Tag Archives: anorexia

Work stress nearly cost me my life

As Mental Health Awareness Week comes to an end I thought I’d write a bit about my personal journey and (hopefully) warn against the dangers of work stress.

I struggled with my health all through uni. As an introvert, I found the social life expected was too much for me, it was so far out of my comfort zone, I had to pretend to be someone else and that cost me more energy than I had. Team this was a course (medicine) that I found very difficult; the high proportion of patient contact was great experience but, again, cost me energy I didn’t have.

With my commitments sapping me energy, my mood plummeted and my thoughts followed. I felt I wasn’t good enough, I couldn’t cope, I was completely useless and I had imposted syndrome – someone was going to find out, I was a fraud and discover I didn’t have what it takes to be a doctor.

I got through medical school thinking “I just need to get through, it will be better when I qualify, there will be fewer assessments and I can get on with doing what I want to do, be a doctor”.

Unfortunately, when I qualified, while the daunting exams were over and I felt relieved that I’d made it, the stress did not stop. It might sound silly but until I qualified, I don’t think I realised that people’s lives were literally in my hands!

Yes, as a junior doctor, you have the support of a team but when on call or, as I was, working in a hospital with few doctors, it was down to me. I felt completely overwhelmed with the responsibility and felt I didn’t know enough. Imposter syndrome was crushing my confidence, the anxiety was crippling. Every time I needed to think clearly and quickly, my brain froze. Literally, no thoughts would come through my mind and I struggled to take action.

I spent many moments crying in the toilet. But this just led to guilt, I couldn’t do my job hiding and crying, so I’d dry my eyes and put on a brave face.

I still thought, “if I just get through this stage…” but I couldn’t survive thinking that at every stage. I tried to confide in my colleagues and they reassured me and supported me as best they could but my health couldn’t hold up.

One day I was a doctor, the next I was a patient.

My depression was severe and I was experiencing psychotic symptoms with my anorexia. My life was at risk with self harm and suicidal behavior. Of course, there were many contributing factors but work stress was right up there!

If you’re feeling work stress, please talk to someone, don’t hope it will get better, it needs managing. Your health is more important than any job.

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Is social media causing more stress than it’s worth?

The idea behind social media is brilliant, it connects us. Initially it was that simple, maintaining connections between people who’re friends in real life or building virtual relationships between people who may never, otherwise, meet.

But it seems to have taken on a life of its own, making demands on us to present a specific “public friendly” version of ourselves, we get caught up in how many ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and ‘follows’ we’ve had and it makes 41%* of us feel lonely. That doesn’t sound right!

For Mental Health Awareness Week, PushON, an eCommerce agency, conducted a survey asking all about social media, how it makes us feel and how it impacts our mental health.

In 27 – 64%* of us, social media evokes feelings such as resentment, sadness, anxiety and jealousy and it makes 48% of us feel self-conscious.#

We’ve had to invent a word for that special photo that’s usually filtered – the infamous selfie!

We’re feeling awfully confused about social media, many feel concerned about being over monitored or ‘spied’ upon in the evolving technological world, yet we worry that no-one will pay attention to or ‘like’ what we post.

I’ve had a mixed relationship with social media. When I’ve been less inclined to leave the house (as a depressed introvert, it’s an easy place to end up!) it’s been a way of keeping in touch with the world and interacting with people at a comfortable distance.

Social media is great at connecting people with similar experiences, I wouldn’t have met these people without social media but I developed relationships that boosted my recovery as we were ‘in it together’!

28% of people say they feel motivated by social media and 43% feel happy while using it.*#

As I recovered from anorexia I had amazing support from the Berkshire Eating Disorders Service and their Support, Hope and Recovery Online Network (SHaRON!). I didn’t have to sit awkwardly in a room and do ‘group therapy’ – I just logged on whenever, wherever – not only getting the support (from therapists and fellow sufferers) when battling my way through a bowl of soup but also giving support – this 2 way process was important.

But at the same time, there are some negatives! How many of us can say our facebook statuses give an accurate picture of our life? At any given time, a Facebook wall could be covered in wedding, sonogram and baby pics – giving the impression everyone is either planning babies, having babies or caring for babies and all of this is shiny and happy. We all know this is no-where near the truth! Most people aren’t thinking about babies or children at all and those that are, are stressed out about it, rather than it all being smiles and laughter!

