Category Archives: Welfare
Sixteen year-old white girl. Long blonde hair. Thigh gap, skips meals. Runway model.
That’s what you imagine when you think ‘eating disorder’, right? Tragic beauty. Trivial and vain.
No. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, stereotypes are dangerous. The image of the ‘beautiful white girl’ is wrong. I accessed support alongside people whom you wouldn’t have expected.
Teenage boys trapped in the half-life of an eating disorder. I had a friend who had been struggling with anorexia for years but until it got to the point of threatening his life, his doctors and family refused to face up to the truth of what was wrong. He was cripplingly weak but couldn’t miss a gym session for the body-wracking guilt, but he was ‘just getting fit’, right? Pre-pubescent girls. There are 11 and 12-year olds who have had inpatient treatment, or whose families are so concerned with the self-destructive thought patterns of their primary school-age children that they’re seeking help. 50-year-old women who had tried to juggle raising a family with ingrained habits of binging, purging or restricting.
Stereotypes get in the way of people getting help. It’s easier to be in denial yourself if everyone around you is as well, such as if you’re male, of an ethnic minority or an age considered inappropriate for an eating disorder. Eating Disorders Awareness Week this year is about early intervention, and to make any progress in that area we need to eliminate stigma and remember that eating disorders aren’t about age, gender etc,: they are mental illnesses, and unlike people, mental illnesses don’t discriminate.
They also don’t make you less of a strong person- I was bought up in a family that believed in the mantra, ‘Pain is just weakness leaving the body.’ Suffering from a restrictive disorder was good at making me feel in control and strong- until I admitted to myself that I needed help. It took me a long time to accept help- about 8 months of a continued downward spiral. Then one day I realised that it wasn’t normal to walk 6 miles every morning before school to throw my advent calendar chocolate into a specific bin so I could get my exercise in as well as disposing of the ‘unnecessary’ calories. It wasn’t normal to exercise for four hours on Christmas day despite being so weak I technically should have been wheelchair-bound. It wasn’t normal to have weekly doctors’ appointments to check that my heart wasn’t about to give out. It wasn’t normal to physically shrink in height because of loss of bone density. It wasn’t normal to cry if my mother made me eat an extra half-portion of carbs. Admitting you need help is so hard to do, especially when your mind is screaming at you that you’re okay- but once you accept it there will be people there to help and support you.
So what are the signs of eating disorders?
Image credit to b-eat.com
Lips: Food starts to take over your thoughts, making it difficult to concentrate. Perhaps calorie-counting obsessively, feeling anxiety over social situations where there may be food, restricting food to a greater extent than dieting, buying and secretly eating large amounts of food, describing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
Flips: Becoming more socially isolated, perhaps acting distant around situations involving food or diet talk, becoming uninterested in previous hobbies, mood shifts, feeling inadequate
Hips: Making comments on how ‘fat’, ‘chubby’, ‘disgusting’ they are and how much they’ve eaten after a normal/ small amount of food, obsessive weighing or measuring of body parts, ‘body checking’, body dysmorphia- seeing your body as out of proportion with reality
Kips: Difficulty concentrating on anything but food, excessive tiredness, dizzy spells
Nips: Perhaps disappearing after meals to purge with laxatives or by making themselves sick, or needing a distraction after a meal to avoid feelings of guilt
Skips: Compulsive overexercise can be a serious problem with effects of damaging bone structure etc. particularly in conjunction with eating issues. Feeling guilt after missing a workout, feeling compulsions to walk excessive distances or complete excessive exercise everyday.
Remember anorexia isn’t the only eating disorder: bulimia, binge-eating disorder and EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Officially Specified) are all medical disorders and deserve treatment too.
For more information on symptoms, as well as how to get help visit:
Aside from clinical lists of symptoms, trust your instincts. If you’re worried about someone, speak to them or someone close to them – it’s better to be safe than sorry! If my friends had trusted their instincts, even though it would have been scary to breach the subject, I wouldn’t have had to get to such a critical point before getting significant medical help.
