mental health

A Message Of Hope: Surviving Anorexia

We need stories of hope in the midst of the mental health epidemic we are facing.

One in four of us is likely to suffer from a mental health illness each year; with anywhere between 1.6 million and 4 million people suffering with an eating disorder in the UK alone. Such illnesses are debilitating and controlling, and so many sufferers feel unable to talk about what they are going through. But eating disorders, like any mental illnesses, do not have to last forever. Having suffered from anorexia myself and having experienced full recovery and freedom since, I believe it is so important that we open up the conversation surrounding mental health problems and spread the message that there is hope for full recovery.

There is so much pressure at schools, at university and in the workplace to be OK, be coping well and have it all together. When things aren’t OK we feel like a failure and are afraid to admit it and share our worries. In the year after I left school I felt purposeless, alone and totally unworthy in everybody’s eyes. I seriously felt pointless and I just wanted to fade away. Anorexia had taken hold and it was so hard to see why anyone would notice if I just disappeared. Over the next 18 months the support of my family meant I was able to find the determination to start the long fight. With medical help and my mum making me feel loved and worthy, I was able to walk the whole journey to full recovery. I am now able to share this hope with those around me and help others who are suffering.

I caught up with Pippa, a fellow survivor of anorexia, to discuss her experiences of dealing with the illness.

How long would you say you have been suffering?

I was diagnosed with anorexia in October 2010, but I would say I was definitely suffering long before that diagnosis. It’s hard to say, but I would guess at least 8 years.

What has your experience been like over those years?

It’s been a long hard journey with lots of ups and downs. When I was first diagnosed, I was very resistant to anyone trying to help me; a job which fell to my parents and family. I used to scream, shout, argue, yell, cry uncontrollably and throw things at anyone who tried to make me do things I didn’t want to do. That time was horrible for my whole family, but for me was deeply frustrating and terrifying; seeing myself act in ways I didn’t want to, and watching myself hurt my family so much while feeling powerless to stop. One minute I wanted to change, the next minute I was paralysed by fear. Anorexia is exhausting and relentless. It doesn’t give you a day off, a minute off, a second off even. Just when you think you’ve finally shut it up, it’ll come back to bite you. The constant stream of thoughts, constant analysis of every single behaviour, constant planning of future food and exercise – I just want to put my hands on my ears and yell STOP!!!

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What gave you the motivation to begin to face your fears and find the determination and desire to fully recover?

In Easter 2016, my illness got so severe that I was admitted to hospital whereupon I was attached to tubes and drips which kept me alive as my body completely gave in. That was probably the most terrifying experience of my life – realising that the illness had led me to the point where I was so weak I couldn’t lift my head, turn over in bed, go to the toilet … let alone walk and study and enjoy life. My family spent every day by my bedside, and the only thing I can remember doing, in between sleeping, was praying and thinking.

If the God I believed in had the power to raise a man from the dead, He was the only one who could help me and give me the strength that I needed to recover. So I told him I would try and keep trying, and that He would have to do the rest.

I thought that once I’d seen myself at death’s door in a general hospital, that would show anorexia once and for all and it would all be up from there. Sadly, this was not the case. The hardest and biggest battles were faced in the next few months once I was transferred back to the specialist unit and forced to face my fears – control taken completely away from me; lonely, lost and struggling to find my place in the world.

Again, my only refuge and comfort in that time were my prayers to God, and my friends. And slowly, as I submitted to God and understood that I could trust Him with my life, I began to learn that gaining my life back meant letting other people in, and allowing them to help me.

For Pippa, faith played a significant role in her recovery. However, regardless of whether you have a faith or not, anorexia (like any mental illness) must be treated as such: an illness needing professional input. Having the right people around you whom you can trust and feel able to open up to about your struggles is vital for a positive recovery. It is 100% a team effort with the trusted friends and family and the professionals working together with the sufferer. Taking the time to understand what is going on inside the head of someone with anorexia not only builds trust but means the right help can be given in the right way.

