Fractures, Frustrations & Fry Ups

People who think they know me think I’m super sensible all the time. People who really know me, know that there is a very ditsy side to me. Recently, ditsy Emily fractured her foot (the fourth metatarsal of my left foot, to be precise) by doing a front flip off a bunk bed at a hostel in Sweden. “Don’t tell people that!” a friendly stranger in the street said to me when I went for a slow stroll into town earlier today. “Say you did it skiing; that sounds much more glamorous.” He’s right. But unfortunately I didn’t glamorously fracture my foot while playing a sport. I stupidly fractured it by not getting down from a bed sensibly. #adultingfail

Before I went to Sweden, when my left foot was in tact, I decided to turn my efforts to making one final big push to fully recover from my eating disorder. Research suggests that only 46% of anorexia sufferers make a full recovery. The remaining 54% either learn to manage it, remain chronically ill, or die. I am determined to be in that 46%. But if recovery wasn’t a hard enough task already, by injuring my foot I’ve now gone and given myself something else to fix. Sigh. Nice one, Em!

I’m feeling pretty frustrated.

For the next six week…

  • I can’t drive which means my weekday working routine is pretty much scuppered – and I love my routine.
  • I have to rely on other people to give me lifts to places – and I love my independence.
  • I’ve got to wear a super sexy – and by sexy I mean hideously clunky and uncomfortable! – walking boot thing. (And if I’m not wearing it I have to hop so I don’t put any weight on my foot. Trips to the loo in the middle of the night are… interesting!)

I’m an enthusiastic ‘get up and go’ kind of person; but because of my foot, I’m restricted by how far I can go and how much I can do at the moment. Taking it easy does not come naturally to me. I get bored very easily so I’m purposefully finding interesting things to do to pass the time, mainly: writing a book, watching lots of Doctor Who, and trying to learn all (yes, all) the lyrics to the musical Hamilton (man, those raps are fast!). But even with those fast raps, life just feels soooooo slooooow at the moment. And it’s annoying!

But do you know what? This fractured foot may actually be a blessing in disguise. The fact that I’m a ‘get up and go’ kind of person may partly be the reason why I’ve struggled to recover from my eating disorder in the past. I’ve never properly stopped to give myself enough time to rest and recuperate. I’ve always pushed myself onto the next challenge, the next adventure. But now I’ve been forced to slow down.

You’ve all heard this expression, right?

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

In other words, in order to achieve something, it is inevitable and necessary that something will get damaged. I think doing my foot in is, in an odd way, helping me to recover from my eating disorder.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about wanting to cocoon myself away to recover (see The Very Hungry Caterpillar blog post). Maybe this six-week period of ‘inconvenience’ while my foot heals is just the cocoon I need!

“You are being called to heal yourself, not to agonise over your mistakes. Quit overthinking; this is what surrendering really means. Don’t focus on your problems and don’t obsess about ‘fixing’ things. These thoughts can be psychological irritants. Just leave yourself along! When you pick at things they never heal. Simply relax and give yourself some time.” ~Bryant McGill

With rest and calcium, I have no doubt my foot will make a full recovery. But more importantly, I believe I am also actually (finally!) overcoming anorexia and healing from it mentally, emotionally and physically.

For example, I got my period back after six years of not being a fully functional woman! (See my last blog post A Period Drama! if you want to read more on this not-often-talked-about subject.) Never ever have I been more excited about something so inconvenient and disgusting! But it’s a HUGE recovery milestone. I celebrated it with my friends while I was in Sweden by having a burger. A proper big burger which I voluntarily chose from the menu. I devoured it. And I loved it! For me, that was a really significant and special moment. Then, when I got home from Sweden I offered to make my family dinner. I suggested a fry up. A proper full English. It tasted so good! As well as all the delicious flavours from the bacon, egg, mushrooms, tomatoes etc, it tasted like freedom. That sounds pretty pretentious, I know. But deciding to have that for dinner was a free decision. Something I, and not my eating disorder, had chosen to have. I felt normal and free! That is what I want in my life – I’ve had enough of control and restriction.

Anyway, I could go on sharing my small victories with you, but I’m sure you’ve got much better things to be reading about. So I’m going to hobble back into my cocoon for now. If you do see me over the next six weeks or so, please don’t feel sorry for me and my foot. Just laugh at the ridiculousness of my behaviour. I did. And so did the doctor.

A Period Drama!

Is it appropriate to blog about periods? Because I have something to share…

My periods have started!

Periods are not usually something girls talk about with fondness. And they’re probably not something guys talk (or think) about at all. (So, if you’re a guy reading this, I hope you don’t get too grossed out!)

But having a period is something to celebrate in my life because anorexia screwed up my body. For reasons explained in my previous blog post, I lost respect for my body and as it became malnourished it stopped functioning properly. This meant my periods stopped. As of yesterday, the last period I had was when I was 18. I’m now 23.

It’s like going through puberty again (why oh why do I put myself through these things?!). And I was completely unprepared for it. I was at work yesterday and found myself stranded in the loo with no sanitary stuff. Thankfully our incredibly lovely receptionist at work was supplied with sanitary towels (as well as all the latest Panini stickers!). She came to my rescue and celebrated the moment with me (shout out to Sofia!). 

Getting your periods back is a HUGE milestone in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder. So although I’m feeling emotionally tender, I’m so relieved. Missing hormones are switching back on. I’m becoming a woman again!

I’m​ not going to bother analysing what may or may not have kick-started my periods – although I do think the big lasagna I had the night before possibly gave my body the extra hit of energy it needed to wake up (thanks mum!). The main thing is that I’m on the mend.

Typically, my period has come just as I’m about to go away to another country (I’m blogging en route to the airport this morning… Sweden here I come!). However I’m going away with great friends who are looking out for me and celebrating my period with me.