Recovery is Possible
So once you or a friend are receiving help for an eating disorder, one big question is: Does it all just magically go away now? That was certainly what I was thinking; how can the eating-disorder voice that is practically taking over my identity just be- killed off? Surely I would lose everything I was?
But, three years after beginning my recovery journey from late-stage anorexia, I realise that my eating disorder was not everything I was. Recovery has made me who I am today, yes: fighting against yourself 24/7 will do that to you. It’s made me stronger: I’m not saying I don’t ever relapse because I definitely do, but I can recognise a relapse almost immediately and get myself into a position to combat that. I’m not saying all the thoughts have gone away, that I don’t ever want to compulsively overexercise or purge or fast, but the thoughts aren’t there all the time. Some days they’re stronger than others but some days I don’t hear them at all.
I’m weight restored now and I’m 95% recovered, I have my fertility back, I don’t have to go for constant weigh-ins and bone density scans and face threats of hospitalisation every week. Sometimes it’s so hard and I still need help- it’s a mistake to assume that weight restoration and ‘normal’ eating means full recovery- but recovery is very possible and so worth it. I made it to university where I have a lot of wonderful friends and I can go out for nice meals and dates. I proved wrong all the doctors who told me I would be dead by 17. If you’re reading this and you recognise anything that’s been said here in you, please try and reach out for help. It’s difficult, especially with the stigma but f**k, it’s so much better than living in the half-life of an eating disorder.
“There are some days when the numbers take over and there are some days where the greed screams. But there are other days when happiness prevails and those days are sure as hell worth living for.”
To finish, here’s a bit of a prose poem I wrote back in 2015 regarding ED recovery:
(Sorry, us English students are the worst!)
My current convalescence rubbed salt water in my eyes. The pain is sharper than the bones I once longed to expose as I recoil from where the tide has bought me clarity. The darkness that was obscuring my vision now gone, I see the irony dance to life in front of my eyes. The water has extinguished the fire that chased me to the edge, and yet now I feel heat for the first time in years. And now the water is helping me see, the thoughts that led to my dissolution are dissolving themselves until they are nothing more than a bitter aftertaste. And the numbers that define me get bigger as my world expands, and words come pouring out of my hands like the streams that waterfalled from my eyes. The fire that held me prisoner now gone, and yet the stars are shining so much brighter.
And I thought that self-control made me strong, but in my convalescence I’m so much more a fighter.
By Louise Tilly- (remember I’m always happy to talk in more depth about any of this!)
I feel like it’s very hard to fully understand what a mental health disorder is until you experience one yourself. When people hear about depression, they just it means you’re ‘sad’ or ‘feeling low’. This trivial definition has been used more recently as, ironically, the number of people suffering from mental health disorders has increased.
I think this is one of the reasons why depression and other mental health disorders are passed off as ‘less significant’ or something that ‘everyone feels’. For me, and the other 300 million people who suffer, having depression is so much more than just feeling a bit down.
It’s been three years since I was first diagnosed with depression, but it took almost 2 years for that to happen because I refused to accept that I was struggling, and I refused help. And up until now, I’d still only told 8 people.
Why? I felt like I had done something wrong, like I was weak. I felt as though everyone around me was so strong and happy and, because I wasn’t, I had failed. I felt like I would be a burden to my family and my friends if they knew I was struggling. I felt I would be judged if I told people; treated differently because of it.
I was so used to putting on a blank face, so that I could avoid people asking me if I was okay, that I became worried that, if I did then tell people, they wouldn’t believe me. And, of course, if I told people, it would mean I had to accept it was really happening to me. By telling as few people as possible, I hoped that the whole thing would just blow over. I could avoid answering questions and giving explanations. I wanted no reminder that I had a problem.
These thoughts have stayed with me but aren’t quite as strong as they were around the time when I was diagnosed. Sharing my experience is a big step for me, but the right one. I hope that hearing my story will make people see mental health disorders in a different light. There are so many people who are hiding that they are suffering, and this whole experience has taught me how important it is to look after others around you because you never will completely know what they are going through.
