How To Know If You Have An Eating Disorder and What To Do Next by Rachelle Wilber

(image: Unsplash)

An estimated 45 million people in the United States (and many millions globally) go on a diet each year to try and shed extra pounds. While exercising and eating healthfully is important, obsessing over losing weight can turn into an eating disorder.

Eating disorders present in a variety of different forms such as bulimia, anorexia, and/or binge eating. Staying aware of the symptoms of an eating disorder and what you should do should you develop one can help you stay healthy.

Different Types of Eating Disorders

Though problems with food can manifest in different ways, there are three main types of eating disorders.

  • Bulimia: Those with bulimia typically eat large amounts of food and then purge the food afterward by vomiting or using laxatives
  • Anorexia: Those with anorexia avoid eating or eat extremely small amounts of food
  • Binge eating: Those with binge eating may eat large amounts of food in a short amount of time

Look for Common Symptoms of Eating Disorders

One of the best ways to determine if you have an eating disorder is by watching for symptoms in your own habits and behavior. These symptoms may also be noticed by your friends, family, or other loved ones. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Having a fear of gaining weight or growing fat
  • Withdrawing from activities with family and friends
  • Becoming secretive and lying about it
  • Experiencing anxiety and depression
  • Feeling an intense fear of certain foods, such as foods that are sweet or have high levels of fat
  • Obsessing over the number of calories and food eaten
  • Avoiding situations that involve food
  • Attempting to lose weight by purging, using laxatives or over-exercising
  • Weighing yourself daily or multiple times per day

If you suspect you have an eating disorder, know that you aren’t alone and that help is available. Be proud that you are taking the first step and seeking help. It may be helpful to identify ways that you are not feeling in control in your life and the way you feel around food.

Keeping a journal of these feelings is a great way to learn more about your habits and identify the feelings that triggered your eating disorder. Next, talk with your insurance company (if in the US) or NHS/ privately if in UK and seek out a reputable doctor for eating disorder treatment. There are many specialists, counsellors, and rehabilitation centers available who are highly experienced in helping people recover from their disorder. Please note that the NHS may have waiting lists but seeking help is so important to find recovery.

Having an eating disorder often means you feel a lot of shame about yourself and your eating habits. Talking with a doctor and/or therapist can help you let go of this shame so you can love yourself and take the first steps on your road to healing.

This article was written by freelance writer Rachelle Wilber.

New #ChangetheStory Campaign by Hope Virgo and The Hearts Minds and Genes Coalition shows rise in Eating Disorder Stereotypes.

(image: Change the Story Campaign)

#ChangeTheStory and Anybody and Everybody is a new campaign launched this month by The Hearts Minds and Genes Coalition which is chaired by Multi-Award winning campaigner and Author, Hope Virgo. Hope is a friend of mine who has campaigned for years for help for those with eating disorders and she is a force to be reckoned with and an amazing woman!

Eating disorders are serious, biologically based mental illnesses deserving of equal clinical and research funding to that given to other complex diseases. They want to ensure that no-one with an eating disorder need experience shame or guilt, and everybody should have timely access to specialist services.

Author and Multi-Award winning campaigner, Hope Virgo who chairs the coalition says;“When we think of eating disorders we often immediately think of a white teenage, emaciated girl and fail to realise that eating disorders are so often hidden in plain sight amongst all ages, genders races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations and socio-economic statuses. The campaign is working to remove the stigma and misunderstanding that surrounds these illnesses, ensuring that nobody should experience shame or guilt for suffering from an eating disorder and to make sure that everybody has prompt access to specialist services.”

(image on Twitter: Change the Story campaign, Hope Virgo and FEAST outside the Houses of Parliament)

Eating disorders are not new illnesses, but there has been a massive rise in cases during the pandemic. Unacceptable delays before treatment means we are also seeing a rise in avoidable chronic long-term illness and loss of life. We need to ensure that we are no longer hiding behind the global pandemic but ensuring that the right support is in place for everyone because no one should be dying of an eating disorder in 2022. They are working to remove the stigma and misunderstanding that surrounds these illnesses, ensuring that nobody should experience shame or guilt for suffering from a biologically based illness and everybody should have timely access to specialist services.

