You Make Your Own Luck

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With the New Year approaching I imagine most people are reflecting on the year they have had and their hopes for the year to come. I have been doing this lately and all I can think about is the amazing changes that have taken place in 2015.

The year started with me not in the best place. Not in the worst place by any means but definitely things were not as I wanted them to be. When I arrived home for Christmas, I spent the first couple of days in a constant flood of tears. I had been working so hard on my dissertation and was convinced that this meant that I would fail my upcoming exams. I spent all day revising and beating myself up. The result, my eating disorder (ED) was showing it’s ugly head.. I spent the Christmas break binge eating, restricting and obsessing (not the best way to prepare myself for the upcoming exams). I knew I needed to sort myself out, but I had yet again succumbed to the heavy pressure that I was placing on myself. With the exams fast approaching I was stuck in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, disordered behaviour and crippling stress.

Reading my last paragraph you couldn’t be blamed for predicting a horrible 2015 for me.. but to the contrary, 2015 has been one of my favourite years yet.. I’ll try and sum up the year so you can see why:

January: Battled through exams. Not much sleep, not much eating, lot’s and lot’s of crying.. quite frankly I was a mess.. (my housemates even had to put me to bed the night before one of my exams). In my head, I knew this was ridiculous behaviour and was desperate for the exams to be over so I could get myself back on my feet.

February: This month made up for January in every way. I picked myself up, carried on and seeked professional help for my ED in the form of some phone counselling. This wasn’t easy for me as I thought I had left this all in the past, but I knew it was the right thing to do. All within one week I got my results (& did amazing!), had an interview and got a place on the perfect PhD and celebrated my 22nd birthday surrounded by all of my friends. My hard-work had finally paid off and it felt as though so much pressure had been lifted off my shoulders!

March-May: Dissertation blur! I have never been so proud of anything as I was with my dissertation. I worked extremely hard on both my dissertation but also on looking after myself. I prioritised sleep, exercise and healthy eating, all of which I usually neglected throughout my high-stress periods. I battled a lot of guilt in order to do this but with the help of the phone-counselling, things got better and better.

June: My finals. The feeling I had coming out of my last exam (even though I was convinced I had failed it) is definitely one of the highlights of my year! Knowing I would never, ever, ever have to put myself through that again. To celebrate I went on a 10 day holiday to Malia with my friends to blow off some steam and have some well-deserved fun!

July: Spent some time at home.. Struggled with food like I always do when I go home; probably due to the loss of control and the terrible anxiety I get when I am surrounded by junk food.. On a positive, I graduated with a first-class degree and even won a special award! If I am honest though I am more proud of the personal-battles that I won during my time at university than I am of my academic achievements.

August-September: 6 weeks in South-east Asia visiting the beautiful Vietnam, crazy Cambodia and exotic Thailand. Exactly what I needed. An amazing experience that will stay with me for life.

October-December: Started my PhD in the best of places. Happy and confident. Met lots of new amazing people. PhD life for me is so much more preferable to undergraduate study. I find it easier to separate the work-life balance and although there is the stressful day or week there is not the same crippling, chronic stress that I have suffered with in the past. I absolutely love what I do and feel so fortunate that things have worked out this way.

The way things have transformed this year have been truly incredible. I have achieved so much and had so many fantastic experiences and opportunities. I always say that I am lucky, and people always argue that I have got where I am because of the hard-work that I have put in. I think the truth lies somewhere in between, a combination of both. I think determination, hard-work and perseverance allows you to make your own luck. My real battle in life will always be my wellbeing. My internal struggles are always going to be those that attempt to prevent me getting what I want.. they are the reasons I spent days crying instead of revising in January, those that made me stay on the sofa feeling too weak and ill rather than going out for a run or ringing a friend , those that made me doubt myself instead of believing in my own abilities.. But by fighting my ED and my inner insecurities constantly and relentlessly I am achieving more than I ever expected I could. It goes without saying that none of this would have happened if I hadn’t battled my ED to get to a point where my achievements, goals and wishes are no longer based on how big my thighs are, how many calories I have eaten or how many hours exercise I have done today.

