Reflections from my time beginning to recover from a mental illness.
Monday 28th February – Sunday 6th March 2022 marks the UK National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
This year, the theme of the week is to increase knowledge, understanding and empathy to eating disorders, sufferers and loved ones touched by the impact. BEAT Eating Disorder, a UK based charity that offers support to all those affected by an eating disorder, are campaigning this year to increase and improve medical training, as the average GP will only receive 2 hours of training throughout their entire medical degree.
With current and historical lived experience with an eating disorder, I have written a blog with information on the different types of disorders, offered facts, busting a few myths, provided warning signs of disordered behaviour and a list of resources if you have concerns.
This week, which also coincides with Mental Health Awareness Day on Thursday 3rd March, I’d like to share my top 5 learning experiences of taking time out of work to focus on mental health.
1. Make the bed
This may seem like a ridiculous tip, but it is honestly one of my major learnings after taking time away to focus on my eating disorder recovery. By starting each day making the bed, I was affirming a new, fresh day to focus on my health and needs. Having a clean and tidy environment meant I found it easier to clear my thoughts and begin my day. I know that often self-care and caring for the home can be difficult when you are struggling with a physical and mental illness but rearranging the bedsheets was a small enough task to start the day with impact.
Very Well Mind has a great blog article on the benefits and drawbacks of this simple activity.
2. Find a routine
Be it at work, on the weekends, or if off work sick, finding a routine that works to prioritise your health, but also keep you moving ahead can be extremely helpful. I set a baseline of activities to complete each day that revolved around my recovery priorities and gave my day a sense of purpose, keeping me motivated to move from one activity to another. Very Well Mind also have an article on keeping routines during stressful periods.
Remember, a routine should always include rest. From someone that likes to juggle multiple projects and work at 100 miles a minute, taking time to learn how to rest and keeping that in my routine was important. Rest does not need to be sitting and watching Netflix, find what works for you. In my recovery, baking was my rest time. I could keep my mind occupied, stay productive but also enjoy my ‘me-time’. On the topic of rest, there is an informative article proposing the 7 types of rest we need.
3. Be open with those you trust
Suffering from a mental or physical illness is difficult. Even more so when you are alone. Considering a mental health disorder, such as an eating disorder, there is also the fear of the stigma that can keep doors to deep connection closed. By being open with those that you trust, communicating your illness and your needs, you are more likely to break down the walls of stigma. You will likely learn that many people around you can sympathise and offer a helping hand, be it someone to listen to the problems at hand, or someone to help you find the next step forward. I am extremely grateful for the Library and Learning Resources Department and the Learning Skills team, who have been aware of my situation and extremely supportive. Quite a few have now attended workshops to understand eating disorders, as well! The support I have gained from being open has been truly heart-warming.
I know it can be hard to talk about the sensitive nature of your personal health. Mind has a few resources with advice on how to share a mental health condition with loved ones and your workplace. The People, Culture and Inclusion Team also have some helpful resources to get started with considering work-life balance.
4. Don’t forget about your Mind-Body-Soul connection
One element of eating disorder recovery is embodiment. I feel like anyone could benefit from being in touch with the connection between mind, body, and soul on a deeper level, keeping in tune with the present rather than sitting on anxieties of the past or future. There are many ways to work on embodiment which can be beneficial for mental and physical illness. Embody Health London explain embodiment in terms of eating disorder recovery. I highly recommend the University’s offer of Mindfulness Meditation that can be booked on StaffSpace as a great place to start. I began attending these sessions over a year ago and they were my first true attempt at mindful practice; during my recovery time off work, I continued these sessions as well as began using the Headspace app and Balance app (currently free for one year). Both have improved my ability to remain in the present and my sense of embodiment.
5. Time off is not something to be ashamed of
I’ll be honest, I’m still coming to terms with this. I rarely took time off for my physical health, so to take time off to focus on my mental and physical recovery with an eating disorder was something that did not sit well with me. Linked to point 3, I had internalised the perceived stigma and found it hard to adjust to the change. But, using the above 4 points, I have found that taking time off to rest and recover from physical and mental illness is something to be applauded. It takes strength to withdraw from work life, especially a career you are passionate about, but by taking time off to focus on your health, you come back stronger as covered in the Bustle article.
Jodie Calleja, Learning Development Manager