Surviving 2016

Original Poetry, Original Writing

My proudest moment of 2016 is knowing

I survived.

I overcame the worst

life could throw at me. 

I broke into 

god knows how many pieces,

but,

I put myself back together. 

If that’s not my greatest achievement

I don’t know

what is. 

 

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An Open Letter to My Parents

Life Updates

The past few years have been turbulent, both physically and mentally for myself and those around me; the constant rejection of the answers I was desperately looking for, the reluctance to be treated for whatever is going on inside me, and the anxiety surrounding being in pain everyday were painful to say in the least. However, with the news that the investigations into my health conditions have now come to an end, I’ve stopped hoping for a miracle, adopting a rather more realistic approach to dealing with the pain. I’ve made peace with the idea that I’ll have to treat these symptoms, potentially for the rest of my life, rather than having multiple doctors, surgeons and specialists poke me here and there, performing countless tests.

Those closest to me will know how much I despise pity and sympathy: my health is something I have yet to come to terms with (I know, I know, it’s been 4 years) so handling other’s reactions isn’t something that comes easily to me when I don’t really know how to handle it myself. However, the one thing I have always been grateful for, but now more so than ever, is the relentless support of my parents.

During my darkest hours, they shared my pain and agony. In 2013, they shared my fear of going under the knife for the first time in my life. But they put aside all their own emotions to support me, comfort me and encourage me. Many will comment on my bravery in suffering from a debilitating health issue, but I believe the bravest of them all are my parents, for being strong for me. I remember waking up from the general anaesthetic after my operation and hearing my mum sob because she couldn’t handle the sight of me being attached to wires, an oxygen mask, and tubes attached to me. This was the first time I’d heard her cry since I was diagnosed, and in many ways that was more painful than the actual agony of a gallbladder attack. As parents, there’s an assumption that you have to be strong for your children, and my parents exceeded that. I know for a fact that their support has helped me live through this, and without it, I don’t know where I’d be.

It’s time for me to stop thinking about how I’ll survive living with whatever I am going through, but rather focus on how I can live my life to the fullest with it. Perhaps I was justified in my selfishness regarding the whole thing – after all, it was my illness, something only I was experiencing. But in many ways, my pain is also my parents’ pain. I haven’t given them enough credit for helping me survive the worst days of my life. I owe them everything for helping me keep it together when I was at my lowest points. Their ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel when I’m blind to it myself is a gift they are blessed with.

So thank you both, for transforming me into the strong woman I am today. I am a survivor because of you. You love me even when I’m at my worst, and boy am I an absolute nightmare. Through your care and devotion, you have created a human being who is prepared to fight whatever life throws at her head on. You have given me the strength to survive my darkest hours, and it’s only your words which help me overcome them. Your strength and courage lives within me, and I am so proud to call you my parents. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I’ll be able to embrace it because of you.

A x

Health Is Wealth

Original Writing

There are times when my health brings me to my knees, both physically and mentally. Sometimes, it does feel like things will never get better – the risks, the waiting, the bad news, the symptoms… It’s hard to put on a brave face when you’re looking at the possibility of a future of pain worse than I’m enduring now.

But then I realise: other than my pancreas being a slight disaster as of recent, and my bile duct muscle failing to work properly, I’m pretty healthy. I can walk, run, go about my daily activities properly, albeit to some extent. My condition is not terminal. I’m not going to die. (Hopefully!) There are people out there, some much younger than me, who are going through traumatic experiences, unbearable pain and are suffering incomprehensibly from terminal diseases. Their chances of survival are increasing with new technology and research dedicated to finding cures, but they’re still low.

Family and health are the two most important things in my life, and ultimately, I have both. My body may not be working perfectly, but it’s working nevertheless.

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
Mahatma Gandhi 

Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2016

Current Affairs, Life Updates

This week marks Eating Disorder Awareness Week. This month marks 10 months since I beat my eating disorder.

I guess the first stage of overcoming it was actually coming to terms with having an eating disorder; admitting to myself that I was struggling to cope with the operations I’d had the year before and just missing out on my grades to get into uni. In many ways, starving myself was a coping mechanism as well as a method of maintaining control over my life through my body weight. So admitting to my parents and my psychotherapist that I had a problem was the first step on the road to recovery.

The second step was finding the courage to seek professional help; that in itself took the longest. My mum’s friend is a therapist and recommended a few private professionals as the prospect of being put on a waiting list when my condition was getting so serious was impossible to accept. After flat out refusing to see/talk to anyone about my problems for well over a month, I realised I’d either have to pluck up the courage to talk through my anxiety and pain or spend the rest of my life miserable, isolated and starving myself until I was close to death/actually died.

