Shamima Begum: why being British is a question of race

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGAxm6KJTWE

Let me make my position clear from the outset.

I am not going to defend Shamima Begum‘s action in going to Syria to join ISIS. I am not going to use her age as a defence nor am I going to use the possibility that she was groomed as a defence. I am not going to use the fragility of new mothers to defend her interview remarks and nor will I mount any other defence for her. That is for others to do should they wish to.

I do not know if Shamima Begum’s return to the UK will put the country at risk. I do not know if she intends to come back and start wreaking havoc about the place. I do not know if there are sufficient resources to monitor her if she did return to the UK. I do not know if she should be in jail or if she has committed serious crimes. I do not know if she was brainwashed or if she truly holds the views she espouses. That is for others to decide.

What I do believe is that the Home Secretary’s decision to ‘strip’ her of her British citizenship is downright dangerous, a threat to the rule of law and a threat to all non-whites (in particular) in the UK.

The Home Secretary’s decision is not surprising

Last year, I spent a couple of days in Croatia. What a beautiful country it is. In Dubrovnik, I was approached by a white American man in his late 70s/early 80s who asked me where I was from. I said that I was from London, UK. His reply to me was the following ‘you don’t look like someone who would be from the UK.’ His assumption that I was not from the UK could not have been based on anything other than my race. My accent is British, I was not wearing any garms which could be said to be particularly non-British and nor was I speaking in any other language but English. He later added to his question by asking me where my parents were from. When he told me he was American, I did not ask him whether his parents were actually Italians, Greeks or Scots. I did not make any other assumption. I was not able to and nor did I choose to.

And whilst I consider myself to be both British and Nigerian, truth is, I have spent most of my life in the UK and was born in the UK and am pleased to say, I consider it my home. Nigeria is in my heart and in my blood and if anyone dares to put down Nigerian jollof* or tells me that traditional attire is not beautiful and that the Yoruba language is not full of wonder, I will mount a strong defence. I may not do the same when it comes to Nollywood though. Jokes aside, the UK is the place I call home.

The Home Secretary’s position on Shamima Begum reflects something that many Blacks and non-whites experience in day to day life.

  1. We are asked where we come from as though the default thought of the person asking is that we are not British because we are not white.
  2. Our race is one of the first things highlighted about us when we are ‘losing’ in life but when we are ‘winning’ in life our Britishness is the first thing that the glory hunters set upon. We are claimed as one of them, a Brit.
  3. We are expected to be grateful for being in the UK as though it is only by grace not right that we are British.
  4. It sometimes feels as though non-whites are tolerated in the UK rather than accepted as being just as British as those who are white.

 

Why the Shamima Begum decision threatens the security of non-whites and second generation Brits in the UK

The decision of the Home Secretary is dangerous for the following reasons:

  1. It means that anyone who has a parent born in another country outside of the UK,  can be deemed not British if they are deemed a threat to national security.
  2. It means that irrespective of how long you have lived in the UK and irrespective of whether or not you were born or brought up in the UK, your right to be called British is not a given.
  3. It means that a white British girl in the same position as Shamima Begum would be allowed back in the UK whilst non-whites and those who are second-generation Brits (plastic Brits- let’s say) would not be accorded the same right.
  4. It means that there will be one rule for White British folk and another for non-White British folk and whites whose parents were not born in the UK.
  5. It means that we as non-whites are simply here by the grace of the UK government. We cannot assume that our British citizenship will always be guaranteed to us.

 

Why the Home Secretary’s decision is a threat to the rule of law

Shamima Begum was born in the UK and is a British citizen. No-one disputes that. But, the Home Secretary has decided that since Shamima Begum’s mum is Bangladeshi, Shamima will have claims to Bangladeshi citizenship through that, meaning that she can be stripped of her British citizenship.

The UK Immigration rules, Part 14, 401 states that:

401. For the purposes of this Part a stateless person is a person who:

  1. (a) satisfies the requirements of Article 1(1) of the 1954 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, as a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law;
  2. (b) is in the United Kingdom; and
  3. (c) is not excluded from recognition as a Stateless person under paragraph 402.

402. states that:

A person is excluded from recognition as a stateless person if there are serious reasons for considering that they:

  1. (a) are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations, other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, protection or assistance, so long as they are receiving such protection or assistance;
  2. (b) are recognised by the competent authorities of the country of their former habitual residence as having the rights and obligations which are attached to the possession of the nationality of that country;
  3. (c) have committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provisions in respect of such crimes;
  4. (d) have committed a serious non-political crime outside the UK prior to their arrival in the UK;
  5. (e) have been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

My reading of 401 means that even if Shamima’s mum is from Bangladesh, at present, Shamima herself could not be considered to be Bangladeshi because she has not made an application to be considered as such. So at this particular moment, she cannot be considered a Bangladeshi national. It seems to me that the government have taken advantage of the fact that she is not in the UK to make her, in fact, stateless.

But, if I skip to 402, it seems to me that if she has committed a crime against peace or a war crime etc,  the British government may well be within their rights to exclude her from recognition as a stateless person. 

To my knowledge, Shamima Begum has not been tried in a court of law so it has not been proven that she has in fact committed any of the crimes which may mean that she is excluded from the rules about statelessness. That said, she has been tried in the court of public opinion and deemed a threat. Yet, I firmly believe that the rule of law must never give way to the court of public opinion.

Finally……

The Home Secretary made it clear after the first Shamima Begum interview was aired, that he would do everything in his power to make sure that she was not able to return to this country. He has made good on his word. Well done. A round of applause to you fine sir.

Unfortunately, what he has also done is threaten the rights of all British non-whites in this country and made the ground we walk on feel just a little more unstable today.

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Weight gain may just be the least of your worries when it comes to recovery

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I see a pattern emerging in my writing.

I write (blog not creative writing) when I am struggling – really struggling. But I also write when I am trying to process what is going on/process my thoughts.

And so it is that I write today on what has been a very difficult day.

I can feel myself slipping in quite a few ways. Slipping in my eating, slipping in my sleeping and therefore the clarity of my mind and slipping in terms of my motivation for life and the things which are about life.

