Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Taking Risks

I'm going to share a secret with you: I'm not the craziest and wildest person out there.

Sure, I love trying new things. But I become skeptical. If it's dangerous, I would rather not do it. If I can die, I'll pass. If it'll make me wish I had never done it, I won't even try it. 

I suppose this isn't a bad thing. After all, it keeps me from getting hurt, from taking dangerous risks, etc. But I've come to see that sown times, I can have my own kind of 'adventure' or new experience without making myself completely uncomfortable or unsafe

Like last week. I actually drove a Segway for the first time in my life. I've seen those things on TV and always thought that it would be awesome to ride one, but when would I ever get that chance? Well, when I finally got the chance last week, I nearly backed out. I got onto the Segway and felt horrified. I was going to fl off, break my bones, and regret the decision. 
But something inside of me told me that I had to give it a second chance. I had to try it for at lest ten minutes, in the safety of the trainer's supervision. And I did. I was scared, but not 'deadly scared'. After about fifteen minutes, I was okay. I could drive the Segway properly and I was having fun! Around me, however, were people who were riding their Segway super fast. They were doing tricks, speeding up, and riding around obstacles. This is where I drew the line. For me, even riding the Segway was a huge deal. And now that I was comfortable, I was happy. I was proud of myself. I didn't need to ride super fast or try doing flips of the Segway in order to have fun or challenge myself. This was good - actually, excellent! - for me. 

I've come to realize that each person is different in the risks they can take, and this doesn't mean that I am less fun or brave than anyone else. Sometimes, society tells us that we always need to take huge risks to be 'cool'. Or, that by being safe, we aren't going to have fun. While I agree that being over-cautious and constantly worrying is crippling, I don't believe that we need to risk our safety to have fun or be adventurous. I also think that having good support around us encourages us to try new things and to feel comfortable doing so. 

After all, we are all mature adults here. There is no benefit to making a silly decision in the name of 'fun', nor is there any purpose to tease others because they are scared to do a new activity. Each person is different. Part of growing up and maturing is knowing when we can challenge ourselves, and far we can push ourselves. When we, or others, pass this limit, we get uncomfortable and tense. But, when we can safely try something new and allow ourselves to make mistakes - in a safe environment - we can experience the power of learning and doing new things

We may find that we really liked the new experience - like myself with the Segway. Or we may find that we hated it - and that's okay too. I have definitely learned that challenging myself, although difficult to do and follow-through, is an amazing experience when I feel safe, supported, and encouraged. I think we're all like this. Taking risks doesn't have to mean putting ourselves in danger, or doing something crazy and 'wild' in order to impress others. Take risks and try new things for yourself: to learn something, to try something new, and to have fun!

 

Monday, 6 July 2015

Why doesn't medicine always work?!

All of us, one time or another, have had some kind of illness that we've needed treatment or help for. Remember when you had that nasty cold and that tiring fever? Maybe your doctor told you to take some Advil to calm the fever down. Or what about the time when your knee hurt like crazy, and you simply needed some ice to soothe the inflammation?

It's great when prescribed treatments work, isn't it? But what about when they ARE NOT effective? What happens then? We get frustrated, angry, and feel helpless. We don't understand how or why the treatment isn't working. What happens now? Well, usually the doctor will tell you to try something different. Maybe the Advil didn't work for the fever. Maybe a cold cloth will do. Maybe the ice didn't help your knee - maybe some Tylenol will work. Maybe none of this work, and you'll need to try something different yet again. 

Why does this happen? Why can't we just seek treatment for a health issue; and get it right from the first time? I'll let you in on a little secret in the world of medicine - there isn't an end-all-be-all cute or modality of treatment that works for everyone, 100% of the time. Why? For many reasons. Firstly, every patient is different. For example, we have different biological responses to medicines because of our genes, metabolism, hormones, etc. Secondly, we have differing symptoms and signs that may need specific interventions. For example, two people with asthma may complain of different symptoms - one may have wheezing each night, while another may have a cough each morning. This means that each patient may respond to a medication in different ways or to different extents.  