In my worst years before and after being diagnosed, people would tell me to ‘cheer up’ or ‘stop being such a downer’. I felt guilty about the way I was feeling and this only made things worse. I hated myself and I hated the way I was feeling. I felt so alone, as though the person I love the most has passed away.
I felt the sadness and grief that accompanies death. I cried like I would never see that person again. I felt guilty like I’d not shown them how much they meant to me. I felt anxious like I’d have to face the world alone without them. I felt like I could no longer enjoy the things I used to without them by my side. I felt like giving up without them there. I got frustrated and angry at the world because life was unfair. And I avoided people to avoid the reminder of my loss.
But it’s only years later that I can see that this person who I was grieving for was me. I’d lost the me who people loved, who I was proud to be.
Before I was diagnosed I found it was easy to suffer in silence. With symptoms that can quickly be dismissed as ‘having a bad day’, I was able to slip through for longer than I should have. Although the symptoms are there, it’s very easy to hide them because they’re not physical. It was harder to tell something was wrong. I needed a coping mechanism given I was going through this alone; a way to distract myself.
My way of coping was through excessive exercise and eating little. It felt so much easier to not be noticed and I felt this way of coping was the only way of achieving that. A big part of my depression was never feeling like I was good enough. I felt constantly compared to everyone and constantly a disappointment. This helped to turn my coping mechanism into the start of an eating disorder.
Not only did the depression stop me from doing the things I loved, but my opinions of my body and how I looked made things worse. I could not socialise without the fear of people looking at me, and without my assuming what they were thinking. My life was controlled by food and I was too caught up on my negative mindset to think about what was happening.
Needless to say, both depression and an eating disorder had drastic changes on my behaviour. I would cry or get angry for no reason, or over the most minor, insignificant things that seemed so major to me. I would isolate myself because I had no energy to deal with people and their questions. I hated seeing my friends and family because they would always be so happy without me – even more of a reminder of how useless I was.
Being in crowds of people made me so anxious that I would refuse to leave the house. People’s opinions scared me to the point that I couldn’t cope being around anyone. I couldn’t hear a laugh without thinking it was a laugh at me, or hear a whisper without thinking I was the subject of it. I felt so far from normal, so stupid. Everything was wrong with me and everyone else was perfect.
And I felt like I deserved it. I felt as though everything I did was wrong, and it was always my fault. I couldn’t remember what happy felt like. Looking back on the worst days, before and just after I was diagnosed, it is clear what a strong effect negative cognitive bias had on me – my brain ignored anything good that happened and only remembered the bad things.
After 2 years of my mood deteriorating, and my health following close behind it, I was forced to get help. With the mental characteristics of depression being harder to detect, it was only when the physical signs started to show that people began asking questions. The memory of my sitting in the waiting room is so vivid, and seeking help was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.
I felt like it was too late and that I had already given up. I felt like it would be too difficult to make any sort of progress towards a normal life again. But I was wrong. Yes, it has been hard, and yes, I still have many days which are as bad as they were 3 years ago, but compared to then I have come a long way. Recovery is a frustrating and difficult process but it is 100% worth it.
I was able to come to university and meet some incredible people. I’ve been able to experience and achieve things I never thought I would. And, most importantly, I have hope for the future again. I’m still learning though – I’m discovering my trigger points and understanding what causes my issues to flare up. And I want people to learn from my mistakes too: talk about how you’re feeling, accept help, and don’t be ashamed if you feel like you’re struggling.
I have three tips which always help to make me feel better when I’m having a bad day:
- Get some fresh air. Go outside, have a walk, and let your mind wonder.
- Have some zone-alone time. Have a 15-minute zone out on your own. Put some music on and shut your eyes for a bit.
- Write down your thoughts. This will bring you some perspective, help you organize your thoughts, and clear your head.