I share this because I think everyone has such incredible potential in all sorts of different ways. I think we too often let stress, insecurities and internal torment get in our own way. My new year resolution this year? Simply to continue prioritising and respecting my own happiness, health and wellbeing. Sounds easy but I know better than anyone this is much easier said than done. But I also know that by continuing to work towards this goal, I will continue to make my own luck in life.

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Let’s Let Go and Move Forward

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So yesterday I was discharged from my specialist eating disorder service, just in time for my return to University this weekend. I walked away from the building with a smile on my face; strong, healthy and extremely optimistic for the future. I couldn’t help but compare myself to the person I was just 10 months ago, sat next to my mum in the waiting room, confused, vulnerable and desperate; this really allows me to see just how much of a journey I have been on.

I do have to admit that I found my discharge surprisingly overwhelming. As I left, despite the smile on my face and the sense of achievement I was feeling, tears welled in my eyes and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the mixed emotions I was experiencing. At first I fought off the tears; I had been working towards this point for so long, I was meant to be happy, right?

On the one hand I know that this is a massive step; a step that at many points hasn’t seemed achievable. I feel a great sense of pride at what I have been able to overcome and the place that I have now reached. However, I feel as though I have been let loose in the world without a map, or as though a comfort blanket has been snatched away from me. For months, I have been moving from strength to strength with my recovery, and have faced all of my problems head on, but have relied heavily on the support provided by my appointments at the service. Each week I have been able to spill all of my worries, fears and challenges that have been niggling away at me and my team have been able to offer me advice and reassure me that I’m on the right track. Now when I am faced with problems I am struggling to overcome, I can no longer think ‘At least I can discuss this with my occupational therapist next week’ or ‘’It will be OK, my dietitian can help me with this’’.. I am on my own with this and although I feel so happy that I have got to this place, it is slightly overwhelming to be moving on. I am leaving such a massive, massive part of my life behind.

The pain and challenges I have faced are something I am keen to put behind me, but they are not something I want to forget. I have learnt so much from this experience that I actually feel my life has done nothing but benefit. It is definitely true that the pain we endure allows us to gain and grow as a person. I have found strength inside myself that I never knew I had, and this is liberating- I really feel as though I can face anything now and come out OK. I always used to think of tragedies that could happen and think ‘How could I possibly ever cope with that’.. Well, now I know that there is a way through whatever life throws at us.

Despite how scared and overwhelmed I may be feeling, for me my discharge and move back to University signify a new start. The last few months I have grown so much as a person and have finally reached a place where I can say I feel recovered. Being discharged from my eating disorder service really gives me a chance to put this year behind me and move on with my life. Equally, moving back to University is the perfect way to start moving away from this. It is my fresh start- I have spent my recovery building a new me and now it is time to build a new life, free from anorexia.

The reason I am able to move on from this positively and optimistically is because I know that what happens to me is my choice. I chose to recover and win my life back and worked relentlessly to make sure this happened. Now that I am recovered, I will not allow myself to become complacent; instead I choose to stay recovered and do everything in my power to make sure that happens- it really is a life-long commitment.  I am making the promise to myself that no matter how overwhelming things may get, no matter what bullets my eating disorder may attempt to fire at me in order to creep back in or if things simply do not go according to plan, I will keep pushing forward and will not let my mental illnesses win. My well-being is now my priority in life and although I am recovered, I know that my journey is not over yet. Ultimately, if I fight hard enough, it is me who is in control of my own mind , and for that reason I know that everything will be just fine.

R.E.C.O.V.E.R.Y (When? Why? How?)

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R.E.C.O.V.E.R.Y (When? Why? How?)

Recovery is hard.. and that is an understatement. Recovering was by far the hardest thing I have ever (and probably will ever) have to do. However, it is also the most rewarding thing I have ever done- and no great struggle comes without great gain. Read my advice below..