 
So, what are doctors supposed to do? There are published guidelines that help physicians follow a set of evidence-cased statements or suggestions for treating, diagnosing, and following-up with patients and their conditions. These are compiled after much evidence is reviewed; many professionals give their unbiased opinions, and the guidelines are tested to be effective. Are these guidelines perfect? No. Of course not. They ant be perfect - medicine is a puzzle. There are so many pieces to account for, so many factors to consider. But, these guidelines are the best resource physicians can use to help their patients. They are what normally works - and is highly effective - in many (if not most) patients. Plus, guidelines have clear instructions: physicians aren't to use guidelines without considering patient-specific factors, such as finances, genetics, motivation, presenting signs and symptoms, insurance coverage, degree of impact on daily activities, and more. Simply put, physicians  and healthcare providers are to use guidelines as one piece of a puzzle, alongside the patient's needs and abilities and resources. In this manner, physicians can ensure that patients are receiving the best care possible, the type of care that promotes their health and well-being in the most holistic sense possible. 

What can patients do? Ensure you are informed. Ask questions and help your physician understand exactly what is concerning you, what you need help with, and what your goals and resources are. Work with your physician, knowing that your physicians  and healthcare team work WITH,  and not FOR, you. And don't expect a magical cure quickly. Remember that more often than not, treatment wants need experimentation. But you can, or should be able to, depend on your physician to provide you with patient-centered, evidence-informed care. Remember: medicine and health aren't always 'textbook' cases in real-life. You aren't the same person as your neighbour, and thus, your treatment plan and prognosis (and timeline!)  might or might not be the same. But with open communication, honesty, patience, knowledge, cooperation, hope, and motivation, you and your physician and healthcare team can create a plan that suits you. This is what patient-centered care is all about.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Watch and read my latest interviews!

I'm very blessed to have graduated a couple of weeks ago with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing! What a fabulous day!

On top of that, I was chosen to be Valedictorian! (This is basically a position or title where you represent the graduating class, have high academic achievements, extensive extra-curricular involvements, etc. The Valedictorian delivers a speech during the ceremony that is meant to inspire others). You can watch my Valedictory address here!

When McMaster University's online newspaper, the Daily News, asked me to state my biggest accomplishment source of pride, I replied that it was my book, Recipe for Recovery. This prompted them to inquire about what it was about, which led to my sharing my story about ED. Soon enough, they wanted to interview me for the McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences Achievements page. They then shared my story with local media...and before I knew it, I was asked to do a TV interview, a radio show, and a newspaper interview!

You can read the various interviews I have done (please note they are all different): The Daily News (McMaster University's newspaper), The Hamilton Spectator (Hamilton's primary newspaper), and McMaster's Faculty of Health Sciences Achivements Page.

You can also listen to my CHML Hamilton News radio interview, in which I talk more about my journey thus far, and provide some insight and education about eating disorders and recovery.

As I mentioned, I was also interviewed by Hamilton CHCH TV. The segment appeared on the 6pm and 11 pm news. You can watch the short clip here!

I am still amazed at the way things have turned out. I am extremely grateful to God for making me healthy and well, for giving me another chance to live, and for allowing me to use my experiences to raise awareness and hopefully help and inspire others. I am also beyond appreciative to my friends, family, community, and readers for all the support and love you all provide me with. I could not have come so far without you all...thank you. You all mean so much to me.

Once again, it is clear that every experiences and every obstacle has a purpose. We may not understand it at the time, but we will one day. Our struggles fill us with stamina, strength, and wisdom. They shape us into the people we are, they help us mature and develop, and they teach us valuable lessons. May you all find the strength to persevere despite hardships, the courage to stay optimistic during rough times, and the peace to remain calm when overwhelmed.

Never give up. Today may be a tough day. But tomorrow will be better. And never lose hope. We may lose everything else, but if we have hope, we can carry on regardless of our circumstances. Hope may not always change the circumstances, but it will change you in the circumstances.


 

Monday, 1 June 2015

A little update! :)


Canadian weather has me confused. Two weeks ago, I was boiling. I was eating ice cream as fast as I could before it melted in the sweltering heat. I had my air conditioner on, and I was pulling out my capris and t-shirts, fully prepared to wear summer clothes from now on. It was around 37 degrees Celsius one day...quite hot!

Then, this past weekend was chilly. As in, the temperature was only around 10 degrees. EXCUSE ME?! I had to reluctantly turn off my air conditioner, and pull out my spring coat. What is going on here? What happened to the warm weather?! I mean, it is June 1st today...shouldn't it be hot outside already?!

Well, regardless of the weather, at least the 'season' of summer is here. That means no more school...for now! My graduation is coming up next week, and I am super excited. I cannot believe that I have completed my degree.

I think back to my first year of university...when I thought that I might never make it alive. I didn't realize how ill I was...but I was pretty sick. Things got worse before they got better, and soon enough. I was on life-support in the intensive care unit (ICU). I did not think that I would ever complete my degree, or live a happy life again. And at times, I didn't want to live, anyways. I wanted to die. I had no reason inside of me to live...the illness had taken everything joyous out of my life.

