Trigger Warnings…

Trigger Warnings

What are trigger warnings and do they work?

These are often at the beginning of an article or social media post, either labelled as; trigger warning “TW’, or content warning ‘CW’. Triggers have many different definitions. The discussion regarding their use is not straightforward or easy.

I’m keen to start a discussion about how we perceive them, use them or alternatives that we could implement.

This is a heavily nuanced subject and I do not claim to have all of the answers, in fact my experience and knowledge is finite.

However I wanted to explore this topic further after an Instagram post I shared about them sparked a few interesting DM’s. https://www.instagram.com/p/CUYQe2Mhae4/?utm_medium=copy_link

Before I get into my own views, lets discuss the origins of where “trigger warnings” for content originated.

Trigger warnings originate from trauma, PTSD content. They were specifically attached to protect people with a history of PTSD/ trauma from experiencing the negative effects of reliving the traumatic exposure and secondary response. “Being triggered” in any other setting is different to this. People with PTSD often cannot regulate their response to the trigger.

I do not have experience with PTSD and so I’m not equipped to be able to talk about all of the nuances associated with this. I can however talk about the use of “TW” outside of trauma & PTSD and the potential harm they cause.

Multiple studies have demonstrated TW used in any other context at best do not work and at worst can cause harm. Yet almost every post I come across in the eating disorder community comes with a “TW”. It’s almost as if a trigger warning absolves a person from any responsibility of what they are posting.

If you are consuming, participating and engaging with particular content on social media you have a level of personal responsibility.

What do I mean by this?

It is your choice to visit certain pages, hashtags and communities. You have the same choice to avoid or unfollow content that does not help you.

Additionally you have a degree of responsibility regarding content you share. If you feel it may be harmful, caveating it with a TW is not solving a problem. Before I share anything, I consider a few things; does this post have the possibility to harm, does it serve the community I want to be an ally to and how would I have perceived this when I was unwell?

There is also a big difference between being “triggered” and discomfort.

Unlike people with PTSD, most of us with eating disorders whether you like it or not can choose to be triggered by something.

People with PTSD find it difficult to self regulate/soothe when they come across a trigger and reminder of the traumatic event. It can have many physical, somatic effects such as dissociation, soiling, hyperventilation and these are not in their immediate control. Therefore trigger warnings applied to topics/scenes depicting graphic violence/ sexual assault may help. There’s also debate that avoidance of such can do harm to some people’s recovery but again I am not equipped to go into the nuances regarding these.

I know when I was deep in anorexia, I would seek content with “TW’s, my eating disorder wanted me to be triggered. A trigger warning did not deter my unwell brain. If anything they helped keep me stuck in the cycle. I chose to be triggered by them. Why?

Eating disorders by nature a incredibly competitive. When the eating disorder voice is the dominant voice it will go looking for anything that validates it and makes it “more successful”. I could have controlled my response to them, I could have avoided them all together, but I chose not too.

Trigger warnings do not prevent this. They are the problem.

Now I’m solid in recovery, if I see an post with ‘TW” I can view content without allowing myself to become “activated”. I will often choose not to open such posts depending on how I am feeling in myself. I take responsibility in what I engage with. This is self regulation. But let me lay this out there…the “TW’s” on content I used to seek when I was ill with anorexia would reinforce intrusive thoughts. Labelling content with a “TW” would often lead me to engage in things I wouldn’t other wise. It’s like when someone says “don’t think about the colour red” all you can think about is the colour red. TW’s don’t tell you to avoid the content but they may increase the intrusive thoughts too. There’s increasing literature to show that “TW’s” do not work and can result in increased anxiety (I’ll share some links below).

As I have referred to already there is a difference between “being triggered” and feeling uncomfortable (feeling our feelings). I can feel uncomfortable about something but still remain within my parasympathetic nervous system and not enter the fight or flight mode invoked by the sympathetic nervous system. Commonly posts will elicit feelings of grief because I resonate with them to a time when I was unwell. These feelings are healthy and transitory- they do not keep me stuck in a state of “activation or triggered into a trauma state”.

Again I’m not knowledgeable in all of the nuances regarding this. I wanted to start the discussion about how blanketly these warnings are being used and whether they are causing more harm than intended.

I’m not saying there is no role for TW’s, I am encouraging you to reflect on why you use them, is it truly to prepare an individual or to remove responsibility from what you share or engage with?

Do trigger warnings help you are they as useful as we think? Do they cause you more intrusive thoughts? I’d love to hear your opinions, either via the comments or email me.

A few published studies:

It’s OKAY to Talk About Suicide

It’s ok to talk about suicide. Suicide is not the solution.

CW discussion of suicide

Feeling suicidal is terrifying and if you have these thoughts please call the crisis line or someone you trust.

This is a difficult post to write, but it shouldn’t be. September is suicide awareness/prevention month. Really every day should be suicide prevention. For some reason, suicide continues to be a stigmatised, taboo subject.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people aged 10-35. Yet it’s not talked about. Not nearly enough. 90% of people who die by suicide have suffered mental health symptoms. Marginalised communities have a 4-12x risk compared with the general population.

Anorexia is the most fatal of all mental health diagnoses, 1 in 5 anorexia deaths are from suicide.  27 people die everyday globally from eating disorders. Suicide is a large proportion of these. It shouldn’t be and doesn’t need to be.

We need to make society a safer place if we are going to reduce these stats, it starts with talking and normalising mental health.

When I was deepest in my eating disorder, I was haunted by thoughts of escaping, but this was not something I ever admitted, voiced. I was even asked many times by my team if I was depressed or had suicidal thoughts. The truth is, I wasn’t depressed, I felt hopeless, like there was never going to be anything else. The idea of living another day in this never-ending self-loathing, food obsessed brain was sometimes overwhelming. I used to say over and over in my mind- I wish I was dead. In those moments I believed it, I meant it.

The reason I want to share this, there were many times I felt like this when I was trapped in the ED. I felt so much shame for having these thoughts, I grew up in an environment that didn’t believe in mental health, I grew up believing suicide was selfish, cowardly or attention seeking. That’s so far from the truth.

Isolation was the worst part. I can hand on my heart say, it is none of the above. Suicide is a permanent solution to what I feel is a temporary problem and preventable with support.

Eating disorders are incredibly isolating. Not feeling I could talk about this added to the shame and perpetual cycle.  We often ask people “are you okay, how are you” but it’s an empty question. We don’t ask people how they really are, because as a society we are afraid of how to respond if someone was to really answer. Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted someone to have the answers. You can ask someone how they really are and not have to have the solution. You can offer support in many ways. Listening, not judging a person, advising they get professional help, letting them know their feelings are valid (even if you don’t truly understand). One of the biggest things is not perpetuate the rhetoric that suicide is selfish, cowardly or a choice. People who feel suicidal may be experiencing feelings of not wanting to be a burden, isolation, guilt. People who are feeling suicidal are living with pain and so many other horrible emotions. It is not selfish and making someone feel guilty or selfish is only going to fuel anguish and isolation. People are more likely to withdraw and not get the help they desperately NEED AND DESERVE.  Suicidal thoughts are a symptom and can be treated with help.

Raising mental health awareness, particularly in the healthcare profession is something I feel very strongly about. Healthcare professionals have higher rates than the general population of suicide. Female doctors are 2-4x at risk of ending their lives than the general population. It doesn’t surprise me, but it deeply saddens me. The medical profession is one of the worst for stigmatising mental health. It’s not a safe place to openly talk about mental health.  Not seeking help for our own mental health is a huge risk factor, that’s without all the other issues including making life or death decisions, giving up a large part of our own lives for the career and the fear of complaints. It’s not really surprising, is it?

Today, I started the first day of annual leave. Ben and I went for “afternoon tea” and as I sat there laughing at some of his silly jokes and we tasted the tiers, I felt grateful. I was so thankful that I could be sat here, laughing, and eating with ever increasing freedom. Not being trapped in an endless cycle of shame and torment. I would have called you a liar if you had have told me 12 months ago, I would be sat, relaxed and most of all HAPPY. I felt the happiest I have felt in, a long time. I’m so thankful to be alive, but I almost wasn’t. I never imagined this life for myself.

