A girl with too many thoughts...

Monday, 27 March 2017

A Fear of Allergic Reactions?

TW: I go into detail about my experience with contamination OCD, my fear of anaphylaxis & briefly mention suicidal thoughts.

Is a fear of having an allergic reaction a specific phobia? Has it got a name? If so, I think I might have it. This isn't something I speak very openly about with anyone (online or offline) because, if I'm honest, I'm quite embarrassed by it. I more than anyone know how completely irrational it is. However, this is a fear that has had (and still has) a significant impact on my life and has accompanied my experience with mental illness for some time. Therefore, it only seems right that I'm honest about it on my blog.

When people think of contamination OCD, they instantly assume a fear of germs. Yet for me, it wasn't bacteria that I saw covering every surface - it was potential allergens. My life revolved around a fear of going into anaphylaxis; the thought of it plagued my mind every waking hour. I was so petrified that it was going to happen that I developed relentless rituals to try and prevent it. It took over every aspect of my life, to the point where I could no longer function.

I soon began to avoid all foods that are well-known for causing severe allergic reactions; all types of nut (particularly peanuts, something which I still fear to this day), egg (who knew egg could cause anaphylaxis? I didn't, until I devoted my entire life to avoiding it), certain types of seafood and even specific materials such as latex gloves. Any food that possibly contained these substances in any way, shape or form were out of bounds.

I obsessively checked food labels, scanning the back of packets until I found the 'allergy advice' section and instantly putting it back down if there was any mention of nuts, sesame seeds or egg. The phrases 'May Contain...', 'Not Suitable For...' or 'Made in a Factory That Handles...' soon became a great source of dread for me. In fact, these foods were forbidden from entering the house altogether and just to be sure, I would open all of our kitchen cupboards with a piece of kitchen roll to avoid potential allergens transferring onto my skin.

This wasn't enough to reassure me, though.

I began to take it even further when presented with the realisation that, in theory, absolutely anything could cause an allergic reaction. Therefore, the only things I could consider truly 'safe' were the things I knew for certain (or as certain as I could be considering that with OCD, nothing is certain) wouldn't cause me a reaction; the foods that I ate and clothes that I wore every single day. And so the obsession, along with the tireless compulsions that accompanied it, spiralled.

My diet became limited to a few, very specific 'safe' foods (namely coco pops, pasta and cheese...not all together, that would be too far). I wore the exact same items of worn out clothing every day, and these would have to be be washed several times per day as they easily became 'contaminated'. I had to shower if I thought any allergens had come into contact with my skin, my hair, my mouth. This meant that if I left the house, no matter how briefly, I would have to shower when I returned. In the end, I barely left the house to avoid spending most of the day in the shower.

I could no longer sit downstairs with my family; the sofas were covered in far too many potential allergens. I wouldn't let my family (including the dog) come too close to me or my possessions. Not even my Mum, the person I trusted the most in the world, was allowed to hug me. My bed became a safe haven free of contaminants and so I would spend the majority of my time there (only if I was 'clean' enough, of course).

I would wash my hands until they bled, getting through an entire bottle of soap in a day or two. I would get stuck in what me and my Mum deemed a 'hand-washing loop', where I could wash them 30, even 40 times at once to the point of tears. Every time I attempted to stop washing my hands and get back into bed, something would contaminate them again. Did I touch the door handle on my way out of the bathroom? Did I touch the door handle on the way into my room? I couldn't use any cream to heal them, however, as this was also a potential allergen.

I started to severely neglect my appearance. Everything could possibly cause a reaction and so shampoo, shower gel, deodorant, toothpaste, skincare products and make-up became too 'dangerous' to use. Basic self-care went out of the window, along with any shred of dignity I may have had left. I can't even begin to describe how embarrassed I am to think back to the state I was in, or what those close to me must have thought of me. By this point, it was too much for my family to handle alone and it started to seem like the only option would be for me to receive inpatient treatment.

I had become unrecognisable - a ghost of my former self. I had no personality, I didn't care about anything (apart from fear) and the only way I could express this was through constant outbursts of anger and crying. Living in a constant state of terror completely destroys you from the inside out and to be quite honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to live anymore - not like that, anyway.