I asked Pippa to share more about the professional support she received:

What sort of help did you receive in order to start this journey?

I was in hospital, so I had the support of a dietician, a therapist, a consultant and many others; I’m really lucky that way. Before I was admitted though, my outpatient support was sadly not very good. I had very spurious appointments and they definitely didn’t understand the severity of my condition. I relied very much on the support of my closest friends to get me through that time, and it was only once my university and family intervened that I received the help I needed.

What gives you the motivation to keep moving forward every day and to not look back?

I think the main thing is realising that there is so much more to life. Through my journey of recovery over the past year or so, I’ve begun to properly enjoy life. I feel like I can give so much more to other people, and life seems so much brighter! It sounds like a cliché, but I honestly feel like I’ve been given a second chance in life, and I know that I am made for so much more than this. So it’s remembering those things; where I was compared to how I am now; and where I want to be, that keeps me going in the right direction.

Would you say being honest with yourself throughout recovery is important?

Yes, 100%, but sometimes being honest with yourself isn’t always enough – because if you know it but you’re hiding it from everyone else, no one will be able to help you, and it’s impossible to reach recovery on your own. So being honest with other people is really important. It’s so so important to me that I can trust my closest friends with anything, and can tell them honestly what I’m struggling with. I guess it’s an accountability thing – and it’s one of the most valued and significant things during my continued recovery.

What would you say has been the best thing about recovery so far and what are you most looking forward to in the future?

There are so many things – I can’t choose! I guess going on holiday again was great, and properly enjoying everything we did, meals out included! But it’s the little things too- being able to be spontaneous with my friends and try new things and have the energy to do all those things. Everything about life is so much brighter and enjoyable, and I know there’s more of that to come; that’s another change, being excited about the future! Also, at the moment I still stick to a meal plan because it’s safer for me to make sure I’m giving my body enough. So I’m looking forward to the days when I trust myself enough to listen to my body and eat intuitively, without having to plan everything – then I can be truly spontaneous!

What would you say to those who are really struggling to see a way out?

Just that there IS hope, I’m living proof of that. There is so much more to life then obeying the demands of anorexia. Recovery may seem impossible and you probably don’t know where to start. My biggest advice is to use all the support around you as much as you can, trust people who are trying to help you, and be honest with them. Other people are probably better judges of what you need than you are right now, so let them guide you, and you WILL find a way out – it just takes time and a lot of perseverance. I’m not there yet either, but it does get easier!

Like me, Pippa has come out the other side of anorexia with a positive story to tell and the desire to use it to help others. Right now there are at least 1.6 million people directly affected by eating disorders in the UK alone – and this is widely believed to be an underestimate. Many of those suffering are struggling to get the help they so desperately need. This is true not just with eating disorders, but with mental illness as a whole – people so often feel that they are unable to reach out to their loved ones and ask for help.

It’s time to change the culture around mental health. Instead of allowing people to suffer in the dark let’s share our stories of hope and bring this issue into the light.

If you have stories to share please comment.

If you know anyone who is or might be suffering please refer to BEAT’s website for information on how they can get help and how you can support them.

Another incredible young woman who has shared her experiences very publicly is Maddy Austin, do watch her documentary below which looks at what services are available for those who need help.

Wasting Away: The Truth About Anorexia

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We need to talk about depression

On July 20th 2017 the music industry was again rocked by the suicide of one of its most prominent stars. Just under two months after the tragic suicide of his friend Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington – of Linkin Park fame – took his own life, having suffered with long-term depression.

It’s on occasions such as these that we’re reminded just what a devastating illness depression really is. For those of us that are lucky enough not to suffer with depression, it can be easy to forget the struggles that so many members of our society go through on a daily basis.

