journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · Uncategorized

Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2017

Today marks the first day of eating disorder awareness week 2017. This is such an important week for me as most people know and I will be sharing lots of information about eating disorders to try and raise as much awareness as possible.

Awareness is key to diagnosis and recovery. Because of a lack of awareness, my eating disorder went undetected for 14+ months until my life was at risk. People deserve to get the care and treatment they need in terms of their eating disorders from the moment they develop one.

Eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behaviour. A person with an eating disorder may focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food with damaging results to their health.

Eating disorders include a range of conditions that can affect someone physically, psychologically and socially. The most common eating disorders are:

  • anorexia nervosa – when a person tries to keep their weight as low as possible; for example, by starving themselves or exercising excessively
  • bulimia – when a person goes through periods of binge eating and is then deliberately sick or uses laxatives (medication to help empty the bowels) to try to control their weight
  • binge eating disorder (BED) – when a person feels compelled to overeat large amounts of food in a short space of time

Some people, particularly those who are young, may be diagnosed with an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). This means you have some, but not all, of the typical signs of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.

I was diagnosed with Anorexia in 2014. Anorexia Nervosa is currently the most lethal psychiatric disorder, carrying a sixfold increased risk of death. Although Anorexia is by far the deadliest eating disorder, death rates are also higher than normal in people with bulimia and “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS, a common diagnosis for people with a mixture of atypical anorexia and atypical bulimia). Suicide is also a particular risk as 1 in 5 Anorexia death are due to suicide. People diagnosed with Anorexia between the ages of 20 to 29 had a higher death rate (18-fold) with the age group 15-19 following close behind with a ten fold.

Spotting the signs of an eating disorder can be difficult. Remember – a person with an eating disorder does NOT have to appear thin or underweight.

Warning signs to look out for include:

  • missing meals
  • complaining of being fat, even though they have a normal weight or are underweight
  • repeatedly weighing themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror
  • Losing interest in social events, not attending classes or school, becoming withdrawn
  • making repeated claims that they’ve already eaten, or they’ll shortly be going out to eat somewhere else and avoiding eating at home
  • cooking big or complicated meals for other people, but eating little or none of the food themselves
  • only eating certain low-calorie foods in your presence, such as lettuce or celery
  • feeling uncomfortable or refusing to eat in public places, such as at a restaurant
  • the use of “pro-anorexia” websites
  • Use of dietary aids such as weight loss products, diuretics and laxatives
  • eating in secret or having days of ‘normal’ eating
  • Using the bathroom frequently after eating

Eating disorders cause a wide variety of complications, some of them life-threatening. The more severe or long lasting the eating disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications, such as:

  • Significant medical problems
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Problems with growth and development
  • Social and relationship problems
  • Substance use disorders
  • Work and school issues
  • Death

So, whose affected by eating disorders?

A 2015 report commissioned by Beat estimates more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. Eating disorders tend to be more common in certain age groups, but they can affect people of any age.

Around 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa at some point. The condition usually develops around the age of 16 or 17.

Bulimia is around two to three times more common than anorexia nervosa, and 90% of people with the condition are female. It usually develops around the age of 18 or 19.

Binge eating affects males and females equally and usually appears later in life, between the ages of 30 and 40. As it’s difficult to precisely define binge eating, it’s not clear how widespread it is, but it’s estimated to affect around 5% of the adult population.

Be disorder aware this week and reach out to those you feel may be suffering with an Eating Disorder

[credit: NHS UK]

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journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

I was REALLY sick…

I was on instagram last night when I went onto my instagram profile. I decided to just stroll through my pictures and found some from 2014/2015. For those who know me, you’ll understand that during this time I was in the depths of my eating disorder. At the time, I didn’t really know this. I thought I was okay. I thought I was better than I’d ever been. How wrong I was though. June 2014 consisted of doctors appointments, hospital appointments, blood tests, scans, meetings with college, intervention from community mental health teams and social services. My weight was drastically dropping by each day. The calories kept getting lower and lower.

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Whilst going through those pictures last night; I had the realisation that I was actually really sick back then. How I had managed to feel so healthy I have no idea. How did I survive on no calories for a week? How did I manage to exercise every waking hour of the day?