WHEN?

 

NOW!! As in right now; not tomorrow, not next week, not next year- it is time to recover now. You will never feel ready; you will never feel as though it is right time as there probably will never be a ‘right time’. The longer you put it off, the more time you spend with your life on hold, the more you miss out on, the more time you spend in the grips of mental illness and the harder recovery will be. Starting my recovery from anorexia was extremely scary as it had been a security blanket for me for so long, sheltering me from the outside world. For a long time I was so reluctant to let go of my eating disorder, but it was the best thing I ever did. Be brave and take the step towards recovery now, I promise you will not regret it!

WHY?

OK, so this is probably the easiest question to answer, ever, when you have come out of the other side of mental illness. However, when in the grips of one, depression and anxiety clouding your vision, you feel as though there is ‘no point’, ‘it’s not worth it’ and ‘it is not possible’. Well, these are very big lies that your mental illness is causing you to believe. .

Everything is so much easier and so much better when you have recovered from mental illness; you can start to appreciate your life so much more. I am not saying life is perfect, but it is amazing, and you even learn to appreciate the negative emotions because you learn to both feel them and deal with them positively. Here are just some of the many, many, many things I have personally gained from my recovery..

  • I am healthy (both mentally and physically); I feel healthy and I look healthy.
  • My mental illness is no longer causing me to self-destruct so I am able to take pride in keeping myself fit and healthy.
  • I am much better company for my family and friends, as I am much less preoccupied.
  • Equally, I enjoy my family and friends company much more and actually look forward to spending time with them, it’s no longer a chore!
  • I AM NO LONGER DEPRESSED! & do not have suicidal thoughts- the last thing I can imagine wanting to do anymore is end my own life! This is my favourite, favourite, favourite thing I have gained from recovery!
  • I am much more in control of my anxiety- and life is so much easier because of that!
  • All the symptoms of anorexia are gone- I am no longer ridiculously freezing, my periods have returned, my nails, hair and teeth are much healthier, I can actually sleep, I can concentrate on things, my body does not ache, I’m not in danger of heart complications, my blood pressure is back to normal.. the list goes on!
  • Clothes fit better and I look and feel more normal.
  • I can get on with my life- I got to return to university and go back to work.
  • I can plan things to look forward to- travelling etc & not have to worry about how I will be at that point and what I will eat etc.
  • I can go with the flow more- unplanned social situations are no big deal, going away for the week is a possibility- I have so much more freedom.
  • I do not have to weigh every single thing that I am going to eat as I no longer need to know how many blimmin calories I am consuming. I can concentrate on much more important and beneficial things.
  • I do not determine my self-worth based on a number I see on the scales. I have more important goals to achieve than being ‘skinny’.
  • My life does not revolve around various doctor appointments.
  • I do not have to lie when people ask me how I am- or struggle to explain how I am feeling and then feel miserable about it when I can’t.
  • Every day is no longer an effort, every day is a blessing.
  • I can handle my emotions so much better, I don’t feel great every day but that does not stop every day from being great. My feelings are not something I am afraid of.
  • I get to drink hot chocolate- GUILT FREE!
  • Binges, restriction, laxatives, vomiting, excessive exercise- all a thing of the past!
  • I get to say I have recovered- and for that I always have a reason to love myself and be proud of myself- No one can take that away from me.
  • People do not have to tip toe around me, they treat me as a normal person.

Honestly, the list goes on, and on and on, I have gained so much from recovery- but cannot think of one single thing that feels like a loss.

HOW?

