Read Cara’s inspirational eating disorder recovery story

EDRECOVERYGRAPHICTRUSSTORIESwithline

One thing that would have been really helpful for me during my darkest days with Anorexia is support and inspiration from people who knew exactly what I was going through – people who could encourage me and help me to feel as though fighting it was the right thing to do. That’s why I wrote Tough Cookie and my other books – but I also wanted to gather other people’s stories – as the more I share the more I hope I can show that it’s 100% possible to overcome an eating disorder.

In this post trainee nurse Cara shares her wonderful story. Her insight is incredible and her story really resonated with me – I hope it does for you, too. If you find this helpful please share it – it might make a really big difference to someone else.

Cara’s Inspirational Recovery Story 

“I have had many successes in recent years; personal, professional and academic, not one of which is related to my physical appearance.”

My journey to recovery was anything but linear. There were times when I believed it would be impossible to undo all the many years of self hatred and buried emotions I experienced. But it wasn’t, and I did.

My eating disorder began to dig its claws in at around age 8 or 9. I started to see my body not as the incredible thing it is, something that allowed me to run, dance and carry me wherever I desired to go; but instead as something that others would judge me by, that defined me as a person. By aged 11 the eating disordered behaviours has started, and by aged 14 I was diagnosed and entered treatment. In the space of just a few years, my entire world view and how I saw myself and others had changed. I was failing school for the first time in my life, and I didn’t care. It was my weight that defined my success, not my academic achievements. I had to quit my dance class, but it didn’t matter. My ever shrinking waist size was my greatest accomplishment, not my annual dance performances. My social circle shrank with my body, but I didn’t mind. Anorexia was my best friend and I thought I needed no one else. I shut down.

I was admitted to hospital at 15, where I remained for several months; lonely, scared and isolated. Upon my discharge, my old thoughts and behaviours returned almost immediately, though I kept my head above water for a long time following this.
The next few years were cyclical; restriction and weight loss, binging and weight gain, restriction and weight loss. Each cycle was worse than the last, and at 21 I went back into treatment again. By this point I had zero hope. Ten years of my life had been swallowed up in what felt like an instant. I was bitter, tired and miserable. How could I ever get past this? I knew nothing else.
The most frightening thing was trying to discover who I was without my eating disorder. It had defined me for half my life and was all I knew. It controlled every aspect of me; my thoughts, my actions, my relationships, my personality. If I stripped all that back, would I be nothing? What if I didn’t like who I was without it?

I didn’t understand what I would think about if I wasn’t thinking about food. It took up every second of my spare time – how would I fill that now? After many hours of talking therapy, I learned something about myself. I used my
eating disorder to avoid life. I didn’t have to have emotions or think about anything difficult, because all I felt was empty and all I thought about was food. I had to face myself, and understanding the function my eating disorder had for me after so long was truly the start of my recovery. I had to allow myself to face difficult things and experience the painful emotions I had been shielding myself from. Seeing my eating disorder as something that served a purpose for me allowed me to start to separate it from who I am, which gave me the strength to start challenging it. Over the next months and years, up until my
discharge from the service and long afterwards, I overcame many hurdles. There were still times where I felt like giving up, but I forced myself to continue. There were times when I found old habits almost impossible to break, but I made myself break them. There were times where I found my changing body unbearable, but I worked through it and silence
d those thoughts.

Which brings me to today. I am 26, studying for a nursing degree and in a healthy long term relationship. I have had many successes in recent years; personal, professional and academic, not one of which is related to my physical appearance. Are there still times I experience negative thoughts about my body image? Of course there are. Are there still days where I feel guilty about my diet? Sometimes. Do I resort to old behaviours in times of stress? Rarely. Whether it is possible to eliminate every trace of an eating disorder from your mind is not for me to say. However, every day these thoughts bother me less and less. I am able to challenge the voice that tells me I’m not good enough, not thin enough, not perfect enough, and tell it that it’s wrong. After all the years I mistreated it, my body still allows me to run and to dance, and still carries me wherever I want to go. It has forgiven me, and I have forgiven myself. And that’s what recovery means to me.

 

 

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Are we developing a generation of women who will grow up hating their bodies? 

 

Last week I was asked to pop over to my local TV station That’s Manchester to give my opinion on a recent study, which devastatingly showed that children as young as three are developing body image issues. The study centred around Disney – and in particular its recent blockbuster movie Frozen.

This was easy and difficult for me to comment on at the same time. Because whilst undoubtedly Frozen is having this effect on a number of children, I can’t honestly say that I believe Disney alone is a root cause for this worrying trend of body image issues developing at increasingly young ages.

