Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Being recognised at Beat's birthday awards

Twenty five years of fighting back at eating disorders and educating people about the impact they have deserves a year of celebration, right? Well, that's exactly what Beat is doing throughout '14.

The charity has launched a five-point 25th Anniversary Manifesto. Five little promises it's making to help improve life for those affected by eating disorders. Five points which they (and I) hope prevent people suffering in the first place. Five areas in which other people can pledge to join the fight on too. Those little promises are things I'm proud to say I've already actively been pushing for since becoming a Media Volunteer for Beat during my own recovery, which leads me nicely on to the Beat Awards. 

I was honoured to find out I had been nominated and then short-listed for a Beat Volunteer Recognition Award for the campaigning I do on those very pledges. Seriously, honoured. 

An invitation landed in my inbox to a special event at the House of Commons on the 4th June during National Volunteers Week and I found out about the inspiring folk I was up against in the 'Public Awards' Campaigning category. First thoughts? No chance. But I found a little black dress, dusted off my Viv Westwood shoes and my amazing friend Ilona and I headed to the smoke. 


We were greeted by the Beat team onto the Thames-side Terrace Pavilion and spent time sipping wine and talking to other volunteers, MPs and eating disorders advocates. I was honoured that both my local MP, Jeremy Lefroy and Brooks Newmark MP came along to support me, after all it's them I keep pestering to help make change possible. Caroline Nokes MP, who chairs the All-Party group which got eating disorders talked about in parliament opened the event. Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd MP spoke and presented the first award, the Lifetime Achievement Award to Diana Davis.

Jeremy Lefroy MP, me and Brooks Newmark MP
Next the awards move on to the other categories, from innovation, to fundraising and from education to support. Then it was time for the campaigning award, recognising; 

"A volunteer who is a passionate and powerful champion; demonstrating enthusiasm and passion, they provide a voice in helping to achieve Beat’s mission."

I was one of four nominees, along with Helen Missen, a Beat Cymru Ambassador, fellow media volunteer Jenny Cole and Rosie Driffill, Self Help and Support Groups Facilitator and Publicity Officer. And then my name was read out by Beat's Chief Executive, Susan Ringwood and my award handed to me by Caroline Nokes MP. I'd only gone and won it. 

Caroline Nokes MP, Me and my MP, Jeremy Lefroy. 
I am beyond honoured to have been recognised for the work I've done to support Beat's mission, I never thought I'd be able to make a difference. I just talk, share and stand up for what I believe. However, winning this award isn't just about what I do, but it's a reminder that collectively we CAN all make a difference. I do nothing special other than be honest about what it's like to have anorexia and be fighting it. Personally, I will keep pushing for what I believe needs to change and in my own recovery, I'm going to use it as a reminder of the part I can play in preventing others going through what I have.

With the other Award winners, Susan Ringwood and Caroline Nokes MP
So, I'm really bad at being proud of myself, as you may imagine with my illness, so I'll leave my final words to one of the people who nominated me: "Sarah is an inspiration to many. Still in recovery from anorexia she spends much of her time campaigning, getting involved in Beat's mission and also using her position as a journalist for good. She actively participates in her local NHS Trust and has lobbied her MP - even managing to secure a meeting in Parliament. She is a champion of Beat, active on her blog and social media and consistently participates in media opportunities helpling to enforce Beat's Guidelines and raise awareness."


Here's the gushy 'Oscar style' bit; Thank you to all of you who've read my blog, listened to my rants, retweeted my awareness tweets and to everyone who's supported my own recovery. To my EDU team who saved my life. Thank you to Jeremy Lefroy for his continued support. Thank you to Brooks Newmark who actively keeps in touch with me and to BEAT for allowing me to do what I do. To Ilona for inspiring me and kicking me in the right direction daily. And always, to all my friends and family for your belief that I can beat anorexia, even when I worry I won't. 

I really wouldn't be able to do any of this without you, and trust me when I say, I haven't even got started on the waves I want to make yet. 

See the FULL list of inspiring winners and what they've done for ED awareness HERE

Helping crack the anorexic code

Why do some people develop anorexia and others don't? Why do some people have anxiety disorders or depression alongside anorexia? Is there a certain 'type of person' more likely to suffer from anorexia? Is there a stroner genetic 'code' that makes some people predisposed to an eating disorder than we thought? 

There are so many questions, theories and studies trying to get to the bottom of it. But if you, like me, have suffered from anorexia nervosa the answer to some of these questions could be sat within YOU right now. 

