Being a Human of Scotland #ALLIANCEConf20

Outside of my blog, I have been a featured writer/contributor for some organisations involved in mental health, and overall health and social care. One of which is the Humans of Scotland series for Alliance Scotland. After writing an opinion piece on Pro-Ana content for Alliance, I was contacted to be part of this series to talk about my mental health journey with an eating disorder. Then during the beginning of the lockdown in Scotland, and the UK, I was asked to write another piece about my anxiety and how was being impacted by the restrictions.

Alongside my story were the stories of other people in Scotland who are often the unheard members of society such as unpaid carers, chronic illness, people affected by suicide, people on the autistic spectrum, visual impairments, hearing impairments etc., This series gave a voice to people who were demanding to be heard and are often the ones to suffer when there are slashes to government budgets. There are a wide variety of contributors from all walks of life. It has been so well received that thirty stories were collated last year and put into a book which is available in libraries around Scotland. Scotland’s First Minister even wrote the foreword for it.

Following being part of this series, I contacted by Angela, who is the creator of the Humans of Scotland series, to be part of a Humans of Scotland panel as part of the online Alliance Scotland Conference this week. As with most conferences, and events in general, things have moved and adapted to online. So, I was to be involved in an event for Alliance wherein some stories were read by the contributors and then myself and two other contributors were members of the panel discussion where we discussed our own stories, the impact of COVID on our lives, and how we navigate day to day life. Adding to this, we discussed the power of telling our stories.

The contributors involved were:

  • Celia: an unpaid carer who looks after her son twenty fours a day seven days a week.
  • Gary: the founder of a male suicide prevention support group, Mind the Men.
  • Twimukye: a woman with multiple conditions such as being hard of hearing, diabetes, and Retinitis Pigmentosa
  • Michael: a freelance journalist who lives with a disability.
  • Ryan: an athlete who has a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome.

I was there to represent my story of anxiety and an eating disorder.

It was a completely wonderful and inspiring event for me, and I was so happy to participate. Listening to the stories of these contributors and how they interact with everyday life, how they have had to make accommodations to ‘assimilate’ to a world that has not accommodated to them. It also made me realise that I, perhaps, have not been so accommodating myself, and it has given me things to think about.

And, this is, ultimately, the importance behind this initiative, behind telling these stories. This is why listening to lived experience is essential to building appropriate care and helping everyone. We listened to stories of people who were in financial trouble, because they were unable to work, because their son required full time care. A group that has had to be set up because of the epidemic of male suicide, particularly within Scotland. Myself, who went through years with undiagnosed anxiety, which was lengthened by a dismissive GP, and received no support or treatment for an eating disorder. Lived experience is where we see the downfalls of our society, the failings of our government, our health care, and our social care. By telling our stories, everyday people can hear how we have had to shift our lives to fit in and yet still struggle and suffer, and ultimately the people who can make the changes can actually made a change, instead of quick fixes that don’t cost all that much and actually do nothing.

A lot of the time, decisions are made by organisations, local authorities, and governments, which are incredibly harmful, and this is purely because the individual in which the decision has been made for, is not involved. As a result, the decision does more harm than good. For instance, the recent decision by Public Health England and the British Government to label calories on restaurant food and weigh school children. This initiative was created without even a consultation with individuals with disordered eating patterns and eating disorder diagnoses. And, as you expect, there was immediate outrage when this announced to the public with fears of a rise in eating disorders, which would stretch an already stretched healthcare system, or leave hundreds, maybe thousands without support and care. Yes, it may be easier for the people in charge to make these decisions without having these ridiculous barriers in the way that are the people the decisions affect.

This is why it is highly important the government take our stories into consideration. Engage with our lived experience. It is a great wealth to you, and should result in far greater changes that will pay off in the long run.

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The power of storytelling is expansive. Lived experience demonstrates the great variety in people. But, it brings us together. I have noticed that when I share my experience of mental health that I get people reaching out to me to share their own experiences, with the majority of these wonderful people expressing the same feeling of: I am not alone. That statement in itself shows the real power behind features like Humans of Scotland. It is not uncommon to feel like you are alone in your experience. When you feel that way, it can be lead to social withdrawal, a fear in reaching out for help, and feeling like you are abnormal. If there is trauma, then you can feel more to blame or that you are weird or something is wrong with you. However, hearing the story of another, a similar story, a similar circumstance, then you feel less alone. It doesn’t take away your trauma, or your difficulties, but it lessens the burden on you. I know that when I was unwell I felt like I was going mad. When I began to experience an eating disorder, I felt so incredibly alone and I felt like no one could understand me or help me. However, when I joined Beat, I heard the stories of so many people around me who also had histories of eating disorders and other mental health difficulties and diagnoses. In doing so, I felt so comforted. I felt part of a community. I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t feel so strange anymore. I didn’t feel so ashamed.

Sharing your experience, when you are ready, can lessen the impact of the difficulty. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. Listening to others lived experiences can be beneficial in your recovery and how you cope. I know that volunteering in support services for Beat and offering what has worked for me in my recovery is very beneficial. If you see that something has worked for someone else then you may be more likely to try it, which is helpful when you are facing a new treatment, or reaching for financial help, or speaking up for injustice for you, or simply trying to disrupt a maladaptive practice you have dealt with. When I wrote a recent post on my experience with sertraline, it reached out to people who have had the same experience, and they were thankful that someone was speaking so frankly about it. In a way, that reduces the stigma. It reduces the shame, and normalises the experiences. And that’s the most important part. Normalising experiences can lead to more people coming forward with their stories thus creating a stronghold of people. No one wants to be the first person to speak up, as it’s an entirely terrifying thing to do. But, when that one person steps forward, it can start a domino effect, and it’s the kind of domino effect that is fantastic and uplifting to see.

There is strength in stories. There’s strength in experiences. Being a Human of Scotland has been fantastic in sharing my own story, but also introduced me to so many unheard and dismissed voices. They are voices of hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland and they should be recognised and they should be heard. It is so wonderful to be a Human of Scotland, and I’m glad to be part of the experience.

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If you would like to watch the full session, you can here.

You can read all the Humans of Scotland stories, including my own stories, here.

Humans of Scotland Logo courtesy of Alliance Scotland’s Humans of Scotland feature.

A Debrief of a Masters: MSc Abnormal and Clinical Psychology

After eight hours of driving through the night, driving through two borders, then a quick meal with a new athletics coach, unpacking the majority of my entire life into a small accommodation halls room, and saying a teary and very anxious goodbye to my parents as they set off for another eight hour car journey to return home, I sat down on my new single bed, turned on a comforting playlist of YouTube videos, and tried to adjust to my next chapter of my journey into a career of clinical psychology. First step was to fall asleep for many, many hours as I was exhausted.

I had moved to Swansea in the south of Wales, a beautiful city on the coast of the country; my room overlooking a nearby beach. I was there to attend the MSc in Abnormal and Clinical Psychology at Swansea University. This was a year long course, and ran from late September to the late September the following years (actually the 1st of October for the end date, but let’s not get pedantic here.) A few things drew me to this course. Originally, I planned to stay in Scotland, and, although I applied to Scottish universities, I didn’t feel settled and fully satisfied with the courses on offer for my intended career. This is not to say they are poor courses, as I have several friends who attended universities like Strathclyde and Glasgow and thoroughly enjoyed their courses. However, I decided to look further afield on findamasters.com, and the first result to pop up was the masters I went on to do.

It was the cheapest masters compared to others I applied to, resulting in my postgraduate loan covering the majority of the cost, leaving me to pay £350 from money I saved. Adding to this, the course was incredibly interesting. I was immediately taken by the modules offered. I knew this was the course for me.

So, one application, some references, and a graduation later, I was enrolled into the Abnormal and Clinical masters. I believe it’s changed its title now to Clinical Psychology and Mental Health, due to the negative connotations and stigma surrounding the word “abnormal.” As it’s taught that mental health difficulties and diagnoses are observed as “normal reactions to abnormal circumstances” rather than the individual being noted as the “abnormal one.” The module names have changed somewhat, as has the module layout e.g. I studied a module called Forensic Psychology, which is now called Investigative Psychology. However, the course content looks to be the same. Generally, I find these changes to be a great sign that they are readily available to adapt to societal shifts within mental health, regarding language, as well as new evidence.

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I had classes Monday and Tuesday and the other days of the week were for coursework and general studying. The classes were full on, and basically these days lasted from 9-6pm. I was very used to one hour lectures during my undergraduate so it was a bit of a shock to see I was about to endure a four hour long lecture for four weeks on Psychopathology and Sexual Offending. However, it’s necessary that the lectures are long, as you have a lot more modules to take on in one semester. They have to squeeze a lot in. Therefore, I did a four hour lecture for four weeks, as it was required that we did twelve hours for this module, whereas I did a two hour Research Methods lecture for six weeks in comparison. Again, this added up to the twelve hours. A masters usually always teaches more modules. In my undergraduate, I did three modules a semester. In my masters, I did six.

However, while it sounds intense to have so much more to learn, this is where it has its advantages in the same breath. A masters really allows you to examine and focus further in the parts of your previous education that has interested you. Obviously, I was very interested in the clinical psychology aspect of my undergraduate. For me, in particular, this course provided a closer and clearer examination of my future intended career. It not only strengthened knowledge I had on areas like mood disorders, but introduced me to topics I was not so familiar with such as third-wave therapies, extending past the standard Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, psychopathology, and Applied Behavioural Analysis. This broadened my perspective and enhanced my knowledge in aspects of mental health and therapeutic practices, which I have been able to adapt to my current job and voluntary roles.

However, please note that masters are not the same as clinical doctorates. It is a more theoretical based degree rather than being hands on. Although, I did get the opportunity to take up an unpaid placement, which gave me experience in therapeutic practice and being in a clinical psychology environment.

Masters are also not British Psychological Society accredited generally.