My serious body image issues were formed over years of bullying. Consistently being singled out and told you’re fat, ugly and not worthy of anybody’s time or respect because of the way you look understandably destroys any positive feelings you have about yourself. But looking back further than that to my childhood I never thought about how I looked. I never compared myself to others, never considered that I may not be ‘pretty’ or ‘normal’. I was busy being a child – playing with my mates, going to dance classes, messing about in the garden playing with frogs and snails. I loved Disney – and never compared myself to the bodies and appearances of the princesses – in fact I don’t even think I noticed them. I didn’t become aware of my appearance until it was pointed out to me at school.

A wider issue of how women are presented to the world and how we as women form our opinions of who we are and how we ‘should be’ in society certainly incorporates Disney and Barbie and all these other toys and forms of media which demonstrate women’s place in the world in a very singular way. But concentrating on body image alone I think this has to be a wake up call for society on many different levels. This is just Frozen. Imagine if we were to conduct a general study taking into account all the negative media influences our children are exposed to.

This is the thing. The issue for me with this study is that it doesn’t take into account all the other negative influences we place upon young girls in terms of body image. Increasingly they’re exposed to and look up to celebrities, encouraged by our society-wide obsession with image as adults. Aside from the likes of Megan Trainor and Adele who do we see in the mainstream media aimed at kids who represents anything near ‘normal’ (or at least that isn’t ‘perfect’ or ‘skinny’)? Pop stars all look the same – glowing tanned skin, slim curves, long thick hair extensions, piles of make-up. This manufactured, ‘one size fits all’, ‘there’s only one way to be’ kind of beauty trend has been around for ages. But now it’s influencing our children, because they’re much more aware of other people’s appearance and their own at a much younger age.

The problem with today’s ‘beauty’ is that it’s increasingly manufactured. Whether it’s with wigs, make-up, surgery or photoshop, what we’re seeing is hardly ever real. Yet so many adult women I speak to think it is. They scroll through Instagram and feel bad about themselves. They have absolutely no idea that images are doctored – that the women we see have had lip fillers, implants, veneers. We’re powerless to change who we are – so what’s the point of endlessly looking at and comparing ourselves to other people? When I stopped using social media in a personal capacity and reading magazines my body image anxiety became noticeably better – and this is definitely something I’d pass onto my own children. But as mothers if we are unaware and practice this behaviour then we normalise it for our children. If we are aware that society is set up to make us feel bad (and spend money on diets, make-up and surgery to ‘make ourselves better’) we can explain this to them and warn them. We can demonstrate the difference between photoshopped and natural, filtered and unfiltered, surgery and no surgery. We can emphasise health and happiness over ruining our bodies or starving ourselves to conform and look a certain way.

Social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are also encouraging girls below the age of ten to become obsessed (whether that’s unhealthy or not) with image – with taking photos of themselves and each other. I never really knew how I looked at that age – I rarely even looked in the mirror. Now we’re seeing girls taking selfies aged 8 looking 18. Music videos are over-sexualised, with beautiful young women placed on pedestals. Subliminally all of these things are going to have a devastating effect on the mental health of the next generation of women.

Already we’re seeing an increase in mental health issues amongst children at earlier ages. This isn’t confined to body image issues or eating disorders – but I definitely think that this focus on image and presenting your own personal brand to the world for all to see (and to judge) isn’t healthy mentally.

I know that as well as the constant bullying I experienced media at the time had a role to play in my developing Anorexia, too. The unwavering focus on dieting and body shape and weight and what celebrities were eating (and what we ‘should’ eat) gave me this belief that dieting was normal – it was what I should be doing – especially when I was being called fat. Add to that a raft of celebrities all with sinewy long legs, washboard abs and tiny waists and I didn’t stand a chance. But that was at a time without social media – without 24 hour TV – without the internet in all its glory. No smartphones, no selfies. I wasn’t always watching TV or reading magazines – but minimal exposure had a profound affect on me and my perception of my body and food. So how do these girls stand any chance at all of having a normal relationship with themselves?

The bottom line here is that we all have a responsibility. It can’t just be down to parents – because as a parent you’re up against the world and you can’t protect your child from every outside influence – especially in a society which is now set up this way. For me as an Anorexia survivor one of the most worrying findings from the study was the way in which the girls’ concerns over how they looked (and how they compared to Elsa) affected their eating habits. Are we going to wait for an epidemic of eating disorders, malnourishment and a generation hooked on yo-yo dieting? Or are we going to do something about this, set an example, campaign against the brainwashing we are exposed to day in, day out by the media?

