All posts by Frances

About Frances

Having struggling with mental illness, I'm passionate about raising awareness, with the hope of increasing understanding and decreasing stigma and discrimination. My blog is about all things mental health.

Hawk Conservancy Trust 

A visit to The Hawk Conservancy is a fantastic day out where you get to explore the grounds, see numerous birds of prey both in their enclosures and in flying displays. It’s educational and great fun for the whole family. Plus, you’ll be contributing to some important conservation work for these birds across the world.

Vultures feeding time

In the first event of the day, we saw Deloris and Hector showing their dominance as the biggest in the enclosure, getting their choice of food from the keeper.

There are 3 distinct types:

  • Rippers – they have strong bills and wide skulls designed for ripping off the skin and tendons.
  • Gulpers – go for all the soft bits like organs. They are usually very large vultures due to the high nutritional content of their diet.
  • Scrappers – they have bills designed to get every last little scrap of flesh off the bones.

Also, there is the bearded vulture or lammergeier who pick up the bones, fly up and drop them from a great height onto rocks so they break open and they can eat the bone marrow.

Vultures are vital for ecosystems, they are the dustbins that clear everything up; they stop rotting flesh building up and stop the spread of disease.

At the end of the 20th century use of diclofenac (anti-inflammatory) to treat sick Asian cattle caused the death of millions of vultures when the farmers put carcasses out for vultures to feed on. No one had any idea diclofenac was so lethal to vultures but with one carcass being food for up to 200 vultures, the mortality rate was astronomical. The knock-on effect was that feral dog packs filled the gap. Fear is that the same thing will happen in Europe as Italy and Spain licensed the use of diclofenac for vets. Eagles are also at risk. Support the call for a ban here.

Cassius and Clay are the Trust’s African white backed vultures, each weighing 9lbs with a wing span of 7ft. They are now critically endangered, which means the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified them as being at very high risk of becoming extinct in the wild. The Hawk Conservancy have overseas projects running to try and restore vulture numbers in the wild.

Wings of Africa display

Here we met Othello, the fish eagle. These birds can catch anything up to the size of a flamingo in flight but usually, as the name suggests, fishes for their food.

We were also introduced to Tolkien, a milky eagle owl. Random fact, they are the only predator of the African spiny hedgehog but they can also tackle prey as large as a baboon!

Dr No flying kick at a (rubber) cobra
Next we were in for a bit of a laugh with Dr No, their secretary bird, also known as the archer of snakes due to the way it hunts and kills its prey. It flushes the snake out of the long grass then kicks it in the head. Dr No took his role in the performance very seriously, including showing us how he would tackle a cobra by doing a flying kick! It’s an hilarious sight! Not so hilarious for the rubber snake!

We then saw some cute sacred ibis and white storks as part of a beautiful multi-bird display. Interestingly, they’re not officially birds of prey since they do not catch their prey with their feet but with their beaks. It was lovely to see the close bond birds have with the keeper as they were hand fed at the end of the display.

Valley of the Eagles display

The saker falcon was an example of how many sayings we get through the history of falconry. For example being ‘under the thumb’ meaning to have control, ‘hoodwinked’ meaning tricked or ‘waiting with baited breath’ when waiting for something to happen. It was lovely to see some traditional falconry work with a lure, the relationship between the falconer and his bird was spectacular.

We were introduced to a new vulture, the turkey vulture which is one of the few birds of prey to have a sense of smell, and it uses it to hunt. Unusually it is actually a descendent of the stork family rather than the rapture family. I’m not sure who had to be more brave as the vultures swooped over and in between audience members, it was an extraordinary experience to be in such close quarters and even though we ducked, the wings of these great birds brushed our heads!

We were spoilt with 9 black kites who performed brilliantly catching their prey in their feet and eating it while still flying. This conserves energy as when birds catch prey and land to eat it, it’s the setting off again that uses energy. The commentator and the bird handler worked brilliantly together showing the birds off to their full potential in very comical fashion!

I was beginning to think we’d been misled by the title of the show but they’d left the best for last. A stunning American bald eagle was flown in from 1.5-2 miles across the rolling Hampshire countryside, he swooped into the arena within a few seconds. Absolutely beautiful!