To raise awareness of the campaign they have created a video supported by Instagram. For a long time, people have used Instagram to challenge stereotypes about body size, share their journeys with overcoming body image issues, and celebrate different body types. 

 Renee McGregor, leading Sports and Eating disorder specialist dietitian said;“We need to change the images, narrative and practices presently associated with eating disorders in order to ensure that no further lives are lost to this illness in 2022 or beyond.” 

Suzanne Baker, CarerRepresentative for F.E.A.S.T. (www.feast-ed.org)in the UK, said;“timely access to sustained, specialist treatment is key to recovery from an eating disorder at any age or stage. Currently too many people are not able to access this treatment often due to misconceptions about what an eating disorder ‘looks’ like. There is no one look – eating disorders are serious biologically influenced illnesses and are often hidden in plain sight.

Dr Agnes Ayton, chair of the Eating Disorders Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “No one chooses to have an eating disorder. An eating disorder can affect anyone at any age and can be caused by a range of factors including genes, mental or physical health conditions and social pressure. The stigma around having an eating disorder prevents many people from asking for help when they need it. No one should feel embarrassed to ask for help. An eating disorder can have very serious long-term effects on the body, but with treatment, people can fully recover. Raising awareness of this issue is an important first step in helping people to get the help they need. If you think you may have an eating disorder, speak to your GP who can refer you to a specialist counsellor, psychiatrist or psychologist. You can also visit the NHS Choices website to find out what additional support is available, including confidential helplines.”

Gerome Breen, Professor of Psychiatric Genetics at King’s College London says: “Research and its dissemination are essential to dispelling the unhelpful myths and stigma that surround eating disorders and compound their long-lasting and devastating impacts. By understanding more about why and how eating disorders develop we can improve society’s conceptualisation of these conditions and hopefully enable more people to seek and receive the support they need.”

(image on Twitter: Jeremy Hunt MP with Hope Virgo)

You can help by posting a selfie to support this campaign with the hashtag #changethestory.

Watch the video here to discover more about the campaign:

From Denial, To Acceptance and Recovery: My Mental Health and Eating Disorder Journey by Emily J. Johnson

(image: Jasmin Chew at Pexels)

Trigger warning: discusses eating disorders and OCD

It has taken me almost thirty-five years to acknowledge that I have struggled with mental illness myself. I’ve spent a lifetime in denial. It wasn’t until writing my memoir Pushing Through The Cracks in 2021 that I observed my life objectively. I witnessed the experiences I’d gathered since childhood and how they had shaped me into the woman I am today.   A woman of strength, but also one diagnosed with a mental health disorder – Binge eating disorder. A label I neither wanted nor could accept. Not until now.

This isn’t my first experience with mental illness. In my teens, my life was in turmoil. After my parents’ unexpected divorce, my mother remarried a gambler with a volatile temper within two years. My father moved to Australia, and with the upheaval of my home life and the onslaught of puberty, I felt lost. My body was changing, and I’d become uncomfortable with my new shape. What began as a diet to slim my blossoming body developed into anorexia. In the 1980s, treatment was non-existent, at least for me. Instead, my GP gave me a telling-off and threatened to put me in a hospital and force-feed me via a drip. His threats petrified me, and I gradually increased my food intake again. It took me two years to recover. Ultimately, my anorexia was untreated, so it left me with a legacy of disordered thoughts about my body and food throughout my adult life.

A few years after my father’s death in my mid-thirties, I became fixated on turning electrical items off – the cooker, iron, hair straighteners, television – anything that was plugged in. I would touch the switches whilst talking out loud to myself, repeatedly, trying to confirm they were in the ‘off’ position. I knew they were off, but somehow, I couldn’t accept that they were off. Additional obsessions snuck in gradually. I began checking the fridge door was closed, then every door and window in my home. What started as checking became an arduous set routine every night to ensure the doors and windows were locked multiple times. I was terrified someone was going to break in. Checking the doors eased that terror, temporarily.

It continued for several months, and I couldn’t stop the thoughts no matter how hard I tried. I moved back to the UK in 2010 and it appeared the huge disruption to my life interrupted the intrusive thoughts and checking behaviours, and they stopped. As the mother of a child with severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I now recognise what I experienced back in my thirties may well have been OCD.