I still struggle now so I avoid my triggers- and that’s as someone who is completely aware of photoshop and this mental manipulation. None of us are completely immune to this as adults. So how can we expect our children to be?

I don’t focus Tough Cookie on children. But actually what I want to do is to share my knowledge and change the perspective of my own generation as well as those before and after – because we are the ones with the power to change things. Armed with knowledge we can educate children and explain why this mentality is so wrong. Together, we can really make a difference.

 

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My view on CAMHS

We can’t wait around for the NHS to magically find a pot of money for help young people with mental issues. We have to take responsibility for ourselves – and whilst that’s scary, it’s 100% possible. 

CAMHS failure

I make no secret of the fact that I was categorically failed by CAMHS. I speak out about this because I am not alone – in fact I’ve never spoken to a young person with mental health problems (eating disorders in particular) who has had a good experience with them. But I’m not going to share my own ‘horror story’ in this article – because that’s not the point here.

Those of us who have ever struggled with mental health below the age of 16 (whether it be Depression, Anxiety or OCD) know that it’s impossible to depend on the NHS – and CAMHS in particular. In the news we’re consistently learning of young people who have been failed time and again by services until they sadly lost their battle with themselves. Like everyone campaigning for better mental health and awareness I am desperate for something to change in the system. But I don’t think that waiting for change is the answer. 

Often we hear about the negative (and devastating) outcomes of CAMHS failure. Usually young people are driven to suicide, or lose their battle with Anorexia. This is so, so sad. But the reason I share my story is that I was one of the lucky ones – and if I pulled through after being failed so badly then that gives hope to anyone else in the same position.

Instead of saying ‘The NHS is shit and left me to die’ and leaving it at that (or dwelling upon the gory details of it) I share a message of hope and positivity. I promote the alternative – which shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly is. The alternative is going it alone – which may sound scary. It may sound impossible – and certainly health professionals and psychologists wouldn’t recommend it. But what are young people desperately in need of help supposed to do when the help they need isn’t there for them to access? Most people can’t afford private therapy – so they depend on the NHS for support. The good news is that you CAN do this yourself.

I can’t speak for every mental health issue. Some almost certainly need professional intervention and medication to be managed effectively. I can only speak from experience about the issues I have personally dealt with over the years – Depression, OCD, Anorexia, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. It makes for long reading on my medical notes!

I want to explain that all the mental health diagnoses I’ve listed above had one root cause – my beliefs. I’d formed and impacted my beliefs over time until deep down inside me, subconsciously, I believed I was worthless. Hated. Ugly inside and out. Even though the conditions above aren’t all related, they all came from one root cause.

I started with OCD as a coping mechanism. Then I developed Anorexia. And when I thought I’d got over that I started to struggle with deep Depression and self-harm. Now I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder which I manage well. And I also manage my beliefs. It’s taken time and I’m not perfect (I have panic attacks, I get manic, I struggle, I’m perfectionistic) but I’m okay. I’m not in danger. I love my life – I live my life to the full. I value myself. But the point is that every single one of these had the same root cause – my negative beliefs.

So if this ‘recovery’ is possible for me (read my definition of recovery here) then it’s surely possible for everyone. Although I never had professional support from CAMHS or the NHS I’ve been lucky enough to have the support of my parents throughout this. I set up Tough Cookie to offer support to people who may or may not have people going through this with them. I know how hard it is to face an eating disorder alone – to go through self-harm alone. I understand that being ignored or swatted away by services is devastating because that seems like the only option for survival. But it isn’t. 

One of the biggest things that helped me was getting to know myself. Understanding my beliefs and why I had them. Managing myself – knowing my triggers and dealing with or avoiding them. Although it was hard over time I did get better. I’m not ‘over it’ – I don’t think I ever will be – this is me, this is part of me. But I’m not in danger anymore. And with time you can also live like this.

Please remember on your darkest days that you are not alone. When you think ‘I can’t get through this’ remember that you can – I did! We can all do this. Don’t dwell on the reasons why you can’t. Think about how you can – and why you want to. Focus on your future. Believe that it’s possible.

I had a dream throughout all of this. I wanted to live abroad and be a writer. So many people told me that wasn’t possible. To lower my expectations and set my sights on something ‘realistic’. And at the time I believed I was stupid and didn’t deserve to live – that my life would never be worth living. But now ten years after I was hospitalised with Anorexia I run my own writing business and I’m fulfilling my dream of living abroad. I didn’t have a privileged upbringing – I didn’t go to university. I just stayed determined and persevered with my dream in mind. So never underestimate the power of your dreams – and remember that you are worth fighting for, your life is worth fighting for, and that this is not impossible – however impossible it may seem right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Self-Esteem in 60 Seconds – Beautiful Means Nothing

I’m 24 – but since the age of 11 I’ve struggled to believe that I am ‘beautiful’. This is despite the fact that for half this time people have told me otherwise.

