Monday, 21 May 2018

Why eating disorder recovery scares me..

*potential trigger warning* mention of ED behaviours 
Please do not read if you are feeling particularly vulnerable, or if you feel like you need support following this post please see Beat's website ;

I have never been good at making decisions, or rather making decisions causes me so much stress and worry that I frequently try to avoid making decisions myself. The reason for this is because, due to being autistic, I find it very hard to predict the future or predict the impact or consequences of choices. I also struggle to identify my own emotions. In order to make a decision you must first be able to predict the consequences of each option, assign an emotional value to each option and then choose the option with the least negative consequences and greatest emotional value. I often cannot do this, and I become paralysed by choice.

But, in recent days I have started to become aware that although there may be multiple layers of choice in my current situation, the fundamental underpinning is simpler;

Do I recover, or do I continue to let my ED kill me?

I have been completely paralysed and unable to even consider this choice because my mind has been manipulated and corrupted by my illness. I had no way of stepping away from anorexia in order to look at this choice at the core of everything in my life at the moment.

It has been 7 years since I started to use food and exercise as a way of coping. Even times in which others would have considered me ‘well’ I still had a very unhealthy relationship with food. Each time I’ve exclaimed that I’m “committed to recovery” I have known in my heart anorexia would creep back in. And so, I must ask myself why I am so scared of recovering from my eating disorder. I have given this some thought and have arrived and a few ideas;

Firstly, from the very beginning my eating disorder has been about controlling my other illnesses and difficulties. There is no denying that through immersing myself in anorexia I can manage my anxiety, self-harm urges, suicidal urges, sensory processing difficulties, among other things, much more successfully. In a way I feel safer and more stable when controlling food and over-exercising.

I’m absolutely terrified that if I recover from my eating disorder the chaos of my other illnesses and difficulties will get too much. I won’t feel safe, and ultimately, I don’t trust the mental health system to keep me safe when I can’t keep myself safe.

Another barrier standing between recovery and I is the sense of achievement I get from counting calories and watching the numbers drop on the scales. I am good at starving myself. I am a competitive and high achieving person. I am a hardcore perfectionist. I get so much reward from setting myself goals and putting hard work and dedication into reaching those goals. This is how I have achieved everything else in my life. To choose to recover fells like giving up on those goals set by anorexia which in my disordered mind makes me a failure. Something which genuinely makes me feel nauseated to think about. But in thinking about this, wouldn’t failing at anorexia mean being successful at life? This concept may take me a while to get my head around because, as I mentioned previously, I have spent 7 years brainwashed by anorexia, and this issue plays into my own personality traits as well as my illness.

The third reason recovery scares me is down to identity. Who am I if I’m not anorexic, or the girl with mental illness? I became unwell during my teenage years, the years in which people are supposed to figure out who they are as people and explore their place in the world. My world revolved around the throws of mental illness, people worrying about me, hospital appointments, A+E, inpatient stays, medication, psychiatric diagnoses, etc. of course it was going to affect how I saw myself, and how I formed my identity. Even through the public speaking and campaigning I’m reinforcing that part of my identity.

To make this issue even more complex, growing up with undiagnosed autism meant I had to develop methods to hide and mask, part of this was to absorb personality traits and identities from other people. To this day, even with better self-awareness of my autism, I can almost completely change my personality depending on who I am with. I have never had the opportunity to truly develop my own sense of self, instead I inadvertently took my diagnoses as guidelines for who I am as a person. To actively move away from those diagnoses, I am effectively turning away from the only thing I have akin to identity.