Fast forward to my late forties, a divorce behind me, and a period of depression to follow, I remarried and began a new life with a blended family. But within a couple of years, both of my sons and my new husband began struggling with their mental health. Mental illness filled our once happy home with depression, anxiety, alcoholism, OCD, and gambling, and it turned my entire world upside down whilst I tried to care for them all. I was under immense stress and turned to something to help me cope – food.

It began with me ‘rewarding’ myself with chocolate bars late at night when everyone else had settled. Over time, the ‘reward’ became a buffet of junk — mostly heavily processed carbs and sugar. All eaten quickly, in secret, and shrouded in shame. Within a few months, I was eating around 5000 calories during a night-time binge. In-between the binges were days of restricted food intake. I gained a large amount of weight, which I hated myself for. The self-loathing was overwhelming.

I realised I had a problem in late 2019 and went to my GP, who referred me to an eating disorder clinic. They diagnosed me with Binge eating disorder (BED), and I began a recovery programme, which I stuck to until the Covid pandemic interrupted my sessions, and I threw in the towel. As a result, I slipped back into bingeing again when life overwhelmed me.

In 2021, I self-referred myself back to the ED clinic. I’m still on a waiting list, however, I’ve taken steps to get support and am in recovery now. I am 24 days binge-free at the time of writing this, which feels like such a huge personal triumph after a long period of relapse.

I think the toughest part for me has been accepting that I had a mental health disorder. I also felt overwhelming guilt that I had perhaps somehow genetically gifted my son’s mental illness to each of them. It’s taken me a long time to accept my diagnosis and our family’s situation. But from that place of acceptance, I have finally found peace….and recovery.



Emily J. Johnson is the author of Pushing Through The Cracks, her memoir of her family’s struggles with mental health. She lives in the UK and this is her first blog on this subject!

Identifying the Source of your Eating Disorder and Finding Recovery by Anita Ginsburg

(image: Mindful Eats Nutrition Counselling)

Few of us follow a healthy eating plan all the time. While you should try your best to keep a healthy diet, due to mental ill health and/or life trauma, some people go on to develop eating disorders as a result (such as anorexia and bulimia). 

There are a wide range of eating disorders that sprout from a wide range of mental, emotional, and environmental issues. If you have an eating disorder, it is important to get to the root of the psychological aspect and take steps to move towards recovery.

Here are some things you can do.

Keep a Journal

You may have already tried using a food journal to track everything you eat, your calories, your macros, your weight, your water intake, exercise, or any combination of the above. Unfortunately, many people feel that this type of journal causes them to obsess over what they’re eating. This can actually be detrimental to recovery unless carefully supervised by a doctor or therapist. 

However, journalling can still be helpful. Instead of focusing on calories or other factors in your food, take a look at yourself and how you feel about your food instead. For example, you might notice trends in your eating habits. Are there some foods or meals you’re avoiding altogether? Why? You can write about how you felt before, during, and after eating. This could include how you felt physically—hunger, pain—or emotionally. Finally, you might notice certain triggers that affect your eating habits.

With this information, you can get a good idea of whats going on, what might be causing the disorder, and what to do to help your mental health. Your journal should feel safe and supportive in your journey towards good health again.

Avoid parts of food journalling that make you feel unsafe. You may need to talk with your therapist to find a good balance.

Consult a Therapist

As mentioned above, a therapist can be very helpful in helping you provide insight and guidance in overcoming your eating disorder. If you can, try to find a therapist who specialises in eating disorders. They can help you identify emotional or environmental issues that may be triggering your eating disorder. Additionally, they will likely be able to recommend certain steps to help you break unhealthy eating habits. Not every tip or idea will work for everyone, so you and your therapist will have to work together to identify what works for you, what doesn’t, and what is counter-productive.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you don’t already know what category your eating disorder falls under, your doctor may be able to advise you. They will look at factors like your medical history, family history, and associated factors. The doctor might recommend certain types of testing or procedures to learn more about your eating habits- including blood tests and your BMI. They may also recommend certain diet changes or plans to help you reach healthier eating habits and improve your mental wellbeing.

Explore Treatment Options

As you learn more about your situation, you can look into possible treatment options for eating disorders that could help you to deal with and overcome the problem. Nutritional guidance, weight management programs, and support groups are common ways of helping people to recovery.

