Eating Disorders Awareness Week

26th Feb this year is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Check out some blogs I’ve written, I’ll be posting more during the week!

If you’re wanting some general info about anorexia, try reading this blog, everything from diagnosis to treatment of anorexia.

If you want to learn more about eating disorders, it might be worth watching To The Bone on Netflix but check out my thoughts first, some of it is brilliant, other bits, not so great! To The Bone review

I worked hard to recover from depression and anorexia, I couldn’t have done it without my faith, read more about it here: How my faith helped me recover from mental illness

If you’re wondering if recovery is worth it, sometimes it’s worth thinking about the long term effects, it’s not easy reading but here’s my blog about some long term effects of anorexia

Insomnia is a common problem with all mental health diagnoses, when my anorexia was at its worst, I wanted to sleep and I didn’t want to sleep at the same time! Here’s why: Anorexia haunted my dreams

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Talking is key

So sorry I’ve not published a blog for a long time. Basically I’ve moved house and I’ve changed jobs – 2 of the most stressful things anyone can do!

It’s blogging that appears to have taken a back seat, not a conscious decision but none the less, it’s happened and I’m now working to rectify this!

My job change has only been to a different department within the same hospital but there have been a lot of changes, not least a massive change in hours. I have been used to working shifts which, although you can’t form a routine, there are huge benefits, for example, having time off during the week! I was working 3 long days (out of the house before 7am, home after 8pm), but this would mean I had 4 days off a week! In my new job, I work 8-4, 5 days a week, great if you like a regular routine but I’ve lost a lot – commuting an extra 2 days per week stole 2 hours of my life and in admin, you get 1/2 hour unpaid lunches, another 2.5 hours taken from my week!

Other changes, of course, include working with different people, managing a very different style of work, managing my own work load and prioritising. I’m also working in an office for the first time and I’m experiencing some, apparently normal, office culture, such as an ongoing conversation about food, weight and dieting!

The stress of moving house is immense, the physical moving went pretty well but there’s so much paperwork involved and money, a lot of money!! It’s mostly over but I’m still working my way through the infinite list of people who need to know my change of address, and decorating and DIY have become an ongoing fixture in my life!

It’s a very confusing time as these positive events happen, I ‘should’ feel happy but it’s important to acknowledge what’s been lost and no matter how positive the change is, everyone finds change difficult.

Managing these life events a few years ago, I would definitely have needed time of work and there’s a high chance I would have ended up in hospital.

The last few months have been highly stressful BUT, I have remind relatively health and not ended up in hospital!

So what’s changed?!

I think the title of this blog says it in one! I now talk about how I’m feeling, about what I’m thinking and about what I’m struggling with. Previously, I have not had the language or emotional understanding to explain the knot in my stomach is related to anxiety or that the tension in my shoulders, causing migraines is related to worries I don’t know how to solve.

Often it’s difficult to know how to start talking but my husband and I find a good start is “I don’t know what’s going on but…” or simply “can we talk about…” the conversation then moves naturally from there even if it’s in a stop-start way, we manage to talk about anything and everything! Although we like to solve each other’s problems, we’ve learnt that ‘just’ listening is often what we want from each other, but we do have to remind each other that’s what we want – we don’t expect each other to mind read!

When trying to talk, it’s ok to say “I don’t know how I feel” or “it just doesn’t feel right”. Not every conversation has to go all deep and meaningful, it’s ok to not have the exact words but it’s important to say that. Starting to talk is the hardest thing but expressing our thoughts and feelings is important, no matter how jumbled it is, not just for our own mental wellbeing but for the good of our relationships.

I snapped at a colleague the other day, not like me at all! But, I took a deep breath and apologised. I didn’t need to poor my heart out to her, I just said “I’m sorry, I’m stressed about other stuff and I didn’t mean to take it out on you” I felt better for having said what was going on for me and the mood in the room lightened immediately.

It’s best not to take our stresses out on others people but sometimes this is inevitable, if we spend a lot of time around someone, they’ll get the sharp end sometimes. But emotional intellect is about being about to take responsibility for our feelings, for our actions and how we impact others. Apologies may be hard but being honest about our feeling helps mould healthy relationships (and helps you move on from unhealthy ones).