Now that’s more than enough talk of periods for one blog post!

Pulling the Trigger

*This blog post comes with a warning for anyone who is sensitive towards sexual abuse and eating disorder triggers*

A couple of blog posts back, I likened my eating disorder to a weed that was destroying my life. I said I wanted to pull it out at its root. I’ll admit, other than make an appointment to see an eating disorder specialist (which I’m still waiting for!), I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that. Roots deeply embed and bury themselves so they are hard to find.

However, over the last week, I believe the root of my eating disorder has been identified. It’s in the process of being pulled out.

This is a painful process.

This a sensitive situation.

Freshers’ week, September 2011. Anyone who’s experienced a freshers’ week will know that it’s a roller-coaster of emotions – it’s meant to be a scary but exciting time. All I remember of my freshers’ week is this: someone tried to have sex with me. It was not a violent attack. It was just a fellow fresher who was pumped with alcohol. They probably felt peer pressure to have sex that week, and thought they’d try their luck with me. But if this person had known me, they’d have know my attitude towards sexual behaviour. I don’t sleep around. I value my virginity. I see it as a special gift to give to the man I love and marry. I’m aware this is a very traditional view, and I don’t judge anyone who thinks and acts differently. We should all have the free-will to decide who we sleep with and when we sleep with them.

Which is why, in that moment (and it felt like the longest moment of my life!) I felt violated. I felt vulnerable. Someone wanted to use my body for nothing more than their own pleasure. They wanted to take something from me; something which I was not willing to give them.

I’m so thankful nothing more happened that night. I really am. I know it could have been a lot worse. But it shook me up. And it scared me. A lot. But at the time, I didn’t address how it made made feel. I didn’t talk about it or even think about it. I buried it.

Looking back now, it’s clear that’s what triggered my eating disorder. It all makes sense. Someone had tried to control me, so I needed to find something to control. Being away from home and responsible for feeding myself, of course food was the obvious choice (not that I consciously decided this; I was oblivious to it all at the time).

The incident that night (combined with several other incidents that I’ve been aware of over the years) gave me quite a negative, cautious view of how men view women. Starting uni at the age of 18, I’d pretty much finished going through puberty. I was getting used to having a fully-formed female body. But I lost respect for my body. I didn’t want it to be beautiful. I didn’t want men to look at me and my body and think I was good for nothing more than sex. So when I became sickeningly skinny because I was restricting my food so much, I didn’t really care that I was destroying my body. I became like a little girl who needed protecting. If anything, that made me feel safer.

Despite feeling physically and emotionally vulnerable, I’ve tried to be strong – probably as a reaction against being made to feel weak. But my eating disorder strengthened its stronghold over me – we’ve been wrestling each other for so long. My attempts to recover over the years have failed because I’ve never addressed the root cause. I’ve suppressed it for nearly six years.

But I can’t suppress it any more.

I’m releasing deep emotional pain at the moment. This experience is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. The Latin derivative for the word emotion ’emotere’, literally means energy in motion. This is because emotions have physiological symptoms. I’ve been awake in the middle of the night, shivering and crying (such a good detox though!) and feeling violently sick. It’s exhausting, but liberating! I feel like an open wound. But open wounds eventually heal. I can see that talking about this issue is all part of the healing process. For me, this includes talking to friends and family, people who pray for me, counsellors… and writing my blog!

Why’s this all coming out now? Well, I’m not going to pretend I understand the psychology behind suppressed emotions resurfacing. But due to recent situations in my life, I’ve become aware of how that trigger has affected how I engage in other relationships. Relationships that I deeply cared about. I am so very sad, cross and regretful that an issue from years ago has been preventing me from living and enjoying my life to the full now. I don’t want to miss out on anything any more. I want to be the complete, whole person I know I have the potential to be.

“Until you are broken, you don’t know what you’re made of. Being broken gives you the ability to build yourself all over again, but stronger than ever.” Ziad K Abdelnour

I should probably make it clear that I don’t judge all men by the same standards of guys who just want to sleep with women. I know not all men are the same. Some of my closest friends are great guys. And in the last few months, I have been shown in a beautiful and special way that men can be kind. Some men do know how to respect a women and appreciate her for who she is as a person.

In my heart, I have forgiven that guy from uni; although he probably didn’t even think he was doing anything wrong that night during freshers’ week. And I expect he hasn’t thought twice about our encounter since. But the affect it’s had on me has been profound. I think we should all take this as a reminder that our actions – all our actions – have consequences. We may not ever realise how much what we do and say impacts other. And most of the time, we have no idea what hurt people are carrying around with them. So let’s treat each other with respect and kindness.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Just like our physical health, our mental health is something we should all be aware of. On a day-to-day basis, we are all processing emotional responses to situations – and some of these emotions should not be bottled up. Talk it out. People will listen. In fact, many people will feel privileged to listen to you. You may feel weak, but in talking some stuff out, you have to be brave – and being brave ultimately makes you strong!

“Emotional pain cannot kill you. But running from it can. Allow. Embrace. Let yourself feel. Let yourself heal.” Vironika Tugaleva

 

 

 

Is There Really Light in the Darkness?

I’m an over-thinker. Even as I write this, I am sitting here in my bedroom overthinking about how to stop overthinking. Sometimes I wish my brain would just stop.

For example, rather than wake up this morning and think about what I might like for breakfast (like a normal person would), I started thinking about everything that is wrong with our world – the hurt and brokenness, the conflict and confusion. I am intensely experiencing all these emotions on a personal level at the moment. And I know those emotions are filtering the way I am seeing the world. It’s dull and colourless, like a black-and-white Instagram filter! Thankfully, I’m not in the deepest depths of depression any more, but I am struggling to see the light in the darkness right now.