Previous ‘recovery’ experience has also instilled a sense of fear around recovery for me, in previous ‘recovery’ attempts I have jumped straight from a very restricted and narrow diet to a full recovery or refeeding diet. As someone who struggles with change I’m not surprised anorexia clawed its way back in. The shock psychologically and physically was suffocating. Thinking about it makes my chest tighten and my heart race. The sudden changes in my physical appearance, the extreme hunger, bloating, water retention, all scare me. I have always done it on my own as well, because I have refused to let family and friends help in fear of being a burden, and because mental health services have never supported me appropriately. I cannot bare the thought of going through it again by myself. Each ‘recovery’ attempt has also seen me watch the number on the scale jump upwards, with each gain in kilograms there was a gain in self-hatred. Each ‘recovery’ attempt has resulted in anorexia returning with vengeance, each relapse has been increasingly extreme.  This has taught me that ‘recovery is futile’, and I find myself asking, “what is the point if I’m just going to get ill again?”. But as I look back I’m not sure I can say that these attempts were honest and committed recovery attempts.
The last thing I can think of that stands between recovery and I is the idea of ‘recovery as reward’. This ties into my point about setting goals and being a high achiever. I can hear anorexia informing me now that I can only recover when I reach x-kgs, or when I can see a certain bone, or when I can wrap my hands around my thighs. I continually chase permission to recover. Unfortunately, I seek that permission from the one thing that’ll never give it. Instead anorexia keeps moving the goal posts, once I reached x-kgs and wrapped my hands around my thigh, I wasn’t allowed to recover because the next goal had been set by anorexia. My feeble protests were met with the response “you’re not sick enough to recover” or even “there’s nothing wrong with you, how can you ‘recover’ if there’s nothing wrong”. I just keep limping to the next false finish line, I can’t seem to call foul play and stop chasing the goal posts.
I can recognise that in being able to identify some of the reasons why I have not yet committed fully to recovery from my eating disorder I am giving myself the awareness to begin to overcome these fears and ultimately recover. I have realised that I am doing what I often do when I need to make a decision; wait for something or someone else to make the decision for me. But maybe I need to accept that this is on me and me alone. Nothing or no one can make this decision for me. There won’t ever be a lightbulb moment that will suddenly thrust me onto the recovery path. I won’t ever reach anorexia’s goal posts, in fact I will die before I even come close to meeting anorexia’s demands.
I am not writing this as a ‘look at me making life altering decisions’ piece, this is simply me acknowledging a small but vital bit of learning.

Please seek help and information if you feel vulnerable after reading this, or if you are worried about your own or someone else's relationship with food. I recommend Beat's website;

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The ED, the psych ward, ramblings about life..

(I'm putting a potential Trigger Warning on this post. It is not written to be a trigger to others, but I have written honestly about my experiences which could be triggering to vulnerable people)

It has been a strange a troubling half a year for me. After starting college last September, still on a high from travelling around Canada for 6 weeks, it wasn't long before the presence of stress and anxiety lay their heavy burden on my mind. A feeling I am all too familiar with in hindsight, but in the moment, almost completely blind to. Instead my mind seeks to regain arbitrary control through other means; calories.
It always begins with the pills. The nagging voice in my head which says,
"you've taken them before, what harm is there? It's just about weight management", which quickly spirals into,
"If you don't take the pills your weight will sky rocket, and everything you've ever wanted will merely remain as dreams."
Diet pills, many of which are simply caffeine pills, are not and never will be a quick fix for weight loss or weight control. Some contain dangerous compounds which can cause heart problems, and other nasty side effects. The trouble is, diet pills purchased online or through unlicensed shops are not regulated, so it is impossible to tell which are dangerous and which are fairly harmless. Therefore, I highly recommend never even touching them.
My mind in a desperate attempt to grasp control will misdirect and manipulate me into firstly taking the pills, and then swiftly into a full relapse of the eating disorder. My life suddenly revolves around food; what I eat, when I eat, what I can/cannot eat, how much exercise I have to do to burn of the calories from the food I have eaten, what I will eat tomorrow, and the next day and the following week, what i have already eaten yesterday, the day before and the week before.
The 'high' which comes from feeling 'in control' creates a pattern of positive reinforcement, thus, perpetuating the disordered thinking resulting in the continuation of disordered behaviour. In the midst of sickening stress and anxiety, that temporary feeling if euphoria is like a glimmering ray of comfort and safety. Due to being on the Autism spectrum, the majority of my time is spent anxious, scared and uncomfortable, therefore it is only natural to gravitate to a feeling of safety and control.
Unfortunately, as the illness progresses and both physical and mental health nose dive, those moments of euphoria become less common and less pronounced. Depression, exhaustion, starvation, anxiety, anger, frustration and stress grow with vengeance, occupying every space and corner in my life. I helplessly chase the temporary high and feeling of safety by controlling calories further, only to be inadvertently fuelling the suffering.  This cycle accumulates to a point where it is no longer possible for me to function. This time, following a bit of a meltdown in the waiting room of the community mental health services, my nurse decided to pursue an admission to the local acute psychiatric ward. Although, not exactly what a person wants, it was what I needed  to get myself back on my feet.
Nearly 4 weeks spent in a psychiatric ward is, let's just say, an 'experience'. It is not like many think, there are no straight jackets, padded rooms, or people tied down to their beds. Modern psychiatry is more advanced than the media gives credit for. I met some interesting and entertaining characters, to say the least. Starting with the lady across the hall who believed I was the daughter of Saint Matthew. I took it as a compliment, as though I had some ethereal presence to me. Another patient would walk around and occasionally pop out his glass eye, place it in his pocket, and carry on as if nothing happened.  There was a tall man with a limp, who only came out of his room to ask for sandwiches. As a proud lover of eccentricity, and having been graced with an open mind, the psych ward presented me with many topics for thought.
Everything happened in extremes in the psychiatric ward, sadness and sorrow was felt and expressed in its entirety, anger and frustration was given full passion, happiness was felt to the point of delirium and compassion was dolled out by the bucket load. It could be both maddening and heartwarming all within a space of a few minutes. Myself, of course, included in this display of pure, unfiltered human emotion.  Having a full tantrum, in complete hysterics over an apple is not exactly what I'd call 'stable behaviour'. A psychiatric ward, in many ways, is one of the few places where people are unapologetically human, and there's something so magical and sacred to this phenomenon. Whatever diagnosis, these are people with illnesses in need of support. It is the only place in which I have witnessed authentic vulnerability.

