Social Anxiety- The invisible tormentor

Dear loves,

My social anxiety used to be something of great embarrassment for me (when it shouldn’t) and it used to dictate my life. I missed out on so many of life’s beautiful moments because of it but right now I’m keeping it on a tight leash and I want to share with you how I do it. I feel that social anxiety is something that is hardly spoken about but it is so real nonetheless. Do note that I am not a psychiatrist, doctor, psychologist etc but I do have a general understanding of this anxiety disorder. So even though I cannot provide a specialist take on it, what I can provide is my personal experience. I also want to stress that everyone’s anxiety disorders vary in degree of severity so please do not feel confused or stressed if your story is vastly different from mine. Remember, each of us is a unique human being with a different story but one thing’s for sure- we are all beautiful in our own light despite our struggles.

 Social Anxiety- The invisible tormentor

A piece of my history that few people know about is my social anxiety. During my ED, I isolated myself severely. Meeting up with friends became an intense obligation instead of a respite. Previously a cheerful and talkative girl by nature, I had become withdrawn and self-conscious. In fact, signs of my social anxiety began to show up before my full-blown ED, when my personality took a dramatic change.

When I was in the depths of my ED, the fact that I was losing my friends and sinking into society appeased my Eating Disorder. Absolutely nothing mattered more than numbers on the scale. I hid from people as much as I could, and spent my post-high school break inside my room. I remember the time my friend (one of the friends that did not completely decide to give up on me) showed up right outside my house, asking me to hang out. I was furious, panicky and nearly broke down into tears (but not in front of her). When she stepped into my room and tried to speak to me, my entire body tensed up like a stretched out rubber band. I forced myself to smile, feeling this desperate urge to be a funny, interesting person in front of her. Every sentence I spoke made me feel like I was treading on thin ice which was about to give way. Through every second of the conversation, I feared becoming a boring person to speak to, I feared allowing pauses within the conversation, I feared “awkwardness”. My smile was so extremely wide my jaw felt tight and almost numb. I longed for any excuse to get out.

About a month later when I actually decided to recover, my physical condition was improving. But I was still an anxious, insecure person on the inside. As I nourished my starved brain, I managed to come to my senses and remind myself that there was so much to my life which the ED had tried to vanquish completely. I knew that the ED had almost taken my life. So yes, I was in a much safer and more stable condition than before.

But my social anxiety nagged at me so intensely it broke me down often. I had just entered Junior College and longed to charter a new chapter to my life. I wanted to get back the ancient version of me- bubbly, unreserved. I so desperately wanted to have a good conversation with anyone, because for the longest time I could not pluck up the courage to initiate a conversation and if I ended up in one, it always made me feel uncomfortable, scared and backbreakingly tensed up. I could not even speak properly to my Mum. I had an image of myself freely connecting with people, but yet I didn’t dare to even try it out. These sentences describe my social anxiety- The conflict between what I wanted to do/ felt like I needed to be able to do VS what I feared that I would fail in and therefore frightened me to the core.

I still remember to first few days of Junior College. I was terrified. And the presence of boys in school for the first time in my life certainly did not help, either. Every morning I woke up crippled by dread and terror. And on one occasion I remember locking myself in the toilet cubicle in school because my heart had palpitated so hard I felt like I was about to go into shock.

And the above events took place while I was slowly starting to get comfortable with eating and nourishing. I remember even stuffing myself with chocolate while I had heart palpitations because I was desperate for anything to calm me down. On certain days, I even felt helpless and angry. I would ask:

WHERE ARE YOU? YOU PROMISED.

But the thing is, nobody promises you anything in recovery. I thought that as I kept nourishing, I would revert back to my “old self”. I expected recovery to be the genie in the bottle that realised all that I envisioned, exactly as I wanted.

But no, recovery is not a genie. Except that it is so much better than a genie. This is what recovery did for me- It restored my damaged organs, pulled together my body’s metabolic systems, rescued me from a lifetime with painful osteoporosis, nourished my starved brain, and reduced the number of times I cried or fought with my parents over the very sustenance that keeps up alive. Recovery SAVED MY LIFE.