I know many other people face this same struggle. Here’s a little statistic for you: one in three people experience depression at some point in their life. So chances are, either you yourself or someone close to you will go through it – and they are both painful positions to be in. Or maybe you’re just going through a really tough time – it happens to us all. And those times are completely rubbish, aren’t they?

But, did you know? Although dark and difficult times feel like a curse, they can also be a blessing; an unwelcome blessing, but a blessing all the same. Let me try to explain this paradox…

I don’t like the dark (I had a nightlight in my bedroom for ages!). However, without the darkness, you cannot appreciate the light. I vividly remember the dark night I realised this. It was a sort of epiphany (great word, epiphany!). It was one evening in May a couple of years ago when I didn’t want to live anymore. My Dad took me out to Seasalter to help me try to clear my head. It was dark. To me, the world seemed empty. But Dad pointed to the stars in the sky and the lights whizzing past on a nearby train, trying to get me to appreciate these simple things. And I was overwhelmed. “Wow!” The stars and the lights of the train stood out so brightly against the backdrop of the night. If it wasn’t dark, I wouldn’t have been able to see and appreciate those lights. And on that night, those lights may have just saved my life.

Of course, at the end of that dark night, the sun rose – as it does every morning – and drove away the darkness which had terrified me so much.

A very wise man once said this:

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Albus Dumbledore

If you hadn’t picked up on this yet, I am using examples of physical light as a metaphor for positivity and goodness. I think Dumbledore was doing the same thing – great minds! Along with positivity and goodness, light is always present in our broken world and our broken lives. But sometimes finding it, seeing it and focusing on it is hard work – because it’s not a passive thing: it’s a choice. It’s our choice.

Another very wise man said this:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus

I don’t generally talk about my faith in my blog posts – and I promise I’m not going to start preaching at you now! – but I am open about the fact that I’m a Christian. Different people find their their ‘light’ in different places, and my faith is where I find mine. Jesus’ words are not just cosy words. They acknowledge that the world is a dark place and there is a need for light. Looking at the state our world is in today, I’m sure you’ll agree with that, whether you’re a Christian or not.

So, is there light in the darkness? Yes, there is. There really is.

When we experience emotional darkness in our personal lives, of course darkness will taint the way we see the world. But, if we manage to pull ourselves together for a moment (and, trust me, this is possible, even if you’re feeling like a complete and utter mess!), we can chose to see the light. And – perhaps more importantly – we can decide to be the light.

There is darkness in our world. But by being little lights, we can be positive and good people who help make the world a bit better – a bit brighter. In any and every situation we find ourselves in, we all have the power and potential to illuminate life’s little beauties. And that really is a wonderful thing.

So, do as wise old Professor Dumbledore said: turn on your light. Glow in the dark!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

It’s been a while since my last blog post. So, hello again! I hope life’s been good to you. Life has thrown lots of good things my way over the last nine months. But, as always, there have been plenty of challenges too…

Last summer, I went back out to Kolakta in India to work in the schools for street children which my charity Khushi Feet supports. As is usual for Westerners visiting Asian countries, I got Delhi Belly (aka ‘traveller’s diarrhoea’!). Not. Nice. But for me, it was more that just not nice; it was potentially life threatening. Thankfully, I managed to make it home before I got too weak, but eventually Delhi Belly completely wiped me out. I couldn’t keep any food down, and as my body had so few reserves, that was pretty dangerous. I’m not going to lie: it was a terrifying wake up call. Before this point,  I wasn’t in anorexia’s ‘danger zone’ anymore. But having Delhi Belly made me realised I couldn’t afford to get sick.

That was another turning point for me. It gave me another surge of motivation to recover from my eating disorder. I started doing more little things on odd occasions to try and normalise my relationship with food. But they were just that: little things, on odd occasions. Looking back, I was naively fooling myself into thinking I was doing more to recover than I actually was. This was certainly what I was telling other people. “How are you doing?” concerned friends would ask. “Oh, so much better!” I’d reply. That wasn’t a lie – I wasn’t completely starving myself anymore. But deep down I knew I wasn’t fully recovered. And perhaps, deep down, I didn’t want to be.

You see, I’d learnt to manage my eating disorder. It was still present in my life, but it was bubbling away in the background, not interfering with my day-to-day living too much. Out of sight out of mind, right? Unfortunately not. Mental illnesses don’t work that way. They are very much out of sight, in mind. In mind every single second, of every single minute, of every single hour, of every single day.

Anyway, last weekend over Easter (when I was fed up of feeling unnaturally anxious about chocolate!), I realised my eating disorder is an unwanted weed (I do like a good analogy!). I may be managing to prune it back, but, as any gardener will tell you, weeds just keep regrowing. My eating disorder will always ruin my life, making me feel tired and anxious all the time, unless I pull it out at the root.

Last week, after an over-emotional day of feeling very tearful and fearful, I finally picked up the phone, swallowed my pride, and told my doctor that I wanted to see an eating disorder specialist. I could sense my parents’ huge sighs of relief as I did this – this is something they’ve wanted me to do for over five years. And if I’m completely honest, I felt a sense of relief too. Of course, I’m scared. The thing that I’ve hung onto, and which has have given me a strange sense of comfort for so long, is going to be given the boot. The eating disorder doesn’t like that one bit! But within myself, there is a feeling of surrender. Instead of wrestling with my problem (which is flippin’ exhausting!), I’m going to fix it. But I admit, I can’t do this on my own…

I’m not sure why I’ve resisted getting professional help for so long. It’s probably a mixture of feeling ashamed, weak, stubborn, scared… Whatever the reason, I’ve unsuccessfully tried to recover on my own for too long. Help is a good thing. And professional help… even better!