Mental illness is great at making us feel isolated, alone and completely incapable of doing life, the biased Facebook wall can compound these feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people shouldn’t share photos of their exciting moments. When unwell, it’s important to hold onto the fact that people do not write “struggled to out of bed today” or “washed my hair then watched TV”. Like good news rarely makes the newspapers, bad or neutral news doesn’t hit the Facebook status!

What’s more, while most of us are posting the edited highlights, 36%* of people admit they’re somewhere between ‘jazzing up’ their online profile and it being a complete lie.

Although social media can have a negative impact at times, 63% believed taking social media away would have a negative impact on them (with 1% believing they would feel heartbroken!)

There’s no debate, it’s here to stay, perhaps we all need to be careful, be clear about how we use it and don’t let it become a source of unrest or unhappiness – this is our choice to make!

*All stats from a survey of 1000 adults in the UK carried out by PushON, an eCommerce agency. (# Participants could choose multiple feelings). Survey carried in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Week.

Why we’re still struggling to talk about mental illness

We’re making a lot of progress as more people get involved in talking about mental illness but it’s still very difficult for individuals to put their hands up and say “I’m struggling”. I believe fear is at the centre of this and there’s no easy way to break this down but we can do with small steps. 

1. Lack of understand and confusion

When I was first suffering with symptoms, I had no idea what was going on and I had no way of describing my distress – I didn’t know that the tight bundle of thoughts in my head, increased heart rate and tension was anxiety, I had no idea my lack of appetite was caused by an illness, I had no idea that feeling low and having to fake smiles was a sign I was unwell. I was frightened but I had no idea what I was frightened of. I didn’t know anything about mental illness and I had no language to describe it.

We need to raise awareness of signs and symptoms and make talking about our feelings common place, just like we talk about physical problems. More knowledge will make everyone more likely to see if someone gets unwell, and if we’re already talking about, it’ll feel less strange and awkward.

2. Fear of stigma

In general mental illness still has a negative reputation; people perceive the individual as weak or lacking in something. There are many misconceptions, such as thinking that we’re dangerous, unpredictable or unreliable. Some people think it’s our fault we’re ill, that we’ve done something wrong.

The truth is, mental illness does not discriminate, it is not a sign of weakness and we have good and bad characteristics, just like everyone else.

The way I fight this one is to go about my life and when someone least expects it, I let them know a little bit about what I’ve been through – this helps people see me for who I am first, then they realise being mentally ill is just part of me, it does not define me.

3. Fear of discrimination

“What will I miss out on?” is the fear. People worry about all sorts of things if they divulge a mental illness, “will I be able to get a job?”, “Will I lose my job?”, “Will I be able to get the promotion I want/deserve?”, “Will I have fair access to healthcare?”. I have heard stories about people being discriminated against in both work and personal life simply because they happen to have a diagnosis.

Someone’s mental illness should not be used as a excuse to overlook them in anything – it’s important to look at an individual’s characteristics and skills rather than judging them and making assumptions about them based on their diagnostic label. This is not unique t mental illness, there are numerous reasons people will be overlooked or left at the back of the queue – fortunately, the law is on our side. I sometimes feel like I have to work extra hard to prove myself but with perseverance, I hope we can stop discrimination.

4. Normalisation

When I first started having problems, in my teens, I thought it was ‘normal teenage angst’, I thought everyone hated their changing bodies and so I coped with it as best I could. Turns out my intrusive thoughts and anxiety were pathological!

I was trying to explain what went on in my head when I was embroiled in anorexia to a colleague recently (they asked!). I explained about the fear of food, of fat, of calories and of putting on weight. The reaction I got was “don’t all women feel like that?” – this person may have been trying to make me feel better or they may have completely missed my point, that these fears paralysed me and stopped me functioning. No – these feelings are not normal and I had to undergo years of therapy to enable me to eat with strangers or in public.

Sometimes it helps to see symptoms as ‘on the normal spectrum’ but this can prevent people from seeking help if they do not realise what they are experiencing is illness.

It’s important that talking about symptoms is normal but we need to remember the symptoms themselves are part off an illness and need treatment.

5. Wanting to protect other people

When struggling with something, it’s a common human instinct not to want to burden other people with it.

When someone you love is mentally ill, it’s natural to worry about them and want to help, not being able to help/solve the situation can add to the worry! When I’m ill, I do not want people to worry about me, I don’t see the point in someone worrying when there’s not usually anything they can do. It can make a relationship awkward.