Eating disorders can cause many difficulties especially when you are feeling low or your mental health is declining. That is why its so important to find out the source of your eating disorder so it can be effectively treated and overcome. Learn all you can, consult professionals, and if it is available for you, join an eating disorder treatment program to achieve your goals back to health.

This article was written by freelance writer Anita Ginsburg

We are 4! On Be Ur Own Light’s Fourth Blog Anniversary by Eleanor

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Its Today- 1st March 2020 and Be Ur Own Light is 4 years old! (cue the streamers!)

I still remember starting this blog as an outlet for my fears, thoughts and emotions dealing with my bipolar and anxiety. The blog started as a way to tell my friends and family how I was feeling and has evolved into working with guest bloggers and now brands/ partners on sponsored wellness posts too! Writing the blog and sharing thoughts has been so therapeutic and it has taken me on  a journey that I could not have imagined.

In November 2019, I published my first book Bring me to Light with Trigger Publishing which is the book of my life story with bipolar disorder, anxiety and my life in general (travelling, going to drama school, starting a career as a writer). The blog has also grown so much this year and is currently nominated in the Mental Health Blog Awards for Blogger of the Year, thank you to our nominee!

Additionally, Vuelio awarded us as a Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog for the second year running and interviewed me (Eleanor) about working as a blogger!  Thanks also to Feedspot.com and My Therapy App for listing us in their mental health blog lists too for social anxiety and bipolar!

This year, I have written about World Bipolar Day for the Centre of Mental Health, about my search for EMDR therapy on the NHS, living with depression in winter, about writing my book and new life changes (getting married) and 2020 new year round up with hopes for the future. We also promoted mental health campaigns such as Shout UK text line (founded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and Meghan),  Christmas 4 CAMHS, Time to Talk Day and Mental Health Awareness Week. Additionally, I spoke in Essex with my Dad about our joint story with bipolar for the Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat and we also spoke at Limmud Conference in Birmingham!

This winter I did some interviews for the book which can be seen on the Book tab above and also received some lovely reviews. It was amazing to appear in Happiful Magazine’s bonus wellness Mag this January (edited by campaigner Natasha Devon) and to write for Glamour and Bipolar UK. I also enjoyed being interviewed for the Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle! Hopefully at some point I will do podcasts about it too and more interviews.

From March 2019-2020, the blog has attracted wonderful and talented guest bloggers wanting to spread their messages about mental health and wellness.

We have also worked with the following brands on sponsored and gifted posts and hope to work with many more this next year :  YuLife, Nutra Tea, Essential Olie, Loveitcoverit on mental health apps, I-sopod floatation tanks, Core Wellness Maryland, Wellbeing Escapes Holidays.

My guest bloggers have written about their recovery and living with mental illnesses, as well as advice on how to improve your mental health. There a posts for whether you are going through a divorce, a bereavement, are stressed or have anxiety. We also had posts with people’s first hand experiences of mental illness including a brave post about being a sibling of someone with mental illness and one of living with an eating disorder. Furthermore, Be Ur Own Light has also covered World Mental Health Day and Time to Talk Day this year, featuring personal mental health stories as a way to raise awareness and fight misconceptions.

We have also covered new books coming out, a mental health fashion brand and a song about social anxiety, as well as posts about different therapies to help you.

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Thank you to my amazing guest bloggers (non sponsored) March 2019-2020 for your fantastic content:   

Ashley Smith- How Massage Therapy helps Anxiety Disorders

Emily Bartels- 5 tips for a mental health emergency plan

Dale Vernor- Understanding PTSD by Gender 

Tan at Booknerd Tan- How audio books and walking has helped anxiety

Emma Sturgis- Loving yourself, tips for a body positive life

EM Training Solutions- How to maintain mental health at work

David Morin- On social anxiety and talking to others

Lyle Murphy- How equine therapy can help those with mental health issues

Charlie Waller Memorial Trust- Best of Musicals event

A Time to Change Hypnotherapy-  Hypnotherapy for self esteem

Nu View Treatment Center- The connection between anxiety and substance abuse

Shout UK- Royal family launches mental health text line

Mental Health Foundation – Mental Health Awareness Week  May 2019 Body Image

Emerson Blake- Coping with the stress of becoming a single parent

The Worsley Centre- A guide to therapies and finding the right one for you

Byron Donovan at Grey Matter – How I recovered from depression to form a fashion brand 