Most masters aren’t intended to be a place where you can continually practice your skills like in a . A lot of masters are for research. Some are “taught” like mine. Therefore, it wasn’t so much a hands-on experience, but more learning about the processes, structures, and details of different mental health diagnoses and treatments, as well as fields that an individual can go into within clinical psychology, e.g. Forensic/Investigative Psychology. Even so, alongside the placements we would apply for, we were provided opportunities to “practice” our skills with other students. Within the Psychotherapy module, we were often involved in role-play tasks, splitting off into pairs or groups to employ what skills. It allowed us to practice active listening, open question formats, and generally empathy skills. It gave us the opportunity to work on these soft skills that are often vital, but can be missed, within therapeutic practices. Although these opportunities weren’t involving particular demographics, it was helpful for us to have that chance to practice.

Our classes could sometimes be big in size, but generally masters classes are smaller than most undergraduate classes. Therefore, we would have discussions and debates within the modules, which was commonplace. This sounds overwhelming if you aren’t used to discussions and debates, especially having been involved in larger undergraduate classes. But, usually they are forgiving places that allow you to learn and give your different opinions or experiences of whatever topic the discussion is about. You are encouraged to participate, but not pressured. I always tried to participate as I felt I could learn this way, plus it kept me and it kept other students engaged. It’s much better than being lectured at for three hours that’s for sure.

While you acquire a great deal of hard skills during the course, a masters can teach and develop important aforementioned soft skills. During this course, you were expected to be independent and have the initiative in dealing with your work, moving forward with your research projects, grabbing the opportunities. Often, postgraduate courses can leave you with a ‘sink or swim’ feeling. You are given more responsibility. You are supported, yes, but your hand is not held. Personally, it developed and expanded my soft skills e.g. organisation skills, etiquette etc., Organising your workload is very important in every job you will come across, particularly within psychology posts. If I did not learn how to organise my workload, I wouldn’t have a job, and I wouldn’t have made it through the masters. Soft skills are the skills that can set you apart from other people. Within your class, you may begin to see the differences in those who haven’t got a handle of these soft skills, particularly when it comes to any placements or volunteer work you take part in. Unfortunately, this is when you begin to see that grades don’t mean everything but experience does, which is often not taught to many people who reach university, both postgraduate and undergraduate.

Adding to this observation, if you don’t take the time to soak up the opportunity to develop and employ such skills, you may find your masters is even more intense than it needs to be. As someone with anxiety that is heavily revolved around a fear of failure, and then overreaching and attempting to overachieve to compensate, I did find the masters exhausting. I was in the library or in front of a computer for hours every day. It seems like a lot of work, and that’s because it is. Which is why I am glad I took a break before I made my first application to my clinical doctorate. Overall, I felt that my organisation skills kept me pushing through. As did the friendship group I made as we were all equally as stressed and used humour to cope through it!

You have to be organised.

There were a few times I let things slip and I paid the price. Sometimes you will be working to a deadline and you are literally working to that deadline, so it can mean you are working constantly and consistently. It felt like a full time job, except you were also working weekends. I tried to keep up with additional or required reading, which I found to be beneficial in being prepared for the lectures or in better understanding the materials in general. Yes, you get more opportunity to work in smaller classes, but there is a lot for lecturers to get through in a short period of time, so they may not be able to go over the same stuff bit by bit, and they may have to skip through some materials to get to the meat of the lecture.

However, this is where organisational skills and an ability to self-care come into play too. At times, I can admit I did work to an excess, but I tried to treat my days like, as I said, a full time job. When I finished my classes for the day I went home and switched off for the day. If I needed to work at the weekend, I would go training in the morning or have a long lie and then head in for a couple hours. I felt it was those couple hours that benefitted my studies. I knew that studying excessively wasn’t always smart. Something I learned following studying for hours upon end during high school and at the start of my undergraduate career. A masters does require that extra push but you learn to take care of yourself a bit more even if sometimes it gets forgotten. Which is did happen quite a few times for me!

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What I appreciated the most during my time at Swansea was support I received from my academic mentor and my dissertation supervisor. I had turned in an essay for my Psychopathy and Sexual Disorders, and received an average mark, which left me feeling disheartened as I was concerned this would be a running theme throughout my masters. I was not the best at essays, and never understood how to write them properly. At that point, I thought ‘no, I have to sort this out. It didn’t get sorted at undergraduate. I didn’t understand what my tutor there meant, so I’m going to speak to my academic mentor and get this sorted.’ I met with my mentor, Jeremy, and he briefly read through my essay, before providing the clearest advice I have ever received when it came to an essay. If you could look into my brain, you could probably see a neurological version of a jigsaw puzzle finally getting its last piece. He ran through some examples with me, rewrote out the information, and engaged fully in helping me how to write an essay. I then wrote two essays for my Psychosis module and my Eating Disorder module, and I received much higher grades, with the essays reflecting that I had indeed taken on Jeremy’s advice. I think I actually wrote him a thank you email I was so thrilled.

Following on from this, we were required to complete a dissertation during the summer, which was our third semester. We began to work on this research from the first semester, as we met our potential supervisors in a meet-and-greet style event where they explained research topics they had in mind, as well as their general research interests. Obviously, I jumped (not literally) on the ones involving child and adolescent mental health, and eating disorders. After some further meetings with the lecturers and researchers, we were asked to select our topic five supervisors, and I was given Rachael Hunter, who became my dissertation supervisor for the year. And basically a mentor (even if she doesn’t know that.) Again, I felt entirely supported by Rachael, as I did with Jeremy, and felt she was excited to work with me with a novel dissertation idea. This made me excited to work with her, as I felt appreciated and encouraged. Consequently, I produced a piece I was very proud of: a qualitative piece on eating disorder stereotypes and their impact on non-stereotypical individuals. In fact, I was so proud of it I was nervous to let it go as it felt like my baby.

The masters course allowed me to really expand on my research interests and explore new research methods I hadn’t done before. As the classes can be smaller sometimes, you get a greater opportunity to talk with your supervisor and your lecturers, and it helps when you already have some understanding of psychology from your undergraduate. A masters research project is a great place to improve your research skills, and look further into a research topic you might be interested. Not everyone got that opportunity in my masters, or in masters in general, but it depends on the supervisor.

It is definitely advantageous to have a masters. It gives you an edge in the already competitive market that is psychology. It can effectively bide you time to gain further skills. Within courses like this, particularly in psychology, you can also develop good connections as I did, and, in doing so, get incredible support.However, a masters can shape you, and I believe it provides the time for you to acquire knowledge, refine that knowledge and mature further.

Mental Health Literature: A Review of “Seconds To Snap”

Just over a year ago, I attended and spoke at a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Taskforce as part of their lived experience panel. This is where I met Scottish author Tina McGuff, and learned about her book: Seconds To Snap. A native Dundonian, she is a mental health campaigner who spreads awareness of mental health diagnoses such as anorexia nervosa and psychosis, and has featured on Lorraine and Jeremy Vine. I knew from the moment I met I had to buy her book.

Unfortunately, I have just bought the book due to a lack of money and having only recently kicked back into gear my love for reading. Better late than never, I guess? But that’s beside the point.

Seconds to Snap is a detailed description of Tina’s experience with mental illness after exposure to a suddenly very traumatic childhood, which resulted in a development of anorexia nervosa followed by stays in the psychiatric unit of Ninewells hospital in Dundee. She takes you through the moment her poor mental health was set off into action and the downward spiral into mental illness.

Now, I mentioned that I have only recently got back into reading properly. It’s been a slow process. It took me nine months to finish Nuremberg Diary. It took me three months to finish Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And, it took me four months to finish Dune. I was getting ready for another couple of months of reading. This turned out not to be the case. I finished this book in two days. This was a miracle. The minute I opened to the first page I was genuinely hooked. I get so easily distracted, and nowadays I struggle to read if someone is watching TV or talking in the background, but with this book I was shut off to the world, gripped by every word.

Seconds To Snap was just so real. It broke my heart when Tina began to experience her life falling down around her, and I was begging her to stay in the psychiatric units and to drink her Build Up drinks. I was cheering her on when she began to willingly restore her weight. I wanted to hold her when she had setbacks. I was enthralled by every part of her journey, because of how real it was. She didn’t paint this picture of recovery being linear. It didn’t all just happen at once and then, boom!, she was in the hospital on her to normality. No, in fact, her mental health difficulties slowly mounted up and up and up and she sunk further down and down and down.

Reading the book made me experience feelings of hopelessness and sorrow and I was pleading someone to just help her. But that’s what made her story, and the way she told it so compelling, because that’s the reality of mental health when it becomes poor. Yes, sometimes it can happen suddenly. But usually it’s the little adjustments or missteps in someone’s life that we miss. A missed meal here. An extra run there. A few days of being tired. An altercation brushed off as teenage hormones. But, then, the way someone has been feeling and behaving based on these feelings just becomes that person’s new normal. Eventually the person’s way of life is seen as “she’s always acted this way.”

I think this book is a very valuable piece of mental health literature because it highlights how things can so easily build up yet go unnoticed. People don’t realise the ways in which trauma can impact someone’s life, especially if that person is a child who has take the brunt of the trauma. There is insight given into how it’s not just one type of trauma that can trigger a mental health difficulty and it’s not always the same mental health diagnosis or difficulty that is produced. This is shown by Tina’s development of anorexia nervosa and then psychosis induced by anxiety. She brilliantly explores the confusing entanglement of co-morbidities, especially those which feature in anorexia nervosa, and how these can ebb and flow throughout the process of eating disorder development, recovery and relapse. It is a very well put together yet raw piece of work; one in which allows the reader to hear the reality of poor mental health as unfiltered as possible. Many shows, films, and books commonly romanticise illnesses, leaving out all the messy details within mental health in particular.