I don’t know why I am here and others are not so lucky. But I know this, I’m not prepared to continue the narrative that suicide is selfish, that mental health is not as important as physical health. Truly if mental health has the possibility to take a life, it’s about as serious as it can get and needs to be treated as such.

How can you recognise someone may be feeling suicidal?

Perhaps there will be no signs, but if you don’t ask someone how they are and mean it, it could be easy to miss.

  1. Isolation, withdrawing
  2. Expressing feelings of hopelessness, being a burden
  3. Talking about death, other self-harming behaviours
  4. Speaking negatively about themselves
  5. Talking about suicide
  6. Getting affairs in order, giving belongings away etc
  7. Access to means to harm oneself
  8. Mood changes
  9. Turning to substance abuse/ alcohol as a way of coping with feelings
  10. Drastic weight changes
  11. Appearing to have lost interest in things they would typically enjoy or life
  12. A sudden sense of calm, or appearing calm
  13. Ceasing regular medications

Risk factors for suicide;

  1. Prior history of suicide attempt/ self harm
  2. Depression, anxiety any mental health problem.
  3. Alcohol, substance dependence
  4. Bereavement
  5. Physical illness/ disability
  6. Knowing someone who has died from suicide
  7. Subject of violence
  8. Loss of self identity- loss of job, sexuality
  9. Major life events
  10. Relationship breakdown
  11. Financial worries
  12. Isolation.

What can we do?

  1. Making access to help easy, without stigma or judgement
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask someone, ask them how they are feeling in a safe space. It’s ok to ask about feeling suicidal. Let them know many people experience feeling suicidal and they’re not alone.
  3. If someone trusts you enough to confide in you, acknowledge this. “I’m glad you are telling me, you can tell me anything” “I am here”
  4. Be prepared to listen even if it’s difficult to hear and upsets you.
  5. Talking about suicide does not cause suicide but it may help prevent it.
  6. Listen to someone struggling. Don’t judge them, even if you disagree. Don’t attempt to fix their problems or dismiss them.
  7. Help someone find professional help, charities, organisations
  8. Small acts of kindness “saying hello to a stranger” you never know a simple hello may make someone feel noticed, loved.
  9. Actively seek help from mental health services for the person- call emergency services or crisis line if someone is clearly in danger.
  10. Offer them support by asking open questions like “you don’t seem your usual self, is there anything you want to talk about? Tell the person you’re concerned about them

If you are reading this and you can relate, are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you ARE NOT ALONE and YOU DESERVE TO LIVE. Please get help now.

It’s okay to talk about suicide. Start the narrative.

Help:

**these are my own experiences and are not professional/ medical opinion*

Protecting Yourself from Harm in Recovery..

Protecting your recovery can be like developing a super power. It’s also incredibly important when we are surrounded by potential triggers every where.

If we are in recovery from an eating disorder, we need to learn to reject diet culture, which is really difficult when it infiltrates every part of our society.

I recently came across a blog, where the author was promoting a weight loss regimen, whilst sharing their own ED Recovery.

 That tells me two things, firstly it is not something helpful to my recovery, secondly the writer very likely still holds a lot of internalised implicit biases around weight and fear of weight gain and unlikely recovered.

 The intention of this post is to highlight the importance of being aware of  the content you chose to follow and your motives behind it.

People have the right to write/ talk about whatever they like. However, it can be really damaging to a person who is trying to heal from an eating disorder to follow accounts like that. You have a choice regarding the content you chose to follow or not.

My thoughts are and they may be unpopular, YOU CANNOT recover from a restrictive eating disorder whilst still actively attempting to pursue a smaller body. Believe me you cannot. It took me long enough to come to terms with this. You might get the idea of “I could go on x diet, lose this much and I would be ok”. Take it from me you will not. It is a relapse waiting to happen. That is how my last real relapse happened. All it really tells you, if you get those thoughts there’s still work to be done on neural re-wiring. It gets easier. I get these thought from time to time, “If I could just lose X amount I will be happy” this is my eating disorder voice and one that I know cannot be trusted. A size, or shape will never change how I value myself, I am so much more than a measurement but this is not what my eating disorder believes, it will make me buy into the notion that my worth is solely based on a number. This is not happiness.

I cannot diet ever. ever. ever. Choosing to go on a diet when you have a history of an eating disorder is like saying a person who has recovered from substance or alcohol abuse can have the occasional drink. You would not say this. Dieting is our drug. We cannot safely dabble.

In recovery the focus should be on challenging our fear of weight gain, body image, learning about the health at every size movement. Dieting becomes less appealing. I’m not saying you won’t get those thoughts. However your brain will learn that you don’t place all of your value on a number and it’s not something we’re interested in. If the concept of Health at Every Size (HAES) is new to you, I encourage you to explore some of the resources I’ve shared at the bottom. However, a very brief summary of HAES; the basic premise supports people in implementing health practices for the purpose of overall well being rather than the focus on weight control. There are some key values to HAES, it encourages people to eat intuitively, accepting of body diversity shape and sizes and that health is about much more than weight. This is a very simplified explanation.

I do not believe a person can endorse weight loss and be fully recovered themselves, because the aim of eating disorder recovery is to unlearn your fear of weight gain, to rewire implicit fat bias/ fat phobia. Therefore by promoting weight-loss on an eating disorder recovery site is an oxymoron. It does not have a place in recovery. I personally do not follow accounts whereby the premise is promoting weight loss or any form of diet culture based content.

If you are trying to recover from dieting, disordered eating or an eating disorder it is your responsibility to not allow this to trigger you. Therefore avoiding unhelpful information such as “losing weight” in eating disorder recovery might be the easiest way.

My last real relapse came from thinking “I can safely diet”

How I deal with these thoughts now; I challenge myself with the following questions:

Why do you want to diet, what are you actually trying to do? What are you lacking in an area. (It’s usually self care and self compassion for me).

Why do you feel the need to change your body- can you learn to accept your body at any shape size and understand a number on the scale has no bearing to who you are as a person or your health?

But, I find sites like this are dangerous in the ED recovery community, they do not realise the potential harm they could have. This particular individual has a large following. Many of the followers suffer with binge eating and the blog is the last thing a person experiencing such should be taking notes from. Dieting no matter how you look at it is restriction. Restriction is no friend to bingeing in fact restriction causes bingeing.

I recently shared this checklist on my social media- it serves as a way to protect myself and maintain healthy boundaries.

Resources:

Celebrate The Small “Wins”In Eating Disorder Recovery

How often do you hear “It’s The Small Things”



WELL NOW I BELIEVE, DURING RECOVERY FROM AN EATING DISORDER, GREATNESS COMES FROM CELEBRATING “THE SMALL THINGS”
 

After a minor set back a few weeks back, I write this with a newfound sense of self confidence.
 
I am here, writing this because of thousands of little victories. I cannot take credit for this idea, I share this after a recent interaction with the founder of The Recovery Warriors, True Warrior, Jessica Flint. Jessica introduced this principle to me and I feel it’s incredibly empowering. https://www.recoverywarriors.com/

This morning as I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, instead of the familiar self-loathing and negative chatter, I heard myself say, ‘you look good today‘. I celebrated this. I don’t recall the last time I heard myself pay myself a compliment.
 
Another example of  a “small win”, yesterday after a migraine, I embodied the definition of a ‘self-care goddess’ and practiced it as if it were some kind of art. I ordered comforting foods that would leave me feeling nourished and happy, I stepped onto my yoga mat for five minutes and did a simple sun salutation. I celebrated it afterwards, “Yey, go me I did yoga”, instead of my adopting my eating disorder  (ED) voice that is harsh and critical that would normally tell me “this did not count”. Instead, I celebrated the fact I stepped on my mat. It does not matter how short it was.
 
