The Final Chapter

Sunday 18 November 2018

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It started with the green-eyed monster.
And I found myself becoming obsessed with it.
Butterflies were becoming sickening,
And something didn't feel right.
I found myself getting annoyed.
Seeing all the messages we've sent.
Knowing that nothing would ever come of it.
Although I found myself hoping for it.

I was preparing to tell you everything.
To finally pour out my heart and soul.
But everything was confirmed.
And then I began seeing red.
It's the feeling of being led on.
It's the stupidity of having hope.
But now I know the truth.
And this is my final chapter for you. 
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Friday 16 November 2018


My mental health was triggered when I was 15, and my parents separated. There was a lot of secrets involved that I wasn’t allowed to say to anyone, and it really messed with my head. I was paranoid, I was constantly at a low, and constantly on the verge of either tears or screaming. This lasted for a year and then everything seemed to fizz down a bit.

When I turned 18, my coping mechanism was alcohol. I’d drink so much until I blacked out, and wouldn’t remember anything the next day. The stories I used to hear, from my family the next day, made me think I’m a whole new person. This lasted for a while. I felt quite low, thanks to just finishing College and not having a job. I found it quite difficult not having some sort of routine.

My actual mental journey started properly when I was 22. I’d have episodes of depression, where I felt numb constantly, I’d avoid conversations with friends and family, and I’d lock myself in my room. My parents were getting worried and I couldn’t explain what was wrong with me. I’d go to a job I hated, do the job emotionless, come home and then repeat. There were nights where I’d wake up with the feeling that my bones were shaking. I wasn’t cold, but my insides were. It’d take me an hour to warm myself up, calm my head, and then sleep. I googled what it was, as it happened quite a few times one week. And then realised, waking up to the feeling that your bones are shivering; is a sign of anxiety.

Now that I knew what it was, it all made sense. I always had an inkling that I had depression and anxiety, but nobody quite believed me. My mum and dad - even to this day - will sweep it under the carpet and refuse that my diagnosis is actually a mental health issue. I went to the doctors and had an assessment. She confirmed that I was suffering with mild depression and anxiety. And then she prescribed me with some anti-depressants. This wasn’t something that worked with me. People told me it would take a week for them to kick in, but they kicked in instantly. I suffered terrible insomnia the next few nights, I was constantly hungry, and always felt drained. I didn’t look right, and didn’t feel like myself. It was almost like I could feel the tablets sucking away at the person I am.

By the third day, I’d had enough. I got home, pulled them out of my bag and passed them at my mum. “Throw them, burn them, flush them down the toilet. I cannot cope with these anymore! They’re messing with my head!” Were the exact words I said that Friday in March last year.  She threw them away and I never went back to them.

I find that whenever I can feel a wave of anxiety or depression hitting me, exercise works well for me. The endorphins that leave your body and make you feel lighter and happier. I thought it was a load of rubbish, but it’s true. I had a low, depressive episode a few weeks ago. My dad asked once, and I lied and said I was fine. I felt exhausted, drained. Just basically sick of putting on a phase that I’m fine. And I got to the gym class, he walked over to me and said, “okay what’s wrong? Your face looks really different. You look exhausted.” So I explained my mental health was acting up and I felt really low. After the class, I felt so much better.

For me, coping with my mental health is by listening to my body. The older I get, the more aware I feel and know what I need. I know exercise is good for me. And when I’m drinking and feel the feeling of, “I just want to Black Out” coming close, I will stand up, pour out the wine, and sleep. Let my body recharge overnight.
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Thursday 15 November 2018