Today is Time to Talk Day with Time to Change. Let’s use this as a opportunity to, not only raise awareness of mental illness, but also to forge more honest, deeper, healthier, more meaningful relationships by talking about what really matters to us!

The Liebster Award

Thanks Lexydragonfly for nominating me for this Liebster Award! Yes, it’s a little bit like a chain letter, so click away now if you’re not interested but I think it’s a fun way to find out about other blogs and a great way to help each other get our messages out to a wider audience 🙂 So, I answer some questions set by Lexy Dragonfly then I nominate some people, set them some questions and we all get to learn a bit more about each other.

1. What makes you roll your eyes every time you hear it?

“No offense but…”, “In the nicest possible way…”

Saying these things does not give you carte blanche to be as offensive, rude or insensitive as you like!

2. What movie or TV show had the most profound felt on you and why?

The English Patient makes me cry every time. It’s a tail of bravery, kindness and pure selflessness that we just don’t see day to day. I hate war, it’s stories like this that show us the human aspect of why war is not the answer and never will be.

3. What are you interested in that most people aren’t?

The movement to raise mental health awareness is growing pretty big but most people out there still think it isn’t relevant to them. Within the mental health world, were all singing the same tune but I’m desperate for the other 3/4 people who don’t think it will touch them to wake and realize it will, at some point!

4. When did something start off badly for you but in the end, it was great?

Bit of an odd one, maybe. When I got divorced, not only was I seriously unwell but I actually thought my life was over. Turns out, my soul mate was just waiting for me, for the right time and now I’m more happy than I’ve ever been (with a new husband!)

5. What are you curious about?

The human mind, we know so little about it!

6. Would you rather live in the country or the city? Why?

I’d definitely rather live in the country, I love open views and space. I also love the village community life.

7. What brings you comfort and calm?

Stroking my cats. Being wrapped in our massive blanket.

8. If you were going to bury a time capsule, what would you put in it?

I have no idea! I guess, photos and some basic tech, maybe a cassette! Over time, it’s how we look and technology that changes the most.

9. Is there a story behind the name of your blog?

It’s simple really, in order to get better from mental illness, I had to be more mindful, not just in the practice of mindfulness but in the everyday, noticing how I was feeling, being aware of triggers, being careful of my impact on others. And I consider myself not just a survivor of mental illness but of the mental health system, it was not and is not working well, at times I was driven to despair, not only through my illness but because the support that should have been there just wasn’t. So I consider myself a Mindful Survivor 🙂

I nominate:

Ele

Living Past Depression

Fighting The Demon Anorexia

My Quiet Roar

Maha Khan

Please answer these questions:

  1. What made you start blogging?
  2. What’s your favorite quote and why?
  3. If you could meet anyone (including history and fiction) who would it be and why?
  4. What makes you cry?
  5. How do you celebrate?
  6. Roller coasters or country walk? Or both?

It’s just a bit of fun!

Why do we need rewards to look after ourselves?!

After my recent ankle arthroplasty I struggled with the expected pain, a lot of it but it was bearable. I was working hard at my physio and doing more, she told me I would obviously experience more pain but it really wasn’t feeling right, she told me to persevere but I don’t think she really understood how much pain I was in. I may have a low pain threshold but I have a very high pain tolerance. I experience a lot of pain, I just get on with my life but that doesn’t mean it’s ok or that I’m ok with it! It’s hard to know where to draw the line, how do you know, when you’re rehabilitating, how much pain is too much pain? I was pretty much told, I should keep exercising but absolute agony was the line at which I should stop!

Speaking to a colleague about his painful knee has had me thinking. He was injured 4 months ago and because he didn’t make a fuss when he first went to A&E he’e been through months of pointless pain, finally culminating in an MRI that concluded he needed surgery. He’s been thinking he should have made more of a fuss, if only he’d limped into A&E stating he was in agony, he would have had an MRI within days and surgery so much sooner. Those of us that don’t complain so often don’t get what we need.

I’ve been wondering if I was experiencing more pain than I should have been but my physio said it was fine, to be expected.

I was beginning to think I would be in pain for the rest of my life and I was beginning to get to used to the idea that I may never run again. Disappointed, doesn’t even begin to come close.