Woodland Owls display

The first owl we saw was a tawny owl. Baby tawny owls are often brought into the Conservancy by well meaning members of the public having found them on the floor. Unfortunately, this is not necessary and leads to them being humanised. Tawny owls do something called branching where they climb out of the nest before they’re ready to fledge, unfortunately this leads to them sometimes falling to the ground but the parents will continue feeding them no matter where they are so they will be fine. Troy was one of the tawney owls brought to the Conservancy and he’d already been humanised so he’s now used to fly the flag for all his wild cousins. Unfortunately, when he arrived he was also afraid of heights (probably because his only experience of any height was falling from a tree) so to get him to do anything interesting in a display his trainer had to climb a tree to reduce his anxiety; he put on an excellent show for us!

We then saw Walter the great grey owl, not the most inventive name for such a beautiful bird. He displayed stunning agility, with a wing span of 5 feet, he flew between to members of the audience standing, I estimate, less than 2 feet apart by swooping and bending his wings up at the last second.

Whisper the little boobok owl was a beautiful little thing! He performed wonderfully, landing on the benches close to audience members. But he showed us that he was boss and that even though humanised and tame, he’s still able to choose what he does and wouldn’t perform his trick, flying through a hollowed out log, until the last try when he performed it spectacularly.

Our native barn owl has showed a worrying decline in numbers as agricultural habits have changed. Not only have their possible nesting sites reduced but they have seen a decline in habitat for their prey. Fortunately The Hawk Conservancy Trust discovered they like nesting in purpose built nest boxes so their nest box project is have great success! Charlie did a wonderful display for us, circling the woodland area many times. Elder, however, decided she would only show herself as the commentator was wrapping up the display, she did, however, show us her flying style beautifully.

I cannot enthuse enough about the skills of the commentators and bird handlers, they obviously love the birds and are passionate about what they do. They truely made this a wonderful day to remember.

In visiting The Hawk Conservancy Trust you can support the local, national and international work they do. I’d highly recommend a visit!

What’s the point of raising mental health awareness?

I’m really excited to see the The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge and The Prince of Wales heading up the Heads Together mental health campaign. Only good can come from talking more about mental health and ‘celebrity’ status can aid this.


They’ve brought together The Mix, Place2Be, Contact, Mind, CALM, Best Beginnings, Anna Freud and Young Minds so let’s hope this campaign does the business and gets everyone talking about mental health the way us Brits talk about the weather! (Maybe not, that would be weird!!)

It is great that Heads Together is the charity of the year for the London Marathon and I’m really excited everyone is wearing the #HeadsTogether headbands but will anyone know what it’s all about and why we need to get everyone talking about mental health? What are we actually going to talk about when we get started? Here’s what I want to say, I’m sure many others with mental illness would echo my words:

  1. My mental health diagnosis doesn’t mean I can’t work. Everyone has skills and experience to offer the work place, it is an employer’s duty to offer reasonable adjuastments to enable people to work despite a diagnosis. Please do not discriminate against me, I am not my illness.
  2. Just because my illness is hidden I should not be made to feel ashamed or guilty nor should I feel I have to prove or justify my illness because people assume I’m making it up.
  3. Sometimes my mind makes me behave out of character, please forgive me, don’t judge me.
  4. It’s ok to talk to me about mental health, it’s not catching, it does not make you weak. The only way we’re going to reduce stigma is if we make it a normal and natural thing to talk about.
  5. Caring for someone with a mental health diagnosis is tough, carers need support too.
  6. Mental health education in schools is vital, early diagnosis means recovery is more likely.
  7. Recovery is different for everyone. Some people need to stay on medication for life, some people need therapy on and off for life. Not everyone will be in full time paid work but striving for recovery means an illness can be managed and a meaningful life can be found.


So, however we do it and whoever does it, raising awareness of mental health issues is important and these are some key messages. We can use all the gimmicks and celebrity endorsement we like but we must remember key messages we’re trying to communicate!

How do you love someone who doesn’t love themselves?

It can be absolutely devastating to watch someone self destruct. This can be through drugs, alcohol, an eating disorder, self harm or more subtly through constant self deprecating thoughts and language. I’m not talking about someone who doesn’t like the odd characteristic in themselves but someone embroiled in these behaviours who has a deep seated hatred of themselves.