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I’ve always been an anxious person, and a worrier/over-thinker for as long as I can remember. I just put it down to how my brain works and how I was born. I worry about everything and nothing, especially when it comes to my family, and I’ve always done that.
My anxiety comes in many forms and it triggers at certain things. The big ones are travelling, working nights at work, and social situations. I hate going ‘out out’ because I get so uncomfortable and paranoid around drunk people (because I don’t really drink myself so I’m always sober if I go out) and I hate being in that environment. I also hate telephone calls. I will avoid it at all costs where I can (unless its super important).
My fear of travelling has always been there. I’m not scared of flying or anything like that, I always just worry about stuff back home and if the worst was to happen (such as if the vehicle crashed or we got hit by another car. I know this is dark!).
I always played down my anxiety as just worrying and functioned on a day to day basis as usual, but it was always there. I think what tipped me over the edge of needing to get help was a couple of factors. One being starting my night shifts at work and I get myself all worked up about them (when I know they’re okay and there’s never any issues), and the second being the Manchester Attack last May (I won’t get into that because it’s a very horrible event to talk about for the victims and their families).
I finally plucked up the courage to speak to the GP and it was the best thing I ever did! He was so understanding and listened to my problems and helped me the best he could. I was then prescribed Sertraline which is an anti-anxiety medication. I also self-referred to an online counselling service, which I had a counsellor on the other end who would send me messages every week about my progress on the app.
I didn’t find the online service particularly helpful, because it was a series of modules and it didn’t do much for my anxiety and mood, but the medication really helped me. I felt a difference within a week or two and I felt so much better. I know medication is not the cure, but it definitely helps. I felt my mood lift and help me function better.
Now, I did something very stupid and stopped taking them after a while because I felt I was better (because the tablets were working), and that’s when my mood began to plummet again. I have done this a couple of times now and I’ve had to go back to the GP to get another prescription, which sucks. I have found some of the doctors I’ve had about this very condescending and made me feel worse and embarrassed (which I think puts a lot of people off from going because of that fear) but I got through it.
I am now back on the medication and it’s helping but not to the extent it was before, so I am thinking of going back to the doctors to have this increased, but they’re definitely taking the edge off my anxious thoughts and paranoia.
The strategies I use to help deal with this and what hobbies/activities, are spending time with my family and friends, watching YouTube and Netflix, listening to music (and singing and dancing around my bedroom like an idiot) and doing makeup.
I am so passionate about makeup and it’s a relaxation method for me. I can focus and put all of my energy into creating a look, and I don’t have anxious thoughts. I don’t do it to make myself look better (which helps I must say) and I don’t do it for anyone else, but it makes me feel better and, when it’s all done, I feel unstoppable and fierce (which sounds so cliché I know). It’s a great relaxation method for me.
My family are so understanding and support me no matter what and have been a massive help. I would be a mess without them, so when I spend time with them, they help me relax and calm down and it makes me happier. Same goes with friends, I have amazing friends who understand and support me (who are also writing in this series!). We all help each other I think with different problems and its nice to have someone to talk to who understands.

That pretty much sums up my story, experience and my coping strategies. Living with anxiety is not fun at all, its like a constant knot in your stomach that can’t be shifted just by telling yourself to calm down and that it’s nothing. It’s affected me so much (and still does) but I can function as a human being and I am determined not to let it run my life. I hope this was helpful to some people living with this horrible disorder. Thanks for reading!
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Wednesday 14 November 2018

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Hi! My name’s Liv, and I’m so pleased to be involved with Brogan’s series. I’ve struggled with my mental health for the best part of a decade now, and I am utterly inspired when I see people discussing their own mental health journeys with admirable frankness. I hope what I write can be of help to at least somebody, and can help others feel that they’re not alone in how they feel. After all, there is always someone who will understand.

From around July 2014 to December 2015, I was agoraphobic. I very rarely left the house, and if I did I would only travel in the car for a short distance and not get out until I’d returned home. Even spending a few minutes wandering around the back garden felt like an achievement. All of a sudden, my home had become the only place I felt at ease, all because my troubled mind had convinced me I wouldn’t be safe anywhere else.

Really, it is quite difficult to put into words how alienating agoraphobia really is. Shutting yourself off from the world without quite being able to admit why, for reasons you can’t understand. Was it shame? Embarrassment? Fear of ridicule? How do you confess to your friends, after cancelling plans yet again, that you can’t step outside without an anxious, overwhelming grip taking hold of you and refusing to let go until you retreat back inside and shut the door?