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I knew that I was sick, I just don’t think I realised how sick I was. I thought I was getting healthy and stronger, not unhealthy and weaker. I remember getting every single illness going; my immune system was very weak. I was always cold yet I still took freezing showers. My muscles always ached and bruised but I would walk for hours on end.

All I wanted to do was sleep and food plagued every single thought.

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Anorexia is such a wretched disease.

It stops its victims even noticing theres something wrong. It refuses to let them see their true self or feel any sort of happiness.

Anorexia is strong, but Savannah is stronger.

autism · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Remembering the Recovered: Eating Disorders at Christmas

When you’ve had an eating disorder in the past and people are aware of that, you are no longer protected in that safety blanket of the unknown. People now have suspicions. They are more aware. They know you once suffered and are now tracking every move you make; every bite you consume. There’s no hiding it now. They know, and you can’t take that back. That’s the most scariest thing about recovery. The raw revealing of yourself. Your entire thoughts and battles on show for everyone to stare at. That’s what makes Christmas as a recovered so hard…

You can no longer pass off not eating the cake because you’re a little full or you’ve already ate. You can’t make up a believable excuse as to why you’re exercising none stop. It’s not to be healthy or to practice for a sports tryout. Refusing a meal is no longer simply overlooked; its scrutinised and studied.

But the thing is, when you’re ‘recovered’ people expect you to reintegrate into the normal family unit. It isn’t about food anymore. Now you’re recovered, you love food. People expect you to eat everything on the plate and ask for seconds. That fear of food you had – that’s gone now. They want to forget about the past and have a ‘normal Christmas’. You’re recovered now, so why wouldn’t you eat that extra slice of cake or have any fears of food at all. Your health and weight is no longer a concern and people expect you to fit into their shared experiences, including the overindulgence on Christmas Day without feeling guilty and the ability to eat food without deeming yourself bad.

But I want to tell you something…a person who has ‘recovered’ from an eating disorder may appear fine and healthy on the outside. They may eat without guilt or have a dessert after dinner. They may not exercise anymore and seem confident about their body, but the thing is – they’re likely not fully recovered. Eating disorders have a heavy hold on the sufferer. Recovered may mean better but it doesn’t mean the eating disorder has just completely disappeared off the face of the earth.

Eating disorders build up their own identity. There is no room for happiness in an eating disorder. It robs you of your joy and you become some automaton with no feelings. You can no longer tell the difference between who you are and who the eating disorder is. You’re not you anymore. You become a walking, talking eating disorder. The eating disorder invades your mind and every single part of your body. You think you can stop it at your will, but you can’t. You’re no longer in control; the eating disorder is.

Recovered does not mean that I now have a healthy and positive relationship with food.

So on Christmas day, please remember the recovered. Remember that an eating disorder used to be the only thing that they lived for. Remember that they struggled to look at food and eat it. Remember that exercise was their life. Remember that they struggled to eat during family gatherings and did not like social events that included food. Remember that their eating disorder was valid and so is their recovery…

Please remember that recovery is a long and treacherous journey and that relapses are a 100% acceptable.

Be forgiving. Be loving. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be open minded. Be patient.

Thank you,

the recovered.

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journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Psychological Consequences of ED’s

The psychological consequences of an eating disorder are complex and difficult to overcome. An eating disorder is often a symptom of a larger problem in a person’s life. The disorder is an unhealthy way for that person to cope with the painful emotions tied to the problem. For this reason, the emotional problems that triggered the eating disorder in the first place can worsen as the disorder takes hold.

An eating disorder can also cause more problems to surface in a person’s life. Eating disorders make it difficult for people to perceive things normally because certain chemical changes take place when the body is deprived of nutrients. As a result, the body relies on adrenaline (a hormone that is normally released during times of stress and fear) instead of food for energy. Adrenaline naturally makes makes someone excited, which makes it more difficult to deal with painful emotions.

Many people suffering from an eating disorder also suffer from other psychological problems. Sometimes the eating disorder causes other problems, and sometimes the problems coexist with the eating disorder. Some of the psychological disorders that can accompany an eating disorder include depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety and panic disorders.

In addition to having other psychological disorders, a person with an eating disorder may also engage in destructive behaviours as a result of low self-esteem. Just as an eating disorder is a negative way to cope with emotional problems, other destructive behaviours such as self-mutilation, drug addiction, and alcoholism, are similar negative coping mechanisms.

