Tuesday, 29 October 2013

VIDEO: WATCH ME! Social Media, Mental Health, and Bullying

I'm still baffled about this: I was invited to give a presentation in Brantford about social media and bullying as well as mental health. I had been working on this presentation for many days, and it took me hours to prepare the presentation.

This topic is important to me because, if you remember, I was bullied about a year ago online. It was an honour to be able to share my experience with others and help professionals and the community understand what they can do intervene.

Today - on October 23, 2013 - I delivered the presentation to a group of teachers, parents, healthcare professionals, police officers, firefighters, Members of Parliament, and more. It was a wonderful experience and I really enjoyed it. And now, for the FIRST TIME EVER, I have recorded it for all of you to watch! It will be the first time most of you have ever seen me, so I hope I don't disappoint you! Please take the time to watch me present - I spent a lot of time preparing for it! Remember to comment and tell me what you think about my presentation and to share this with others!

Thanks for everyone's love, support, and kindness! I wouldn't be here if it were not for all the support and love of everyone in my life and on this blog. God bless all of you, and I pray that He continues to strengthen each of you (and me!).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTsR3cRtLQk (Also, in the middle, the other speaker, Sarah, talks a bit, but don't stop watching because I come back after to finish the presentation - make sure you watch the entire thing! It is long but in my opinion, worth it!)

Now, enough of me babbling on and on...watch my presentation! And please do not forget to share it on your email, text messages, Facebook. Twitter, or whatever you use - we want this message and video to go viral! Help spread the word about social media, mental health, and bullying!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Goodbye, ED!

As requested, here is a letter to ED - but this time, about how he is no longer a place in my life. I hope this encourages those who suffer, or those who know victims of ED. If you do not struggle with ED, try switching 'ED' in this letter to whatever your problem is - school, stress, drugs, alcohol, an addiction, etc. It feels freeing to be able to stand up to your problem and take control!

ED,
You have plagued for me a long time, perhaps for about seven years. When I was ill, you made me believe that you could make things better. That not eating and starving would stop people from teasing me and from making rude comments about my body. You made me think that starvation would make me look thinner and thus stop people from hurting my feelings. And sadly, I listened. I feel into your trap and I become very sick. Over the course of seven years, I became your slave. I ate very little food and lost weight. But each time I lost weight, it was never enough. You wanted me to lose more and more, to eat less and less. I did. Until I got so sick that I needed medical attention. I was dying, but I was blinded by you. The pressure you put on me to lose weight and not eat was unbearable. Food became the enemy, and anyone who told me to eat was also an enemy. You made me lie to my loved ones, pretending that I ate or was not hungry. But inside, the pain was real. I was hungry, but I could not eat for fear that I would gain weight. It was hard for me to help people understand why I was struggling because it made no sense: why couldn't I simply 'eat'?! But people did not know, ED, how mean you were to me. If I thought of eating just one more thing, you would haunt me, telling me that I was terrible. You would remind me of how people used to tease me, and you threatened that eating would make this all come back.

I nearly lost my life because of you. I spent months in the hospital, too sick to do anything. My organs failed, my heart was weak, and I needed urgent care. I was in the ICU for about one month and a half, not aware of anything around me. Meanwhile, all who loved me suffered, not knowing if I would make it out alive. You probably were happy, ED, that I was dying. It would be one more victiory for you, another life that you would have claimed. Another girl who innocently wanted to lose weight and look better, gone because of your torture. I do not know how I survived. All I know is that the prayers of all my family and friends, along with God working through His powers and His people, got me through. I made it out of the ICU, all my organs working properly. But this made you angry. You could not leave me alone now that I had survived. You wanted to fight me more, to make me ill once again. Once I got out of the hospital, you continued to threaten that I would become fat. You made it so hard to eat, each time reminding me of how much weight I would gain.

But I pushed through. I did not let you take over my life once again. With the support and love of my family, friends, and God, I ate. I fed myself, looking at the clock to see when it was time to eat. I ate, regardless of how full and ill I felt. I chewed through every meal with your taunting voice telling me how weak and useless I was. I watched as the scale went up and as my body changed. I got rid of the old, smaller clothes with tears and hated that I was gaining weight and eating. But inside, I knew that I was doing the right thing. I knew that giving you one more chance could have killed me. So I kept fighting, trying very hard to ignore your teasing and demands. And I still am fighting. I am recovering day by day. Yes, ED, it is still hard. It is difficult to eat when I am not hungry, and it is hard to see that my body is getting bigger. It is uncomfortable for me to feel that I am bigger than before, and to see how much I eat. But when these feelings come, sometimes it helps to remember how much pain you caused me. I suffered for too long under your control. It is time that I take my life back, time to be free and live my life. Recovery is hard work, and you do not make it any easier. But the things in life that matter - my health, school, happiness, family, and my faith - are what keep me going. My life would have been over if I still listened to you. I cannot say that you are out of my life for good, because then I would be lying. But I AM saying that you no longer bother me like before. Yes, you call me fat and make me feel bad for eating and gaining weight. But that is all you can do to me now. You cannot make me lie about food, starve to death, or restrict what I eat. I am stronger now and I have learned all your evil and cunning ways.