It can absolutely rip your heart out when you know someone is doing themselves harm and the way out seems painfully obvious. 

If someone is taking drugs or drinking too much, if only they would stop…

If someone is ravaged by restricting and binge eating, if only they would eat regularly…


I’ve watched close friends make the same mistakes time after time and they turn to me in desperation. I know if only they could respect themselves, they could break their destructive cycles and they’d start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But they don’t believe they deserve respect from anyone, let alone themselves.

Watching someone in pain, at times can feel like you’re grieving. Where is the person? How do they not see themselves as you see them? Why are they in so much pain? It’s important to be honest about this grief. You have not lost them but if this is how it feels, be honest, at this moment, they may still be there in body but if their mind is not all there, they can feel missing.


I have been both the person watching on and the person being watched.

Until recently, I had no idea what it meant to even feel ok about myself. I feared that if I liked myself, I would be arrogant so I ran in the opposite direction and I hated myself. From a young teen I travelled through various self destructive behaviours always with an internal self loathing running commentary. I pushed everyone away at the same time as I cried out for their help. I would say I was incredibly hard to love.

There are no simple answers but here are a few of my thoughts.

Accept that, although the answer looks obvious to you, you are unlikely to be able to, nor is it your job to fix the person. Even if the person in pain is your son or daughter for whom you feel responsible, they are their own person, you can only advise and guide, you cannot fix. When I accept this, I find I have more space to do what I can do.

Consider what you are doing, good enough. Whatever you do, you will be showing love. People show and receive love in different ways, this may not be the time to have a deep conversation about exactly what’s right for them but if you show love through words, actions or gifts, keep going. Sometimes just being there is all that is needed or possible, just keep being there.


Make sure you get the support you need. Acknowledge that you are going through a tough time too. You might feel grief or anger, fear or shear desperation, no emotion is wrong. Give yourself some TLC or ask for it from others, there’s no point in your life veering off too!

It is likely that time after time someone in self-destruct mode will push you away, this can feel like a personal attack but try not to see it that way. Give them time and space (this will show them love) but do go back and let them know you’re still there for them.

As hard as it is, almost impossible at times, remember that the person you love is in there somewhere. No matter how hard they try to push you away, no matter how much they hate themselves, no matter how destructively they are behaving, they are the same person underneath.


People do not behave destructively for no reason, they are not deliberately trying to cause you pain. Most people in this position have not been shown the love or emotional care they need, for this they will need professional help. If at all possible, they need someone to remember who they are beyond the destructive behaviour and love them for who they are. You do not have to condone or even accept what they’re doing, just love the person underneath.

Healing can and does occur.

Why is it called GOOD Friday?

Most people know a couple of days before Easter Day is Good Friday, some people know it’s the day Jesus was crucified on the cross but if that’s as far as your knowledge goes, why on earth would a day when someone was bruitally murdered be called ‘good’?!

We usually associate the word “good” to meaning pleasing, strong, well, correct or generally something positive. In this context however the Oxford Dictionary cites that good is used to signify something that is morally right, or righteous. This dictionary has also accepted that Good is now in general use when used with Good Shepherd to mean Jesus and The Good Book to mean The Bible. This therefore helps us makes sense that it could be called ‘Holy Friday’. If fact, this is its other name as the week leading up to Easter is Holy Week.


The dictionary does not however fully explain why the day is so specially and necessary in the Christian calendar!

There are some thoughts that it originates from God’s Friday and that the word has evolved. Regardless, the name Good is entirely appropriate, let me explain…

Jesus was born on Christmas Day and this is often celebrated as the most important day, and yes, Christianity would not exist if Jesus had not been born. But on Good Friday, Jesus, an innocent man was accused of committing crimes so serious he was put to death. Christians believe God sent his son to Earth (Jesus was both fully God and fully human) to die for our sins (every human that had lived and would ever live in the future). On Good Friday, this is what happened, Jesus took every sin I have every committed and will ever commit, he took them to the cross and died for me so that I will not die but have eternal life. So although for Jesus’ followers at the time, the day was the most devastating they had ever experienced, we understanding the meaning behind it and I think this is not just good but pretty awesome!