Not everyone who has an eating disorder suffers from additional psychological disorders; however, it is very common.

DEPRESSION. Depression is one of the most common psychological problems related to an eating disorder. It is characterised by intense and prolonged feelings of sadness and hopelessness. In its most serious form, depression may lead to suicide. Considering that an eating disorder is often kept a secret, a person who is suffering feels alienated and alone. A person may feel that it is impossible to openly express her feelings. As a result, feelings of depression will worsen the effects of an eating disorder, making it difficult to break the cycle of disordered eating.

Feelings of depression will worsen the effects of an eating disorder, making it difficult to break the cycle of disordered eating.

OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOUR. Obsessions are constant thoughts that produce anxiety and stress. Compulsions are irrational behaviours that are repeated to reduce anxiety and stress. People with eating disorders are constantly thinking about food, calories, eating, and weight. As a result, they show signs of obsessive-compulsive behaviour. If people with eating disorders also show signs of obsessive-compulsive behaviour with things not related to food, they may be diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Some obsessive-compulsive behaviours practised by eating disorder sufferers include storing large amounts of food, collecting recipes, weighing themselves several times a day, and thinking constantly about the food they feel they should not eat. These obsessive thoughts and rituals worsen when the body is regularly deprived of food. Being in a state of starvation causes people to become so preoccupied with everything they have denied themselves that they think of little else.

FEELINGS OF ANXIETY, GUILT, AND SHAME. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety (fear and worry), guilt, and shame at some time; however, these feelings become more intense with the onset of an eating disorder. Eating disorder sufferers fear that others will discover their illness. There is also a tremendous fear of gaining weight.

As the eating disorder progresses, body image becomes more distorted and the eating disorder becomes all-consuming. Some sufferers are often terrified of letting go of the illness, which causes many to protect their secret eating disorder even more.

Eating disorder sufferers have a strong need to control their environment and will avoid social situations where they may have to be around food in front of other people or where they may have to change their behaviour. The anxiety that results causes people with eating disorders to be inflexible and rigid with their emotions.

SYMPTOMS OF AN EATING DISORDER

  • missing meals
  • complaining of being fat, even though they have a normal weight or are underweight
  • repeatedly weighing themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror
  • making repeated claims that they’ve already eaten, or they’ll shortly be going out to eat somewhere else and avoiding eating at home
  • becoming irritable or angry when food is mentioned to them
  • missing meals, eating very little, or avoiding eating any fatty foods
  • obsessively counting calories in food
  • leaving the table immediately after eating so they can vomit
  • taking appetite suppressants, laxatives, or diuretics (a type of medication that helps remove fluid from the body)
  • physical problems, such as feeling lightheaded or dizzy, dehydration, low potassium levels and/or dry skin
  • cooking big or complicated meals for other people, but eating little or none of the food themselves
  • only eating certain low-calorie foods in your presence, such as lettuce or celery
  • feeling uncomfortable or refusing to eat in public places, such as at a restaurant
  • the use of “pro-anorexia” websites

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journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

What Anorexia Taught Me

When I was 12 years old, I remember thinking to myself, “you’ll never get an eating disorder; you’re too overweight”, after hearing about eating disorders on the news. I remember telling myself that was one less mental illness to worry about because I certainly wouldn’t get that. I already had Anxiety and Depression; I’d never get an eating disorder too.

Funny enough, 3 years later…you can kind of guess what happened. I – the person who told myself I’d never get one – developed Anorexia Nervosa. I didn’t actually realise I had an eating disorder until a long while in. I thought I was on a diet – simply cutting out ‘bad’ foods in order to lose weight. I thought exercising was making me stronger, fitter, thinner. The exercise boosted my self-esteem. Saying ‘no’ to a piece of food made me proud. A few months in, I finally realised I may have had a problem. I’d cut out all types of food. Any food that led to possible weight gain. Pizza, chips, ice cream, bread, carbohydrates, takeaway, crisps, pasta, rice. The list mounted and soon the only food I felt truly comfortable eating was fruit, vegetables and water. I realised I was developing something abnormal, but I refused to admit it or tell anybody. I began purging. Throwing up the small amounts of food I’d consumed because those calories just weren’t worth it. Using pills to lose weight.

