Eating disorders, BoPo and Louis Theroux

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘mental health’? Anxiety? Depression? Bipolar? But very infrequently in campaigns and in the media, do we hear about the biggest mental health killer in the UK: eating disorders.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to the Adam Buxton podcast, and guesting on this episode was everyone’s favourite documentarian – a one Louis Theroux. I could listen to Adam and Louis (old childhood friends) talk about any old crap for hours, but my ears pricked up when Louis mentioned he had made a documentary on eating disorders. They’re just not that commonly covered by such a big name in docs, and furthermore, as most ex-ED people will attest to, even when we’re recovered the subject matter still fascinates us. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that a lot of media coverage of EDs can be incredibly triggering. I found To the Bone somewhat unhelpful. Less because of the risk of it being treated as a sort of ‘How To’ by vulnerable watchers, because if young impressionable minds want that kind of info they were born into a life of Googling everything anyway: they’ll find it. What I didn’t think we needed was another portrayal of EDs as the reserve of white, middle class, pretty young people who otherwise want for nothing: we need to stop equating thinness with success and I’m worried Hollywood can’t help itself.

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Lily Collins in Netflix film To the Bone

I hope that Louis has made a documentary much more diverse than the Netflix gloss that missed the mark. I also hope that he doesn’t entirely dwell on the idea that eating disorders are always, if often at all about size. I’ve had close friends who still, after years of knowing me and knowing my mental health problems, would boil it down to “Charlie doesn’t want to get fat.” This almost offensive over-simplification of something that has ruined huge chunks of my life, and the lives of millions of others, is so common it almost feels easier to nod and agree. Yep, that was it. I just didn’t want to get fat. That’s why I lied to everyone I loved over and over. That’s why I said I was better when we all knew I was worse. That’s why I let plan after plan – big ones and small – fall through when I was too exhausted and sick to achieve anything good. That’s why I hold the legacy of my sickness every day in my aching body, in my faded teeth, in my lost trust in my own ability to make good choices for myself.

Luckily that last one can be repaired and I work on that self-belief every day. I don’t judge anyone for misunderstanding eating disorders, either. Firstly, because I try not to judge as a rule: we are all flawed, we are all learning. Secondly, because you don’t always even understand your own eating disorder. I am in the very strangely privileged position of having a partner who also suffered from an eating disorder for many years. You know when teachers bone other teachers and profess “oh it’s just easier to date someone who does the same job because they do the same hours and have the same workload.” (Defo not because they’re all just too exhausted to meet, woo and bump uglies with someone outside of their colleagues!) Well anyway it’s sort of like that. You get an exceptional satisfaction from being genuinely understood and you also get a sponsor, because they know every trick in the book: even the really, really shady ones. So when my self-belief fails (and from time to time it does) I have a wonderful back up, championing my good health and strong mind. But I am lucky, I know.

The other saviour of my mental health, and doing such amazing things for diversity and inclusion, is the body positivity movement. It is because of people like @BodyPosiPanda, @Keah_Maria and @pink_bits (to name but a few) I not only never purge now: I never diet; I never over-exercise; I never restrict after I’ve eaten a lot; when I gain weight it doesn’t bother me and I don’t see why it should and when I lose weight I don’t view it is an achievement or victory. My size and weight and my appearance in general has become of such little consequence since “meeting” these women.  Definitions of small, medium, large, plus size, flawed, perfect, ideal, beach ready etc now seem so arbitrary and pointless. I am worth so much more. I am precious and valuable. And I fucking love food. I love my life more than I ever have before and I think a huge part of that is letting the heck go of so many ridiculous beauty standards and enjoying just LIVING. Even when it wasn’t about fat or thin for me, it was my bathroom scales that made me feel in control of my other anxieties. Well now they’re in the bin. I don’t need to be weighed and neither do you.

So, whilst I hope that Louis does a good job with Talking to Anorexia I also hope that we can start to talk about a real change in attitude amongst our biggest, brightest influencers: the social media generation. I think BoPo has done more for me in a few months than years of CBT ever did, and whilst I’m not disparaging therapy, I want health care providers to understand that the mind-set of our young people is different now and that means the treatments will have to be too. We need to completely overhaul the narrative that feeds the priorities of today’s youth and end these vicious cycles of anxiety, depression and self-abuse. We need to stop cutting support services for young people and support services for victims of abuse and sexual violence: two of the most at-risk groups. We need to face up to the realities causing our children to hold themselves up to unachievable standards of “success” and “wealth”, that drive them to behaviours that are so extreme and so damaging.