I felt a sense of pride, accomplishment that I had honoured my body rather than “I hadn’t done enough, I didn’t deserve to eat XYZ” It felt victorious whilst I sat eating my salted popcorn. I also celebrate this because the guilt was gone. One week prior would have been a whole other story and I would not have been celebrating this little victory if I hadn’t celebrated each individual victory last week. Take credit for your wins and use them to motivate you.
 
We all know recovery is not linear. I have shared posts on lapses and relapses and prevention previously. However, even in setbacks, celebrating victories is incredibly empowering. Three weeks ago, I started to notice ‘that voice’ becoming increasingly noisier. It appeared to come out of the blue. One day I felt like I was almost ready to “hang up my recovery shoes and call myself fully recovered” and the next I was unable to trust a single thought.
 Today, I feel stronger mentally, physically, emotionally than I have probably my entire adult life. I celebrate I got back on track rapidly and far more easily than even a year ago when I went “all in” after my last major relapse. It was the small victories that helped me pull myself out of the vacuum that appeared in front of me.
Choosing the difficult option time after time, riding the ED anxiety waves. It is amazingly simple I had inadvertently restricted when I lost my appetite and had fallen into energy deficit. The warning signs were there.

Lesson learnt, eat more even when I lose my appetite, enlist help. That voice became almost crippling during the week that ensued and I celebrate I did not engage in its demands. I celebrated that although I felt like I had fallen from a great height, I was able to recognize it, I did not bury my head in the sand or isolate, instead I asked for help at the point I recognized things were slipping. I relished this triumph because previously this would have been extremely hard, highlighting how far I have come in recovery, all was not lost. Every bite, every opposite action I made against my eating disorder voice I chose to recognize and celebrate.  
 
Since I started this process, I have a much deeper understanding of how my brain became sick. Each set-back has provided me with valuable information and it was so much easier to pull myself out.
Pausing. This is something so simple. Yet, if I were to ask you, when did you last pause, and slow down? When did you take a deeper look at your thoughts or emotions? Developing an awareness around my thought patterns has been a gift in recovery.
 
One of the things this setback demonstrated to me, was just how important it is to me to be with myself, to listen to my thoughts and become curious about my actions. This for me often involves my yoga mat or my journal. Both things had been neglected for the weeks leading up to the setback. Self-care should never be an afterthought, or “if I have time” instead it needs to be part of our lives in order to have a healthy mind and body. Reframing can be an incredibly valuable tool. The times where we feel we don’t have time or the actions are too small to count, try reframing them to “I did well today because despite being busy, ‘I still stepped on my mat’, just the process of stepping on it and giving time for you counts. Same principle with exercise, perhaps you go for a short run and normally your brain would tell you it’s not good enough, how about ‘go me, I ran today’
 
It is incredible how we can ignore such seemingly small moments or deem them as insignificant or unimportant, yet they often hold such empowering insights or lessons. Leaning in, acknowledging, and celebrating the small things is how we grow.  Do not ignore or just brush aside these important moments. Celebrating the small stuff makes a BIG difference.

What win will you celebrate today?

For the days where you are feeling nostalgic towards your eating disorder…

During the recovery process, I believe it’s common, even normal that many of us feel some kind of nostalgia towards our eating disorder. 

The times in recovery where our ED comes knocking and tries to lure us back, nostalgia is a tactic it uses. 

I found this crazy, why would I ever want to return to something so destructive, yet I experienced a sense of wistfulness for it at times. 

Your ED will not remind you of your darkest days in the depths of it, it will tell you mistruths, altered memories- such as, “it wasn’t that bad, you didn’t really have an eating disorder, not every day sucked, you still ate xyz, you didn’t miss” bla bla. But it will not be reminiscent of the rules you had to allow yourself to do that, the guilt and shame you felt and the resentment from others when their concern fell on deaf ears. No, it will not remind you of any of this. 

It will recollect and romanticize the euphoria you felt on occasion, but not the crashing low points that always followed and were the majority. It is deceptive and the memories are modifications.

Your eating disorder has been a maladaptive coping strategy. It’s not surprising it tries to draw you in, at a point in your recovery where you are experiencing so many challenging emotions, new experiences, loosening of support, why wouldn’t your eating disorder try and lure you back, romanticize its role in your life?

 It might be on a bad body image day; the voice whispers a reminder of old compliments you used to get. It will not remind you of the days where you missed out on happy events in order to follow the ED demands or how the compliments left you feeling conflicted and confused. 

Nostalgia is natural in recovery, but do not dwell in it and do not believe the romanticized picture your ED paints, your ED was not a happy place.

On the days where your ED tries to convince you otherwise:

I find reminding myself of the many things I DO NOT miss about my eating disorder helps snap me out of it.  Here are some of those things I do not miss…

  • My entire brain being consumed by nothing but thoughts of food and numbers.
  • Being “bone cold” all the damn time no matter what the temperature was.
  • The deception, the constant lies and shame that accompanied.
  • The isolation, the missed social events and memories 
  • Not being able to eat with company, not being able to eat alone.
  • Not having a period
  • Feeling lightheaded most of the time 
  • The pain, and many injuries through not allowing my body to rest.
  • The inability to laugh the inability to cry real tears. 
  • The crippling fear when faced with a “fear food.” 
  • The incapacitating supermarket, menu, choice “blindness.” 
  • The brain fog and difficulty to concentrate and apply most of my brain.
  • The sore throat 
  • The bloating and constipation 
  • Never getting a full night’s sleep, sleep being haunted by fear foods.
  • Not being able to eat out without planning a year in advance. 
  • Having to move 24/7. The unbearable discomfort of being still.
  • Being boring because I had nothing to talk about
  • Feeling like a constant failure no matter what. No number, image or achievement was ever enough. 
  • Feeling like I wanted to crawl out of my skin all the time. 

The list is not endless. I could continue

However, I feel it is important to remember a few things:

Nostalgia towards your eating disorder is nothing to feel ashamed about, it makes a lot of sense in recovery. We should normalize it. 

Nostalgia is natural in recovery, but do not dwell in it and do not believe the romanticized picture your ED paints. Bit by bit this nostalgia will dissipate and become replaced with the truth so long as you keep addressing it. 

Two years in recovery..WAKE UP CALL

TW and this may be difficult to read.

Yesterday a memory came up on my Facebook feed.

A trip we made to Sri Lanka in March 2019. My final wake up call before seeking help for my eating disorder.

It was not the wonderful experience that it should have been, or our pictures from our travels captured. They say “a picture paints a thousand words’, but most of what you see is what my eating disorder did for years, fake an exterior. It was this trip that I for the first time in 15+years, began to see how much of an issue my eating disorder really was.

For years my eating disorder had concealed the negative impact it was having on me.

My eating disorder was slowly killing me. If you are starving, you’re slowly dying. My friend if you need this sobering reminder, people die from eating disorders. We forget this when we are dancing with the devil. Or perhaps, we no longer care, when it’s painful to sit, or our body is covered in fine hair because we can no longer keep ourselves warm. We ignore message after message from our bodies until, if we are lucky we WAKE the FUCK up. It’s not just us that our eating disorders impact upon. Truthfully when engaging in behaviours and driven by the numbers, I didn’t worry about the effect each action could have on my partner, parents, brother, friends. But our actions do matter, If I had have continued I would have likely ended up as a stark statistic. Remember, YOU matter, your life matters and you affect many people’s lives. Please wake up.

That trip I felt completely lost and trapped in my relentless behaviours that had been by my side for years. I had no idea how I was ever going to step outside of the grips my eating disorder held on me. But I knew something needed to change or I would slowly but surely die.

What made me wake-up?

I realised I wasn’t living. If I wasn’t living, what was I? It became so obvious to me on this trip because Sri Lanka is full of beauty, but I felt nothing but cold.

I was done with the comments from peers and concerned looks. I hated it.

I was done with feeling nothing but bone cold, ALL OF THE TIME. Even in 30 degrees heat. I wanted to see past the brain fog and constant chatter.

I didn’t want to live like that anymore. I couldn’t live like it anymore.

This was not the first time I had had a moment of clarity, a few years prior I knew things were far from in control, but I didn’t seek help. I thought I could fix myself by eating a little more. Things got better for a time, but without support things soon descended back to the familiar chaos and calm of my eating disorder.