Recovery is the reason I have air in my lungs and a pulse. Recovery is the reason I have the ability to think and a heart to love. Recovery SAVED ME.

That is a tall order, and something I will never, EVER, take for granted.

And whenever I find myself filled with reproach at how recovery did not instantly cure my social anxiety, I can almost imagine recovery wagging a finger at me saying, “I saved your life my dear. I restored your strength. Now you have the ability to find your own way. Run along now, it’s time to map out this journey for yourself.”

Run along now, it’s time to map out this journey for yourself.

That’s exactly what I have been doing. And I have never been prouder.

Through my years as a Junior College student, my social anxiety did not entirely go away. But you know what the difference was? I challenged myself. Not without fear, but in spite of it. I pushed myself to sign up for community events, did community service, and even ran for a leadership position in the Interact Club which I joined. And whenever things didn’t go as well as I planned (e.g. I felt scared, nervous, tense, uncomfortable or even sick speaking to people), I would always recover from it and remind myself, “I am a fallible human being and that is beautiful. Right now, I’ve got to put that aside and move on. I’ve got so many great things to do.” This statement was like my insurance. As I stuck to this, I realised that I was gradually attaining peace with myself not through eliminating my anxiety, but in spite of my anxiety.

Today, my social anxiety has calmed down tremendously, even though it still injects fear into my heart from time to time. And I have not stopped challenging myself to step up, do what I like to do. Because I can enter any kind of battlefield, and come out filled with love for myself despite the outcome. And I will always pick myself up and do it all over again. That is how I slowly conquered my social anxiety. I fought my social anxiety with love and acceptance, not with desperate opposition. I understand that my experience with social anxiety cannot fit that of everyone, but I hope you glean some lessons of self-forgiveness and persistence from my experience. And in case you have forgotten,

Run along now, it’s time to map out this journey for yourself.

You are loved. Xoxo

Celeste

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You matter, so damn much: Why you need to recover

Why do you need to recover? You need to because you must. During my recovery, I told myself constantly that I had two options- push forward in my recovery or die. When you are fully recovered and you look back on your years under the control of ED, you will not want to turn back. That is not to say that you would have a perfect life beyond your ED. You won’t. But the difference is that as a recovered person, you will learn to live with life’s imperfections and marvel at the beauty of diversity and difference.

You will cry, but you will also laugh.

You will fall down, but pull yourself back up.

You will sometimes feel inadequate, but there will be this subtle, kind voice within you that whispers, “it’s okay”.

And that’s the biggest thing I gained out of my recovery.

The ability to tell myself that it’s okay.

Because really, it is.

You will appreciate the impermanence of things,

The temporary sadness of loss,

But above all,

The beauty of letting go.

This, my dear, is why you need to recover.

Because to let go is to embrace freedom and happiness.

And in case you have forgotten,

You are so deeply loved,

And your happiness and ability to love yourself matter so damn much.

I hope you realise that.

My first Eating Disorder support group session

I recently attended my first ever ED support group session in the position of a survivor and anorexia recovered. I was never exposed to hospital-based treatment, and never really spoke to another ED survivor in person. This was an eye-opening experience and I have learnt that I have much to learn. One particular participant, Grace (not her real name), taught me something through her very frank, yet emotional and genuine articulation of her feelings. She was in tears, and I guess she was scared and frustrated at the same time. But Grace, I hope you read this, and understand that you’ve taught me something so valuable, and I will remember it. And in the meantime, pick up your ED warrior sword and fight. It’s not over as long as you’re still with us today.

[All names are changed for the privacy of these beautiful people]

My first ED support group: Reflections

In Feb 2017, I attended an ED support group session at a hospital in Singapore. It was my first time, and I wanted or hoped to inspire people with my experience and give them advice on how to push forward in recovery.