So, I’m blogging about this for two reasons…

Firstly, I want to hold myself accountable. If I put it out there in the public domain that I’m going to do this then I’ll do it. I’m not a girl who goes back on her word. I’m pushing myself past the point of no return. That makes me sound like a strong person. But in all honestly, I feel quite vulnerable at the moment. I see myself as the Very Hungry Caterpillar (you know, the one from the children’s book by Eric Carle?). Like the Hungry Caterpillar, I feel the need to cocoon myself away to rest, recuperate and recover. But more remarkably than that (*spoiler alert*), at the end of the story the Caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly. I hope this can be my ending too!

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over she became a butterfly.”

Secondly, I want to directly speak to anyone who is reading this and is struggling with a mental health issue. Any mental health issue. I want to tell you not to be afraid or ashamed. You are not alone in the way you are feeling. In our crazy world, there are people out there who are going through the same thing as you. There are friends out there who want to support you. And, most importantly, there are specialists out there who can help you. If what you’re battling inside your head is making you feel scared and isolated, go and talk about it with someone you trust.

I believe the stigma surrounding mental health is lessening. It’s great to see high profile people like Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate spearheading the Heads Together campaign to get people talking about these issues. The least I can do is write a blog opening up about my struggles – and reassure others that it’s okay to do the same!

Needing help for a mental illness is not a sign of weakness. Below is a list of useful starting points for finding the help you (or someone you know) may need, and deserve…

Anxiety UK: www.anxietyuk.org.uk

B-eat: www.b-eat.co.uk

Bipolar UK: www.bipolaruk.org.uk

Depression Alliance: www.depressionalliance.org

Men’s Health Forum: www.menshealthforum.org.uk

Mind: www.mind.org.uk

No Panic: www.nopanic.org.uk

OCD Action: www.ocdaction.org.uk

Samaritans: www.samaritans.org.uk

YoungMinds: www.youngminds.org.uk

Painful & Powerless – A Parent’s Perspective

This is a personal blog – a place where I can speak openly and honestly about how depression, anxiety and anorexia have affected me. However, those close to me have also been deeply affected by what I’ve been through.

For a while I’ve wanted to write a post revealing what it’s like when someone you love goes through mental illnesses. This is not a post I could write myself. So I sought out people who could.

My Mum and Dad have very bravely agreed to open up about what it’s been like to see a daughter struggle with anorexia, depression and anxiety. This was extremely difficult for them to write – they have publicly opened up their hearts and made themselves vulnerable. And this was very tough for me to read (trust me, there were tears). But I hope this post is widely read as I believe my parents’ raw honesty will help so many other people in similar positions.

When did you first notice that something was wrong?

DAD: Mum noticed before I did. It was at the time when you were rightly becoming more independent – leaving school, going to university – and I was working through what it meant to let go. I thought we needed to let you have more space, but Mum was very concerned.

MUM: I became aware very quickly that you were losing weight. After six months without periods, I remember sitting with you in the doctors surgery asking him if I should be worried. He said no!

DAD: As is common with eating disorders, you were very good at hiding it and so I didn’t really appreciate what was going on.

MUM: Night after night I cried myself to sleep with worry. Time after time I mentioned my concerns to Dad. But he kept telling me to leave it; you were fine. I knew something was wrong but I felt powerless to do anything. It didn’t cross my mind that it could be anorexia.

When was it obvious something was wrong?

MUM: You were looking more and more like a skeleton. Your knickers were baggy and you wore several layers of clothes. While on holiday, you were given some liquorice allsorts – which you love – and you put them in the bin and told me you had eaten them. I was aware of the lies but knew my daughter never lied to me. If I challenged you, you became aggressive.

DAD: Something was seriously wrong, but it was impossible to talk to you about it because you would explode at the slightest mention. I wanted you to seek help from somewhere but you were in denial and wouldn’t let us talk about anything to anyone.

What is your single most painful memory in all of this?

MUM: It was most distressing when you started to admit there was something wrong but just wanted to die. We couldn’t reach you. I had to be prepared that you were so weak that you might die and I couldn’t stop it from happening. I remember being so distressed that I collapsed on the floor, sobbing with overwhelming grief.

DAD: When you were so seriously underweight – and were in danger of immediate serious physical complications – you had come with us kicking and screaming (literally) to the doctor, but the referral hadn’t worked out well. You agreed we would try on our own to do something about it. It was Day One. Your response to having to eat in a structured way was terrifying. I was in the house with you, everyone else was out, and I have never, ever been more frightened. I knew it was a real possibility that you might die unless you managed to face up to this, and I had to be able to accept that. On that first Monday I honestly thought we might not make it through to the end of the day.

How have you helped me through this?

DAD: It’s been very hard to be both a parent and to create enough distance to provide objective pastoral care. However, this is what I have tried to do. When you needed fairly urgent intervention we managed to get you to the doctor. Once you were out of immediate danger, I took the view that you would only be able to make progress when you became determined enough to do so, because you are a very strong-minded person. We have encouraged you to seek professional help, knowing that we are not equipped to face this thing on our own. You have never wanted to do this, believing no-one would be able to do anything that would really help you. Therefore we have sought to understand your illness as best we can, and have read much that has been helpful (and some that has been unhelpful). We’ve encouraged you to have a structured approach to recovering – something that you have found difficult.

MUM: The only time I felt helpful was for about three months at the beginning of your recovery when you allowed me to prepare your meals. During this time, you made good progress and it got you out of physical danger. However, after a short while, you wanted to control food again. Since then, I’ve felt surplus to requirements as I have not been able to use my nutritional skills and knowledge to aid that part of your recovery. I don’t think I have been as helpful as Dad.