Luci Larkin at Wooley and Co Law- How to reduce stress and maintain mental health during a divorce

Nat Juchems- How to keep your loved ones memory alive after bereavement

Emily Ilett- on her book ‘The Girl who Lost her Shadow’

Mark Simmonds- an interview about his book ‘Breakdown and Repair’ with Trigger Publishing

Curtis Dean- 5 facts about music for stress relief

Robert Tropp- How quitting illegal drugs helps anxiety in the long term

Aaron James- the difference between psychotherapy and counselling

Dr Justine Curry- 4 ways to help a friend with bipolar disorder

Christmas 4 CAMHS campaign for children in childrens mental health wards

Ani O- 4 ways to ease the fear of doctors appointments

Katherine Myers- Ways that spending time outdoors can improve your mental health

Anita- 5 ways to lift you out the slump of seasonal depression

Chloe Walker- taking care of your child’s mental health

CBT Toronto- how to deal with social anxiety and depression

Katy- a true story with anorexia and OCD

Vanessa Hill- Life changing habits to bring into the new year

Rachel Leycroft- Expressing social anxiety through songwriting

Shira- Living with a sibling with mental illness: the meaning of normal

Capillus- 10 signs you may have an anxiety disorder

Brooke Chaplan- When therapy isn’t enough 

Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat 2020 

Mike Segall- Time to Talk Day- 9 years undiagnosed, my story with bipolar disorder

Jasveer Atwal- Living with PCOS and managing mental health

Leigh Adley at Set Your Mind Free- How CBT helps children with anxiety

Lizzie Weakley- How to heal and move forward when you have an eating disorder

Sofie- Living with an eating disorder

Thank you so much to all of you and I am excited to see what 2020-21 brings for the blog!

Be Ur Own Light continues to be read globally and I love receiving your messages about the blogs and finding new writers too.

Heres to a 2020 of positive mental health, of fighting the stigma against mental illness and creating a positive and supportive community here. 

Happy 4th birthday Be Ur Own Light!  ❤ May this be an enlightening year of growth for us.

 

Love and Light always,

Eleanor    

xxx

Living with an Eating Disorder: Guest blog by Sofie

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(image: Pinterest)

This is a first person, brave and honest account by Sofie of her feelings about her eating disorder, which are her personal views. Trigger warning: please be careful as this discusses eating disorders and real emotions around them. We promote healing and recovery, where possible. So here’s Sofie….

    

I miss it every day! My first thought as I wake up in the morning and my last before I drift off for the night. It is a visceral longing. That’s the burden of an eating disorder. It’s an imposter that invites itself into your life and fulfills a need. It seemingly bestows upon you new abilities and strips you of weaknesses. However, with every freedom that it grants, there is a toll to pay.

My story doesn’t begin with a girl unhappy with her body, not many eating disorder stories do. My story starts with a girl lost within her own life. A girl who longed to feel she had a purpose and a direction — a child who yearned to feel an ounce of control. Anorexia gave me that control.

It gave me the power to defy human nature. It gave me a harsh look that proved I was oozing with discipline. Each bone like a spear warding off feelings and disappointments. I was never clueless as to why I starved myself. I never thought I was on a diet gone wrong. I wept many tears over the fact that my death-defying mission for control had made me so susceptible to vanity and left me a slave to the numbers on a scale, but how else was I to measure my discipline?

I miss it every day! I forget the aches, the pains, the fights, the hopelessness. I long for the feeling of achievement and forget the complete and utter sense of THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. STILL, I AM NOT ENOUGH. I long to go back almost every moment. To flee the life I have, to rewind and go back. For me, disappointment is much harder to face without the false comfort of the hunger, without the excuse of the failing body and protective blanket of a hazy mind.

So am I in recovery? I don’t know. I feel a sense of helplessness in my recovery like I have been dragged here by circumstance, and for now, my situation doesn’t sit comfortably with me. However, I know what I have to tell myself when it stings that my body no longer hurts: I can’t be a nice person while starving. I replay in my mind countless occasions where I behaved more like an animal than a human. I so desired to be successful, but I never wished to be a monster.