My first session with the psychotherapist was incredibly daunting; naturally, every instinct in my body was telling me not to trust her because she was an outsider. My brain was screaming she won’t understand. I think she, too, saw my apprehension and helped me work through it by sorting through my personal life piece by piece. She began compiling a timeline of every significant event in my life, from starting high school up until present day. Of all things, I didn’t expect a chronology to be as helpful as it eventually proved to be, because once she’d organised key moments of my childhood and adolescence into categories on her timeline, it eventually unravelled what the cause of my anxiety was.

My anxiety had physically manifested itself into an eating disorder and the only way I could tackle the eating problems was to tackle the anxiety first. This was, and to some extent still is, incredibly difficult. Seeing a therapist every week was incomprehensibly effective as she helped me trawl through the trauma I’d experienced essentially since high school, and soon this slow but steady psychological improvement was reflected in my eating habits. The root of my eating problems was ultimately a lack of self esteem, originating from mistreatment and psychological trauma at my high school. Teachers and a few students made me feel worthless and I guess I spent 6 odd years growing up with the belief that I was nothing but a failure. Once my therapist helped me through this harrowing acceptance of my high school experience, I began to accept other aspects of my life, too. For example, my physical health deteriorated rapidly in 2013 and the trauma of relentless, disabling pain also took its toll. Over the course of a year, I managed to work through the psychological aspects of my life which were contributing to a lack of self esteem and my anxiety attacks. 

The other fundamental factor of overcoming my eating disorder was accepting that my body was a thing to be loved, not loathed. I was so desperately trying to achieve an ideal body weight that I lost all sense of rationale. This ideal body weight soon became dangerously life-threatening which is when my parents confronted me about why I was so thin, and why my hipbones were sticking out through my jeans. I was incredibly careful to hide everything from them; from putting food wrappers in the bin despite eating none of the contents, to wearing baggy clothes. (thereby hiding my weight loss) I used to starve myself from morning until 5pm, binge on whatever junk food I could find, only for it all to come back up because my stomach was shrinking and couldn’t tolerate a massive influx of food in one go. Due to my inability to keep food contents inside my body, I was rapidly losing weight but no one really noticed, so I kept pushing to lose more. Over the course of the year that I received help for the eating disorder, I learnt to love myself a lot more. Surrounding myself with good, positive influences and detaching myself from toxic, negative people is ultimately what saved me. 

It’s incredible how many people compliment me on my body now, three sizes up from what I was two years ago. It’s also incredible how far I’ve come, emotionally and physically, since high school. Beating the eating disorder not only saved my life but it also helped me get over the trauma of my high school experience. It made me realise that I’m a survivor.

I cannot emphasise how important it is for people to show solidarity amongst understanding and compassion for those suffering from eating disorders. Sticking around for someone can make a world of difference. Whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold when times get tough, just being there is what helped me through my darkest hours. Cowards walk away from people in desperate times of need. Don’t be that person.

Here’s a list two websites which helped me in times of need, too:

https://www.b-eat.co.uk 

http://nedawareness.org

A x

Mental vs Physical Health

Current Affairs, Original Writing

I was reading up on the law recently (as one does in their free time, of course) and something struck me as particularly concerning.

Context: I was looking to apply for my student loan for this September when I visited the Disability Allowance section. I have no physical disability (minus asthma but I don’t really consider that a disability in the scheme of things) but I wondered if suffering from mental health conditions qualified as a disability in the eyes of the law and if it did, to what extent?

Here’s the tricky part; it does. Kind of. From studying law at college, I remember how important it is to pay close attention to the use of particular diction in legislation. For example, the Equality Act 2010 specifically states that a disabled person must “have an impairment that is either physical or mental… must have adverse effects which are substantial, long-term and affects normal day-to-day activities.” If all factors stated above are met, the person is thereby classified as disabled, legally. But what is classified as an “impairment?” Can mild forms of mental health conditions still be classified as impairments?

The issue I have with this legislation is that there is an awful lot of grey area with regards to what can be classified as a disability and where the line is drawn between disability and an “impairment” which does not warrant the term disability. Usually, an act will define its own terms. For example, they’ll say something along the lines of “used in its ordinary meaning.” However, there is an element of subjectiveness and discretion in this act. Nevertheless, there is very little subjectiveness associated with physical disability. In the act, examples are given of where there should be no deliberation over disability; specifically, an obese woman who has trouble breathing because she’s overweight. The law  points out that the reason behind her breathing difficulties (her obesity) should NOT be referenced. She is automatically classified as disabled, due to her breathing problems. Fair enough.

