anorexia · eating disorder · Mental Health

Office Diet-Culture Nearly Caused me to Relapse into Anorexia

Between 2016 and 2018 I worked in a large, female-dominated shared office of around 20 people. As you can imagine, the discussions held in this office were often on traditionally female topics, such as make-up, men, and of course, diets.

Every. Single. Day.

Each day my colleagues would spend hours discussing the latest diets, how little they’d eaten, how ‘good’ they’d been or how long they spent in the gym. They’d comment on each other’s food choices, and encourage one another to be healthier. At one point a small group even went and did laps around our hospital during lunch time, before counting the calories they had burned in the office later.

As a weight-restored anorexic, this was hard to tolerate. I was surrounded by diet-culture and felt I couldn’t escape it. Add in the fact I was also one of the biggest females in the office and I began to see a few old habits sneak back in.

At one point, when a colleague spoke relentlessly about how much weight she’d lost, I began skipping lunch. I knew I couldn’t get away with skipping eating at home, as my boyfriend was hot on any of my symptoms cropping back in, so I restricted where I could; work. I would take a drink down to lunch with me, and when my colleagues would ask why I wasn’t eating I’d make up the all too familiar lies;

‘Oh I’m having a takeaway tonight so don’t want to eat right now…’

‘I’m not feeling like it…’

‘I’ll eat later…’

‘I ate a lot earlier…’

I also began pacing around whilst waiting for trains and buses on my commute to and from work in an effort to burn calories. I would drink fizzy drinks to fill my stomach.

The worrying thing, some of these colleagues knew I was a weight-restored anorexic and didn’t even bat an eyelid. When I began inevitably losing weight, all I got was compliments.

Thankfully my ability to restrict my food intake has wained significantly and I wasn’t able to maintain this for long periods. But I am fully aware of how close I was to entering a relapse.

I really wish at the time I was able to see the office diet-culture for exactly what it was and call out some of my colleagues for their BS, and the damaging impact they had on both myself, and possibly others within the office. But I now pity my co-workers, who have nothing better to talk about it would seem, and who remain fixed in the notion that their sole purpose in life is to take up as little physical space as possible.

As for me, I’m thrilled to have left such a toxic environment, and to be surrounded by people aren’t aboard the diet-culture train.

Lorna

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borderline personality disorder · Mental Health Stigma · Personality Disorders · Team Young Champions

Hi, I’m Lorna…

This is just a small entry! Having recently shared my blog on the Time To Change channels, I took the brave/stupid step of sharing this on my personal social media. I figured it was time to stop letting stigma rule my life, and to stop living in fear of people finding out I have BPD. So now it’s out there, I’m going to use my real name, not just my initial, to sign off my blogs.

So, hello world. I’m Lorna. I’m so excited to get to know you all.

borderline personality disorder · Mental Health · Mental Health Stigma · Personality Disorders

I didn’t even realise I was silenced by stigma

As you guys, and a small corner of the Internet, know I have Borderline Personality Disorder. I was diagnosed with this over 3 and a half years ago, and up until this summer, I had told fewer people than I have fingers on one hand.

To me, this never felt like a conscious decision. I tricked myself into believing it was ‘personal’ and people didn’t need to know about my revised diagnosis. But this is odd, given how open I had been with my earlier diagnosis of depression. I was comfortable discussing this openly with the people in my life, even sharing my story in articles with my local newspaper and charities. My colleagues knew, my friends knew, even strangers knew. So why didn’t I feel able to do this with my personality disorder?

The answer is simple, the stigma attached is immense. All of my colleagues and friends knew about the realities of depression, and a large number had experienced it themselves. Very few knew anything at all about personality disorders, and what they did know wasn’t good. They thought personality disorders weren’t ‘real’ illnesses, or that people with them were just being ‘difficult.’ More often than not I had seen people refer to people with BPD in particular as ‘manipulative’ and ‘toxic’ and I was scared I’d be tarred with the same brush. When I did tell my closest friends, they didn’t get it. They’d generally never heard of it, and I didn’t have the tools to explain it to them, as it was still pretty new to me too. When I tried to explain, I’d see their faces change; gone was the empathetic, albeit pitying look i got when I talked about my depression, replaced with looks of confusion or fear.