Surviving a festival with a mental illness

I’ve come away, for the first time, to Spring Harvest (a Christian festival/conference) with my husband. I’m very fortunate, at the moment, to be mentally well but I’m always aware of how much my mental illness impacted my life, either stopping me enjoying things, or stopping me doing things altogether.

I’m not suggesting anyone will be able to strike out to the next festival mid crisis but when on the road to recovery, we need things to challenge us and this might be just the thing…I hope this blog will help someone think they could cope with coming away to Spring Harvest (or similar) even if they are still struggling. A Christian festival is fantastic place to find support, friendship and fellowship with people who could draw you closer to the ultimate healer.
I just have a few pointers on how to ensure you get the most out of it even when times are hard.

  1. Be prepared – If anxiety is a problem, predicting that every disaster that will happen will come as second nature but a few simple plans can reduce fears. Ensure you have confirmation emails ready and/or wrist bands etc. Ask people who’ve been before how to prepare/what to pack etc, phone or email the organisers, explain you’re concerns, they’ll be more than happy to help, they’ll want to put your mind at ease. 
  2. Pack something comforting – whether your favourite food, a teddy, a cosy jumper or your iPad, have something with you that reminds you of home and you can call on to if your having a wobble.
  3. Go with someone you know well – talk to them about any apprehension and ask them to watch out for signs you’re not coping. Let them know they do not necessarily need to look after you, as you can look after yourself but if they’re there for support, it’ll help.
  4. Don’t try and do everything – when you’re faced with a programme packed full of events it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and think you’ll miss out if you don’t go to everything and pack your time but the reality is, you cannot do everything and you’re there to enjoy yourself, you won’t if you’re dashing around! Take time to look at the planner, mark what you want to do so you don’t forget, then just do it.
  5. If you’ve come in a group you don’t have to do everything with them – being in a group can be reassuring so take advantage of that! But it can also be exhausting so make sure you do the things you want to do, on your own, or just with 1 friend. Be aware of what your character needs, when recovering from depression a good balance of time with people and time alone is important. 
  6. Make sure you have food plans – mental instability plus lack of physical energy is not a good combination, make sure you have plans for regular meals. This can be tricky and depends on the exact nature of the festival. At Spring Harvest, there is a great choice of self catering, buying meals on site or a half board dining package. If you have an eating disorder, self catering is often best but recovering I have found half board really helps as it’s helped me break unhelpful disordered habits (such as sticking to salads etc). 
  7. Plan relaxation time – if the weather’s nice, go for a walk or find a safe place and just spend some time sitting reading or having some “down time”. Don’t worry about missing out, what’s the point of sitting in a seminar if you’re not really listening or listening to a band if you’re mind’s elsewhere?! Take time to recharge.
  8. Make sure you take all you treatment – if you need medication, a week before you’re due to go, make sure you have enough so you have time to put a repeat prescription in. If you have therapeutic techniques you need to practice or worksheets you need to fill in, make sure you set aside time. You may be going on holiday but recovery is a full time occupation!
  9. Have a back up plan – make sure, if things get too much, you have a plan for what you will do, will you stay in the chalet? Want a friend to stay with you? Or will you need to have a way of getting home? Often, if we have a “get out plan” we don’t need it, just having it there is all the reassurance we need. 
  10. Remember why you’re there – if you’re struggling at a Christian festival, focus on God or ask for prayer; people willing to lend an ear or a hand in fellowship will not be in short supply! At a secular festival, focus on the music, remember loving music is part of what makes you you, mental illness does not have to define you.

So, if you’ve been to a festival before or you’re considering one for the first time, be bold. Put your mental illness, where it belongs, on one side. There are many to choose from. Spring Harvest have kicked off the 17:21 campaign, a scroll is visiting 22 festivals celebrating what unites us as Christians, including:

Give it a go!

What is happiness?

It’s International Day of Happiness but what does that mean? Do we all have to be happy all day? Can we force happiness? How do we know when we’re truly happy? Is superficial happiness good enough?

Having suffered from severe depression I’m well versed with measuring that, rating each symptom depending on how serious it feels or how often you feel like that over a given period of time. So, recovery is measured by a lack of symptoms but a lack of depression does not mean you are happy.

Happiness can be thought of as an emotion, most people can say at any given moment whether they are happy or not. But being happy overall is slightly different. Words such as content or satisfied may be more important to consider.