I left the psych ward nearly four weeks later, having successfully managed to follow a meal plan and with somewhat more stability in my emotions. I left with the belongings, which had accumulated in my hospital room during my stay, and a head full of questions. Questions of simple logistics, like 'where the hell am I going to put all of this stuff?', to questions about my future, life and the fate of the universe. People familiar with me will be able to explain the extent to which I like to plan my life right down to fine detail, and my constant need to have answers to these rather complex, sometimes bordering on philosophical questions. Am i ever going to be able to study and keep a job? Every time I have attempted to do either of these things it has triggered a relapse. How am I supposed to function and do well in life if even the smallest amount of stress makes me ill? Stress is near impossible to avoid in this world, add on the fact that I am a neurodivergent in a world built for neurotypicals, the result; stress is simply going to be a norm in my life. How can I make a difference in this world if I'm going to be in a never ending cycle of becoming unwell and ending up in hospital? As hard as I try and engage with therapy, Autism is always going to part of who I am. That doesn't necessarily bother me, what bothers me is that everything from buying a newspaper at the local shop to having a successful career, a healthy relationship, and staying well is going to be at least ten  times harder. Don't get me wrong, I have the dedictaion, passion and pure willpower to achieve what I want to achieve. But knowing how hard its going to be causes a lump dread to creep into my mind.
Will I end up like the majority of people, on my death bed wishing I did more, seized more opportunities, helped more people, took more time for myself? Am I just naive in wanting to make the world a better place somewhow?
Are human beings inevitably selfish and willingly ignorant? If yes, is that how it has always and will always be? In a capitalist world can you ever really have equality? If people choose to be 'blissfully ignorant', how do you ever make a difference? Is it all really worth it? Does anyone else think about these things?
What is the purpose of life itself? I think it might be a sign that I truly do have a few loose connections if I can dare to even ask, let alone tackle that question. You could approach that question from a pure scientific point of view; the purpose of life is to survive long enough to reproduce, pass on genetic material ensuring the survival of the species. But psychologically, I don't think humans could accept this answer. It could, as Douglas Adams' novels suggest, be that the answer to life is something so mundane as '42'. Again, I don't think humans could accept this answer.
I have recently discovered that alcohol seems to awaken my inner philosopher. In amongst fits of giggles and passionate speeches on how much I love food, I seem to write down bizarrely profound (to me, anyway) thoughts in my notebook. One quote particularly stands out to me;
"I suppose that's it, isn't it? Life in it's very essence is messy and unpredictable. And maybe that's how it should be"
I have no idea what triggered this realisation, nor do I know why I decided to write it down. But it has made realise, I will probably never get answers to my infinite questions. Would life be what it is if we got told everything beforehand? If when you are born your parents are handed a birth certificate and a detailed timeline depicting the events which will occur in their child's life, I'm not sure there would be a point to being human.
Someone recently told me that they thought it was brave of me to not hide/cover up my self harm scars. My instant response, in a drunken haze (we were at a food and drink festival...I'm not an alcoholic, I swear), in hindsight was another breakthrough moment for me. My scars are part of me, they are ugly and don't fit societies approval most of the time, but they are a part of my story. I never planned on having scars, they are wrapped in life's mess and unpredictability. None of the other patients on psych ward would say they had planned to end up there, but I hope someday in the future that they can accept that it was part of their story, something which has  contributed to who they are as people.
My need for control partly stems from a fear of not achieving everything I want to achieve and not being the best person I can be. I guess that is also where the constant questioning comes from as well, questions act as cross examinations to test whether I am where I feel I need to be in life. It also may be part of learning how to live a life with the constant nagging of chronic illness and disability. I can keep asking my questions, but I think I will try harder to embrace in the complete lack of answers and ambiguity which life throws at me in return.
I started this post (I will stop rambling soon, I promise) by saying,
"It has been a strange and troubling half a year for me."
I think I would like to rectify the that to,
"It has been a strangely unpredictable and increasingly messy half a year for me. And I have learnt some new lessons."