However, when looking into the mental health aspect of this law, I came across a sticking point. As per the act, in order to be classified as disabled, one’s “impairment” must affect one’s daily life as well as being a long-term condition. In particular, the act uses an example of social anxiety and panic attacks; it states that if a person’s anxiety is so severe that it warrants having to travel at certain times of the day to avoid the rush hour then yes, they are classified as disabled. However, if one doesn’t need to make changes, to their routine for example, in accordance to their condition, it is not classified as an impairment, nor is it classified as debilitating enough to warrant the term “disability.”

This stood out to be as considerably worrying due to the high percentage of people who suffer from mental health conditions in silence because they’ve known nothing else. For sufferers of severe mental health conditions, there are certain requirements within the field of treatment which contribute to their condition being a disability. But what about those who suffer from mild anxiety, mild social anxiety, mild depression etc? Where do they stand in the eyes of the law? Where do I stand, someone who is still overcoming their health condition day by day, without altering anything in their routine?

Ultimately, this all comes down to the fact that mental and physical health will never be treated equally. Ironic, considering the name of the above act. The act states that cancer and HIV are automatically classed as a disability (rightly so) thereby reiterating a distinction and distinct lack of equality between mental and physical health. There should not be any grey area in the law regarding mental health, if there is no element of subjectivity for physical disabilities. That is unfair not to mention unequal. Until schizophrenia is treated with the same importance as cancer, we will be stuck in a unequal society, trapped by the stigmatisation of mental health.

A x

My Battle With Anxiety: 2 Years On

Current Affairs, Original Writing

Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying… These disorders affect how we feel and behave, and they can manifest real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be extremely debilitating, having a serious impact on daily life.¹

Sounds about right. I still remember the first time I heard the word, instantly associating it with weakness and fragility. A flaw. There are many misconceptions associated with the term ‘anxiety’ and understandably so, considering the word is so broad and broadly used in society. I also believe it’s used too loosely in day to day life, thereby contributing to a lack of understanding. Despite coming so far as a race, we’ve become stuck in a place where we cannot manifest the ability to treat people equally based on their mental state, which is undeniably a shocking position for us, as humans.

The first time I told someone outside of my family about suffering from anxiety, I was terrified and lost in a world where toxic thoughts were swimming around in my head and I genuinely believed they would save me from drowning. Initially, telling someone else about this was an instant relief. I felt a little lighter knowing I’d shared something so destructive in my life with someone else who’d perhaps be able to help me through it, providing support where possible. Sadly, I was wrong. I’ve since learnt that people will certainly provide a supportive front but that’s all it is – a facade. Some of us are designed to deal with heavy emotional distress and some of us simply are not: and that’s okay.

Coming to terms with anxiety meant having to re-evaluate my relationships and friendships; it meant taking a step back and assessing what/where the foundation of my anxiety attacks were. I soon came to realise that a significant amount of stress I put myself under was based on being treated a certain way by people I believed I was close to. Without going into too much detail, I wasn’t treated very well by the people I held dearest to me, and I deserved much better. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t see it at the time, so it was a vicious cycle of feeling second best, then apologising for feeling this way only to be treated poorly a few weeks later. I believed that was okay, too, which is the saddest thing. My anxiety attacks were set off by feeling like I wasn’t good enough, which escalated until I reached breaking point. This was a continuous pattern throughout most of 2014 and early 2015.

I only really noticed an improvement in my mental health when I surrounded myself with positive influences and strong, healthy friendships. People who loved me unconditionally, who picked me up when I was down and never treated me differently based on my anxiety disorder. Cutting toxic relationships out of my life has massively transformed it. I’ve also found that keeping myself busy has helped massively; the panic attacks come less often now, and I have less time to overanalyse every aspect of my life. It could be inferred that overanalysing has its perks (kind of) – I am an perfectionist and if something isn’t done to my standards, I’ll continue to work at it until I’m happy. As long as my mind is preoccupied, my anxiety levels remain steady.