But this trip was different. Something needed to alter. I had reached “rock bottom” and I had to crawl out.

I wanted to be present, to share the experience but my eating disorder bled into everything. It was all encompassing. I was afraid for the first time. I was scared this was either going to be my life, or it would take my life.

It was the first time I realised how much stronger the eating disorder voice had become and how buried I was. I feared I had lost myself forever, I couldn’t recall when I was last in the driver’s seat of my thoughts. This was a sobering moment, at the same time I felt powerless to do anything about it.

These moments of clarity would pass again, and my eating disorder would begin to fool me once more that I was in fact fine, convinced me I wasn’t “sick enough” or that I even had an issue. However my healthy thoughts, were desperate to be heard and me listen. And so, it was this trip, I shared with my partner some of my story, although by this time it was hardly a secret.

Even though this trip was incredibly painful, I remain grateful for it, because it was like a wake up call and it kickstarted my true recovery process. Seeing pictures of the trip makes me sad for memories and experiences my eating disorder stole from me but I’m so thankful to be where I am now. Writing this.

If you’re in this dark place, THERE is always hope, It is never too late to seek help. And, you don’t have to go at it alone. You don’t have to have answers. Choosing to reach out of help is the biggest step, the rest will follow if you trust in the process and take that massive leap of faith.

There are stages we go through prior to starting recovery and then during recovery itself. I think we flip flop between them whilst we go to war with the two voices in our head. But we can all win, it is possible.

To me the stages look something like this:

◦ The “I’m fine. I’m just super healthy. I’m totally in control” stage.

◦ “Something’s not quite right with what I’m doing, but it’s ok right? I know I can stop if I want to. But I don’t want to” stage.

◦ The “Shit, I can’t stop. Well better just keep going. It will pass. It’s not that big a deal?” Stage

◦ The, “Ok, I think this is probably a problem. Not sure I want to do anything about it. But not sure how long I can keep going on like this” stage

◦ “Ok, I’m so done with this, I can’t keep living this way. But I don’t feel I have any control. I’m not sure I can stop” stage. This is the point I got to when I sought recovery. It’s one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made.

◦ “Let’s try this recovery malarkey out. What do I have to lose? But I’m so scared of the thought of change”. Stage

◦ The, “Oh my god, this is way too hard. I’m never going to recover. Why even bother trying” stage. I think it’s common here, we often resort to old behaviours intermittently whilst making small changes in recovery. But the small changes matter and count.

Then something clicks/ it’s like a switch. Recovery becomes easier. It’s still bloody hard but it’s less of a monster than the one that’s been dictating your life. This stage, you start to question your eating disorder thoughts, your own thoughts start to become clearer and in the foreground more frequently.

It doesn’t take much for your ED to lure you back, a slip or relapse happens. But you learn from them and each slip you get wiser. Recovery gets stronger, you get stronger.

◦ Now you really want this, recovery feels achievable . You begin to see who you really are, what your life can be without this hitchhiker. You remain vigilant and know how recovery can look and you make it your mission to not go back. You’ve got this. Your actions and thoughts are all protective of your recovery, you have worked harder than anyone will ever know to be here.

Recovery is always possible, no matter how deeply trapped, lost or afraid you feel. Wake up, and rejoin the world, you deserve a full life and the world deserves to have you in it.

Check out the links below for seeking support/ starting the conversation:

  1. https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/recovery-information/tell-someone
  2. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/toolkit/parent-toolkit/how-to-talk-to-a-loved-one
  3. https://www.ed.org.nz/getting-help/what-to-do/

Strength in vulnerability.

“Strength in vulnerability” Sound like opposites to you?

I have lived my entire life holding this belief. With the sense that showing vulnerability was demonstrating weakness. How incorrect this belief is.

From the wise words of Brenè Brown:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy,courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (1)

This concept is a difficult one, when we have spent our entire lives believing weakness and vulnerability are one of the same.

But for me, I didn’t truly understand the meaning of vulnerability. Why is it such a difficult emotion for us to experience, why do we numb it?

Brenè Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”.(1) I feel this depicts eating disorder recovery in one sentence, it’s beautiful; and it’s true.

People in recovery are anything but weak, I am yet to meet or speak to someone with an eating disorder who I consider weak. The people I have come across are some of the strongest, kindest, most resilient people I’ve encountered on all parts of my life.

Eating disorders are encompassed by guilt, shame and fear of being vulnerable. Feelings and emotions are viewed as weakness. During recovery, emotions that had been buried, lost or numbed are reclaimed and owned. Sometimes, all at once!! Some days in early recovery it’s a cluster fuck of emotions. Recovery is learning to tolerate these emotions and not numb out. This is embracing vulnerability.

Vulnerability for me has been, fear of being perceived as weak, judged, failure or a disappointment.

My eating disorder numbed everything,including these feelings but at the cost of all my positive emotions.

Exploring vulnerability has opened up my authentic self. I have never felt so vulnerable than these past 18 months, admitting my imperfections, my shadows.

I don’t see vulnerability as a negative now. It’s neither positive or negative, it’s just part of what makes us all human.

“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”(2)

Why shouldn’t we show vulnerability if it’s the foundations of how connections are made, creativity and passion is discovered? Connection can overshadow shame.

Yesterday I did something I would have never imagined myself doing, even a few months ago.

I shared my experience with anorexia publicly on my personal facebook account. It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week in the US, which will be followed by the UK and Australasia next week. And So I decided, why not share my most “feared” secret with the hope of encouraging others to seek help, de-bunk myths and stigma and challenge attitudes.

I’m not going to pretend it was easy. It was more terrifying than either of the bungee jumps, sky dives I’ve done. Not nearly as scary as starting recovery, which is why I felt so compelled to do this . I know I am not alone but I am lucky, so lucky I have had help and support. It took nearly 2 decades to seek the help, which is sad, because this is not uncommon.

If my share changes one attitude, helps one person reach out for help then a little bit of fear is nothing. I’m fortunate I have found my voice. Many people remain struggling in silence. I’m not advising everyone to share their stories. It’s taken a long time for me to reach a place of acceptance and resilience. I know there will be some negativity from sharing such. It will come from ignorance. I feel equipped to deal with these because the majority of responses have been positive and most importantly I didn’t do it for the external validation. I am happy enough with who I am, I did it for those who are not. Those battling stigma and shame everyday.

There’s tons of ways to raise awareness for a subject, not everyone will comfortable with sharing personal accounts and that is ok. Have a look at some of the links below, NEDA and BEAT of how we can raise awareness and fight stigma.

For a deeper look at vulnerability, shame and guilt I recommend checking out:

1. Brenè Brown: TED-Ed https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o

2. Brenè Brown: Book; https://www.amazon.com/Daring-Greatly-Courage-Vulnerable-Transforms/dp/1592408419

3. NEDA awareness week: https://www.integratedeating.com/blog/2021/2/22/national-eating-disorders-awareness-week-2021

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

4. BEAT: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/edaw

References:

1. Brene Brown (2017). Daring Greatly : How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.

2. Brenè Brown: The Gifts of imperfections.

OCD and anorexia…

OCD and eating disorders…

Statistically people with eating disorders are more likely to experience co-morbid diagnoses, such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, borderline personality disorder. There’s a lot of research investigating whether they are biologically, genetically connected.

When I was six it used to take me almost three hours to go to bed. I developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). There are many overlapping features of OCD and eating disorders. I’m not sure that my OCD at times was separate from my eating disorder. I think it was like a shape shifter that adapted to fit my eating disorder.

The DSM-5 characterises OCD by negative repetitive thoughts that are intrusive and often result in compulsive behaviours to pacify the anxiety evoking obsessions. Common obsessions include ‘cleanliness, tidiness, numbers and many others.

