it is important to highlight the struggles of living with and eating disorder and that ‘recovery’ doesn’t always involve two steps forward, that there are set-backs. However, there is always hope…and you must always fight.

Life can be cruel sometimes. Really cruel. In fact, I don’t know why I am saying ‘sometimes’ – my life seems to be a bitch all the bloody time.

I had an interview a couple of weeks ago for an internship alongside my Masters at Loughborough. I’ve been to several interviews over the last few months, always being rejected but I keep trying, keep applying, hoping that one time I will be lucky. So with this interview a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting to get it…and I didn’t.

And do you know what my feedback was? I showed no personality and wasn’t outgoing. Great. So everything I hate about myself she just confirmed to me in one blunt sentence. And these are things I can’t change – I know full well I have no personality, that I’m boring and not out going or chatty. But that’s just me and I can’t help it. And I’m not sure I can take much more.

There’s only so many times you can keep picking yourself up. I’ve been knocked down time, after time, after time and each time I try and get back up and dust myself off; forcing myself to keep going, to keep on trying. But now I feel knocked down harder than ever. Life and all its disappointments and knock backs are too hard.

My answer to all this? Anorexia? F***ing anorexia. I can’t cope with life so I run to anorexia. At least I can do that. And it protects me from having to face and deal with all the shit in life. It has never been so clear to me how much I use anorexia as my coping mechanism until now. But it seriously feels like that is my best option. Because life has become too much. Just focusing on weight and being thin – that’s what I know and it puts me back into a bubble where life can’t hurt and disappoint me. It feels like the easy way out and by god do I want to take it.

That’s how I felt when I wrote this last week. Complete despair, distress and disappointment, to which the answer had to be to give up. On everything. However, I went out for dinner with my old friend from uni on Friday and then on to a pub and I had a really nice time. More than that in fact - A brilliant time. And I also had a good time with my old school friend earlier in the week. Giving up on everything and going back to anorexia will just destroy these relationships which I have managed to rebuild and would porbably loose me two friends that I hold very dear. And they are two friends that I have wished to have for so long. So, whilst the feedback from the interview is still very upsetting, on reflection on the good times I had last week with my friends I am not going to give up on life. 
I still feel incredibly stressed about what to do in the next step of my life, what career, if to do a Masters and my depression is very much there at the moment. But I have got good things. Friends. And it is that I am going to hold onto. To help get me through this bad patch. I feel as if I am going through a mid-life crisis (although my friend suggested that it may be more of a quarter life crisis than a mid-life) and I have no idea where I am heading. My other friend mentioned fate. That everything happens for a reason. So maybe it was just a case that this internship wasn’t for me…but there might be something else…something better, round the corner. My sister sent me two quotes and they are good food for thought...

Monday, 31 July 2017

The End Of A Chapter

Five days a week for pretty much every week of the past 2 years and 4 months I have gone to work. I have spent more time at work than I have anywhere else and I have spent more time with the people there than I have anyone else. But on Friday 14th July 2017 it came to an end. I said goodbye to Tiptree and shut the door behind me.

This is a very scary prospect, making a major change in my life…and I am someone who doesn’t deal with change well. Working at the tearoom has been my life for over two years and to now step well out of my comfort zone, leave it behind and enter a new unnerving world is a daunting prospect. I am riddled with fear and anxiety, scared of the change, scared of leaving what I know behind, scared of entering the unknown. Have I made the right decision? Am I better off staying where I am with what I know? Am I capable of doing a Masters…do I even want to do one? These thoughts are continuously racing around my mind. But working in the tearoom isn’t what I truly want for the rest of my life…its safe and its familiar…but I don’t think it is what I want. This isn’t to say the job hasn’t been good for me…it has. It has helped me progress in ways I never thought possible. And I will be eternally grateful to it and the people there.
Before I started the job, I was all consumed by anorexia. I was securely locked inside my anorexic prison cell, engulfed by darkness with there seeming no light or no escape. Yes, I had been back to university and finished my degree but I had done so without talking to a single person there (and I was there for three and half years), I was still terrified of social situations and I was still having to obey my strict, regimental anorexic routine.