I noticed as I read the book I felt a large pit open up in my stomach. I felt a level of shame and discomfort with every word concerning her eating disorder. The discomfort I felt reading these portions of the book was because I was being reminded by what I did during my eating disorder. There were many things I could relate to. The reliance on diet drinks. I drank a lot of them during my eating disorder. The dangerous diets she followed to lose weight dramatically to satisfy her eating disorder. I did this. I drank common weight-loss products that were similar to the ones she used. Crash diets. Diets meant for patients in hospitals. What she did, I did.

I felt ashamed reading her words, because I felt exposed. I remembered the shame I felt when I spoke about my eating disorder for the first time. Eating disorders spark such strong feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment as we know what we are doing is considered bizarre, abnormal and plain wrong. We know it’s dangerous what we’re doing, and we know people wouldn’t react well if we told them. We don’t want to feel those negative feelings so we often spare the details of our eating disorder or don’t tell anyone even after we’ve recovered. Yet, for Tina to put down exactly what happened, every little dark detail, the details often glossed over in the movies in favour for the so-called pretty, fragile side of eating disorders.

We need to see the harsh reality of eating disorders. The side that shows all those dark, distressing and negative emotions that emerge during an eating disorder. Reading her words made me reflect on what I did, and how terrible my eating disorder was and the behaviours that were involved. It reminded me just how much harm I put my body through. It reminded just how powerful an eating disorder is in making you think that, despite all these horrific things, there is nothing truly bad about what you are doing. I grimaced several times when she went into detail about her purging, her restrictions, the way the eating disorder clouded her judgement. But, at the heart of it, I grimaced as the person on the outside looking in, but, during the time I was unwell, I remember how much my judgement was clouded. My eating disorder made me think all of the restrictions and purges were positives and were part of my journey to being the best person I could be. Or the best anorexic in the world, as Tina says.

This book is a heartfelt window into the world of someone who has anorexia and other mental health difficulties and diagnoses. It highlights the shame and embarrassment an individual feels when they go through and also reflect on their eating disorder. These feelings should be taken into consideration when discussing eating disorders with someone who has personal experience as they may have these feelings, which can make it harder for them to be honest. They feel they are going to be in trouble or treated like a horrible and wasteful person. I was reminded of those thoughts and feelings when I read Seconds To Snap. It made me realise just how crucial it is to challenge these feelings and take special care in dealing with them. If you want to understand an eating disorder; if you want to understand trauma and its negative effects, then read this book. If you want to see that your way of thinking, as someone with an eating disorder, is common within others; if you want to know that you are not alone; if you want to know that you can recover and have a happy life without your eating disorder, then read Seconds To Snap.

I feel really privileged to know Tina and she’s a fantastic woman who fights tirelessly in mental health and a real role model for recovery.

You can purchase Tina McGuff’s book, Seconds To Snap here.

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If you are affected by an eating disorder and want further advice and support, please visit Beat.

Stockpiling, Sickness, and Safe foods: Eating Disorders in a Pandemic

A few months ago, the first case of COVID-19 (or as it’s more colloquially known: coronavirus) was discovered, and since then, it has spread like wildfire. So far, nearly 250,000 cases have been reported with just over 10,000 of those cases resulting in death. Fortunately, there are more survivors of the illness than deaths, but, all the same, the illness is a serious one and should not be taken lightly. And one of the ways we can cope is to continue to behave sensibly and with consideration of those who may be in the percentage of more serious and critical cases. But, as you have seen in the media and in person, this has not been the attitude of many, many people. Walk into any supermarket and you will struggle to find just about anything. Toilet paper, hand wash, hand sanitiser, aloe-vera gel to make hand sanitiser, shower gel, tissues, paracetamol… and, most importantly, food. The shelves are cleared, and within moments of them being stocked up, they are cleared again.

People don’t know what’s happening. And when people don’t know what’s happening, they panic and they do everything they can to prepare. Unfortunately, as we live in an individualistic society, our preparedness comes at a price. We become selfish and inconsiderate and we do not prepare appropriately. As a result, people are affected in ways that others do not realise.

One of these groups of people are people with eating disorders.

Recently, I wrote a tweet that discussed this very fact and within the day I had amassed some traffic with people reaching out through direct message and through replies about their concerns in how to support someone with an eating disorder during this time. Many also drew attention to the fact that others who are not so affected by eating disorders would not realise the rippling effects of panic buying or, a pandemic in itself, on people with eating disorders and their support network.

Put simply, eating disorders heavily rely on disturbances within an individual’s life to thrive and manifest. A pandemic is the perfect situation for an eating disorder. It will use this to its advantage, knowing full well that a pandemic and the societal behaviours that exist within a pandemic will play on the mental health of someone with an eating disorder. Every day, we are consuming climbing figures of coronavirus cases, the pressures on the NHS, deaths, the people who are now being made to work at home. Our social medias and our mainstream medias are continually reporting on the virus and it’s affecting everyone else. So, as an individual with an eating disorder such as one that follows a restrictive eating pattern, already so consumed with the idea that we are worthless and nothing, our eating disorders allow us to come to the conclusion that we are not allowed to eat because we are not deserving of food. We see empty shelves and we think that people need this food more than us therefore we are better to go without. We do not deserve the food. We do not deserve to look after ourselves. We are not worth a thought. We are not worth any support or consideration. We don’t want to be a burden. So, we go without.

Not only do we go without food, but we also go without discussing our anxieties and our eating disorder-related thoughts and feelings. For many with an eating disorder, we are now laden with the idea that we are not worth your time and there are worse things out there right now. Sure, the coronavirus is probably one of the worst things out there right now. But our feelings are further invalidated by the toxicity of our mental health disorder and we are made to feel that we should not talk about our illness. We’re full of guilt for even thinking about our eating disorder. Yet, that’s what it wants. It wants us to feel guilty. By feeling guilty, we don’t talk about it and when we don’t talk about it, it grows more powerful because no one knows it is there. Our eating disorders make us feel ridiculous for reaching out. For looking for support. You’re looking for support about a silly little problem like this when people are literally dying. Eating disorders are taunting you with this. They make you doubt the sincerity and severity of your illness. They shrug off your illness as something small, something menial, something not worth thinking about.

As I mentioned, panic buying leads to empty shelves. Staples such as bread, eggs, fruit, veg, and soup are gone. We include them in our weekly shops without a second thought. To someone with an eating disorder, they are “safe foods.” When I was unwell, I had a list of safe foods. Foods I could be sure would grant me the control over my weight and would appease my eating disorder. And for many in their path to recovery, they are essential in maintaining their weight and in helping them to relearn to eat. Therefore, safe foods are a welcome ‘fall-back’ for someone in recovery. In this pandemic, many are facing the situation of no safe foods being available. As a result, they are overwhelmed with anxiety and feeling beyond vulnerable. So, they will cope by going without any food. Their eating disorder remains in their mind, and it will attempt to reintroduce that coping mechanism that was used before: if there is nothing safe, nothing that your eating disorder thinks is safe, then you may go without. Your eating disorder knows it can offer that feeling of control, that when things are unusual and things are difficult, then you can control it through your food.

And, on the other side of the eating disorder spectrum, those with binge-eating difficulties may find that they are worried they may panic-buy out of fear, just like others are doing, and then due to the lack of control within their lives throughout this pandemic e.g. self isolation, working from home, being in environments which illicit anxiety, so they may cope by overeating/binging. For people with purging involved in their eating disorder, they may then attempt to regain control by purging. It is difficult with any eating disorder to feel like you are in control, or any appropriate amount of control. So with an excess of foods or no food at all, the individual will fall into a way of disordered eating again to cope. To get any form of control or alleviate any anxieties.

People with eating disorders are so overwhelmed with the prospect of trying to cope and recover already so throw in the element of a pandemic, which is causing others to react in a panicked state, often leaving our most vulnerable even more vulnerable. This may lead to an increase in behaviours and a decrease in reaching out for help and general self-care of themselves. Many are stuck, and simply don’t know what to do.

Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, has put together advice from a team of clinicians on how to cope with coronavirus if you have an eating disorder. It’s a phenomenal resource, and one I recommend taking the time to read. However, as someone with lived experience, I am putting together some advice myself. I’m hoping to put some resources out myself with Beat and another health care resource I work alongside called Alliance Care Scotland.

What can you do as a person with an eating disorder or as a carer? There is a large quantity of problems that you may find surface as you go through these next few weeks/months of the pandemic. But, always know there is something you can do about it. And that something does not involve your eating disorder taking over. Know that it will try, but you are stronger than this, and if you have a plan then you can keep the eating disorder at bay, and you can maintain recovery.

First things first, forgive yourself for the feelings you are experiencing. The world is in a chaotic stage, and was in a chaotic place beforehand. Your eating disorder does not stop for this. It is always fighting for control of you. You cannot help thinking about it, and in this time, you are going to feel out of control. Your eating disorder loves this and it will try to jump on this panicked time. Your eating disorder will try to riddle you with guilt. Why are you focusing on yourself? Why are you being so selfish? You shouldn’t be thinking about yourself. It doesn’t want you to focus on recovery, or speaking about it. It just wants you to not focus on yourself, and effectively not care for yourself. It’ll want you to fall back into your old coping mechanisms, because it’s something you are used to and it’s “easier” to deal with than trying to manoeuvre recovery. So, I want you to forgive yourself for focusing on your eating disorder and wanting to remain recovered. It was there before the pandemic, and it’ll still be there. You can still focus on your recovery. And you should.

In the midst of the panic buying, you may feel overwhelmed about the prospect of going out to the shops. So, now is the time to collaborate. Carers of someone with an eating disorder may find that this is a great opportunity to work alongside the person and even learn more about how the eating disorder interacts with their loved one. If you want to go to the shops then go with someone who can help keep you focused and work through your anxieties. If you cannot go with someone, then communicate on the phone. Send them a list of what you are buying so they can collaborate with you and keep you focused. If you decide to do online shopping then do it alongside someone or communicate via FaceTime, Skype or a phone call. You may feel it would be easier to go alone, or to go without food altogether, but this will give the eating disorder the opportunity to have control. If you work in a collaborative approach then you will share responsibility, while also having a chance to have a level of control. You should be involved in what you eat, but should not give your opportunity to your eating disorder to establish full control.