However this carried on long after I got used to my new diagnosis. When I filled in a form for my graduate role and it asked if I had any health conditions, or take regular medication, I lied, fearing my offer might be retracted if I disclosed my BPD. I phoned my mum, and we both felt I may lose the job if I disclosed my disorder, and agreed it would be better to hide it. I spent two years in the role dreading anyone finding out and throwing people who got close to me off the scent in case they decided I wasn’t ‘well’ enough to do my job.

The truth is, I felt shame and fear associated with my diagnosis of BPD. I’d never met anyone else with it, and having the label made me feel like a freak and an outsider.

That changed when I went to the Time to Change Young Champion induction weekend. I’d applied spontaneously and wasn’t really 100% certain of what the role involved or who else would be there. I was pleased to find myself spending two days in a room of fearless, beautiful, inspiring people, who were so passionate about speaking their truth and sharing their struggles with the world in order to make it a little easier for others. It was the first time in over a year I had told anyone I had BPD. That night, back in the hotel, I was struck by the realisation that I had been actively hiding my disorder for years, for one reason; fear of the stigma attached. And that same night, I set up my blog and introduced myself, and my BPD, to the world.

I never want to go back to hiding from my diagnosis, or letting the way others perceive this control my life. I now own my BPD, instead of it owning me. And I’m going to fight tooth and nail to ensure other’s aren’t left fearing the consequences of disclosing they have Borderline Personality Disorder… Because it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Lorna

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borderline personality disorder · Personality Disorders · Psychiatry

Quetiapine was my lifeline in my darkest time but for so many it’s now too expensive.

In late 2016, when I worked in a psychiatric hospital , I received an email informing all staff of an increase in the cost of an antipsychotic medication called quetiapine. I didn’t think too much of this. It had no relevance to my work as an Assistant Psychologist.

Fast forward a few days and I’m sat in a ward round where the consultant psychiatrist wanted to prescribe a relatively young man the same drug. “No!” suddenly snapped the ward doctor, before giving her a strange look. She responded “oh yes, of course. Maybe something else.”

Now, this psychiatrist was my supervisor, and I later asked her about this exchange. She reminded me of the email I had read, and explained she was being put under pressure not to prescribe the drug, as it’s cost had increased from £1.59 per tablet to an eye-watering £113.10 per tablet. No, that’s not a typo. That actually happened. She explained to me she knew Quetiapine was the best option for this patient; it’s one of the better antipsychotics in terms of effectiveness, and has far less side-effects compared to it’s counterparts. As the patient was so young, she did not wish to put him at risk of unnecesary health complications. But she couldn’t do this, because it was too expensive.

This saddened me on a professional level – I had to watch a patient drooling on himself and gaining excessive weight, when I knew deep-down he didnt need to. But more than this, it broke my heart on a personal level. What I hadn’t mentioned to my boss was that I was on a daily dose of the same drug myself.

During my lowest time, somewhere around 2014-15 when I returned to unviersity, I was unable to sleep at all. I was a mess. I was crying and self-haming most nights and couldnt calm my thoughts to sleep. I was exhausted on multiple levels. I went to my (incredible) GP weekly, and begged her to help me sleep. She was compassionate, and as by this point she had begun to suspect I might have a personality disorder, suggested I try a small dose of quetiapine. It has sedative effects at low doses, and is often used to supprot PD patients with emotional regulation.

This drug changed my life.

That sounds dramatic, but it’s true. I was able to sleep properly for the first time in years. Unlike sleeping pills I wasn’t left feeling groggy the next morning, and felt pretty normal aside from feeling far more rested. This had a knock on impact to my mood and ability to tolerate minor stressors without explosions of emotion. I felt like I was finally getting better.

By this point I’d been under MH services for a good few years, and tried 2 different anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication and 2 differnt forms of tranquilisers. Nothing had even come close to the impact Quetiapine gave me. And I’ve never experienced a single side-effect.

I now often think what would happen if I presented to that GP today. Would she be unable to prescribe it to me today, fearful of it’s cost? Would I have to carry on feeling like a zombie on benzodiazepines, or risk more aggressive antipsychotics or mood-stabilisers? I’m thankful for my repeat prescription, but fear the day when I’m encouraged to cease my Quetiapine.