My OCD was not your stereotypical “super clean and tidy” kinda picture. No it carried many similarities to my eating disorder compulsions but it did not relate to food. It began after several people close to me passed away before I was old enough to understand death or process emotions. I developed an intense fear of anyone else around me dying, or becoming sick. I began engaging in ritualistic behaviours. This involved counting, repeating certain phrases, running on the spot, avoiding certain numbers, turning light switches on and off and many more. I would perform these rituals or act out compulsions until I felt a sense of calm. The common denominator between my OCD and anorexia was the intense dread or fear of something happening if I did not perform X behaviour. (Fear in childhood death, fear from eating disorder weight gain). The only way I could silence my eating disorder voice was through compulsions and rituals.

It took a lot of child therapy to reduce these behaviours and challenge the thought patterns. Exposure therapy, similar to that in eating disorder recovery. I would cut a ritual a week until I was free. (A bit like reducing eating disorder behaviours). The exposures were ranked in order of fear and challenged with support.

But….. even though I was only six, I knew the thoughts were nuts. They were not ego-syntonic unlike the intrusive eating disorder thoughts where I believed my thoughts. For example, with an ED thought I truly believed my thoughts such as I “had to eat X number of calories or purge a chocolate bar” it wasn’t until these thoughts were challenged in therapy I could see they were disordered, I would not expect a friend to exist on the little I was eating, nor would I expect them to purge a chocolate bar. I could see after these challenges how distorted my thinking was around myself. I continue to use this, if I wouldn’t expect a friend to do something then why should I expect myself?

Another disparity between my ED and my OCD, I was far more resistant to giving up my eating disorder cognitions than I was my OCD thoughts and behaviours, even though I was just a child. I can make sense of this, neuroplasticity is much harder as an adult. But I do believe this is a distinction between my OCD and my eating disorder.

I feel it’s highly possible that having the predisposition and the appeasement provided to me by rituals definitely contributed to my developing of an eating disorder.

I believe they are both shape shifters. I can draw separations from the two disorders however there was some symbiosis within. For example, there were aspects to my anorexia that from the outside would be very difficult to draw a distinction from OCD. I had ritualistic cleaning behaviours “I had to engage in” to allow me to eat. I would clean the kitchen, from top to bottom prior to consuming anything. If I was interrupted I would start again. This may have been a part of my restriction, although I think more likely it was a separate entity to cope with the anxiety of eating. I don’t feel the thoughts surrounding this were related to the eating disorder.

Eating with very specific cutlery, is a completely different scenario. People with eating disorders often develop strange obsessions around cutlery. In my opinion (and I am only speaking from experience and talking to others who have had the same weird obsessions) this is very eating disorder driven. It serves several functions in the eating disorder. 1. Using a teaspoon (crazy) is a form of restriction. Small bowls, plates all the same. We have to stop. Using the same cutlery can feel “clean” this is an overlap.

My compulsive exercise is driven by my eating disorder. But personally I believe the compulsions and pathways were ignited and learned in my childhood. I would run on the spot or up and down the stairs for hours to feel my heart beating to feel alive. I imagine, my eating disorder reactivated this preformed pathway and used it. My drive to move when in the depths of my eating disorder was very different to when I was a six year old terrified of mortality but it still pacified my anxiety. The two disorders numb emotions that clearly I needed to find more constructive ways of coping with. My anxiety from my eating disorder was fear of weight gain, I was not afraid of this when I was six. The result of movement however, was the same, it appeased the discomfort short-term and clearly I had learnt this subconsciously as a child. This is just my simpleton thought and explanation. They both distract my brain, when I’m worrying about food or washing my hands, clearly I’m not worrying about the thing my disorders are protecting me from. But neither are healthy.

For me, overcoming my eating disorder has been so much harder than OCD. Again some of this will have been my easier to sculpt paediatric neural pathways, rather than my years of entrenched adult pathways. But I also feel it’s the eating disorder itself. We don’t want to recover, not initially from an eating disorder. This is very unlikely to be the case with someone suffering from OCD. I doubt there’s few people who decide that they want to keep their OCD, or that it’s a ‘friend’.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, has helped me with both. I guess that’s the good news about the two coinciding disorders, they are sometimes treated together. But I think it’s been more beneficial from an eating disorder perspective, because those of us with eating disorders have very distorted cognitions that can take some convincing. Whereas, I know that no one is going to die if I don’t wash my hands 37 times, I know it’s a ridiculous thought even though it causes similar anxiety. But I would have argued until I had no more breath that some of my eating disorder perceptions were not unhealthy. For the previous, it was more a case of changing my relationship with the thought- for example, when I get the thought “everyone is going to die if I don’t wash my hands 37 times” I have confronted not participating in the behaviour and “urge surfing, delaying or distracting” so many times now that I don’t feel the same anxiety and I am committed to not performing the action of washing my hands 37 times. No one has died. My brain knows this. For the latter, I have had to develop an extensive toolkit that is ever growing. When I experience a disordered thought, like; a food is “good or bad” and resultant anxiety I challenge the cognition, food does not carry moral value. And to avoid the behaviour I use a skill from the toolkit, self compassion, opposite actions.

Same same but different….

My eating disorder meant I had to eat the same things, same time, I would chew everything a specific amount of times (this was not OCD). It could easily have looked that way. I would eat in the same order. But these all served the eating disorder and were part of restriction.

I was extremely rigid with my rituals and compulsions. These were common to both.

My OCD did not cause my eating disorder but I strongly believe there is a connection, that is biological, genetic and psychiatric. I do not feel that my OCD diagnosis was important in my recovery from anorexia. I’m not sure I even really discussed it with my therapist but I think it is useful to understand the possible connection as not addressing co-existing disorders may make recovery more difficult. The treatments are similar but with variances. We are all complex individuals and so it’s possible for some not drawing a distinction may be ok in recovery but for others it may require addressing them together and with focus on specific aspects.

One thing I know for sure, the anxiety is never about the donut or the heart beating.

Check these out:

  1. https://www.amazon.com/What-When-Brain-Stuck-What/dp/1591478057 This is written for kids, but it has some really helpful principles
  2. “8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder” WORKBOOK by Carolyn Costin, this is so helpful it has lots of exercises, to challenge healthy self vs eating disorder self. https://www.carolyn-costin.com/books

You are NOT your Eating Disorder…

You are not “anorexic, or insert ED

It’s never been you.

You have experienced anorexia/ bulimia, BED

It has been with you.

I recently shared a post on instagram after hearing a person with an eating disorder referred to as their disorder. “They’re bulimic”

It infuriated me. I wanted to remind that individual “they are not their eating disorder” It’s hard enough for the person to seperate themselves from this idea without it being fuelled externally. It continues the shame and stigma attached to these complex disorders.

I see this identity as the sufferer playing underdog to their eating disorder, but that does not mean they are that disorder. Most times the underdog prevails eventually.

This notion was something really important for me to hear when I first started the recovery process. From day one my therapist repeated this mantra, that I was not my eating disorder. Even when I didn’t see it or believe it.

We often attach our identities to the the eating disorder, because we have lost touch with who we truly are. That does not make the identity true or real.

Still not convinced? Picture this. You would not call a person suffering from cancer, “cancer”. The principle is the same for us experiencing an eating disorder. A person is not “cancer” anymore than a person is “anorexia, bulimia or Binge eating disorder” You have an eating disorder, it is not you.

When we embark on recovery, there maybe times where it is easier for the person to hold on to that identity whilst discovering who they are without that disorder. REGARDLESS, It is still helpful to be reminded that they are not their disorder. The disorder is acting as their safety blanket. Of course, early in recovery you will return to the safety of that blanket. But it’s a blanket, it is not part of you. Eventually you don’t need the warmth the blanket offers.

During recovery I think it’s important to explore who you want to become? Who is that identity?

Picturing who I want to be, what I want my life to look like helps me stay in recovery from anorexia. It helped me to see myself separately to the disorder I was fighting. Our values are completely incongruous. I don’t have all the answers and I’m still learning. That’s recovery and growth.

When we are amidst the throws of an eating disorder, for most of us our world becomes very small. There’s very little room for anything beyond- food, exercise and concerns with these. It’s all consuming and incredibly isolating. But- it’s not really what most people want from life.