So, for now, this realisation is the guard I wear against the intrusive longing. It isn’t a bulletproof armour. The thoughts still wound, but for now, I am still standing, and I don’t need to judge the situation further than that.

And so, the greatest gift any therapy has given me is the clarity to place my love of others above my hatred of myself.

I can live a healthier life as a gift to those I love, who don’t deserve to be tortured by my demons. I must try and look after myself for my family and friends.

 

This blog was written by guest blogger Sofie, to discuss the truth around living with an eating disorder. If you are worried someone you love has an eating disorder, you can contact charities including Beat and speak to a GP or psychiatrist.

How to find a way forward and heal when you have an Eating Disorder: Guest blog by Lizzie Weakley

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(image: Unsplash.com)

Overcoming and managing an eating disorder is often a challenging process. It requires a lot of self-motivation and determination, as well as a healthy and robust support network. However, it will be worth it in the end because you will be able to heal yourself and move forward. Many people may not know where to start when it comes to moving on, but there are many general tips that will apply to most situations. For example, it can be helpful to create new and healthy habits, maintain a positive mindset, and plan for a better future.

Creating New Habits

Many people find it helpful to create new habits after recovering. You should recognise what your triggers are and try to avoid them or learn new coping mechanisms. You might also want to learn more about proper nutrition and how to properly care for your body.

Often, eating disorders can cause negative health effects, and it can be beneficial to adopt a better lifestyle in order to safeguard your future health. You might want to look into working with a nutritionist who will be able to guide you in the right direction. Also, if you feel yourself losing control at any point, you should speak with your doctor right away and potentially consider inpatient eating disorder treatment before things get out of hand.

Maintaining a Positive Mindset

Many people with eating disorders may think negatively about themselves. It is important to avoid this so that you don’t relapse. Instead of dwelling on things you don’t like, if you are able, you might want to focus on your positive attributes. For example, if you enjoy helping others, you might want to consider doing volunteer work. Working with the elderly, under-privileged, and animals can be an excellent way to show you that you have self-worth and purpose, and you will be making a huge difference in the world.

If you are struggling with your mindset and are too unwell to do this, thats OK. Look after yourself and see your medical team.

 

Planning a Better Future

It can be easy to sometimes get caught up in the past and eating disorder thought patterns. However, you might find it helpful to focus more on the present and the future than the past. You could think about all the things you would like to experience and achieve and make a list of attainable goals. Investing in yourself and your future will give you something to look forward to and will motivate you to push forward.

Also, creating a better life for yourself can help to protect you from relapsing because you won’t want to throw away everything you have worked so hard for.

Overall, moving past an eating disorder can take some time. It is important to be kind to yourself and optimistic. Taking the aforementioned tips into consideration and working with professionals, such as a psychiatrist, therapist and nutritionist can help you along the way. They can provide you with beneficial insight that you need to succeed and can help to ensure you are making positive decisions.

 

This guest post was written by freelance writer Lizzie Weakley,

 

Guest Interview with Mark Simmonds: Author of ‘Breakdown and Repair’ mental health book.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

 

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What inspired you to write a book about yours and your daughter’s journey with mental health?

It was July 2017 and I was attending a summer party, hosted by the Marketing Society, the organisation that brings together business people working together in the areas of marketing and advertising. Gemma Greaves, the CEO, was delivering a speech, during which she announced that the Society was going to join the mental health crusade. This seemed odd, slightly incongruous. But then it dawned on me that times had changed. Mental health was no longer the taboo topic it was when I suffered my mental breakdown back in 2001.

Everyone was talking about it now. I also had another 16 years’ experience under my belt, including caring for Emily, my daughter, who suffered from anorexia from 2012 until 2018. So, I had no excuse but to come out of the mental health closet and leave a legacy of sorts to the world. And even if that book helped just one person, then it would have been worth the effort.

 

How did you manage to recover from your stress, anxiety and break down, what helped you?

