A Return

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I’ve been noticeably absent from RainbowRecoverED for the past few months. At first it was an unconscious decision: I was distracted by other parts of my life, I’d forget to log on, and so forth. Ultimately, though, it turned into a conscious decision. This is why.

I needed time away from the ED-community. I needed to forge my own identity: one without labels. I didn’t want to be ‘Madeline the teacher,’ ‘Madeline the student,’ ‘Madeline the runner,’ ‘Madeline the psych patient.’ I wanted to be me. Entangling myself in the tumblr and Instagram community of recovering ED-patients did not help me to forge my own identity.

I needed to step back, to cultivate friendships with people I didn’t meet on tumblr. People who weren’t recovering from ED’s. I needed to distance myself from a space that at times normalises destructive behaviours. I needed to ground myself in reality.

So I took a step back. I engaged in the ‘real world.’ I devoted huge efforts to developing new friendships, to changing my relationship with food and exercise. I travelled overseas. Twice. Something I couldn’t have imagined doing twelve months ago. I worked full-time. I studied. I stopped seeing my ED-dietitian. I tried to cut myself some slack.

The other day someone asked me if I was recovered. I thought about my behaviours, my thought processes, the way I conduct myself. I realised, I’m the happiest, the healthiest, I’ve been my whole life. Sure, I still have fear foods. Sure, some days I wake up and detest the way I look. Sure, sometimes I don’t want to eat. Sure, I want to lash out, to self-destruct at times. By I don’t. I’m getting better at sitting with these feelings, realising that in times they will pass.

I read a quote recently that really resonated with me (courtesy ofrachelbelieves):

“When people say “recovery”, you typically think of returning to how you were before the illness. But there is no going back. You do not merely recovery, but reinvent yourself. You became something completely different to what you were before.”

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past ten years trying to go ‘back,’ trying to reclaim pre-‘sick’ Madeline. But that would mean going back to my 14-year old self. I’m not 14 anymore, and I’m not that girl anymore. I’ve grown. I’ll continue to grow. I’ll continue to forge on: to reinvent myself. That is what recovery is.

What does this mean for RainbowRecoverED? I feel like I’m now in a space where I can engage with the blog again. We have always had a preference for posting quality of content over quantity and that will continue. The ask boxcontinue to be open, and contributors will continue to be welcome.

My life is not about my illness anymore.

Madeline

Friday Favourites!

An interesting link….

FIND-HAPPINESS.COM

A fantastic website that explores the differences between conditional and authentic happiness: when happiness is conditional, we are happy when we are having pleasurable experiences or the satisfaction of having things go our way. Authentic happiness, on the other hand, is not dependent on anything outside of ourselves. It is the simple joy of Being, the happiness from within that we see in young children, a joy that is uncaused and spontaneously bubbles up from inside for no particular reason.

The website has a sidebar full of links and articles to helping distinguish and achieve authentic, unconditional happiness!

Something we found funny…

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Something that inspired us…

“I firmly believe in small gestures: pay for their coffee, hold the door for strangers, over tip, smile or try to be kind even when you don’t feel like it, pay compliments, chase the kid’s runaway ball down the sidewalk and throw it back to him, try to be larger than you are— particularly when it’s difficult. People do notice, people appreciate. I appreciate it when it’s done to (for) me. Small gestures can be an effort, or actually go against our grain (“I’m not a big one for paying compliments…”), but the irony is that almost every time you make them, you feel better about yourself. For a moment life suddenly feels lighter, a bit more Gene Kelly dancing in the rain.”
— Jonathan Carroll

Something we are grateful for…

The other day I was sitting in the beautiful modern art gallery cafe and I sat there thinking “it’s a tough life, huh!” I’m trying to practice gratitude in everyday life, even when I’m swamped and swallowed by study and work. We all tend to get a little caught up in the to do list and don’t enjoy what we’re actually doing. I am grateful that I am blessed with being born in a time and society that allows me to study to become what I dream to do, hot coffee on cold days, good music and the beautiful city I live in! x T

Friday Favourites

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Friday Favourites

An interesting link:

Eating Disorders In Schools: Prevention, Early Identification, and Response

A fantastic guide from the NEDC for teachers and people working in schools. Topics covered include:

  • How to promote health and wellbeing in schools
  • How to recognise and respond to eating disorders
  • How to support a student recovering from an eating disorder
  • Where to learn more about eating disorders

Whilst the information is geared towards teachers, there’s lots of useful strategies and guides for parents, friends, and loved ones.