DAD: I initiated walks with you; sometimes to find some space when you were very much under attack, sometimes so that we could talk about how you were feeling. I changed my working pattern to accommodate being around more for you. I have been trying to help with identifying how your anxiety works, and to develop and practice techniques that will help. There has been real progress, but we knew this was going to be long road. Your mind has been trapped in a pattern of negative thinking for years, so it’s taking a long time to retrain! We try to be there to support you – which means challenging you at times, and continuing to love you and be a safe presence.

As a parent, how has it affected you seeing your daughter go through this?

MUM: As a full-time mum, I have felt helpless and hopeless and have wished I hadn’t had any children in order to spare all the hurt and heartache. I’ve been cross that I wasn’t listened to in the early days when I knew something was wrong. It’s made me feel worthless. One of my biggest roles in the family is to provide a healthy balanced diet and as a provider of food, I have often been in the firing line. I haven’t enjoyed providing food for a long time. I’ve lost a lot of sleep, had health issues relating to extreme stress, lost interest in my appearance, and lost a lot of self worth.

DAD: For me, your illness is physically exhausting and emotionally draining. The physical pain I feel as the result of stress has been exacerbated, sometimes excessively so. Seeing you suffer has been frightening, frustrating, and deeply upsetting. I have felt extremely angry, confused and, at times, despairing. I would take your place and endure all your suffering if I could. But I can’t, and that is more painful than I can say.

How have you found ways to cope yourself?

MUM: I mostly haven’t coped. I often had to physically remove myself from you and the house. I used to talk to my Mum a lot, which helped. But since she died, I find those moments doubly painful because I still instinctively reach out to talk to her and am reminded how much I miss her. Talking it through with others has helped and I have been astounded to discover that there is a really big problem with eating disorders out there. Also, eating good chocolate helps!

DAD: There have been some very dark times. Your illness has caused me to question very deeply things that I believe, and has tested the limits of my ability to cope. My main means of dealing with all this is my faith. I talk to God a lot about what is going on. I choose to believe, even when I don’t feel like it and even when all that is happening is way past my understanding. I try to live moment by moment. I look for satisfaction in simple things. I renew my determination to stand for truth and love in the face of lies and fear.

How has this affected our whole family?

DAD: The effect on the family has been profound. Seeing what all this has done to you, your sisters and our family has been heartbreaking. This is the area I find it hard to even speak about. My eyes are welling up every time I try to type. In the earlier days of your illness, I don’t think you had any idea of the impact on the rest of the family. You were too gripped by fear to notice. At the same time, the rest of us were trying to come to terms with something we didn’t understand. Looking back, I think we all reacted badly.

MUM: This illness has destroyed our family. My faith has been pushed to its limit. There has been a lot of anger, hatred, blame and mistrust.

DAD: I have been deeply, deeply saddened at the way we have treated one another. Even now, I’m not sure we fully appreciate what this illness has done. I believe it has taken us far, far too long to round on the illness rather than blaming one another. It has upset me that we couldn’t be more forgiving and accepting.

MUM: I still hope that, in time, most of the damage can be repaired, but it will take a lot of work from us all.

DAD: This is not the end of the story. Love wins. Grace and forgiveness are ours to give. It is never too late. It is up to each of us to reach out and allow the love of God to work in us and through us.

How has this changed your relationship with me?

DAD: I love all three of my daughters, and I am very proud of you all. No matter what happens to any of you, I will continue to love you all just the same. Before any of this started I loved you with all that I am, and the same is true now. Our relationship has developed, and that is inevitable. It is always developing, and would have done so regardless of your illness.

MUM: In your darkest moments, you have said some incredibly hurtful things and your attacks have been very personal. I have found it hard to trust you as we have gone through various stages of this illness/recovery. I am often very blunt with you which isn’t very helpful – I’m sorry.

How has this changed me as a person?

DAD: It would be easy to say that you have changed so much from the person you were, but I don’t think that is true. You have been so often in the grip of your illness which suppresses the real you. However, just recently it seems we are seeing more of you – and it’s wonderful! As you break free, I am sure we will see this more and more. I know you have struggled (and still do) to know who you are. In all honesty I have never, not for one moment, lost sight of who you are.

What advice would you give parents going through a similar thing?

MUM: Get help – any help. Do not try this without help!

DAD: Don’t give up. Find someone to talk to. Get help for yourself.

What good can be taken away from these challenging experiences?

MUM: I don’t know if any good will come out of this experience.

DAD: It’s up to us to use whatever comes our way in life to change us for the better. We cannot choose the cards we are dealt, but we can choose how to play them. It is not our circumstances but how we react to those circumstances that determine our lives. For myself, I hope that I have learnt patience and gained a greater understanding of other people’s suffering. Despite hanging on by my fingertips so often, I have found my faith strengthened. These sorts of things can refine us if we let them. I believe that ultimately goodness triumphs over evil, truth prevails over lies, love casts out fear, and light overcomes the darkness.

If you are battling anorexia – or if you know someone who is – please do what I didn’t do and accept professional help. www.b-eat.co.uk is a good place to start!

Why I Love Monday Mornings…

 

Yup. You read it right. I love Monday mornings. Weird, I know. I wake up at the beginning of a new week and can’t wait to get to work. I love my job and I know I’m extremely fortunate to be able to say this and mean it. My job motivates, inspires and excites me. You could argue that if I was doing something I didn’t enjoy quite so much, Monday mornings would be less appealing. There may be some truth in that. However, regardless of my circumstances, I have always been (and will probably always be) a Monday morning enthusiast…

During my school days, I loved Mondays and couldn’t wait to get back into the classroom for another week of education. As a student at uni, I completely went against the stereotype and my love of mornings continued; getting up early to crack on with my studies or to busy myself with part time work never bothered me.