On that note, I'm going to wrap things up. If I was to describe any more of my rituals, this post would quite literally be never-ending. It was a real eye-opener for me to go into that much depth about my past experience with OCD. It tends to be a period of my life I try my best to block out - mainly because I'm so embarrassed by it, but also because it's not particularly something I wish to remember.

Writing this post is the first time I've admitted to myself just how bad things became. I've since undergone CBT and still take medication to control my symptoms and so, even though they still affect me daily, they aren't anywhere near as severe. I can function now.

If anything, I hope this post will make more people realise just how detrimental OCD can be to a person's life. Many people continue to ridicule this illness, whilst remaining completely ignorant to the awful impact it can have.

OCD is a serious mental health condition, and it destroys lives. So please, don't make it even harder for sufferers to access support by making light of it.

Thanks for reading (and congratulations if you made it to the end).

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Physical Consequences of Eating Disorders: They Will Catch Up With You

Eating disorders such as anorexia are mental illnesses. They are often a result of negative emotions, thoughts or feelings that the person is experiencing and finding difficult to manage. The individual may therefore resort to using food as a coping mechanism, in order to gain a sense of control over these feelings. However, although the root cause for eating disorders is psychological, they bring with them many adverse and even life-threatening physical effects.

If you engage in disordered eating for a prolonged period of time, these physical consequences will be unavoidable - no matter how much you think you are immune to them. Often, eating disorders provide the sufferer with a false sense of security, fooling them into believing that what they are doing is 'healthy'. They may fail to recognise just how damaging their behaviour is. Or, even if they are aware of the potential impact it can have, they may mistakenly think to themselves 'it will never happen to me'.

Some people continue to 'function' with their eating disorder for years and years. They may think that because their blood results or other health checks have repeatedly come back normal, there is nothing wrong with them or they aren't ill. However, just because you may have gotten away with it up until now, doesn't mean it will remain that way forever. Sooner or later, you will be caught out. Our bodies work in incredible ways and will do all they can to keep us going, but you can only push it so far. Very suddenly, you may find yourself rather physically unwell and sometimes there's no going back, the damage can be irreversible.

My intention in writing this is not to scare anybody. I simply want anyone who is suffering with disordered eating to realise the seriousness of the situation. When it comes to eating disorders, there really is no such thing as 'not being ill enough'. If you're struggling with any sort of unhealthy thoughts surrounding food, that is ill enough in itself. If is something you are going through, please seek support as soon as possible. Don't wait until the point of no return to get help.

You can read more on the health consequences of eating disorders here and if you feel in need of further support, check out the B-eat website.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Commenting on Others Food

TW: Eating disorders

So I hadn't exactly planned on writing this post, nor does it have any real purpose to it (other than to vent my frustration over a comment I came across on social media this morning...petty, I know). The comment had absolutely nothing to do with me and wasn't aimed at anybody I know particularly well. Nevertheless, it irritated me.

To sum up; somebody had posted a picture of their dinner (I'm not exactly sure why but whatever floats your boat, right?) and in response to said picture, there was a comment along the lines of 'you're going to eat all that?!!'. Now, I'm no expert when it comes to social interaction but what I assume they meant by this was that they thought it was too much food for this girl to be eating.

The majority of people probably wouldn't think twice about this comment, but to me it seemed so unnecessary and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. I just don't understand how somebody can make a judgement on the amount of food somebody else should be eating from one picture posted on social media. Not only that, but to then actually comment on it, on a public platform for everybody to see?

They have no idea how the girl who posted the picture might interpret their comment, or whether there is a reason she may need to eat a higher intake of food than your 'average' person. Perhaps she is recovering from a restrictive eating disorder and therefore requires a high energy intake so that her body can repair itself and function properly again? In that situation, such a comment could be detrimental to her recovery.

All I'm saying is that you can't possibly know why somebody may need to do certain things 'differently' to what you consider acceptable. We are all unique, we all have our own bodies that work differently from each other and require different amounts of food. A number of things can alter the level of energy intake that our bodies need - from illness to how active we are throughout the day.