So, how do we measure happiness?

Positive Psychology researchers use 3 measures:

  • Positive affect (mood and emotions)
  • Negative affect
  • Satisfaction with life

As with measuring symptoms of a mental illness, so, we can subjectively measure positive and negative mood and emotions. The Positive and Negative Affect Scale is a good example of how we can measure our mood and emotions. It can be used in the moment or over there past week.


Measuring our satisfaction with life is very interesting and full of variables. Things may include:

  • Have you achieved goals?
  • Do you have friends? Do you measure strength and depth of friendship or number of friends?
  • Can you trust the people who influence your life to have your happiness as a priority?
  • Does money factor? For some people this would be quantity, for others, having enough would be an important factor.
  • Have you had children? Are they happy? Do they need to be achieving to feel you’ve achieved?
  • How healthy are you? Have you recovered from an illness? Do you manage chronic illnesses well? What impact does illness have on your overall life?
  • How are the people you care about? Are they happy?
  • What personality traits are important? Are you kind, generous and warm-hearted? Are assertiveness, ambition and gregariousness important characteristics? Is it important that other people notice these characteristics in you?
  • Is a lack of greed or selfishness more important than positive characteristics?
  • Is it ok to put yourself first? If so, how much? How often?
  • Do you have enough time with the people you like, doing the things you enjoy?
  • When things aren’t going so well, do you feel able to change it?
  • How in control of your life do you feel? Do you have self-belief?
  • DOes a belief in a higher power impact you positively or negatively?
  • How much importance do you place on what other people think of you?
  • Is your work life balance how you want it?
  • Is what you do worthwhile?
  • ARe little things more important than the big things? Or vice versa?


Different people will leave different levels of importance on each of these and may consider other things play a bigger part in general happiness and well-being.

It is perfectly possible to be satisfied and content, even if things are not objectively “going well” as our higher functioning is able to see coping with adversity as a positive.

The government considered happiness so important in 2010 they asked the office of national statistics to survey the country’s happiness. Discussing how the survey would work, they found happiness was intangible but well-being is more easily measured. They asked 4 questions:

  1. Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  2. Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  3. Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
  4. Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

Recent findings (up to Sept 2016) include:

  • Life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness have been steadily increasing since 2012 to October 2014, since then, they’ve plateaued.
  • Anxiety was steadily decreasing to October 2014, since then it has been increasing.

Should we strive for happiness?


In my experience, I think this quote puts it perfectly. Striving for something intangible is fruitless, you will never know when you’ve achieved it. This does not mean, sit around doing nothing and happiness will arrive. Knowing what makes you happy is important, striving to achieve goals and thinking and behaving positively will all help.

I also believe we need to have times of unhappiness in order to recognise and appreciate the times of happiness. I do not strive to be unhappy, angry, anxious or frustrated but in experiencing these things, I enjoy the relief, joy and happiness all the more having been through tougher times.

Survey reveals referral rates need to improve

As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorders charity, asked nearly 1700 people, (1420 of which had an eating disorder, the others knew someone close to them with an eating disorder) about their experience with GPs.

I took part in this survey to get my voice heard and it seems many people feel the same way I do…

The survey revealed that half of sufferers rated their experience as “poor” or “very poor”. Of people who would have benefitted from immediate psychological support 3 in 10 were not referred to specialised services.

More than half of the sufferers felt their GP didn’t understand them and only one third (34%) thought their doctor knew how to help them.

Only 20% of patients came away from their appointment with information about eating disorders and services that could help them.

It will have taken many of these people months if not years to have reached the point of asking for help, the courage to make the appointment, get through the door and start talking about their problem would have taken such courage, to be turned away with nothing is very worrying.



Why is early referral so important? Simple – recovery rates improve.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses and currently, of those who live, many remain chronically ill. The sooner someone is referred for specialist support the higher their chances of full recovery.

It is important to work out why these vital referrals aren’t happening…

I do not want to come across as GP bashing, there is no way that some of the most caring people in our society are deliberately denying people the support and treatment they need. Andrew Radford, Beat’s Chief executive believes medical students, hoping to become GPs, need more training. I went to medical school, the shear volumes of information you need to absorb is vast. Maybe it’s not just about “recognising the signs and symptoms” as Mr Radford put it, maybe there’s more to it.