Naturally, there are those days where I feel incredibly low and for no apparent reason. This is what I feel is imperative to underline and draw attention to; we have anxiety attacks, panic attacks and feel low for sometimes no reason at all. It just happens and there’s nothing we can do about it; no matter how much someone offers to comfort me, I cannot escape the prison walls of my brain, with voices telling me a thousand negative things all at once. And occasionally, the only thing I can do is cry about it and move on from there. Everyone reacts differently to anxiety and it’s formidable attacks: from crying to remaining silent for long periods of time, sometimes it’s best to leave someone be if they cannot comprehend what’s going on in their head. The same applies to social anxiety – I can’t control the panic attacks every time I enter a room or a bus full of people. Regardless of whether you’re my friend, relative or a stranger, I will panic when entering a confined space containing a number of people. That’s just the way it is for me, and no amount of therapy has managed to change that. (yet)

But if I’ve learnt anything over these two years, it’s to embrace life and all it’s got to offer us. I spent disgustingly too long distressing myself over whether or not I was a good person, if I was good enough. Surrounding myself with good people was what helped me through my darkest hours. People who inspired me, motivated me. Finally, writing has been the most effective form of therapy for me. It’s not even the factor of others going through similar experiences, it’s just ten times easier to deal with when I’m not holding it inside, when it’s on paper. Getting over the physical health stuff was tough enough, but coping with the trauma of a mental health disorder is something else entirely.

My anxiety hasn’t gone away but it’s most definitely become easier to live with. The good days almost always counterbalance the bad, and that’s what I’m focussing on.

A x

¹http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/anxiety/ 

 

HEALTH UPDATE: JAN 2016

Original Writing

I’m so excited to start this post off with a positive! I’m 19 days into January and PAIN FREE! This is such a huge deal for me, I can’t even process it.

Okay, so I’m not 100% pain free; more along the lines of 70% but it’s still a dramatic improvement from 2015. Thankfully, it’s less frequent and doesn’t last very long either, meaning I’m not exactly disabled by the pain as I was last year. I’m still getting my head around saying last year. I actually survived 2015.

After well over a year of being seen by multiple private specialists in and around London, my parents and I lost hope in the private medical care system simply because nothing was being done. I’d had countless tests done, all coming back negative meaning the doctors had literally nothing to go on in order to make a concrete diagnosis other than my pain. Considering there was no visual evidence to support the pain, it was hard for them to figure out what was going on inside me and I think they pretty much gave up after increasing my daily pain relief and putting me on 3000 units of Creon a day.

During my hospitalisation in November last year, I was referred to a hepatologist at Royal Surrey County Hospital – a tertiary care centre. Because I wasn’t getting anywhere privately, we agreed it was best to get another specialist opinion and I had the consultation last week. (Downside to the NHS: everything takes at least a month or two to happen!) I was seen by and am currently under the care of the hepatology surgical team who informed me that the Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction (SOD) diagnosis has been confirmed. WAHEY.

After having a procedure in December, they discovered slight inflammation in the bile duct which suggests a possible latent gallstone (from my laparoscopic cholysysectomy) had recently passed through. This would explain the recurrent attacks of excruciating pain which landed me in a&e so many times last year as well as my intolerance to codeine and morphine. The slight issue with SOD is it’s unpredictability; I have no way of knowing when another attack will take place or how destructive it will be. The surgeons have come up with a potential solution, one which has been brought up by a number of my surgeons and consultants: surgery. A cutting of the sphincter muscle will reduce it’s overactivity which is the fundamental cause of pain everyday, however there are many risks associated with such a rare and risky operation. Most importantly, it carries the risk of internal bleeding and pancreatitis. Having had one attack of acute pancreatitis already, I’m not too keen to have another one as it left me in hospital for a week, attached to a IV opiate drip. It also carries the risk of severely damaging your pancreas, another obstacle I’d rather avoid.

The next step is to be seen by a hepatologist consultant who will discuss his opinion on the surgery and whether the pros outweigh the cons. He’ll then liaise with the surgical team and they’ll come to their professional conclusion before consulting with me. It sounds awfully similar to my last consultation with my private specialists, but this time round I’m definitely more positive as they’re going to get to the root of the problem regardless of the methods they choose. Knowing what health condition I have and that something is going to be done about it has put my mind at ease already!

Clarity. That’s all I needed. And now I’m much happier and more optimistic, too. The possibility of a pain free future is looking increasingly likely!

A x

Panorama: 26th October 2015 – Britain’s Mental Health Crisis

Current Affairs, Original Writing

After watching Panorama’s recent documentary tonight, I’m absolutely appalled at the state of mental health care. Of course, this is not the first reminder of the terrible state the government cuts have reduced the trusts to, but it’s an imperative reminder to all of us that we need to raise awareness for those vulnerable citizens silenced by their psychological disorders.