This video is about highlighting how superficial and false ‘beauty’ is. We see ‘beautiful’ people and we want to look like them – for recognition, for confidence, for security. But inside those people don’t always agree with your admiration. Inside they may be unhappy, insecure, depressed. So really, outer beauty has nothing to do with happiness. It’s inner beauty you need! Find out why here:

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Your Inspirational Recovery Stories – How I Overcame Anorexia with Spirituality

EDRECOVERYGRAPHICTRUSSTORIESwithlineThe following story was submitted by an incredible lady from America who would like to remain anonymous. When she contacted me to share her inspirational story I knew I had to share it with all of you here on the blog, as it demonstrates that recovery is possible for all of us, however dark or difficult things become. Her feelings of self-hatred and that all-consuming feeling of worthlessness really resonated with me, and I know a lot of people reading this will feel the same too. I’m not a religious personal at all but I am very spiritual, and it’s so interesting to see that this lady kept her faith even when times were difficult.

I hope this motivates and inspires anyone who feels like there is no way out (THERE IS!!) – and for those of you who are in the later stages of recovery I hope it makes you realise just how far you’ve come 🙂

 

“Learning to love myself unconditionally after a near death experience” – Anonymous

“It is selfish to only think about yourself.”

“You will never amount to anything good in life.”

“What is the purpose of life, to suffer and die?”

These used to be the thoughts I had in my head growing up. I grew up in a not so loving household and have dealt with all kinds of abuse at a young age.

I used to stifle all my feelings as a way to cope with everything. I didn’t realize that in time this manifested into self-hatred and a full blown eating disorder by the time I was 13.

All I saw when I looked at my reflection was someone that is worthless and not worth loving or living. This is what I deserve. I couldn’t see what my purpose was. I didn’t see the reason for living another day.

I had a spiritual near death experience (NDE) when I was 24 years old after battling on and off with anorexia for 11 years.

Near death experience

I had become severely depressed at the time before my NDE. I had gotten into a car accident a year ago and suffered short term memory loss. My neck and back was also under a lot of pain and my left eye would twitch at times.

I was asking God why another setback, another trauma? Family life was unbearable, dealing with school, mom’s chronic illness, dad’s neglect and gambling addiction, and brother’s focus on himself. My sanity and patience started to dwindle.

My moods were up and down. The only way I knew how to cope with all the stresses in my life was through starving myself. I began to eat less and less and los t a lot of weight. My stomach was always in pain and I had no energy to do anything. I was very fatigued and hanging on by a thread.

I began to see many doctors: a cardiologist that diagnosed me with heart arrhythmia, a gastroenterologist that only diagnosed me with IBS, a psychologist that diagnosed me with depression but all the medicines they gave me seem to make me feel worse.

As the days go by, my will to live began to fade. What’s the point of living if I were to continue to suffer like this, haven’t I been through enough?

The night of my NDE, my heart palpitations were getting worse but I just brushed it off as another symptom. I had no appetite and my vision became blurry. I cried for a few hours and collapsed on my bed.

Laying on my bed, I asked in my head ‘Why am I suffering so much, how is there a creator, a benign God that would allow all this to happen to me?’ I closed my eyes with tears on my face, but when I started to fell asleep, I felt like my breathing was slowing down and I began to gasp for air after asking that question.

What happened next was the strangest feeling. I saw myself, my soul, lift out of my navel/belly button. I was looking down at my own body and I was perplexed. I went what the heck, I can still exist out of my body? My essence traveled through an umbilical cord/tunnel that was white and grayish with wave like patterns. I was so distraught, I didn’t know what to do.

Was I dying? My spirit was traveling super fast like the speed of light. On my way to this never-ending tunnel, I yelled at God to save me. I was so scared that I yelled out at God to help me. I was desperate because I didn’t know where I was heading. I said I would miss my family and my two cats.

Healing

The tunnel then reached to this luminous white dome-shaped room that didn’t blind my eyes. But before I could go further, my spirit quickly traveled back down the tunnel and fell back into my body. When I woke up I felt instantly refreshed. I had a sense of peace and happiness than I ever felt in my life.

I also had healing from my anorexia. I had a lot more appetite and gained weight. I had more energy and was genuinely grateful and happy. Things that used to bother me did not bother me anymore.