Maybe I was lucky to have survived you, but others are not. I know that you still haunt the lives of many girls, boys, men, and women out there. For some, you make them believe that they are not 'sick enough' to get help. For others, you fight them so hard that they feel weak and cannot battle you. And sometimes, you do not have a person as a victim, so you make them feel fat and ugly so that you can make them fall. Well, ED, I have a message for you. These people are not alone! They have people who love them and who care. I pray that they may find hope and strength to get rid of you and recover. I know, of course, that you will always be here. You are, unfortunately, one of the most dangerous illnesses out there. In fact, you kill more people than any other mental illness. But, I also want you to know that recovery is possible. People CAN and DO and WILL get rid of you. Because you make our lives terrible. You plague us and make us feel worthless. And now, we are educated. We are unwilling to let you continue to take away our lives and those lives of whom we love. Together, with education, awareness, prayers, and strength, we will overcome you. If that means gaining weight and eating, then fine. If that means ignoring your harsh comments, we will do it. If that means standing up for ourselves, then we are prepared. Whatever it takes, recovery is possible. It is not easy, but that is because it is a battle. We are up for that challenge. We will succeed.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

'NO SWEETS'!

Perhaps you have heard the latest news: a school in Toronto has banned children from brining 'junk food' to school for lunch or snack. Apparently, this is supposed to foster healthy eating habits and curtail the obesity rates that we are facing.
http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toronto-school-bans-junk-food-from-students-lunch-bags-1.1500394

As a nurse, I completely understand why this is occurring. Obesity is on the rise. But, even as a nurse, I look at the MULTIPLE causes of why this is so. Is it simply because kids are eating 'junk food' at school? What exactly is junk food? This school defines it as chocolate, candy, chips. etc. Okay, I understand that these are problematic foods when eaten in excess. Perhaps banning them from school lunches will help reduce obesity. BUT, kids can still eat these foods at home or on the weekends. Also, what kind of message are we giving kids about these foods? Is IT JUNK? NO. No food is garbage. Yes, these snacks might be not so nutritious because they contain more calories and/or sugar and fats, but they are still okay to eat in moderation, Suppose a child really wants a chocolate bar but cannot eat it because she is at school. Will she go home and eat an apple instead? No. She will go home and eat the first chocolate bar she sees in sight. Theoretically speaking, this can even lead some children or teens to lean towards binge eating, when they eat so much in one siting because they have been deprived for so long.

Now, what kind of message are we teaching kids about healthy eating? That if you want to eat candy, you cannot eat it at school because you aren't allowed? That you cannot enjoy foods in moderation? Is this really the ONLY way to reduce obesity? What about other healthy ideas, such as having more exercise in the day at school? What about teaching children how to make healthy choices - as in, eat a chocolate bar only once in a while but choose other options like fresh fruits because they have more benefits for your health. Why can't we teach children to schools to enjoy things in moderation? Why do we need to ban the kids from bringing this food to school? To me, this ban is basically telling kids: you cannot eat candy at school because candy is bad and if you bring it school you will be told to bring it back home because it is not healthy and this will make you fat.

Can this lead to eating disorders? Certainly. It is already making foods seem bad. It is also encouraging children to hide the fact that they want to eat sweets. We don't need to pretend that obesity doesn't exist - I understand that this is a problem. But so are eating disorders. The solution to the obesity issue is NOT to stop kids from bringing these foods to school. The solution is to teach the kids HOW to make healthy choices and WHY this is important. The school should take time to HELP kids understand how MODERATION is essential for a healthy life - moderation in all things, not just food. Instead of banning and calling these things 'junk food', the school should MOTIVATE kids to enjoy a healthy lifestyle and balance of food, work, play, sweets, laughter, socialization, and learning. We cannot tackle the issue of obesity by simply eliminating junk food from schools because this isn't teaching kids HOW to make healthy DECISIONS. It also isn't helping kids because they can get candy from other places such as home. Also, kids might try to sneak these foods in - and what happens if they get caught trying to eat chips? Will they be singled out and labelled as being a 'pig'? Will the teacher have to talk to their parents? Will they, so to speak, get into TROUBLE for wanting to eat something?!