Keeping loved ones in the dark does not protect them; people are more likely to worry if they think something is going on but they don’t know what it is. It can help, when telling someone about your illness, to also let them know what they can do. This may be something practical like cooking a meal, to come to appointments or to listen to you, without judgement, criticism or advice, but whatever it is, if someone feels the can be helpful, they are less likely to worry.

6. Guilt and shame

Due to stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding, people feel guilty and shame about being ill. We feel guilty about being ‘a drain on public resources’, we feel ashamed that we’ve relapsed despite therapy, we feel we ‘should’ be better but would anyone say any of this to someone with chronic lung disease or someone or renal dialysis? Of course not!

There is nothing shameful about being mentally ill – it is what it is, an illness, none of us choose to be ill nor are we to blame. We need to have compassion for ourselves, we need to talk to ourselves as we would talk to a close friend who was ill. Once we’re making steps to diminish the (wrongly placed) guilt and shame, we will have more confidence to talk about it.

I know, it can be very difficult to speak out but the current situation with discrimination and stigma will never change if we do not bravely continue to talk about mental illness.

Recovery from mental illness isn’t about staying within your comfort zone

Regarding mental health recovery, I just saw someone on facebook advise one of my friends to “take baby steps”- totally agree with this, but then she said “go at a pace you’re comfortable with” – this, in my humble opinion, is dangerous ground… let me explain.

Recovery from mental illness is going to be painful, it’s like physio, it ain’t gonna work if it doesn’t hurt! No pain, no gain and all that jazz!

The one barrier to recovery, I’ve seen over and over again is being terrified of change and needing things to stay the same.

There’s the old adage – no-one likes change and it’s true.

Yes, being mental ill is horrendous, no-one actually wants to be ill but, wanting to get better and wanting change are two very different things – I don’t think anyone would be ill if getting better was easy, straight forward and didn’t involve making massive painful changes to the way we think, feel and behave.

Unfortunately, the longer someone has been ill, the more comfortable the illness is, which makes change even harder. BUT there’s also the opportunity to use the feelings of frustration to motivate the change.

When recovering from anorexia, comfort, for me included, feeling hungry, saying “no” to food and making decisions based on consuming few calories and burning many. If I’d been told to “go at my pace”, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere at all. I’m not saying I wanted to stay ill but changing even the tinniest thing caused distress I couldn’t manage.

As odd as it sounds, depression can also be comfortable. I had my routines, I had people care for me, my thinking patterns were familiar, I believed the running commentary in my head… I was useless and trying was pointless – it was easier to stay in these patterns.

How could someone not want to break free?! Of course, I wanted to break free but I also didn’t want anything to change.

There’s a fear of failure, and let’s be honest, taking huge leaps increases the chance of failure, then confidence in one’s ability is knocked! So, it’s essential to take baby steps but I always found the tinniest step was uncomfortable.

Once I’d decided I was going to tackle recovery and make it work, I had the right people around me, people who had faith in me, they presented me with challenges they believed I could achieve; every step was difficult, I had to fight my daemons and manage extraordinary levels of anxiety, but if I’d not gone through that, I’d still be at square 1 (or worse).

With all mental illnesses it’s important to make the changes stick, so, unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a day off! If you take your foot off the gas, chances are, steps backwards will occur.

Deciding to take a day off (as enticing as it is!) is dangerous territory!

So, baby steps – yes, even half baby steps, but as soon as you think it’s ok to stay comfortable, chances are, recovery will halt.

I DO NOT want anyone reading this to feel bad about taking steps back or not making progress, this is natural and (dear I say) ‘normal’! Recovery is exhausting – it’s seriously been the toughest thing I’ve even done, it’s so difficult to make the ‘right’ decisions days after day!

I’m simply pointing out, that in my experience (in myself and supporting people) recovery is about stepping out of your comfort zone, not staying within it.

I hope this will help supporters understand why linear recovery just isn’t possible!

Eating Disorders Awareness Week – Why Wait?

26th February this year is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Beat (the UK’s leading eating disorders charity) are asking Why Wait? So I thought I’d try and answer!

Beat’s research shows:

“On average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1,043 days.”

I’m going to be addressing this primarily from the point the point of view of having recovered from anorexia but some, if not all, of this will apply to other eating disorders too.