(I have only just realised how INFJ this post is....I'm referring to the Myers-Briggs personality type testing)

Friday, 7 July 2017

This is an apology....

As some may notice, I haven't written a blog post in about a year. There is good reason for this: I started college last September to make up for missing qualifications due to being unable to attend school full time. This in itself took up a lot of my time, thus giving me little to no time to write. But also, unfortunately, the stress of attending college triggered a relapse of my eating disorder. I required hospitalisation  for the majority of May because my mental illness and physical health spiralled quickly to crisis point.
I am dedicating this post to my body. In the past few weeks/months, I have acquired a overwhelming appreciation for my body, and the things it does for me. I feel the need to publicly apologise to my body for the mistreatment and hate it has had to endure over the years. These wrong doings are my own actions, and mine alone. I Failed to recognise the amazing things my body does simply to keep me alive. The intricate details of keeping my heart beating, my cells respiring and my neurones firing. The pure will power and effort to maintain all of this went unnoticed and unappreciated by myself, and instead I responded with hateful actions.
I understand that the actions I took were not of my own but instead due to illness which plagued my mind and altered my perception of myself and the world around me. But, I still want to apologise for the way I have treated you, body. You have done nothing but give and work to keep me alive. I am humbled by your dedication to me despite getting nothing but shame, hate and mistreatment in return.
I have scars, lumps, bumps, cellutite, spots, bruises, fat and imperfections of all sorts and varieties, and for a very long time I have felt shame because of this. This shame clouded my ability to understand how amazing you are, body. I can hike mountains, climb challenging routes on the climbing wall, go horse riding, run 10k with ease, participate in yoga practices, travel the world, stand up on stages and speak to audiences, and go about my daily routine. None of this would be possible without my body enabling me. How my body looks to me and to others is of no importance now that I realise and appreciate how hard my body works to enable me to do these things.
From now on, body, I will seek to nourish you properly, I will aim to make you strong instead of trying to get you to fit my own and society's idea of beauty, and I promise to listen to your calls for rest. I also forgive myself for my actions of hate and shame, I don't have room for regret in my mind. Those actions where from illness and not of choice, therefore I cannot justify further worry or guilt over them.
The future seems much brighter now that I am choosing to work with my body, and not against it. The present is a lot less distressing now I have understood my body for what it is. The past is behind me, I have learnt new lessons and I can turn a new page in my story now.

Monday, 29 August 2016

So I did it!

Looking out over St. John's 
So I did it! I managed to not only survive, but to experience and enjoy travelling to it's full extent (low points included).