 

So you may have just read that list above and now feel worse, as you think it is not possible for you. It is normal to feel like this, but it is not true! Everyone and anyone can recover, no matter how bad you are, how much you have lost, how long you have been suffering, how many failed attempts at recovery you have had before. Another common reason not to recover is that ‘You are not skinny enough yet” / ”I need to succeed at this before I can get better”./ ”Putting on weight will mean that I have failed”. I really struggled with these and it held me back for a long time.. These are lies that the voice of your eating disorder will scream at you and if you can find the strength to challenge them then you really are strong! You do not need to get worse before you can get better- you just need to get better.. do not let your eating disorder take any more from you than it already has. Anorexia distorts itself into something that you need to achieve and a title you need to earn. In reality, you are suffering from an illness, recovering is the strong thing to do in this situation.

Recovery is possible. If you want to recover- and I would really recommend it (being recovered is great)- read the list below and keep an open mind.

These are my tips…

  1. Have faith– Starting recovery can often make you feel worse to begin with as it is such a hard and exhausting thing to do. This is why you need faith. Have faith that recovery will get you to where you need to be, but it will take time and it will not feel like that for a while. Stick at it and you will get there eventually. When things get really tough, look ahead and look forward to the future when things will be better and you will have recovered. You will be rewarded for all this hard work you are putting in now.
  2. Forgive yourself– Stop blaming yourself. The struggles you are dealing with from your mental illness is causing you enough pain, so you really do not need to be beating yourself up as well. Connect with your compassionate self and try to learn to love yourself (this is easier said than done but is so important- there are many self-help books that can help). This is not your fault, mental illness is not a choice, recovery is though..
  3. Make a commitment to recovery. No matter how bad it gets, how hard it is, whatever blows life gives you in the mean time, recovery is your number one priority and you will not give up. You will have days or weeks where you seem to move backwards- that is fine, do not be hard on yourself- if you pick yourself up and keep going then you have not failed. Make a promise to yourself now, that you will recover this time, no matter how long it takes you.
  4. Be easy on yourself- you are moving forward no matter how slow you go. Push yourself in any way you can when you feel motivated and strong. However, recovery is tiring so be easy on yourself on days where it all seems to much.
  5. Meditate or use relaxation exercises. They work miracles in recovery. Anxiety is the least helpful thing during recovery, so find ways to relax and slow your mind down. I cannot stress how much this helped me.
  6. Keep a diary / journal– write down everything you are feeling, no matter how scary these feelings are. Do not keep a lid on your emotions as you can only bottle up so much before they come spilling out.
  7. Engage in life– get yourself out there. Get a job, go out with friends, do a course, learn a skill. Whatever you want and at your own pace. Life can be scary after mental illness but getting yourself out there really does help to get you moving towards a healthier place. Give things a go- if it is awful or it is too much then you can always quit.
  8. Remember how far you have come. Write a list of all the things you absolutely hate about the place you are in now. It can be easy at times to forget how bad things were and this can lead to being drawn back in. Your eating disorder will certainly try and trick you back in so you need to have your guard up. This list can act as a reminder of why you chose this path and why it is so important to carry on.
  9. Keep in touch with family and friends. Be open with them. Do not shut them out. Family and friends are so important to our well-being and speaking to them can really help to offload.
  10. If you are having professional help then stick with it. Let them decide when you are ready to move on without them. Even when you do not feel like making an appointment, go to them, because I am sure that afterwards you will be glad you did. If you haven’t got professional help, see your GP to see if this is an option. I know I could not have recovered without the help of my eating disorder team, so if you need it, make sure you get it.
  11. Keep moving forward At points during your recovery you will feel as though you can let your guard down and have got to a place now where you are fine. You may be, but be careful because this could be a bid by your eating disorder to win you back. Even if your life is back on track, if you hold on to certain habits, thought processes or behaviors, then you are leaving yourself vulnerable to relapse and missing out on the opportunity of full recovery. I came across a quote which rings very true to me: ‘Even if you are on the right track, if you stay still for too long you will be hit by a train’. Keep finding ways in which you can improve your mental well being and continue to move away from your eating disorder; push yourself- do not give up halfway or your effort may go to waste.
  12. & most importantly, stay strong! You can do this, you deserve it and you will get there! Recovery takes courage, strength and motivation. Give yourself credit for this, it takes a very special person to recover from mental illness.