If you are missing safe foods due to panic buying, collaborate with others in your lives to share what they have in terms of food (safely and with consideration of their stocks too.) Do they have some fruit they can spare? Do they have a loaf of bread? Can they batch some meals or prepare some meals/snacks and prepare some extra which you can take? If this is proving to be difficult, sit down and plan out some meals and snacks, make a list of your safe foods, and then plan some alternatives. This is when collaboration could come in handy. Carers may find it helpful to work with the person to think through alternatives, as they may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of introducing relatively new foods or different versions of safe foods into their lives. They may feel stressed by this and it could result in a lot different negative emotions coming to the forefront. As a carer, you have to be prepared for this and understand that this is a complicated and distressing situation for someone with an eating disorder. Have breaks, work through the list as slowly as they feel comfortable, think about each food carefully, and remind them that you can get through it together and the eating disorder does not have a say but rather they do.

Some people feel that self-isolation may give them the opportunity to not eat, particularly if they live alone. Some feel they can’t eat at home and prefer to eat out, because it encourages them to eat. An idea may be to set time aside to eat your meal, and FaceTime or Skype someone to have your meal with them. It allows you to talk about other things that aren’t focused on eating. It may also give you the chance to speak through anxieties you are experiencing right now when you are eating. It may be fun to treat your meal time like a restaurant or a cafe. We’re all having to social distance right now, so treat your environment like a cafe. Eat together, but maybe not right next to each other. But, don’t eat in separate rooms. You wouldn’t eat in separate rooms in a cafe. This allows you to eat in company, but perhaps not provide the same amount of pressure a family mealtime may have.

On the other side of the eating disorder, it may be a good opportunity for you try new foods. If you feel comfortable, and are struggling to find your safe foods, introduce a new food whether this is an alternative to a safe food or a brand new food. Do this where you are comfortable. I acknowledge that this may cause a great deal of anxiety, so make the small steps that are necessary for you to do this.

Most importantly, now is the time to talk to people. We are in self-isolation, so it can be a very lonely time for us all. We are social creatures by nature, and having social interactions are very important, if not essential, to maintaining good mental health. We are social distancing, but not socially withdrawing. We are in an age of AI and assistive technology so we should use it. If you can’t see someone, pick up the phone and talk to them. FaceTime or video call to have or prepare a meal. Have you just watched a show and want to discuss it with your friend? Go ahead and phone them. Give some designated time to discussions around the virus to get it off your chest and then end all discussion around it. Keep up with your therapist if you are seeing one; enquire if they are doing telephone support, which many are likely doing. If you can, visit online forums on places like Beat. They have just launched The Sanctuary which is a daily service, running between 12-8pm. They have a variety of chat rooms and online support services. This will allow you to stay connected and give you the opportunity to talk about your eating disorder, whether it is anorexia, binge eating, bulimia etc., Join a Facebook group that is relevant to your area, and seek out help if it’s needed. It may seem like the world is incredibly selfish right now, but there are people out there who want to help. A lot of people are turning to online resources to broadcast their services such as yoga classes, drag quiz shows, cooking classes etc., If you are on social media, investigate your community or check out new communities. There are people there who want to connect.

Remember, don’t feel guilty for worrying about your eating disorder in this crisis. Don’t feel like you are selfish. Right now, your eating disorder can thrive in this situation. It will try its hardest to take control of you. Try to not give it the chance to do so. You are stronger than it, even if you don’t feel that way. You are deserving of recovery. You are deserving of food. You are deserving of good things. Have a plan, reach out, and you will get there.

Keep safe. Keep healthy. Wash your hands.

The Monster’s Post-It Notes

“1.25 million people in the UK are living with an eating disorder right now. Yet behind every one is a network of friends and family supporting them. This adds up to 5 million people struggling to cope with eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses and those caring for someone with an eating disorder are too often left without the support and information they need to help their loved one towards recovery. I stand with Beat to demand the best care, support and information for people with eating disorders and their friends and family.” Beat’s 2020 EDAW Pledge.

For a number of years, around 3 years in total, I was under the control of an immense darkness. The darkness was different to other darkness I experienced and would experience. I was conflicted by this darkness, and when I first was surrounded by it, I believed it to be light. It tricked me into believing it was my friend, bathing me in love and promises, leading me down a path which I thought would make me become the person I wanted to be. That I thought others wanted me to be. So I tried to float in the light until it revealed itself and tried to drown me in the darkness.

That darkness became an unwelcome member of the family; a member, which my mother did not know how to tackle. In fact, she didn’t know exactly what she was dealing with. Unfortunately, she believed the eating disorder to be just common teenage hormones. I was quite a tempremental teen, very upset by everything, and full of low-self esteem. If things didn’t go right, didn’t align with the pressures I put on myself and my life, then I would become very distressed and would cry and cry and cry until I couldn’t breathe. In reality, this was a combination of hormones and the beginnings of anxiety manifesting in me. I was very vulnerable to an eating disorder because I was unable to deal with my emotions and my shortcomings, whether these shortcomings were a fiction of my imagination or my reality. The eating disorder could see me coming a mile off. But, to my mother, to my brother, to my father, as I sank further and further into an eating disorder, I just remained to appear as the moody, hormonal teenager. A normal teenager. 

I have never blamed my family for not noticing the eating disorder. That is the trouble with eating disorders. They are such incredibly secretive and clever illnesses. When I decided to become vegetarian, my mum went along with it; not choosing to question it. The eating disorder didn’t let my mum have the opportunity to think I was unwell. It preyed on the fact I was already a healthy child and it used this to its advantage. Health kicks were seen as regular for me. Exercising a lot was normal. I liked to be active anyway. When I would get upset over things, particularly surrounding food, it was shrugged off as hormones. And the more and more withdrawn I became, it was put down to being a teenager. 

So, when my mum told me she found post-it notes with scribblings centred around a certain “Ana”, she didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t believe she missed all the signs. Everything I did she put down to being a teenager. She thought that because I wasn’t telling her anything that she would respect my privacy. I was an independent person and she knew that. She didn’t want to damage that. But finding the post-it notes made her realise the way I was acting fit into an eating disorder. And, in her words, she felt she had failed as a mother.

And, I want to say that she did not fail as a mother. In fact, she was failed as a mother. As a person who supports a loved one. With little to no information made available to her, she could not recognise the eating disorder so I lived with it for more than two years and through a 6-month relapse. And this is completely understandable. Due to the secretive nature of an eating disorder, the sneaky way it operates, it can be hard to spot at times, especially in the early stages or when the person does not look like the stereotypical image of someone with an eating disorder. I was already a skinny girl, so I did not automatically cause concern with my appearance. I also had the ‘issue’ of carrying muscle in some areas such as my legs, so I did not look like the shockumentary style individual with an eating disorder who my mum was exposed to. I did not look necessarily unwell, and, because there was (and still generally is) such a strong focus on the physical appearance of an eating disorder, my mum believed she was just dealing with a typical teenager. And not mental illness. My eating disorder rejoiced at this.

After the post-it notes were found, she still didn’t know where to turn. When she discussed it with me, she said she could not remember when she found them so who knows if I was in the beginning of my eating disorders or approaching recovery?! But, all the same, she did not know what to do. There formed a difficulty in which there was no support for my mum. She was worried about approaching me because she didn’t know what to say. She didn’t want to make it worse. She didn’t want to do it wrong. And, like many parents, they leave well alone, because they are scared of pushing their child away. They know there is something wrong, and it is so big and unknown to them. But how do they help their child when they don’t know what it is exactly they are facing?

My mum did not hear the words come out of my mouth: I had an eating disorder, until I was 19 and recovered. She simply said she knew. Initially, I was hurt. How could she know and not say anything? How could she let me suffer under the control of such a monster? But, as the years went on, and our conversations surrounding mental health developed: my anxiety, my suicidal thoughts, my depression, my eating disorder… she admitted that she did not know what to do, and it hurt her to see me struggle, and it hurt her to know she could have done something had she realised sooner than finding the post-it notes. However, she didn’t know what to do.

Before I wrote this post, I spoke with my mum about what she would have liked to have to support me if she could go back. For her, it was the knowledge of eating disorders and their presentations. She wanted to know what to do. Whenever I do eating disorder talks, one of the most common questions is: how do I approach them? And, truthfully, it is difficult. I have been in situations where I’ve been in the gym and seen a woman who was quite clearly unwell and I was so annoyed with myself because I was worried to approach her in case I offended her or pushed her away. And I’ve been an eating disorder recovery advocate for 5+ years. So, I know how hard it can be. But you have to do it. You have to disrupt that darkness before it is the only thing left of your child.

Eating disorders don’t just affect the individual who has it. It affects the entire support system. An eating disorder wants to tear families apart. It wants you to lose friends. It wants you alone. It preys on you being alone. It is at its most powerful when you are in this state. Being surrounded by support is one of the most powerful defence mechanisms you can have. You need your army there.

If my mum knew what to do, if my mum felt supported, I am certain the eating disorder would not have lasted as long as it did. And even if it did, she could have helped to fight it with me.

You support the family. You support the friends. You support the colleagues. You support everyone. If you do this, you support the person with the eating disorder. If you do this, you cut the eating disorder off at the source. And, in doing so, it will shrivel in its own darkness and any attempts to regrow will be stopped.