I think I realised over the past few weeks that weight gain just may be the easiest part of ‘recovery’. I touched upon it in another post. I said that recovery is mainly about learning to live again and reclaiming your mind. It is the latter which I am struggling most with which inevitably affects my ability and sometimes desire to live and thrive in life. When I say live, I don’t mean staying alive so much as I mean getting involved with life.

I have found the process of eating over the past month and a half pretty difficult for 2 reasons:

  1. I tend to feel more down when I eat and when I feel full
  2. I have had to attempt eating alone quite a lot over the past three weeks.

Time for some HONESTY

If I cannot be honest with myself then who can I be honest with?

My eating has been abysmal over the past month and a half. It started with a very bad day with my thoughts and emotions which led to a complete shutting down of my stomach and the complete absence of hunger. For a while, I tried to eat in spite of this and with the support of my brothers, seemed to make some progress over Christmas which helped me sleep better. But then Christmas came and went just like my hunger, again. So I went from making myself have something, anything, to allowing myself to miss a meal here and there because I was not hungry. And finally and the thing which concerns me most is that even on the limited occasions when I have felt hungry, I have either ignored it or recognised it but still not responded to it.

I think what I have noticed is the old disordered thoughts around food/body image/preoccupation with weight/body checking starting to reemerge.

I have tried to combat it by adding in things which I am not inclined to eat like chocolate and today (a Bakewell tart) just for the heck of it to remind my mind that there is nothing to fear when it comes to food. I don’t think I fear the effects of food on my body so much as I fear the effects of food on my mind. One feels like an eating disorder and the other feels more like disordered eating but perhaps this is simply semantics.

The other thing I have noticed is my increasing reliance on exercise to keep my mood stable. Most professionals say, ‘it’s great that you’re exercising. It can really boost your serotonin levels.’ What they don’t seem to understand or perhaps acknowledge is that for someone with a history of exercising until the point of not being able to walk, it is not a good thing. It is a dangerous sign. I know it. And I know that my mind will demand more and more of me and my body in this respect. I need to learn to take a break from exercise and not to wait until injury strikes for me to do so.

Bottom line – I need to sort this out.

Eating Disorders are simply a distraction from a bigger issue

I realised a long time ago, many years ago that I feared my own thoughts so much that I chose the devil I knew. ‘Better the devil I knew than the one that scared the shit out of me’,  I thought. Now, I know that all this approach did was to delay the inevitable and rob me of time with loved ones. I think that is what pains me most about all that has happened over the past two plus decades. I missed out on quality time with the people I love.

Weight gain is the start of the journey not the end of the journey

At the point at which I decided to choose recovery and stopped purging, I realised how much I struggled with worry. Constant worry and panic. It is something which has become more heightened since I dropped my old coping mechanism.

Weight restoration is a bitch. Don’t get me wrong. The effects on one’s body, especially if you go for the ‘my body will settle where it bloody well wants to settle’ approach can be pretty horrific at times. But, when your weight is restored and your brain is able to function better (which is not always the case when you struggle with depression), then you might be in a better place to get involved in life and the business of living again.

Having one’s body and brain function restored can bring forth feelings of regret about time lost or spent in the ED. It might also bring challenges in terms of interacting with others (which can be a challenge when you have spent so long isolating yourself or avoiding others), returning to employment (i am still not reconciled with this one), learning how to deal with the normal stresses of life in a way which does not return you to ill health (physically or mentally), having intimate relationships with a partner/spouse, finding confidence in yourself again, learning to make decisions and dealing with the anxieties which likely landed you in the ED in the first place.

These challenges as well as those related to discarding the ED (eating regularly, challenging negative body image issues, being flexible around food etc) can make life feel more challenging in recovery than it ever did when you had an eating disorder.

Feeling overwhelmed

I guess what I struggle with most is the thought that restoring my weight is like climbing a tenth of the way up Mount Kilimanjaro, thinking that I am at the summit and then looking up and realising that I am just 10% of the way there.

I know that I have to deal with grief, social interaction, depression and the link between my mind and my body.

I know I still have a long way to go but boy is this shit tiring.

I think the thing I realised today after another night of three hours sleep is that when I feel overwhelmed by life, I tend to react by driving myself even harder. It only results in a breakdown and I can see what is happening.

I am lucky enough to be receiving some support which I might talk about in another post. Having this support today meant I was able to say what was going on, be honest with myself and try to thing about the best way forwards.

I can see what is going on. My job now is to do something about it. That feels like the toughest part given my indecisiveness. But, I feel like the alternative (slipping back into the eating disorder) is like wrapping yourself in a sleeping blanket which is so old, worn and tattered that it offers you zero protection from the cold.

 

We need to focus our fight on the eating disorder and not the ED professionals

Summary: I totally support everyone who campaigns for better professional support for those with EDs but I also know that sometimes, we wrongly focus our attention and anger on what we cannot get from those institutions rather than what we can get from the rich and diverse community of the recovering and the recovered.

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After reading yet another story about someone who was turned away from receiving eating disorder treatment because their weight was not low enough, I am convinced that we the recovering and the recovered need to focus our fight first and foremost on the eating disorder rather than fighting institutions and professionals who can’t or won’t adopt new approaches.

The NHS is dying people. Money is scarce. There is no new pot of money to enable all sufferers to be treated. Should we linger in misery whilst we wait for the NHS to be resuscitated? Our lives, future, wellbeing are too precious and fragile to be left on waiting lists.

Even if and when you do get NHS/private treatment in the UK, it veers from being full of compassion to being totally devoid of compassion. It veers from superb advice to awful advice. It veers from encouraging starvation or undereating in inpatient units to forcing lots of food down people’s throats who are not mentally ready for that level of intake. It veers from saving lives to watching others worsen. It veers from saying ‘I/we care’ to saying ‘you are on your own’.

What is your bloody point?

My point is that in the UK, there is so much inconsistency that we, those with EDs, often end up wasting time looking or waiting for professional help which may or may not be the key to our recovery. In the interim, our condition worsens or we lose our focus because our energy is spent fighting people and institutions rather than fighting the ED.  We end up no closer to recovery.