People with no experience of eating disorders would be puzzled by the delay in seeking and engaging in treatment but having been deeply entrenched in one for many years, I know recovery from an eating disorder involves a lot of ambivalent feelings.

The most prominent reason for waiting to recover is fear – saying ‘yes’ to treatment means saying ‘yes’ to change, saying ‘yes’ to stepping out of your comfort zone and most feared (when it comes to anorexia) saying ‘yes’ to weight gain.

Denial is also a problem, delusional beliefs about weight, shape, body shape and the extent of the problem lie square in the way of stepping up to getting help. Interestingly, I found, that even when my delusional beliefs were challenged, and I started to see and understand that my beliefs may not be entirely accurate, it was fear, again, that made me hold onto my inaccurate beliefs.

Some people hold on incredibly tightly to their delusional beliefs, no matter how gently or ferociously it’s challenged, there’s no budging it.

Fear and anxiety are helpful emotions – they tell us when something is dangerous, when something should be avoided. I’d be pretty grateful for the fear if I was being chased by a lion, my fear would be accompanied by a rush of adrenaline that would help pump blood to my muscles and help me run faster.

The fear of recovery from an eating disorder is pretty much on this level. Imagine everyday, feeling this fear, it’s not surprising that denial feels like a friend. Every time I was challenged about my weight, my restricted diet or my weight controlling behaviours, this fear and denial kicked in. It felt like I was being chased by a lion I was never going to be able to outrun, the fear was immense but accompanied by feels of hopelessness.

Fear of gaining weight is incredibly powerful – it’s a genuine belief that if you engage with professionals they’ll make you balloon to 100 stone, if you already think you’re overweight, it makes absolutely no sense that you should have to put on more weight…!

So, it’s pretty clear, there are some good reasons not to recover but now I’ll address some reasons why recovery could be a good idea, right now.

When I was struggling, I was advised to step back and look at your life as objectively as I could, as if looking at a friend.

Is there anything you’d change?

Do you want the daily fear to decrease?

Would you like to socialise more?

Do you want to feel less anxious?

Do you want people to stop worrying about you?

Would you like to stop thinking about food all the time?

Would you like to be able to find clothes that fit?

Do you want to go on holiday and just eat what you want?

Would you prefer not to be chained to the bathroom scales?

Do you want to enjoy exercise rather than flog yourself through it?

Would you prefer to be less deceptive and secretive?

Do you want to be free from the number on the weighing scales dictating your mood?

Do you want to try new foods?

Would you prefer to enjoy your food rather than fear it?

Do you want to stop feeling faint?

Do you want to eat your favourite food without fear of a binge?

Do you want to be free from numbers?

Do you want to satisfy your hunger rather than ignore it?

Even if it’s just one of these things, just think about it… Don’t immediately think – “but putting on weight/recovery” won’t do that for me, don’t worry about that right now. Just think, what you’re doing at the moment isn’t working, is it?!

The definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Perhaps now is the time to try something new?

Recovery gave me all of this, and more!

If you’re watching a loved one battling an eating disorder, whether they’re in denial or fearful, perhaps direct them towards this blog, this maybe the first step for them to start the conversation about recovery.

I’m not offering all the answers, I’m just suggesting, recovery is there for the taking, but it has to be an active choice, the only thing that’s going to work is to find professional help and engage with it.

When in treatment I was advised to read a book called ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ – I was very angry that I was being advised to read this book and I’m sorry to say I read the blurb and went no further. Every single day I felt fear (fear of going out, fear of being seen, fear of eating, I was afraid of everything) and I got on with my day anyway, I never let anything stop me. I was offended that this therapist didn’t have the first clue that I was ‘doing it anyway’ every single minute of every single day.

I haven’t read the book so I can’t be certain what it was about but I’ll hazard a guess that it would have challenged my way of getting through, the only way I could manage was to deny my fear. Yes, I was fearful of everything but I feared feeling that fear fully as I thought it would halt me in my tracks. I’m someone who pushes through regardless. If I’m worried about something, I don’t put it off, in fact, I’d rather get on with it, soon rather than later, I hate having worry gnawing away at me. I never avoid anything…except my feelings!

Maybe the book would have taught me that fear is ok (something I’ve grown to learn anyway) you don’t have to ignore or deny it, you can accept it, appreciate it, get to know and understand it…and then ‘do it anyway’!