Eating disorders restrict EVERYTHING.

Who wants to be 80 years old and look back on their life, and all it’s filled with is fear and anxiety over eating, body image, exercise. None of it matters. If we are lucky to reach an old age I want to look back on what my life was filled with, not an eating disorder. It is never too late to make this change. I don’t care if you have been the underdog to your eating disorder for 50 years, there is always hope you can recover.

My journal has been my haven for my recovery but also exploring who this recovered person is, what her goals, aspirations, values and worth are.

I promise you, my recovered self is not fixated on dietary restraint, exercise or control over shape. My recovered self is loud, doesn’t care for other people’s judgements, grateful for the process of getting from A-B and not just being at B.

That brings me onto my next point. G. R. A. T. I. T. U. D. E…

It is easy when we are having a tough time to focus on the negatives. But one thing I have learnt from recovery is there is always something to be grateful for. Even in the darkest of times when you don’t feel there is anything to be grateful about. There will be. Start small on those days. Gratitude, has really helped me ground myself and shift from the “all or nothing” thinking we so often experience with eating disorders. Black and white thinking is a prominent trait we share. I promise you, if you give gratitude practice a go, it’s very hard to stay in a negative space. I make it a daily practice now. I get it, you think I’m full of crap. I thought the person who suggested it to me was too. I thought it was hippy bull crap and I’d be making daisy chains. No.

Try this…

Everyday for a week, think of at least 2 things you are grateful for. It can be as big as you want or small as you want. Aim to build up to more than 2. Some days this will feel harder than others. It’s these days you need to find things. The way you see yourself and the world around you will improve.

You will discover your life beyond they eating disorder even if you don’t see it now.

But for those who need to hear it again… “You are not your eating disorder”

Please people stop it with the before and after pictures.

Before and after pictures are harmful on so many levels.

Firstly you see the diet industry, so called “wellness” industry’s using pictures to market their false products.

The premise of the so called before and after picture in this setting, suggests that image and weight is the marker of health. Which people, if you have read any of my blogs or IG posts you know this is bullshit. Like the Bullshit Mass Index (BMI).

None of these elements reflect a persons health and the idea that manipulating your body, or image is a way to get healthy in most instances is simply ludicrous.

Before and after pictures in the eating disorder community are extremely dangerous. They are often posted on social media. Without a trigger warning, monitoring and to the most vulnerable of audiences. They serve no place in recovery. Why?

1. It promotes the unhelpful myth that eating disorders affect only the emaciated. Sadly this is still the image the media portrays of someone struggling with an eating disorder. Which is not helping to raise awareness, reduce stigma or educate about Health At Every Size.

2. They inadvertently promote ‘thinspiration’. For those of you not familiar with this colloquialism it’s a term well recognized in the eating disorder community that encourages thinness and can lead to very unhealthy comparisons and behaviors. For this reason alone no matter how well intentioned before and after pictures are dangerous.

3. Just because someone has gained some weight, or lost it’s not reflection of health status. You have no idea of the physical or mental state behind the picture.

4. The can invalidate a person’s recovery. Seeing someone’s pictures may make an individual question their recovery and why they haven’t “recovered” like the post. The pictures do not portray the enormous effort, energy and mental struggle involved in recovery. They are not true depictions.

I have written on previous posts, mentally I was at my most screwed up, difficult place when I first weight restored. To show a before and after picture at this point declaring my “recovery” would have been incredibly inaccurate. This is not helping to raise awareness that weight restoration is only part of the recovery process. Mental recovery takes far longer.

When all consumed by my eating disorder there was barely a day went by that I didn’t take a photo to “check” my progress. It was almost a big of an issue as the scales and weighing. People with eating disorders use the camera as a form of body checking. Body checking is not a healthy behavior and does not help in recovery.

Photos-are personal. For some people keeping photos of themself at their sickest can maybe act as a reality check, or reminder of why they recovered. For others I can imagine it would be detrimental, like holding on to “sick clothes” regardless the photos should never be shared to show ‘before and after’.

Social media is a mind field for ‘before and after photos’ and it’s feeding the fat shaming, stigmatizing society we live in. So please if you’re thinking of posting a before and after pic, think before you do.

Why and who are you really doing it for, what message are you really trying to convey? If in doubt don’t share.

What we want to tell you about our eating disorders, but find hard…

Eating disorders are secretive, preoccupying and feel extremely shameful. They are rarely openly discussed and stigmatised.

Below are things I would have never felt able to share with others before I found my voice in recovery. However I wish I had said them sooner to help you understand. Hopefully this might give voice to other’s experiencing recovery and wish they could share some of the things going on in their heads.

1. Weight restoration does not equate to recovered. In fact, this part is probably the toughest, most brittle part of recovery. On the surface I may appear “well, healthy or recovered” but I am just about holding it together. You have no idea based on my appearance how I am. Likely I am fighting strong thoughts and urges to undo this courageous work. Mental recovery takes so much longer than the physical recovery.

My eating disorder was at its loudest when I reached my “target weight” and then exceeded. Regaining weight, gaining weight is harder than you will ever know for someone who is recovering from an eating disorder. They are fighting every thought, every second, every minute of every day waiting for a moment of inner peace. Weight gain is a small part of recovery, but possibly the toughest part. Once we regain weight, (weight we should never have lost) often people assume we are recovered and support lessens. This is arguably the point we need your support the most, please help to encourage us to keep going. And so I implore you, please do not comment on my appearance. Well placed comments can fuel this cruel deceptive eating disorder voice that I am trying so hard to move away from.

Statements, however true and well meaning, such as “you look healthy or better” can really harm someone’s recovery. Comments such as have you lost weight? Can ignite the path to destruction or send my brain into a frenzy that I have failed at recovery. I cannot win when it comes to body shape comments. So please keep them to yourself.

2. Recovery is a choice I have to make, every minute of every day. You cannot make me recover or do it for me, but I value your support. My recovery is my responsibility. My choices, my decisions are what keep me on the path to recovery. It is a full time job. One incorrect decision can set me back. BUT….. If I do slip, please do not give up on me. Recovery is not linear. Hope is a very important value of my recovery. I will very likely get back up again and continue on my journey to recovery. Please help me to see that a small slip does not mean I have failed at recovery but if I need reminding how far I have come, help me to see past this lapse. Hold hope.

3. Things you do not pay any thought to such as trying something new to eat, eating out at restaurants may be very hard for me. People with eating disorders are ridiculously good at hiding what’s going on beneath the surface, but know that just because I appear cool calm and collected there is likely a tornado rushing around in my brain. Sometimes I just want a distraction, I always want to hear you and not what’s going on in my brain and being present with you.

4. Never, ever comment on my food choices, volume or timing of food. You do not know how hard it is for me to eat 5-6 times a day or alongside others. Likely if I am eating with you, I trust you. Comments like, are you really going to eat that?, congratulating me for eating, Don’t you like XYZ?, are only going to feed unhelpful thoughts and make eating and decision making more uncomfortable than it likely already is.

5. I do not ever want to hear about your “weight loss attempt, diet”. If you are someone close to me, know that sharing this with me is insensitive, unhelpful and extremely triggering. I have worked incredibly hard to reframe my implicit biases and unlearn this detrimental cognition.

6. I do not want my eating disorder to be an elephant in the room. I want to be able to be open with you. Talking about it as you would any other medical problem will help break the shame cycle. I do not wish to be defined by my eating disorder, there is so much more to me than this, however my recovery is an important part of my life. I want you to be part of my life, my authentic life.

7. Shame is something I feel very deeply, it fuels my problem. I feel frustrated and angry I am in this position and it makes it hard for me to ask for help and talk openly as much as I wish I could. I am grateful that you show up for me especially when I am finding it hard to show up for myself.

8. I do not think everyone else is fat. I do not see myself how you see me. Regardless of how much weight I lose I will never feel satisfied. But it is not about weight and food. The sicker I became the more warped my view of myself became, making it really hard to see myself and the crazier and more lost I felt. We are fully aware of the self destruction but that makes it harder to think rationally because we do not understand why we cannot stop. The impossible standards my eating disorder held for me, are not the same standards I hold for everyone else, so no I do not see everyone else as “overweight, or fat” I just simply cannot see myself.