I am tired of hearing the desperate stories of people told their weight is too low or too high to receive treatment.

I am tired of professionals who have become so immune to suffering that they only take notice when a person looks like they are at death’s door or on the verge of suicide.

I am tired of we the recovered and the recovering looking outside for help and not receiving it.

I am tired of wasting energy looking for answers outside the ED community when there is such wealth inside it.

I will add a caveat at this point to temper this post. I was fortunate enough to receive both daycare treatment and inpatient treatment, although fortune is a strange word to use when the process of refeeding feels so tortuous.

I say this because I know that there are some who are desperate for this kind of treatment. The truth in my case was that I did not recover with this help. I and many others did not and have not recovered with professional help. You and I have heard about some of those people, who are constantly in and out of IP units or who had professional support but are now languishing in ED misery. I was one of those people. If IP or daycare or therapy was a panacea then all those who had ever had such treatment would now be recovered.

Professional help can be an invaluable aid to recovery. I support people who choose to use it. I truly do. But, I also support those who choose not to. I support those who believe that their energy is best spent on seeking solutions within themselves and the ED community. I also value and appreciate the work of professionals who do their best to help those with EDs. But, I decided to stop looking outside for my recovery. I chose a professionally UNPROFESSIONAL RECOVERY.

Why chose an unprofessional recovery?

I chose to recover in this way because after the way that my time in treatment ended, I was quite frankly, fed up of dealing with professionals. More importantly, I realised that the only way to get better was to start doing it, start eating. No amount of talking was going to cure it. In fact, that is what is wrong with therapy to some extent. You can spend months talking or not, about your feelings, but never having to face the fact that what you have to do is eat and eat shitloads of food for quite some time.

I appreciate all the help that I was given. I will never forget the compassion of those who did all they could to help me. But, truth is, it was not a perfect process and I was not a perfect patient. The best thing treatment did for me was save me from the depths of depression. It also at times,  worsened my ED symptoms because of the things I learnt to do which I had no knowledge of prior to treatment. It is for the most part, a one size fits approach but that dress did not fit me. I honestly believe that the true work of recovery begins outside of the treatment environment.

Inpatient, daycare, therapy, none of that will cure you of an eating disorder. Some people who are professionals give the wrong advice because they have not had an eating disorder or had to recover from an eating disorder. At points in inpatient treatment, I was bloody starving and begging for food but told I had to stick to the meal plan. This only fed into the restrictive mindset which fed into the purging. How can you tell someone who struggles with restricting that they need to simply tolerate that hunger. They are professional hunger tolerators for goodness sake.

At times, I was also too full and that was a huge struggle. At times, I was told that the way to push through this was to distract, distract, distract but how long can we distract ourselves from painful memories or feelings? At some point, we need to confront it. Cry through it, scream through it, write through it. Whatever will help you tackle it without resorting to unhelpful behaviours.

Professionals don’t know it all. Or if they do, they sure as heck don’t tell it all. These are the things professionals never told me about ED recovery but which I learnt from the recovery community and from my own refeeding:

  • extreme hunger may bite you in the butt during ED recovery. Do not be alarmed. It is not binging. It is just the body taking back what we took from it. It will pass. Be still.
  • oedema can last months not weeks.
  • you may suffer from severe joint pain which will take months to settle down. I struggled to walk for months after I started refeeding and my feet are still not the same.
  • you may find yourself needing to urinate frequently in the first few months of refeeding, especially at nighttime
  • you might put on lots of weight around your stomach but this will eventually settle
  • you may go way past what you thought your normal weight was but the body is just taking an insurance payment. When you prove yourself trustworthy, you may get a refund.

In the end, I found my way to ‘recovering mode’ by listening to those who had fully recovered.

Some choose not to go for full weight restoration. I couldn’t do that and nor did I want to. I had spent too long on this shit already. If I held onto just a little bit of the restrictive mindset, it would have led me down the rabbit hole of death. I am still working on my recovery. I know that my recovery is dependent on my ability to keep eating irrespective of my weight. I am at the highest weight I have ever been but I cannot get complacent.

In IP and daycare, you may reach a point where you are told you can now maintain your weight. For me in IP, that weight was still a low BMI. What kind of message does that send out to people with eating disorders? That it is fine to maintain a low weight. How will that help us live a full life? In IP in particular, the aim is oftentimes to get a person to a safe BMI even if it is still an anorexic BMI. This fact will never sit well with me. I know it must be hard for professionals working with people who seem determined to kill themselves slowly but surely they ought to aim for more than we do. Surely their job is to keep faith and hope when we have none left.

So what did your unprofessional recovery entail?

  • Making the decision not to wait any longer for professional help before beginning recovery.
  • buying books from people who had recovered to see how they did it.
  • eating seven or more times a day without ceasing for 4 months.
  • eating way more than the daily recommended calories for men and women put together and way more than I ever ate in IP.
  • not listening to a doctor who told me not to go too far the other way (into obesity)
  • relying on a family member for practical support rather than professionals for support because the latter support is from 9 to 5 only.
  • Using my GP’s support. She has been a fantastic help to me and encouraged me to keep going without professional help because she could see that I was doing way better without their input than I had ever done with their input.
  • learning to live with massive weight gain during those first few month
  • completely stopping restriction and purging
  • telling myself out loud, even at the height of the purging, that I was going to recover
  • KNOWING THAT ULTIMATELY, MY FIGHT WAS NOT WITH SERVICES BUT WITH THE EATING DISORDER
  • spending some days in tears, hiding under a duvet or watching movies to deal with the bad days
  • following blogs of people who had recovered and reaching out to them for support.
  • asking for help for the depression when it started to affect my eating again

Are you saying we should not fight to get better support from ED professionals/institutions?

NO.

What I am saying is that what put us in this shithole of an ED was a mindset and that the only thing that will get us out is a shift in mindset. For some, professionals can help with motivating and encouraging us. I know that for me, especially in IP, there were some amazing staff members who kept telling me that ‘I could do it’. I didn’t believe it for myself and that was my biggest obstacle to recovery.