And something funny…

(I’m sorry but I just find this cat hilarious)

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Something that inspired us….

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via @http://instagram.com/collectivehub#

And something we’re grateful for…

Living in such a beautiful part of the world. The Far North Coast of NSW (this pic was taken at Lennox Head) is simply stunning. Spending some time in nature, free from distractions, can be incredibly grounding. So often we rush about, busy in our everyday lives, and fail to appreciate the beauty of what is around us.

What are your favourite parts of your local area?

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Friday Favourites – 13th June

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Launching Friday Favourites! Each week we will be posting something we found interesting (or helpful, or both), something we found funny, something that inspired us, and something we are grateful for.

An interesting link…

National Health Services Directory was recently launched. From their website:

The National Health Services Directory is a convenient and accessible new resource to help you choose and connect with health services in your local area.

The National Health Services Directory will provide you with up-to-date details on where to find local GPs, pharmacies, hospitals and emergency departments.

To download the app click here

To go to the website click here

Something we found funny…

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Something that inspired us…

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“We hope that in this coming year you take a chance. Go new places, try new things, push your limits and challenge your beliefs. Along the way if you make a mistake, relish the thought that you’ve reached a new threshold. Don’t doubt, don’t worry, and don’t you dare stop. Decide to do the impossible and eventually you’ll show them all. Make up your mind, commit to your dreams and back yourself, today and always.” from @collectivehub magazine (my new favourite source of inspiration).

Something we are grateful for…

My mother and I visited my Grandma’s grave yesterday afternoon: she died almost four years ago. I’m grateful to have known this amazing individual. My grandma and I share the same birthday, and that link has always made my bond with her feel even more special.

Self-Care Sundays (and every day)

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When life gets to hard it can be helpful to take some time out for ourselves, doing the things that make us happy. Here’s some of the things that make me happy. When you feel calm and relaxed, write your own list, so that you can try some of these ‘activities’ out when you’re more anxious, under pressure, or sad:

  • Freshly painted fingernails
  • A skin care session (scrub + mud mask + rejuvenating mask)
  • A good run/gym session
  • Yoga
  • When my plants grow
  • Picking home grown tomatoes
  • Receiving texts
  • A great X-Files episode
  • Playing some sweet tunes on piano
  • Making my students laugh
  • My students making me laugh
  • Freshly laundered sheets and pyjamas
  • Fresh fruit
  • A walk on the beach
  • Finding worms in the garden
  • Coffee with friends
  • Finding a cute new cafe
  • Photography
  • Publishing a new post on this blog

 

I took a few moments to appreciate the sunset in Ballina last Sunday after my run along the beach.

I took a few moments to appreciate the sunset in Ballina last Sunday after my run along the beach.

When I was working on my ‘safety plan’ with my psychologist we went through many of these activities as things I could try when things were particularly difficult. Having it written out helped me to identify a range of positive coping strategies I could call upon. Now I use it in more of a ‘maintenance’ mode: they’re little things that make my days/week a little brighter.  How about spending a few moments this week to write a list of some positive self-care routines you can participate in?

Tess and I got so into the notion of self-care that we coined the phrase ‘self-care Sundays.’ On self-care Sundays we would set aside a few hours to indulge in things we loved: be it doing a face mask, a hair mask, going for a walk with the family, visiting local markets, heading to the beach, watching a trashy movie, or painting my fingernails. What is was didn’t matter so much – the point was to spend a few hours giving ourselves PERMISSION to indulge in the things we loved. Try it some time!

 

Madeline

Self-Acceptance in an Age of Criticism

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There appears to be a gradual shift towards negative body criticism and it has become a societal norm, habitual practice, and even a bonding mechanism among teens. The causes for this are everywhere — in ads, media, books, our family and friends, and most dangerously, ourselves; we are surrounded by a sea of criticism forcing us to equivocate the concept of physical perfection with happiness. This in turn informs our behaviour: positively or negatively.

We live in a critical society: the way we dress; how and if we do our hair; our posture; our gestures; our facial expressions; eye contact; how we touch or our touch avoidance; size prejudice; the list goes on. All of these things immediately affect, before we’ve even spoken a word, how someone will perceive and judge us as a person. And that can be terrifying knowledge to walk into a room knowing that you essentially have no control over how people will perceive you before they even get to know you, especially if you have low self-esteem or struggle with self-image. 