We sat down in a little circle (maybe 6-7 people) and talked about what each of us was going through and how all of us fared through the festive season of Chinese New Year. I shared some of my advice based some of the concerns which the participants voiced (e.g. finding your bearings after recovery) and they looked comforted after that, which was heartening to me. Another participant, Kristen, who was far in her recovery, shared some of hers’ too. Amelia, a survivor and Anorexia recovered, came down with her best friend, Amirah, who had fallen into ED’s pernicious trap as well.

But most didn’t really notice the two remaining participants tucked in within the circle, Grace and Leila. Leila said that she wasn’t in the mood to speak, and before long she was in tears. Grace was quiet the entire way, until finally she spoke. That was when we found out, that she was in her 40s and had been battling her ED for more than 18 years.

Grace told us very frankly how she envied us, because we were able to detect our problem and start recovery (and for some of us, successfully recover) when we were so young. She even admitted to us that it made her feel uncomfortable and quite irritated when loving parents ask ED therapists how long recovery would “normally take”. Because in reality, there just isn’t a “normally”.

I looked down instantly and stared at the back of my hands as she spoke. I realised that I had not considered how vastly different Grace’s recovery would have been from that of the rest of us. I realised that apart from recognising the fact that EDs come in all sizes, recovery comes in all forms too. I felt very sad and a little disappointed in myself for failing to recognise that Grace had a different story to tell, and that her story did not necessarily coincide with the stories of the rest. And importantly, that the rest of our stories, no matter how inspiring and personal, could even serve to alienate Grace from the group.

I am grateful for Grace, and for the reminder she gave to all of us. Even though my ED story is highly personal, at the end of the day a single story won’t ring true and fit into the hearts of everyone. But you know what will? Knowledge and sensitivity. Always being open to learning how different people from vastly different backgrounds and conditions live their lives, and always gladly submitting ourselves to the fact that we don’t know everything, and have much to learn. When it comes to EDs and recovery, despite my personal and unique experience to me, it’s really not about me at all. Instead, it’s about us.

And the last very essential thing I learnt is the idea of privilege. Before the support group began, there was a mass sharing by a lovely couple who had a 14 year old daughter suffering from Anorexia. They chronicled her recovery process with the painstaking, unconditional devotion of her parents.

They were a beautiful couple and their eyes brimmed with the joy and nostalgic pain of parents who have lifted their child out of adversity. But one thing their sharing suggested- which initially made a lot of sense- didn’t go down well with me after Grace gave me the wakeup call. It was that good family relationships is the most important element in a successful recovery. I understand why this would be suggested. Relationships with others are powerful and that couple had first-hand insight into the healing properties of kinship. But perhaps they should have added that it wasn’t the most important thing or the one thing you needed. Because ultimately, even though familial bonds are precious and magical, they are not the one and only gospel truth in recovery. And it’s important that we let people know that. Because there are people like Grace, who’ve been struggling for years, who have lost their friends, and who slowly feel further apart from people. Many people do not have the privilege of full-on family love and devotion.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m in no little way saying that family is not important. Family is so important. In fact, it is the most important for so many people. But what I’m saying is that some people don’t have this privilege. And you know what’s true when it comes to recovery, or overcoming anything at all? The real strength (and the most important) lies in YOU.

Grace, if you’re reading this, remember that the most important thing is within you. During my recovery, my closest of kin did not have even a bit of understanding of my condition, I admit. And there was never any good communication when it came to my ED or recovery. But looking back, I don’t blame them. Because I harnessed my own light within me. It’s possible to be MY own best friend during recovery. When you are true to YOURself, you can conquer anything. And Grace, if you’re reading this, please realise that your ED/ duration of recovery do NOT determine your worth. The fact that you’re still here with us after 18 years signifies that you haven’t given up. Even after 18 years, you’re still fighting. I just hope you know how amazing you are.