Opportunities missed. Connections lost. Time wasted. I had to scrabble around, seeking out new passions that would intoxicate my mind and keep me relatively happy without requiring me to leave the house. I became a lover of football, never previously having had an interest in sport of any kind. I took up new indoor hobbies just to pass the time, like exercising in my living room and trying to learn a new language via podcasts. Writing, my biggest love of all, thankfully remained so throughout. I could pour my heart and soul into characters that lived vibrant, colourful lives; such a contrast to myself that it acted as a distraction, and a very welcome one.

To be perfectly honest, I can’t quite remember how else I managed to cope. I know I became a terrible insomniac, finding a strange comfort in being the only person in the house awake in the still, silent darkness. I had nothing to do, nowhere to be, so what was stopping me from seeing in the sunrise while my eyelids began to droop? As my family prepared themselves for a day at work or school, I would finally fall asleep, exhausted and lonely.

A whole year and a half of my life was spent inside the same house, with very little happening to alter the monotony. Perhaps, because every day was very rarely not dissimilar to the last, that is precisely why those days all seem to fuse into one. Nothing of any note occurred to warrant a memory to save, so I have none.

I do, however, remember how damaged my heart felt on one particular day when I couldn’t go to see my family, who lived a three-hour journey away; and instead spent the afternoon crying in my bedroom and bemoaning my future. I distinctly recall sobbing to myself, “I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be able to go outside again.” That was quite a turning point. Maybe I remember it because that was the day I vowed to myself that I would try my utmost hardest to prove myself wrong. I knew it would take time, and a hell of a lot of effort, but I couldn’t go on feeling so helpless.

I am so fortunate in that I have a family who support me, and helped me take the first steps into what I call my ‘recovery’. Agoraphobia is so incredibly isolating, and it’s something that I believe will always stay with me. I feel the threat of its return, looming over me like a great black shadow, quite often; as though it’s desperate to reclaim its control over me. But I am, once again, in the driving seat and I will do everything in my power to keep it that way.

Back then, I felt like the only person in the world with agoraphobia. Whether I just couldn’t find anybody else, or whether there were plenty who just were too ashamed (like me) to openly admit it, I don’t know. But I do know, now, that there is absolutely no reason to feel shame over something in your mind that has caught you in its clutches. The mind is a powerful tool, and sometimes we find that to our disadvantage. But we all have, within ourselves, the tools we need to turn it back to our advantage. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course. The biggest thing I learned throughout my experience was that we all must be kind, forgiving and compassionate to ourselves. Many a day goes by where I forget to look after myself with the patience and love that I need. But then I sit and remember how far I’ve come since those days – when I thought I’d never set foot outside again, let alone go to parties, get a job, attend festivals surrounded by thousands – and I realise I am capable of so much more than I thought possible.

So are you.
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Tuesday 13 November 2018

It is two in the morning while I am driving down the dirt road about a mile from my house while my mind is going through a list of things.  And I mean a list of things. Getting the dishes done, taking out the trash, calling my Grandma back, getting my homework done, getting my four-year-old to preschool, getting diapers for the two-year-old – when am I going to get to potty training her?  Wait, I missed my turn again. Abruptly, I remember that awkward time at that Christian camp when I asked my mother to be added to the prayer list just after the other Stephanie asked for her father to be added – I asked in the middle of the prayer. Awkward.  
Last week I struggled to get out of bed before 10 am.  I was lucky to find the energy to feed the girls. Showering seemed impossible like climbing Mount Everest in a day.  Now I am driving around the small little rural town in Nebraska I currently live in at two in the morning because MY. BRAIN. WILL. NOT. STOP.  And driving around is way safer for me because if I walk into a store, I will put my family in financial ruin – again. And I have worn my husband out; he is more of a once a night/ once a week kind of guy while I am over here begging for round eight – if you know what I mean.  