Adding to the criticism we are faced just by being observed by others, is the criticism which is thrown in our face daily by the media. Magazines, TV shows, advertisements geared towards a “better you” or shunning the latest fashion trend, body type or hairstyle.

“I mean, if we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words, because of the effect they have on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?” -Jennifer Lawrence

The media essentially have no face, and thus have a blatant disregard for their responsibility and the effect that they have on society. 

“But I think when it comes to the media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls who are watching these television shows, and picking up how to talk and how to be cool, so then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl who’s wearing an ugly dress.” -Jennifer Lawrence 

Social norms and expectancies are another thing which can be a barrier to self acceptance. “But everybody looks like that.” or “but that’s not “normal” or “right”” is a loophole that many can fall into when trying to accept themselves, simply because of the sheer influence and volume of social criticism in society, leaving many of us feeling like we can do no right.

It is impossible to ignore the bombardment of critical expectations and judgements that we experience daily, and is often debated how much we can really “brush off” societal expectations and criticisms, where norms and criticisms lie written in government policies or laws and actually do define how we can act or behave. Which leads me to ask, in an age of unavoidable criticism, is it actually possible to accept ourselves? The answer is yes. How is an entirely different question. 
The key to not allowing societal expectations and criticisms to define and confine you lies within you. Whilst these expectations and criticisms are inherent and unavoidable, how you allow them to affect you lies in your own hands. 

1. Stop the criticisms as they reach you. Don’t allow criticisms to carry into your own thoughts and own behaviour. Stop and question: is this really me? Do I really want to be that person? Is that an accurate representation of what I have to be in order to be socially “accepted”? How will it affect me if i’m not that person? What is the worst thing that can happen?

2. Think critically about what you are reading, seeing or watching and question its motivation. Are carbs really that bad for you, or do diet companies just want to make more money off gullible, easily swayed people with their latest weight loss product? Is it actually not fashionable to wear that, or do companies want you to believe that their brands and their products are what makes you beautiful in order to make more money? Are you actually a bad person if you act X way, or love X person, or cherish X passion?

3. Create a list of the values you up hold. Take time to really think about the things you believe make you, you. The great, magnificent you that you already are.

4. Always remember that you are a human of worth. You are multilayered and fascinating and truly incredible, regardless of what society says about you wearing double denim. First impressions people make of you are not you. Magazines telling you XYZ are not the truth unless you truly believe it. You define your own truth.

 

Tess

Share Your Story – Anxiety and Panic Attacks

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We love when people share their stories and contribute insight and knowledge to our blog. This powerful and emotive piece was written by the brilliant and strong Yarrow, who I am so proud to call my little sister. She came to me frustrated with how little knowledge there is in the community and at her school when it comes to anxiety and panic disorders and how people deal with panic attacks when they happen and really wanted to make a change with how these disorders were viewed and responded to. If you would like to contribute to Share Your Story or contribute an article please email us at rainbowrecovered@gmail.com or send us an ask here. Tess.

They often say its nothing. “You’re just a teenager”, “it’s just the hormones”, “you’re just overreacting”.

No one is overreacting. The paralysing feeling of anxiety is nothing to rationalise, minimise or generalise. The awful sickness and shaking you feel out of no particular reason- sometimes from a thought, a mood or maybe nothing at all, is not something that should be overlooked. The realisation that many in society are completely oblivious to how to deal with angst, panic attacks and the other fun things that come along with anxiety is a depressing one.

It’s odd that even on a day where nothing went particularly wrong; it can turn around so quickly.

On a stressful day where friends were fighting, I got asked to hand in my phone for using it in class. I started hyperventilating. So many assume you are overreacting from the seemingly small things that start your panic, but those small things are simply just a trigger. And once you start, it is so very difficult to stop. No one in my class knew what to do; they just kept touching me and telling me to breathe in properly. They didn’t know the fact of the problem was that I wasn’t breathing out. You suddenly stop caring if there is muck on your face or you’ve gone a delicate shade of blue and red from the hyperventilation, the dizziness often overwhelming everything makes you forget.

I scared my best friend; she had no idea what to do. I scared my teacher as she thought it was her fault for taking my phone. My class thought I had just gone slightly loopy. My hands were cramping so badly into my hands that my nails begun digging into my palms and making them bleed.

