Tag Archives: covid-19

How a global pandemic can trigger an eating disorder

Everyone is managing a changing world! It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I’m writing this blog to give insight into the world of eating disorders, not to say “my struggle is worse than yours” but to say, you never know what someone else is going to through – most people have hidden struggles and it’s not always obvious what’s going to trigger someone’s difficulties. Measures imposed by our governments have been vital to keep us safe but at what cost?

Change in routine

A routine for many people can indicate safety. Most of us find a change in routine difficult but someone with an eating disorder, routine can be the difference between them eating enough/regularly each day or turning to disordered behaviours for comfort.

Encouragement to exercise everyday

When in eating disorder recovery, exercise can be difficult to manage. Many struggle with exercise addiction as a way to manage weight and recovery from this may include not exercising or restricting exercise. The UK government’s lockdown rules allowed 1 trip outside each day for exercise. If one of the few things you’re “allowed” to do each day is exercise, it can feel like you’re being told you “should” exercise everyday and this only adds to the battle already going on inside your head about what your should and shouldn’t be doing. How many adults actually exercise everyday?! Not many, but for someone recovering from an eating disorder, this is a minefield!

Supermarket stress

Recovering from an eating disorder can include a strict diet plan. Panic buying lead to limited stock and then restrictions on items we could buy. While to the average family, these restrictions may have been inconvenient and caused them to use alternatives. This may have caused chaos to someone with an eating disorder. If the food item you need is not available, this could have triggered days without food altogether. While the queues at the supermarket are essential to keep numbers within at safe levels, this could cause extremely high levels of stress for someone who already finds the trip anxiety provoking.

Encouraged obsessive actions

While washing our hands is vital to prevent spread of Covid-19, with the UK government telling us to wash our hands often, this can play into the obsessive compulsive mind of someone struggling with an eating disorder prompting further ritualistic behaviours around food.

The wrong type of “vulnerable”

Those most at risk of dying from Covid-19 have been put on a vulnerable list in order to ensure we can keep them safe from catching the virus. This has meant that some support systems are no longer available for other people who usually use them. For example, people who usually use the online supermarket delivery systems haven’t been able to get slots. Going to a supermarket, for some people recovering from an eating disorder, is simply impossible. What do you do if you can’t get a delivery slot, because they’re reserved for other people?

Lack of therapy or online therapy

Therapy is a vital part of eating disorder recovery. Some agencies have completely shut down due to lack of resources. Some, fortunately have been able to continue online. Some people may prefer this and there are benefits, such as not having to travel. However, at times technical hitches can delay sessions and talking through a computer means some subtle communication is lost. I’m not alone in having a violent dislike of seeing myself on screen and a therapists sensitive use of physical touch is completely lost.

While the social distancing and lockdown measures have been vital to keep everyone safe – the repercussions on those with internal mental struggles, I have no doubt, without additional support, will be extremely long lasting.

We should think before “returning to normal”

While I understand some people’s lives have not changed as the government has imposed lockdown, quarantine or social distancing measures because you continue to work on the frontline, many people have been afforded time and space to reflect on a pre and post covid-19 life and I have to say, I’ll be making some careful choices before rushing back to “life as usual” once the lockdown rules art lifted.

Some people’s lives changed over night while others have seen more gradual changes as employers have had to make difficult decisions each week as their income decreased over time; to be furloughed has become common parlance. Some are glad of the rest and try to see the silver lining while others struggle to makes ends meet and don’t know when, how or if things will ever get better. We’ve discovered children don’t need to be examined for them to continue into the next school year and actually, when it comes to it, being happy and healthy is more important than up-to-date book learning.

I’ve needed my GP more in the last month than I have done in the last year. Appointments have been available because, here in the UK, people who don’t need to see a doctor, are heeding the advice to protect the NHS. Surely, when this crisis is over, we should continue protecting the NHS? Why, pre-covid-19 were there people in A&E who didn’t need to be there? Don’t get me wrong, people who are having symptoms of life threatening emergencies, really should call for an ambulance.

I’m more connected to the people who matter in my life than I have been before. I’m not seeing them face-to-face and I want that to change but I’m connecting with some people on a daily (or near daily) basis and I like that.

People’s shopping habits give us food for thought… the initial panic caused by the unknown, when will the next trip be? And will the shelves be stocked next time? Were these actions selfish, greedy or anxiety driven?

