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Dedicated to self-harm recovery, insight and support.

How Zayn’s pain helps us to think differently about eating disorders

One Direction: the biggest boy band on the planet; the one with all the screaming fans and everyone wondering about their every move. People will often assume these pop stars and many others in the public eye have a perfect, pain-free life. We might think, if I could have one day in their life, all my problems would seem to disappear.

This week Zayn Malik released his book, “Zayn”. It offers an insight into what he describes as the darkest and most difficult times of his life. It’s even refreshing to hear that sentence isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – I would not wish dark and difficult times on anyone, but I think that sentence causes us to take a step back and realise that those times come to and are felt by everyone.

Zayn openly expresses in his book that during the last few months of One Direction he had an eating disorder. He says this:

“I think it was about control. I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control, so I did, I had lost so much weight I had become ill. The workload and the pace of life on the road put together with the pressures and strains of everything going on within the band had badly affected my eating habits.” (Taken from Zayn Malik’s autobiography Zayn 2016)

There can be many reasons why people can develop eating disorders, and most of us instantly assume it is about being thin. While this can sometimes be the case, as Zayn so eloquently points out one big reason can be about gaining some control.

The online resource Eating Disorder Hope talks about anxiety and control linked to eating disorders:

"Often, it is the case that anxiety precedes an eating disorder. In struggling with severe anxiety, for instance, being able to control the aspect of one’s life, such as food, weight, and exercise, indirectly gives the suffer a false sense of control, which can temporarily relieve symptoms experienced due to anxiety." (Taken from Eating Disorder Hope website 2016)  

Zayn has also spoken in depth before about his own anxiety and how he has at times been unable to go on stage due to feelings of overwhelming panic. This is actually one reason he gave when he left the band back in March 2015. Popular vlogger Zoella has also created a fantastic video about her own panic attacks and anxiety, you can see it here

I think it is important for us to try to realise a couple of things from stories like Zayn’s. Firstly, we must remember that all people – whoever they are and whatever they do for a living – feel, live and experience pain. Secondly we should be challenged to think about our own recovery, so ask yourself:

What are the things that are causing you to try to gain some control?
How does controlling food help to make things better?
What things may need to change in order for the need to control to fade?

From there you can begin, as Zayn did, to find a place of freedom. 

SelfharmUK eating disorder resources can be found here

A Parents guide to eating disorders can be found here

B-eat are another eating disorder charity that are there to help you 

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Coping With Scars

Whether you’re currently in the midst of struggling with self harm, giving up, or have stopped for years, scars can be a difficult part of self harm to deal with. I’d say I’ve pretty much accepted my scars now, yet sat on a coach writing this, bare arms, I still find myself automatically trying to cover up as someone walks past my seat.

When you were younger, did you love to show your grazes and cuts to others when you were injured from maybe climbing a tree, or doing something adventurous? Feeling proud and wanting to tell everyone how you got that injury, and even once it had healed, still showing off your scars, no matter how big or small it was?

As we grow up, this can still be the case, but scars from self harm can leave us feeling ashamed, disgusted or angry at ourselves, and are certainly something we wouldn’t point out to everyone. We even go that bit further and make the effort to actively hide them - to avoid exposing our secret, avoid the stares or questions, avoid being made to feel uncomfortable.

I really like the theme this month – Survival Scars. It makes you look at scars in a different way. They make me think of coming out of a battle, like warriors with scars, reminding us that we fought and survived. I’ve found that the way we view scars makes a huge difference when coping with them.

Being able to cope with your scars doesn’t necessarily mean showing them off. Scars are there whether we hide them or not. I think coping with scars, for me, is about acceptance. The more we accept our scars, the easier we will find it to cope with them.

A few important things to remember:

> Scars may not be as obvious as we think they are to other people. Because we know they’re there it means we’re naturally going to be more aware of them.

> One day your scars could give you the opportunity to help someone else on their journey.

> They show that through deep emotional pain, you strove to survive – so if people stare or make comments about them, don’t be ashamed, they don’t know your story and how far you’ve come.

> If you have worries about later on in life, about how you’ll deal with your scars in marriage/if you have children etc. Don’t worry about that right now, you don’t know how far you will have come by then, and it may not be a worry at all when you reach that point

Accepting your scars is a process, it may be difficult at first, but just as wounds take time to heal, so does how you view your scars. Each person is different so what could take months for one person could take years for someone else, and that’s totally okay.

Your scars are a sign of survival and healing, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of that. You made it out of battle, and that is awesome.

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Healthy Habits

We’re all very quick to judge ourselves when we do something wrong. Heck, we’re quick to judge ourselves even when we’ve done nothing wrong! It seems to be in our nature that we pick out all our flaws and use them against ourselves. What we often don’t realise is that by doing this, we’re allowing others to use these things against us.