Thankfully as I ran into the bathroom, as I couldn’t face throngs of people who didn’t know what to do, I bumped into my sister, Tess. She managed to calm me down, reminding me to breathe out and took me away from the scrutiny of my school. She brought me to her art teacher’s staffroom and he told me that he too suffered from anxiety, and any time I needed him or help, never be afraid to ask.

I started hyperventilating again.

Even the realisation that you’re not alone, you’re not a different species of human can be a trigger. It doesn’t necessarily have to be bad once you’ve started. People like him and my sister make me grateful for even the little awareness of what to do, especially with panic attacks, within society.

Even so, more awareness NEEDS to be raised. The amount of diagnoses of a range of anxiety disorders is growing constantly. More medical attention about it is being brought forward and there is less dismissal of the subject in the medical field. I find it distressing and sad that a little amount of people in my school know how to deal with someone having a panic attack. As a student in year twelve, there are many breakdowns due to the immense stress and the lack of knowledge in this subject is outrageous.

Recently, a very composed friend of mine had a panic attack while in English at school. Her group of friends crowded around her, told her to breathe in, to calm down, not to worry- everything is going to be fine. Generally, when one is hyperventilating, they have past the point of worrying and have been welcomed into I-can-no-longer-function town. Even the simple knowledge of how to handle someone hyperventilating is crucial when dealing with a panic attack.

Do not tell them not to worry- trust me, they are well past that point.

Do not touch them. They already feel like they are suffocating, someone else’s clammy hands on their shoulders will not help the situation.

Speak calmly and slowly. They are already panicking and a high-pitched stressed out voice is not going to aid in calming them. If you rattle off instructions to them, let me assure you, they won’t hear you past their hyperventilation.

 TELL THEM TO BREATHE OUT. In deep, slow breaths. Mostly the reason they are having this panic attack is the fact that they are NOT breathing out, and instructing them to breathe in will only make it more difficult to calm down. The extra oxygen they are inhaling is often what is making them so dizzy, and more of it will probably make them faint. So no.

Don’t judge. Even if you don’t understand as to why they are so panicked, there is a very good reason inside their head. They don’t need embarrassment of you witnessing them at an extremely vulnerable state to be amplified.

Just be there. Even if you’re not near them, just sitting calmly with a panicked individual, letting them know that you are there if they need you, is one of the most comforting things in the world.

Yarrow.

Be patient. Wait it out. It will pass.

Even with these ‘instructions’, panic disorders vary from each individual. No person, or panic attack for that matter, is the same. The absolute best thing you can do for an individual suffering from anxiety is to learn the basics and just simply be there for them. The most comforting feeling is acceptance. When you know that there is someone behind you, supporting you even if everyone else thinks you’ve gone slightly insane makes a very stormy world a little better. There is more and more treatment available, and aiding an individual with an anxiety disorder to seek help is precious. Sometimes, it’s just hard to do it alone.

Anxiety is a horrible thing. It’s the thing that every chance you get, you try to wish away. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. It’s often getting through the terrible parts of it which makes you stronger, more capable to deal with it.

Anxiety is an illness. Just like a broken leg that needs to be set straight. A person needs the people around them to be that cast, to be strong enough to support them and care for them at their lowest. Remember, knowledge is power. The amount of difference you could make by just knowing the basics of what to do when someone is having a panic attack or bad anxiety period is immensely powerful. Even if it doesn’t seem so at the time, they will definitely appreciate it.

Just having someone there is most important. Just be. That’s all you really need to do for someone. Try to understand, even if you don’t. There is a reason, no matter how trivial it may seem.

Be patient. Recovery takes time.

Share Your Story – Lisa

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We LOVE contributions to Share Your Story. This brilliant contribution comes from the wonderful Lisa. Lisa shares some interesting insights on transitioning from school to university: a particularly challenging process for anyone who has dealt with an eating disorder (or any type of mental illness).

If you would like to contribute to Share Your Story please email us at rainbowrecovered@gmail.com or send us an ask here.

Lisa-

I have been attempting to write out my story for Rainbow Recovered for several weeks now. Each time I typed, I felt I wasn’t being true to what really happened during my first few years at university. This is the story I wanted to share to everyone and yet when I began to write I realized that if I were to explain my life during that time I would have to include all the details about people who influenced those times and who I know have no relationship with.  I felt it wasn’t right for me to include them in such detail and, for all our sakes, I in no way wanted to dig up our uncomfortable history, once again. So instead, I will attempt to offer my perspective of the main experiences I was challenged with. I only hope this is helpful to at least one person.

