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.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

What People Don't Know

So it’s been 10 years since I first went into hospital. 10 years since my skeletal body that could barely put one foot in front of the other looked up at the flight of stairs leading to Phoenix Wing, the eating disorder unit at St Ann’s hospital. I had no idea how I was going to make it up those stairs and I had no idea what was going to be waiting in store for me at the top.

Me 10 years ago
After about 20 minutes, I had finally made it to the top of the 20 stairs, my legs crumbling beneath me. When I entered the doors I though to myself, “I’ll do what I have to, I’ll gain weight, leave in a month or so and everything will go back to normal and I’ll get on life.” How wrong was I! Here I am, a decade later, still tortured by that poisonous devil called anorexia. It’s not quite as strong as it was but it still has the power to control me, to torture my mind and to limit and restrict my life.
Most people don’t know what it’s like living with anorexia. They just think it means that you’re thin and you don’t like eating. People often don’t realise that actually, you can spend years in hospital with an eating disorder and that it can completely and utterly destroy your life. I have spent my fair share of time in hospitals – near enough 3 years. But the eating disorder doesn’t just disappear when you leave. And leaving is when the real battle starts. You have to try and live life whilst fighting this ‘thing’ in your head. To not give into the urges of anorexia is so bloody hard and trying to juggle living life, with a head that doesn’t want to live life – it’s like trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle that just doesn’t fit.

You also have to try and fit back into a world that has moved on without you. when you suffer with anorexia, particularly when you are in hospital, time in your world freezes. For my first hospital admission I was 19, for my last I was 23. Everyone I knew had moved on with life. And even since my last admission – yes, I’ve been living in the ‘real world’ but I haven’t lived the normal life of someone in their 20’s. Anorexia doesn’t allow that. And, having gained weight this past year (unintentionally), people assume you must be getting better. But the head is a long way behind the body.

People just see the thin (or not so thin) person that doesn’t eat much. They don’t see the constant daily exercise, the constant thoughts of food and weight, what they can eat, what they can’t eat, what they want to eat and what they are terrified of eating. They don’t see the tears that down stream most evenings with exhaustion and desperation of feeling locked up by anorexia. They don’t see the loneliness and fear of daily activities, the arguments with loved ones because of anorexia, the sitting down to meals and feeling sheer panic that the portion is too big. They don’t see the difficulty concentrating because of the voice in the head telling them they are fat, repulsive, greedy and that every waking moment should be spent on a mission to lose weight and the overwhelming feeling of guilt for not doing so. They didn’t see the panic attacks that, when in hospital, used to happen about 5 times a day and even now, years later, when going about normal life – catching a train, sitting in lessons, that feeling of a panic attack about to happen can surge over me. They didn’t see the two emergency blood transfusions because of the internal bleeding caused by the damage anorexia had made me do to my body. They didn’t see that stash of antidepressants which, 7 years ago, I had been storing for my suicide. People just don’t see how hard it is living with an eating disorder.

Me now
So when people think about anorexia and just assume that ‘you are thin and don’t like eating’, they couldn’t be more wrong. For one, weight is not a determinant of anorexia. Just simply gaining weight does not mean you are better. The urge to lose weight now is stronger than its been for years. I’m 3.5 stone heavier now than I was a decade ago, but my head is still trying to catch up. Yes, I do think about recovery now which I didn’t 10 years ago, but I also still very much think about losing weight, imaging how good it would feel to be skinny gain. And it’s made all the harder because of a lack of eating disorder treatment for anyone who is not a walking skeleton. And this needs to change, as do the stigmas and stereotypes of eating disorders. Training doctors only receive 2 hours of study dedicated to eating disorders. Is it any wonder that most people don’t understand them or know what they are about, or that they just assume it is ‘thin people who don’t like to eat much?’

