Saturday, 18 November 2017

Dopamine (DA) and Anxiety in Eating Disorders

Image result for anxiety quotesWe've talked a lot here about weight gain, food, eating disorders, and anxiety - and the connection these have with dopamine (DA), a neurotransmitter in the brain. DA mediates many things in our bodies depending on where it acts. For example, in some areas of the brain, DA produces pleasure in response to things. In other areas, DA produces anxiety.

Interestingly - but not surprisingly - a study revealed that in one aspect of the brain in people with anorexia nervosa, DA produces heightened anxiety in response to various things, including food and weight gain. Patients with ED seem to have anxiety (i.e. increased DA levels in these brain areas) around food, meals, weight gain and body changes.

This is not fully surprising or new to us - after all, individuals suffering from EDs struggle to eat and gain weight because they are fearful of what will happen. Their response to food and weight gain is one of anxiety and fear. I think this study is important because it helps reaffirm to us - and to people with EDs - that the disorder is NOT 'all in their heads'. The fear of weight gain, food, and body changes is REAL. The brain in someone with an ED is working against them to make eating, gaining weight, and recovering that much harder.

Image result for anxiety quotesTherefore, we ought to be gentle and empathetic with these individuals. Sometimes, people with EDs profess that they are worried about the weight gain, scared of body changes, and fearful of when they eat. And this is a TRUE fear. They really are scared and anxious. So, don't blame them. Don't call them silly or irrational. Their fears may not seem validated or real to you - but they are. Their fears may seem strange, especially if they are not overweight and they state that they are scared of gaining weight. But remember - this is an illness. And we now know that this disorder is more that just physical - there are numerous changes that occur in the brain and body that make eating and gaining weight difficult, scary, and traumatic.

On the other hand, I think this can be encouraging to those who are struggling: you are not at fault for your fears and thoughts and feelings around food and weight gain. Your brain is making it much harder for you to accept the process of recovery. This is painful. And scary. And challenging on so many different levels. But it will get easier as you continue along the path. Everyday will not be simple; you may experience bumps along the road. But what matters is that you keep going. Stay strong and keep fighting. Because you are worth it. 
Related image

Monday, 23 October 2017

It's Okay to not be Okay

Image result for it is okay to not be okayWe all struggle with moments and experiences that challenge us. That make us scared. Times when we feel frozen, stuck, and hopeless. We feel lost and confused.

Think about a time when you felt this way. What was going on in your head? What emotions were you feeling?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has felt this way before. A few days ago, I was feeling sick of everything. There was too much to do. I felt like I was running from one thing to the next - and not just physically, but mentally as well. I felt angry at the circumstances I was in, and I desperately wanted it all to just STOP. I needed quiet, peace, and comfort. But in the hustle and bustle of life, I found none.

I felt anxious. Tired. Scared. Angry. Confused. At one point, I even felt that there was simply no point of doing anything at all. Sleep? No. Eat? No. Play? No. Work? No. On the outside, I am sure I looked okay. I can hold things together quite well in times of stress, you see. And so can many of us. We have trained ourselves to appear well and 'put together' in these moments because we know that despite feeling frustrated and tired, life still moves on. And so, we 'suck it up' and try to carry on.

But inside, I felt awful. I wanted to scream. To tell someone that I was TIRED. I was SAD. I felt so confused at the way I was feeling - I did not want to study or go to work, and yet, I loved these things dearly. I did not want to play or talk to my loved ones or friends, although I knew that these people cared for me. I did not want to sleep, because doing so made me feel like I was running away from my challenges. So, what could I do?

Image result for allow yourself to feel your emotions it is okay to bareAt that moment, I burst. I cried and cried and cried. And you know what? I felt better afterwards. I realized that for so long, I had been holding this pain and stress inside. I was trying so much to show that I was strong, to not let anyone feel my pain. I did not want to hurt my loved ones around me and make them feel sad or worried about me. But crying was immensely therapeutic. I discovered that though I am strong, I am also capable of feeling emotions. I am allowed to release my anger, sadness, and frustrations by crying - and that doesn't make me weak or vulnerable. I am entitled to tell myself when things are tough now, I can still feel worried and scared - and that is normal.