Firstly, the assessment of those “less ill” to free more beds for furthermore patients. Sickening. A patient who had the intention of committing suicide at a train station shouldn’t be “assessed” on whether or not they’re worthy of a bed: this is nonnegotiable. Vulnerable citizens are silenced due to their psychological conditions which is the most shameful fact of all. I’ve said this before in my last post regarding mental health and I’ll say it again: a cancer patient, or a terminally ill patient, will not be refused a bed, neither will they be “assessed” on how unwell they are. They’d be given a bed as soon as possible, with the professionals working as hard as they can to get them on the road to recovery, or at least to make sure they’re not suffering as much. Why aren’t mental health patients treated with this urgency?

How can patients, who are assessed to be suffering from their health conditions to a great extent, but not as great as other patients, say suicidal, be cast out into the community with no social help or support system to rely on if they relapse? Where’s the security that they’ll be helped if they ever feel vulnerable or have a bad day? This isn’t just a disgrace, it’s an atrocity and complete disregard for mental health sufferers.

Fundamentally, patients are judged on their suffering. As someone who’s been rushed to Accident and Emergency 11 times over the past two years with multiple health conditions, I know that patients are assessed on how much pain they’re in. The more pain you’re in, the quicker you are treated. As a sufferer of anxiety which almost crippled me to not leaving my house for weeks on end, my parents and I felt I had no choice but to receive private help as my condition was too serious to be thrown onto a waiting list. Which could take months. This is where the problem lies, and where it will continue to lie until the stigma attached to mental health has dissolved. Most of us cannot afford private healthcare, let alone private mental healthcare. How can the government expect a patient to pay £1000 a day to receive help and support which needs to be offered free, and is easily accessible?

I urge as many of you as possible to sign the petition below, which, if 100,000 signatures are received, the parliament will be obliged to take action and debate the bed crisis.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/109889

This is an increasingly concerning situation and we are all ambassadors for those in need of our support and help. Together we can make a difference, and we will.

A x

PS: Follow my twitter @_anisahhamid for more tweets regarding this.

World Mental Health Day 2015

Current Affairs, Original Writing

A couple of days ago marked World Mental Health Day, a day of showing awareness and support for those suffering from mental health conditions. As an anxiety sufferer, I believe mental health is grossly belittled and not enough is done to support those who have to live with harrowing mental health conditions.

It took me nearly two years to fully understand what I suffered from. Having both general and social anxiety is a pain in the bum; it affects literally every part of your life. From getting on public transport to walking into a doctor’s waiting room, and even walking into a room full of family and friends, it’s a dreadful thing to live with. And that’s just the social aspect! When my therapist told me the feelings I was suffocated with on a daily basis were related to anxiety, I was confused, scared and ashamed. I didn’t tell anyone for months, not even my parents or family. In my head, anxiety was a weakness and I was simply a weak person who couldn’t control her emotions.

The first person I told was, at the time, my best friend. He helped me through the worst periods of anxiety and rescued me when I felt like I was drowning in my thoughts. Having someone there by my side whilst my brain exploded into a million thoughts was a blessing. In fact, without him, I would not be sitting here today; he saved me from myself. Anxiety in a nutshell is overthinking every little part of your life until, to use the cliche phrase, a molehill becomes a mountain. You end up worrying over everything, thinking you’ve done something wrong or there’s something wrong with you; you feel like no one will understand what you’re thinking and in most cases, sadly you’re right. Not many will understand you. But it’s finding the support systems and networks out there to help those who feel completely isolated by their conditions which is so imperative. The fact that many people feel the need to see professionals privately is absolutely absurd and a complete failure of the government in supporting their vulnerable citizens. The idea of someone, or someone’s parents, paying £70 for a professional to help one through an ordeal as traumatising as their own psychological disorder is shameful. No one deserves to be given the ultimatum of private professional help or being dismissed onto a waiting list.

I’ll ask you a question: if a cancer patient, or a terminally ill patient was told they needed to wait to seek treatment for their condition, is that considered acceptable? No. There would be a public outcry at the injustice of forcing an unwell patient to wait. So, what makes mental health any different from physical health? We may not be hurting physically, but we are hurting mentally. Cries of pain can come from within, unnoticed by others. Mental health is JUST as important and life-threatening as physical health. I suffer from both myself and can confirm that my physical suffering, which has been rather intense and at times, unbearable over the past three years, was just as painful as my mental suffering. So throwing someone under the carpet with the insincere promise of a “waiting list” is pathetic.

More needs to be done to support mental health sufferers. More needs to be done to help sufferers come to terms with what they have, so they can move forward and control it.

Right now, it’s explicitly clear that the government has failed us. Now’s the time to make a difference, with or without Cameron’s help.