I always knew that I was no quite like the others in my classes.  Outside of my speech problem and my lack of social skills, there was something that stuck out.  It wasn’t my redhead or my freckles. It wasn’t the abuse I was suffering from my mother, even though it wasn’t helping at all.  There was something not quite like everyone else, but what was it?
When I first started school, I lived in Boston, and I had large class sizes.  When I graduated, I was 333rd out of almost 1200 students.  The teachers had trouble with me.  I wasn’t a horrible child, but there were times I couldn’t sit at my desk.  Other days, I couldn’t stay awake – and this was second or third grade, why would I want to be asleep?  Those were supposed to be the best years of my life, right? Or was that high school? Or college? Or what that early motherhood?  Or when you become a grandparent? Or when you get a puppy? Win the lottery? I should probably get the dishes done. I did finally get the laundry done – and that is a good thing.  Celebrate the good things and all the small achievements. Back on topic, as the teachers struggled to keep me balanced and find some reason of why I am like this, first came the diagnosis of ADHD.  Often they give you medicine that has similar properties to meth. Ever seen an eight-year-old on meth? I was only on those meds for about two weeks before it was decided that I needed something else – not sleeping for two weeks and reading every book in the reading corner at once is a bad thing apparently.  I remember being bounced around on different meds, and, so many different meds at once I was a zombie, but I never really knew what was wrong with me.
Was I broken?
Fast forward to high school, and more issues arise.  Outside of hitting adolescence, my father was struggling with his own mental health issues (schizophrenia and PTSD), and my mother and her medical problems came to a head. My personal mood issues complicated things. The mix between hormones and adolescence is a struggle in of itself, but there was more to my issue. I was sent to the ER one morning because I couldn’t breathe.  Later the doctor told me that I’m ‘a teenager and I will have to learn to deal with things.’ Spoiler alert, I did not learn how to handle things in that ER. My inability to breath happened more and more. I also added irritability and restlessness to the mix.  It was a fun time in high school. One day, someone suggested that maybe I needed to be evaluated. I panicked and said that I wasn’t crazy, that was my dad. Reverse Dad joke. But in the end, they won and said it would help me.
I went to a shrink who took about half an hour and said words like, anxiety and bipolar and mania and depression. I know what those meant singularly but not all together and definitely not about me! After a little bit of a conversation, she told me that I had bipolar disorder and anxiety. So I started to play the medication roulette; that is where they start putting you on medicine to see if anything helps. It's not bad, but it does take a long time and a lot of patience.  
Another fast forward to now, I’m married, with two small girls and I don’t know how I got here some days. I haven’t always been on medicine, and sometimes it worked out well, other times not so well. I look back, and I am amazed at how far I have come, and in the same token, on how far I must go.  Life has not been easy – far from it. The one major thing I had learned in the last five years is that having a mental illness isn’t a death sentence or a curse. It does up the difficulty on your game of life, but it’s not impossible.  I have learned a few things along the way, and if you are up to it, I will share them with you! (Please note, these are often easier said than done and have helped me through some tough times. These are not cure-alls or overnight miracles.)  
  • Breathe. This is hard.  Way hard for a one syllable word.  But just the simple act of breathing and focusing on your breathing helps.  It gives you a quick and straightforward distraction. And it helps to keep you alive.  That is important.
  • Say out loud, “This to shall pass.”  Again, this is a hard one but just the idea of reminding yourself that this moment isn’t going to last forever (even though it feels like it).  Life is full of fleeting moments, some good, some bad. None of them last forever.
  • Find a simple distraction.  This has helped me when my mind is going around in circles to the point where I can’t stand.  Read a humor book, do the dishes (or a dish), walk around the block, color in a coloring book, watch a comedy special – do something that is simple and unrelated to what is causing a problem.  
  • Exercise.  Walk, run, skip, do cartwheels.  When Mania hits, you need to move your body.  I found an hour long walk has helped me from impulsive shopping or going on a wild begging trip with my husband.  It also gets me out of the house, so I don’t eat everything in the house or drinking the liquor cabinet. This helps refocus all that extra energy into something else that (hopefully) won’t bring downfall.  And you will burn some calories and maybe shrink your waistline if done properly.
  • Write out what you are thinking.  I am a natural writer. I love to write; I find it way easier to get my thoughts across to other people.  For me, it is a very calming and peaceful experience for me to write. I often do a ‘brain dump’ on what is going on in my head.  It helps me get what is going on in my head out on paper (or a screen), and it helps clear my mind.
  • TALK TO SOMEONE.  This one might be the hardest thing to do.  Talking to other people about what is going on in your head is hard and a scary thought.  But if you don’t speak to others, you won’t be able to get any help. Getting help involves talking to other people. It might appear as weakness, but I will tell you this, sometimes the bravest thing you do is reaching out to someone else.  
  • Medication.  Now, this is something that you need to speak to someone about, but with the right mixture of meds, you might be able to find your balance.  It takes time, but for some people, medication can be a huge lifesaver.
Now, this is a small list of very general things that might help you.  It helped me, but something that helps me will help the next person. Something that used to help me in high school doesn’t work now.  Things change so doesn’t your coping methods. One major thing you need to remember that you need to find what works for you.
One last thing I want to drill on you is that this is a journey.  Not a race and not a comparison of trophies. If you can’t find a reason for yourself to get out of bed, set a small goal for yourself.  Something simple, ‘get out of bed and sit on the couch.’ Set the daily goal of trying to be better than yesterday. Some days that is all you can hope for.  And remember one step at a time.