When I went to the GP as a 15 year old, I was not referred. I was not given any information. I did not receive the help I needed. It was hard enough just getting through the door but there is no way of turning back the clock to find out why. Maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough? Maybe there should be more eduction in schools so I was more equipped when I went to my GP?

My experience was 20 years ago but the Beat survey reveals this is still happening today. Is it the “old school” doctors who aren’t keeping up to date with training? Do newer GPs need more training? Are GPs/secondary services using out-dated/overly stringent criteria as referral criteria e.g. BMI? Is there an inaccurately held belief that if you refer someone there’ll develop an eating disorder where there wasn’t one? Are GPs so overworked, although they know the signs and symptoms to looks out for, they miss them? Do they think, “if it’s that serious they’ll come back”? Do patients go with too many problems and the GPs are distracted by other issues they consider more important? Do doctors not have enough times to refer people? Are doctors unaware of what secondary care is available? Do GPs think the secondary care is inappropriate/unhelpful? Is the mental health stigma still getting in the way?

We really need to get to the bottom of what is going wrong in the consultations where people are not getting what they need.

Perhaps some positive news is that once some of the sufferers swapped GPs (as nearly 1 in 6 did) they reported receiving the help they needed. When I approached a GP in my 20s I’m very glad to say I’ve had much better support. By this time I was a lot sicker, my GP had to persuade me to access the secondary and then tertiary services, she was excellent. Since then, I’ve moved a couple of times and each time, I’ve had a mixed experience with GPs. It’s been very difficult to find what I need but each time, with some perseverance I’ve found a GP with the right skills and experience to support me. Maybe I am a tricky/difficult patient but I’m definitely not alone with these feelings as the Beat research reveals.


Somehow we need to make sure that every single one of the 725,000 people in the U.K. affected by an eating disorder gets the support and treatment they need to recover.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more information:

Independent.co.uk

Full results of Beat survey

Confessions from a disordered mind

So, it’s eating disorder awareness week again and I fear, yet again, I will be “preaching to the converted”… not that I preach (I hope) but I fear my blog only reaches those people who already know about mental illness, those who are already interested, those who suffer themselves or who care for someone who is or has been mentally ill. People reading this do not really need their awareness raising, so…what’s the point?!

I’ve challenged myself to go a bit deeper this year. Maybe my audience are aware of mental illness, even aware of eating disorders and anorexia. But how many of you actually know what it’s like to be stuck on the treadmill of starvation where you beat yourself up because you wonder if you’ve chosen to be ill but when you try eating an apple, a voice tells you “if you don’t cut it into 36 pieces, you’ll put on 6 stone”?

Anorexia isn’t about choosing not to eat or just liking healthy eating. It isn’t sexy or glamorous. It isn’t about losing a bit of weight, being a moody teenager, being awkward or deliberately deceitful. It’s a serious mental disorder where your every waking moment is driven by a desire to lose weight and your nightmares are dominated by fear of fat. The interlinking of thoughts, emotions and behaviours and your interpretations of these is incredibly strong, it can feel impossible to break the automatic cycle.


The voice (I later called Ana) was with me 24/7, in bed, at the supermarket, while with friends, when I was alone, she never left me alone. I thought she was my friend as she gave me hints and tips to achieve my goal. She persuaded me to make trips to a supermarket that was further away because they sold products lower in fat and sugar. She kept me going when I slowed through exhaustion while out running, she made me run faster, harder, further. She helped me say no when I was tempted by cakes and biscuits. She made me walk instead of use the car, even when the weather was cold and wet. She gave me a buzz when I lost weight but didn’t let up, she made me strive for the next target.

With anorexia I was devious and deceptive. I’m ashamed of some of the things I did. This is common. My focus became losing weight, my aim was to consume as few calories as possible and use up as many as possible. Continuing with a vaguely normal life became difficult, impossible at times. I’d pour milk into a bowl to pretend I’d eaten cereal. I’d say I wasn’t hungry when my stomach was in knots. When offered food, I’d say I’d already eaten when the truth was I’d not eaten for days. On one hand I hated wasting food, on the other, I’d throw food away. I hated lying but if I was to achieve my goal I had to. Unfortunately, the more weight I lost, the more I had to hide. I also self harmed, I had to hide this as well.