And this is happening with a number of psychiatric medications. Olanzapine, another antipsychotic medication, has experienced similar exponential cost increases. The concerning thing is that these are medications you can’t easily substitue with another – they work uniquely for that individual, who has often tried other options previously without success.

I sincerely hope these costs will lower in future, and that the drugs needed to allow people to recover become more readily avilable, presribed when needed, without fear of the cost.

L

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anorexia · eating disorder · Mental Health

Why I’ve stopped saying I’m ‘recovered’ from anorexia

My battle with anorexia came to a gradual end in around 2015, shortly before I met my boyfriend. I’d been unwell for around 3 years, after suffering a breakdown during my second year at university and having to suspend my studies for a year.

For me, there is no great marker as to when I felt I had ‘recovered,’ I didn’t wake to an epiphany that I could no longer live a life of starvation and obsession, but counselling and an understanding GP had slowly allowed me to move away from my unhealthy behaviours and back into a somewhat normality with food.

Yet for so long I used the word recovered to describe my relationship with anorexia. I never even thought twice about using this term. I was no longer actively anorexic, therefore I must be recovered. I don’t starve myself, overexercise or obsess over numbers, so I’m all fixed.

But in the last year, I have learnt that this word does not accurately describe my relationship with my old friend, anorexia, and I have shifted my language to incorporate the phrase ‘weight-restored’ more often than not.

Whilst I no longer starve myself on a daily basis, I have had multiple days in the last 12 months where I have eaten nothing at all, and it has startled me how quickly I can return to that mindset. Whereas on a normal day I love food and would count down the hours to lunch during boring days in my office, I found at times I could easily revert to an obsession with calories and survive filling my stomach with calorie-free fizzy drinks, often triggered by external stress in my life. I felt the buzz of restriction and the feeling of success at making it to the end of the day without food. I also regularly find myself considering my weight, calories in food, and how to sneak in exercise to try and reduce my weight. I have regularly paced area with the sole purpose of burning calories. Thankfully, these moments are often short-lived.

Whilst this is nowhere near my extreme behaviour during my throws of anorexia, and I’m not even slightly close to relapsing, I am now able to acknowledge that these behaviours are the result of my illness, and may not be present in a ‘healthy population.’ As such, I consider my anorexia to be under control, or in remission. It may well return one day, although I sincerely hope not, I have to admit I continue to experience some of the mental symptoms of the disorder, albeit not to the full extent of my previous experience.

‘Weight-restored’ for me is more reflective of how I feel. I am not physically experiencing anorexia; I am a healthy- (if not over-) weight individual yet I continue to have moments where anorexia sinks her destructive claws into me and I’m forced to fight her off once more. Mentally, however, I can go back to that space quickly, and just as intensely as before.  It takes a mammoth effort to silence these urges and to remind myself my life now is much healthier, happier, and freer.

This may well always be the case, and I may never feel comfortable using the term ‘recovered’ in future. And you know what, that’s okay.

L

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borderline personality disorder · eating disorder · Mental Health · Personality Disorders · Psychiatry

How to cope when your diagnosis is changed

When I first sought help for being mentally unwell, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I learnt a lot about these disorders and spent time familiarising myself with treatment options. My depression and anxiety also slowly weaved its way into my identity, as any long-term illness does. I told friends, family, colleagues and even shared some of my story online. It became a part of my life for a number of years.

Fast forward 2 – 3 years and following a particularly difficult time at university involving a small handful of highly unstable Tinder relationships and I find myself sat in front of my GP one day when she says “this doesn’t really feel like depression to me. Don’t panic but I think you might have Borderline Personality Disorder.” Shortly after, and two psychiatrist appointments later, and it was done. I now had BPD.

I felt like the rug had been pulled firmly from underneath me. It was as if the person I thought I was no longer existed, and I had to get used to this whole new person. I was left to manage this massive news alone, whilst at university and hundreds of miles away from home. I wasn’t able to engage in DBT as I was due to return home shortly afterwards and couldn’t commit to the stringent programme whilst based at two addresses. I wasn’t offered much follow up, and didn’t really discuss how I felt about the new diagnosis is any of my GP appointments.

