A girl with too many thoughts...

Thursday, 25 May 2017

ED Recovery: Changing Vs. Staying the Same

Today I had another appointment with my eating disorder practitioner and we did a lot of work on the advantages and disadvantages of both changing and staying the same.

Changing involves restoring my weight back to a healthy amount by increasing my food intake, and hopefully maintaining both of these things in the long-term. Staying the same, on the other hand, would mean holding on to my disordered thoughts and behaviours around food and controlling my diet so that I don't gain any weight; becoming more and more ill both mentally and physically as a result.

In therapy, there is often a lot of talking and it can bring a whole range of conflicting thoughts, feelings and emotions. It's therefore sometimes difficult to remember exactly what you worked on during the appointment, so I think it's good to be able to unravel these thoughts, as well as reflect on any progress you made or realisations you had in the session.

Something that particularly struck me in this morning's session was the difference in the advantages/disadvantages of each option (changing vs. staying the same) and the short or long-term effect each one has on my life as a whole.

All of the reasons that part of me wants to hold on to my eating disorder - gaining a sense of achievement and relief when losing weight, feeling powerful and in control, distracting myself from other negative feelings - these only ever have a short-term impact.

Choosing change and recovery, however, means allowing myself to fulfil other aspirations in life. Finishing my degree, living independently, earning money; all things I can only really achieve if I get better. These are all much more long-term goals, that will influence my whole life, not just the present moment.

It's this key difference that I must keep in mind and admittedly often lose sight of when I'm caught up in the moment or experiencing a lot of negative emotions. Every time I have the urge to miss a snack off my meal plan or put one less spoonful of yoghurt on my fruit, I have to remind myself of the longer-term implications, as opposed to only thinking of the short-term relief.

Sure, restricting may make me feel 'positive' in the short-term. It may calm the irrational thoughts and feelings for a brief amount of time and I might trick myself into thinking I feel 'good' for a little while. But when considering the bigger picture, what effect does it all have in the long-term and is it worth it?

No it's not.

This is a realisation I must make time and time again; with every meal, snack and mouthful of food. Because I may think that one spoonful of yoghurt won't make the slightest bit of difference, but it will. It's the difference between choosing to give into anorexia, just like I have done so many times before, instead of choosing to change my ways. It's the difference between focusing only on the short-term as opposed to the long-term benefits.

Thanks for reading and please do let me know if you'd like me to continue posting about my recovery experience.


Monday, 22 May 2017

'I Couldn't Be Anorexic, I Love Food Too Much'

You've probably heard somebody say something along the lines of: 'I couldn't be anorexic, I love food too much' before. Or how about 'I couldn't be anorexic because I couldn't cut out food completely'. Well, this type of comment has been floating around in my mind a lot recently, as I try and navigate my way through the deep, dark depths of eating disorder recovery.

As somebody who suffers from anorexia nervosa, this comment causes a lot of problems for me. For one, it makes me question the validity of my illness. I therefore wanted to write a blog post on it, in an attempt to resolve the conflict that is currently taking place in my brain.

Anorexia is not a lifestyle choice

Firstly, nobody chooses anorexia. It is not a lifestyle choice or crash diet that people decide to go on to 'lose a few pounds'. It's a mental illness, and an extremely serious one at that. Saying something along the lines of 'I couldn't be anorexic...' makes it seem that those who are choose to be, which is simply not true. 

Nobody wakes up and thinks 'Ya know what, I think I can do it. I think I can be anorexic!'.

It's often an accumulation of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that build up over months, even years. These subtle changes in one's thoughts about food and eating habits eventually take over their whole life and may become so impactful that they turn into a full blown eating disorder.

Many people with anorexia love food, too!

A key symptom at the core of anorexia for many sufferers is actually an obsession or preoccupation with food - a fact that may surprise many people. It's a myth that every single person with anorexia doesn't have an appetite for or like food. In many cases, it's the opposite.

I absolutely love the stuff. I think about food every second of every day: different types of food, foods I crave, when I'm next eating, what I'm next eating, how much I'm eating, what other people are eating. I think about food more than I think about anything else. I dream about cheese, pizza, chocolate, ice- cream, bread, cake, doughnuts - all of the foods I won't allow myself to just enjoy from time to time.

Most people with anorexia don't completely cut out food

No human can survive without food, that's a basic fact. Most people with anorexia continue to semi-function with their disorder for years and years. Do you honestly think they haven't eaten a morsel of food in all of that time? Of course not, that's impossible! 

Anorexia nervosa is a mental disorder. It's about the attitudes, beliefs and feelings that the person associates with food, rather than the amount they eat. These feelings manifest themselves in certain behaviours which, in anorexia, usually involves some form of restriction - this usually doesn't mean cutting out food entirely, though.

It often involves an extreme control over food which encompasses many different behaviours. For example, cutting out certain foods entirely or significantly restricting portion sizes. Or it may be counting calories to ensure you don't eat over a certain amount per day (which is usually below that which your body requires). Rarely does it mean cutting out food altogether.

Anything that deprives the body of enough nutrients and energy to function fully may be considered restriction, which can in turn lead to weight loss. Again though, weight is not the main indicator of an eating disorder. Rather, it is a physical symptom.

