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

Self-Injury Awareness Day 2017

Raising awareness about self-injury is incredibly important. Awareness leads to understanding and empathy, banishing judgement and fear, and reducing the number of people who feel alone and suffer in silence.

Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self-injure, and reaching out to people who do.

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harming is when a person chooses to inflict pain on themselves in some way. If you are self-harming, you may be cutting or burning yourself, biting your nails excessively, developing an eating disorder or taking an overdose of tablets. It can also include taking drugs or excessive amounts of alcohol. It is usually a sign that something is wrong. Self-Harm is not always obvious and sometimes isn’t intentional (self harm can be done absently). A person may self-harm if they are feeling anxious, depressed or stressed or if they are being bullied and feel that they do not have a support network or way to deal with their problems. The issues then ‘build up’ to the point where they feel like they are going to explode. Young people who self-harm often talk about the ‘release’ that they feel after they have self-harmed, as they use it as a mechanism to cope with their problems. A person may self-harm to relieve tension, to try and gain control of the issues that may be concerning them or to punish themselves. Sometimes it is an attempt to commit suicide if the problems are very severe.

Prevalence of Self-Harm in Young People

It has been estimated that 1 in 12 young people in the UK have self-harmed at some point in their lives. And the latest figures show that in the last two years alone ChildLine has seen an increase in counselling sessions of 167% on the issue.

There is also evidence that self-harming is affecting children at a younger age than ever before.  In 2011/12, ChildLine reported that self-harm was in the top five concerns for fourteen year olds for the first time. However, in the first six months of 2012/13, this age dropped further appearing for the first time in the top five concerns for thirteen year olds.

Misconceptions and Facts

There are many misconceptions surrounding why young people self-harm. The reality is that:

  • Self-harm is not a mental illness, nor is it an attempt to commit suicide.
  • It doesn’t just affect girls. Boys self-harm too, but they are much less likely to tell anyone about it.
  • We know that young people from all walks of life self-harm, regardless of their social or ethnic background.
  • Self-harm is not a fashion fad, nor is it merely ‘attention seeking behaviour’.
  • Most importantly, it is not easy for a young person to stop self-harming behaviour.
  1. Self harm is a very common problem, much common than a lot of people think. Although it is common, a lot of people struggle to deal with it. Recent research shows that at least 1 in 15 young people in Britain have harmed themselves. This amounts to at least 2 young people in every school classroom self harming at the same time. The most common age for self harm is between the ages of 11 and 25. Most people start self harming at around 12 years old but it is increasing among those younger.
  2. Self harming is usually not for attention. Self harm is a way to release emotions, deal with stress and pressures and to replace mental pain with physical pain. Most people harm themselves because they don’t feel like they have any other options. Self harm provides a temporary relief and a sense of control. Most people self harm due to being bullied at school, stress and worry about work, feeling isolated, divorce, bereavement or pregnancy, experience of abuse, problems with their sexuality, low self-esteem, underlying mental health issues.
  3. Self harm is not closely linked to suicide. The majority of people who self harm are not trying to kill themselves, but rather trying to cope with difficult situations and feelings. Although many people who do go on to commit suicide have self-harmed in the past, self harming itself does not indicate that a person is attempting to take their own life.
  4. Self harm can become addicting. Chemicals are released in the body when it is injured. These chemicals make you less sensitive to pain. Self harm mostly becomes addicting as it grows to be a habit that the person begins to rely on in order to function.
  5. Self harm is not just a phase. In young people, self harm is often blamed as a ‘teenage phase’ that the person will grow out of. However, self harm does not just affect young people. It affects people from all ages and all walks of life. If someone is self harming, then someone is severely bothering them and if left untreated, it can become more aggressive and frequent over time.

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

St David Awards Finalist Reception

Today I woke up at 6am to travel all the way to Wales for the St David Awards. I was so anxious that I actually felt physically sick but it was such a good event and everyone was so friendly.

We arrived and had some breakfast before I had some professional photos taken and spoke to some journalists. We chilled for a little while before the First Minister came and announced all the finalists to the stage. I am in the young person category for my mental health campaigning and special needs volunteering.