All my waking thoughts were focused on weight, calories and exercise. I was still maintaining my weight…I was a functioning anorexic. But whilst I functioned, I was consumed with the thoughts, battles and worries in my mind. I was living in torture. I was locked in this cell with my mind tortured by anorexia.

I was desperate to have a job in a tearoom and after many failed job applications and interviews, I finally got the job where I have been for the past 2 and a bit years. You don’t notice change much when it happens gradually over time but comparing myself now to how I was then, I can’t quite believe what a difference it is.

My job gave me a focus, something else to think about. I could be there sometimes for over 9 hours a day and in that time anorexia would not get a look in. My every second thoughts of weight, calories and exercise were pushed to the back of my mind and it felt incredible to be liberated from this…to have that time in my day when I was at work and I didn’t have to think about anorexia. I was wracked with guilt for this at first when I had a day off or got home from work. “How dare I not think about anorexia all the time?” My head would shout at me. But overtime this eased. And it has actually become normal to not think about it that much. Most of the time now it doesn’t get much thought. The job has helped me to think about other things, to make anorexic thoughts quieter. Yes, never a day goes by when I don’t have anorexic thoughts shout at me, but they are more independent, sporadic bursts rather than a continuous barrage all of the time.

With my job, I have also stopped weighing myself in-between seeing my nurse. Previously, I was weighing myself every day, obsessed with the numbers and utterly distressed at any slight fluctuation up. But my job made me too busy, made me want to think about other things and made me want to start living life and unlocking the prison cell. And now I only get weighed once every 2 weeks, and yes, I still hate it if it goes up. I have gained approximately 3kg since I started work. This has been unintentional and I have been very distressed when I have hit new high numbers, often arriving at work in floods of tears. But it seems to have settled and I have had to come to accept this new higher weight. It has been very difficult but ultimately, I knew I prefer my life as it has come to be-with going to work, going out and talking to people, starting to socialise and make friends,  having time when I wasn’t engulfed by anorexia. And if this meant I had to stay this little bit heavier then I would rather do so than lose a bit of weight and lose everything I had started to get in my life.

The other major impact the job has had on me has been socially. Previously unable and terrified to talk to people, I now chat and have conversations with people at ease, talk about everything and anything with the people at work and my old friends that I had lost touch with, go out for the day, go out for meals. I am still not as social and chatty as I want to be but I have come such a long way from where I was.

So saying goodbye to the job and all the lovely people there has been very difficult. I am terrified of the future and leaving behind what I know and what has helped me so much. My life is so much better now to what it was. It is still a long way from where it needs to be but the key to my anorexic prison cell has definitely started turning and I am rolling the dice in my game of Monopoly waiting for the double to break me free from jail. And with saying goodbye to Tiptree? Maybe I have to shut this door to open the next.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A Plan

I have a plan. Quite a scary plan…but I have one in place. This is a plan regarding my exercise-more precisely, my daily walking. I have explained before about my daily walking regime-50 minutes of power walking that must be done no matter what. Not just for weight regulation and calorie burning, but also for a sense of control, to prove to myself that I still have discipline and determination. But this is not something I want to have to do for the rest of my life (well-the un-anorexic side of my head says this). I want to feel free with exercise- to do it if I chose to, not because I have to. Not because anorexia is making me too terrified to break away from it, to scared to dare to change.

I met with my old psychologist from The Priory last week. I paid for this privately and I have to say that it was money very well spent…although I don’t see why I should really have to pay for this because my local team doesn’t provide adequate services on the NHS. There is a psychologist in my local trust, who I have seen on numerous occasions but on most recent visits, I found myself getting quite frustrated, and she was as well, because she couldn’t understand where I was coming from and found the conflicting views in my head quite confusing.  But she is not an eating disorder specialist so it is probably understandable that she finds it quite confusing. However, my old Priory psychologist is a specialist in eating disorders and she just ‘got it.’ She understood me completely and even when I couldn’t explain myself properly, she knew what I meant. She knows about living with eating disorders, recovery, treatment…everything. And it felt a huge relief to talk to someone who was understanding and realistic.