It was the 19th July 2001. Extreme stress at work had brought on the panic attacks, which were soon followed by a mental breakdown and the onset of severe agitated depression. I was no longer communicating with my wife or my three young children, even though we were all living under the same roof. That morning, I went cycling down a country road. My brain felt like a jumble of spaghetti when I collided with a 10-ton truck. It appears I tried to take my own life.

That’s how I recovered from the breakdown, because when I woke up in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford a few hours later, the dense fog seems to have lifted. From that point onwards, I began to behave like a normal human being. No idea why. The physical impact caused by the accident to my brain? The awful realisation that I had come within a whisper of losing my life, my wife and my kids. There are far more conventional ways of recovering from breakdowns, but that was mine.

How did I recover from stress and anxiety? To be honest, I haven’t! I have simply learned to manage it over the years. I have put banisters in place that help keep me on the straight and narrow: I pick the right working environments, I manage my own expectations and set realistic goals. I satisfy my needs as an introvert. I take medication. I sleep well, eat well, exercise enough. But like all mental illnesses, be aware that it’s always lurking in the bushes, ready to pounce at moments you don’t expect.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

Did you find that Emily received good care and how did you help support her?

Yes, Emily received excellent help and support both from the NHS (Buckinghamshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the Highfield Unit and Cotswold House, Oxford) and from the Cardinal Clinic near Windsor. The dedication and professionalism of all the staff was outstanding and they did their absolute best to help Emily through the illness. But here is the thing. The quality of the support and the hours spent coaxing a patient back to health have little effect or impact until that patient wants to recover.

It took Emily 6 years to decide that she had had enough of anorexia. and it was only then she finally got better. Anorexia (or Ana as we ‘affectionately’ called her) was a brutal enemy, unforgiving and merciless. More than a match for even the most qualified, most experienced doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors.

 

As a father, what was it like to see Emily struggle with anorexia and to try and save her at the time?

I have suffered from depression at various stages in my life and have experienced living at the bottom of the dark pit where Emily found herself. So, it was painful to watch her suffer because I knew exactly what she was feeling. The upside was that I was able to empathise and sympathise with her. I got it. And the way in which I talked to my daughter and tried to support her was more in line with what she needed. People who are suffering from mental ill health don’t respond very well to rational or logical arguments because their brains are temporarily ‘broken’. The neurotransmitters are not connecting with one another. They need lots of hugging, hand holding, being listened to and loved. An irrational and emotional approach is more effective than a rational one.

Where are you both now in terms of recovery?

As far as my daughter was concerned, it was just 12 months ago when the full-blown Anorexia Wars came to an end. We are all fully aware that war could break out again sometime in the future. As a good friend described it, all we could hope was “that Ana will get incarcerated and gagged in small section deep in Emily’s brain, a high security area from which she can never escape.”

Thankfully, at the moment, our daughter is flying high. She is living and working in London for ITV, eating well, drinking alcohol in moderation (trust me that is a positive thing!), firmly back on track.

As far as I am concerned, life is great. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I don’t think that you ever escape fully from either stress or anxiety, but I am determined not to let it get in the way of doing great things, trying new stuff, taking risks, saying things that you might regret, taking on people with whom you don’t agree. I want to make sure I end up under the right tombstone.

 

How has reaction to the book been and how was the writing process?

The writing process was a joy! I loved more or less every minute of it. Working closely with Kasim, my editor at Trigger to agree the overall shape and structure of the book, researching stories and expert perspectives/points of view to add colour, collaborating with the wonderfully talented graphic designer, Lucy Streule, around the illustrations. And spending hour after hour with my wife and family editing, tweaking, improving the book. A wonderful experience.

The reaction has been great, both from friends and from people I have never met.

Alastair Campbell comes into the latter category and he kindly agreed to endorse my book. This is what he said: “I loved this book and devoured it in a single day. Whether on his own illness, his mother’s or his daughter’s struggles, Mark writes clearly and without sentimentality. He is brutally honest about the reality of mental illness across the generations with important insights about how to survive it. Though it is filled with sadness and heartbreak, ultimately his story is a testimony to the power of love and of the human spirit.”

 

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Mark Simmonds published his first book, Breakdown and Repair, with Trigger Publishing, in March 2019 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Repair-Fathers-Success-Inspirational/dp/1912478994). It provides a full account of his daughter’s struggle against anorexia and is illustrated by Lucy Streule. It also talks candidly about his own experiences with mental ill health.