Maybe we could all learn from this – if there’s something we’re fearful of, the fear is telling us to beware but it’s also giving us the energy to fight. As an eating disorder sufferer, when I worked out how to use that energy to fight, that was a big step towards recovery.

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

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 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

The ambivalence of eating disorder recovery 

It’s really hard for people who’ve not experienced an eating disorder to understand the pull towards destruction.

Ambivalence…the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings towards the same person, object or actions, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.

When your life’s completely falling apart, you’re not able to hold down and job, you’re losing friends and you’re feeling physically unwell, how could anyone not grab hold of recovery with both hands and run with it?!

If, however, you’ve lost everything else, the only thing you have left becomes your identity and a place of safety. If you feel like your eating disorder is the only thing you have in the whole world, how could you possibly consider letting it go?

Eating disordered behaviour not only becomes habitual but it’s a compulsive addiction.

Weight restoration is a significant part of anorexia recovery and this, for me, was terrifying. Having spent years trying to lose weight, put my body through all sorts to try and obtain the unobtainable skinny body of my dreams, thinking about throwing all that work away is unbearable. All the professionals who claim they have my best interests at heart are trying to make me fat, how could they not understand that’s the one thing I can’t do?!

It feels impossible to understand when you’re told “you have to put on weight before you can engage with therapy”. Once your weight is below a certain level and you’re body is malnourished, your brain is not receiving enough energy to function to do everyday tasks, let alone process and absorbed any new understanding in therapy.

“But I can’t gain weight unless my head is straightened out”… this feels like an obvious plea as multiple professionals are telling you your medicine right now is food. “How am I mean to eta when every fibre of my being is telling me not to eat?”

That is what anorexia does, it takes over every fibre of your being, it infiltrates every cell and permeates every breath you take. It feels like you become anorexia. I didn’t feel like I existed beyond my anorexia therefore doesn’t it make sense that I wouldn’t want to let it go? That’s the impact it has, that’s what it makes you believe, anorexia is your identity, without it you are no one, you do not exist… 

Now, I didn’t want to exist, part if my anorexia was about losing so much weight that I would disappear but there was a tiny part of me hanging onto life. In an odd way, although anorexia was killing me, it was also enabling me to hang onto life. When i stopped and thought about my life and what a mess it was, ending my life was an appealing option but focusing on avoiding food and losing weight gave me a purpose.

The first step towards recovery is putting more faith in the people around you than in the anorexia that’s been with you for many months and helped you cope with all that life throws at you. This is quite a tall order. The leap of faith feels impossible.


As I started making progress towards recovery, it felt like the anorexia fought back, as though, it felt threatened. The voice I heard in my head began shouting louder, it continued to tell me I had to lose weight. How do you keep following the meal plan when day in, day out, you’re being told how fat you are, you’re eating too much, your greedy and you should engage in all behaviours to lose weight?

I had so many questions, if let go of my anorexia, who will I be? What will I do? What else will I think about? It felt like I would be nobody and I would be completely empty but as my recovery journey developed, I learnt who I was and things naturally became part of my life. 

How could I stop weighing myself multiple times per day?…then I wouldn’t know how much I weigh

How could I start eating chocolate?…what if I enjoy it?

How could I eat food if I didn’t know how many calories were in it?…then I wouldn’t know how much to restrict the next day

How could I stop exercising?…how would I know how much food I’d earnt?

I confess, when I was in a full blown eating disorder intense recovery programme, I would engage in searching for the web for hints and tips about how to “stay anorexic”, how to stop the hunger pangs without eating, what foods had the fewest calories, how to exercise when exhausted and on the verge of fainting, it’s all there and it’s down right dangerous.

The ambivalence is unbearable, desperately wanting to recover but also, desperately not wanting to recover. I could see the pain I was causing those around me, I honestly did want to recover so I could live a “normal” life but at the same time, I wanted to lose more weight and cling onto certain aspects of my anorexia.

The lack of energy you have when starving yourself makes the fight even harder. The recovery journey is tough and the tougher it gets the easier it feels just to stay indulging in anorexic behaviour. It gets even scarier when you get to the point when anorexic behaviours arent second nature anymore, what now? I thought, “if I’m not anorexic but I’m not recovered, what am I?”. At this point the feelings of failure are rife. Feeling like a “failed anorexic” is all too common but feeling like you’ve failing at life is also a tough obstacle to overcome. At this point, it feels like there’s no way back but the way forward feels equally impossible.