I'm aware that I'm taking this completely out of proportion but that's because as an anorexia sufferer, I know the damage this kind of comment can have. Food is a very sensitive subject for me and if somebody was to imply that I was eating too much during my recovery, it would cause me tremendous amounts of guilt, shame and disgust in myself - to the point where I would feel the need to restrict again.


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Time Away from University

I mentioned in my previous post that I was currently experiencing what I can only call a relapse of my mental health issues (although, does it count as a relapse if you've never really recovered?). I'm particularly struggling with my anorexia (it still feels odd to say that I suffer from anorexia) and this has caused my health to decline pretty rapidly over the last month or so.

I also mentioned in my last post that I was facing somewhat of a dilemma as to whether or not to return to uni after spending a few days at home and realising just how bad things had become. To sum up: I did go back for one week, where I attended appointments with various medical professionals. They suggested that it may be best for me to take some time out of university to focus on regaining my strength. 

At first, this felt like a pretty big deal. What about my accommodation that I am paying a bucketload for? Will I keep owing money until the end of my first year, even though I'm not living there any more? What about my degree? Can I continue with my studies even though I won't be attending lectures? What about my friends? Will they forget about me because I'll be too far away and won't see them for months? 

Despite these anxieties, I knew deep down that I wasn't well and urgently needed to take a break to focus on my health - so that's what I did. I moved back home last weekend and don't intend on living away again until the beginning of my second year (around late August/early September). I'll still be studying for my course as normal, but I live too far from my university to commute and therefore will have to access the lectures online and self study.

I don't quite know how the next few months will pan out. What I do know, though, is that I'm fed up of being too exhausted to socialise with friends. I'm fed up of feeling light-headed every time I do something that exerts the tiniest amount of energy. I'm fed up of being so spaced out that I can't focus on anything for any considerable length of time. No longer do I want to deal with dry, cracked skin, purple nails, weak muscles and chest pains every day.

I'm viewing this time away from university as a chance to properly attempt recovery. Things have been very up and down with regards to my mental health throughout the past few years, but I've never reached a place where I can say I'm content with myself and my health. I want this to be the turning point where I can say things finally started to change for the better.


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Life Update: Relapse

TW: Eating disorders

These last few weeks at university have been tough for me (as you may be able to tell from my more recent posts, such as this one and this one). My mood has been low, my anxiety has been through the roof and I've been helplessly losing the battle against my eating disorder. I'm not afraid to admit that I've been struggling a little more than usual lately but to be quite honest, I'm at a loss with what to do next.

I desperately needed to get away and so I arranged to go home for half a week. Only once I was home did I realise how bad I'd actually let things slip. My weight has only been this low once before: when I was at my most unwell with anorexia. I failed to realise that things had become so severe once again because, at university, there is no way of consistently keeping track of my physical health.

It's not like before when I was constantly monitored by CAMHS and the GP - when I'm away it's simply a case of trying to manage things by myself whilst I wait for adult mental health services to finally get around to seeing me. For a while, I was half-functioning and doing just about enough to get by, but more recently things have become too much for me to handle alone.

Tomorrow morning I'm supposed to be returning to uni and I'm dreading it. When I'm alone at night and I start to get chest pains, it scares me. I live in constant fear that my body is giving up on me and I won't have anybody around to help me. Of course, it may just be anxiety causing me these symptoms but either way, it's a horrible thing to go through alone.

I'm lucky enough when I'm at home to have my Mum supporting me as much as she possibly can and I'm not quite sure how I'm going to cope without this now. However, the adult eating disorder service back at uni have decided they can see me and this week I'm supposed to be having two appointments with them - one with a dietician whose input I could really do with.

So that leaves me in a dilemma. Do I stay at home and put my health first, bearing in mind that appointments can be rearranged? Or do I force myself to go back, even though I'm physically rather unwell?

If the decision was mine, I would spend more time at home trying to rest and rebuild my strength somewhat, as risking my physical health seems more detrimental right now than rearranging a few appointments. However, I also have my parent's input to consider, who are quite adamant that I should go back even if it's just to attend the appointments.

I could really use some advice from an objective viewpoint, so if you have any thoughts or solutions that I haven't yet thought of, don't be afraid to talk to me (please, I beg you!).
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