What I am saying is that we need to look for more answers within the eating disorder community than outside of it. I totally support everyone who campaigns for better professional support for those with EDs but I also know that sometimes, we wrongly focus our attention and anger on what we cannot get from those institutions rather than what we can get from the rich and diverse community of the recovering and the recovered.

Some may be upset by the content of this post and it may only be read by a few people but I’m not bothered. If this provokes even 1 debate or gets 1 person, professional, carer, sufferer or struggler to think again about the recovery process, then so be it.

Finally, I need to state that there are some ED professionals and recovery coaches out there with first hand experience of recovery.  Their knowledge and support can be life-saving. I know. I have such a person in my life as a friend.

What would you recommend?

1) Let your GP know what you are doing so they can monitor you medically.

2) Check out some of these resources:

Emily Troscianko –  https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/hunger-artist

Tabitha Farrar – https://tabithafarrar.com/eating-disorder-recovery-podcast-2017-feed/

The Bulimia Help Method by Ali Kerr et al

Eliza Oras (Follow the Intuition) – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxWY-0as5iyX36Uy7gPLyBg

@hllylzbth shares her recovery journey on Instagram which she did without professional ED support and really inspired me to just get on with the inevitable weight gain.

Alternatively, you can ignore all of my suggestions and find your own way to recover and then share those with others in recovery.

Whatever you do, just remember who the enemy is.

I am not a convert: the problem with gender-neutral toilets

I recently went to see a play called ‘The Convert’ at the Young Vic in Waterloo. For reasons which will remain known only to me and the person who accompanied me, I was not really able to focus on the play and did in fact sleep without shame at points. This will therefore not be a review of ‘The Convert’. I’m sure the play was great. The reviews tell me so. However, the thing that really grabbed my attention were the gender-neutral toilets.

Gender-neutral toilets are a tokenistic concept

In reality, there was nothing new or neutral about the toilets. What was formerly the women’s toilets was now designated as ‘gender-neutral: cubicles’ and what was formerly the men’s toilets were now, ‘gender-neutral: urinals and cubicles’.

The reality of gender-neutral toilets 

Before the play began, I made the following observations. I saw 3 men come out of what were essentially the women’s toilet but saw no woman leave what were essentially the men’s loo.

In the first interval, I heard a woman in the women’s loo exclaim how wonderful it was to have gender neutral toilets and how much she loved it. I then wondered why she still made the decision to use the women’s loo if it was all so wonderful.

In the second interval, I saw a long queue outside the women’s loo. I saw all the men enter the men’s loo and I saw only one woman use the men’s loo. Good for her given that both loos were available for all to use. Personally, I have no desire to visit a men’s loo. I don’t care how long the women’s loo queue is. More fool me you may say. That’s just fine is what I’ll say.

So the question is, why are most women still choosing to use the women’s loo and why are most men still choosing to use the men’s loo? I think it is because we do what we are most comfortable with. For the 3 men who decided to use the women’s loo, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But, in this new world, I have the feeling that the people that will benefit most from this change, will be men, not women.

Why do I care so much?

I made another observation as I queued outside the women’s loo in the second interval. I saw at least 3 men leave the loo and then do up the zips on their trousers. I am not sure if this is normal or a guy thing but it is certainly not something I wish to be exposed to which may have been the case if I had chosen to use the men’s loo.

As a woman, there are times when I want to change outfit or do something which exposes a part of my body that I will only be comfortable doing in front of other women who have breasts and a vagina just as I do. That is my prerogative and my business. I should not have to worry about whether a man who has the right to enter this ‘gender-neutral: cubicles’ loo will enter just as I am about to take my top off or put it back on. Of course, this would not be an everyday occurence anyway but what is wrong with men and women having safe spaces?

I think that what this trend to neutralise the distinction between men and women does is that it risks us no longer being able to acknowledge and celebrate our womanhood and manhood.

I remember a talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in which I asked her what it means to be a woman. Unfortunately, I cannot remember her answer. But when I posed the question to many of my other friends, what I realised is the following. It is definitely about biology but it is also about who we are on the sliding scale of ‘womanness’.

I know some may say I am confusing gender with sex and that is just fine for me. I don’t mind putting the two together because I am a woman who hates clothes shopping but loves book shopping. I love football and UFC but I hate violence. I hate cooking but love to cook for others. I am also a woman who believes being a woman does not mean an iron is an extension of my arm nor does it mean that a hoover is my best friend or any other stereotypes that may exist of how I should be because I am a woman. My hair is short which means sometimes I am mistaken for a guy. I am not offended since I am secure in my womanhood.

Being a woman is like being on a sliding scale. I hate make-up but will go nowhere without earrings. My body is curvy but I am athletic.

So how does all this relate to gender-neutral toilets?

Womanhood is not one thing. But in my opinion, being a woman is first and foremost about our biological difference.

There are biological differences which mean that one person is a woman and another a man. This is irrespective of our opinion about who we are. Surely in the place where we we need to use those biological tools, we should be able to have loos which are for those with penises and loos for those with vaginas. Surely we should have spaces where we can feel comfortable dealing with needs related to menstruation or milk-filled breasts or anything else that affects us because of our female biology.

Surely we can have a gender-neutral loo without disposing of men’s and women’s loos.

 

 

Silence kills: the reason I write openly about the state of my mind

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They say that bacteria needs seven things to grow*. Well, I believe that mental illness/disturbance needs just one thing to grow – SILENCE.

Those who know me know that I tend to be a very private person. I do not have a deep need to be heard. I do however have a desire to encourage others not to struggle alone. Writing publicly about my mind took me a long time to do and to some extent goes against my nature. But, what I realised is that all silence ever did for me was:

  • allow my shame to grow
  • make me feel alone
  • make me feel like there was no way out of my problems
  • result in the deterioration of my mind
  • prolong my suffering
  • allow me to lose out on life

I decided to write about it and write publicly because:

  • I know that when I die, if I do nothing else in this world, if I achieve none of my other dreams, at least my words might help others confront their struggles/seek help/know they are not alone
  • I would hate for others to lose out on life in the way that I did. If my writing helps someone seek help quicker or speak sooner, then this blog is worth it
  • people need to know that no matter their experience, they are not the only ones to have suffered from mental illness/disturbances
  • my mother encouraged me to speak openly and she also encouraged me to stop writing during times of relapse so that I could focus on getting better
  • I come from a long line of ‘strong’ women. I thought I was weak because I could not cope with all that was going on in my mind and in my world.  I now realise that strength has nothing to do with mental illness. It is not a weakness to struggle or to become ill. The weak/strong dichotomy just resulted in more self-loathing which didn’t work out well for me. I now prefer to consider things in this way: each human being has differing levels of resilience and I can grow mine just like others can grow/have grown theirs.
  • I want others to know that mental illness does not have a face, a race, an age, a profession etc

I write because my silence almost killed me. I write because silence kills.

