Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Wall of Love: Friends, family and reminders of support

Rhiannon writes about her experience of an eating disorder during university and how the support of her friends helped her overcome the disorder.
- Rhiannon Long

University can be an incredibly lonely place, especially when you‘re living with an eating disorder. 

I experienced this myself when my disorder was at its worst and I was living in a house full of people and was surrounded by friends. I loved these people, yet I‘d never felt so alone. 

An eating disorder has the ability to warp your perspective and is incredibly effective in persuading you to believe things which just aren‘t true. Mine tried to convince me that I was a burden on my friends, that they didn‘t want me around and that the only thing I could rely on to save me from my loneliness was the disorder. It was these same friends, however, who saved me from its grip. 

I‘d gone to visit some old school friends in Leeds for a birthday, and had been sinking further into the depths of my eating disorder for almost two years. I didn‘t realise how much it was affecting me, and how unhappy I was, until they made me speak about it.

Friends have the ability to notice what you sometimes can‘t. Mine saw my weight loss and the sleeplessness in my face but most of all, they saw how unhappy my disorder was making me. 

I had spent so long living with the disorder that I had become used to its presence and oblivious to its effects. It took their encouragement for me to free myself from it. They persuaded me to seek help and use the university‘s counselling service. They assured me that I could always rely on their support, and would always have someone to turn to. 

Shortly after beginning my counselling sessions, I created my Wall of Love. My friends had been sending me postcards with supportive messages and photos of our times together. They were providing me with constant encouragement, either through phone conversations, texts, or simple chats over cups of tea. I managed to fill hundreds of Post-Its with their words of support and friendship, and pinned them up above the foot of my bed, along with the postcards and photos. 

Every time I woke up I would see this wall, reminding me that I was not alone. With every glance at the wall I was shattering the illusions which the disorder had built up and proving to myself that I was stronger, loved, and didn’t need the disorder. 

Your disorder will try and convince you that you need it. Your disorder can only survive as long as you are relying on it. I needed a physical wall to help block my eating disorder, but you might not. Remembering how loved you are, and how alone you aren‘t, is the most important step to beating your disorder, once and for all. 

For more information on understanding eating disorder click here.

For information on seeking support with eating disorders click here.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Eating Disorder Awareness Week - Chloe Murray's Story

I was only 12 years young when I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. Of course, everyone in my class knew, as well as my family and my teachers. Despite believing that I could hide my emaciated body from everyone, by wearing layer upon layer of clothes, I couldn't hide my behaviours. I had lost myself, and I rapidly transformed into just an empty shell of the former bubbly, confident, energetic girl everyone knew and loved. I could hardly recognise myself. I had no personality, and all I cared about was losing weight. I didn't want to socialise, or leave the comfort zone of my bedroom. I wasn't fun to be around anymore and I had lost all enjoyment from life. 

Anorexia was in control, and I was too powerless to ignore its strict rules and rituals. I felt scared and alone, desperate to escape from the chains that were holding me back, but too weak to do so. I wasn't strong enough to fight anorexia on my own, and the majority of the time I didn't even want recovery. My confused brain was constantly in disagreement, with half of me wanting to get better and be happy again, yet the other half too scared to change and 'lose' anorexia which had become a safety blanket. Anorexia was my identity and I was terrified of the person I would become without it. Would I be boring? Who would I turn to for help? Will people still support me if I don't look ill? 

It was a never-ending battle. I was so disgusted with myself that I ensured test after test, scan after scan, needle after needle in hospital. I was so adamant to doctors that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was eating fine and that I certainly did not have an eating disorder that they were forced to rule out any other possible explanation for my recent weight loss. Results came back that I didn't have diabetes, or a brain tumour, or anything else they suspected. It was only then, I gave up. I could no longer hide this illness from my concerned family, and I felt horrible for putting them through so much already. 

After a year of being in denial, unable to admit my thoughts and behaviours to anyone, I finally opened up to my psychologist. I had feared that she would judge me greatly, and so would my friends and family. I felt pathetic. I was now 13 years old and I was unable to feed or care for myself. I was embarrassed. Opening up about my anorexia was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but with time, it got easier. Being able to talk to someone and meet other people who were going through the same thing was a huge step in my recovery. It allowed me to feel supported and gave me hope; knowing that there were other people out there that understood me. 

To my surprise, my friends at school stuck by me all the way. I often felt self-conscious eating around them, or getting changed during PE. I felt like a fraud for eating, thinking that my peers would judge me due to the very common disbelieve that "anorexics don't eat" which is certainly not true. I felt uncomfortable and as though I was being watched, but over time that got much easier. Through my recovery, I have learnt to open up to people, and accept the support around me. Coming to University has really opened up my views on mental health, making me realise how many people are affected with it, and it inspires me to see that some people can be so open and honest about their feelings. 