Up to one in five adults in the UK suffer with anxiety or depression, and rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70 per cent in the past 25 years. Whilst the severity of these illnesses may vary, these are troubling findings, especially considering the rates of self-harm and suicide that accompany these figures. According to the Office for National Statistics: “6,233 suicides of people aged 15 and over were registered in the UK in 2013, 252 more than in 2012 (a 4% increase)“. This increase has since continued, with suicide reaching a 20-year high in England and Wales in 2016.

Statistically, woman are more likely than men to develop disorders such as anxiety and depression, yet the suicide rate in men is significantly higher. Whilst recent years have seen an increase in suicide amongst British women, men still make up 75% of all suicides in the country. Most worrying of all, suicide is the most common cause of death among men aged 20-49 in the UK. Think about that for a moment. More 20-year-olds die from suicide than in car accidents, from cancer or from any other cause. In fact, approximately 25% of all deaths in men aged 20-34 in the UK are suicide.

What these figures suggest is that women are far more likely to seek help when it comes to mental health issues such as depression, whilst men may feel that talking about such matters is inherently “un-manly”. The biggest obstacle that a lot of men face is opening the initial dialogue with a doctor, friend, colleague or loved one. It has become so ingrained in our society that men are supposed to act in a certain way, and that particular feelings and emotions should be reserved for women, that men often feel they are unable to express how they truly feel. This likely also explains why men are more likely to turn to drink and illegal drugs than women are.

There is something else that we can take from this. Talking about depression works. It only works, however, if we all accept what depression is, and that it can affect anyone. It can be easy to dismiss certain people’s claims to have depression, especially if they earn more than you, or have a life you perceive to be better than your own. It’s important that we understand that money is not the cure for depression. Neither is fame or success. Robin Williams openly spoke about his battles with depression throughout his career and whilst he inspired many, there were those who questioned how a world-famous multi-millionaire could possibly be depressed. Those doubters were silenced in 2014 when he took his own life.

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Unfortunately, depression is so often mistaken for sadness that it is still ignored by many within our society. It’s not uncommon for individuals suffering with depression to be told to “cheer up” or “get over it”, although saying this is not unlike telling someone to un-break their arm or will the cancer from their body. Depression is an illness, and must be treated as such. Recognising depression for what it is, and talking about it properly can save lives. This has even been shown in the most extreme of cases, with suicide rates on British railways falling after the Samaritans trained rail workers in how to talk to vulnerable individuals that may be considering suicide.

Of course, much of the conversation is simply listening to a person who needs to talk about their feelings. According to Mind, the charity for better mental health: “the best things that friends and family can do is simply listen. They often don’t need to say anything, just being willing to listen to your problems makes you feel less alone and isolated. (…) Listen carefully, don’t judge, and most of all, don’t say “cheer up”. It’s just not that simple. Sometimes solutions are unnecessary, so don’t feel you have to provide one.”

This year’s annual World Health Day was focused on depression and suicide prevention. Using the hashtag #LetsTalk, it aimed to open up crucial dialogue regarding the illness and encouraged people suffering with depression to overcome their fear of prejudice and discrimination and to seek help. Another important aspect of the campaign was to raise general awareness, build understanding and reduce stigma of the illness, so as to create an environment in which people suffering with depression are able to talk openly about the condition. As more people within our society are introduced to the idea that depression is an illness, not an emotion or a choice, we stand a better chance of reducing the number of people going untreated, and the number of self-harm episodes and suicides.

The simple fact is, we need to talk about depression. All of us. We need to talk about it in our schools, in our homes and in the media. We need to create a better understanding of what depression is, what the symptoms are and how to deal with it. We need to dispel the myths surrounding the illness and break down any social conventions that prevent those affected from seeking the help they desperately need. We need to listen to our loved ones when they ask for help. Most of all, we need to create an environment in which depression has no stigma attached to it, and where those affected by it no longer feel so alone.

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If you are feeling depressed, you are not alone. Please visit the websites linked below, and make sure you talk to somebody today.

Mind – For Better Mental Health


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