I am learning to let myself feel emotions and express them. This is a big change for me. For so long, I have huddled these feelings inside of me, worried that I will make my family and friends sad. I told myself that I could not cry or be sad because that meant I was weak. But I am learning that all emotions are healthy, as long as I express them in positive and meaningful ways. 

And so after I cried, I felt relieved. Did my problems magically disappear? No. But I felt honest with myself. I realized that I am a strong individual who is not afraid to express sadness, frustration, and fatigue. I am human and I am capable of feeling a range of emotions. That is what makes me in touch with my brain, body, and soul. It is not shameful to cry, just like it is appropriate to laugh. There is a season for all emotions, and expressed appropriately, this can be therapeutic and healthy. And although crying may seem like a 'depressing' activity, it is actually very therapeutic to let yourself feel these emotions and take the time to acknowledge that things are tough right now. One day they will get better - and inside, you know that this is true. Your prior experiences have shown you that you are able to defeat these tribulations, and that you are strong enough to pass through your obstacles. 

Image result for this will passYou are okay, just the way you are. Positive emotions, and difficult emotions. Moments of sadness and frustration, and moments of happiness and laughter. You are human - and you are allowed to feel this way. It is okay to not be okay.

But just remember, after you are not 'okay', think about what makes you OKAY. Think about how strong, beautiful, capable, and amazing you are. Think about the things that make you proud of yourself. Think about the blessings you have, and the talents you own. Think about the beauties you have experienced, the treasures that make you smile, and the warmth that fills your heart.

Image result for weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morningThings will be okay. You will be okay. Keep fighting, dear warrior. Because the battle may be tough, but you are tougher.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Enjoy THIS Moment

Image result for enjoy the moment quotesI was in a store a few days ago and noticed that Halloween costumes and candy filled the isles. Then, I also noticed that some stores also had Christmas supplies and decorations in their isles!

I personally love Christmas, so I was overjoyed at realizing that Christmas is just a few months away. If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know that Christmas is my favourite holiday!

But something about this bothered me - it being September, and already seeing Christmas things in the store. Don't get me wrong - I love the Christmas spirit! But isn't it strange how we aren't taking the time to enjoy the current moment, and are already jumping three months ahead?

This got me thinking: we live in a world today that runs from one thing to the next. We finish one thing, only to cross it off our list and get to the other things. We anticipate holidays months in advance so much that we might not realize that another holiday - coming sooner - is just as important. We get up and go to work or school and are thinking about next week, before even meeting the events of the day.

Image result for enjoy the moment quotesI will be the first to admit that this is how I operate, too. Life has become a constant shuffle from one thing to the next. It is busy. It is rushed. It is full of obligations, events, responsibilities, etc. Technology has made us have access to things we never thought were possible. Products and services have evolved in incredible ways. And while all of this is fantastic and speaks to the advances we have made, I think it is really important to be more mindful of the current moment.

Being mindful in the current state means trying to enjoy where you are now. Waking up and trying to focus on the day and what you will do today - and not five months in advance. Taking some time to enjoy the beautiful weather today offers, the current powerful relationships you have in your life, the successes you have accomplished, and the goals you have set. Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't plan ahead and be organized or prioritize what you will do tomorrow or next week - it simply means not getting so absorbed in the next moment that you forget to enjoy the present.

Related imageIt is definitely not an easy task, given the world we live on and how busy we all become. One helpful tip that I have found works for me is to catch myself in my thoughts. When I start thinking of things months in advance that I need not worry about now, I remind myself of where I am. Today is xxx, and I am doing zzz. I need not think far in advance, because I will miss out on the blessings of today. If I can plan for something in advance, I can do this within reason - but not obsessively. And, by all means, I must not let my plans for tomorrow stop me from enjoying the beauty of today.

Friday, 11 August 2017

What is Resilience?

Related imageResilience. You may have heard of this word before. To many of us, resilience may mean something along the lines of 'being able to endure hardships and moving forward'. But for some of us, resilience might simply mean having the strength to carry on today and not even thinking about tomorrow. Resilience could mean coping with a negative experience and trying to manage our lives, despite the pain that it may have caused.