So I wanted to compile some tips for anyone coping with a similar situation. But please note, these worked or me, and they might not work for everyone, but I hope someone out there finds them helpful.

  • Try to avoid Google: Now, don’t get me wrong, I googled BPD when I was told this might be more fitting of my experiences, and it was helpful to an extent. I was able to identify with the symptoms and felt somewhat relieved my GP appeared to be on to something. But, the internet is a huge place, and as relieved as I felt, I also stumbled across a lot of negative information. This included stigmatising content and terrifying tales of those who continue to struggle significantly with BPD. This often. left me feeling shame and hopelessness about this new diagnosis, and I really wish I’d stuck to factual websites, such as Mind, until a little further along. I totally appreciate people who continue to struggle so badly have as much right as I to share their tales, but at times they left me convinced I would never recover.
  • Tell somebody: I confided in my mum and one friend. I didn’t want to tell many people until I’d got my head around it myself, but having someone to turn to when I felt helpless, and to reassure me and remind me not to get ahead of myself was really important.
  • Listen to the professionals: You’re going to have your own views on a new diagnosis, and have no doubt heard of treatments you might want to try, and by all means, communicate them, but also listen to professional advice. Having worked in psychiatry I can promise you these are people who know what they are talking about. Whilst this is something completely new to you, it isn’t to them so exploit their expertise. Ask them questions, take notes, look into sites/groups they suggest. They are not against you. Trust me, they want you to recover.
  • Be patient: It is terrifying having your diagnosis changed, and you can’t make sense of it in a day. Anyone with a new diagnosis, physical or mental has a lot of learning to do, and it can seem daunting. Be patient with yourself, and with the services, and know it will start to make sense over time. Rest, cry, spend some time alone, do whatever you need to do to process this. You will be okay.

L

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Mental Health · Personality Disorders

Why New Year is Bad For My Mental Health

I bloody love Christmas! It is without a doubt my favourite time of year. I love being with my family, locking ourselves away from the world for a few days and just being. Throw in food, fairly lights and mulled wine and I’m ecstatic.

But for me, the joy of Christmas ends suddenly and abruptly when New Year rolls around. For me, this is a time that fills me with significant anxiety. It’s like the Christmas period is for reflecting on the last year, whereas New Year the focus shifts to considering the future. Like many people with a mental illness, I find this difficult.

Since losing a parent, there has always been this overwhelming sense of “will this be my last year with [insert name here]?” I spend the entirety of New Year’s Eve catastrophising about what might happen in the coming 12 months. This includes everything from my loved ones dying, to losing my job and beyond.

Couple this with the enforced ‘joy’ of New Year and I usually end up crying in a panicked mess. All of my friends usually have plans, largely centred around alcohol and large crowds, and this is something that no longer appeals to me. I don’t want to spend £25 to get into a club I wouldn’t normally be seen dead in, around people I hardly know. Despite this, however, I often feel like I am somehow ‘missing out’ on something great, or that I am abnormal for my preferences.

One of my biggest issues is the fact I despise fireworks. Noise at night is particularly triggering for me due to past trauma, and the constant banging from early evening through to 1am really can get too much for me. I feel constantly on edge and unable to relax. It’s like every time I manage to calm down another one goes off and my anxiety spikes again. 

New Year is so hard to avoid. Even if I insist I’m going to bed at a normal time, I can’t help escape the sense of the clock ticking down, edging ever closer to midnight. I can never get to sleep no matter how hard I try, it’s as if there is a timebomb in my room, and it’s ticking overwhelms me.

From recollection, the last two or three New Years I’ve ended up having full-blown panic attacks, which adds a further layer of anxiety; the anticipation of a meltdown.

I still don’t really know how I’m going to cope with this New Year. I’m working both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and am hoping this will make me sufficiently tired to go to bed and avoid the whole thing. But I represent a significant number of people who really struggle with this time of year. Please be gentle on those around you. Try and find other topics of conversation. Don’t try and talk people into New Years plans if they don’t want to. Ask a loved one how you can help them. Because for so many, the prospect of another year can actually be pretty damn scary.

L

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