I have more compassion and tolerance to everyone. I used to be judgmental and materialistic. Now I don’t buy as much and like to help others more. I felt as if we are all ONE.

If I’m in pain the other person absorbs my pain, If I’m love, the other person receives my love. I began to be more spiritual, more praying and meditation. I felt connected with source energy and felt protection and love for me.

What I know now is that we should love each other and everyone’s flaws, we are all here to learn, to make mistakes, to grow. We should serve humanity, be less selfish and self absorbed, and do more acts of kindness without asking anything in return.
What I have learned

Growing up I didn’t understand what love really is. It seems that love meant giving up on yourself to take care of everyone else.

Now I realized that almost everyone we come across is a wounded child at heart. And that in order for us to change our reality we must heal our internal wounds that has been there since childhood.

What if I told you the most i mportant thing you can do in life is to fully love yourself, imperfections and all.

And that it is not possible to love another unless we take care of ourselves.

I’m sure most of us who have battled an eating disorder know how hard it is to find hope in midst of struggling to survive.

But I’m here to tell you that it is possible and that brighter days are ahead of you. All it takes is that first step.

Music was really healing for me. Here are some songs that helped me through my experience:

 

 

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Self-Esteem in 60 Seconds – There’s More Than One Type of Beauty

It’s fair to say we’re constantly sold one idea of beauty by society. But it’s also fair to say that this image changes depending on where we live, and who we hang out with! Therefore how can you not be beautiful??

Someone, somewhere wants what you’ve got. You may not know it, but somewhere in the world you are considered to be particularly beautiful. Just because the world you live in worships other types of beauty or doesn’t see your worth, doesn’t mean you’re not pretty or worth love! This video is all about remembering that you ARE beautiful – no matter what.

 

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Self-Esteem in 60 Seconds – How to love (or at least like!) your body

Anyone who reads the blog or who has read my books knows I’m not really into ‘loving yourself’. I think it’s a bit much – and it’s an unrealistic expectation to have of someone who’s spent a decent amount of time hating themselves. But ‘like’ doesn’t really make this sound like an exciting post – so despite the attention-grabbing name in this video I discuss my journey from hate to like, and describe how just finding a few things I felt positive about changed my whole perspective 🙂

 

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Why I don’t say I’m ‘better’

Anorexia recovery

2 Rainbows, dreamy

Most people in the public eye who discuss past/previous difficulties like to paint themselves as ‘great now’. Gurus (especially those who release self-help videos and books) tend to portray themselves as ‘the solution’ in a fairly patronising way, talking about the ‘past’ and discussing their rosy life as it is now, and telling you how you can be like them (for a fee). The problem with this is that NOBODY’s life is perfect – and many of these people run the risk of being ‘outed’ when it turns out they shouted at a parking warden, or had a momentary lapse in their ‘strict vegan diet’ as they’re snapped tucking into a McDonald’s. This of course is all pretty embarrassing and undermining – but the main reason I tell the truth about who I am and how I feel is because that’s the only way I feel I can help people – by being honest, and by sharing my journey as I go.

I overcame Anorexia – but my root beliefs were never addressed

I was lucky enough to be able to recover fully from Anorexia without relapse. But that doesn’t mean that since that time I’ve been issue-free. Unfortunately I didn’t have psychological support before, during or after my eating disorder – so the core beliefs which caused it were never addressed or treated. If I’d had that support then I honestly believe I may have been able to get away with a life without mental illness – as I was still young. However those beliefs were left to exacerbate silently over the course of a few years, and I developed several difficult mental health conditions in the years that followed. Each time I never had adequate support, so the thoughts and feelings I have about myself deep down have been allowed to compact and strengthen to a point where they’re hard to just ‘undo’. The complicated belief system behind it all has never changed – instead it has manifested itself in different ways over the years that have followed since my recovery. I think it’s important to be honest about this, not to scaremonger people who are embarking on their own recovery, but to emphasise the importance of proper therapy and psychological care for people going through an eating disorder. I also want to be clear that I am not an idol and I still deal with my own struggles each and every day – as all of us do.

I share what I learn as I go, or I discuss my previous experiences in a positive and open way

I do what I do because I want to use my own experiences to help people. So I can talk about previous experiences and how I overcame them, but I can also discuss the things I still struggle with now and the things I do which help me to live with myself day to day and more than that to live my life to the full. I’m different because I never make out as though this isn’t the case, and I always make sure I’m positive and helpful rather than just being ‘doom and gloom’ or sensationalistic.

For more on eating disorders, body image or nutrition, take a look at my books or related blogs here.

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