I think the easiest and most basic way of looking at resilience is this: we all deal with challenging experiences. Resilience implies some form of emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental coping with these situations that enables us to acknowledge our suffering, but to cope with it and attempt to adapt and adjust our lives accordingly.

Why do I put resilience this way? Because some individuals will try to say that resilience means experiencing something challenging, but then 'forgetting about it' and 'moving on' because the past is in the past, and you are stronger now. While it is true that experiences teach us lessons, it is not - in my opinion - acceptable or effective to tell someone to move on and forget about it. We are a sum of our experiences - positive and negative. It is quite another thing to tell the person that though the challenge was difficult and perhaps traumatizing, it may be helpful to be thankful that the experience is over. Or to reflect on one's ability to navigate through this tough time and to be alive today.

Image result for resilienceResilience, to me, means understanding that tough times can - do most certainly do - occur. When we go through something challenging, we are (of course!) challenged to make decisions: do we give in to the hopelessness and fatigue? Do we fight and try to find a way out? But what if we cannot control what is happening? What if we feel as though we are truly stuck? In those scenarios, resilience means acknowledging that, to be blunt, 'this sucks'. Then, it means looking for a way to cope with the situation. Can you do something - anything - to handle the issue? If you can, do it! If you cannot, how can you cope with the emotions, the pain, and the circumstances that you are now facing?

I will admit: when faced with tough and troubling times, I start to freak out. I am frustrated by what is happening. I am tired of unpredictable and 'sucky' things happening. I get angry with how life is full of problems and trials....and then, I talk to someone I trust. I let out my emotions. I think about my own strengths inside of me - the passion, resilience, and perseverance that has kept me sighting my entire life. I think about the knowledge and skills I have that make me unique and talented. I think about my loyalty and love as a healthcare provider, student, friend, sister, daughter, and young woman. I remember the strength and power of my God, who is above all things and has never - or will ever - leave me. And then, I think about the situation. What can I do? Then I do it. Okay - now, how can I make myself relax a bit? Can I take a break? Can I simply acknowledge that I have done what I can, leave it to God and time, and hope for the best? YES. Because life will always be throwing things our way. And building resilience means dealing with the situation as it comes, letting it play out (assuming you have done what you needed or could do), and looking forward to the next minute of life. Having hope, faith, and trust that things will get better. Because they do. Taking care of myself in in ways that enable me to face challenges and life head-on. Knowing that I am enough.

Related imageThat, to me, is resilience. I am working on building resilience in life - we all have to. I don't think that one day, one will ever be able to say that they are 100% resilient in all situations. But, we can take small steps such as engaging in self-care, catching in negative thoughts, finding ways to remain motivated, etc. in order to build resilience to the hurdles and roller-coasters of life. And once you start doing this, you will realize that some problems in life really aren't that bad at all. Sure, it is unfortunate that they happen. But with the right tools and coping skills, you realize that you are ABLE to overcome this. You are ENOUGH. You are STRONG. You are, my dear reader, RESILIENT.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Published again! The Grass is Greener on the Other Side...?

Image result for after rain there is a rainbowI am blessed that my writing has been again featured on Fr. Anthony's website. Read it here! (And feel free to leave your comments/thoughts there).

We all face tough moments; sometimes, these can be extremely taxing and difficult to endure. We are often told to 'stick it through' because it will get better. "The grass is greener on the other side!", we are told.

But that does not always help. When we are experiencing challenging times, we need hope. And sometimes, thinking that things might get better soon (that the other side is greener) makes us more frustrated because we simply do not see a way out of our misery.

Instead, it might be helpful to realize that the situation we are experiencing now is tough. YES. Validate your feelings - your emotions are real. It is okay to be tired, angry, and distraught. But then...know that whatever you are going through has a purpose. You will learn something from this. You will grow somehow. Perhaps you will gain insight into a bad habit that you need to break, or maybe you will learn to appreciate the simple things in life. Maybe this hard time will open doors for you that you never considered before.

Image result for yea though i walkRegardless of the outcome, know this: God is working in your life at all times. You need not worry that things are 'random' in your life without a purpose. God often allows us to endure tough times because they are preparing us for something more, and because they remind us to depend on Him. 