It was really lovely to see everyone there today and hear about all their achievements. It’s really overwhelming to think that people feel you deserve a national welsh award for ‘exceptional people in Wales’. I feel so incredibly blessed and feel so motivated to continue reaching out to others in similar situations to my own.

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The whole reason I started this personal journey to recovery was because of the amazing people who kept pushing and pushing for my life. Without my family and my close friends, Anorexia would’ve claimed my life 2 years ago. With them, I began to fight for a new life and with it found the amazing joy of helping others. So many people reached out to me during my darkest days and I realised I was never alone no matter how isolated I felt.

I still get emails, facebook messages, and letters from those who wish to thank me for my work. For 2 years, I’ve exposed my inner and most darkest secrets, all my thoughts, and all my struggles in the hopes that it can help others in the same situation get the help they need. Exposing yourself to the world is one of the hardest things you can do – because it feels like everyone can criticise your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. However, I don’t regret ever starting this blog and sharing my story because if one person is helped then thats enough to change the world!

Mental Health problems are such a taboo subject and people struggling are more often than not stigmatised.

Every single day I will fight to change this view.

Mental Health problems are not a liability. They are not shameful. They are not cowardly. They are not only experienced by the weak.

Mental illness has no victim. It affects people of all ages, all backgrounds, all cultures and all social class.

Different but NEVER less

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

#ThisIsMe Project

I’ve decided to set up a project that allows others to express their thoughts and feelings. I understand that it can be difficult to set up a blog and led the entire world read your deepest thoughts and feelings, which is why I created the #ThisIsMe Project. The project will share the stories of others on this blog. You can remain totally anonymous which means you can blog to your hearts content and share your views without feeling exposed!

This project is open to anybody who suffers from a condition and who wants to share their story. Conditions can range from mental health conditions and illness, autism spectrum disorders and sensory disorders.

Interested or want to know more?

Email savannahaliciax@gmail.com now!

I look forward to hearing from you!

Ps, please share this blog post to let others know about the project!

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

Recovery Is…

  • Recovery is about enjoying all types of food and not giving them ‘good’ or ‘bad’ labels.
  • Recovery is about not sticking to your meal plan and being able to enjoy extra treats and snacks with friends.
  • Recovery is about not tracking every calorie, every gram of fat, and every step you take each day.
  • Recovery is about not planning meals in advance and being able to eat whatever you want.
  • Recovery is about being able to enjoy a meal out with friends without having a panic attack over the calories or food.
  • Recovery is about being able to enjoy your birthday, Christmas and that late night McDonalds or pizza with friends.
  • Recovery is about drinking alcohol without skipping meals to allow the excess calories.
  • Recovery is finding exercising and walking relaxing and not just a means to count calories and lose weight.
  • Recovery is sleeping in sometimes or not moving from your bed because you don’t have to be on the go all day.
  • Recovery is being able to have more energy to hang out with friends and family because you are not always cold or ill.
  • Recovery is allowing things to be imperfect.
  • Recovery is learning to eat in front of others without feeling that you are being judged.
  • Recovery is feeling comfortable outside of treatment so that you can lead a fulfilling life.
  • Recovery is accepting a relapse as a challenge to recover stronger.
  • Recovery is understanding that an eating disorder does not make you feel safe, nor does the dependency on others.
  • Recovery is feeling all sorts of emotions but learning to cope with them.

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Recovery in an eating disorder is many things…but overall it is the journey to finding yourself. Recovery is a long process – sometimes there are 2 steps forward and 10 steps back (okay, most of the time), but even through the downpour and the days where you simply can’t get out of bed, you’re one step closer than you were when you were submerged to your illness. Recovery teaches you that nothing is perfect. Emotions are not straight-forward. People are confusing. Plans change. Relapses happen.

Recovery is painful, tiring and emotional. Refeeding causes horrible side effects that leave you ready to give up. Getting every illness under the sun is normal…BUT

Recovery is a process and takes heaps of time. Just because its dark today, doesn’t mean the light won’t rise tomorrow.

You’re beautiful. You’re strong. You’ve survived every bad day to date and that is rather extraordinary!