7 Myths on Eating Disorders

These myths ring so true for me and these are the things I’ve learnt after recovering from an ED. I hope this helps people!

xoxo,

Celeste

(Got some views on my ED story and it was encouraging hehe)

7 Eating Disorder Myths

  1. Only rich 15-16 year old girls get EDs

This is wrong. EDs do NOT discriminate based on age, gender, income or ethnicity. An ED does not have a standardised appearance.

  1. Only people that have a Body Mass Index of below xx have an ED

EDs are mental illnesses. The underweight condition is a POSSIBLE side-effect, but it is not a DEFINITE one. People suffering from EDs battle wars within their own heads, and this is something an outsider (who doesn’t carefully observe and listen) will not be able to detect. Because of this assumption, many bigger people are not treated with the extra care, concern and sensitivity they need and deserve.

  1. BMI matters at all

The limited legitimacy of BMI as an indicator of health has been revealed in recent years. BMI is not grounded in medical evidence and is not based on science. In fact, BMI was created by a statistician, only to be unfortunately endorsed by healthcare systems later on. “Health” is not reflected by a numerical indicator or a particular appearance. Health is at all sizes, and everyone is born with a genetically pre-determined weight set point which the body will fight to maintain, regardless of whether the BMI CLAIMS it to be healthy or not. Your weight is the healthiest weight!

  1. EDs are caused by thin models in the media

EDs are complex neurological anxiety disorders, and the cause of EDs are still unknown today. Thin models in the media may perpetuate the fat-phobic culture (more on that later) that thrives in our society, but it does not “cause” EDs. It is also important to note that nobody “chooses” to get an ED. It’s not a conscious choice that anyone makes.

  1. Recovery from an ED is possible by having strict meal plans and …

One thing about ED recovery is that it’s not all about the food. It’s also about how the food is consumed. Strict meal plans which I’ve heard about many patients being given will only contribute to the mental rigidity that is a part of the ED in the first place. Remember, again, that these are mental illnesses. They control people through rules, restrictions and punishments. Instead, health is FREEDOM. And recovery is encouraging that freedom.

  1. …maintaining a “healthy” BMI after gaining “enough weight”

Refer to myth #3. Your doctor, the healthcare system will not know what is “enough weight” for YOUR body. Only your body will know, and it will take care of how much weight you need to gain. You don’t need to think one bit about what weight you have to be restored to. Your body is amazing as it is and it will fight to protect you.

  1. After being weight restored, I can start to exercise and go on that vegan diet I’ve always wanted to

Firstly, tread carefully when using the phrase “weight restored”. How do you know you’re truly weight restored? As someone with an ED, you may be tempted to gain a certain amount of weight, decide “this is enough”, and call yourself “weight restored” just because you appear to be okay. I am a survivor of Anorexia, so I understand. But please believe me- DON’T fall into this trap. If you really want to recover, trust your body to decide when you really are weight restored.

Let’s say you truly are weight restored, and you want to exercise and go vegan. Please remember that your recovery is MENTAL as much as it’s physical. Why do you want to exercise and why do you want to go vegan? Because you love exercise and you want to be ethical? Ask yourself this again. Are you sure it’s not even in the least ED-driven?

For me, I rarely exercise. The most exercise I’ve done was a 4 minutes jog in the last 1 year. And I consistently make a personal choice to eat anything that’s available. Whether that is fries, burgers, noodles or pasta. This is my lifestyle. And I love it and it’s the best for me.

So you see, our lifestyles are all different, but make sure that once you’ve recovered, you adopt the lifestyle for YOU and YOU alone. ED has absolutely no place in the life you have regained. Maintaining your mental health after recovery is so immensely important.

My Eating Disorder

I am a survivor of an Eating Disorder (ED). And I’ve learnt so much which I hope more people will be educated about. I’ve written my ED story several weeks ago and I’ve only recently plucked up the courage to post it. So I decided to take the leap of faith and broadcast it here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s so hard for me to post this; it’s been in cold storage for weeks. But if I help someone then it’s worth it.