And for those who are also suffering, don’t give up. Recovery (certainly in my case) is not a one-way street lined with beds of flowers. It is a hard slog up a mountain and sometimes boulders roll down and knock you back. I have been knocked back – my head is struggling, and I hate my body more than I’ve hated it for years. And this isn’t to be depressing – it’s for all the other sufferers who feel the same, whose recovery isn’t a straight forward path back to health and happiness. This is ok…but don’t give in. As tempting as it is and as much as you want to run back to the safety of anorexia, you must keep fighting. I certainly will. The last 10 years have been hard, very hard. I don’t know what the future holds but I’m not going to give up hope. In the words of Heather Small: “You’ve got to search for the hero inside yourself, until you find the key to your life.” It will take a hero to beat anorexia. But we can do it.

Monday, 26 March 2018

A Juggling Act

I always knew doing a Masters would be hard work, really hard work. And I was right. At the moment, my stress levels are through the roof, with deadlines on top of deadlines, coursework and assessments coming out of my ear-holes, not to mention having to start my dissertation – the biggest stress of it all!

I put my head down and I try to get the work done. It’s tough. Trying to find the time to fit everything in. Not only is it a question of trying to find the time to do the work, but also trying to find the time to manage my mental illness alongside – suffering with anorexia takes up a lot of your time, not just in living with the condition itself and everything it entails but also in trying to manage it. Hours of my day are lost to managing my mental illness – keeping anorexia satisfied but also not letting it take over.

I have managed to see friends on the odd occasion whilst in this juggling act. I don’t want anorexia…or my studies to stop me seeing friends, even if it is now only for a limited time due to coursework demands. In the past, friends have always come second place to anorexia…and also my studies but again, this is something I am trying to balance better. As it stands today (and for the past year or so), I would never sacrifice my friends again for anorexia. It has taken a long time to re-gain the couple of friends that I have and I am not prepared to lose them again. However, at the moment, coursework and assessments are taking priority. When I was completing my degree from 2011-2015, I was not prepared to sacrifice any study time to see anybody (not that I really had anybody to see). And whilst studies are still taking priority, if an opportunity arises to spend a bit of time with friends, I’m trying to make myself take them, not turn them down, because ultimately, friends are more important and what I have wished to have for so long.

Me with my friend in the nightclub

So I’ll let you know what I’ve done. Firstly, I went out to a nightclub for my friend’s birthday…the first time I’ve been to a nightclub in years! Was I scared and daunted? Very much so. Not just with the prospect of going out to a nightclub, but also with being with her other friends - people I don’t really know. But did I enjoy it? Very much so. To be out, having fun, doing normal things – I’ve missed out on all that. It really hit me that evening how I have virtually lost of all my 20’s. The time when you are meant to be going out and having fun – being young and free – I wasn’t. I was locked up by anorexia (and also locked up by hospitals for several years). And that is a decade of my life I will never get back. And yes, it made me feel sad, very sad…but it made me more determined to not let the next 10 years go by in the same way. Because that can so easily happen. The years tick by and before you know it, you are 10 years older and still living by the rules of anorexia.

As terrifying as fighting anorexia and leaving it behind is, the thought of being 40 and still imprisoned by this devil – that’s even scarier. So I resolved to stick to my plan formed nearly a year ago now, that when I finish my Masters I am going to have to tackle recovery head on. No more ifs and buts or waiting for the right moment – I’ve just got to do it.
As well as the nightclub, I have also been out for dinner with 3 of my friends from my course at uni. That too was really nice, the first time we have done anything socially outside of uni. I have also been to a friend from my running group’s birthday party – again, I had a good time, despite not knowing many people. If you had asked me a year ago to go to a party where I wouldn’t know many people, or go out for dinner with people I haven’t known for too long, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I’d of been too scared, too nervous, too fearful of going out of my comfort zone and I would have found excuses not to go. But I’d of missed out – again. And it feels good to go to these things now and not miss out. Ok, there is still a lot I do miss out on but you’ve got to start somewhere right? And it isn’t to say that these things don’t still daunt me – they do. But life has started to get a little bit better since I started taking more opportunities, putting myself out there, sometimes saying no to anorexia.