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This year, Eating Disorder Awareness Week centres on the support network around an eating disorder. We are demanding support services be made more readily available to families and those who support someone with an eating disorder. In doing so, you will help them to cope with the devastating effects of an eating disorder and help them to support their loved on. Sign the pledge here to show your support: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/edaw . Together we can beat this. #LetsBeatThis

Methods for Mental Health: Wellbeing Counselling

Walking up a flight of beige stairs, my heart beat in triple time with every step, I could feel nausea settling deep into my stomach. I can turn back now and just pretend like I never contacted them, I thought as I stepped closer and closer to the waiting room. I wanted so badly to turn around and go back to the library, hide behind my university work, and push down the anxiety and depression. But, before I knew it, I was knocking on the door of the receptionist, and announcing myself:

“Hi, I’m Adrienne. I’ve got an appointment at 2pm.”

The receptionist smiled, passed over a clipboard with an information sheet, and asked me to fill it out and wait on one of the seats, while my counsellor finished up with her previous person. I took the clipboard, my hands shaking, and found a seat closest to the door. There was someone else waiting for their counsellor. I smiled curtly, and looked away to focus on the posters and leaflets around the room, blue-tacked onto the plain white brick walls. I didn’t want to be here, but I knew I had to be. I wanted to leave, but a weight held me down, making sure I didn’t.

It felt like hours had passed, when really it was only a few minutes, before my counsellor came in and said my name into the air. I smiled at her and she signalled me to follow her a little down the corridor to her room.

That would be my place of solace for the next few months.

*

It was a friend who introduced me to the idea of going to the counselling. She knew I was going through a hard time again at university. My anxiety and depression were getting the better of me. I was in my first relationship, and the beginnings of it falling apart were beginning to show. I was leaving parties early to walk home at night. I was in the middle of a flat-share argument. University work was piling up and up and up, and my self esteem was going down and down and down. Everything was collapsing around my ears.

I was lost. I felt I had no one. I felt I had exhausted my support system. Like in my previous blogpost on Samaritans, I needed someone who didn’t know me. I needed objectivity.

So, standing in our mouldy kitchen, cradling our cups of tea and coffee because it was too cold to sit in our living room, my flatmate said: “I’ve started attending counselling up at the university. You should give them an email and try it.”

I found the email address for the wellbeing services and sent along an enquiry. Within a few days, I was asked to come along to an introductory session the next week. I remember an immediate sense of dread hitting me. I was getting some help. Finally. But, having spent years and years repressing my poor mental health, I was scared of what was going to happen. Similar to my experience with Samaritans, I was scared of being vulnerable.

However, I knew that when push came to shove, there was no chance I could turn this down. I didn’t know when I’d get taken again. I knew how precious a commodity mental health help is. And this being my second breakdown I needed someone to speak to. I needed to figure this out.

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My introductory session lasted 30 minutes. I remember there was a soft, artificial smell of lavender, which would automatically set me at ease in my following sessions. I was so incredibly nervous. And my counsellor knew that. Counsellors know you are nervous. They know what goes on in these sessions. They know the general script. You may not. I didn’t.

This introductory session was to help me figure out what I thought about counselling and why I was there.

It gave my counsellor the chance to get me to know me generally, and then get to understand why I came to her. I came to her because I was struggling with university, my anxiety, and I wanted it all to stop. I wanted her to give me ways to make it stop. I don’t want to be stressed anymore and I want to stop crying all the time, I said to her within the first 15 minutes. She soon made me realise that part of counselling is exploring the why’s, not the how to’s.

Because that’s the thing with counselling, and something I didn’t expect: a counsellor, a therapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or whoever it is, will not just tell you what to do. You are a vital and essential part of your journey to recovery. If you do not understand your core beliefs, your reasons for why you feel the way you do and why you have learned to cope the way you do … then some breathing techniques are going to be absolutely useless to you.

Additionally, similarly to how I felt with Samaritans, I found it startling that the counsellor allowed me to talk without interruption. There was a lot of silence, because I was waiting for her to jump in with advice in the first few sessions. I was waiting for her to add in her opinion. But that’s the thing: they need to know more about you before they can add in their opinion. They need to understand where you have come from. It is not their job to jump in with solutions straight away, because those solutions may not be tailored to you if they have not heard what is going on in your life. Not every problem needs to be solved right away, particularly the big, messy ones. The opportunity to talk is something I had to adjust to. I had to force myself to talk. I was filling the silences with everything in my life. This is a technique they perform to get you to empty out your emotions and your frustrations and your thoughts. And it is uncomfortable. But so is mental health. This feeling is temporary and shall pass. You just have to roll with it. You just have to talk.

So, that’s what we did the first couple of sessions. I talked and talked and talked and she listened. The smell of lavender drifted around the room and the timer for the session ticked on. She and I got to know me. We explored my family, my relationship with parents and peers and all its dysfunctional parts, my relationship with myself… And this helped her to help me to understand why I would freak out at the slightest hint of failure. It helped me to realise I held onto criticism throughout my life and let it play into my self-esteem and self-worth. And the interesting thing was it helped me to open a dialogue with one of my parents; one, in which, I avoided talking about my emotions, in a proper way, with. I was able to see the issue after the high intensity emotions cleared and this meant I could address this issue and thus open a new area of discussion with this parent and help them to realise how they had hurt me and how the other parent made me feel too. My counsellor was aware that I could address my emotional difficulties with one parent, but due to some particularly difficult reasons, I was unable to get to that level of communication with the other. This was a recognised barrier that my counsellor knew was difficult to break and therefore helped me to get around it in a way that would ease my poor mental health. A good counsellor should know your boundaries and your barriers and will try to help you get through or around these barriers in a way that is more adaptive than your current methods.

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The second time I attended counselling, my counsellor was familiar with who I was, but she still had to understand why I had come to her for a second time. It had been around a year. I was there because I was having an extremely difficult time in a relationship, my anxiety was way worse, I was being bullied by someone in my social circle, I was isolating myself, the list could go on. Some of these problems were explored in the first round of counselling but had featured in different ways. So, she spent a session re-familiarising herself with my difficulties, and then began to help me speak through what was going on in my life at that point.

A few sessions in, I had attempted to complete suicide, and I told her. Because she felt to be the only person I could tell without judgement even though I was suffocating with shame. She spoke this through with me and we reflected on the impact of my suicide. I remember crying for one of the first times outside of my bedroom, because she told me how much I mattered and how much my death would affect others – more than I thought. And, while I still struggle to believe I am wanted and that I matter, it startled me to hear that my counsellor would have been affected if I had taken my own life. I had never thought of that. Whether this was the right thing for her to do, I don’t know, but I appreciated it. It felt different to be sure that someone was in my corner and helping me to find my voice. I can’t usually speak about my emotions and how I think and feel with family and friends because I feel guilty and stupid, but with my counsellor I felt like I was speaking to a blank canvas who was there to soak up my words and then use what I created to help me see what was going on; giving me the support I really needed at that time.

Most counselling sessions typically last for a few months, which is largely to do with the funding and waiting lists; particularly in universities and with poor mental health becoming a very common factor in today’s society. I went to counselling for around 2-3 months at a time. Thankfully I did not have to wait long each time, but I know that is not the case for many people. Counsellors and wellbeing staff are never annoyed that you have returned to receive more help. They understand, or they should understand, that poor mental health can be chronic for some, and 6 weeks of counselling does not undo the damage of years and years of maladaptive coping strategies. So, they will try to fit as much as they can in the time that they have with you.

Some people don’t enjoy counselling, whether this is due to a bad counsellor, or their sessions being terminated due to waiting list demands. However, I would encourage you to go again. It may be different the next time. If it’s not, then this method for mental health is not for you.

Counsellors are objective support systems in your life that you allow you to talk about what has happened and what is currently going on. It can be really hard to cope sometimes and you sometimes need an extra pair of ears to listen. I don’t often like talking to others who are close to me because of trust issues and feeling like I’m a burden. I will offer bits and pieces, but with counselling I was allowed to offer all of me, and that was really something.

There should be so much more funding in counselling. Large, extensive waiting lists shouldn’t be there. There should be more expansive and better funded mental health resources in general. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get their help. You have a right to help and you have a right to have a voice and sort through your difficulties. You have noticed you are struggling and now you deserve the help that is available to you.

I am grateful for the counsellor who helped me when I was in university. I always will be.

An Experience With The Pro-Ana Nation

Disclaimer: This posts deals with eating disorders, eating disorder behaviour and Pro-Ana/Pro-Mia sites. I understand that some people may find a comfort in these sites, but this is my personal experience, what research I have completed in my masters and my perspective of what I observed and consumed on these sites.

I am alone in front of my brother’s computer. I open up the internet and type in a familiar phase into the search engine, as I watch hundreds of results flash up in front of my eyes. I click on a link, permanently purple in colour, and it takes me to a blog. Images ensnare me. Words, commandments, rules reel me in with grip hook reminders of what I have become consumed with. I scroll endlessly, pausing over certain photos, tracing the outline of the subject with my cursor. I can feel a high building in my system. It’s a strange sensation. One that both fills me with light and fills me with darkness. I am being simultaneously pulled down and lifted up. Hope yet despair. I find some text on the page with comforting words and instructions, a guiding star, and I feel … safe.

After a time, I exit this page as the high is waining and I need something else. I open YouTube and look up a favourite video. It’s a picture series video. A lovely, very pretty song accompanies it. I click another and another and another and another until my search history has an evidence trail of what I am. Eventually I leave and return to more blogs where I meet supporters who unwittingly entice me with their efforts; breeding a competitiveness I have only seen in sport. They are like me so they don’t know. I read the details of their day in the format of food and exercise. I learn their ways as they learn from mine. We goad each other to do better. To submit entirely. And soon, once I am absolutely sick and heavy with my consumption, I retire for a few hours until I return that night to do it all over again.

I was involved in the Pro-Ana Nation.

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While there is not evidence in the number of visitors to these sites, or frequent users, there are likely hundreds or thousands of people that visited Pro-Ana sites. It’s a formidable habit. A dangerous one.

So, what is Pro-Ana?