Stephanie Wenburg was born and raised in Boston MA; she is currently located in Nebraska.  She is the mother of two little girls, at the perfect ages of two and four years old. She is also married to the chilliest man on Earth and the only person that could beat the Pope at a popularity contest.  When she is not chasing children or battling her mind, she is reading and writing. She is a proud member of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild and was selected to be in the annual anthology this year, Voices from the Plains.  On top of that, she is the ML (Municipal Liaison) of the Elsewhere Region in Nebraska for the past for years.  Outside of writing, she is currently finishing her associate degree in accounting. She is found on several social media sites and has her own site @  Find her on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn.  
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Monday 12 November 2018

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The first time I thought I was fat I was six years old. An older boy ran over to me on the playground and said "That jumper makes you look fat." Growing up I had issues with my digestive system meaning that when I ate I found it difficult to keep my food down. By the age of seven I learnt that I could make myself sick. It didn't start with me doing it to lose weight. I used to do it whilst at school so they would send me home thinking I was poorly. At age ten I developed an eating disorder. I had seen a documentary on the television about girls in an eating disorder treatment clinic and with that I realised I could use purging as a way to lose weight and gain control. Around this time I lost my grandad and I was finding it difficult to cope with the anxious feelings so by making my stomach empty it felt like these feelings were more settled.
I moved to high school and I hated it. I was extremely anxious and quiet and people picked up on this and felt the need to call me names because of it. The name calling just made me more anxious which then fed into my eating disorder. I was wearing a school uniform that was way too big for me because I wanted to hide. I was going home every night and locking myself in my bedroom to throw up because I believed I was what they were calling me. I was turning up to school having not eaten anything with two full bottles of water as I convinced myself the water would fill me up and my stomach wouldn't grumble during class. By dinner time I was throwing my lunches away and if I did have anything to eat I would ask to go to the toilet during class so I could purge it. When I got home I would make an excuse to eat my tea in my room, and then I would cut my food up to hide in trinket boxes till I could get rid of it without my parents noticing. This went on through all of my years at school and settled a little bit when I moved to a college away from all the people that I went to school with. I moved away to university and for the first few months I was very happy enjoying being with my new friends and we spent so much time together that I didn't get the opportunity to overthink about my weight. I was eating takeaways with my flat mates and as I wasn’t a very good cook I was living on frozen food and when I would visit home it hit me that I had put on weight. I was mad at myself that I had let it happen.

When I got back to my uni accommodation I would make excuses to leave the kitchen after meals by saying I was going for a shower or to phone my mum and during that time I would purge as much as I could. I was using alcohol to try and block everything out but it was only making me more depressed.
In my second year of Uni it was my friends birthday and we had a flat party. I drank way too much and got upset so locked myself in my bedroom and had an anxiety attack. I phoned my mum and she asked what was wrong and why I was so upset and I can't even really remember how it happened but the secret I had been trying to hide for the past ten years just felt out of my mouth. They now knew I had an eating disorder. This is where my recovery journey began.

My mum came to pick me up from university to take me home. She phoned the doctors and made an emergency appointment with my GP.
I have never been as nervous in my life as I was sat in that waiting room. My heart was racing. My mind was telling me the doctor wouldn't believe me because I wasn't skinny enough and that I was an idiot for telling people. She called my name and as soon as I got into the room I burst into tears. I couldn't even say what was wrong. My mum was in the room with me so she helped to word it. I was asked a number of questions and told to get on the weighing scales which I refused to do till my mum burst into tears. Seeing how much it was hurting her made me do as I was told. After this appointment I was referred to the eating disorder treatment clinic as urgent.