I have only recently, 7 years after being diagnosed with anorexia, felt able to talk about my experience. I finally feel as though anorexia is behind me and I stronger than that. I have learnt how to express my feelings and talk to people, rather than bottle up everything and take my anger/sadness out on myself. I am happy again. I am no longer anorexia. I am just me.

The place between relapse and recovery

Claire writes about how an eating disorder doesn't define the person you are.
- Claire McKenna

When people ask how I am or if I’m doing okay, I never know how to respond. It’s difficult to answer because I appear to them as ‘fine’ and coping better than I was before. I’m out with my friends like other 21 year olds, I’m at university rather than in and out of hospitals which was my life for at least 5 years, I’m managing to eat, laugh and smile.

But inside, I’m still facing that raging battle. I am still absolutely repulsed by the way I look. There isn’t ever a moment where I’m not feeling terrible that I have food inside me, just sitting there and I can’t do anything about it because I can’t go backwards and end up in hospital again. 
Every day, whether it’s walking around campus, out with my friends, walking to the local shops- I compare myself to every woman or girl out there. It doesn’t stop. I’m back to being the ‘big’ one again.

I may restrict, but I’m eating a lot more than I was. The anorexia keeps trying it’s best to force me back into its full grasp, sometimes I can disallow it to win and I continue to fight and remember how better life could be without it.  Many times I’m not so strong enough and I let it win and take over my being. In both situations I end up crying and getting myself in a complete wreck but I know the former option of accepting to eat is the correct option. 

Being sensitive to those in recovery matters as all it can take is for someone to make an ignorant comment and then I fell I have to fall back on to my anorexic behaviours. All the hard work getting to the point I am now can just immediately come crashing down again. Then it’s a case of having to try get back up the point where I was. It’s an on-going battle but I’m going to try and fight it to win once and for all.

I was asked in therapy “Who is Claire?” and I didn’t really know how to answer this question. I thought for a while but just didn’t have anything to say. The therapist prompted me and asked me what 13 year old Claire would be getting up to? What were her days like then? I then remembered always being out the house, being carefree, going out with friends all the time, having trips to McDonalds and not thinking twice about it, eating pizza at sleepovers or after drinking with friends. I wasn’t confident then or happy with how I looked; in fact I was very insecure then. But, life was different and I wasn’t being controlled by the disorder. 

There is more to me than my eating disorder because I am a brave person trying to overcome it. Sometimes I forget this. To the outside world it may seem as though I’m being “attention seeking” but it’s not that simple. 

I want to spread awareness so maybe I can prevent more and more people having this happen to them. I want to help another person seek help before it’s too late, before it escalates. The earlier the intervention, the more chance of a successful recovery. 

Now, I have my bad days and I have my better days. Being an aunty to the most precious nephew and niece keeps me going. They have given me a new-found purpose in my life, I have to be strong for them. I want them to grow up with a healthy attitude to food and life in general. 

For more on understanding eating disorders click here.

For more information about finding support click here.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Eating Disorder Awareness Week - Sophie's Story

Life is full of challenges, surprises, let-downs and triumphs. These qualities all came to me throughout the process of my eating disorder. Overcoming my disorder was one of the hardest things I had to come to terms with. The big first step I had to take was accepting what I was allowing my mind to do to my body and knowing that it was a dangerous lifestyle habit to continue with. I sat with my Mum, who had been silently worried for me for the past year and a half, in a doctor’s waiting room after booking an appointment with my doctor to talk about my drastic weight loss. This was to be the start of my recovery and the start to a better well-being of not only my body but also my mind and myself.

I remember my Mum doing most of the talking throughout the appointment and feeling as if my disorder had silenced me from speaking out against it. As we sat there discussing about what had happened to my weight and what we suspected the cause could be, I realised for the first time how much it had effected my Mum. My Mum explained to the doctor how she traced it out to being the result to my stress levels during my GCSE exams but I could see that was not what she actually thought. My Mum had witnessed me cutting down on my food in order to give myself more study time after school and over-exercising on the weekend to make up for not going out during the week when I would study. I suddenly felt awful for putting my Mum through this and wondered if it was all too late to make amends with my body, not only for my health but also for my Mum.