Much love to everyone who’s suffering, seeking to gain for insight or just passing by. You’re amazing xoxo

Celeste

My Eating Disorder

Everyone has a story. But not everyone realises that.

Despite bumping around as an awkward teen, I was blessed with a reasonable first two years of high school life. After those two years, however, I began to change. When I was 14, “diet talk” started to seep into my consciousness.

It started off so innocuously. I often said to my friends, “I think I need to go on a diet”, words that were commonplace in our thinness-oriented world. So I thought, there was nothing exceptionally harmful about wanting to be slimmer, right? I still ate, because I loved food too much and did not have the ability to count calories, so I was fine, right? Wasn’t it healthy to be mindful of what I ate?

When I turned 15, my personality took an unexpected turn. Previously a bubbly, passionate girl, I noticed myself drawing back. Hanging out with friends felt more like an obligation than a respite, and I started to compare myself with other girls- a lot. As all these shifts took place, it did not occur to me that I had gained an evil soulmate named Ana.

As a 15 year old, dieting ideals had become so entrenched into my subconscious, I was not even fully aware of them. This gave Ana the chance to tear me up from the inside. Oftentimes, the most subtle means of destruction turn out to be the most devastating. I remember being obsessed with comparison to other girls. After a period of time, I began to take to the scale- something I never thought I would ever be bothered with. I weighed myself periodically, hoping, praying that the scale would show me what my heart desired. As I previously mentioned, I was a food lover, and I was well-known for my hearty appetite. So even though the weighing scale became my bible, I still ate, because I just couldn’t help it. Because I was still eating, Ana told me that I was a worthless waste of space. Ana would hold my hand and remind me, that because I was still eating, I had to try to restrict myself. I had to exercise self-restraint.

Never would I have known that subscribing to Ana’s plans would force me to sacrifice any ounce of control I had over myself.

When I believed that Ana had my best interests at heart, it was too late. I was trapped within her cruel dictations. I was bound by the fear, starvation and isolation that she inflicted upon me.

Looking back on my life as a 15-16 year old, I will never forget the pain and self-hate I subjected myself to, because they are just too vivid and terrifying to be forgotten. As a 16 year old, I had dropped xx pounds on the scale, but Ana would not stop. She refused to say “enough”, but instead, she whipped me into a vicious cycle of eating, crying, not eating, feeling faint, desperately wanting food, eating, crying, not eating, crying again…

This is not the kind of life befitting of any human being. Apart from losing xx pounds, I also lost all my friends (I became severely isolated socially), my outlook on life and my greatest childhood passion- service to others. I had been an avid volunteer at volunteer and welfare organisations (VWOs) before Ana’s arrival. I derived joy from giving and helping people. When Ana, she snatched all this empathy away from me. One day, in the depths of my disorder, when I realised I had not been doing community service for a weirdly long time, I tried to research about an association for the blind where I used to help out at. I scrolled through the volunteer webpage. Then the most frightening sensation of all struck me- nothing. I was an empty shell. At that moment, I became so confused, I tried to force myself to feel empathy, to feel just anything at all, but not a single feeling could be generated. Ana had ripped my passion and all possible feelings from my heart, broken it through my ribs and tore it out of my soul. At that moment, I cried. I cried every day because of Ana, but this time I cried much more.

I cried so hard, but Ana was not a Good Samaritan. She lived off my cries, like a sadistic abusive partner.

In 2014, as a 16 year old, I had hit rock bottom. Never in my whole life had I felt so despondent, so hopeless, so alone. Ana had promised me happiness in thinness, but all she gave me was self-destruction. As a 16 year old, instead of hanging out with friends, I would hide in my house and pretend I had “something on”. I lost all interest in boys. My heart would palpitate so hard whenever I had to meet someone, it was debilitating. (Social Anxiety came with my ED) When I absolutely had no choice but to meet someone for lunch one day, I desperately Googled the calories in the food they offered at the café and planned my order a week in advance. At home, I secretly weighed out all my food including rice and tomatoes. I remember feeling so downright exhausted every morning when I woke up because every new day meant nothing for me. The only thing it signalled was another laborious day of fretting, eating then crying, starving and counting.  Yes, my friends, this was how I lived my life for a very long time. The only thing Ana helped me achieve was to waste away in hell.