To many travelling around Canada for roughly 6 weeks might seem like no big deal, just an extended summer holiday. But for someone like me it is a momentus achievement. If you'd have asked me even a year ago of it was possible for me to do something like this I would have said no.

When I say 'someone like me' I am referring to someone who on a daily basis faces barriers, someone who consistenly has to fight to keep their head above water. Someone that finds the external world confusing and sometimes terrifying. Someone with Autism and Mental health problems.

In the weeks leading up to departure I could feel the Anxiety whipping up a storm. Already the idea of a lack of routine for 6 weeks was affecting me both mentally and physically. As we were making final plans a deep feeling of dread and uncertainty was rushing through me veins. Excitement and the need for adventure were also thrown into the emotional cocktail, leading to an overall confusing and overwhelming mixture.

Having made it to Gatwick and flown to Toronto airport I suddenly found myself with my head in a toilet bowl watching my stomach contents spill out of me like a fountain. I was told I wasn't allowed to fly to our final destination, Vancouver, and so myself  and my friend spent the night trying to sleep on the airport floor. It makes a good story, but at the time I was trying to figure out why I had fallen so ill, was it food poisoning? Had I eaten something I was allergic to? Was it a stomach bug?-it is only now, nearly a month later, that I'm realising it was probably Anxiety.

Staying in hostels was interesting to say the least. I am not someone who can handle close proximity to other people. People I know well, like family and friends, then it's fine - strangers are another matter. Having said that, I felt I dealt with the hostels in Vancouver, Jasper and Quebec city with some grace and patience. The hostel in Montreal may have been weak point. Being a light sleeper would be an understatement for me, so when we were in a dorm with a lady that snored louder than a horse with a cold I may have lost my temper. I removed myself from the situation before I blew my top, but staying in the hostel was no longer an option. Luckily, I had stored some emergency money away and I used it to book a hotel room for myself and my friend for the remainder of our time in Montreal.

There was sleepless nights (thank the pharmaceutical industry for Zopiclone!), lack of an eating routine, stress, anxiety, generally feeling unwell a lot of the time and a few times I just wanted to fly home. You may ask why I would put myself through all of that, or was it even worth it. And in truth, it was difficult, but my god it was worth it. All of the negative things I experienced were nothing to the places I saw, the beautiful scenery, the great stories and adventures, the interesting  people I met, the magnificent creatures I witnessed and the sheer achievement of knocking down those barriers and proving my doubts and Anxiety wrong.

I am so proud of myself, especially looking back on where I started. Almost exactly three years before we flew out I was discharged from the Psychiatric unit. In those three years I have achieved more than I ever thought possible, from creating the S4C and ITV programme with the team down in Cardiff, speaking at events of all shapes and sizes, becoming a trustee of an amazing charity, to learning how to look after myself and manage my mental health problems.

I am not prepared to allow the challenges I face to stop me from doing the things I want to do. I am willing to put the work and effort into overcoming the barriers which potentially could disable me. I also have the patience and endurance to survive the more difficult times. After being so unwell, having been incapable of looking after myself, having not been able to see how truly beautiful this world is  and having contemplated mortality from the darkest of corners, I am more aware than ever that I only get one life - I am not going to let those demons which once controlled me to ruin or take my life away from me. And I hope that I can prove to anyone who faces difficulties, whether it be Autism related, mental health problems, or even just day to day issues, that firstly with hard work, perseverance, bravery and some grit you can overcome any barrier you face. And secondly, things can and do get better.

It's onwards and upwards for myself, the next challenge is completing a year long college course. And of course, I will be doing a few campaigning bits and bobs in between, including speaking at a reception in the House of Lords in October 😄

Elk calf in Banff national park
Orca whales off the coast of Vancouver 

The view fro the top of Sulphur mountain in Banff national park

Looking out from the boulevard in old town Quebec city

Niagara falls


Friday, 20 May 2016

Counting sheep doesn't work....

Even the Dalai Lama once said "Sleep is the best meditation". On Maslow's Hierachy of Needs Sleep is at the bottom of the triangle, the most important layer for a persons well-being. I'm pretty sure that if there was such thing as a sleep God, all teenagers would dedicate their adolescence to worshipping this being. A good nights sleep can make us all better people, a bad nights sleep has the potential to turn us into grouchy,  resentful, unproductive zombies.