Personally, I love chocolate. And if someone told me that I couldn't eat it at school, I would be really angry. And I would try to sneak it into school. And if I got caught and people made fun of me, that would be very hurtful. Then I would simply eat lots of chocolate when I got home because I have been deprived of it all day at school. I would also do this on the weekends. So, has the school helped me learn about healthy eating? No. Quite the opposite - they have tried to solve one problem by creating a million more. Honestly, it is time that we stop listening to the 'experts' about how we need to cut out all sweets. We need to start thinking of where the problem is, and how we can tackle it without creating other issues. We need to think of the issue as a WHOLE and help TEACH people about healthy eating. The children at this school will never learn how to make healthy eating decisions if they are simply not allowed to bring sweets to school. My point? STOP trying to 'cure; obesity by fostering negative attitudes about food. START engaging children and society in habits that allow them to UNDERSTAND why and how to manage a BALANCED life.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Food and Mood

We have already discussed how patients with ED don't enjoy their food. They hate it. They will scream, shout, and do anything (really) to avoid food. Remember back when we mentioned dopamine and fullness and hunger cues? Well, that was related to hunger. But what about how we FEEL after we eat a MEAL? (Did you catch the rhyme I made there? Yes, I meant to do that!). Take a look at the picture for some information and a visual representation of the brain changes (some of them!) in anorexic patients.

Interestingly, research continues to show that patients with ED have a blunted response to food. Let me introduce you to the insula: a part of the brain that is associated with emotional responses to food. In a person without ED, food stimulates the insula and it 'lights up' on PET scans (this is like a scan of the brain that shows where there is activity, compared to where there is no activity). Even after a meal, the insula remains active because eating makes us feel good.

Guess what happens in ED? Yup! The insula is inactive. It either doesn't light up, or it isn't very active. Even after meals, studies show that the insula is still NOT active in patients with ED. We can use this to explain some symptoms or feelings in patients when they eat. First, patients hate eating. They find it to be stressful and not rewarding. Next, after they eat, they feel guilty, uncomfortable, and they want to scream or cry. This hypoactive insula seems to be causing some of these symptoms. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447131/).

Now what? Is there any hope for patients? This study actually found that some patients, even after recovery, did not have an active insula. First, however, consider that all patients are different. Maybe down the road, after more years in recovery. the insula will become active again. Or maybe it will not. In my personal experience, eating is...well, eating. I don't really think about it as being enjoyable, but I don't see it as being stressful anymore. It is something that I simply 'do', and then I move on. Sure, I do not get excited about eating like others do. Dessert does not make me happy like it does for others. But at the same time, I don't feel like screaming anymore after eating. Just to be clear of how far I have come, take a look at my blog sometime last year. I found this post: http://anorexiarecovery1.blogspot.ca/2012/09/i-just-feelicky.html, where I spoke abut how I hate eating and that it is so stressful. After one year, I still don't feel hungry during meal times. BUT, I no longer feel stressed after eating. I have found ways to deal with these feelings.

So, does the insula ever get back to normal? My response is: does it really matter? I don't know what my insula is doing right now. Maybe it isn't active, and perhaps it doesn't plan on being active for the rest of my life. At this point, I don't really care. I am doing what I need to be doing to stay alive, healthy, and well. If my insula never feels evicted about eating, then fine. At least I am being strong enough to overcome that battle. at least I am eating and staying alive. Does this make recovery any easier? No. It makes it harder. But it also makes me stronger.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Aside from being a day off from school and work, this is a wonderful day to take some time to think of your blessings. We are often so busy during our normal lives that we stop to realize how much we have to be thankful for. I feel like this a lot. This week has, and will continue to be, very busy for me. I have so much going on, and my mood has been really off lately. I have been waking up angry, sad, frustrated, and stressed. So much to do, so little time, and so much pressure. But this weekend of thanks is just what I needed. (By the way, I LOVE Mickey Mouse and his gang - hence the adorable picture! I am obsessed with these characters!)

Sometimes, we can forget how much we have to be thankful for. Try taking just two minutes to think of everything you are thankful for. You'll be surprised at how much there is! Remember these things: others may not have them, or maybe they are important to you. Whatever you can think of, be thankful for it. If you can, write these things down. Then refer to them when you are down, tired, angry, sad, frustrated, or stressed. It won't fix all your problems, but it will certainly allow you to realize how much you have - and this can help you muster the strength to overcome your challenges.