I saw my surgeon last week and he had a different opinion, I should NOT be in so much pain. Steroid and local anaesthetic injection on board and…I’m pain free, I can’t quite believe it!

When my physio said “repeat this exercise 20 times”, I do it 60 times and she says “good”, to be honest, I don’t think she was used to patients actually following through with their exercises but I’m so desperate to get better I thought the more I did the better…I can’t help wondering I shouldn’t have been doing so much exercise, I guess there’ll be no way of knowing.

Anyway! Today, on a totally pain-free ankle, I (with more measured advice from another physio) tried running for the first time in 5 months, it was for 1 minute at a time and I’m so excited that I didn’t feel any pain. This is the first time for many years I’ve run with no pain!! So excited, it’s unreal!

I have promised my husband I won’t push it. I will stick to 1 minute at a time for 2 weeks and increase it so slowly I’ll feel like I’m running backwards! But the hope is, I will be back running properly within a year!

My husband knows I’m likely to want to push myself. For starters, I got on the treadmill earlier and said to myself I’d to 2 x 1 minute stints, I ended up doing 5… it’s not don’t any damage and I’m still pain-free but I really cannot push it! I cannot risk needing more surgery.

We started talking about whether I need an incentive…for every week I’m “good” and stick to the slow build up plan, is there anything that would help me stay focused? We discussed all sorts of things but it occurred to me, what more incentive do I need than to look after my health?

Why do we always need incentives? When people are giving up smoking, it’s suggested they put the money they would have spent on cigarettes in a jar so that they can spend it on a big holiday or some new clothes, there has to be something to aim for. It’s the same with people trying to lose weight, for every pound, there has to be some material reward. Reducing the chances of long term life limiting illnesses just isn’t enough!

Our health gains are intangible and it’s like they’re just not enough.

I’m so proud of my 60-something mum who has just completed a couch-to-5k program and has done a couple of Parkruns, being one of the fastest women in her age category! That’s what I want to be doing in 30 years time, but I won’t be if I don’t look after my bones and my joints now, what more incentive do I need?!

Seriously, if I want the best chance of avoiding further surgery and to be running in my 60s, I need to take it slow and steady so that’s what I’m going to do, no other incentive necessary!

Why are we dividing up the world when unity makes more sense?

A recent visit to a section of Hadrian’s wall left me reflecting on division and unity, both around the world and closer to home.

Hadrian’s wall, dating back to the 2nd century A.D. was built to separate the Romans from the barbarians – no matter what the reason, as its debated, the fact is, it was built to divide people, a way of saying “we do not want to mix with them”.

No matter what your opinion on Brexit, the decision to leave the European Union is a decision of division. I’m not here to debate whether it is right, wrong, good or bad, just reflecting on whether history demonstrates that division works.

Taking Hadrian’s wall as an example, although they wanted separation, there were Milecastles guarding gateways through the wall, so they expected/wanted some movement through the wall. Of course, the wall has been largely demolished and there is now free movement between Scotland and England but how long will this last? Since the Brexit referendum, the debate about Scotland leaving the UK has hotted up again; it’s odd to have to decide to leave one union in order to remain in another, of course it’s more complicated than that but on the face of it, this doesn’t make sense!

The Berlin Wall is another example of the devastating effects of division. Mayor Willy Brandt coined the phrase “wall of shame”, due to it causing restriction of movement, causing devastation as it tore close families and friends apart. Even though I was only 8, I vividly remember the Berlin Wall coming down, it was a momentous time of reunification.

So, we have learnt that division doesn’t work. Division is about considering one group of people better or more deserving than another, barriers are about keeping the right people in and the wrong people out. Instead we now have laws about equality and preventing discrimination, I think the world works better if we truly believe we are all equal.

There are still far too many people in the world who think “I have more money than you therefore I am better” or “I’m in a more powerful position than you, therefore I will exert my power negatively over you”. Surely having money should be an opportunity to give, power should present an opportunity to influence positive change?

I know not everyone thinks in exactly the same way and we’ll have different views on what money should be spent on and why, but the fundamental idea of working together should, surely, be central to everything we do??

The journey of recovery from mental illness is a humbling one. You realise you can’t do it without the support of other people. Mental illness has a way of building barriers between you and your closest friends and family but recovery has the opposite effect. Once you start opening up and saying “I can’t do this alone”, the walls start being broken down.