Why was I so determined? I felt out of control of my body (during puberty) and of my emotions. I’m a highly sensitive introvert who felt like I didn’t fit in the world. I thought my food intake and losing weight was the only thing I could contol. As with any other coping mechanism we use to make ourselves feel better/happier (smoking, shopping, drinking alcohol) there comes a point where they stop helping and start becaming a problem in themselves.

The more weight I lost, the better I felt about my body, I got a pleasure, I felt a a sense of achievement. But each time I achieved my goal, I had to set a lower goal weight. The lower my goal weight, the harder it was to achieve. The harder I had to work at my eating disorder (yes, it’s hard work) the more unhappy I was. Anorexia is full of contradictions.

There came a point when I realised my goals for life weren’t compatible – I did not have enough physical or emotional energy to be the person I wanted to be and to continue losing weight. I had to decide which I wanted more. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just choosing to recover.


When trying to recover the juxtaposition of desperately wanting to get better with desperately wanting to continue losing weight (because you know you feel better lighter and feel worse heavier) is an impossible battle. It didn’t make sense to enter into a recovery programme, signing up to gaining weight, knowing this would make me unhappy. I was unhappy with my life dominated by thoughts of avoiding food, avoiding social situations involving food and constantly trying to use up excess calories, I knew I would be unhappy gaining weight and feeling excess fat on my body. This is a very difficult experience to explain.

As I wrestled with recovery, there were so many reasons to fight to get better but anorexia is powerful. I needed people around me with a lot of patience. Recovery is never a smooth journey and there were many hurdles and many set backs but it is possible.

When I tried talking about the voice I heard I was asked to give it a name (a well established therapeutic technique) but I insisted on calling it Frances because I knew rationally it was me… it felt like someone else but I knew this wasn’t actually possible. In an odd way, my insight was working against me.

Once I gave in and called her Ana, it became easier. Instead of blaming myself, feeling angry at myself, beating myself up etc…I started aiming all my anger and frustration at Ana and started fighting against my illnesses instead of against myself.


Is life plain sailing now I’m recovered? No, of course not! But, although I may never love my body, it is what it is and I make my own decisions now, I’m not dictated to by disorered thinking.

I’m taking on a challenge, 1 step at a time!

Some people, more than others, constantly set themselves challenges…there may be no reason for this, other than, “just to see if I can”! For me, it’s been running. I started running as a teenager and have done it ever since. At uni, I was not up late at night partying, but when suffering from insomnia I would go for late-night runs to clear my head or just for something to do! I’ve enjoyed many-a 10k race, tried a multi-terrain type thing that was a giggle and done a couple of half marathons.


For the last few years I’ve found running harder and harder. It’s never easy to go for a run when it’s cold or raining but even in the good weather my body has complained, my hips ached, I’d get sharp pains in my ankles, my head throbbed no matter how hydrated I was and at times it feels as though ever cell in my body was crying to stop. Instead of the exhilaration I used to experience, when returning from a run I’d just feel exhausted. My brain was willing but my body was not. I’ve had breaks, thinking I just needed to rest for a bit but every time I went back to it, I just couldn’t get going.


Since I was a teen I’ve dreamt of running a marathon, would I have to give up on running before I’d realised my dream?

Last year, many of you will know, I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia. This is a chronic pain and fatigue disorder that I will need to manage for the rest of my life. Good news, a key part of management is exercise! Bad news, “grading” and “pacing” are not words I’m used to when it comes to running! Connected, or unrelated I’ve also had a lot of other medical problems recently that have put spanners in the works BUT… I have had to learn…


Grading – This involves starting at a very low manageable level of exercise, i.e. 5 minutes of walking per day for a week or 2 (depending on residual fitness). The idea is then to build up very slowly, 1-2 minutes at a time and this is then maintained for a period of time. Gradually other exercises can be added in (of particular value in fibro are things like warm water swimming or yoga).

Pacing – Pacing involves doing the same amount of activity each day, no matter how you’re feeling. The hard bit for me is that when I’m feeling good I want to run and run, which (with fibro) means I’ll pay the price within hours. Even just running a bit further than planned, my joints and muscles ache and the fatigue feel unmanageable. On bad days it’s easy to feel that exercise just isn’t possible but studies have shown that even though symptoms may increase, if appropriate limits are set, it is possible to repeat the performance from the previous day.