Most people are now sharing positive changes in their shopping habits. A reduction in multi-trip shopping because people are reducing waste by using up left overs and making do with what’s in the house. People are finding locally sourced produce such as eggs and meat and having online groceries such as fruit, veg and store cupboard essentials delivered directly to their doors reducing travel. Shopping trips that are happening are less fraught because fewer people are permitted inside the shop at any one time, we’re standing back and giving each other space – surely this should have always been the case?

As soon as people realised they had more time they looked for ways they could help one another. Being community spirited should continue. Why did is take a global pandemic for me to get my neighbour’s as phone number? How come my neighbours didn’t know I played the saxophone until I played in the street as part of the Clap for the NHS on Thursdays? Why did it take such drastic measures for us to start to get to know one another?

I’ve discovered daily yoga, fresh air and being assertiveness are actually good for me. Previously I just thought they might be, since being given time and head space to actually try them, I’ve discovered it’s true! We’re all different, what’s now in your new daily routine that wasn’t before – why would you let that slip just because you wanted to “get back to normal”?

How many of us blindly accepted our daily commute but have miraculously found that it’s not actually necessary? Perhaps remote working has its draw backs but many people have found ways to make it work. A reduction in travel has reduced pollution to levels no one could have imagined. Our planet is breathing a sigh of relief.

Has there been another point in history when we’ve had daily press briefings and held the UK government to account every single day? They’re making the science accessible, answering our questions and they’re being clear about the guidance and why it’s in place.

It’s gutting that it’s taken a deadly virus to do it but mental-wellbeing is being spoken about everyday. It’s not ok that the suicide rate is increasing and no amount of money is going to resource the mental health services sufficiently but let’s keep raising the profile of mental well-being and keep checking on each other. Let’s make it a normal conversation. When you train in CPR, make mental health first aid a priority as well – it always should have been.

Are you longing for your “old life” through rose tinted spectacles? Perhaps you’re miss seeing people face to face, at the moment you’re being told “no” and that naturally makes you want to rebel but don’t make the mistake of thinking everything about “the good old days” was better…

On the 23rd March in the UK and on other dates across the world, we were forced to adopt a new normal by governments announcing lockdown measures to keep us safe. As the measures are gradually lifted, we can choose to adopt a newer, brighter normal as we bring together the best of both the old and the new.

We can choose to hug people when we see them but also stay connected in between. We can choose to shop efficiently, not give into greed, continue to source local produce and ask our neighbours if we can shop for them when we’re going. Where we need to go back to previous ways of living, can we find compromise?

Who would have thought about broadcasting weekly church services on YouTube? Faith communities are reaching beyond their building walls like never before and although returning to gathered fellowship will be cause for massive celebration let’s not lose what we’ve gained from being forced to church technologically. How can we have the best from both worlds?!

For many, there’ll be financial consequences for years to come. There are many who have no choice, they can’t go back to life pre-Covid-19 due to bereavement, redundancy or other life event. Are there choices we can make as we find our new normal that will benefit anyone less fortunate than ourselves?

If everything about your old life suits you better and that’s what you want to return to and you can, that’s your call but I just ask that you make an active decision and don’t just go back to it mindlessly without thinking carefully about the true implications.

What is safety?

TW – Trigger warning for detailed content about suicide and suicidal feelings. Please considering moving onto a different blog if you may feel particularly distressed reading about these subjects. It’s important to practice self care and only read content on the internet that will benefit you.

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While Covid-19 is spreading through our society, we’re being asked to stay at home to keep safe. But this is only keeping us physically safe from a virus. I do understand that this virus is especially contagious and virulent therefore physical safety at this time is a priority but I want to spend a few moments reflecting on the meaning of safety and it’s different forms.

A feeling of safety can be captured through routines and familiarity, this is why people so often struggle with change. Nearly all of us are coping with huge upheaval as Covid-19 is sweeping across our nations. Working from home, not working at all, stopping social activities, home schooling our children, doing more or fewer activities than previously – some of these may have positives, negatives or a mixture of both but change is always hard.

Cortisol is our stress hormone. Usually it is released to help us cope with a peak in stress and it aids managing the stressful situation. However at times of long term stress, cortisol being released over a prolonged period leads to all sorts of side effects such as fatigue, irritability, headaches, intestinal problems, anxiety, depression, weight gain, increased blood pressure, low libido and erectile dysfunction.