I think we can all agree that sleep is a powerful force, and one that we would most certainly die without. But what happens when sleep eludes us? 

I suppose I first started having problems with sleep from birth. Although I don't remember it myself, I do remember my parents recounting on several occasions that I spent the first 12-18 months of my life crying non-stop. And despite their desperate attempts to get me to sleep, they would still spend their nights and days walking up and down the hallway cradling me as I screamed and cried my tiny eyes out. My sleep problem became their sleep problem. And that is how it is for many parents of children with Autism and various other neurodevelopmental conditions. I cannot speak for carers, but I can speak for myself as someone with a neurodevelopmental condition. Both of us alike have felt the effects of sleep deprivation, carers, because they have the undying need and wish to protect, look after and support their child, and me, because my brain isn't quite the same as other people's. 

There could be thousands of reasons as to why sleep doesn't come so naturally to me. It may be, in part, genetics. It could be biochemical differences in my body. But I do know that most of the time I can't sleep because I can't stop thinking. My brain seems to have trouble switching itself off. 

I am a very visual thinker, I have a vast imagination and the majority of what happens in my life is actually inside my head. So I could be lying in bed, waiting for the warmth of sleep to arrive, but it never does because my brain is still going a million miles an hour. I could be sucked into a philosophical debate, or imagining how I would cope in an apocalypse. Or I might think of something which would be a really good written piece, or think of a really cool thing to paint, and then, of course, I have to get out of bed and write it/paint it before I forget.

Sometimes I can't sleep because of Anxiety. Anxiety is something that I have accepted as a part of my day to day life. Most of the time now I can get past it, however it does still have the ability to disable me from time to time, especially when it comes to sleep. I could spend hours lying in bed replaying an awkward social exchange which happened that day, or de constructing a social situation where I messed up. Or I could be anxious about a social exchange happening the following day and run through every scenario in my head to prepare myself for every situation which could arise. I could be practising dialogues, and conversation structures to make sure I am ready. I might not be able to sleep because there is something happening the following day which is triggering high levels of anxiety, and so I send hours on end worrying about it. 

Sleep deprivation can be a dangerous thing. For me, being sleep deprived exasperates the original cause of not being able to sleep, and so I get stuck in a downward spiral. Lack of sleep is a major trigger for a worsening of my mental health, and can lead to a full blown relapse. I can't function without a healthy amount of sleep. After years of struggling with sleep problems I have slowly built some strategies to help. 

The first and most important strategy to get a good nights sleep, for me, is Routine. I have a bedtime for myself, which I do resent slightly because I am not a child, but it's something which I have to commit to for my own health and well-being. The second trick I use is when I find myself unable to stop thinking, I write down what I am thinking about in a note pad next to my bed and tell myself that I can think about it in the morning. I do the same with Anxieties and worries (it's not fool proof and doesn't work all of the time, but it does work sometimes). The third strategy is Mindfulness, I simply do a 'full body scan'. A mindfulness exercise where you focus entirely on your body and how it feels, starting with your feet and working upwards to the top f your head. This helps to ground me, and bring me out of my head and into the room. I also make sure I don't have caffeine after 4:30, and if all else fails, if I haven't slept very well for 2 nights in a row, on the third day I take sleep medication to knock myself back into rhythm. 

Sleep disorders are common among people with neurodevelopmental conditions, like Autism. Suffering with sleep deprivation is an all too common problem for people with these conditions and their carers.  The Cerebra Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at Birmingham University are conducting research into sleep disorders. Myself and my parents are raising money for the research by walking up Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons, at night.  Please Donate by going to our Justgiving Page

Potentially, through research, sleep deprivation and sleep disorders may not need to be such a huge, and disruptive part of carer's and the people they care for's lives in the future.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Being a woman with Autism....