Then I became determined to get better...but this alone was more difficult that I had imagined it to be. Eating again seemed strange to me...I did not know how I could sit at a table multiple times a day and look at food...and then eat it. And honestly, I don't know how I did it. The support and love of all my friends and family certainly encouraged me to fight. The strength of God helped me find courage in the face of obstacles. You, dear readers, helped me stay strong, even when I wanted to give up.

Fast-forward to today, when I am graduating in a week. I still cannot believe how far I have come. God is so good. He used my pain for the good. I have learned so much about myself throughout this journey. I have become wiser and stronger. I have learned to accept challenges as they come, knowing that one day, I will realize how they have helped me become a better or stronger person. I have learned to keep my body healthy, and my mind comfortable. I have learned to cherish every moment with my friends and family members. I have written a book in hopes that it will help others who are struggling. I have tried my best to become a better person, one who embraces life with optimism, strength, motivation, and love.

One thing that still makes me anxious is the future. What will it hold? What will happen in my life? Will I find a job? Have my own family? Make a decent amount of money? Continue to help others? Feel happy and content? Travel the world? Learn new skills? Take up new hobbies?

I don't know what the future holds. But I know who holds my future: God. And He has never left me...my past is evidence of this. I know He has my future planned...and His plans are always the best. And I know that regardless of where life takes me, I have the support and love of my friends, family, community, and readers...and that's all I need. I am confident that whatever path my life takes, it will work out for the best. All I pray for is that I can use my knowledge, skills, and experiences to help others, to give back to all those who are in need. To continue to learn and develop into a person who can truly make a difference.

I don't know what my future holds...but I'll find out one day! Life is like a roller-coaster - it has ups and downs. I might as well enjoy the ride!

 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

BB - Brain and Behaviour: How the Brain Can Predict ED Behaviours

Remember this post that summarized some things I have blogged about on ED and brain changes or findings? Well, now we have a new addition to the list. This study, recently published, explored the relationship between the loss of a certain gene and similar 'ED-like' behaviours that follow. (For those interested in scientific terms, the loss of a gene is also known as a mutation). See
this link for a summary of this study.

The researchers looked at mice and an estrogen-related receptor alpha. or ESRRA. By the way, don't worry about the name of the gene - that's not as important as the results of the study. The loss of ESRRA caused the mice to have less motivation to find and consume high-fat foods, despite being hungry. In a previous study, researchers found that individuals with anorexia also show decreased levels of ESRRA in their brains. What does this tell us?

Well, think about it. Low ESRRA caused mice to not have enough motivation or desire to seek out and eat high-fat foods. What would this mean for individuals with low levels of ESRRA? The same thing! This may help to explain why people with anorexia don't want to - or are not able to - eat when hungry. Their brains literally aren't allowing them to, their brains aren't giving them the normal 'signal' or motivation to look for and eat food.

But wait, there's more. The study also found that the levels of ESRRA are controlled by caloric intake. In mice, eating less than 60% of normal calories over a few days significantly decreased ESRRA levels in the brain - even in normal nice. What does this teach us?

Eating low calories = less ESRRA levels. So, applying this to people, even those without ED may develop ED-like symptoms if they reduce their caloric intake over a delayed time period. Now imagine someone who is already predisposed to ED because of a variety of other reasons. If this individual reduces their caloric intake, their risk for developing ED may very well be increased significantly. Usually, less nutritional or caloric intake causes humans to seek out foods, especially those that are high in calories. But low levels of ESRRA seem to make that response not work as well. The mice in the study weren't just not motivated - they actually put in much less effort to even get food, despite being hungry. Isn't it striking how similar this is to a person with ED: they are hungry. They feel hungry. Their stomachs are growling. And yet, they do not - cannot - eat.

Of course, it would be wonderful if we could say: 'low ESRRA cause theses behaviours. Let's just give patients with ED some ESRRA and then we would sole their problem!'. Well, it isn't that easy. Firstly, more studies need to be conducted to see who this applies to - do ALL people with ED have low ESRRA levels, or just some of them? Why? What are ways in which we can reverse this? Will a medication work? Does recovery restore ESRRA levels? What about people with low ESRRA that DO NOT develop an ED - why does this happen?