9. No one would choose to have an eating disorder, Choosing a life of rules, unhappiness, isolation and emptiness is not a choice anyone would make. I did not choose to develop an eating disorder, I didn’t wake up one day and decide to have anorexia it’s not how it works.

10. It’s not as simple as eating and that being the end of the story. I have many neural pathways and thought processes I have to unlearn. I believe in full recovery. I need to believe in full recovery. But I do not know how long it will take. Right now I see myself in recovery, meaning for me I have “disordered thoughts” which can disappear for days and then return out of the blue. In certain situations, I can still feel extremely distressed at times.

I’m not sure that recovery is a destination, I think it’s a process where these thoughts and associated emotions do disappear with time and effort. But likely remaining “recovered” and preventing the cognitions from returning will require much less energy. I believe this effort becomes like second nature, similar to riding a bike. Once you’ve learned you don’t forget, its more like protecting yourself from falling off at times of risk.

See a post I recently wrote for recovery warriors magazine: https://www.recoverywarriors.com/how-i-broke-the-rules-by-ordering-movie-popcorn/

If you find this helpful, feel free to share!

Giving less F*cks

Giving less f*cks has been very important in my recovery. I feel giving less f*cks is liberating.

I do not mean, I don’t care about anything. Far from. I have learned that giving too many f*cks is part of my problem. So learning what to get rid of in my giving a f*ck bucket has been energy freeing. Freeing up the genuine give a “f*cks” like my family, friends, career, running, sketching, my cat, helping others.

I care a lot about my job, my career and everything it represents. However my profession is a breeding ground for perfectionism and comparison. Both things I have had to work very hard at challenging for my eating disorder recovery. Right now recovering from my eating disorder is priority so that my future self can be my best version in all areas of my life including my career. That has meant some things I have given too many f*cks about previously I simply cannot afford to anymore.

As part of my core values and self worth it is important to me to work hard, be good at what I do. But how that’s defined does not have to rely on single peer comments or being aware of every statistic from every journal ever. It comes from so much more holistically.

Another thing I have found to help me in recovery is to “let go of comparison”

There is a popular phrase, “compare and despair” which I believe is very relatable.

I believe it is innate in us all to compare ourselves to our peers. But what we compare is what I believe causes us harm and dis-regulation. It can come at a huge detriment in recovery.

Body comparison is common and meaningless. For instance, I recall early on in my recovery my therapist at the time challenging this very process. I used to compare my body to other people’s bodies all the time. She explained, that we carry biases. We tend to only see what our brain filters and we have a very selective attention. Therefore I remember one of my challenges was to walk through a crowded street, take notice of the diversity. Sure enough we all come in many shapes and sizes and our appearance is irrelevant.

This exercise made this particular comparison easier to stop. Knowing the bias I harboured meant I could be accountable and when I found myself comparing, I could call myself out on it. Additionally challenging why I was trying to compare. Realising that what you see externally does not translate to what’s beneath the surface and so we are comparing to a false ideal we have created. How do we know the richer, slimmer person is any happier than ourselves.

Your eating disorder will never tell you you are as good as the person you are comparing to. Importantly, why would we want to be anyone other than ourselves?

Getting out of other people’s business..

I had a massive problem with comparing what I was eating to what everyone else was eating. I was in everyone’s business. But just as what I am eating is no body else’s business, it is of no relevance to me what anyone else is eating. I no longer could tell you what every single person at a social gathering did or didn’t eat because it doesn’t matter!!!

Comparing your eating disorder to someone else’s, completely futile and not comparable even within the same diagnostic label. Comparing others’ recovery and feeling you’re doing it wrong or not as deserving or vice versa. Just stop it, this is the eating disorder. Your recovery is your own. Your body is your own with it’s own requirements. Letting go of this has made recovery much more free.

There are many situations we can find ourselves drawing comparisons, status, aesthetics, character traits, possessions, families, sporting prowess, holidays, weddings, education, careers the list is endless when you think about it. It’s problematic when it’s black and white and impacts upon our thinking style. I’m not saying you will never compare yourself to someone again, I believe it’s ingrained in us all from an evolutional perspective, where historically it would have been a survival advantage. However there are ways I have learnt to lessen the unhelpful comparisons.

We live in a competitive society

We are told on a daily basis on many platforms to be the “healthiest’, richest, most successful. Women are made to compare themselves to other women constantly. It’s all external measures and rewards. Competition can be healthy, but recognising when it’s a problem is important.

For me, as long as I know am performing at my best, whether it’s at work or any other aspect of my life, I do not need to compare myself to my peers.

I know when I’m doing ok in this, because I don’t feel like I’m constantly striving and never achieving, I can feel grateful in little wins. This is not the case when perfectionism is in the foreground and unhealthy competition, then I never feel satisfied or recognise achievements big or small.

Gratitude:

Practising daily gratitude has really helped with this mindset shift. Seeing celebrations in the small things, there is something to be grateful every day, even on days where it’s hard to feel gratitude. This helps me filter my ‘Give a f*ck bucket”.

In my profession, I am yet to meet someone who in their final moments, talks about how much money they made, or how gorgeous they were in their youth. No they always talk about what matters, family, friendships and experiences.

Stop basing how you see yourself by comparing yourself to others. One thing is guaranteed is there will ALWAYS be someone who appears to be ranking better than you on some standard. You are good enough just as you.

Feel free to share

Things to remember on a bad day in recovery..

Iv’e been in recovery some time now, I can’t have a bad day right? Sound like a familiar thought? Bad days happen, shit happens.

Today, I was caught off guard. So I wanted to share for anyone else who had found themselves, feeling they “should be further than they are in recovery or should not have a bad day”

It was at a colleague’s farewell lunch which was a buffet to celebrate and wish her well.

But as I sat amongst my peers, the familiar thoughts and noise returned to, how am I back here again? How can it be so hard to put a piece of damn food in my mouth.

Panic swept over me, as the noise got louder and louder. The harder it became for me to pick up the single piece of sushi I had put in front of myself. Why couldn’t I just eat? “Seriously are we really back here after all this time? You should not be finding it this hard.”

Willing myself to pick it up and take a freaking bite. It became a battle. A battle I was all too familiar with but had felt very distant. I had almost forgotten what this absolute feeling of being overwhelmed and petrified of food was like. It was a battle.

The thoughts, “how are you suddenly paralyzed by a simple buffet? You look crazy, people are going to notice, you can’t eat that now it will look even weirder, pick something up, hide something”. JUST NOISE.

Everyone else had finished.

I realized if I was going to win this battle I needed to find and-listen to my healthy voice, the kind voice that was thinking about our future, where my life won’t be defined by moments like these, but what I will gain from listening to this voice. Not this “HH”.

Through the time in recovery, my voice is much stronger now than the noise of “HH” and can be found if I listen.

Another thing that has helped me move through today has been, accepting ok, I’m here today. It’s not where I want to be but it’s not where I was either. Before that I was criticizing myself for having “a moment of weakness”, feeling overwhelmed, but I realised, that’s not helpful or what got me moving forward and in tune with my healthy voice. This has taken practice and perseverance but it’s why I am here, now.

Finally, as we were clearing up I took some deep soothing breaths and I shoved the piece of sushi into my mouth. I picked up another piece and I repeated.

Beating myself up blaming myself for “not being further than I should” in recovery, is not serving my recovery. Some of life’s greatest lessons come from experiences and slips like this. So I am grateful for constant learning and growth.

Struggling is a standard part of recovery. I felt crushed when I was in that moment, it felt too acute and raw. I was terrified I was back to square one. Experiencing challenging moments doesn’t mean my recovery is “failing”. When we look past a particularly difficult experience, we can see actually how far we have come. We tend to focus on the negatives, what we do “wrong” and often get swept away in our unrealistic expectations. But if we take a step back and show ourselves kindness there’s something positive to be taken from every experience good or bad.