I hope this post helps to clear up a few misconceptions about anorexia. And if you yourself suffer from anorexia, I hope this can help reassure you that your illness is still valid even if you a) eat regularly throughout the day and b) enjoy food.

I'm planning on doing a post in the near future about the many other misconceptions that surround all eating disorders (not just anorexia!). So, if this is a topic of interest to you, keep your eyes peeled for that!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Therapy Isn't A Magic Cure

When I first started attending CBT sessions at the age of seventeen (around two years ago now) I expected it to be a magic cure. I was disappointed to find that even after a few months, nothing had dramatically changed. At the beginning, I found it incredibly difficult to engage with the therapy; I just 'didn't get it'. At that point, I was adamant that it wasn't for me and that nothing anyone said was going to change my thought processes. I realise now that I was wrong.

What I failed to realise at first is that to a certain extent, therapy is what you make it. If you want it to work for you, you have to put in effort and co-operate. It's so easy to think to yourself 'well there's no way that's going to help me' before even trying it, but that attitude will never get you anywhere. If you want to recover, you have to try. Otherwise, what's the point?

The truth is that even the best therapists out there cannot cast a magic spell that will make all of your problems disappear within one session (although, it'd be a whole lot easier if they could). Treatment is a lengthy commitment that you make, and it's down to you more than anyone else to do the things that are going to make you better! You are only doing yourself a disservice if you don't engage.

Discomfort is part of the process in recovery. It's not going to be easy (because if it was, you would've done it by now). We all would have. As human beings we want to minimise our discomfort, but you have to learn to embrace it if you want therapy to be successful. You can sit in a therapy office hour after hour, but don't expect much to happen if you don't continue to put the tools you learn into practise when you walk away from that room.

With OCD, your therapist can teach you ways in which to control your anxiety when you don't perform a compulsion. They can tell you again and again that performing compulsions only reinforces the irrational fear. Yet, if you choose to ignore that information and go back to performing all of your safety behaviours anyway, instead of learning to sit with the discomfort, your OCD is going to remain as strong as ever.

I realise that therapy doesn't work for everyone, and that's totally fine and I completely respect that. I also realise that some therapists are better than others, and it's extremely important that you 'click' with your therapist in order to engage with them. All I'm saying is don't make the same mistake I did and assume it doesn't work without giving it a proper go.

I'm glad that I decided to continue with my sessions even when I was sceptical because I use the techniques I was taught in therapy every hour of every day. Without them, I'd never have the control over my OCD that I do now. Therapy took an awful lot of time, patience, discomfort, frustration (and a fair few tears) but if I'd given up for those reasons, I would never have improved.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

ED Recovery: What to Expect in your First Appointment(s)

I thought I would document bits and bobs of my eating disorder recovery journey on my blog (yes, I used the J word). I hope for it to be useful to anybody who is currently embarking on the same journey and would like to read an experience they can relate to. Or, if you want to start on the road to recovery but are scared to, I hope I can help to reassure you.

Last week I had my first appointment with the adult eating disorder service in my area. I have had numerous assessments with adult mental health services before, earlier on in the year when I was at university. However, I never actually started therapy with them and they instead suggested I'd be better off recovering at home, where they referred me to my local ED service (which I explained in a little more detail in this post).

Last week's appointment consisted of yet another assessment and so I thought I would write a bit about what you can expect when you first begin to seek help for your eating disorder. Of course, this is my experience with my local service and different areas will offer slightly different services, who will all do things slightly differently. Nonetheless, there is usually a general way that they have to do things and certain guidelines to follow.

When you first begin to see a mental health service, they will often carry out an assessment so that they can plan how they're going to work with you. This may just take up the first appointment, or run over a few. Either way, it's not as scary as it sounds (the word 'assessment' makes it sound like some sort of test but I can assure you it's not).

Basically, they want to find out a bit more about you and your history, and your experience with your mental health. When did you start experiencing problems? Have you been under care of mental health services before? How long for? Did you have any other health conditions growing up?

Lots of questions.

They will then want to find out a bit more about your current experience. In an eating disorder assessment, they will probably ask you to go into a little more detail about your current thoughts, feelings and behaviour around food, self-esteem, body image etc., as well as your day-to-day mood and functioning.

Based on what you've told them during the assessment, they may give you a diagnosis there and then. They will then say whether they think their service is best suited to you and if it is, tell you a little more about what support they can offer. You may like to discuss with them a sort of 'plan of action' of how you wish to proceed with treatment and what you would like to get out of it overall.

The idea of somebody sitting there and 'interrogating' you about this stuff can understandably seem daunting and off-putting. However, it's important to remember that this is your story, nobody else's. You know about your experience better than anybody. It's okay to feel nervous, it's okay to take your time to answer questions and it's natural to feel uncomfortable when sharing things that are personal to you.

Nonetheless, it's important to remember that the person leading the session is there to help you, so it's in your interest to be as open and honest as possible. Only this way will you receive the right kind of treatment for you. They aren't there to trip you up, judge you or accuse you of anything - and they are likely to have encountered very similar situations before.

I'm not going to lie, those first few steps towards recovery are probably going to feel pretty darn scary. But it is vital that you take the necessary steps if you want to get better. Things will become easier the further along the path you go and in the end, it'll all be worth it. Trust me on this one.

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