Pro-Ana is short for Pro-Anorexia. It is the promotion of behaviours that align with anorexia nervosa and restrictive eating patterns. Its counterpart is Pro-Mia, or Pro-Bulimia. Its main method of dissemination is online through websites and social media channels. When I followed Pro-Ana, I used the websites.

Pro-Ana/Pro-Mia is a community, which spreads the message of maintaining your eating disorder. It’s portrayed as though its a religion. Most sites, if not all, have their staple posts: the thin commandments, the Ana Creed. Of course, it’s a total parody of Christianity and Catholicism – this irony was not lost on me, being a born and raised Catholic myself. It’s like a religion and you become its follower.

Pro-Ana is seen in written blog posts, photo sets, photo edits… There are tips and tricks on how to hide your eating disorder from your family, how to lose weight, dangerous crash diets, tricking your GP or the staff in the inpatient clinic… There’s diagrams, thinspiration videos, safe foods – which, I might add, become less and less safe the further you delve. Pro-Ana is vast and detailed, leaving no gaps for you to escape from the grasps of your eating disorder. From Ana. From Mia.

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My journey with Pro-Ana began when I was 15. I was already developing orthorexia, and in a very vulnerable place. I was in English class and we were going over our argumentative/persuasive essays. I was doing something on meat consumption or the fashion industry’s creepy sexualisation of child and adolescent models. You know, something light-hearted. Reading over my endless pages of notes, trying to construct some kind of plan, I caught sight of my classmate’s pages printed from the internet. It was a lot of articles and some screen grabs of something called Pro-Ana. She was discussing it with the rest of the table and I asked, innocently enough, if I could look at what she was doing. I was genuinely curious.

My eyes were glued to the page immediately. It was probably in that moment that the personification of anorexia manifested and began to hang around me. I just didn’t realise it. I handed the pages back to my classmate, making a mental note to research what this Pro-Ana thing was. And that’s where it started.

I got home, and got onto my brother’s computer, as he played football or golf that night. Within minutes, I was in deep. Admittedly, I was horrified by what I was seeing. I couldn’t believe that people ran sites like this and that people actually followed it. But, I wasn’t closing the page. I couldn’t close the page. I was horrified, but I was intrigued. This was a place that could promise me it all. The truth on how to really get to where I wanted to in life. Most of these people had lives similar to mine. They had mental health difficulties. Anxiety. Depression.

They were lonely and lost and trying to figure out why they felt like failures. And so was I.

So, I stayed. And, Pro-Ana had me.

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Pro-Ana became a part of my daily routine during my experience with orthorexia and anorexia. You’re already living, according to a very regimented and highly controlled routine, so the addition to Pro-Ana became an essential part to my experience with anorexia nervosa. I would spent days trawling through blogs. At times, I would be so un-energetic that I would mindlessly watch videos called Thinspiration videos. This is essentially videos full of extremely slim girls and ‘inspirational quotes’ such as that infamous Kate Moss quote. I wasn’t even taking in the images when I felt this weak, but the fact I knew they were there was good enough for me.

It was a comfort blanket.

The only way I could appropriately describe the grip Pro-Ana had on me was like having an addiction, which is perhaps insensitive to those who have drug addictions. But, it gave me a real high. It gave me a short burst of excitement and belonging. So, when I was hitting real lows of depression, exhaustion, and self-hatred, I would go on the Pro-Ana sites and find solace, a justification for what I was doing. It was like the anorexia was trying keep me on track, keep me trapped, within the suffocating walls of an eating disorder. One trip to these sites would remind what I could achieve if I just maintained my eating disorder.

Pro-Ana portrays these slim girls as very successful in their social circles; so gorgeous that boys fall at their feet and see them as these ethereal creatures. This is absolute gold for young, impressionable adolescent girls; particularly those with such low self-worth and low self-esteem like me. I grew up hating the way I looked and the way I acted. I didn’t understand myself. I didn’t know my identity. I was cannon fodder to these sites. My eating disorder knew it could have me hook, line and sinker with the details of a successful and happy life if I just kept starving myself.

But here was the problem.

There were lots of us in these Pro-Ana communities, whether they were active and contributing members, or silent consumers like me. And, we were all feeding and being fed the idea that being the epitome of what an eating disorder wants is exactly what we should strive for. So, often there were detailed accounts, and sometimes nonsensical, starved accounts, of our failures in restricting and purging. Anytime we binged we felt like we failed and the purge that followed made us feel dirty. We were being promised that the eating disorder was the key to our happiness but we were all so deeply unhappy and deeply unwell. Even when we were ‘doing well’ according to Pro-Ana and our eating disorders, we were failures to ourselves as whatever we did was not good enough. No matter whether we could see bones, or we had to five layers to keep warm, or we weighed a certain amount, ate a certain number of calories, fasted for a certain number of days, we still felt like failures. These Pro-Ana sites trapped us in this cycle of feeling like a failure with the small, fleeting yet instant hit of hope that we could maybe be what Pro-Ana promised. As long as we stayed on the sites, used them, and continued to follow the dangerous diets, and restricted and purged.

The additional danger that came with the community was the support we gave each other was quite superficial and actually spurred on subconscious competitive behaviours. It was almost a ‘best in show’ and Ana and Mia were the judges. Not only were you learning tips and tricks in how to maintain your eating disorder, but you were also trying to outdo each other. Be the best at your eating disorder. You are special and that’s why Ana chose you so prove you are the best. Prove it!

You are in competition with each other and you can record your attempts via these posts. How long you fasted for. How many calories you didn’t eat. How you can purge so easily now. And on the other side, you are reading these posts, soaking in the words, thinking I need to do better. I need to prove to Ana that I am worthy. If you see someone who is eating 400 calories a day, and you are eating 500, you instantly feel like a failure. You must do better. Must try harder. This leads to an increase in your disordered eating. I would eat less because I felt I had to do just as well, if not better, than others. I would restrict further in my eating disorder because I was seeing evidence plain as day that I was not good enough. Not only was my eating disorder telling me I wasn’t good enough, and I had to starve myself more, but I was reading the words of the others ‘successes.’

And there I was, crying because I couldn’t make myself sick like they could, and instead was cutting up the back of my throat with whatever utensil I was using and hurting my stomach and chest with the gagging and coughing with no result.

I was heavily addicted to the these sites, and it was very hard to withdraw from them. It was very obviously important to my recovery that I did, but I would miss the feeling it gave me. The hit of adrenaline. The strangely warm and longing feeling that I was making myself better and it would all be worth it. I could be like these girls on the Pro-Ana sites. I could be happy. I could have the life I wanted. I could have everything Pro-Ana promised. As long as I did what she told me to do.

And the more I consumed on the internet, the less I consumed in real life.

*

Nowadays, these sites are a lot more heavily policed. But social media is ever evolving and there are ways in which Pro-Ana can operate her sick little games to warp people within the eating disorder community. Code words, private accounts, censors; all masquerading in a much cleverer and sneakier way than when they were quite brazen on these old blogging sites. But, then again, that’s the nature of an eating disorder.

I have never attempted to seek out these sites again. Because I know how powerful they are. I remember how they sucked me in. I remember how they trapped me.

I’ve found my way to the surface again and I don’t want to go back. Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia are powerhouses, and not the good kind. They are evil, destructive things that steal your identity and make you feel like you are being supported, when you are not. You are only being plunged into their world; never to be your own person again. You are theirs.

Never again.

*

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or concerned about someone who is, then please contact your GP, or visit Beat for helplines and online support forums.

I understand some of you might find this language or content inflammatory and untrue. We all have different experiences. These are mine and, as you can tell, I am not a fan of Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites. However, if you have any other opinions, or a different experience with these sites, leave a comment below. I always love learning about other peoples’ experiences and reading your perspectives.

I Am Not My Eating Disorder.

Disclaimer: This piece discusses eating disorders.

An eating disorder is a powerful thing. It can ruin many years of your life. It can take away your joy to eat. It can damage your body nearly beyond repair. It can leave lasting physical problems. It embeds itself in your mind like a parasite. It is consuming. It is enduring.

And, it can rob you entirely of your identity.

During my MSc, I completed a dissertation that focused on the perspective of those who considered themselves non-stereotypical in their experience of an eating disorder. I interviewed them on said experience and how it compared against those who were more stereotypical. Although it did not emerge as a main theme, many of the participants spoke of issues with their identity. In other words, their eating disorder became an important, if not total, part of their identity.

However, there is a deeper idea behind the identity issues with an eating disorder. While there is the stereotypical concept of what someone looks like with an eating disorder, there holds a concept of an eating disorder taking over a person’s original identity. The eating disorder becomes the individual. The more it consumes the stronger it grows and the further and further away from the light you get. Once an eating disorder gets in there, it’s hard to get it back out.

You no longer exist.

People don’t notice it completely, but they know something isn’t right about you. You don’t seem the same. They know it’s you, physically, but it’s like you are wearing a mask. So clever that it can expertly fool people, but not clever enough that people can see through the cracks. They can see you trying to get out, but the further entrenched you become in the eating disorder, the slimmer the cracks get. It becomes paved over by some plaster. You disappear and a new you emerges. You and the eating disorder have become one and the same, except the eating disorder is the dominant personality.

*

When you go through recovery, one of the first things you do, or are taught to do in therapy, is externalise the eating disorder. This is probably one of the hardest things to do. It’s not: I didn’t eat above (insert number of calories) for seven days. It’s: my eating disorder didn’t allow me to do that. Not: I have to binge all of this food and then find a way to purge every bit of it because I am worthless and out of control and disgusting. But instead: my eating disorder has taught me to think these things and have distorted my sense of perception. You have to spend a great deal of time trying to figure out what is you and what is the eating disorder. Which can prove to be beyond difficult when you’ve lost yourself to an eating disorder and don’t really know who you are anymore. It has become so ingrained within you. It has you fully believing that you are your eating disorder and that the old you wasn’t really you. This version of you is a higher you. The one you always wanted to become. Your eating disorder sold this identity to you in all its glory. You’ve practically trascended!