[inspired by Alice]

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

Thin is NOT the Definition of Anorexia (speech)

I know what you’re thinking – she doesn’t look like she has an eating disorder. But wait, please tell me, what does an eating disorder look like? 4 out of 10 people have either personally experienced an eating disorder or know someone who has. This means that if there is 400 people in this audience, around 160 people have either had an eating disorder themselves or knows someone who has. I was one of those children who grew up thinking I would never get an eating disorder. Sure, I had low self-esteem but I loved food and I was overweight. I had a vision that those with eating disorders were underweight and starving. Just go onto google and type in words along the lines of ‘anorexia’ ‘eating disorder’ or ‘person suffering with an eating disorder’. I can guarantee the search engine will give you a woman severely underweight. You can see why I never thought I would get an eating disorder.

Then in August 2013, when I was just 15 years old, I was in for the shock of my life.  I developed disordered eating unknown to me at the time. I thought I was just on a diet. I thought cutting calories was normal – that exercising for over 2 hours every day until I felt like I could faint was what healthy people did. This diet of mine consisted of restriction and starvation, excessive exercise and nearly a 5 stone weight loss that left me severely sick. People complimented me on my weight loss. I felt strong. The number on the scales determined my happiness for that day. If I wasn’t satisfied, I refused to eat. Food stopped being something I enjoyed. Foods like pizza, ice cream and take away instilled fear into me. I was so oblivious to what I was doing to myself. I couldn’t be ill because I wasn’t underweight. The fear of the food, the refusal to eat, the fainting, the chills running through my body and blue nails seemed normal. Normal because I was a normal weight. I lost 31% of my body weight within a 10 month period. To meet a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa a person must lose at least 15% of their body weight within a certain time period.

I was eventually diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa but by then the damage had been done. Doctors didn’t take me seriously because I was a normal weight for so long, but yet an eating disorder is defined as a ‘PSYCHOLOGICAL’ disorder that involves an abnormal ATTITUDE towards food and it is not based on weight. The weight loss of an eating disorder is merely a symptom and not the actual disorder itself. My view on food was set – I didn’t want it. Food was the scariest thing to me. I didn’t want to touch it – I definitely didn’t want to eat it. Eating in public or going out to restaurants was a no go. My health was already failing – I was exhausted and my mental health was declining rapidly. Food made me feel guilty, ashamed, fat. Every single part of the day revolved around food and I hated it. I couldn’t last a full day in college because I was so weak and exhausted to cope with it. I couldn’t concentrate or focus and thinking was difficult. My memory was awful. People kept telling me I was losing too much weight but to me I still felt and looked the same as I always did – severely overweight. I didn’t want to get dressed because I felt that I looked too fat in everything.

I’ve been in recovery for over a year and gaining back the weight was such an horrendous feeling. I had spent so much time chasing weightlessness that I didn’t know how to forge an identity for myself in a world where I was no longer thin. My metabolism was so ruined that even eating one thing would make me gain a few pounds. My body began holding onto every single thing I put into my mouth, whether it was healthy or not. The weight gain came fast and people always assume once you reach normal weight you’re fine. But I’m not fine, and I never was fine. A normal weight does not signify a normal mind. People look at me and assume that because I am a normal weight, I must be doing good. No one seemed to care anymore; now I looked as healthy as everyone else. You’re recovered. No, I’m not. I don’t look sick and physical exams would confirm that my body is healthy. But my mind isn’t. The truth is – Anorexia Nervosa is a disease that will truly never go away. Some days, even weeks, the thought of food is too much to bear and I don’t want to eat it. I’ll exercise excessively and feel so exhausted I can’t move, but I have good days – where food is amazing and it’s okay to miss a day of exercise. The point of this speech is that I want you to be mindful. I want you to be educated on eating disorders. An eating disorder is a psychological disorder that is defined by an abnormal attitude towards food. A person can develop Anorexia whether they are 18 stone or 8. One day I was overweight and the next I was struggling to stay alive after losing 31% of my body weight. Eating Disorders have no clear victim – they affect people of all ages, of all backgrounds, of all weights, of all cultures, of all social class.

THIN is NOT the definition of an eating disorder but MENTAL ILLNESS, FEAR and DEATH ARE.