So after much discussion, we developed a plan…or more of a ‘test’ really, to start to address my exercise obsession. This test is for one day a week, to reduce my walking by five minutes. Now, my NHS psychologist had suggested reducing my walking by 5 minutes a day and to control my anxiety with reassuring thoughts such as ‘I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life so it is the right thing to do’, and to remind myself of this to stop me doing any compensatory behaviours, such as reducing my calorie intake. On coming away from this session, I wasn’t sure as I was capable of doing what she had asked, as I explained in a previous blog.

But this new plan with my Priory psychologist, this ‘test’- it felt do-able. So it was for a 5 minute reduction once a week, until the next time I see her on 27th July. She understood the struggles and anxiety that would come with it, but rather than just tell me to think in a certain way to stop and overcome this and any compensatory behaviours, she proposed that this is a ‘test’-to see how it makes me feel, how it makes me want to respond. And once we know this, we will have something to work on. With regards to the compensatory behaviours, she explained that it doesn’t matter if I do them. I am testing how this reduced walking makes me behave and think, whether it does make me want to introduce compensatory behaviours and whether or not I can control these or if I do respond to them. And if I do respond then that’s ok, because we are just testing and we can develop an appropriate plan according to my ‘test results’.

So I am going to give it a go. Because it is just a test to see what happens…and it doesn’t actually matter what does happen whereas before it did. Before I had to cut it down and get it right which just seemed impossible. This test is the first step on a very long journey on my battle with exercise. At the moment, I have to do my walking to the exact second-not a moment less. So this is going to be a huge challenge. I have no idea how it is going to go but I am going to take that first giant leap. I will keep you updated.

Monday, 3 July 2017

A Big Decision

I’ve come to a big decision this week. A big decision. Ive felt a bit up and down-at times quite depressed, directionless and hopeless. But I have thought about the ‘what if’s’ to different scenarios, the pros and cons, and it has helped me come to a difinive decision.

I had been doubting whether I should do a Masters as planned in October, or even if at all. when I study, I commit to it 100%, allowing no time for anything else. And I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to do that again…to lose yet another year of my life. ‘My Memories’ on Facebook showed my prom from 10 years ago-“My God, how was that 10 years ago?” I thought. Little did I know back then that my world was soon to be turned upside down, facing years of battling with life and death.

Me and my friends at our prom 10 years ago, who I have just got back in touch with

I don’t want another 10 years to pass me by like that. It has really been getting to me recently that I am nearly 30. I feel so far behind everyone else my age in terms of life experience, mentality and independence. I really started to think that I cannot lose any more time. so is it worth doing a Masters? Can I really try and start a career at the age of 30, which is how old I will be if I finish in October 2018? Is it too late? And is it worth spending a year of my life with my head in a book?

But, as my mum said, if I don’t do a Masters I will be left with a void-and that’s not good for me…in fact, its dangerous and allows anorexia to grow. And I do want a decent job and a career. As much as I like the people at my current job, it has burnt me out. It is not a job for life and it is not a career. Without my parents, I could not support myself from my current job, it would not be sufficient to live on.

However, another more prominent and important issue arose as I was contemplating my Masters fate. What if I decide soon that I want to gain weight and try and start the recovery process? One thing I was certain of was that I could not do a Masters; which would be all encompassing, and try to gain weight; which too would be all encompassing and would need all of my commitment and energy. But can I let my life stay on hold, still in the prison of anorexia while I do a Masters and for the however long afterwards?

As my mum explained, recovery and weight gain is an idea I have been toying with for a while and not one I have felt able to commit to. And as it stands, I still don’t feel like I would be able to do it right now. But then there is still that issue of losing another year, of turning 30, of most of my life lost to anorexia.

As I at watching the athletics in Birmingham, thinking about my life over the past 10 years and what the next few years may hold and it suddenly just clicked in my head.