I have no idea what the thought is behind putting a wall up between America and Mexico. History shows that walls and barriers do not work, they are always torn down.

If we learn from the past we can see unity works better than division. It takes humility to work with others. It takes a truly strong person to be humble.

Why body confidence is important and what we can do about it

As someone who’s suffered from anorexia, I get fed up with people thinking it’s all about vanity. Thinking you look so ugly that you want to stop existing is so much more serious than taking excessive pride in one’s appearance. Vanity is about loving your looks, anorexia is about considering your worth in relation to how badly you’ve treated yourself.

Body confidence is a massively underestimated subject.

Parents often observe their toddlers having fun with their looks, they like dressing up, putting on Mum or Dad’s shoes or having their face painted, they might look ridiculous but they also look incredibly cute as they laugh and smile at themselves in the mirror, often even kissing the mirror in shear delight at how they look.

At what age does this stop? At what age do we gradually slide down the pit into hating how we look, poking bits of our body in disgust, looking at portions of our body and planning how to get rid of it?

Body confidence isn’t about how you look, it’s about the way you think you look.

Here are a few stats about why, what young people think about how they look, is important:

  • 6/10 girls are choosing not to do something because they don’t think they look good enough
  • 31% of teenagers withdraw from classroom debate because they don’t want to draw attention to the way that they look
  • On days when they don’t feel good about the way they look, 1/5 skip class
  • If a young person doesn’t think they’re thin enough they will score lower grades than their peers who are not concerned with looks. This is data has been gathered from Finland, the US and China, and it is true regardless of how much you actually weigh. This is probably true across the world but not enough research has been done into this area.

This continues into adulthood as 17% women would not show up at a job interview on a day when they weren’t feeling confident about the way they look.

Low body confidence is known to lead to:

  • Taking less physical activity
  • Eating less fruits and vegetables
  • Low self esteem
  • Being more easily influenced
  • A higher risk of depression

People with low body confidence are more likely to use alcohol, drugs, cosmetic surgery, unhealthy weight control practices that can lead to eating disorders, unprotected earlier sex and self harm in order to make themselves feel better.

So what do we need to do about it?

1. Educate for body confidence in schools. There are 6 core themes that need to be addressed:

  • Teasing and bullying
  • How we talk about appearance
  • The influence of family, friends and relationships
  • Media and celebrity culture
  • Competing and comparing looks
  • Respecting and looking after yourself

2. Be better role models – as adults we need to be mindful about what we say and do. We need to think about how we compliment each other and in particular what we post on social media.

3. Work together – this isn’t an issue we can leave to schools to deal with, we need to work together in communities, at a government level and in the work place to improve body confidence for all.

We need to work towards ensuring we:

  • Value ourselves for for who we are and what we do rather than how we look
  • DValue individuality, each one of us is unique and that’s beautiful

How do I get to the point where I want to recover?

Having written about being ambivalent about eating disorder recovery, this is a natural question to ask.

For people who don't understand why someone with an eating disorder wouldn't want to recovery, please read here.

It was my ambivalence to eating disorder recovery that got in the way of a lot of therapies that I tried. I would put all my energy into the therapy but recovery just wasn't happening because, underneath it all, I didn't want to recover.

I was very fortunate to come across a therapist who asked me "do you want to want to recover?" No-one had ever asked me this, no-one had ever said, no matter how long that sentence is, if you want to want to want to want to recovery, that's a good enough place to start.

So many people find themselves in limbo, they have a sort-of-life mixed with sort-of-functioning-anorexia. But still they wonder about recovery, what it is and what it could look like but remain stuck.

Ok, so if we establish that there's a small bit of you that's interested in getting to the point where you want to recover, it's about looking at what makes you want to get to that point?

I can only talk about my experience. I'll be honest, every minute of every day, while I was unwell, my interest in recovery fluctuated. It wasn't a smooth linear progression and there's no point in pretending it was, this wouldn't be fair.