The thing with science is this: one question opens up a million others, and one answer does the same. While as of now, we don't have a 'cure' for anorexia (such as a magic pill or procedure), studies like these help us learn more about factors that may lead to the development and maintenance of ED. AND - one of my favourite things - these studies illustrate that EDs are a lot more complicated than we may want to believe. Patients aren't making up their symptoms, nor are they trying to be difficult. It is a mental illness, mediated by many factors, several of them perpetuated by changes in the brain, hormones, genes, and neurotransmitters.

For now, it is safe to say that there are some key things needed for recovery from ED: FOOD, enough calories, weight gain, therapy., and treatment of comorbid illnesses. This may mean using medications to control anxiety, depression, OCD, and more. It may also mean meal-planning, restricting activity, attending family-based therapy sessions, using cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)  techniques, expressing emotions, and making a relapse-prevention plan. Oh, and we cannot forget some KEY things: time, patience, love, support, dedication, perseverance, and strength. And hope that recovery truly is possible.




Friday, 24 April 2015

Watch My Latest Presentation: What Future Doctors Need to Know About ED

One of my greatest blessings is being able to use my story to help others. My hope is that my experience with ED can teach others about mental health, ED, treatment, prevention, and identification. My book and blog have been instrumental to this, as they allow anyone all over the world to learn about my journey. The interviews that I do are another way to advocate. And a few months ago, I was asked to give a presentation to medical students at McMaster university. (Note that this presentation occurred in November 2014, but I have only just now had a chance to post it!) The focus of this presentation was to share my journey and shed some light on EDs.

This was a wonderful opportunity. It strikes me how sparse education on EDs is in the healthcare field. In my presentation, I highlighted the signs and symptoms of ED, diagnosis information, treatment goals, and the process of supporting recovery. Although I have this presentation to future physicians, the information in it is also extremely valuable for all doctors, nurses, etc to know. It's also good information for anyone in general to be aware of.


I hope you enjoy this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r8yiFVLxF4)! I received feedback from the medical students that this presentation was very helpful for all of them to have - some even told me it was more meaningful than other lectures on ED because it came from a survivor of ED and as a nurse...someone with personal experience with ED - as well as someone who is the healthcare field! It's a blessing to be able to use my journey not only to advocate, but also to educate others. This is proof that recovery is 100% possible. If you or anyone you know can benefit from the education in this video, please watch it and pass it on. Knowledge is power - learning about ED is the first step towards raising awareness, preventing ED, and supporting others.  I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

FOUR YEARS OF RECOVERY! - and a Look Back on 'Brain Changes' Posts

I have written many posts about ED and brain changes, and I know that many of you are interested in this topic (as am I...).

This blog post summarizes all the posts I have written thus far on ED and brain changes. Feel free to click on one of the links below and learn more about what I have written!

PS. I LOVE this particular post because reading through my past posts has helped me realize many things. First, I can see how far I have come in my recovery since 2012. Second, I can appreciate how much I have learned about ED and brain changes. I have also reread all the comments, and am so touched by everyone's ongoing support thus far. In addition, reading these posts makes me appreciate that when I was ill with ED, I was suffering from a real illness - I wasn't trying to be a 'difficult patient or person', I wasn't looking for attention, I wasn't being stupid for staring myself, and I wasn't lying when I said that eating was extremely difficult or stressful for me.

I hope these posts teach you something new, and remind us all that EDs are mental illnesses. I hope the research cited in the posts below allow society to realize that EDs are life-threatening illnesses - and not choices. They are not cries for attention, or a result of the need to feel 'in control' or rebel against parents....or whatever crazy theories there exist. Simply put, an eating disorder is a mental illness that makes one feel anxious about food and weight, obsessive about maintaining a certain weight, altered food intake patterns, etc. BUT EDs are also 100% treatable - through sustained and constant nutrition, love, therapy, support, care, and more.

Enjoy browsing through these posts - and feel free to comment on what you learned from these posts, how this changes how you view ED as an illness, etc.

1) Why starvation 'feels good' or is 'easier' for patients with ED than eating
2) Portion Distortion! and Servings sizes of food
3) Always feeling full
4) Starvation = reward for individuals with ED?
5) Food and Mood
6) Why Eating in Recovery is STRESSFUL!
7) Desserts and ED Brain Changes
8 General Overview of Brain Changes

P.P.S - thank you to all my family, friends, and readers. Looking through these posts has truly made me extremely thankful for everyone's support. All your words, love, and care are truly what has gotten me this far and strong in my journey. This month marks my four year recovery mark - four years of solid recovery, full nutrition, health, happiness, and freedom. I wouldn't have made it here without God and without all of you...and without yummy food (like chocolate. Did I mention I love chocolate?) THANK YOU!