At the end of 2014, I came across a Tumblr page, Let’s Recover, founded my an Anorexia survivor Amalie Lee who dedicates a large part of her life today educating, informing and inspiring. This webpage changed my life forever. On Let’s Recover, I found out about the most ground-breaking idea I have ever heard of (at that time) – that fat is not unhealthy. I read about the beauty of our bodies in internal regulation such that no matter what we ate, it would fight to maintain our weights about an optimal set point unique to EACH body on this planet. No one body is the same. Likewise, there is NO such thing as a “healthy” weight. You can be xxx (insert any number here) pounds and healthy. Reading all these articles which are, by the way, grounded in science (whereas a bullshit indicator BMI is NOT), was a magical experience. Remember, my friends, fat is not unhealthy. Please get rid of the mind-set which society has programmed you to adopt. Fat is beautiful.

Please don’t get me wrong, my life did not change immediately after reading those blog posts. There is no “ED recovery fairy tale” (i.e. girl eats more with the support of her family, cries occasionally, but after some time comfortably settles at her weight, and she officially recovers and feels awesome blah blah blah). Recovery hurts like a bitch. But that’s what makes it worth doing. Challenging your mental demons can make you feel like breaking down, but if you pull yourself back up again and FORCE yourself to move FORWARD (i.e., gaining weight, body positivity etc) and NEVER lose hope, you have won.

They say that you are never the same person you were before you walked into the storm, and with this statement I can concur. I am evidently a vastly different human being compared to the crazy little girl at the age of 13 or 14. After conquering my ED, I have become a thinker. I daydream more often, and think about the meaning behind what people do. But more significantly, I love myself today. I have apologised to my body for beating it up, but thank it profusely for never letting me go, for persevering until I decided to let Ana go. Today, my body is as strong as ever, and I thank it for preserving this life which I once thought was not worth living.

As morbid as it sounds, I am grateful for this challenge that I was presented with. This episode that broke me down also helped me acquire, albeit very painfully, pieces of enlightening wisdom. Eating disorders, I have learnt, comes in all sizes. EDs do not discriminate. When I was at a “normal weight” (as dictated by the very inaccurate BMI), my abnormal behaviour was perceived as that of a teenage girl making steps to a healthier lifestyle. It was only when things began spiralling out of control, when people became convinced of a serious problem. Why do people need convincing? Does understanding, help and extra sensitivity really need justification? My ED took root when I was at a “healthy weight”. Ana took advantage of the stereotypes surrounding EDs to consume me from the inside.

Most of all, I have learnt of the widespread discrimination that does not derive as much attention as it should. That is fat phobia. I am a slim girl and I know it. Privilege is being able to write a long story about your experience because you can be sure more people will applaud you for your courage than not. Many fat girls, on the other hand, are being mocked and derided, including those who have recovered from, or are recovering from an ED. So as a girl with a body deemed acceptable by society, I need to be constantly aware of the fact that the people truly bearing the brunt of society’s “body ideals” are the people who are actually fat, and not those who think they are.

Life is still bumpy today. I face challenges, and I am in the process of gaining back the remnants of confidence I need to face the world. However, I know I have a strong mental foundation grounded in my unconditional self-love and unshakeable purpose. I want to empathise with more people and to dedicate a part of my life to changing what society understands about health and beauty. People of fat bodies, thin bodies, all skin colours, all heights, all ethnicities, with disabilities etc… are ALL immeasurably beautiful, society just needs to be prepared to see that beauty.

As a survivor of Anorexia, I can tell you with conviction in my heart that life is worth living after all. And to all the people struggling with EDs or who feel driven to hate themselves in silence, I am here for you. Never give up.