I did a few things throughout my recovery:

I was honest about why I was holding onto my eating disorder:

  1. I rated thinness over everything else in life.
  2. Getting fat (restoring my weight) felt impossibly terrifying.
  3. I kept me "safe" – I could avoid social events etc.
  4. I could be excused from life whenever I wanted.
  5. It gave me a framework for making decisions (i.e. choosing foods on the lowest calorie content and doing activities that used the most calories).
  6. I liked the identity and I didn't know who I'd be without it.
  7. Recovery looks too hard.
  8. I'm such a bad/evil/fundamentally flawed person, I don't deserve recovery/happiness/freedom.
  9. I thought I'd done too much damage to myself and my life to bother trying.

Once we're honest with ourselves, we can start to be curious about what it all means.

I looked at the negatives of being unwell:

  • I wasn't taking a full part in life.
  • I was letting people down.
  • I experienced poor physical health (tiredness, coldness, lumbago, anaemia, aches and pains).
  • The only thing that made me happy was the number on the scale going down.

I thought about what professionals were telling me:

  • I was unwell (even if I didn't think I was).
  • I was damaging my body.
  • I was putting my life at risk.
  • Recovery was possible.
  • A better, more for-filling, happier life was possible and I deserved it.

I thought about how arrogant it was of me to rate my thoughts and beliefs above those of the professionals. If I ever didn't think I was sick enough or thin enough to deserve treatment, I thought of all the people who were sitting on waiting lists and realised the professionals wouldn't waste their time on me if I didn't need or deserve their help! I often checked out with professionals if they wanted to see me, probably sounds hideously manipulative but I needed to know they really wanted to help.

I imagined some positives of recovery:

  • I'd discover who I really was.
  • My physical health would improve.
  • I could enjoy "bad foods" – actually, maybe no food would be bad!
  • I could go on holiday/eat out and fully participate without fear.
  • I could help other people recover and believe what I was saying.
  • I'd choose a life I wanted rather than one anorexia dictated – this was really scary since I had no idea what I wanted but I had to have faith this would come

I looked at whether my reasons for holding on were valid:

  1. I'd be happy if I could rate something else over thinness (I didn't know what it would be but the possibility of valuing something else was appealing)
  2. The reality is, weight restoration is not about getting fat (even if Ana screams this everyday). Weight restoration is purely and simply about nourishing my body adequately for health
  3. What is "safe" about starting myself? (Yes, it feels psychologically safe but in reality it's killing me)
  4. I could learn assertiveness so I didn't have to use my eating disorder as an excuse.
  5. Learning my likes a dislikes could be exciting! Instead of choosing an apple due to it's calorific value, I could choose chocolate, just because I fancied it!
  6. As scary as losing the 'ill' identity was, the reality of people feeling sorry for me or treating me differently was tiresome. Recovery could give me the opportunity to choose an identity. I could be defined by my job, my achievements or my hobbies.
  7. Yes, recovery is hard but I had people offering help and they were telling me I was strong enough to do it.
  8. I had people telling me I did deserve recovery. If I was such a bad person, why would anyone stick by me?
  9. Continuing to think "what's the point of trying" just isn't sustainable. I tried this a few times, i.e. Disengaging with services etc but it doesn't have a happy ending.

It's very common for people with anorexia to feel they're not sick enough to start recovery. Sufferers feel they've not been a "good enough" anorexic if they've not been tubed or not reached a certain BMI, but everyone's experience is different. It's always worth considering what you'd say to friend in this situation. If they were saying "I'm not sick enough", would you say "yeah, you need to lose more weight, eat less, exercise more, then you could consider recovery"???

It's not simple or easy but going through this sort of process might help when trying to get to the point of wanting to recover. Everyone's different and will have different motivations so it's important to go through the process for yourself, not comparing yourself to anyone else.

I found I had to choose recovery everyday. Some days this was harder than others and some days I chose to be ill but every new minute gives us an opportunity to choose recovery, to choose wellness, to choose to definite ourselves differently.

My journey through therapy

Over the past few weeks I've been publishing blogs about different types of therapy. I've been very fortunately that the NHS offered me such fantastic opportunities, each therapy helped me understand something new and helped me grow and develop. Every therapy has its pros and cons. If you want therapy on the NHS, depending on the set up in your area, you will need to be referred, either by you GP or via a psychiatrist.

Follow the links to find out more:

Let me know your experiences.