The big challenge now is getting a little bit of our anorexic DNA out of us and into the National Institute for Health Research's 'BioResource' for Mental Health. They're building a library of biological, clinical, and neuroimaging information to help understand things like eating disorders. Sounds scientific doesn't it? Well, it is. But it's really simple to add your DNA to the library. I'm already in. 


Globally, AN25K wants to collect samples from 25,000 people who've suffered with anorexia. Here in the UK 'Charlottes Helix' is the campaign calling on just 1,000 of us to roll up our sleeves and donate four little viles of blood to help. (You can read more about why the Charlotte's Helix campaign is so special in a previous post.) But it's in memory of an inspiring eating disorders advocate, the late Charlotte Bevan. 

Since learning about the international collab a while ago, I'd decided that I wanted to be a part of it. Like I said, if potential answers, understanding and treatment is inside my blood, then science can have it. But my DNA can't figure it out alone. It needs as many sufferers as possible to fill up viles. 

Last week Ilona and I were in London for the Beat Awards and I couldn't think of a better occasion to make my donation to the Helix. It was even more special to be handing over my DNA with a fellow eating disorders campaigner and one of my best friends. 


I used to be terrified of needles and really not like blood, but let's be honest, in recovery we all get used to blood tests and being poked and prodded for tests. This is no different, but this time it was easy to get through because I just focused on the difference this blood donation was going to make. Because it will.

But this is where YOU come in if you've EVER had anorexia nervosa. 

So far the Helix has collected fewer than 200 DNA samples and the target is 1000, but I believe we can supersede this if we rally round to stock up the library. It's really simple to do and you don't have to be in London or make the trip. You can do it via your local GP, EDU or nurse and post it back. 


However you do it, don't let your DNA feel left out of this library. Like I said, it's YOUR DNA that could hold the answer to preventing, understanding and treating anorexia. And there's no science needed from us, phew. 

HOW TO DONATE YOUR DNA:
- Contact the Bio Resource Team at NIHR directly HERE 
- Follow them on Twitter @bio_resource and @HelixAN25 

This video explains what will happen How to Join the BR

HELP FUND THE HELIX CAMPAIGN: 
If you haven't suffered from anorexia, but would like to help DONATE HERE



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Little ripples will cause waves of change

We need to talk about mental health, that much we already know. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess there are millions of people with stories of struggle and suffering, but also of recovery and strength hidden away inside them. 

It's these stories the world needs to hear more of so that perceptions of mental illness change, so the stigma is smashed. But how can people find the courage to speak up? Who goes first? Well, here's a thought...what if that person was you? 

I could reel off a compendium of quotes which remind me why I talk openly about my battle with anxiety and anorexia, my favourites are "You have to be brave with your life so that others can be brave with theirs" and "be the change you wish to see in the world."


It's reading about other people's recovery which first inspired me to be open about mine. I knew hearing about their fight gave me hope I could do the same. Knowing I wasn't alone battling with an eating disorder was comforting. I realised that I shouldn't be ashamed about it. It helped me find my voice, it made me realise it's Time to Talk. 

Since the day I realised this, my aim has not been to cause waves with my voice alone, but to inspire other's to find theirs, to join in and create their own ripples. To speak up. Today I felt this ripple effect.

Through my own recovery blog and tweets I met a young woman in Staffordshire being treated at the same eating disorders unit as me. When we first hugged, she was frail, broken and scared. She had no voice, she was fearful of her own mind. I could see myself two years prior right there in front of me. Since then, she's fought (hard) to find that hidden voice, the courage to be herself.  Why am I telling you about her? Well, today she's the focus of a week-long 'Exploring Eating Disorders' special on Signal 1 News. 

This is the power of the ripple in action. Through me talking openly about eating disorders, it's reassured her it's okay to do the same. This is the first time Sarah Pustkowski has been this open with her mental health problems. It's still not easy to talk about mental health, that's why we need to keep fighting and talking.

It was powerful for me as a journalist to interview her and I have no doubt that in her finding her voice and sharing it on the radio to more than 300,000 listeners, her ripple will be contributing to the wave.

Sarah and I enjoying recovery together.
What I do know is that each contributing ripple makes a difference. We can't create world-changing waves alone, nope, but if everyone who shared their experience of mental illness inspired just one other person to be brave, we'd have a tsunami on our hands. 

You go first?

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Listen to the EXPLORING EATING DISORDERS news special HERE
Get help from BEAT (the eating disorders charity) HERE
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”― Robert F. Kennedy