Here is my list - although it is not complete. Which things that I wrote stood out to you? What are YOU thankful for?

-my family and friends
-my Church community and faith
-my intelligence and university education
-my home, clothes, car, and food (of course, food is something I now see as being necessary!)
-books to read, toys to play with (yes, I am still a child at heart!), my phone and computers
-money to buy what I need and want, even if sometimes I don't always get what I want right away
-having this blog and it becoming so famous in so little time
-the support of all my readers online and in person
-having people to support me and listen to my feelings, as well as people who really care about me
-feeling loved and important, even when I don't love myself
-living in a free country like Canada and not being persecuted for my faith, appearance, beliefs, etc.
-being healthy: I can see, taste, hear, write, read, talk, walk, carry things, dress myself, etc.
-waking up each morning
-nature and the beauty it brings to my life - naturally created artwork by God Almighty

....Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I am definitely thankful for all those who read this blog, comment, share it, support me, and spread the word! God bless all of you! Please take the time, even a few seconds, to be thankful for what you have. And enjoy this time with those who love you and care for you most, if possible. Breathe in and out slowly. And as you are doing this, think of one thing that you are really thankful for. How relaxing is that?!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Close Call


When I was really ill, I did not feel sick. Yes, I did see that I was skinny, but I never thought that I was THAT thin. I was so weak that I could not walk, but I still denied being ill. ED made many excuses for why I could not be that ill: I was alive, I was breathing, and I was able to do all my tasks normally. So, how could I be sick enough to need hospitalization?

I was doing some research today, and I learned that after a period of starvation, the body can no longer adapt and death occurs. This usually occurs around a BMI of 11 for females or 13 for males, although it can be different (ex. some may die even at a higher BMI).

The day my parents took me to the hospital, I was XXX pounds. At my height, this gave me a BMI of around 11.1. When I learned this the other day, I was shocked. Simply put, I was at the BMI that death occurs. Who knows what would have happened if I did not get to the hospital that day? I could have died any second. Why did I NOT die? Why was I saved, even though my BMI was that low?

I believe in miracles, and I strongly believe that this is what happened to me. At that low of a weight, it is miraculous that I even survived the trip to the hospital! But that day, I did not understand why I was going to get help. ED blinded me to my illness and made mf unaware of how thin and ill I was. I could see that I was dying, that my body was slowly fading and that death was eminent. My parents saw what I could not - that I was wasting away into nothing. Despite my complaints and hateful words, they drove me to get help. Thank God they did. Because if they had not, I likely would not survive.

What is to be learned here? This was an eye-opener for me. I realized how miraculous my survival of ED is. I realized how strong and powerful faith and love is. I had so many people praying for me and by my side. They never gave up hope, even when I did. Now in recovery, I can see how ill I was. I was literally at death's door, and yet, I lived. at the time, I wondered why God allowed me to survive this. I complained that I wanted to die, and that this was all too hard.

Today, life is still hard. It never gets easy - not for me, nor for anyone else. There are always challenges. But when I look at how far I have come, and how God healed me, I can see a purpose for my survival and suffering. Today, I am alive and healthy. I am writing my blog and helping others to the best of my ability. I am fulfilling all my dreams because I have learned that you only live once. I refuse to stop dreaming, praying, and working. I will not let ED or anyone take me down or make me feel inferior or unworthy. I am beautiful, and I am learning to love myself and my body. It all takes time. And this does not mean that my life is amazingly simple now. But it DOES mean that now, I realize how my experience with ED has changed my life. I was literally DYING - at the lowest possible BMI before death.

Yet, God kept me alive - for some reason. Perhaps it was to speak out and raise awareness for ED and mental health. Maybe it was to teach me to love my body and to believe in Him. Whatever the reason, I am thankful because I realize how this has made me stronger. Life is tough, but if you think of how far you have come, you will be thankful for your experiences. At the time, it is always hard to see the bright side - and I am like this as well. But I have seen that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Even a thunderstorm runs out of rain and ends. So, in the meantime, grab your umbrella and trudge through. You will survive, just like I did.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

NEW! Interview on EDs, Mental Health, and Helping Yourself

First, I need to thank each and every person who reads this blog and shows me support. I would have never imagined that this blog would become as famous and well-known as it has become. Please continue to read, comment, and don't forget to SHARE this website with others!