I moved away from home when I was 18. Straight from school, I had the bright-eyed dream of living as far away as I possibly could from home. A place, I believed, where things would be different, where the possibilities for adventures were endless. I would be unhindered by the mundane gossip of a small, country town.

I got my wish! And to make it even more exciting, I would be living with my high school best friend. Everything during this time seemed incredibly terrifyingly big, new and surreal. Also very excited, of course. I was starting afresh, but I also thought that by having a support system with my friend, nothing would ever be too hard for me to handle. I thought because of this, ‘uni life’ would be less intimidating and scary. Which brings me to my first experience;

 Living with friends-

Unfortunately, a few weeks into university I learnt that when living with a friend it takes a very difficult balance to maintain the relationship as it was in the past. Every single other one of my friends who has done the same, has agreed with me when I have discussed it with them.

Before the act of moving in with someone, it is almost impossible to judge what a friend with be like to live with. Sometimes (not always the case), a high school relationship can only runs so deep and when the connecting layers of school and other friends are removed, the friendship is actually quite shallow. For my housemate and myself I soon realized that we weren’t as close as we had believed and by the end of one year away, our relationship had disintegrated into barely anything.  I became trapped. Everyone of my friends from home still saw us as “besties,” so how could I explain to them and her that I wanted to move on without coming across like a complete bitch. I grew very angry and frustrated. I felt I had no choice but to stay as things were and to stick it out. I would count the days until I got to go home again and then I would cry whenever I had to go back there after a holiday. I eventually grew numb to the loneliness.

Breaking free from the bubble-  

From this experience, I quickly realized that my dream of breaking free from the ‘small town’ bubble wasn’t as easy as simply moving away. The bubble was not going to disappear because of where I was physically; the bubble was inside my head. It was a mental bubble. This, I found, was the most difficult obstacle I’ve had to overcome in my life so far. I felt hindered by extreme shyness, as well as that, a feeling of expected commitment to an old friend (who know I realize unknowingly represented my past and all of its comforts). So within the bubble I stayed for two years. I would spend entire weekends in bed; not moving, no energy, barely eating, just sad. I talked to my parents every night on the phone, which was most time, the only real human contact I would get each day (and of which I’m so thankful to them for).

As horrible as the situation was, quitting never presented itself as an option for me. My education is the most important part of my life and always has been. I guess, deep down I kept fighting through the crap because I knew my education and myself were bigger and more important than any living situation.

So after two years of numbness and pain and anger and loneliness things slowly began to change. This is all thanks to other people I’m eternally grateful for. I began to neglect the superficiality that is Facebook and I found alternative comforts in the form of Tumblr friends I’d never met (including Tess). These girls, unknowingly (and I never give them enough credit) pulled me out of my dark hole. Their support and friendship rebuilt the confidence I had once had in high school. They taught me to see my unique qualities and to celebrate them. This change in self-worth must have shown in real life as shortly after I met friends at university who welcomed me into their groups and are now my closest friends I couldn’t imagine life without. I found that, there is always someone around who can be a great friend, it just takes patience and a bit of creativity as to where they could be hiding,

Life works in strange ways-

Things were looking brighter and I felt myself beginning to feel happy again. Things still weren’t perfect but it was better than before which was all that mattered to me. Then of course, life happens, and in the strangest ways. My housemate and I came home one night to find our house had been broken into. We were two girls alone and a very long way away from home, it was terrifying. Three months later, it happened again. So we were forced to move out for safety and such we had to go our separate ways. It sounds almost fictional how such a terrifying sequence of events can lead to how my final uni year finally popped the bubble and just happened to be the best year of my life. Life is so strange like that, it still baffles me to think about that time.

My university experience consisted of two break-ins, three moves, one graduation rejection and two lost best friends but to sound awfully cliché, I’m bloody tough because of it and I wouldn’t change it if that compromised who I am now. By speaking out and finding those true friends to talk to (even if its just a parent) saved me from an even darker place I try not to think about. Unfortunately these things can take time and everyone has different experiences of transition. I just hope no one has as tough a time transitioning as I did.  If things aren’t going as you thought, I’m always here to talk if you are struggling and I can tell you from first hand experience so are the brilliant girls here at Rainbow Recovered.