I have felt like I have been running along, but when we are running we often trip/ stumble at some point and that is normal. Recovery is no different.

I am grateful for this reminder how far I have come, but also that recovery really is a process of ups and downs.

So for anyone feeling they are failing at recovery for having a bad day, or should be further along, give yourself a break and see how far you have come. It’s ok to not be where you want to be yet.

Not playing the blame game is a game changer.

It’s been a shit day. I haven’t failed because tomorrow I get back up and carry on with recovery having gotten through a bad day, that much stronger.

Relationships in eating disorder recovery..

For anyone in a relationship with someone with or recovering from an eating disorder it can feel like there’s a third wheel in the relationship.

This is hard. Quite often the person you fell in love with disappears before your eyes. Quite literally at times. Eating disorders change our personality’s. Often we are very good at putting on a facade and this means intimacy and connection can suffer. It’s difficult to let people in.

My eating disorder had a huge impact on the relationship with my husband. I will expand a little on how shortly. However, navigating recovery together has strengthened our relationship.

Relationships are based on trust. They need honesty, vulnerability, availability and intimacy. But eating disorders chip away at each one of these values.

Honesty is important to us both. But eating disorders thrive on secrecy and shame. The longer time went on the more secretive it became and more shame I felt. As I fell deeper, vulnerability was replaced with a false exterior.

For pretty much the entire time my partner has known me, I have had some form of disordered eating. For a very long time I kept it secret. Which is preoccupying in itself. Navigating how to hide this part of me, prevent it being part of our relationship, inevitably meant with time it became the third person in it.

Why do we keep our eating disorder from you?

I hid my disorder, firstly because I thought I was in control and it “wasn’t a big deal” and secondly because I was afraid of his reaction. We often talk about our “disordered eating” to friends or colleagues by that I mean dieting, but it’s boring and so it was also something I didn’t think should be discussed at home. Diet talk is boring, so we probably spare our partners from this, until it escalates. I guess there was a part of me that did not feel open to the kindness he later showed me when I did share. It felt incredibly shameful. The longer it went on, the more shameful it felt and impossible to admit. Externally like many, I felt like I was doing ok until I wasn’t and so to admit “the failure” I was experiencing was too much. I saw myself as a high achiever, my relationship was part of this achievement. And so part of the secrecy is fear, which is complex and deep routed. But he has been patient. So so patient. Like saint status in terms of patience and that has given me space and time to be vulnerable again.

I count myself as incredibly fortunate, that once I shared what was going on with my partner he worked really hard to educate himself about eating disorders . He was so understanding and not once did he use unhelpful terms or statements such as “why can’t you just eat” This helped so much.

Obviously I can’t share his side but I can share what he did that really helped me with the hope it helps others finding themselves in a similar situation.

I think it’s important to know, it was not ever about trying to look good for him.

It is rarely about that, if you are a partner reading this. We are not starving ourselves, or whatever dysfunctional behaviour for anyone else. The never ending strive for perfection is for our own sense of control. If you’ve read my about page you’ll know it was a perfect storm that started my eating disorder and really about ‘control’.

I would compare myself relentlessly to others, colleagues, celebrities, public figures on tv, people in the street, friends or family members and ask him to assess (this was a big telltale of my body dysmorphia and preoccupation). It was infuriating to him, because even when he told me I was perfect, I never measured up to that image internally.

Now comparison is something we do not engage in. He does not entertain it if I ask a stupid question. He has responded with very helpful challenges such as “who am I speaking to, you or HH, what’s driving that” which often diffuses the thought. Helping me to see it’s disordered.

Even at my most resistant times towards treatment or moments where anosagnosia were prevalent, he never judged me. He saw me for me, and that I was being overshadowed. He separated me from my eating disorder which I reckon is hard at times. Not feeling judged is huge fear this. He probably did judge me at times internally but externally he never did.

Living with a partner with an eating disorder, poses many challenges. If I were a child, living with my parents, I would have likely been force fed. This dynamic is very different in an adult setting. Instead I had to be my own parent and he was my biggest support when I was literally shaking putting fork to mouth. He was brilliant at distraction. Distraction is a great tool. He would sit and chat rubbish, or make me watch something to grab my attention. Or just hold my hand.

We have navigated the challenges as a team. So I wanted to share the things that have helped me, because there is a paucity or resources or information for people living with someone as an adult with an eating disorder.

I know, I am lucky with my husband but if you’re reading this as a someone wanting to support someone there are things you can do to help. But also if you are that person, good luck and don’t lose hope.

Food is more than just food.

Best biscuit ever……

Yesterday, I had a strange realisation. It’s taken me almost 30 years to get to it, but yesterday I realised food is not just fuel. Food has no rules, no moral value and no foods can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Whilst reflecting about my relationship with food, I craved a chocolate Hobnob. I heard ‘HH’ stipulate, ‘but you’re not hungry’. It was this thought, I rewound and re-framed my life-time’s thinking. Food, although important for fuel and nutrition is also part of connection and ENJOYMENT. It’s always blown my mind that people have just been able to easily eat something, just because. But yesterday, I understood food can be eaten whenever. Whether we are hungry or not. If we want to eat something we can, without judgement, without compensating, because it’s just food.

I was feeling particularly reflective yesterday, because I felt really fucking sad. The fact the I felt sad, set off a whole chain of thoughts. But what made me grateful amongst it all, the fact I could acknowledge and identify that emotion. For years I have numbed my emotions, to the extent when I started to feel again, it took me a while to recognise what I felt. That’s pretty common I think amongst us who have eating disorders. I no longer associate with the nickname I have had for years and use to value, ‘the ice queen’. This is not me now. Nor do I want it to be. The fact it became at one with my identity is quite disturbing to me now, as I am a compassionate person. But in the depths of ‘HH’s grips I was an emotional void. I’d get angry, anxious & irritable if my routine was disturbed, or challenged but these were pretty much the extent of my emotions. Instead of returning to my old behaviours yesterday, exercising to the point of exhaustion, pain or restricting to the point of false euphoria, to numb out the events. Instead I went for a walk out in nature listening to a podcast and then had a cup of tea with a Hobnob.

I felt grateful. Grateful I have reached a point of mental freedom to enable me to feel. Being numb is not living. I was grateful I could feel sadness and sit with it. Feelings pass and are not permanent. But eating disorders are. Recovery although hard, is also temporary.

The next thing I’m working hard to reach, is body neutrality. There is so much talk about ‘body positivity’ at present. I believe the premise of this is great, but I also feel it’s a double edged sword. It’s general concept to love and accept your body, sure. Promoting acceptance by society of shape, size, gender or race is the main aim. But, I feel there’s pressure with ‘body positivity’ as a concept. It over values of the body image itself, rather than appreciation of the body’s functions. For me, I don’t know if I’ll ever ‘love my body’ but I love the things my body enables me to do. I think very few people eating disorder or no eating disorder love their bodies. So for me, getting to a point where I do not care, or have any value from my appearance will be sufficient, beyond that a bonus. But I feel it’s healthier to see our bodies as a vessel, a vessel that allows us to do what we desire. It does not matter what that vessel looks like. That’s what I believe the social media message should be, that’s what body positivity should be.

Interestingly my ‘negative body image’ didn’t truly start until I was in the depths of my eating disorder. Sure there were things I had insecurities with, but I think most people on this planet do have hang ups. But I can say, the negative body image spiralled and it took so much value. This value is incongruent with my own true values, i’m not a shallow person, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what someone looks like if they are a good human being. But the world becomes so small, consuming and out of alignment with our own beliefs. I really struggle with this aspect of my eating disorder, because on a bad ‘body image’ day it still has far too much space. Space that’s not relevant or part of me. However this is part of the divorce from diet culture and unlearning so many untruths that are so engrained in society. Most days now fortunately I am neutral towards my body, but i’m not where I want to be yet. I’m not where I want the whole of society to be, where body image is as relevant as yesterday’s weather. But rejecting diet culture and accepting ourselves is a start towards remodelling society’s beliefs . Ultimately change starts with yourself.