Lots of people are being brought to our attention as people who need care/support: the elderly, those living with an abuser, the unemployed, the homeless, people with chronic illnesses and many others – each group has its spokes people. But I fear for those we don’t hear about – who’s helping the people we don’t know about?

There have been many occasions in my life when I’ve felt unsafe and it’s been my own thoughts that have been working against me. Mental health crisis is hard to explain, trying to explain what it’s like being suicidal is like trying to describe colour to someone who’s been blind from birth.

Being suicidal feels like all your senses have been taken away included your senses of dignity, perspective and reality, it feels like one by one everyone is giving up on you and this makes sense because the situation is completely hopeless; you’re a worthless human being with nothing to live for, gradually the grey numbness you’ve been feeling for a while turns to an active hot feeling of desperation – “whatever this is, it is unbearable and it just has to end.” Eventually calmness and serenity is felt once a plan to end the suffering is in place. (At least, this is what it was like for me.)

So, this lockdown (in whatever form it’s taking in the country you’re in) is designed to prevent the spread of a virus but at what cost? I‘m definitely not saying we shouldn’t be following government advice – I’m the first to do as I’m told! What I am saying is we need to ensure we look after our physical and our mental safety.

Specific links about how to look after our mental health during the lock down can be found at the bottom of the page.

A “place of safety” is somewhere designed to help an individual through a mental health crisis, to support them while they’re feeling suicidal, to prevent them carrying out any plans they may have made to end their life. Usually this is a specialist mental health unit but it can be A&E or a police station. Unfortunately I have been detained in a police cell; I was scared, yes, but realising I was too unwell to make decisions about my care myself, it was a relief that they took over responsibility for my safety when I couldn’t do it myself.

I recently returned to therapy because my mental health has been challenged. For me, the therapists room is a place of safety because it’s somewhere I can be myself. Most people are different versions of themselves in different environments but when suffering with mental illness most people are familiar with the feeling of putting on a mask. Most of the time this mask ensure the world has no idea what’s going on underneath. At work I’m professional, competent Frances; socially I’m friendly, pleasant Frances etc. In the therapy room, my therapist doesn’t judge me for being anxious, confused, angry, annoyed – it’s safe to take my mask off.

As the weeks of this pandemic drag on, people start to talk about cabin fever or “going stir crazy”. These phrases refer to feelings of being cooped up too long. This place that was meant to be keeping us safe has become a prison! This is exactly why most lockdowns include being permitted to go out for exercise and it’s vital to take advantage of this if possible. If it’s not possible, sitting in the garden or by an open window as often as possible is really important.

So, if you’re doing as the government has asked and you’re staying at home, thank you for keeping your community safe from the virus. But it’s really important to spend some time thinking about what makes you feel mentally and emotionally safe:

  • Keeping busy? – try learning something new
  • Seeing friends and family regularly? – connect with them however you can.
  • Having time and space to yourself? – timetable 15-20 “me time” in a separate room and let other people in your household know that’s what you’re doing.
  • Keeping familiarity and routine? – build some habits into your day to build a new routine.
  • Having freedom to move around? – use the permission to exercise daily if possible.
  • A hug? – whether it’s someone you live with, a pet or a cuddly toy it’s ok to to give it a really good squish everyday!
  • Having autonomy and control? – focus on what you can control not what you can’t. I find the serenity prayer helpful!

If you’re feeling unsafe or uneasy, can you work out what’s missing? Whether it’s about feeling empowered and in control or being allowed to be vulnerable and looked after for a short time. Perhaps at the moment it’s not easy to get exactly what we need but can you simulate it? Maybe we don’t have freedom to move around but how about planning a holiday for when it’s over because, this is going to end. We don’t know when, but it will.

It may also be important to take things out of your daily routine that is harmful to your mental and emotional safety. These links provide really good hints and tips for looking after your wellbeing during this time of uncertainty.

Specific links:

  • Mind – a wide variety of information including managing wellbeing, work, anxiety and social care rights
  • Beat Eating Disorders – really good specific questions related to managing eating disorders and recovery
  • Mental Health Foundation – information including mental health tips, relationships, finances and talking to children

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