When I returned home from my doctor’s appointment I was pretty convinced I had an eating disorder. My mind had become a dizzy blur since walking out of the doctor’s room, it hadn’t felt like I had an eating disorder after all this time, I didn’t know how much I was hurting those around me and now I felt like I couldn’t make up for all this. I sat on my bed thinking everything over, blaming myself for everything that had gone wrong with my body even though I knew it wasn’t my fault – it was a disorder. My little sister was the one who put my thoughts straight for me, she entered my room, smiled and said “You will get better, not because you have to but because you want to and I want you to get better too.”

Gradually over two years of recovery, I overcame my eating disorder and granted my sister’s wish. It was hard to start with as I was used to eating so little each day and now that my exams were over I couldn't use them as an excuse to skip out food anymore. I began to eat more with my family around the dining table as I felt more included there during mealtimes rather than isolating myself to eat alone in the kitchen because of my consciousness of being watched when eating my food. Although I ate less than them for a while, it felt like a better amount as I began to leave only what I genuinely couldn't finish rather than stopping myself eating the meal completely.

After I got more comfortable with healthy and substantial meals, I then made a start at introducing snacks and desserts back into my diet. I started with accepting healthy desserts like fruit with some yogurt at first and gradually accepted my favourite food back into my diet – chocolate. Chocolate is a good snack that can gradually be put back into a diet as it can be chopped up into smaller pieces, shared and also put with other foods such as ice cream, mousse and cake. I remember the great feeling of achievement I felt when I had my first full slice of cake for my birthday a year after confronting a doctor about my disorder.

Writing this nearly five years on from the doctor’s appointment, I am infinitely glad that I listened to my sister and decided to tackle my eating disorder for good. I now maintain balanced diet and have hardly any worries over selecting the food I eat. I feel a much more confident and secure person because of this choice and other people are proud of my recovery too. I would never say that I am perfect because no one is perfect – we all have our faults and weaknesses. By choosing to stand up and overcome these weaknesses, we choose to be brave and it is the most rewarding step one can take. By taking this first courageous step, people will remember you for this and not for an eating disorder. Don’t let the eating disorder win, let yourself make the decision for recovery and be proud that you spoke out against a disorder that affects so many people in their everyday lives.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Studying An Online Degree- Feeling Alone In A Crowd

Troy writes about the isolation that comes with online degrees, and making a concentrated effort to reach out to overcome this.

- Troy Lambert

Attending college online seems like a great idea. You can attend classes when you want, and work them and homework around your schedule. You can balance your own life and manage your own time. You can also get pretty darn lonely.

I was doing more than balancing kids, study, and work. I was isolated in other ways too. My marriage was in the end stages, and working full time, managing the household, and squeezing in study time left little room for anything else. Friends, who were once close, were now distant, and I felt forgotten.

I drank a lot, but it wasn't for pleasure. Of course, I denied my motives. I stopped working out and taking care of myself physically, and I gained some weight. I moved to a new community, where I had even fewer friends and contacts, and started working from home, increasing my feelings of isolation.

It’s not uncommon for online students to deal with situational depression, and to share those feelings of isolation and loneliness. When I was in this situation, though, I wasn’t reaching out. I didn’t search for and empathise with others who were feeling the same way.

Image Source here

At least not at first. As bad as depression can be, it doesn’t have to last. Once I realised I was depressed, I determined I needed to do something about it.

I knew I needed to take better care of myself physically, but first, I needed to tackle my mental health, since so much of it was rooted in the physiological. So I started slow, with meditation. Once I regained some focus and mental strength, I added some yoga, and other low impact exercise.

I made conscious efforts to email my professors and interact with other students in online chats. But virtual interaction was not enough: too much time interacting exclusively online can contribute to depression, feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and other mental disorders. So I reached out, and became a part of an away from keyboard (AFK) study and writer’s groups.

It helped, a step at a time. My marriage ended. I quit coffee for a while, something that brought headaches and sleepiness at first, followed by more clarity. I drank less, and for better reasons. My schoolwork and my other work got better.

I’ve met someone, and my social life is certainly better. There are still times though, when e-mailing assignments or chatting with other students online, when the old feelings of loneliness comes back. Even when I am out in a crowded bar, surrounded by friends new and old who love me, I can still feel isolated.

Depression is tough, but even when I feel myself sliding backwards I know it wont last.

I’m not alone in a crowd, and if I can find the strength to reach out, I know others will be there for me.

For more information about how to get support at university for depression and feelings of isolation, click here.

For more information on our Ripple Campaign and how to get involved follow this link.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Accept yourself, accept your flaws and the best of you will shine

Angeliki writes about finding herself and overcoming depression through small steps in everyday life.