My name – Emily – means industrious and striving. What’s in a name? Well, in this case the meaning of my name is very apt as I enjoy most forms of work. In trying to manage my struggles with anxiety and depression, I am trying to understand myself better. So, noticing my work-a-holic tendencies, I have concluded three things:

1) I like hard work (obvious really)

2) I like being busy

3) I like routine

“Some people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it.” Winston Churchill

These things, in themselves, are not bad traits. Hard work, being busy and routine are all important. Working hard achieves things. Being busy involves you in things. And to an extent, we are all creatures of habit; so much of life is made up of routine, so better to enjoy it than resent it.

However, these traits do not always serve me well. You see, very often, it gets to late Friday afternoon and I start to panic. My week-day routine will stop. If I’ve got nothing planned for my weekend, fear of doing nothing will kick in. I wont know what to do with myself. I feel safe when I’m working. I know I can work well and I can loose myself in my productivity. But with no work to distract my overactive mind, I know I’ll start overthinking life. That usually spirals into a messy mass of uncontrollable negative thoughts. I’ll feel lazy and unproductive and that’ll make me feel rubbish.

I often hear people rave about the pleasures of ‘doing nothing’. For a long time, I just didn’t get it. The thought of having nothing to do terrified me and I thought that made me weird. But in talking to people who are similar to me and who struggle with similar issues, I can see that depression and anxiety uses my industrious nature against me. And to be honest, I’ve had enough of it.

I’m not going to stop working hard. And I’ll always be industrious – it’s just who I am. But I’ve spent too long trying to avoid downtime for fear that my depression and anxiety will get worse if I’m not busy productively working.

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” John Lubbock

I’m realising that it’s actually okay to do nothing. Being productive 100% of the time isn’t possible, so I shouldn’t feel guilty for just relaxing.

“Taking time to do nothing often brings everything into perspective.” Doe Zantamata

Not only is downtime okay, it’s actually pretty important. Over working can cause stress, which actually probably makes anxiety worse. My very wise and very kind parents are very good at reminding me that I’m not a human DOing; I am a human BEing. Sometimes just being is more important than doing anything.

Chilling is the art of doing nothing without being bored. I don’t like doing nothing, and I get bored very easily, so chilling is something I need to work on. Ironically, in this case, I’m only going to succeed at it by not working hard.

 

 

GoCompare!

I wanted to open this post with a nice quote about the danger of comparison. Something like…

“Don’t compare yourself with anyone else in this world. If you do, you are insulting yourself.” ~Bill Gates

However, type “comparison quotes” into Google and all you get is adverts for gocompare.com, comparethemarket.com, moneysupermarket.com, confused.com etc.

Not the illustration I was looking for…

Or is it?

As I went to type in another, more refined Google search – along the lines of “comparing yourself to others” – I paused and thought for a moment. Perhaps the first set of results aren’t as irrelevant as they might initially seem. I clicked on gocompare.com to read that GoCompare provides a comparison service to help you look for a deal better than the one you already have, whether than be for vehicle, home, pet and travel insurance, breakdown cover, gas and electricity, broadband, or loans and mortgages. But the principle of comparison is exactly the same.

We are always looking for a better deal in life. We want to be cleverer, happier, prettier, richer, more popular, more famous, more successful. We measure how good our deal in life is by comparing ourselves to others. But these comparisons are dangerous. They either make us vain (thinking we are better off than others) or bitter (thinking we are worse off than others). More often than not, we become dissatisfied with ourselves and perceive other people as being, having, or doing more than us. I am aware that I do this on a regular basis. I worry that I’m not progressing through life in the way that I should be. I self-deprecate and make myself feel like an inadequate failure.

I don’t have a boyfriend… but lots of my friends are in stable relationships. I still live with my parents… while many of my peers are beginning to set up their own homes. I overwork and struggle to relax… yet others seem to be pros at getting the balance just right. I feel sad… when everyone around me manages to be happy.

The grass is always greener on the other side, right?

Wrong! If the grass is greener on the other side, then it’s probably astro turf. In other words, what we tune in to seeing is other people’s ‘best bits’.

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” ~Steve Furtick

Social media makes these comparisons extremely easy. I bet we’ve all scrolled through our Facebook newsfeeds, seen our friends’ posts and started to envy what they’ve got in their life. Their grass may seem greener than yours, but you have no idea know how much it’s been raining on the other side, or how much that grass has been fertilised with crap.

I think the reason we compare is because we like to be able to quantify our successes; we want to know where we fit into the grand scheme of life. But comparing yourself with someone else is an incredibly inaccurate measure of success.

You cannot compare apples to oranges. Yes, they are both fruit, but it would be ridiculous to fault an apple for not being a good orange, and visa versa, an orange will never succeed at being an apple.

No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you. As humans, we all have things in common; we are alike in many ways, but we are not the same. We are all different. And we are always changing. We are always becoming more. We are always creating and re-creating our selves – it’s human nature. The decisions you make today will direct you towards who you are tomorrow. So, when you catch yourself starting to compare yourself to another person, why not compare your present self to a past version of yourself instead?

Stop. Think. And ask yourself a few questions…

What are you doing today that you couldn’t have done a year ago? What new decisions have you made or what new actions have you taken that have resulted in new opportunities opening up in your life? What negative behaviour have you stopped? What positive behaviour started engaging in? How has your life improved? How have you improved? In other words, how are you becoming a new and improved version of yourself?

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” ~Michelangelo

You are the sculptor, and it is your job to sculpt your own statue. Your statue will be different to everyone else. Not better. Not worse. Just different. It’ll be unique and it’ll be you.

My Friend Ana

Up until now, I’ve been very open and honest about living with depression and anxiety. But there’s another issue which I don’t talk about. Something which has taken me far longer to come to terms with and something which I’m still ashamed of…

Anorexia.