I don't fit any stereotypes, I am not the non-verbal low functioning boy that rocks back and forth in the corner of the room. In fact the majority of people with Autism don't fit that stereotype. I wasn't 'naughty', I reached most of my developmental milestones and I can look at you in the eyes. I am not a genius or prodigy either, I am intelligent, I am academically able, I do have the ability to obsess over things until I am very knowledgeable or able in that particular field, but I am not the next Einstein or Mozart.

Autism is a spectrum condition in which someone can be anywhere along it. Each person will have a different combination of symptoms at differing levels of severity. Each person with Autism is different to the next person with Autism. You may ask why it is important for everyone to understand this fact? It is important because at the moment, despite the fact that many people in society have heard of Autism, people with Autism are affected by these stereotypes and misunderstandings which can be detrimental to  a persons well-being and abilities to function. For example, employers may not hire someone who is autistic because they have prejudged this person by their diagnosis.

Another thing that many people do not realise about Autism is that girls can have it as well as boys, not only that, but Autism affects girls differently to boys. I was 15 years old when I got my diagnosis, but it was at the age of 6 that I actually realised I was different. I noticed that my peers could see and interpret a world that I couldn't comprehend. I noticed that my world was brighter, louder, and over all more overwhelming compared to the world my peers lived in. At 6 years old I felt the intense vulnerability that came along with being different, I felt this uncomfortable feeling of being exposed. I wasn't one for sitting back and not doing anything about it, so I decided to learn to be 'normal'. Of course being Autistic meant that I didn't feel the need to involve any other people in my plan or how I was feeling, not even my family.

So over the years I went through the process of watching other people communicate, how they used their hands, facial expressions, the words they used etc, practising what I had observed, and then incorporating it in my bank of diagrams and flow charts in my head to navigate socialising. It wasn't until I fell ill and my psychiatrist noticed I was on the spectrum at the age of 15 that I was diagnosed.

Apparently, many women and girls with Autism take the same approach and from an early age 'mask' their difficulties. You may think 'what an ingenious way of overcoming the difficulties Autism can cause', which in some ways it is an incredibly effective way of coping. But it also means that many women don't get a diagnosis until they become severely affected other problems like mental illness.

I fell ill when I was 14 years old with Depression and Anxiety, and very quickly became so unwell I developed an Eating disorder and psychosis on top of that. I had to live in a psychiatric hospital for 4 months and I have been in mental health services for over 4 years now. The main reason for my illness was that the task of maintaining my 'mask', trying to appear 'normal' to the outside world was so exhausting and mentally draining that my brain couldn't function any longer.

Being a woman with Autism means that I am misunderstood frequently, it means that people don't understand the difficulties I face everyday because I appear 'normal' on the outside, it meant that lack of knowledge and understanding of Autism in girls prevented me from getting a diagnosis at an early age and getting the right support from an early age which could have prevented mental illness. Being a woman with Autism means that when things do go wrong and I struggle people can't comprehend why because to their knowledge I am 'normal' and am perfectly capable of functioning in the same way as them. Being a woman with Autism means that I am frequently told by people, both professionals and non professionals, that I couldn't possibly be Autistic because I'm 'not weird enough'.

The world to me feels a bit like being dumped in the middle of a vast lake and not knowing how to swim. The majority of my time is spent trying trying to keep my head above water, and avoiding the strong currents of mental illness. I find socialising terrifying, confusing and complicated. My life is spent trying to understand things that neurotypical people don't even batter an eyelid to.

I am not ashamed to be Autistic, and I am not ashamed to be a woman. If I set my mind to something you can be assured that not only will I get it done, but it will be done at the best quality I can possibly achieve, I have high standards, and I work hard. When I get interested in something I will get so knowledgeable and able in whatever it is that I could probably get mistaken for a professional. I am reliable, I am truthful, and I am organised. Being Autistic in a society built for neurotypical people is not easy and can cause lots of problems, but being Autistic in itself can prove to be a gift.  

If people simply understood that just because I appear to be 'normal' and able to cope doesn't actually mean that it is true. If people were aware that autism is different for girls compared to boys then maybe less girls will have to grow up feeling like a failure and a freak. If people knew that each person with Autism is an individual then maybe some of the harmful stereotypes could be vanquished.

Please show your support for Autism Awareness day (the 2nd of April) and learn one fact about Autism.
What is Autism?