Fueling Yourself for Sport

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Learning how to fuel yourself properly for sport/exercise is an important part of recovery. The following is a general approach to nutrition that I apply to my training (running and gym-work). My experience is that if you don’t eat right you don’t perform well. Simple as that. It is important to consider pre- and post-workout nutrition. It may take some time to adjust to eating around exercise: a few years ago I couldn’t tolerate any food or liquid around my workouts. Now I can eat solid food (e.g. muesli bars) whilst running.

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Almost at the finish line in a recent 5k race (first place in Open Women division)

Part A: Before the Workout

If you’re eating more than 2 hours before a workout you can have a full meal. Obviously, a twelve course degustation meal probably isn’t ideal, but you can have something substantial. Examples of meals can include:

  • Oats with PB and milk
  • A sandwich with protein and avocado or hummus
  • A salad that includes protein, some nuts or seeds, and roast pumpkin
  • Pasta with sauce
  • Stir-fry vegetables with rice or noodles and protein.

Note: including fats with your meals (e.g. PB with oats, avocado on a sandwich, or nuts in a salad) creates a more sustained energy release, (as it slows the rate of gastric emptying) meaning you won’t get spikes and crashes of energy. Eat too much fat before a workout, however, and you won’t have as much glycogen (carbohydrate energy) floating around in your bloodstream to fuel your workout

If you’re eating around an hour before exercise stick to foods that are easily digested, rich in carbohydrates and low-ish in fibre (again so they get digested quickly). I usually avoid dairy close to intense exercise, as it doesn’t sit well in my stomach. This can include:

  • Toast with jam
  • Crumpets with honey
  • A banana
  • Some crackers with vegemite

Finally, if you’re eating less than half an hour before exercise pick something really easy to digest, such as a sports drink, gel or lollies. This happens often if I’m going straight from work to the gym and I need something quick to boost my energy levels.

Part B: After a Workout

It’s really important that you replenish your muscles after you workout with a mixture of carbohydrates and protein. Protein is important as it is how your body repairs and builds muscles. Your protein needs vary depending on what type of training you do and your own nutritional requirements. Some examples of snacks that have a good mix of carbohydrates and protein include:

  • Yoghurt or milk
  • Fruit smoothie
  • A sandwich containing a source of protein
  • Eggs on toast (my favourite post-run breakfast)
  • Cereal with milk

This is a GENERAL guideline, and you will have your own nutritional needs. I am not a dietitian and I don’t have a background in sports-nutrition. My advice is based on what I’ve learn from trial and error, and from reading running books and magazines. If you want to learn more check out the links below!

Madeline

The Australian Institute of Sport Nutrition Page has lots of FANTASTIC fact sheets on this topic. Some particularly relevant sheets include:

Advice to Medical Professionals: Perspectives from ED Patients

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Recently I was asked to deliver a presentation to third to fifth year medical students at Lismore Base Hospital. An element of my presentation dealt with advice for medical professionals (in particular doctors). I surveyed some of my friends and asked them what specific things doctors/medical professionals had done that had been (a). helpful; and (b). unhelpful.

Trigger warning: some content, particularly in the ‘unhelpful’ section may be triggering for some readers as it mentions (briefly and generally) weight and BMI.

Madeline

 

Doctors: what is unhelpful?
Certain statements can be very triggering. It is important that you develop an awareness that whatever you say will be twisted around and interpreted in the most triggering way possible, regardless of an intentions. Eating disorder patients are typically extremely intelligent and often very articulate and are well-equipped to interpret information in such a way as to fuel disordered thoughts. For example:

  • You look well = you’re fat
  • You don’t seem too bad = you’re fat and don’t have an eating disorder
  • You seem to be doing well lately = you don’t have an eating disorder anymore and you’re waisting my time
  • I’m not sure we need to be too concerned = a personal challenge to get MUCH more sick

Following a survey of my friends, the following scenarios emerged as being particularly UNHELPFUL, harmful or triggering in some way. The purpose of presenting this information is to increase awareness in the medical profession and the wider community of the degree to which ignorant behaviour and misinformation pervades certain individuals in the medical profession. The purpose is NOT to dissuade individuals with eating disorders from seeking treatment. There are many kind, caring, and helpful professionals out there and it is possible to access treatment in a supportive, positive way. 