It’s a horrible word. It sounds horrible. Everything it stands for is horrible. Yet for a number of years, ‘Ana’ became my closest friend.

Stage 1: OBLIVIOUS

It all began the summer after I left school. I was aware of lots of uncontrollable changes happening in my life and I felt very insecure. Over time I developed a coping mechanism for this: restrict and control food. I don’t know why this happened. It wasn’t a conscious decision; to begin with, I didn’t even realise what I was doing.

At uni, I tried to justify my restrictive eating habits by telling myself I was saving money by not buying food (stupid, I know). Students all around me were living off junk food so I started to think that what I was (or wasn’t) eating was ultra healthy. In my head, my eating habits had become the norm. If I ate more than my ‘norm’, I felt cross and scared because I’d broken my rules and lost control. So, I kept setting myself new challenges: to restrict even more. 

Stage 2: IN DENIAL

I started to become aware that I was restricting, but I thought I was in control of food. I thought I’d be able to snap out of my restrictive eating habits whenever I wanted to. The problem was, I’d found so much security in restricting that I didn’t want to stop. I got scarily good at avoiding food: I’d lie about what I’d eaten; I’d hide food then throw it away; I’d skip some meals all together. Was I hungry? Yes! I was barely eating anything! But my thinking was twisted.

When my friend died, I felt my life spiral out of control even more. Meanwhile my new friend, Ana, reassured me I could always control food. She told me eating was a sign of weakness and being able to function on very little energy was a strength.

In reality, Ana was completely draining me of life and happiness. I was becoming a deceptive, irritable and paranoid person – I wasn’t my happy-go-lucky self any more. Social occasions involving food became my worst nightmare so I isolated myself from family and friends at mealtimes whenever possible to avoid comments about how little I was eating. It was foolish of me to think people didn’t notice though. The people closest to me probably worked out that I had an eating disorder. But I still denied it.

Stage 3: ADMITTING

“I’m now at a point where I can admit that I’ve got anorexia. I hate it. I’m so disappointed with myself for letting this happen. I can see how serious it is and I’ve never felt more scared. I’ve just read about all the long-term and internal physical effects of anorexia. What if I’m irreversibly broken? What have I done to myself? I don’t want to die but I’m scared I may have already gone too far. I hope I can stay alive long enough to fix myself.” (Diary entry, February 2013)

This was a huge turning point for me. I still didn’t open up about the issue to anyone else, but once I’d admitted the problem to myself, it was honestly my intention to do something to fix it. And I did try. I made several feeble attempts at starting to eat properly. But my so-called friend Ana was now completely in control of me. I just couldn’t get better. I was trapped, and things got worse.

I remember lying in bed, my weak body completely crushed by my duvet, convinced that I would shut down and die in the night. I’d tell myself that I would start eating properly if I woke up alive in the morning. But after a sleepless night, I’d wake up with no motivation. By now, depression and anxiety were starting to take hold of my life as well. Everything became such hard work, even basic things like washing and getting dressed. I felt vulnerable whenever I left the house and was tired and ready for bed by 6pm. I tried to put on a brave face and get on with my life as best as I could, but it was exhauting me.

My body got even weaker. My my bones ached. My head hurt. My heart was slow. My muscles were wasting away. My hair felt straggly. My reflection looked black and white. My periods stopped. I was constantly freezing cold. I knew I was damaging myself, killing myself even. Yet I was doing nothing to prevent it. Why? Ana kept convincing me that eating was disgusting, restricting food was good, and that it was attractive to be stick thin. She attacked my self-worth and said I didn’t deserve a full, healthy and happy life. In my weak, vulnerable and worthless mindset, I believed Ana. I hated myself.

Stage 4: SEEKING HELP

I wanted to get better but I couldn’t trust myself. People were willing me get help. But actively seeking and accepting help had to be my decision. And it was a decision I put off for a long time. Ana told me needing help made me weak so I used my studies and charity work as excuses for not having time to focus on myself. But by now, I was in the ‘danger zone’; I was on the brink of death and, although life was hard, I didn’t want to die. I was terrified. So, I started coming clean about the deception and my bad eating habits. This was liberating. Mum and Dad were incredibly loving and understanding and for the first time – after years of them wanting to help me – I was finally letting them in. I went to see my GP, started taking anti-depressants, and had a couple of counselling sessions… I thought these things would fix me. I soon realised that although I needed this help it was ultimately my mindset that needed changing – and the only person who could change this was me.

Stage 5: RECOVERING

Even though it felt like an impossible task, I eventually decided to start to properly recover. My first target was to have three normal meals a day – something which I hadn’t done for a long time. I asked Mum to make my food for me so I wouldn’t be able to control it any more. Letting go of this control was extremely scary. But I knew it needed to happen.

Recovering hurt mentally, physically and emotionally.

“I’m not sure I can do this. Eating hurts and makes me feel uncomfortable and sick because my stomach is so small and not used to proper, regular food. Every meal time is a constant battle, the eating disorder is attacking me more than ever, telling me what I’m doing is wrong. Ana gets cross with me. I get cross with myself. Then I get cross with Mum and Dad even though they are trying to help me. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” (Diary entry, May 2013)

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. Do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

There’s no quick fix. Recovery is a very long and hard uphill struggle. Only someone who’s experienced an eating disorder can understand how scary and challenging it is to start eating three meals a day again; you feel like you’re constantly faced with food. It takes great perseverance and courage and there are lots of setbacks.

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow’.” Mary Anne Radmacher

But I’m so glad to say that, in time, things slowly started improving.

Stage 6: SHAME

As I became stronger, Ana became weaker. My next big challenge was coming to terms with what had happened.