Monday, 22 February 2016

Living with Eating Disorders

Eating Disorder Awareness week is upon us, and like many other mental illnesses eating disorders are cloaked by a thick mist of myths, misconceptions and stereotypes.

I developed disordered eating when I was 14, after falling ill with Depression and Anxiety. Unfortunately, I lost control  and went on to develop a full blown eating disorder, which quickly took over my life. It wasn't picked up by many people, and so it went untreated whilst I received treatment for Depression and Anxiety. I was admitted to a psychiatric unit when I started developing the early stages of Psychosis at the age of 16. It wasn't until I was discharged from hospital that my eating took a turn for the worst.

I became completely obsessed with calories, how many calories I ate, how many calories I burnt off, how many calories different foods contained, the net number of calories I had everyday... etc. I believed that eating anything would instantly make me fat, and I viewed calories like poison. At my worst I believed people were trying to sneak calories into my food, so I only ate food I made myself. I would make myself sick to expel calories from my body.

I over-exercised because I feared that the small amount of food I did eat would cause me to pack on pounds of fat. I probably spent more time in the school gym than in lessons during that time. I would wait until my family were asleep and then exercise until early hours of the morning.

During that time I also discovered Diet pills. To begin with I bought a packet of one variety, but after a while I bought more, and I bought other types. At any one time I was taking on average about 5 different types of diet pills. Most of which where un-supervised and didn't come under any regulatory boards. But that didn't matter to me, because all I cared about was the words 'weight loss' written in large writing across the packets. I later found out that the pills were mostly caffeine, I calculated that I was consuming an estimated 9 grams of pure caffeine, the equivalent of 45 cups of strong coffee a day.

Obviously I couldn't maintain those behaviours, my body couldn't cope with lack of food, exhaustion, and ridiculous quantities of caffeine. My hair was falling out, my nails cracked and turned yellow, I had symptoms of caffeine overdose, like  dizziness, chest pains, fast/irregular heart beat, uncontrollable muscle movements, hallucinations, and confusion. I was constantly freezing cold, my hands and feet were blue, I was constantly dizzy and tired. I collapsed on my bathroom floor one day.

When I woke I realised that I was slowly killing myself, I had lost control and if I didn't start fighting I would end up in hospital with a tube up my nose feeding me 3000 calories in liquid form. I have been in recovery from that moment onwards.

I did not choose to have an eating disorder, I did not choose to fear food and fat. Eating disorders are illnesses not choices, and the science backs that up.

Eating disorders are not fad diets that people participate in when they feel a little self concious, they are serious, life threatening illnesses.

Neither are eating disorders a fashion trend for western women, eating disorders don't discriminate and are not pretty, or fashionable. In fact, I looked absolutely awful during the time I suffered, I genuinely looked like a zombie.

Men get Eating Disorders too, in fact, eating disorder charity Beat estimates that 15-20% of people with eating disorders are men.

Eating Disorders are not just about having a low body weight. A low body weight is just a side effect of one type of eating disorder. A lot of people with eating disorders have what's considered a healthy body weight, some have a body weight above what's considered healthy, but still suffer a considerable amount with this terrible type of mental illness.

Recovery is not simply about eating more. Recovery is about tackling the underlying beliefs and disordered thinking behind the behaviours, recovery is about fighting everyday against something with so much power that it has kept you a prisoner for however long. Recovery is a journey, and in my opinion, does not necessarily mean getting rid of those thoughts and feelings, it's about learning to take control and not letting the thoughts and feelings ruin your life.

I did not choose to fall ill with Anorexia Nervosa, but I did choose to recover. I worked hard and I kept tacking steps forward, no matter how small. I had relapses and I felt like giving up most of the time, but I kept going. Over time I gained the control, over time I grew stronger.

I am now able to enjoy the foods I love, I am able to enjoy family meals, I am physically healthy and I can participate in the things I love doing like Campaigning, writing and outdoor activities. I do still get the thoughts, and when difficult things happen those feelings creep back, but I have the skills to stop my eating disorder in it's tracks, I have the control and I have no intention on giving it back to my eating disorder.

For more information on eating disorders check out Beat's website;