Thirty signs that you are progressing in eating disorder recovery

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This list is not exhaustive and each sign is an indication that you are heading in the right direction. If you are not yet there with any of them, this list is only meant to indicate some things to aim for. Wherever you are at with it all, keep going and please be gentle with your mind and body.

  1. You realise that recovery has everything to do with food
  2. You realise that recovery has nothing to do with food
  3. You don’t completely flip or punch someone in the face when they tell you how ‘well’ you look
  4. You prefer the non-emaciated version of you to the emaciated version of you
  5. You find yourself eating without overthinking
  6. You don’t avoid social occasions involving food
  7. You don’t generally flip out at people because your brain is less malnourished
  8. Cooking does not provoke the terror of God in you and or leave you in a cold sweat
  9. You don’t feel the need to compensate for eating
  10. You are able to laugh without a care in the world
  11. You are no longer hiding your recovered body from the world at large
  12. You know that the answer to difficult equations in life is not weight loss
  13. You no longer have to go to the toilet every 10 seconds at nighttime
  14. Your body is no longer painful to touch/the oedema has gone
  15. Your waking hours are not consumed with food or thoughts of food
  16. You are less interested in Man v. Food/Great Cake Bake Off and more interested in whether Brexit means Brexit and what is happening in the world beyond you
  17. You are not deluding yourself or others about your eating habits and compensatory behaviours
  18. You eat regularly whether you are hungry or not because you are still in recovery
  19. You are weight restored but you keep eating nevertheless
  20. You are no longer having serious body checking sessions
  21. You are able to take a shower without self-loathing
  22. You are accepting of your body irrespective of BMI. You take pride in your body, you rub your growing tummy, because you know how bloody hard it has been – this recovery journey
  23. You don’t give a shit how much you weigh, how much your food weighs or how many calories you have had today
  24. You are honouring your extreme hunger – both physical and mental – without punishing yourself thereafter
  25. A flat stomach is no longer your life’s purpose. You exercise for pleasure, not for pain
  26. You are able to see the evils of an ED and want to shout it out loud to whoever will listen
  27. You are interested in helping others recover even though you are still in recovery
  28. You do not feel the need to play the ‘lose weight, gain attention’ game because you know your voice, not your body, is your most powerful weapon
  29. You keep eating even when and even though you feel like shit. Basically, you continue eating in spite of your other mental health struggles.
  30. Living with you is no longer hell on earth for those around you and you are able to be present and enjoy the company of others

Personally, I struggle most with 8, 18 and 29. I think I’m cool with 16 and 21.

Now, over to you. I leave you with my recovery anthem.

 

Navigating the murky waters of depression and food fatigue during ED recovery

 

The Student Who Became My Teacher

In a former life, I was a teacher who had the great pleasure of working with some fantastic students. I once turned the tables on my students and gave them the task of teaching the class a new skill or schooling the class in some way.

I vaguely remember one student teaching the class some football skills and another teaching art techniques. Yet the lesson which most stood out was the one delivered by one of the cheeriest students I’ve ever had, on the topic of depression. She delivered a presentation on 7 different types of depression including post-natal depression, bipolar disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Prior to her presentation, I remember calling this student one morning to find out why she hadn’t yet turned up to class. ‘I can’t decide what to wear,’ she said. My response, ‘just pick anything and get yourself here.’ And she did. She came in, a few hours late but she made it.

During her presentation on depression, she said that it sometimes manifests itself in angry outbursts and spoke from her own personal experience about being subjected to the anger of a loved one who was in fact struggling with depression.

Hers was the presentation which I never forgot and will never forget. At that time, I did not know that I was only a few months away from my first (or second) major episode of depression. I didn’t know that my student’s inability to choose an outfit to wear was symptomatic of depression rather than inertia. She was in fact a wonderfully spirited young lady who was highly opinionated and fun to be around (I know that is a precious thing because some young people are HARD WORK). But good humour or the ability to smile or laugh does not disqualify someone from depression.

I learnt so much from this young lady that I became pretty good at spotting the happy depressive or the seemingly lazy depressive. I started using a different approach to work with students who struggled with depression. My previous ‘get yourself into College’ approach was replaced with a ‘come in and let’s chat about what’s going on’ approach. The latter was much more effective than the former at helping the student stay the course and more importantly at helping them access support within the College.

Mental Unwellness Is About The Things You Cannot See

Depression is, like most mental illness, about the things you cannot see rather than the things you can see. It’s the physical paralysis which keeps you in bed and the verbal paralysis rips out your tongue. It’s the talk of plans for the future whilst questioning your existence. It’s the person you have a drink with who makes a joke in public but thinks of themselves as the joke in private. It’s the person that turned up late for work yet again despite repeated warnings who is struggling with insomnia rather than inertia. It’s the seemingly absent-minded individual who asks you to repeat yourself for the fifth time in an hour. It’s the person who says, ‘sorry, I can’t come out tonight, something came up.’

I don’t know what became of this student of mine but I do remember her as a funny, hardworking, loving and highly sensitive individual who enriched me in a way I could never have imagined.

My First Experience of Depression

My first experience of depression happened soon after I became a teenager. But, at the time, I did not realise what was happening. I just knew that I was deeply unhappy (for various reasons) and had fallen out of love with this thing called life. In school I was pretty happy and active but my mind was littered with thoughts which I still find challenging as an adult. I managed in the best way I could until the entrance of the eating disorder which helped me become a functional depressive, a state which came back to bite me in adulthood. Perhaps confronting it then would not have landed me where I am today. I say this, knowing that I am also positively changed because of my experiences and have learnt to appreciate simple rather than grandiose pleasures – a fallen leaf in autumn, a cloudless sky, the thrill of speed and the time spent in the company of those I love.