I had to go back to uni for meetings with my lecturers who gave me time off to figure things out with the hospital and I decided that I didn't want to defer a year because I wanted to be able to graduate with all of my friends. The next few weeks consisted of me going to the treatment clinic for assessments and to meet with my case manager. I was having to go to the doctors weekly for ECG tests and blood tests.
I would be lying if I said that thing got better as soon as I started to receive treatment because it was the opposite. It got a lot worse before it got better. My eating disorder was mad at me for telling people because now everyone was observing me to make sure I couldn't use its behaviours. It kept telling me I was an idiot and that I was going to get fat now and it was all my fault.

I was offered group therapy to start with. This made me very anxious. I was convinced I was going to be the fattest one in the group. So for the weeks leading up to it I was barely eating anything and anything I did consume was purged straight away. I lost a lot of weight and fell even deeper into my eating disorder and depression. I was angry and would take this anger out on people closest to me which included family and my housemates at uni. I wanted to be on my own all the time so started to hide away in my room sleeping the days away because if I was sleeping, I wasn't hungry.
The day of my first group therapy I walked into the reception expecting to be the biggest one there however the ladies were of all different ages and sizes and I realised my thoughts about it had been irrational.

The next two years consisted of me having therapy at my eating disorder treatment clinic and I also had to go to the doctors for tests every two weeks. When I first started treatment, I was reluctant to put my full effort into recovery because I thought that I would gain loads of weight but one day something just clicked in my head and I knew this wasn't the life I wanted to live anymore. I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and not put myself down. I wanted to make my family proud.
I had various therapies which included:
• CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy)
• Group therapy
• Nutritional lessons
• EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing)
I was also on anti-depressants for a while but I personally did not like how they made me feel and felt that therapy was helping me more at that time.

Therapy helped me LOADS. I learnt a lot about myself and how my eating disorder started. I was taught many techniques to try change my eating disorders thinking process. I learnt to open up about my feelings and to tell people when I was struggling. I learnt that when a negative thought came into my mind, I should question if it was a fact or an opinion of my eating disorder. I was taught breathing techniques to try and calm myself down when my anxious feelings occurred.
Some techniques I used that I found helpful would be to journal. I know journaling doesn't work for everyone but for me it gave me something to do as a distraction when my mind was racing to eating disorder thoughts. I felt at ease if I wrote about how I was feeling, as those thoughts were no longer going around in my head because I had got it out on paper.
I would doodle after meals as a way to stop myself from going to the bathroom. I would just sit and draw Disney characters and colour them in to try focus my mind on something other than my thoughts. I think for me the most important techniques I learnt that helped me through recovery would be to differentiate your own thoughts from those of your eating disorder. If a negative thought of yourself comes into your head it is important to acknowledge that it is not you saying that it is the disordered part of your thoughts because doing this make it so much easier to shut that thought down. For example, if I'm out for a meal with friends I might get the thought of "You've ordered too much food. People are going to think you're greedy." I visualise these type of thoughts as "my eating disorder voice" and because I'm so determined to not fall back into those behaviours it makes it easier for me to ignore the thought.
I was discharged from the eating disorder service just over two years ago and I am in such a better place. I am very lucky to have a great support system as my family and best friends have stood by me through it all and still help me on my bad days now. A months after I was discharged, I went on holiday with a friend and met someone who I opened up to about my eating disorder and he listened and didn't run away like I expected. He became my boyfriend and he has supported me and made my recovery without the hospital so much easier to deal with.
Choosing recovery was the best thing I have ever done and all the hard work you have to put into it is so worth it. If you are reading this and have/are struggling with some of the things I have discussed please tell somebody. I have a blog with various posts about my recovery journey and eating disorders which you may find useful. I haven't written on it for quite a while but am hoping to start again in the near future. I also have an Instagram account for my blog which you can contact me on if you need any advice:
Instagram: @mybiteback
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