You can also follow Mark on Instagram (mentalhealthmark).

 

Hope with Eating Disorders (2nd Edition): Book by Lynn Crilly

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Writer of Hope with Eating Disorders : A Self Help Guide is Lynn Crilly, a trained counsellor and also a carer to her daughter who developed Anorexia and OCD at aged 13.

Conventional treatment didn’t help her daughter and so Lynn did all she could to learn about eating disorders and mental illness, in order to help her daughter recover. She trained in NLP techniques and became a counsellor, slowly assisting her daughter back to health.

Lynn has said,

‘I  have experienced and learnt first-hand how hard it is to support a loved-one through to recovery from Anorexia Nervosa and OCD, and the effect living with mental illness can have on not only the sufferer but everyone involved, particularly the rest of the family.

I was keen to go on to give others the benefit and support of my knowledge and experience both personally and as a counsellor. Over the years I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful people and their families, each and every one unique, whilst I have been able to support them through their journeys. I too have learnt from them.’

I found the book very easy to read and incredibly informative. The first edition of Hope with Eating Disorders was published in 2012. Since that time, awareness of eating disorders have grown. Lynns website says about the book,

In this second edition, which maintains Lynn Crilly’s warm, non-judgemental, family-friendly approach, the more recently recognised eating disorders have been included, the range of treatment options – both mainstream and alternative – has been fully reviewed and revised, and the impact of social and technological change has been fully accommodated, with the role of social media for good and ill to the fore. New case histories highlight key issues, and throughout all references to research and stats have been reviewed and updated. Men’s eating disorders are now addressed by contributing author Dr Russell Delderfield. Since originally writing Hope with Eating Disorders, Lynn has experienced seven years of counselling practice and seven years of her own daughter’s recovery from an eating disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, underpinning her realistic insight into what recovery actually is and means.

Hope with Eating Disorders is a practical, supportive guide for anyone helping someone with an eating disorder be they a family member, teacher, sports coach, workplace colleague or friend.

You can find out more about Lynn and buy a copy of her book at www.lynncrilly.com/my-books

 

Lifestyle Changes: How to Combat your Eating Disorder: Guest Post by Lizzie Weakley

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Recognising you have an eating disorder is one of the biggest (and hardest) steps you can take to combat your disorder. It’s important to make sure you know how to combat the disorder so you don’t find yourself fighting a losing battle.

Don’t Expect Huge Changes

Just the idea of helping yourself get better from an eating disorder is important, but it won’t bring about the change you really need. You won’t get to see the results of the change until you start making changes. Be prepared for things to stay the same for a long time after you start trying to fight this battle.

Seek Professional Help

It’s almost always necessary to get professional help with eating disorders. There are many eating disorder center options you can choose from that have intensive processes. These centers can make things easier for you and can give you the specific tools you need to start getting better.

Try Something New

Not all eating disorders are the same. There may be differences from person to person so it’s important to keep that in mind when you start this battle. Your eating disorder probably won’t be like anyone else’s battle. Just like you are a unique person, the way you handle your eating disorder will be unique. You can try different things and new techniques to try and help yourself through the eating disorder. Things may change, but it’s important to keep trying new things that might help you.

Recognize Your Struggle

The struggle to combat an eating disorder can be one of the hardest things you do. You should recognize that struggle and work with it to help yourself. If you know it will be difficult to overcome the eating disorder, you’ll be better prepared to fight it when you’re dealing with issues that come from eating disorders.

Continue Fighting

Fighting an eating disorder is a battle you’ll have to deal with for the rest of your life. Even when things do get easier for you, you might still struggle with the issues that come from the eating disorder. Keep that in mind before you start the process. It’s a good idea to know that you’ll be in this fight for the rest of your life, but it does get easier.

Eating disorders are hard. Trying to figure out how to combat one on your own can be even harder. It’s important to know what to expect and take the steps necessary to help yourself get better.

Lizzie Weakley is a freelance writer from Columbus, Ohio. She went to college at The Ohio State University where she studied communications. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her Husky, Snowball, camping, and binging on Netflix.

Twitter: @LizzieWeakley

Facebook: facebook.com/lizzie.weakley