For those of you who have played Jenga, you will be able to visualise the moment that one piece is taken out and the whole stack come crashing down. That was my second major experience of depression. I am still trying to find and collect the scattered pieces. The suddenness and enormity of my descent into depression was like taking a ride through the rapids of hell. Confusion, fear, anxiety, disassociation and an inability to see in colour meant that each day felt like a sadistic exercise in the art of staying alive. The realisation of the fragility of one’s own mind is an incredibly terrifying experience. It still echoes inside my head today, in spite of the passage of time. Amidst the tornado, I did manage to come to a decision about the way forward.

An Eating Disorder Is Not Conducive With Life

In order to recover from the depression, I would need to confront and overcome the eating disorder which lay in the shadows. It had hitherto, neither dominated me nor prevented me from living what I considered to be a full life at the time. It did however, cast a shadow over my life as it was at the time. It meant I socialised with others, except for close friends. It meant being secretive with my family and friends and unfortunately, it meant forgoing potential relationships. I was still able to study, work, do things that I enjoyed from time to time and appear very functional. Being functional was good enough, or so I thought. I couldn’t foreshadow what was to come – a time when functionality would slip first into disfunctionality and then total collapse.

When everything eventually fell apart and I entered a day programme for eating disorders, I was so far removed from the person I had been that I lost all sense of self. It was like trying to find my reflection in a once clean stream whose waters had been muddied beyond redemption.

That said, the day programme helped me stay just out of reach of the talons of depression. Unfortunately, it didn’t help me address the ED. Even though I have serious reservations about the delivery of ED treatment in general, I know that the conditions at home and in my mental state were not right for me to recover. I couldn’t give up the ED (restriction and purging) for fear of the depression. And so began the almost decade long game of running around in metaphorical and literal circles.

The Dangers of Using Exercise in Mental Health Recovery

Running was the other thing I used to help me keep depression at bay. That and swimming. It brought me out of catatonic states, it helped me find a reason to keep going whilst at the same time, keeping me entrenched in a state of emaciation. It also perpetuated the falsehood that I could only deal my thoughts by running the heck out of them. In fact the biggest reason for going on ridiculously long runs was to tire myself so much that my thoughts would sleep for a while. Never worked. At least not for long.

So I return to the song which I posted at the start of this blog. The lyrics sum up all you need to know about how some people manage depression and mental unwellness.

Once upon a time, I tried to run it away. Neither snow nor rain nor freezing temperatures could dissuade me from running. Now I try to cycle it away or swim it away or pretend it away or sleep it away or hide myself away but all of these are temporary fixes for something which is a recurring issue. It was in fact the reason, that I spent so long stuck in a eating disorder. Hiding from rather than confronting it keeps a person in eternal hell.

For me, the eating disorder always felt like a lesser evil. The thought of losing my sanity, of coming so close to letting the waves completely take me has always been a more frightening proposition than the idea of struggling with food forever. Yet exercise is not a panacea for mental unwellness.

Telling someone with an eating disorder to use exercise to cope with depression is like telling someone whose heart is failing that exercise will make their heart stronger. Yes, in theory, exercise can strengthen the heart but if it is seriously damaged, recommending exercise might just be the nail in the coffin.

Whilst the first few months of my second attempt at recovery went pretty smoothly, mentally and nutritionally, the past few months have been pretty tough. Continuing to eat whilst in the throes of another episode of depression was not really a difficulty which I had given that much thought to. But now it’s here, I am not sure that I am dealing well with it or that I know how to deal with it.

The strange thing about depression is that its bones have normally calcified by the time I am aware of what is happening. By that point, I am far too immobile to move easily through it. First my mind begins to struggle and then my body.

Depression And Appetite

Depression has made my appetite plummet and in turn made food harder to face. There is now more anxiety around meals and less ability to force myself to eat when I don’t fancy anything in particular. This is compounded by the fact that I am now weight restored plus (as I call it). I am not flirting with a marginally weight restored body, I am fully embracing weight restoration. Forcing myself to eat at this higher weight is indeed a massive challenge. A skipped meal here, and a skipped meal there was the beginning of an ED for many a sufferer.

The Dangers of Complacency in ED Recovery After Weight Restoration

Given my belief that EDs are primarily a mental rather than physcial illness, it really is incumbent on me to stop giving myself permission to skip meals simply because my weight is normal and my appetite low. I am well aware of the fact that I have now given myself permission to allow my appetite to dictate whether I eat or not. I know this is a dangerous path to go down in recovery. I also know that if I let this go on for much longer, I risk undoing the hard work I have put in over the past six months plus.

The one thing which I have tried to do is to eat out with others, a task which comes with its own challenges. It helps sometimes. Yet in truth, I am fed up of eating, of food, of choice, of the daily monotony of it, of the discomfort of fullness and the anxiety around deciding what to eat and making something to eat.

Sometimes depression and eating disorders are two separate entities and sometimes they are bedfellows. For the first time since I began my recovery, I have begun to doubt my ability to recover from either.

Ultimately, I think that if I cannot find a way to manage and perhaps eventually overcome the episodes of depression, I may put my long term recovery from the ED in jeopardy. I am still committed to ED recovery and learning about me. But……..

Where Now?

That’s the question I’m still asking myself.

 

 

 

How long will it take to recover from an eating disorder? The three phases of recovery

The short answer: however long it bloody well takes.

For a more complete answer, please keep reading.

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There is a video doing the rounds at the moment in which a baby bear is trying desperately to climb up a snow drift to join Mama/Papa Bear. This video sums up not only the journey of recovery but also the length of time it will take.

The first time I watched this video, what struck me most was not the cub’s perseverance, but my impatience. I wondered how long it would take the little furball to make it to the top. Eventually, it did. And so it is with recovery. EVENTUALLY, WE WILL.

