Back to Slaying School!

As I sit here in my favourite alcove on campus, watching over the trees as the squirrels dance over the grass at the edge of campus, I realise that I have just two years left at uni. This seems like most of the course to a lot of people but I’ve been studying part time which means my degree will take a total of five years to complete. I’m in no rush.

Call me Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Going into my first lesson of the year ahead, I walk in without worry and sit in the middle of the lecture theatre. I know what is going on just intermittently as we delve into the complexities of metabolic pathways and that’s ok. I’m more chill about no understanding everything the first time you’re introduced to it. I’m not panicked by not having the end seat on a row. I’m not concerned that people are saying about me, if they’re even saying anything at all. I’m not wishing the world woud swallow me up whole and make everything disappear or that I could immediately teleport home.

The anxiety I used to face at the start of the year, when all the freshers turn up in their hundreds and cram along the corridors to queue for lectures is no longer the major challenge that it was when I started uni in 2016. I’m pretty much at ease with myself and the situation at hand. I’m at ease sitting in a lecture theatre, I’m at ease walking around the corridors and I’m at ease finally with being in the uni environment. My anxiety has downgraded from high octane fright night levels of panic to meh!

No longer do I find myself dodging and flirting my way around campus crevices, hiding in empty rooms because the study room full of students is overwhelming. No longer do I longingly stare at the train tracks as each train that isn’t mine passes me by, wondering if I should just get it over and done with. Still, I experience The September Issues but I’m sure as hell not suicidal in any way nor do I feel paranoid, fearful or desperate to feel nothing instead of the everything that overwhelms me.

I’m a loner on campus but not a loner in life, and this gives me an extra confidence within myself. My confidence has grown so much over the last couple of years that I am very much a different person to when I started here and I still have two years to go. I no longer need weekly welfare meetings, or fitness to study meetings with the Head of College. I’m quite excited to see what I will grow into by the time graduation comes around for me.

Overall, I’ve only had one or two admissions since starting my course and I’ve got stronger and stronger with each successive year. I’ve learned the course content, alongside learning to manage more demanding workloads and how to function despite a shitty ass mood episode. I’ve managed to get myself into my lesson despite how much I’ve hated being awake or going out that day. My resilience has improved and now my life is no longer dictated entirely by my emotional state alone. I imagine that I probably still have a relatively severe case of resting bitch face, and you know what, who cares?! I’m functioning at a higher level than I ever have since the summer of 2011.

Attending uni part time has been absolutely paramount in my getting better at managing life, alongside my therapeutic input and medication alterations. It has taught me to push through when I can, to open up and be honest about needing to rest when I need, and that I can do something with my life outside of the mental health system. I have learned to play a team sport, which has an impact beyond my university life. When my anxiety makes a comeback, instead of isolating and hiding, I’m like a legendary slayer from Final Fantasy, slaying that beast, gain some XP and continue on my way. I’m surpassing levels I never thought I’d get the opportunity to entertain, and as I sit here in my favourite alcove on campus, I am proud, excited for the future and so absolutely fucking grateful for the health care and education system we have here in the UK for helping me get to this place.

Let’s see where this takes me, yeah?

What Is ‘Health’? And How Do We Define It?

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What is health and how do we define it? It’s a pretty complex topic and our interpretations will vary as much as our personalities. In 1946 the World Health Organisation defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (1) at the International Health Conference. This definition was put in place as of 1948. I don’t know about you but aiming for complete health in each of these areas feels like quite the daunting task, much like asking your crush out face to face in year 8 it isn’t going to happen.

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver”
– Mahatma Gandhi (2)

Well-being focus and all the buzz around it is booming. Gone are the days when it’s a popular idea to starve yourself to nothingness in order to achieve a fashionable “look”. The greater the engagement from each of us with our health can only be a good thing. With all this focus on healthy living, healthy eating and “living my best life” what happens when the foundations of understanding what health is and is not are poorly understood? In this sense, striving for health can be like navigating the maze in a Triwizard tournament with an extra catch, you’re blindfolded and there is no cup to be found. Bah ha! You’ve been Tango’d. Except when health is concerned, the consequences can be a bit more dire than a double happy slap. 

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Being aware of and taking responsibility for our health can help us in many ways, whether it’s feeling able and capable, happy and content, experiencing sadness in proportionate bouts and even saving us money on health visits and prescription charges. With the age of the internet however, the health messages we receive can be combobulated and skewed – identifying fact from fiction is a bit of a tough cookie to crack.

So how does the evidence for what is and isn’t healthy translate into simpler ideas? Is it being a certain “ideal” weight? Having the “right” body fat percentages? Is it healthy to living in one emotional state? Is avoiding the GP unless you think you might be legitimately dying mean you’re healthier than everyone sat in the waiting room for said GP? The waters become murky very quickly and it’s easy to lose sight elusive Goblet of Health whilst sashaying amongst the currents and tides of fads, shock factor headlines and public health campaigns that are somewhat not accurate anyway – think Weight Watchers in American schools and the Ob_s__y campaign by Cancer Research UK earlier this year. 