Me with my two friends from school
And last but by no means least – I met up with my friend (who had the birthday party in the nightclub) and my other friend from school who I have lost touch with over the past couple of years – another friendship anorexia got its teeth into. It was so nice to see her again, I just wish I hadn’t let anorexia strip me of such a good friend. But we are back in touch now and I’m determined to keep it that way. I am now in a position where I truly feel and will happily say, that when it comes to friends and friendships – anorexia can bugger off! 10 years ago, anorexia was my best friend. I wanted nothing else in life, nothing else mattered as long as I had my best friend anorexia. Everyone else could bugger off and leave me and anorexia alone. That is how I felt for years. And the outcome of that? Over a decade of misery, isolation, reclusiveness and torture. Hovering on the brink of death. It took me a long time to realise that it wasn’t everyone else that was the enemy, but anorexia itself. Given the chance, anorexia will destroy everything. I am not going to give it that chance again.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Facts and Fiction

I thought anorexia was a thing…like, a good thing. I didn’t know it was a mental illness, I just thought it was a term used to describe someone who was thin, who was good at resisting food. Willpower, strength and thinness…the things I was desperate for. And I was desperate to be able to call myself anorexic.

That was over 10 years ago now, when I had no idea what in fact anorexia, or ‘being anorexic’ truly meant. I learned about it during my A-Level Psychology lessons. Not in any great detail, just about the signs/symptoms and the potential biological/environmental triggers. A 2017 study found 34% of British adults could not name a sign or symptom of an eating disorder, and 77% of those that could, could not name a psychological symptom. Yet eating disorders are mental illnesses.

And when I was studying eating disorders during my A-Level Psychology, the one thing it really taught me was that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough yet to be considered to have anorexia. The symptoms we learnt about in Psychology were generally the physical signs – weight loss, being underweight, refusing to eat normally. Well, I wasn’t any of that, so I wasn’t good enough. And I was determined that had to change. And university would be my opportunity.

So you can see from that I was clearly being gripped mentally by anorexia…but the physical signs weren’t there. And the thoughts got stronger and stronger until I finally went away to university and could put the thoughts into action. And our country fails us. Fails to treat us immediately when signs and symptoms are displayed. The average wait between displaying signs and receiving treatment…what do you reckon? What do you think would be an acceptable time-frame from displaying the symptoms to receiving treatment from the deadliest mental illness?

Well I can tell you it’s 3 years. And that is just appalling. Not only are signs and symptoms not recognised, but when they are recognised we are told they are not severe enough, that we are not quite thin enough to be granted any help. So eventually, when we have lost enough weight that we are blue lighted to hospital, anorexia has such a strong hold, and has done so much damage to our bodies that it makes recovery seemingly impossible.

As I said at the start – I thought anorexia was just ‘a thing’. And yes, anorexia had poisoned my mind and actually made me feel happy when people told me that I had it (although it also made me believe that I wasn’t good enough at it and had to do it better). But I was also convinced that this ‘thing’ this ‘anorexia’ was just something I would do for a couple of years and then stop. But anorexia (and all mental illness) does not work like that. It is not something we choose or can stop at the snap of a finger. Anorexia takes away all choices and it will never let you stop. Not without help anyway. And that help needs to come sooner than 3 years if we have any chance of survival.

It has been over 10 years now since I displayed the physical symptoms of anorexia…many more years with the psychological. And yes, I have received some good help in that time (and also some very bad) but now, not being in hospital and not being severely underweight means the continued support and treatment isn’t there. And this needs to change as well. The average sufferer waits 3 years to get any help and as soon as they put on a bit of weight and leave hospital (demonstrating a reduction in the physical signs), they are left to fight the psychological symptoms alone again. But living life as a ‘functioning anorexic’…that is no life. And it is not just ‘a thing’. Before you know it, years, decades have been lost to anorexia…the evil plague of the mind. Immediate…and continued help is needed.

The lyrics from a Girls Aloud song seem very relevant here:

My life got cold
It happened many years ago...
And long ago 
I lost my soul
To some forgotten dream and
How was I supposed to know
It wasn't what it seemed

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.