Who in their right mind would want to give that up?

Well, the funny thing is: you’re not in your ‘right’ mind at all when you have an eating disorder. Your perception has become so warped that you’ve forgotten what it felt like to be yourself pre-eating disorder. So through therapy, a lot of time and patience, the eating disorder becomes IT and not YOU.

But where does that leave you?

The fear we experience when we begin the process of of externalisation is just that: what are you once you’ve let go? You’ve spent the whole illness being taught that the person you were before was irrelevant and worthless. Where are you meant to go when what you used to be has been destroyed in favour of horrible maladaptive coping mechanisms?

You’ve been put through this traumatic event. You’ve been restricting, binging, purging, over exercising … whatever pattern your eating disorder fell under. You’ve completely shifted your identity to align with an eating disorder. You know what you were like before it happened, but things – things are different now.

I remember who I was before my eating disorder. I was a confident young girl. I ran and kept fit. I played piano. I sang in choir and regularly performed in school musicals and theatre. I was in drama groups. I wrote stories. I liked to do a lot.

When I had my eating disorder, I was almost transformed; a term it will want you to think is a good thing. My bad qualities were accentuated, as you can often observe in a lot of mental health difficulties. Other qualities emerged. A new identity formulated. I was completely affected by my eating disorder, and the stronger my eating disorder became the more pre-eating disorder me disappeared. That part barely existed anymore and was pretty much there to keep up appearances. If my eating disorder had it its way, it would have created a new identity where I didn’t exist at all.

So, when I went through the process of recovery, and externalisation, I had the impossible of task of trying to scrape together the remaining pieces of my old self. An old identity that had been obliterated by an all consuming traumatic experience such as an eating disorder. I tried for a while to get back to who I was before the disorder. And, in doing so, I avoided the fact I had one in the first place. It wasn’t something to be thought of again. It happened and that’s as far as I’ll entertain it.

However, the fact that I was ignoring it was not going to make it magically disappear. I had gone through some serious years of physical and mental damage to my body. Drowned myself in some of the most intense self-hatred I’ve ever experienced. There’s no way I didn’t alter my brain chemistry doing this. I wasn’t going to be the same person.

So, I had to figure out who I was to be now.

Truthfully, I am still trying to really figure out what my identity is post-eating disorder. But right now, I am no longer someone who is their eating disorder. I am someone who had an eating disorder. I am able to discern what thoughts are mine and what thoughts are the illness. I have achieved externalisation.

But, I am always going to have the experience of having an eating disorder living as part of my identity.

And that’s okay to me.

I can face it now it is not ingrained in me. I can see it for what it is. Knowing I can see it means it is no longer seeing for me.

I have a different outlook on the world and a different experience to offer to it. I am someone who has been affected by an eating disorder and bad mental health, and I have been given the chance to speak about how it affected me. I identified as someone consumed by an eating disorder and now I identify as Adrienne: someone affected but now recovered.

Even if I don’t know who I am fully yet, to be in this position in the first place is an incredible position to be in. I don’t know everything; I am learning a lot about who I am becoming.

But, I do know that I have not become my eating disorder.

*

If you are affected by any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact the Beat website for further information and online forums, or contact your GP.

Methods For Mental Health: The Good Samaritan

Disclaimer: This post involves a conversation about suicide, suicidal ideation, and suicidal thoughts and actions.

Around 3am, my knees hugged tight to my chest, the small of my back pressing against the frame of my bed, I stared at the number I had just dialled into my phone. My fingers trembled over the green call button. I willed myself to press call. My breath was caught in my chest as though my lungs were being crushed by my ribs. I pressed the call button. The dialling tone rang in my ear, daring me to hang up, but before my nerves got the better of me, the call connected.

Hello, you’re through to Samaritans. How can I help?

This is my experience with the Samaritans helpline.

*

While the number of completed suicides has generally decreased, there are still increases within the male demographic and across different cultures and countries. Samaritans launched their freephone helpline in 2015. Over 5.7 million people called Samaritans within a year. This number has been increasing steadily throughout the years. People are reaching out for support more and more, but there remains a stigma, and a genuine fear around calling a suicide helpline.

For me, the fear and anxiety lay around: I am going to have to admit that I am seriously struggling; struggling so much that I want to end my life. You don’t want to be that person who calls a suicide helpline. It makes you feel nuts and helpless. But, I was helpless and I was feeling completely out of my mind.

I was at a point in my life where my mental health was so bad, and I was so, so alone that I felt the only way for the suffering to stop was to kill myself. To make it all go away by making myself go away. Essentially. I couldn’t breathe for suicidal ideation.

However, there was something in me trying to swim to the surface to save me. And that’s when I googled the number for Samaritans.

When the call connected, a soft and polite female voice greeted me. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly when I rang. But, I didn’t expect to connect automatically. I mean, there was nothing else it was going to do. Did I think it was going to take me to a menu? Press 1 if you want to kill yourself now. Press 2 if you don’t know if you want to kill yourself. Did I think I was going to be put on a waiting list? You are number 7 in the queue; please hold if you want to talk about the fact you are very suicidal and thinking of the ways you end it. Nope, it connected pretty much automatically.

This jarred me. I had built up all this courage to phone and, within a few minutes, I was faced with it. On the other side was someone who was waiting to hear about my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t know what to do. What could I say?

I had run the word suicide through my mind several times so much so that it was just another word. However, thinking a word and saying a word can carry very different weights. Additionally, saying a word out loud to yourself and saying a word out loud to someone also carry very different weights. The fact I hadn’t said it out loud either to myself or to anyone else… that rested very heavily upon me the second the phone call connected. For many, this is the first time they discuss their suicidal thoughts and feelings. Connecting straight to an operator, therefore, can be extremely surprising.

However, while it frightened me, it didn’t give me the option to hang up. If there was an exceedingly long time to wait, you’d probably have a lot of people overthinking their decision to phone and soon hanging up the call. You can’t ‘run’ if the call connects straight to an operator. You have to face the suicidal thoughts head on. I had to speak about it. This was the moment I had chose to speak out against my suicidal thoughts. Sure, you can hang up if the call connects and you really don’t want to talk about it, but, for me, it created a sense of: you can do it now or you can continue to let the suicidal thoughts torment you. So, I stayed on the call and spoke about the fact I was considering killing myself.

*

It wasn’t until I did an elective class in clinical psychology when I was in my fourth year of university that I learned about the power of silence. However, I was first exposed to the act of using silence in counselling and in Samaritans. Samaritans use it very effectively. The woman I spoke to was very calming and patient. And she used silence as a method to get me to talk. Silence is used in therapy and in psychological practices to do exactly that. Think about times where there were awkward silences in your life. You may have felt obliged to keep talking to fill the silence up. This is the idea behind leaving an intentional and deliberate silence within conversation. However, it’s not a deceitful and wholly ‘manipulative’ act. It actually benefits the individual on the other side of the phone.

When I called Samaritans and was faced with a lot of silence, it gave me an enormous opportunity to speak. That was what I needed. Samaritans is a helpline that gives you the chance to talk. And that is one of the most important steps towards improvements and a better understanding in your own mental health. A lot of people involved in my life did not want to listen to me at that time, or they would jump down my throats with well meaning but ill timed solutions. At that point, I just needed someone to listen. For me, someone dismissing me or trying to solve my problem only made me feel that no one cared, wanted to listen, or give me the time of day. It’s not that I didn’t want to solve the problem. I just wanted to talk about my situation and how it was making me feel.

For someone to give me a chance to talk, give me a chance to vent… it was unnerving, but it was welcomed. Initially, I didn’t know what to do. I was waiting for the worker to butt in, to offer some kind of solution, but it didn’t come. I’m not going to lie, I was confused and I actually became a bit frustrated. I remember thinking: just have an input, moan with me, please talk back… But now when I think back on it, I can see it was because I was so used to people butting in and offering me solutions that I was not ready to commit to. Plus, Samaritans was not going to bitch and moan with me over one of my issues that was amounting to my suicidal ideation. Because that’s not what they are there for. They were there to give me a safe space so I could finally let everything out.

Although I was hesitant, especially with the silence, in speaking out loud, I eventually began to let everything out. I didn’t cry. Mainly because of the environment I was in when I was on the phone. I was whispering the full conversation. However, throughout I carried feelings of embarrassment trying to tell the worker I was suicidal. Because I was so naturally ashamed I had been feeling so incredibly down that I was almost ready to take my life. Because I had people dismiss me and tell me I was overreacting so I convinced myself that maybe I was overreacting and maybe I was the bad one. I should be ashamed of myself. Why don’t I just get rid of myself because I am so embarrassing? Then the more I wanted to speak about it the more I remembered how embarrassed and ashamed I felt about wanting to kill myself. See, the vicious cycle…

I apologised several times and continued to tell her: “this is really stupid… Please don’t think I’m an idiot… I’m really sorry… I know this is daft… I sound so ridiculous and stupid … maybe I’m the idiot… I know I shouldn’t act this way…

I made every attempt to downplay how I was feeling. The worker did not agree. She highlighted how important it was that I was speaking about my feelings. She created a sense of trust and made me feel appreciated and like what I was saying mattered. Someone finally heard me and someone finally put me in my place. And that was place was: you are phoning this number because you are in a crisis and I want to help you. She finally made me understand that what I saying was important and it was serious. And that my life mattered. Even if I didn’t think so.

*

They have a lot of people to speak to so you can’t really stay on the line for hours. However, I think I was on the phone for around 30-40 minutes. They don’t aim to have you on and off the phone within a certain time. But they have a lot of people who call them. Particularly at the time I called, which was at 3am. They have to get these people on the line. They have to catch them before they hang up. That being said, if they feel you are still at risk at the end of conversation, they will phone you back.

Samaritans did this for me.