I did make it though, I did put faith in the professionals, I started listening to my body, when it was hungry I would feed it, when it was tired I let it rest. The signals are mixed at first, hunger pangs are confused with feeling full, tiredness gets confused with a lack of motivation. I found it really hard, I’d spent so long ignoring my body I had a brain-body disconnect so initially trusting the professionals and going through the motions was all I could do. I had to trust that they’d been through this more often than I had! It does help when you hear it from people who’ve actually lived through it, when recovering I found it helpful to speak online to people at various stages of recovery.

For me, therapy was the most important part of my recovery but it couldn’t have engaged fully in it until I was nourishing my brain fully. I tried to kid myself that I could sort my brain out while still starving myself but I was wrong.

I may not be totally happy with my body but now I nourish my brain I’m able to think more objectively about it and see that now, my life is full of all sorts of other things that wouldn’t have had space if I’d not let go of my anorexia.

This is my dream

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is Surviving or Thriving. I absolutely love this, to me it’s making the point that so many people miss. Getting through a mental illness is all about surviving, surviving the illness itself, surviving what the illness takes away from you, surviving the mental health system and more. 

But once on the road to recovery (which I truely believe is possible for everyone) it really is about finding how to thrive. Many people get stuck in survival mode and I want to cry out to them, you can do better, there is more out there for you, I promise.

I want to be an example, dare I say, an inspiration, that survival in possible.

When your mind is sick and all around you is black, it can feel like there is no hope, like you’re all alone and no one has ever felt as bad as you feel before. I have been there, I have been in deep dark depression and debilitating anorexia. At times I’ve been so stuck in my head my behaviour has made no sense at all. I’ve been in that place where you make the same mistakes over and over again, desperately hoping something will magically solve itself.

But I survived, I fought my way to freedom.

It is wonderful to be positive about the possibility of freedom from mental illness but sometimes there’s an added dimension that makes recovery far harder than just taking medication and forging a few new neural pathways (if that wasn’t hard enough!).

Eating disorders, in particular, are incredibly difficult to recover from because as they are a coping mechanism and therefore there’s a big part of the sufferer that does not actually want to recover. This can be really hard to admit, and nearly impossible for other people to understand. I argued with myself, I was going through hell, I hated what was going on, so, of course I wanted to get better but a big part of me was holding onto (what felt like) a safe coping mechanism.

So, I want to be a warning.

I have recently spent some time thinking about what my mental illness took away from me.

Sufferers are all too aware of how much we lose to our illness but at times we can be so embroiled in the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we become blind to the scale of the impact.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. – Beat

I’m fortunate that I’m here to tell my story, however…

I have problems with my bones, colon and stomach, I have fibromyalgia and could be infertile. I have to have frequent blood tests which often show deficiencies and I continue to take medication and undergo other treatments including operations to manage the various conditions. Consequences other people face include ongoing liver, kidney or even heart problems, with eating disorders, no body system is left untouched.

If you or someone you know is struggling to break free, I implore you to do everything you can to find that tiny part that does want things to be different and hold on tight! Things will only be different if you try something different. 

Surviving mental illness takes effort, thriving takes something else!

Thriving at life isn’t easy, the truth is, life’s hard – I don’t think anyone would deny that! I have to work hard at the little things, being spontaneous, using the phone, knowing how to take care of myself, smiling when I have no energy and being socialable when I don’t want to. That feeling “stop the world I want to get off!’ – I get that a lot! But I’ve discovered the things I like, I know what makes me happy and I make sure I take time out of life.

When making my way back into the world of work I did some volunteer work to a) find out what I was good at and b) find out what I liked. Trying new things with no strings attached is fun and liberating! It became fairly obvious that my forte was going to be in the mental health world, my personal experience built on my background education. Since then I’ve been gaining experience in a variety of settings and more than anything I’m enjoying writing 🙂

There is no definition of thriving, you are not going to know when you’ve ticked that box and that can be tough! It’s a journey not a destination!

My dream is that people can see that I can recovered and have hope that they can develop their own version of recovery, I want those struggling with the pull of addictive behaviours to find the desire to break free and I want those stuck in survival mode to break free and find how to thrive in their unique way.