- Angeliki Antoniadou

Six years ago, if one of my close friends confided in me that they were dealing with mental health issues, such as depression or severe anxiety. I would have most likely been one of those annoying and ignorant people who tell you that it’s just a phase and that others have it worse than you. I am extremely embarrassed to admit it, but like so many others, I had an incredibly limited knowledge of what it means to be depressed.

That is, until I started feeling overwhelmed and miserable in my first year at university. At first, I blamed it on missing my family and friends who all lived multiple countries and hundreds of thousands of miles away. I constantly said to myself that my feelings were normal. Everyone feels at least a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work expected from students, the need to make new friends, the need to join societies, network and manage their own finances and household. Stress is common among students. I said to myself ‘I will just give it some time, maybe a week, maybe two and then, I will be back to being me.’ I said this to myself every single day when I wouldn’t get out of my small room, wouldn’t shower, would cry listening to music, would miss all my lectures and seminars and stay in bed staring at the ceiling contemplating about how much I have failed in my life.

Before it happened to me, I am not sure I could ever comprehend the hopelessness and the profound sadness that hits you when you are depressed. That powerful, suffocating thought that you have somehow caused this to yourself and you are unworthy of love, happiness and success. That vicious mix of desperation, misery, anxiety and emptiness. That voice in your head of a little bully informing you that you are a lazy, scared and laughable person with no hope of achieving anything in life because no one wants to be friends with you or employ you, or even sit next to you on the train.

In all honesty, it took me three whole years to accept that I needed help and support from a doctor and a counsellor. I thought I could deal with it on my own, but most of all I was afraid of what people would say. I kept smiling and being kind, thinking that I could hide my true feelings. I didn’t want to tell my tutors because I was afraid they would confirm the very thing I was most scared of; that I wasn’t cut out for university and I wasn’t cut out for a degree. I didn’t want to confide to any of my close friends or my peers because I didn’t want them to pity me or change their attitude towards me. I didn’t even want to tell my family since they tried to discourage me from studying abroad. Telling them would be like I was admitting defeat.

A year ago, I finally decided enough was enough and I went on antidepressants. Unfortunately, they didn’t “fix” me. I still felt what I was feeling before and sometimes, I felt even worse. One minute I would be feeling numb and empty wishing I could disappear, and a moment later, I would be restless with many thoughts racing through my head. The antidepressants caused insomnia and I would go without or with very little sleep for multiple days. Having said that, they provided me with a little bit of confidence and clarity for a few hours within the day to attend my seminars. I was probably awful since I had done minimal preparation, but it felt nice to finally be part of a group even if it was just for a few hours every week.

A couple of months ago, I thought to myself that it is vital to change. I didn’t want to go on like this and now, I consider myself proud of what I have achieved. I am taking a step towards re-evaluating my life and my goals. I think I have started to accept myself for who I am. I will probably never be thin, nor the most organised person in the world or good at sports but I accept that. Whenever, I am panicking and feeling restless, I will take a shower, or go out for a walk. On sunny days, I will get out and stand still for a few moments just to feel the sun on my skin and on cold, dry days, it is extraordinarily calming to feel the cold air on my face. I know that for others, those achievements may mean nothing, but for me they mean so much, especially after spending all these years hating myself and failing to take positive action because I believed I deserved it.

I have begun to accept the past because I cannot change it and by thinking about it persistently, I manage to ruin my present. For all these years, I have been watching others graduate, get jobs, finding love, and even getting married and having children. They were living their lives. All I did was exist. I only watched my life walk past me. I don’t have a single moment in those 3 years that has stayed in memory, probably because everything that occurred was insignificant. I know to my heart that I never want this to happen again. For every year that passes, I yearn to have memories, whether they are good or bad.

Of course, depression doesn’t just go away. I still have days when I am feeling miserable and don’t want to leave the house, and I still have anxiety attacks, but I try to remind myself that my worries and fears are not necessarily valid. I try to take one thing at a time and set short-term goals, rather than thinking where I would like to be in 5 years. I write down my plans for the next month, not the next year. I try to be reasonable, and make them work. I get disappointed when they don’t work out but I make an effort to move past it.

I will never go back to being the me of the past and that’s completely fine. As a matter of fact, I don’t even want to be the person I was 5 years ago. I like her, but I like her current version more. I have become more compassionate now, less judgemental, and I am kinder to others and myself. I have become more educated with regards to mental health issues and I have developed as a person. I have been through so many horrible times in the last few years, yet I don’t leave any regrets about it because I am a stronger person now.

For more support on coping with depression, anxiety and work loads at university click here.
For more information about our Ripple campaign click here.