For those interested, there is a short video on depression by TED: https://youtu.be/z-IR48Mb3W0?list=LLs4WnxFQRUx5Ze59XEMmmvA.
And for more information about mental health disorders, guidance, and support, Mind is an excellent charity: http://www.mind.org.uk.
SEXUAL HEALTH – it’s SHAG WEEK
It’s SHAG week and in case you didn’t know, that means Sexual Health and Guidance week. Be sure to look out for additional information around college and go along to the C-card sign up as well as our SHAG themed formal which is taking place this Friday 3rd February. Also, remember that you can pick up condoms, dental dams, lube and other supplies from the Welfare drop-in sessions (these are posted on the Facebook page).
Sexually transmitted diseases are very common and it is important to be clued up about how you can prevent getting them as well as what to do if you think you might have one. Sexual health tests and treatments are free on the NHS and there is a nearby clinic that offers these services.
50% of men and 70% of women don’t develop symptoms when they have chlamydia. Going for a test is simple and entirely confidential (unless you or someone else is in danger). It is a very contagious disease and can be carried from someone who has it to their sexual partner, especially when a condom isn’t used.
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are the two most common STIs in the UK and are both treatable if detected, though gonorrhoea is getting increasingly difficult to treat. If they go undetected, they can have knock on effects for sexual health in later life and they usually won’t resolve themselves. It’s always worth getting tested if you’re worried.
Sexual health can also be related to wellbeing and enjoyment. It is always your decision whether you want to have sex…consent is everything and you should never feel pressured to do something that you don’t want to do. It’s also a good idea to talk to your partner about any sexual health history that they might have to further reduce the risk of you contracting an STI.
Under the laws in the UK, you cannot give consent for sex if you are drunk. Being drunk is also not counted as a defence if you do have sex with someone. So always make sure that you are both happy to do it.
Make the most of SHAG week and try to find out as much as you can about sexual health. As ever, we offer confidential support if you ever have any worries or concerns so don’t be afraid to drop in to see us.
Eight out of 10 students (78%) say they experienced mental health issues in the last year, according to a survey by the National Union of Students(NUS), so chances are you will know someone who is suffering.
Whether it’s just an acquaintance or your best friend, it’s always difficult to know how to approach them, and this can start to affect your own mental health.
The most important step is communication. Sometimes it’s easy to assume that talking to a friend about concerns over their mental health will make the situation worse, but they’re probably desperate to talk to you about how they’re feeling. Starting the first conversation can be hard, but approaching them in an open and non-judgemental way will show them you’re there to listen and means they’ll be more likely to open up to you. Regardless of how the conversation goes, it’s important to be honest and let them know that whatever happens you’re there for them.
There are also many avenues of help you can suggest to your friend if they want it, both in college and the university:
- Welfare are always available to talk to and offer advice, whether your friend visits themselves or you go on their behalf. They have drop-in hours on most days of the week, and a new online service
- You can also talk to Eleanor (Assistant Senior Tutor) in her open hours, or arrange a meeting by dropping her an email
- The university has a free counselling service which all students can use by going to drop in hours or sending them an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There are also some great resources on the Uni website, such as this flow chart which gives an idea of what steps to take if you’re concerned about a friend’s mental health:
If you’re worried about going behind your friend’s back if you decide to talk to someone on their behalf, don’t be. You don’t need to mention their name, and the college support systems are always happy to give advice anonymously. Sometimes it can be really useful to talk to someone who isn’t as invested in the situation as you are, and it can be a great way to see things from another person’s perspective.
It’s also important to remember that you’re not a trained therapist – there’s only so much you can do. It should not be down to you take take full responsibility and bear the weight of all of your friend’s problems. This can be an incredibly hard thing to accept as a friend because you’ll want to do everything you can to help them, but this shouldn’t be at the cost of your own health. Make sure that you have your own time to relax and de-stress.
If you have concerns at any point during the year about a friend, the college support systems are always available to help. This is as much about your own welfare, as it is about theirs.