2013- A Year of Pain, Hope and Recovery

2013. What a year. For me, it was both the best year and the worst year of my life.

I started off the year making the same self-destructive New Years resolution that I had made for the past 6 years- to eat less and lose weight. Now this may not seem that odd, as it is probably the most common resolution, alongside giving up cigarettes, to be made every year; But when you have an eating disorder, this is not a healthy resolution to be making. I made this resolution, with a dangerous new wave of determination and from this point, my life went dramatically down-hill.

Don’t get me wrong, 2013 was not the year my eating disorder all kicked off; I was in a bad way a long time before this. I had been suffering with my eating disorder (although I was very much in denial) since the age of 14. But 2013 was the year it all caught up with me and my illness turned my life upside down.

I lasted until February- and then everything fell apart. My eating disorder took complete control of my mind, and controlled everything I did. I was no longer myself, I was a shell in which my eating disorder was living. Although, on reflection, I can see that I was still there somewhere, and it was that part of me that somehow managed to find the strength to fight my eating disorder and reach out for help. After reaching out, my life seemed to unravel. First, I decided to take a break from playing hockey, as I was too depressed to hit the ball and my body temperature was so low that, when outside, my hands would seize up and my lips would turn blue. Then I was forced to leave my part-time job as it was too much for me to handle and I just did not have the energy. I could not concentrate on anything and would spend all of my lectures fighting back tears but yet it still took a while for me to finally accept that I was going to have to suspend my year at University and return home. At this point I didn’t return home to recover, I moved home because I just could no longer cope with my life.

At home, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and referred to a specialist eating disorder team, consisting of a psychologist, an occupational therapist and a dietitian, who all helped me to slowly turn my life around. However, things got worse before they got better and March and April were the worst months of my life. I had reached rock bottom and was stuck in a pit of depression. I was so lost and confused and I just did not know how to beat this and how I could get my old life back.

However, I forced myself out of bed each morning, made all of my appointments with my eating disorder team, I read a ton of self help books and I made books fill of quotes and affirmations that helped me get through the day. I ate even though it terrified me, I put on weight even though my eating disorder screamed at me that I was fat, worthless, disgusting, blah blah blah, I spent time with my friends and family even though I found socialising exhausting. On several occasions it all became so much that I suffered suicidal thoughts; It took so much strength to pick myself up from those lows, but I always did and I am extremely proud of myself for that. During this time, every single day was such an effort, but I carried on finding ways in which I could move forward and fight my eating disorder.

I put so much hard work into my recovery, and eventually that hard work began to pay off. Light began to slowly full my world again. I was blessed with one or two good days; I remember the first time I laughed again, not a pretend laugh, but a true laugh- it was a feeling I will not forget. My days became easier and things became brighter. I was slowly moving away from my eating disorder and rebuilding my life.

By the time the end of the year approached, I was in a place that I had not believed possible. I had recovered from mental illness and learnt so much in the process. Life is not the same as it was before, it never will be, but it is so much better. I am no longer numb to negative emotions, so things can sometimes be hard but at least I am living. My eating disorder provided a shield against the world, which at times seemed to be just what I needed- but it also acted as a barrier, leaving me isolated, trapped and missing out. However, barriers can be knocked down and it is possible to learn to live without a shield. Life is an experience- the good and the bad.

I have wrote this post to reflect on my year and how much things have changed. I cannot seem to find a way to sum up all the pain I felt and the challenges I faced during the year- I don’t feel the words could do it justice. But I feel that it is these tough times that we can gain the most from. So despite being the worst year of my life, it is also the year I gained the most. It is thanks to the things I have learnt in 2013, and the person I have become, that I feel so hopeful moving into 2014. If anyone is reading this, and is suffering, please take some hope from this- 2014 can be the year that you break down your barriers, put away your shields and recover. Life really is amazing when you come out of the other side.