  • A very prominent psychiatrist commented to me that ‘they’ only become really concerned about eating disorder patients when their BMI is less than thirteen.
  • Doctors and nurses have commented to friends that have presented to the Emergency Department at various hospitals that they aren’t thin enough to be anorexic or that their symptoms aren’t very severe.
  • A friend, booked an emergency appointment with a GP because her heart was racing etc the night after a binge when she was quite underweight. Her mother had to persuade the GP to check her blood pressure.
  • A friend was admitted to hospital for anorexia and having a nurse asked what made her think she was anorexic
  • The first time a friend went to the GP concerning her eating disorder and her weight was mentioned the GP told her it didn’t matter because I was 50 kilos aka must be healthy. The GP neglected to consider how tall she is (5’9”).
  • A doctor told me I looked like a pudding next to the other anoretic patients he’d seen

Doctors: what is helpful
Similarly, I asked my friends what they perceived to be helpful treatment. The following is a summary of their points:

  • Specific questions are best from my treatment team. I don’t want to lie, but I will avoid sharing the whole truth. If a question is specific I will answer it. If it is vague or ambiguous I will ‘round up’ giving the allusion that things are more positive than what they are. Why? Because eating disorders thrive on secrecy. When an eating disorder is hidden it can manifest and the behaviour can continue.

Compare ‘how are you going with self-harm’ (‘fine’) to the more specific ‘how often are you self harming at the moment.’
How much are you exercising or what is your intake not ‘how is your eating and exercise going’

  • Putting the emphasis on refeeding and not giving me much power to make decisions. At the time it is hard but in the long run it was the best possible thing. If they’d let up and given me some power consequences would have been more severe. They treated me physically and were inquisitive to how they could help emotionally but mostly left that to counseling.
  • Have someone sit down and show me where I was, where I needed to be, how I’d get there and explain rationally refeeding, binge eating etc. (this would be most appropriate coming from a dietitian)
  • When people are straight with you, and treat you like an (intelligent) adult, even in my case when I was a teenager, it was helpful
  • It seems like people always treat you one of two ways, like a mentally ill person or a physically ill person. Being treated like I was physically ill was good until I myself could recognise what was wrong and that mentally I was not ok, only then could I take on board any of the actual therapy.
  • Don’t try and treat a patient you can’t give optimal support for; refer them to a better service and let them talk as much as they need to. If you’re referring someone elsewhere, be their support in the process rather than someone just passing them along. Try and connect with them on a more personal level, ask how they’re doing, ask about their friends, etc. The info needed for a referral can be easily gained that way, and will put the patient so much more at ease.
  • Being sensitive to triggers and changing treatment to accommodate is a HUGE element of building constructive rapport with a patient (as discussed above).
  • Comorbidity. You can almost guarantee that a patient that presents with an eating disorder will also have depression or anxiety. Or both. Symptoms of depression or anxiety are generally worsened by malnourishment. It seems that so much of the time in treatment medical professionals only seem to focus on one thing or another, instead of understanding that all this stuff works together.
  • Flexibility within the treatment process. Not every behaviour is ED-related. I have friends that hate, for example, butter. Forcing them to eat butter purely because they are ED patients is not helpful, sensible or logical. Instead, flexibility within the treatment processes and respect for individual preferences and dignity would be more conducive to developing productive rapport with patients.
  • It is important to distinguish the patient from the eating disorder. My paediatrician was particularly good at it. He’d say “that doesn’t sound like Madeline talking” or “is that actually what Madeline wants. We need to get Madeline back in the drivers seat.”
  • Understanding that weight is not a reflection of wellbeing – just because I haven’t lost weight doesn’t mean I haven’t had a really rough week. Additionally, I really struggle to lose weight now: just because I am maintaining my weight, however, doesn’t mean my intake is sufficient. Telling a patient ‘that’s good you maintained your weight’ is akin to telling them to set themselves on fire and roll around in glass. I’m not exaggerating.
  • Finally, building a sense of rapport with the patient. Whilst you can’t be their friend, your patient isn’t going to talk about what’s going on if they don’t trust you and if they don’ t think you respect them.

Doctors, dietitians, patients, psychologists and other medical professionals: what are your experiences? What has worked for you? What doesn’t work? What is helpful? Not helpful?

Share your thoughts with us here via our ask box, send us an email to rainbowrecovered@gmail.com or tweet us @RbowRecovered