Right now I am not ready to approach weight restoration. But I can do a Masters. If I want the career I hope for, I need a Masters to do so and as much as I hate studying and the time it takes, the sooner I do it the sooner it will be over and a year spent doing a Masters is not a wasted year when I don’t feel ready for anything else. So in October 2017 I plan to start my Masters, to hopefully finish in October 2018, when I will be 30.

But the biggest decision of all? when I finish my Masters in October 2018, I am going to commit to weight gain. That’s it. ive made the decision. I AM going to do it. I don’t feel ready now but this gives me a year to get used to the idea and plan how I am going to approach it and cope with it. I like plans- I find it easier knowing what I am doing and when. And you may be thinking-how can you just say that in a years time you will do that? If you can say it for then, then why cant you do it now? And if a am perfectly honest with you, I cant truly explain it. but it was like a lightbulb moment. Like all of a sudden it just made sense in my head. I would not be able to restore weight and try and recover now. But planning it out in my head- I will be 30, I will hopefully have a Masters, I will want to start a career and approach adult life…it will be a new chapter and one in which I must tackle anorexia. I cant do it now but I MUST do it then. And October 2018 will come round quickly…this past year has flown by. And now I have made that plan I am 100% going to stick to it. no more wasting time, no more years passing me by.

And while I am doing my Masters, I am going to concentrate on other apsects of ‘recovery’ that aren’t as encompassing and daunting as weight gain, that I can tackle alongside studying, so that I am still making progress on the road to recovery. Changing my relationship (more truthfully, obsession) with exercise is first on my list and which I am sure is going to take a long time to change. To reach the point where I am at liberty to exercise if I feel like it, not because anorexia tells me I have to, for it to be ok to not have to walk for a set amount everyday…that is the goal and what I want to work on. I also want to tackle my rigidity with food and calories, to eat more spontaneously and because I fancy something, not because it is a number. I am due to see my old therapist from The Priory this week and these are the things I am going to tell her I want to work. So if I can work on these issues, and study for my Masters, it will be a productive, not a wasted year.

So the decision is made. I am going to weight restore. Not right now, but in the near future. It feels very scary…it is life changing. But it has got to be done. I am going to tackle my Masters and non weight related issues with anorexia as of now (well, I have to wait until October for my Masters) and then 100% in October 2018-I am going to do it. now writing it down I feel scared and I like I want to change my mind. But I cant. I have to do it. and I will. From here on in it could possibly be the biggest few years of my life.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Friends Re-United

Sometimes it feels as if I am going to go through the whole of my life without any real friends. The years of being in hospital and the years of commitment to anorexia has not allowed much room for friendships. I lost most of the friends I had and I find it very difficult making new ones.

I only really have one friend to speak off-my old friend from uni who I started seeing again last year-who I cherish. We still continue to see each other about once a month and I love meeting up with her, having a chat and a catch up. Being the only friend I have, these moments are savoured.

However, last week I hope, was the start of a rekindling of an old friendship. I went out for dinner with an old friend from school. We had kept in touch vaguely through my years in hospital but near the end of my last admission we saw a bit more of each other and continued to do so the following few years after discharge. however, for nearly three years now we hadn’t been in touch-not through any falling out, just a case of life and struggles getting in the way.
Me with my friend last week
The past few months we had been in touch via text a couple of times and then last week, as I said, we went out for dinner. And I cannot tell you how nice it was. We are both quite different from the last time we met-I have come a long way these past few years and I realise that actually back then, it was probably very difficult for her to know what to say and how to act around me. but anorexia is sitting slightly smaller in my life now than it was then and I think that makes it much easier for me to socialise relatively ‘normally’.

I felt very regretful for the years I didn’t keep in touch with her but I have to accept that I cannot get that time back but I can control the future. And I hope that now we have met back up, it will be the start of a new, old friendship that can grow even stronger. That is what I want. And I have also been back in touch last week via text with a friend of ours who I lost touch with but to whom she remained good friends. Friends don’t grow on trees and now I have a few back in my life, I hope to keep them…and I won’t go through my whole life without any real friends.