In my case, it has taken about nine years since I first decided to rid myself of the thorn in my side to actually say with confidence that I am on my way to recovery, from the eating disorder at least. My journey has been like the bear cub’s.

This post came to mind when I read a comment from a woman on social media who said that it took her 10 years to recover. My instinctive reaction, ‘wow, that’s a long time’. Then I realised that my own recovery has been a long time in the making too.

In professional recovery settings, there is a theory that it takes on average seven years to recover from an eating disorder. I remember when I first heard this, I was determined to prove the naysayers and pessimists wrong. I didn’t feel I had seven years to sit around trying to solve the jigsaw puzzle of recovery. And then I started my own recovery.

WHAT IS MEANT BY ‘Recovery From An Eating Disorder’? 

I guess recovery for some looks like weight restoration but I think this is probably the bird’s eye view of recovery rather than the lived-in, experiential view of what recovery is.

For me, I see recovery as the point at which food and my relationship with food no longer imposes limits on the way I live my life. 

I therefore see recovery as a Three Phase process.

Phase 1 (Physical/Nutritional recovery): you allow your weight to settle at the point at which your body is happiest. This might mean allowing yourself to consume huge amounts of food at times because your body or mind or both demand it of you. Or it might mean little and often. Or any other formula in between. YOU MUST FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.

For me, this process took about 3 or 4 months and meant gaining around 40% of my current body weight. It was an extremely uncomfortable process because it was rapid but I knew that I couldn’t live in the halfway house of recovery. I also knew that if I forced my weight to stay at a certain number, if I decided what the right weight was for my body, then I would forever be at risk of relapse.

Some may take years to become weight restored, some months. And for some, weight restoration is not a part of the process because they are not underweight. For the latter group, I would say that Phase 1 is about allowing yourself to satisfy both your hunger and cravings in order to restore the nutritional balance of your body. It is possible to be malnourished without being underweight.

Nutritional/Physical restoration also means allowing yourself variety in eating and not climbing on the rollercoaster of bingeing, restricting, overcompensating, overexercising, self-flagellation, purging, laxative abuse, chewing or spitting or any other disordered behaviour in relation to food.

Phase 2 (mental recovery): this part will in my opinion take much longer than Phase 1. This involves mental recovery. This means no longer beating yourself up about eating, no longer feeling that eating is a crime. This phase involves doing away with the self-loathing which can come with eating and re-feeding. It means accepting your body and not denying yourself food because of your shape or size.

I know that for some people, depression is triggered by the eating disorder. That can mean that as your body recovers, your mind will also begin to recover. However, for others, the depression is separate to the eating disorder which means that your job will be to continue recovering mentally from the eating disorder in spite of the depression. I think it is possible to recover even whilst struggling with depression. I am having to do that myself.

Phase 3 (Recovering your life): this means taking back what was lost. For those whose lives and whose very existence has been devastated by an eating disorder, recovery may mean learning how to function again within society.

It may mean:

  • Learning how to get back into work or education
  • Learning how to interact socially with others
  • Learning how to eat out and how to be comfortable with that
  • Learning how to eat in the company of others
  • Learning how to have intimate and sexual relationships with others
  • Learning how to manage your finances
  • Learning how to be independent
  • Learning how to function and how to deal with the rigmarole and difficulties of life  without resorting to eating disordered behaviours.
  • Learning how to deal with regret and the pain of what was lost

FINAL THOUGHTS

When it is laid out like this, it is not hard to see why recovery can feel like a kind of REBIRTH. It involves so many elements of learning and growth which are forced upon you irrespective of age. Whether you recover at 15, 25, 35, 45, 55, 65 or 75 (if you get to live that long with an ED), you will still have to walk the same path.

The truth is that the longer you wait to recover, the harder it might become. The longer you wait, the less appetite you may have for recovery. It often feels easier to cling to the familiar even if that life is one of misery. Finally, the longer you wait to recover, the more chance there is that it will kill you physically, mentally or through a combination of both which oftentimes looks like suicide.

I know I have completed Phase 1. The other phases are ahead of me. The best I can do at the moment, is to continue walking towards the point at which food or thoughts of food, body image will no longer be like thick chains around my ankles.

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Thank you for reading.

Please share if you think this article could potentially help someone. Eating disorders are firstly disorders of the mind. One’s body may look perfectly healthy but the mind may look like the aftermath of a storm.

The dying art of conversation/Where now for Rage?*

 

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This was going to be the shortest blog I would ever have written. But then I started writing.

I would like to defend the right of people to debate and discuss. There is a lot going on in our world today and sometimes it feels like a scary world to live in.

Why? Because it feels like we are living in an increasingly polarised world. In this world there are only two camps: THE RIGHT OPINION and THE WRONG OPINION.

The first casualty of this new set-up may just be conversation or at least the right to respectfully diverge in opinion.

What I’m increasingly seeing are attempts to suppress the opinions of or shame those with whom we disagree.

This has left me asking the following questions:

When did we as a society decide that cohabitation is no longer an option when it comes to diverging opinions?

When did we decide that the way to deal with an opinion we disagree with is to abuse or shame a person?

And when did we decide that if you don’t agree with me, YOU are the problem?

Is free speech really alive and kicking in this new world order?

A wise person told me this week that the problem is that some want peace whilst others want war. I think this person might have been right.

This brings me to a separate but connected topic: Rage.

When old wounds or even new ones are opened up, we as individuals and a society need to decide how best to deal with the inevitability of Rage. If we don’t decide on this, then it’s like leaving your front door wide open for the thief to enter.

In this discussion entitled ‘Where now for Rage?’, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:

Is the ultimate aim war or peace?

Is it too early to speak of peace when Rage is still being unleashed?

Should Rage ever be organised or remain unfettered?

Does Rage need a conduit?

Do we seek out a process by which Rage is given the space for self-expression?

And is it even possible to have controlled rage?

Do we have any precedents?

In the aftermath of apartheid and the liberation of the ANC under the leadership of Nelson Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The ANC decided that the best response to the apartheid and brutality that Blacks was not vengeance but reconciliation.

Rage was never completely unleashed because Rage was consigned to the room called RECONCILIATION. This room was imperfect but led to a platform from which to move forwards rather than the regression of all-out war.