The things that make us who we are – our mannerisms, character, physical attributes (to name just a few) – are unique to us, but we often mistake them for flaws and get caught up on them. It’s important to remember that over-thinking such tiny, irrelevant things is not going to help them disappear, or help us feel any happier. It’s easy to do, and it’s most definitely easier to criticise ourselves than to praise ourselves, but does it make us feel good? Nope!

The more negatively we think about ourselves, the more we are feeding our bad habits. Bad habits can be a range of things such as self-harming, cursing ourselves, complaining about how we look, and starving ourselves of the love that we deserve. 

Rather than continuing with these bad habits, why don’t we try accepting our individualities and loving ourselves instead?

You may think that you don’t deserve to love yourself. For as long as I can remember, I've put myself down, pushed away compliments, scolded myself when I look in the mirror, told myself repeatedly that I'm too this and too that, been ashamed of myself, wished I could be somebody else, be a better friend and a better sister and a better daughter and a better student, believed that I am not enough.

It is only recently that I have realised that I’ve been wrong all along. You see, you may think you don’t deserve love and respect, but these are just thoughts, and thoughts can be changed.

The mind is an incredibly powerful thing, and is very misunderstood. The mind does not control us. We control the mind. We have a choice of the thoughts that we feed it, the words that we tell ourselves. It may be that you choose to think negative thoughts about yourself. We all do it; you are not alone. But it doesn’t have to be this way – you can choose to think positively. When your thoughts change, your life will change.

Now – right this second – is the time for you to reduce your bad habits, and introduce healthy habits. We all want to feel happy, but in order to do so, we must be willing to work hard and make a change.

I’d like to share with you some of the healthy habits I am working on to develop my self-love...

  1. Stop yourself when you go to criticise yourself. Most of the time, nobody else will know that you’re being hard on yourself, because these criticisms are expressed as thoughts. In fact, you probably don’t even notice how much you criticise yourself. The first step is to start paying attention to your thoughts, listen to your mind. Recognise whether a thought is positive or negative. If you have a negative thought, make a conscious decision to push it away, and concentrate on the next thought. Create positive thoughts, too, and repeat these over and over like affirmations.
  2. Exercise regularly and feed yourself with goodness. I’m not a great fan of exercise or sport of any kind, but I know the importance of physical activity on your mental health. It’s incredible how the two work hand-in-hand. Exercise releases endorphins which increase your sense of wellbeing. Find something that works for you. Run, go for walks, play tennis! For me, yoga is great – not too strenuous (as I suffer with asthma), helps me to focus on my breathing (and listen to my mind and body), and the uncomfortable positions on my mat help me to deal with discomfort in my life. Similarly, the foods that you eat don’t just feed your body – they feed your mind. Eat high goodness foods (as well as indulgent treats of course – we all need chocolate cake now and then) and give your body and mind the energy they need to function to the best of their ability. 
  3. Relax and treat yourself. For most of us, life is very busy at times, but we can always make time for some relaxation and pampering. Set aside at least half an hour every day to do something that will make you feel relaxed and loved. This could be taking a long hot bath with some candles, or reading your favourite book, or sitting down and doing some colouring. It could be writing, or doing some yoga, or watching a few episodes ofFriends. I can’t express enough the importance of taking time to do something that makes you happy.
  4. List 3 things that you’re grateful for at the end of each day. This is something that I really love doing and has made such a difference to my mood and perspective. Before I go to sleep, I always make a mental list of things that have made me happy during that day, or things that I am grateful for (my mum, sunny weather for walking to uni, nabbing the last chocolate bar on the shelf). I also have an Instagram account where I post a photo of something that’s made me happy every day of the year. It’s a great motivation tool and will gently increase your positivity. 
  5. Be willing to change your thoughts. None of this is possible if you’re not willing to make it happen. Your healthy habits won’t appear overnight – you have to work at them. But that’s not a bad thing – it can be a fun challenge! Tell yourself that you’re willing to learn and grow, that you’re ready to make a change and that you’re going to work hard at it.

So, do yourself a truly deserving favour and decide to change your thought patterns, and your relationship with yourself. Turn your bad habits into healthy habits! Everything negative in your life can be turned into a positive once you learn to love the self, approve of yourself, and make a decision to take control.

It’ll be worth it, I promise you.

Steph is 19 years old and studying Media Production at University. She's a cake-loving shopaholic who lives for yoga, gluten and dairy-free pizza, spending time with her friends and family and making people happy. Steph also blogs at www.stephslittleworld.com/

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