How mindfulness changed my life

I was introduced to mindfulness in the traditional way, practicing the skill with set times for doing a body scan, focusing on the breath or focusing on the dreaded raisin, but this never particularly clicked with me.

I didn't like the way I was taught it and I was very unwell at the time and it just didn't make sense. For example, we did a task of pouring a glass of water and drinking it, I was made to feel bad for daring to state that I had to judge how heavy the jug of water was going to be so that I was able to pick it up, I was told that all judgments were bad. This is of course, not the case!

What mindfulness is not:

  • A form of relaxation
  • New age Buddhist thing
  • A way to get rid of thoughts
  • A way to sort out your problems
  • Meditation
  • Boring
  • Hippy nonsense
  • A waste of time
  • Anti-Christian (or any of faith or religion)

Since I was first introduced to it, I've come a long way and I've come to love elements of mindfulness. I do not sit down and do the formal practice sessions but for me, mindfulness has become a way of life. I try to live mindfully by focusing on what I'm doing in the here and now. How often do we arrive at a destination, having driven there but we have no recollection of the journey? What I do now is concentrate on what I'm doing in the moment, this includes driving but can be applied to any task, from cleaning my teeth to eating to washing up.

What do I mean by "living mindfully"?
I mean I really pay attention to every task I do, I take in the sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes of everything. If I'm brushing my teeth I pay attention to the sound of the water running, the feel of the toothbrush on my gums, the taste and smell of the toothpaste and notice the movement of my wrist and arm as I brush.

Of course, my thoughts wonder all the time, I try to stop this happening but I do not judge myself for struggling to stay focused, if I've got a lot on my mind I'm going to find it hard, this is natural and ok. It's about being gentle with myself, if I find my attention and thoughts straying away, I gentle being myself back to the task in hand.

I hear people saying, "I'm not good at it so I've given up trying", being "no good" is a judgment, it's the judgment that's getting in the way rather than how hard or easy the task is.

The biggest change it's had for me is to stop judging myself. Of course, I still do, I may never be able to break the habit of a lifetime but I do not judge the fact that I judge myself. I know it's unhelpful but if I judge the judging, what's the point in even noticing that it's unhelpful?!

The positive effects mindfulness has had, without this being the "aim":

  • I'm more relaxed
  • My mind is clearer
  • My food tastes better
  • I'm a safer driver
  • I relish the simple things in life
  • I'm more content
  • I'm less easily distracted
  • I'm more compassionate towards myself
  • I know myself better
  • I'm more aware of my feelings
  • I notice how beautiful the world is
  • I accept the things I cannot change
  • I forgive easily
  • I appreciate new experiences


Fundamentalists may say you need to do the formal practices to gain the fullest benefit from it but I say you have to do what suits you. Maybe I don't know what I'm missing and at some point I'll try the formal practices again but for now living mindfully works for me.

My thoughts on To The Bone new Netflix movie

The much anticipated movie, To The Bone, has provoked a lot of attention from people within the eating disorder community.

I would prefer it to have caused more of a stir in people who have no experience of eating disorders but are they going to be the people who watch it?!

It’s so hard that so often, when trying to raise awareness of mental illness, we end up preaching to the converted and it ends up being more about whether it’s been a typical representation or whether anyone’s offended or triggered by it.

What I want is for people who do not know anything about eating disorders to watching this film. It doesn’t show the whole recovery story but it does show the difficulty coming to terms with needing treatment.

People within the eating disorder world are putting people off from watching it, this is probably their aim. I’m not quite sure why other people think their story “better portrays” anorexia or why it’s ok to deliberately trigger yourself and then lash out at the film’s leading lady or director.

By it’s nature Hollywood is glamorous and stories are simplified for entertainment purposes. If we want to use a widely accepted form of media to raise awareness, we have to accept these compromises.

This film will do more to get conversations going than any blog writer and I’m happy to thank them for doing it.

Please don’t watch it if you think you may be triggered, it really is that simple. I know it may not be easy as in recovery we’re all ambivalent but it is a simple yes/no desision about whether to watch it. Maybe shut off social media for a few days to let the hype die down and every time you’re tempted to click yet another To The Bone link, say “no”.

Read more about my thoughts on my Metro blog