I am not someone to give up without a massive fight!

I was referred to a specialist clinic and I went with my long list of questions… at the top? “Will I ever be able to run a marathon?” To be honest, the physiotherapist was not forthcoming with a promising answer but she could see I was enthusiastic, wasn’t going to give up without a fight and she didn’t want to put a dampener on things so she suggested 2 years may be a time scale I could work to.

So, with grading and pacing in mind, October 2018 in my goal.


In Novemeber 2016 my GP referred me to the gym. I started walking for 5 minutes on the treadmill and using the cross trainer and resistance machines to improve my fitness without putting strain on my joints. It was really hard making all the effort to go to the gym just for 10-15 minutes exercise but I had to keep my eyes on the goal. Gradually I added in 2 minutes jogging, increasing it bit by bit, listening to my body and working within my limits. Each increase, my instincts would say “push yourself”, I then have to be strict with myself and make the increase smaller than I wanted – literally 1 minute or 0.2km/h at a time. It’s been really hard.

Pacing has been a tricky one, I’ve hit and broken through “the wall” many times as a relatively fit and healthy individual. I have fallen into the trap of thinking that was all I needed to do with fibro. Unfortunately, after the wall, there’s a 20 inch thick concrete block, then a steep mountain crag, if you do manage to push yourself through all those, there is then a crevasse… So, even when I’ve wanted to do more, if my plan says to repeat the previous day, that is what I do.


So, working carefully, the treadmill and cross trainer have got me to the point of being able to jog for 30 mins. I registered with Parkrun, a free weekly 5k run organised across the world.

Joining the 500 other runners I felt that excitement/nervousness I’d experienced previously at much bigger races and it felt good! I promised my husband I would “plod” round. I was drawn along with the crowd but I was determined not to be driven by striving for a PB or specific time. I must admit when I received my time by email I was quite excited… That is not the point, the point is, I did it, I jogged/ran the whole thing and I really enjoyed it! Yes I ached afterwards but that’s not the end of the world, I did all my usual warming up and cooling down and I can safely say I have not felt any unmanageable adverse affects!

Fibro aside, I’m really hoping none of my other health problems get in the way! My next goals will involve running further but increasing it very slowly. I’ll keep you posted.

I’d love to hear if anyone else has set themselves any goal or challenge, fighting against the odds!

 

What NOT to do at the gym

  1. Leave sweat on machines – if you sweat, it’s going to drop off, be polite, wipe it off. 
  2. Drop free weights from a height – the loud clunk makes people’s heads turn, yes, but we do not think “wow, look at him lifting big weights”, we think “what an idiot using weights that are too heavy for him”. 
  3. Wear clothing that are too tight – it’s very unpleasant to see biceps bulging out of clothing just wear the next size up, it’s not difficult.
  4. Sit on machines not doing anything – it’s just rude. I know people often do a set of reps and pause then do another set of reps but there’s no excuse for just sitting on a machine looking at your phone or for longer than a short pause. 
  5. Compare yourself to other people (unless it positively motivates you)
  6. Use poor technique – injury alert! The instructors are there for a reason, follow their advice about how to exercise, they do know a thing or two! Don’t just swan about like you own the place using equipment badly, you look like an idiot!
  7. Pose in front of the mirrors – watching for correct technique, ok, posing, not ok…

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  8. Watch other people  – it’s unnerving and again, just rude.
  9. Grunt and groan – this doesn’t help anyone and just annoys the people around you.
  10. Join in January – New Year resolutions don’t work, if you want to get fit, lose weight, tone up, whatever, why wait for January when it’s going to be overcrowded with people who aren’t going to stick around anyway?…join when you feel motivated, Feb 16th is as good-a-time as May 27th, just do it! 
  11. Sing out loud to your music – some quiet humming for a VERY short time is kinda funny but any longer is VERY annoying!
  12. Be put off by people who think they’re God’s gift to humanity – they’re not so don’t worry about it!

I know the guys who need to read this aren’t going to but the rest of us can have a giggle thinking about all those who make these mistakes over and over every day! It’s best to giggle, otherwise we’d get really annoyed!!