Again, I’m left with more questions than answers:

Would some not have preferred retribution?

Should we seek forgiveness and can there be forgiveness without confession or remorse?

Can there be reconciliation even though lives have been destroyed?

With all the issues that are going on in our world today, we need to talk without FEAR of …….

We need to decide how best to respond when we feel/are wronged or when we hear opinions we disagree with.

Do we go for all-out war, or do we seek peace as the end-goal?

These questions are for you and me to weigh-up and answer. This post is not intended as a forum for my opinions. I’m simply saying: WE NEED TO TALK.

I wish to leave you with my final thoughts which are only to be read in the context of DISCUSSION/OPINIONS rather than TRUTH/FACT.

If I say that I am right and you say that you are right, we are one step closer to war. This is called an ARGUMENT. But if I say that I believe I am right but agree to leave room open to change my mind, and you do the same, then we are one step closer to PEACE and RECONCILIATION. This is called a DEBATE or CONVERSATION.

*the original post was edited after a night spent marinating.

 

 

Chicken for breakfast, fuckboys* and other reasons to choose the bike over public transport.

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We have enjoyed one of the best summers on record in London. I’ve had few reasons to use public transport. That was until my last week when I decided to make two journeys – one by tube and the other by bus. Both journeys reminded me why I choose to cycle.

Swimming is another one of my hobbies. The idea of cycling uphill to get to the swimming pool just seemed silly to me. It would inevitably leave me with too little energy for the swim which was the actual purpose of my trip so I jumped on the bus and sat at the back – window seat. The bus had just started to move off when another woman at the back took out a back of freshly cooked chicken drumsticks from the Sainsbury’s rotisserie section. She then proceeded to chomp down on those poor buggers, one drumstick at a time with absolutely zero regard for the smells that were now invading every inch of the back of the bus. Add this to the potent combination of heat from the back engine and the general poor air quality in London during summertime and it was just a little too much for me. I stayed put, knowing that the chicken would not live much longer the way she was devouring it. I don’t know her story so I can’t and won’t judge her for her eating habits. I just wish she would have had a little mercy on the rest of us and taken care of business before getting on the bus.

Five minutes into this now too long journey and the smell of chicken is still strong. An elderly man to the right of me decides that now is the time to inject a little music into this delightful scene. The air is obviously not lively enough and another invasion of territory is called for. There is an attitude which prevails a lot on buses these days. It goes a little something like this:

I am not happy with just me listening to my music. I want you all to join in the fun with me. Yes, that means you too, miss, don’t think I didn’t see you trying to hide away in the corner.  My music is the dog’s ………. and you need to know this too.

So, I and my fellow passengers were treated to the sounds of some reggae tune that would probably have been better appreciated at the Carnival than it was on that bus. Now a part of me feels like a killjoy but I don’t understand when people lost the key to the door called ‘common courtesy’. There is little left of the two CCs on public transport these days. In the past 5 months, I have had to ask 3 men (one over the age of 30 and the other 2 in their 40s) to lower the volume. Not to turn their bleeding racket off, but just to lower it so I and my fellow passengers could fall into the bed of weariness which our bodies were motioning us towards.

I didn’t feel like asking another man to turn his music down so I took myself, my grumbles and my swimming gear to the top floor. I had about a minute of peace before a young girl decided to come on the bus and tell the entire top deck about her dead cousin who’s grave she swears on and the argument she was having with someone else and yadda yadda yadda who cares.

When you are in a small space, you have two options: endure the bullcrap or get the heck out of dodge. Actually, the third option which was to confront the individual who has no regard for anyone else is also a viable option but not always the wisest. London is a city where one wrong look can turn into a funeral (a slight exaggeration but you get my drift). I know that oftentimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that makes the difference. I could have been nice and asked politely that she shut her mouth and give the rest of us some peace but I just had no patience.

My final grumble was like something out of a comedy sketch:

It’s a Friday night. Sally-Ann is on the tube returning from a long journey up north. She takes the first clean seat she come to on the tube. A few seats away from her, a man looks like he has poured double cream all over his mouth and she wonders if his mind has gone or whether there is another explanation for this sight on a London tube. A few stops later, three barely 20-something year olds board the tube – two men and one girl. High in spirits and probably weed too from the smell of one of the men who sits next to her. They begin talking about Insecure quite loudly, loudly enough for Sally-Ann to have to re-read the last line of a newspaper article five times. They ask a passenger whether she has watched Insecure before then they spend a few minutes talking about the programme and laughing loudly.

That I can manage. But then the conversation moves on – to ‘fuckboys’.

The girl in the group asks one of the boys how many girls he’s currently having sex with. He says four but that’s fine he continues, because the girls are also allowed to sleep with other guys if they want. They then begin to disagree about what exactly a ‘fuckboy’* is. It’s at this point where things become a little surreal. The height of their voices is just a little too tall for me given my fatigue so I move seats. They stay put and begin canvassing opinions – from other passengers!!!!

‘What do you think? What’s a fuckboy?’, one of the men asks a random passenger who I was sitting next to just a few minutes ago.

‘A fat boy? F-A_T?’, she asks

‘No, a fuckboy’, the man repeats.

At this point, one a passenger who is standing up begins to laugh. Hard.

I’d do the same but I’m not finding it funny. Fatigue makes me grumpy in the same way hunger makes some angry.

I don’t flip out, or intervene and nor do I need to. The third in the group, a weed boy, who’s been pretty quiet throughout the journey, begins to try to calm his loud friend down. He tells him he’s taken it a little too far and almost seems embarrassed – an ‘I don’t know you’ kind of embarrassment. Throughout the whole exchange, he’s been pretty quiet. I think it’s the weed, which he is reeking of but maybe I’m wrong and maybe it’s just his nature.

Either way, this is the final straw in my tube nightmare and all I can say as I get off the tube (internally of course), is ‘ Thank God for my bike’.

  • apologies in advance for the vulgarity but like Childish Gambino might say ‘This is Lon-din-nium’

** if you know what on earth it is (though it seems a little obvious), well done sticker for you.