I felt defined by anorexia. I was very ashamed of the issue. I feared I’d never be able to forgive myself for the emotional pain I’d put my family through, for cutting off my friends and for neglecting myself. But most of all, I was scared people would judge me. I never ever thought someone like me would have an eating disorder. I used to naively think anorexia was something vain girls inflicted upon themselves. It’s not. Anorexia is undiscriminating. It’s not self inflicted. It’s got nothing to do with wanting to be thin and beautiful. I hate the word anorexia and I hate its connotations. Anorexia is not about food and body image. It’s about control.

Anorexia is a misunderstood serious and scary illness. Telling someone with an eating disorder to just start eating normally again is like telling someone with two broken legs to run a marathon. But it’s incredibly hard for someone on the outside to understand this. How my family and friends continued to love and accept me while helplessly watching me starve myself, I will never know. But I do know that it’s the power of that love which gave me the strength and determination to fight. It’s the power of that love which has quietened Ana’s lies.

“Where there is great love there are always miracles.” Willa Cather

Stage 7: MY FUTURE

Ana hasn’t completely gone away. She still tries to trick me back into restricting food when she can. But I’m now strong enough to catch her out and I’m brave enough to tell her to shut up, and for the most part, I am happily able to enjoy food again. I am hopeful that in time, I’ll be free of Ana completely.

“If we are ready to tear down the walls that confine us, break the cage that imprisons us, we will discover what our wings are for.” Michael Meegan

I resent that anorexia’s tainted almost five years of my life. But I know resentment’s not good and I am learning to accept what’s happened and am realising that it wasn’t my fault. And although I’m still ashamed to say that I’ve suffered with anorexia, writing this blog post has made me realise how far I’ve come and how much of the fight I’ve won. For that, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m proud of myself.

“Let your hopes, not your hurts shape your future.” Robert Schuller

Living in Limbo

Limbo: an uncertain situation that you cannot control and in which there is no progress or improvement.

We’ve all experienced periods of limbo in our lives, right? Waiting, hoping, willing for a situation to change or improve. Whether it’s being unemployed and trying to find a job, being trapped in a difficult relationship, waiting for exam results or waiting for treatment for an illness… limbo is not a nice place to be.

Living with depression and anxiety is like being in a perpetual state of limbo. For the last four years, I’ve felt like I’ve been trapped in limbo, waiting for this dark shadow that’s hung over my life to pass, longing for brighter days. It’s really frustrated me. Any hope that things might start to feel better at some point in the future are completely overshadowed by the fear that things will never improve.

“Everything in life can teach you a lesson, you just have to be willing to observe and learn.” Ritu Ghatourey

Last weekend, I learnt a huge lesson in how to deal with living in limbo. I went to visit ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. No one knows what it’s like to live in limbo quite like a refugee. They have lost their homes, their families, their jobs. They are trapped living in dirty, impractical and unpredictable conditions. As they wait to rebuild their lives and will to find somewhere to call home, there is little sign their situation is going to improve any time soon. They simultaneously hope and fear for the future. This is extreme limbo and it was a hard-hitting experience to see this first hand.

Meeting some of these refugees humbled me. They demonstrated to me an invaluable approach to life. I asked one refugee if he had hope that life would be better in the future. “We only live for today. We hope for tomorrow.” That was his reply. In other words, the only way to deal with life is to take it day by day, a bit at a time. What great words of wisdom! If, like me, you tend to get overwhelmed by life or feel like you’re struggling through a tough time, waiting for the resolution to a problem or situation, then the solution really is quite easy: simply focus on only ever needing to cope with now. If the refugees I spoke to can do this in their current situation, then so can I. Take each moment as it comes. Make each moment okay. Then before you know it, all your individual okay moments will add up and your whole life will be okay (simple maths!). In fact most of the time, with a bit of added positivity, life can be more than okay… it can be great!

“Life is a sequence of moments called ‘now’.”

Often, the reason(s) we feel we’re in limbo are external circumstances beyond our control. My depression and anxiety is not self-inflicted and the powerful negative feelings associated with it cannot just be shaken off. But rather than allowing these circumstances to determine whether or not I will be okay, I can decide to be okay now, regardless of how hard things seem. “Is everything going to be okay?” I repeatedly ask my Dad (often through choked tears) when the darkness in my life creeps in again and everything becomes unbearable once more. “Everything is okay,” he assures me. And he’s right. (He’s a pretty smart man, my Dad.)

“Confine yourself to the present.” Marcus Aurelius

You see, it’s easy to say, “Everything will be okay when [insert resolution to your problem here],” but in reality there will always be something in our lives which will drag us down and stop us living life to the full if we let it. Accept and appreciate what is happening in life and right now. Sometimes, now will be hard work; other times it will be brilliant. But we can choose to stand firm and make the best of that moment regardless.

It’s absolutely fine to hope for the future and look forward to tomorrow (hope is a wonderful emotion which often helps us to be okay in difficult moments). But actually, the future is promised to no one. If we’re always anticipating the next thing, waiting for something which may or may not happen, then we miss out on all the somethings happening now. By living in the present, we become fully alive, more engaged and more engaging – that’s the sort of person I want to be.

Of course, if I actually take a step out of my own head and compare my limbo situation to the lives of the thousands of homeless and jobless refugees in the world at the moment, I feel like a bit of a whining numpty. How can I really know what it’s like to live in limbo after seeing how the refugees are living? The refugee crisis has opened my eyes to some extreme struggles – situations much worse than anything I’ve ever had to (and probably never will) endure. It’s put some perspective on my own life and reminded me not to take anything for granted. Comparing situations and struggles doesn’t make my own instantly go away though (depression and anxiety don’t work like that). Our struggles in life are different. But our approach to life should be the same: live in the present.

Life is happening NOW!

What are you waiting for?