I was going to a party the next night, where there was going to be alcohol and there was also going to be a few reasons that triggered my suicidal ideation to begin with. I had talked out all my problems, and was in a stage of repeating myself therefore the conversation was becoming ‘stale.’ And that’s my opinion. Not the Samaritans worker. I knew myself that I had talked myself out, and I was getting tired. She would check in occasionally to see how I was feeling now throughout the conversation and when she got the feeling that I was getting tired and feeling at least a degree better she believed it was a good time to bring the conversation to a close.

Because I was going to this party, the worker asked my permission to have someone phone to check in and see how I was feeling. The next night, I was getting ready at a friend’s, and an unknown number came in. My friend suggested it may be Samaritans. I answered and a soft, male voice asked: “hello, is this Adrienne? This is Samaritans calling. Is it a good time to talk?” I disappeared to another room, and spoke quietly to them. This worker asked me how I feeling, did I get a good sleep… They also reassured me that I had done the right thing to phone. They asked where I was, how I felt about going to the party, and who I was going to the party with. The worker relayed the importance of my feelings and my safety. He helped me to understand that I should remove myself from a situation if it was bringing up these suicidal and bad thoughts. I should have a good support system around me. By asking me who I was with, and who I was going to the party with, he told me that I should reach out to these people (if I felt comfortable to) and ask them to keep an eye out on me. It was a short call. It was only meant to be a check up. But, it made a world of difference.

The fact they kept their promise to call me the next day made me feel incredibly safe and appreciated. It made me feel important. I rarely feel important. It validated my feelings. It made me feel like I mattered. I don’t often feel like I matter.

Later that night, I attempted to kill myself. I was stopped by a friend. My friend saved me physically. I was still very suicidal. But, Samaritans allowed me to open that gate. Just like therapy, you will not be cured immediately. Everything will not be magically made better with one discussion. But the minute you talk you begin your journey to recovery. Samaritans is not just for crisis’ moments. It’s a first step. It’s a way to understand your feelings and feel listened. Feeling listened and opening a dialogue is an important start. Samaritans was a first step for me. They took hold of me when I reached out for help.

Samaritans helped me to start my path to saving myself.

*

Whether you are in crisis or just need to talk to someone, whether you are lonely or your mental health has become too much, Samaritans is a step in the right direction. I know the NHS is bursting at the seams. I know mental health help is so hard to come by. So, try your very, very hardest to utilise Samaritans as a resource. I know how hard it is, especially when you’re in the depths of despair and so trapped with feelings of suicide and hopelessness. But trust me, ring that number, and hold on. They are patient. A patient ear is what we need at that time.

They are listening.

If you are feeling suicidal, or need to talk, ring Samaritans on 116 123. If you don’t want to talk and you’re in Scotland, Breathing Space are piloting a web chat service. Their phone helpline is also available Monday to Thursday 6pm – 2am, and weekends 6pm – 6am. Call them on 0800 83 85 87.

I’m Still Standing

Discretion advised: brief discussions of eating disorders, self harm, and suicidal ideation/intention.

There’s something of a Halo Effect that surrounds those who are recovered and those who are mental health advocates. While we are very open and generally quite raw about our mental health journeys, it is suggested that we are almost invulnerable to new stressors and upsets that precipitate into our environment. Any other reaction to these stressors is seen as a state of mind in which you’re not really recovered.

I think this is particularly true when you have recovered from something so viscerally physical in its presentation and manifestation as an eating disorder.

Being recovered from an eating disorder myself, I often feel that people get highly concerned if I express a distaste for the way I look or I feel particularly low in my self-esteem. There’s a real expectation from those around me, whether this is someone close to me or someone I’ve just met, unconscious or not, that I have to be a beacon of self love and confidence and be comfortable of every aspect of myself in order to reassure others I am recovered.

Well, let me tell you something: that is truly, truly exhausting to force yourself to feel that way. Especially on days where you are wallowing in your self-hate and you’re just trying not to be swallowed up by it all. It’s difficult to sit with lies.

So, here’s the truth.

I’ve been recovered from an eating disorder for 5 years and I still hate myself.

I’m choosing to use the word hate; a particularly strong and nasty word, because that is really how I feel. And, you don’t realise how much the realisation that I still hold a very deep hatred for myself lifted a weight off my shoulders. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?

You would probably expect someone who advocates for eating disorders and mental health recovery to be comfortable within her own skin and not wholly unhappy with herself. Well, guess what? I am not.

Hear me out. I don’t condone hating yourself. It’s not a fun state of mind to be in. It’s not cool. It’s not edgy. Hating yourself is one of the worst feelings out there. Hating yourself is like falling into a hole in the ground and, while you are trying to find a way to crawl out, someone is pouring concrete into the hole. It’s pure suffocation. I don’t know how many times I have had self-hating feelings loom over my head all day and drag me down. I wouldn’t be able to hold myself up straight. I’d curl my arms around my body, making myself smaller, shielding my frame from the public. Already so poisoned by the hate in my head, I didn’t want to face anyone looking at me. I didn’t want to give them ammunition. Even though, the ammunition probably didn’t exist.

I still carry these feelings with me. I have days, a lot of days, where it’s all I can think about it. Any social interaction that goes wrong results in me blaming myself. Any time I’ve dated and it’s ended negatively (which is every boy I’ve dated) I have fired off a list of hateful things about myself … why did I think that was ever going to work? I’m so annoying, and boring, and plain, and uninteresting, and too nervous and I’m not worth a chance… see how exhausting that is? That’s what goes on in my head nearly every day.

So, to try and convince the world that I actually love myself in order to prove I am recovered is hard work. As I said, we’re meant to be beacons of self-love, and any sort of self-hatred and low self esteem sound alarm bells. There’s no way we can be recovered if we still hold a hate for ourselves. Recovery isn’t low self esteem. Recovery isn’t overthinking every little step you do. Recovery isn’t anxiety. Recovery isn’t feeling seriously down about your body, your personality, your being, yourself.

Recovery is love.

So, what happens when you don’t fit into this mould of perfect recovery? For me, I feel like an imposter. Do I really have a right to say I am in recovery, and recovered, if there sits an underlying hatred within me? A hatred that lies there, sometimes dormant, and sometimes extraordinarily active.

For a long time, I shoved away those feelings, because I wanted to present as this picture perfect form of recovery. Because I felt that if I actually spoke about the fact I remained to hate myself, and I had not yet broken the hateful thoughts, then people would think I was a failure and didn’t deserve the carry the I’m Recovered badge. I have ignored those feelings and thoughts because I didn’t want to deal with them. They were not a sign of recovery.

Recovery had to be about loving yourself, and blocking out all hate. But, doing so was the equivalent to me shutting my eyes tight, sticking my fingers in my ears, and screaming to shut out the hatred.

It was only recently that I realised I was actually doing better than I thought. And, by accepting the fact I still bear a lot of hate for myself, this has opened up a lot for me, in terms of what recovery actually is. And not what I think it should be.

I have a hate myself, but, here’s the catch, I accept it. I deal with it.

And that’s a level of recovery.

That is growth.

A few years ago, my hatred resulted in incredibly maladaptive coping mechanisms. It played a huge factor in the development of my eating disorder. My eating disorder attempted to control that hatred whilst simultaneously pushing me to hate myself further through the punishment of restrictive eating, purging, and binging. I developed further maladaptive coping mechanisms that extended passed the physicalities of an eating disorder and self-harming. My anxiety intensified and I would sabotage situations. The minute I would sense a change in the vibe in a romantically inclined relationship, or even a platonic relationship, my self-hatred would step in and I would withdraw myself from the situation. Why would anyone want to be with me? Why would anyone be interested in liking me or being my friend? They clearly don’t want me around so I’ll do everyone a favour and leave.

My self-hatred and very low self-esteem affected me so much I almost completed suicide.

Nowadays, I still bear my self-hatred within me, but I deal with it differently. A lot differently. I have been able to reevaluate what recovery is, and where I stand along that line of recovery. Because I previously did not understand that recovery is not the complete absence of your mental health difficulties, but learning to cope and grow with them. Learning that recovery is not dichotomous, but a continuum. And, we can still experience self-hatred and low self esteem, yet consider ourselves recovered.

For me, I have learned that my self hatred has evolved in its expression. It is better controlled. As I mentioned, my self hatred led to eating disorders, to self harm, to isolation, to a near-attempt of suicide. Now, my self hatred sits there with no physical repercussions. I have learned to fight these feelings. Whenever a hateful thought or emotion creeps into the forefront of my mind, and tries to begin its consumption, I don’t let it work its way like it used to. If my hate tries to interact with my disordered eating thought patterns, I break the connection. I don’t use starvation and purging as a method to filter out the hatred. I try my hardest to stop using isolation as a method too. That one I’m still working on.

Right now, I accept that my self-hating attitude needs to diminished. It needs to be smaller. My hatred, no matter how I accept it, is always going to be an anchor that stops me moving forward. I have accepted my hatred, and now I am trying to progress from it. Deal with it in absolution and with conviction. I am actually more disgusted with how much I hate myself rather than disgusted with myself full stop. I experience an almost outer body experience when I see my hatred descend upon me. I’m on the outside looking in and I’m begging to stop hating myself. Simply stop. Love yourself fully for crying out loud.

But it’s not always going to be possible to love yourself fully. Especially when you spent years regularly bathing in doing the opposite, watching your self esteem drop and drop and drop. Until you were at your lowest point and couldn’t stand to even see yourself alive anymore.

My self-hatred is still here. But, so am I. I can outlast it. It will go away. I just have to keep moving forward. Continue to no longer welcome in the maladaptive coping strategies. Thank myself for those moments where I see love in my eyes and feel it in my heart. Allow myself to experience that love, that respect, that happiness. To continually be proud of the fact I am recovering, and no matter how long it takes, I will get there.

I hate myself, yeah, but I’m still standing.