The crux in relation to nutrition and our relationship status with food doesn’t boil down to one measurement, or one aspect of health. What we eat and how we do or don’t eat affects countless aspects of our bodies and functioning. Some very real questions in relation to health and nutrition is currently in an antler head bashing contest amongst those in the field, whether accredited and qualified or not. Is it healthy to marginalise a population group because of a pattern of association without identifying causation? Is it healthy to drill diet culture into young minds, and thus setting them up for a lifetime of living “healthily” on diet culture? Is that even possible? I’m not convinced. I’m also not convinced that everything stocked in Whole Foods is automatically healthy – sorry not sorry. I’m also not convinced about the healthiness of many modern day normalities, such as our phones becoming an extra part of the human anatomy, using social media to gain self worth and validation, or extreme approaches to anything much at all. 

With health food shops donning more supplements than we can possibly afford or swallow, and health influencers donning skimpy clothing to show off abs, glutes that can crush walnuts and who can do more chin ups than an excitable dog can tail wags, does being healthy have to be so extreme? I’m going to go out on a whim here and speculate that there’s no extremes in being healthy. It’s actually more about a balance and happy medium as boring and unexciting as that may sound.

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A little secret not pushed by those cashing in on the trend, you don’t need an extreme diet to eat healthily. You don’t need an extreme exercise regimen to be healthy. You don’t need to always be happy and content to be healthy. Nor do you need to spend crazy dollar on fancy ingredients and farfetched meal plans. Health isn’t even a number on a scale. The BMI is a tool for guidance and definitely not definitive – many athletes have a BMI considered obese and I’ve never seen someone typically considered to be ‘obese’ competing at the Olympics.

Each of us will define health differently drawn from our lived experiences. The most important point to be made though is that health is not a destination but a tool for living. It isn’t the be all and end all, merely a snazzy individualised car for scooting through your days with. Yeah, you want to keep the gear box in check but you don’t want to be obsessing over whether your gears are always sliding perfectly. You also need to keep your oil and waters tanks topped up, but you don’t want to be watching them furtively whilst missing out on the enjoyment of your drive. It would be a shame to not enjoy and take in the views.

Sources:
1. http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/
2. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705649/

Ditching The Weighing Scales For Good!

My set of scales are pretty standard and I’ve had them for years. I don’t even remember where I was in my journey with food when I bought them. I’ve read many times that an important step in recovering from an eating disorder is to get rid of your scales. There were a few reasons as to why I’ve resisted taking this step.
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Initially it was because I know banishing them from the house would not stop me from weighing myself or ease my anxiety when I was still recovering. I knew that I had to get to a place of using them less and placing less importance on their result with them around. Otherwise I would just buy another set, or would obsess when I went to someone’s house who had a set. It just didn’t feel like the right approach for me at that time.

Once I was more recovered I was put on medication that affects weight. A third of people on Quetiapine in the long-term develop diabetes and become overweight enough to negatively impact physical health. I was anxious about this happening to me and how not feeling in control of my appetite and weight could potentially trigger old behaviours. I did gain weight each time I went on Quetiapine.

Despite this, I stuck it out and have been taking it for the longest time that I ever had previously. Finally, I decided that the positive effects of Quetiapine outweigh the weight gain, and potential metabolic alterations it can cause. The decision to push on with taking it despite weight and appetite changes that at times felt bordering on out of control is that those side effects have eventually subsided. Who knew? I have stopped taking Quetiapine many times previously out of fear and anxiety of potentially feeling out of control with my appetite, and the unknown. Each time, I get very unwell again. It’s just a general shit show.

14 months later and I am not scared anymore. I’ve adapted. Yes I gained weight and ironically since I’ve stopped weighing myself regularly or trying to control my diet in any way there have been no drastic changes. I’ve pretty much stayed about the same and in this time, despite being near my highest weight I am more comfortable with my body than I have ever been.

Possibly due to some radical acceptance being practised. Ultimately though, this disproves my earlier theory that I had to monitor my intake and weight because of my medication. It also proves that my body has a way of adapting, staying well and maintaining some form of homeostatic harmony.

According to the BMI chart I’m probably still overweight, and I’m also pretty healthy. Most would agree that the BMI is an outdated and archaic measurement of health but it’s still used. There’s another myth disproved by my own experience, that BMI is important. I could play Bingo with previous misconceptions at this rate!

I fend off infections and illnesses well, I exercise, I enjoy it, I’m not unfit, I eat pretty balanced and I’m partial to a pain au raisin lately. Yeah I’ll look at food labels sometimes to see if it’s particularly high in sugar or saturated fat but it is more of a glance over to understand the composition of different foods. It is not the be all and end all, just more of an awareness about what’s in my food choices.

In general I feel the need to follow the path I’m advocating.  No hypocrisy, no secrets, and full transparency.It’s time to listen to my body. It finally feels like the right time to take such a  step. I feel confident that I won’t buy more in a panic or feel lost without them. This is a pretty big step and hopefully perhaps the final one in moving completely out of eating disordered behaviour, comforts and rituals.