Oh I knew by now that this was Anorexia Nervosa. I knew what she was doing to my body; abnormal blood counts, fatigue, lack of oxygen in the skin, intolerance to cold, abnormal heart rhythms, dizziness and fainting, low blood pressure, dehydration, osteoporosis, irritability, depression and increased anxiety, hatred and fear of food, thoughts and attempts of suicide, social withdrawal, self harm, constipation, constant hunger, brittle nails and thin hair, low potassium and chloride… the list is endless, but I was lacking one important symptom; an extremely low body weight (which I eventually gained after a doctor told me I was ‘too fat’ after losing 31% of my body weight).

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You see, I never thought I would get a disease known as Anorexia Nervosa. I never expected to have a life-long condition that can be managed but won’t truly go away. But the thing is, as an 8 year old I wrote a poem about a girl named ‘Ana’ who told me I was fat and not to eat. It happens that 7 years after that poem, it came true. Maybe I was predisposed to Anorexia  from a early age and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it.

Anorexia Nervosa is completely destructive and the most lethal psychiatric disorder to date, but its taught me things I never thought it would.

Because of Anorexia; I learned to look deeper into the way people act, behave and think. I have learned to be compassionate, to not judge but to be accepting. I have learned who my real friends are (to those of you who stuck around; I love ya) and who is there for me in the darkest of times. I have learned about a range of illnesses I knew nothing about before. I have learned to advocate for change and grow a passion for changing the world and the people in it. I have learned to stand up for those who have mental illness and befriend those who struggle. I have learned so, so much…

but most of all,  I have learned about me.

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autism · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

A New Diagnosis

So today we may have reached a good point in terms of ‘recovery’. I had a meeting with my DA to discuss referral processes for a new diagnosis. I did a referral test which gave a result of 10 out of 10 and have now been processed onto a referral to wait for assessment.

I’m not going into this ‘diagnosis’ until I have 100% confirmation that it is the diagnosis we have been searching for.

Either way, new and positive things may be coming up in the future that will help explain my entire life, my behaviours, my problems, my anxiety, and so forth.

It’s been a rough 24 hours and I have took about 10 steps back in terms of being ‘stable’. My depression has thrived in my defeated mind this last week and my anxiety has not been in my control. Either way, 12 hours later after 10 panic attacks, I’m feeling ready to fight again.

I think people underestimate the struggle of trying to remain ‘okay’ when you battle with so many internal illnesses.

Every single hour of every single day is a big deal for somebody struggling.

This morning was a success – leaving the house, getting a bus and attending two appointments before getting the hour journey bus back.

Little steps are everything.

Please keep trying to make those little steps and push and push and push until you get the help you feel you need.

Love you all, hope you’re doing well! ❤

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journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

What University is REALLY like with Mental Illness

Starting University is a big step for anybody, but when you’ve got a mental health problem or illness to go with it, it can be even more worrying. Although there are not many studies that have been carried out on mental health statistics on young people at university, it is estimated that 2.2% of 16-25 year olds experience a depressive episode and that 3.6% of 16-25 year olds have experienced generalised anxiety disorder. 6.2% of 16-24 year olds have attempted suicide in their lifetime and 8.9% of 16-24 year olds have self-harmed in their lifetime. Although to some these statistics don’t mean much and don’t seem to be as high as other age groups, it has been noted by researchers that a lot of mental health problems in university students goes undetected or unreported; meaning that these numbers are likely to be higher.  Aside from the statistics listed above, 27.3% of people aged 16-25 year olds experienced other types of mental illness including personality disorders and neurotic episodes [Young Minds – 2011).

The one reason why I wanted to write this blog post is because I have been truly experiencing the effects of living with mental illness at university ever since I started my first year in 2015 and haven’t really been 100% honest about it. It’s been nearly 9 months now since I have had no medication and no treatment for my diagnosis’s (who would’ve thought, hey?) I also got asked recently to write a blog post on university and mental health problems for another blog/research due to the rise in the issues.  I wanted to list a few things that I have noticed about being at university with mental health issues not only so others with a similar illness can be prepared and feel less alone and reach for help but so those without mental health problems can understand what issues we face.