Don't waste your time focusing on the grass on the other side. Your field of grass is just fine - it is simply in the process of renewal. Your obstacles are like the rain - difficult to endure now...but after the thunder, the grass is watered and alive again. It thrives. And you will, too.


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Summer!

Image result for weatherI LOVE summer weather! It just makes me so happy to see the sun shining outside, the beautiful trees and flowers, the birds singing...how lovely. Nature is truly amazing.

The weather has major impacts on our mood and even motivation. Think about a rainy day: how motivated do you feel to work? Study? Clean? Do ANYTHING? Probably not much.

Now think of a sunny day. All we want to do is go out and have fun, garden, see new places, enjoy new foods, spend time with family and friends, etc.

It is amazing how the sun can make me feel so much happier. I have noticed that when it is sunny outside, I feel happier. I even feel more motivated to study! But when it is cloudy, I feel gloomy. I look outside, and all I want to do is sleep!

Image result for when the sun goes down the stars come upThere is definitely a scientific correlation to this: several studies, such as this one have shown that serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters (or brain chemicals) that makes us feel happy, is stimulated by sunshine. So, more sun might mean that more serotonin is made and released, which makes us feel more relaxed and happy.

This is why a treatment modality for some types of depression can include light therapy, or going outside in the sunshine.

Now, does this mean we cannot possibly be happy if it is not sunny outside? Absolutely not! For me, I have found that reminding myself of the beauty of nature in general makes me feel more productive. For example, rain means nourishment for grass and flowers. It means the flowers will grow. It even means that the roads get cleaner! It is a sign of the beautiful works of God.

Image result for this is the day the lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in itIt is really amazing how much pondering on the beauty of nature can help with mood changes or feelings of 'ickiness' when it is rainy or cold outside. Think of how wonderful nature is. Think of how each season and the weather changes brings changes in nature, animals, trees, plants, and so forth. Think of how every weather condition is a reminder of LIFE: whether that be your life, plants, animals, or flowers. And life is beautiful, in all seasons.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Watch my latest presentation!

Image result for primed conference logoI am very honoured and blessed to have been asked by the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine to give a presentation at PriMed 2017, the annual largest conference for healthcare professionals in Canada!

I was invited to speak about my own experience with anorexia nervosa, and to integrate research and guidelines about how clinicians can identify, treat, and manage patients with eating disorders. This was a great experience! I had the opportunity to share my story, but also use this to help doctors and nurses understand how they can effectively support their patients towards recovery from this illness. 

Image result for mental illness quotesEating disorders (EDs) are mental illnesses. There are documented brain changes that occur in patients with eating disorders, and these alterations in neurotransmitters (or brain 'chemicals') make recovery, eating, and weight gain extremely challenging. Recovery is a hard, painful process. The emotional and mental struggles that patients endure are difficult.

However, there is hope. I am proof of that. Recovery is always possible. Fighting ED takes time, dedication, strength, and bravery. Patients need to feel understood, supported, loved, and cared for. They are not to blame for their illness. They need to know that this will be a hard road. The only way out is to go through it. But they can do it.

Image result for hope quotesI hope you enjoy this video, and that you learn something about EDs and mental health. And remember - the principles of support, care, and empathy applies not only to EDs, but to all illnesses in general. Patients need to feel that they are not to blame. There is no guilt or shame in being ill. Patients need to also know that recovery is possible. And experiencing difficulty and pain (whether physical, mental, or emotional) is normal, and expected. But they can rise above these challenges. Often, getting better from an illnesses means that you have to do things that aren't particularly comfortable or fun. And going through this, you might feel tired, frustrated, and hopeless. You may even want to give up. But you can do it. You can get better, one step at a time. Never blame yourself for having moments when things feel too hard or overwhelming. Pick yourself up again and find a reason - anything - to carry on. It might be your dreams of a job, your love for your family, your desire for strength and freedom, your spiritual life, or more. Whatever is important to you - use that as motivation. Because you can do it. And you are not alone.

You are strong. You are worthy. You are enough. You deserve to be well. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be healthy.
 Image result for count it all joy verse