Now, let's get down to the point of this post...I have recently recorded another radio interview! This one is with a healthcare facility in Ontario called Bayshore. They provide services to members in the community, and I was able to sit down with them and speak about my own experiences, mental health, how to take care of yourself, and dealing with some emotions. Please take the time to listen to it and let me know what you think!

http://www.bayshore.ca/caringathomeblog/index.php/heres-to-your-health-podcast/ (My part starts at around 33:20) of the podcast titled 'a listener sharers story and future plans to help others).

And finally, I need to thank everyone again! I would not be here if it weren't for all of you. I am so blessed to have a wonderful family, friends, community, and online support as well! You all are amazing people, and the support and kindness you show towards me and this blog is admirable. I am glad this my blog has become a place where people can read, learn, relax, teach, share experiences, cry, laugh, and smile. May God bless you all and may He continue to work wonders through this blog. I am blessed that my experiences with ED and health have allowed so many to learn and grow. What a difference a year makes - I never once thought that I would be doing interviews!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Why is eating in recovery 'stressful'?

We've talked about this over and over again - recovery in ED is very hard. The patient must eat, despite being scared of doing so and of gaining weight. We know that this is part of the disorder, which makes eating and being healthy a nearly impossible task. But what happens - on a biological level - when eating actually occurs? How does the patient's brain respond to food? Why are patients so angry, tearful, and scared when eating their meals in recovery?

A study showed that patients with ED who eat shown abnormally high cortisol levels when they eat.(http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/23759466/reload=0;jsessionid=FcDxHPdkZvLZH71huW6N.10). Let's talk about cortisol for a bit. First, you may remember that cortisol is a 'stress hormone', which our adrenal glands release when we are in a stressful situation. On a short-term basis, this is actually a good thing because coritisol prepares our bodues to 'fight or flight' (ex. increased heart rate, more blood to the muscles, decreased energy going to digestion, etc). This helps us deal with the stressor. On the long run, however, this can be very harmful to our bodies. Long-term effects of excess cotrisol or the 'stress response' include altered reproduction, heart problems, indigestion, etc.

Another effect of cortisol, despite making us aware that we are stressed and are in danger, is that cortisol might make us feel full. Think about this for a moment: if you are in a terrible situation and need to run fast, would you be thinking about eating your next meal? Not likely. Your body would rather save this energy into running! It appears that in patients with ED, this is what happens. Eating activates the stress response and therefore alters the patient that eating is stressful. This makes patients nervous, angry, frustrated, and stressed. Add this effect to all the other brain/hormone changes we have discussed, and you can now begin to see why recovery is so hard.

What about the solution to this? Is there one? Maybe, maybe not. Many patients are put on medication to control their anxiety around meal times, while others actually have comorbid disorders like depression and need other medications. While I am a nurse, I need to make something clear: medicine cannot solve everything! If you need it, then yes - take it and take it according to schedule! But if you do not need it, you might benefit frm trying other things (provided that they are safe and you check with your medical team). What 'other things'? I'm not talking about herbal medicine. I am talking about relaxation techniques or distractions. When I was first recovering (and even today) I always make sure that I have something to do while eating. It helps take away the stress around eating for me and makes me feel relaxed. I can read, write, play a game, talk to someone, etc. Other distractions that people find helpful are watching movies, drawing, studying, etc. Find what works for you.

Like everything else in recovery, this takes time to become normal. Does the brain of a patient ever return to normal and stop secreting excess cortisol in response to meals? We don't know yet - everyone is different, and it totally depends on the patient. To be honest, though, that does not really matter. I do not personally care if my coritsol levels during meals are high, as long as I am dealing with it and there is no harm from it. Note that in ED patients, extra coristol is present only during meal times - this tells us that patients need to get used to eating meals and realize that it is not srressful or dangerous. Maybe in recovery, you will still find meals hard. That is okay, as long as you are eating and sticking to your plan. Find ways to challenge your brain's response that eating is dangerous or stressful. It will take time and practice. But I promise that it gets easier. Today, a year and a bit after very hard work in recovery, I can eat all my meals without a fuss. I might not enjoy feeling full or the weight gain, but I can do it without panicking. Constrast this to last year, when I first started recovery. I would scream (I'm not kidding) at every meal, I would cry, and I would cry even after I finsihed eating. What a difference in a bit more than a year! Stay strong and do not let ED win this battle. Recovery is tough, and now we can appreciate that this is partially due to the many brain changes that occur in patients with ED. But that does not mean that it is impossible to change.