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  1. It feels like there are more ‘bad’ days than good. Most of the time university causes me a lot of emotions. Living in a very confined space with strangers (especially when you’ve got a severe anxiety disorder such a SAD and GAD) can become claustrophobic and make me feel trapped. I often get so overwhelmed with anxiety that I cannot leave my room. This was particularly worse in my first year due to the flat and my well being decreasing. Although I functioned outside of the flat it was incredibly difficult to leave my room to do simple things like cook dinner. This caused an increase in my depression, my tiredness increased so I slept all the time and my anxiety was through the roof. This year its so far been better. Although the bad days do feel like they’re occurring too frequently, I take hope in those few good days that arise. Going outside and sitting with nature has been my coping skill and escape route.
  2. Anxiety can be overwhelming. University brings lots and lots of anxiety, even for those who don’t experience any type of anxiety disorder or problem. There are people everywhere, and I mean everywhere. In your flat, in your lectures, on the campus, on the bus, in town. Everywhere. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because people can be awesome friends and good distractions…but when you struggle with anxiety issues, especially Social Anxiety Disorder, people can just get too much sometimes. Most of the time I need to carry a tool known as a ‘tangle’ around with me just to cope with my anxiety. A tangle is designed by a company called Tangle Creations. They are used as a way to fidget and keep a person occupied. They are mostly used for SEN but are on the rise for those with mental health problems, addictions and sensory disorders. Without this little thing, I never would’ve gotten through all the anxiety-filled situations I have.
  3. University can either cause mental health problems or increase existing ones. This is particularly true in my case anyway. Living by yourself can cause existing mental health problems to increase or reoccur due to people not being around to stop a relapse or intervene with coping methods. Stress and anxiety that can be related to university work and pressures can trigger a depressive episode and vice versa. There can be a rise in panic attacks and self harm. Again, keeping yourself distracted is the best thing for this. People are a good distraction tool and also great company but are not always available. A good book, movie, a walk outside or a nap are good alternatives.
  4. It can be devastatingly lonely. University is supposed to be a time for fun, lots of friends, societies and good class mates but when you’ve got a mental illness all the fun stuff can be daunting. I’ve wanted to join societies and go on nights out but due to anxiety and low self-esteem this has so far proved impossible. Going on nights out was successful until I started feeling like a burden to those I was with. Have you ever felt the loneliness that comes even when you’re in a room full of people? yeah? That’s the type of loneliness (the worst type of loneliness) that I’ve ever felt at university. To avoid feeling lonely I’ve learned that you need to become comfortable with being by yourself. You need to stop yourself from depending on other people. If your friends are busy, find something in your room to keep you occupied. Go outside and explore a new place or a take a bus to somewhere you’ve never been.
  5. Sometimes, you just want to quit. I can’t even count on my hands how many times I’ve sat and thought about leaving university. Sometimes the emotions obscure your thinking and lead to irrational thoughts. Sometimes I’ve wanted to quit or go home so bad. Sometimes I’ve wondered why the heck I’m still going on, but then I sit and think about where the end of this journey will take me- to my dream job with the amazing special children I have grown to love over the years. The thought of eventually being a special needs teacher keeps me going. I know that I can do this job because I have done it before, and it really feels like something when you believe you can do it. Don’t quit university, even if you feel you want to. Your mind is just wishing you’d give up. Don’t. Not ever.

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Although my REAL feelings and experiences of university seem quite negative on the points above, there really are ways to enjoy university and have an amazing experience even with mental health problems. I have a lot of down points, but each day I try to find at least one, and I am having a good time. After all the feelings pass, I feel okay. Because I have family who love me and friends who try to understand. Even if I feel I have no one to turn to, I will always have myself. There are plenty of ways to find support whilst at university whether its family, friends, lecturers, counsellors or health professionals. If people don’t listen, keep going until they do. You’re the only person who knows yourself and what you can accomplish. You’re an amazing person with a passion for life hidden deep down inside of you. You’re strong for surviving every bad (and good) day to date. Your imperfections make you absolutely perfect and I love you (yes, you reading this.) and I believe in you with everything I have.

If you are feeling troubled by mental illness, feel you suffering with a mental illness or just need to talk then you are welcome to email savannahaliciax@gmail.com at anytime for information and links for advice. Even just to chat.


NEWS

I am also starting a ‘share my story’ section on my blog in the upcoming months in order to get other people’s voices heard. If you’d like to feature on my blog and share your story in regards to mental health please send it to savannahaliciax@gmail.com. Your identity can remain anonymous on the blog if you wish.

I wish you the best in your recovery.