One day I really hope that both Dan and I can talk to young people about our experiences of eating disorders and our recovery, but for now I salute those online heroes playing their part in dismantling diet culture and its toxic influence on people’s mental health and empowering their followers, in a way that is both inclusive and intersectional. Everybody and anybody can be affected by these issues. If you watch Talking to Anorexia and find it triggering please do feel free to drop me a line. I’m not a medical professional but I sure can listen and I know some great places to go for help too.

Thanks for reading. You’re awesome.

Some helpful links:

Eating Disorder Support:  http://www.eatingdisorderssupport.co.uk

B-eat: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Anorexia & Bulimia Care: http://www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk

 

 

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Me with nothing to say, and you in your autumn sweater

My heart has been filled with joy for the past couple of weeks as the leaves turn and the nights draw in. I love summer. I love long days and wearing one item of clothing at a time and beer gardens and, more recently, watching my son run around in water features. I don’t love any of that as much as I love autumn. I am literally having more and more of a love affair with this season every year. The older I get the more I yearn for it. So, I just wanted to do a fairly pointless, chatty blog about why I love autumn.

  1. Staying in guilt-free. Who else feels bad the second the sun comes out and you’re still in comfies on the sofa? I do. I mean I’m a mum so I’m predisposed to feel guilty about every choice I make but this guilt shines into my living room when I’m curled up with a vlog and shouts “GET UP YOU LAZY SLAG!” until I do. I need staying in at the moment, more than ever before. I’m trying to set up my own business whilst caring for Cass full time and that, I have come to learn, is flippin difficult. He’s getting funnier and more joyous and more interesting by the hour but goodness me he’s grabbing toddlerdom with both hands and really sinking his precious few teeth into the matter. I.e. he’s fucking impossible a lot of the time. So work has to be shoehorned into “free moments”, whatever they are. I’ve also been in pain for approximately 6 months now, maybe more. I won’t shit on about it but it’s chronic pelvic pain and I’ve had so many nurses, GPs, gynaecologists, oncologists and radiologists in my foof in the past few months that I now just automatically drop trou if I get even a slight whiff of TCP, so probably best I don’t go out much.
  2. Halloween and bonfire night. Who doesn’t like an excuse to eat sweets, dress like a hot goth and watch fireworks? Two great nights within a week of each other – we’re so lucky.
  3. Everything feels like a rom com. Gritty, edgy, arty films seem always to be set in high summer with the heat adding to tensions and all the bare skin and the tattoos and the sexy violence…etc. But if I want to feel like my life is some sexless, cosy, charming Nora Ephron dream (and I do), I need autumn. I need tights and boots and and a big scarf. I need to crunch through leaves and gaze longingly at premature Christmas windows. I need to clutch both hands around a hot chocolate and watch on old movie on my cushion and blanket laden sofa. And when I say ‘old movie’ I mean something from the early 2000s, not the boring stuff from way way back.

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    I put conkers in my fireplace. No reason. Just feeling twee af rn. 
  4. You can be candlelit by 19:00 hours. One of the things that annoys me most about summer is that, save for getting blackout blinds in the bathroom, I cannot have a candlelit bath until about 10pm. It’s a pathetic problem that isn’t even a problem but I’m a pathetic human being and I need my bath bombs to go off in optimal lighting.
  5. Strictly. My heart sings the second the Strictly Come Dancing rumours begin. I think I have pathological nostalgia. I am permanently recalling comforting moments, sounds, and smells from the past. My dreams always seem to revolve around some familiar setting from my child/teenhood and then I go on to think about my dreams all day! I’m dogged by reminiscence and I’d love to know if other people get this too. Well Strictly puts me in mind of so many happy times. Watching it with friends before going out to a pub/club in my early twenties or sat with my mum and a good glass of wine and some nibbles in our living room in Cov. It’s not just the sparkles and the lifts, it’s the comfort and the cuddle, the televisual cuddle, I get from watching the show on a Saturday night.

There’re probably a dozen other reasons, at least, but those are my big dogs. For the next few months, when Trump is winding up the North Koreans or the Tories cut another fundamental service I will simply light a scented candle, clutch my oversized mug of coco and gawk lovingly at Karen Clifton’s legs. I mean footwork. Ahem.

I Miss My Birth

No not my birth. I don’t remember that. I miss Cass’s birth. But it was mine, it was the most mine thing I’ve ever had or done. I may have ended up in theatre, numb from the waist down with thirty medical professionals surrounding me but I still think of it as my achievement. The longing I feel for that time – those last moments of pregnancy, the transition from pregnant to parent – is a deep ache that I hadn’t anticipated at all. And although there’s a part of me that is definitely feeling a brood again, it’s not necessarily wanting a second child. It’s this strange and confusing need to revisit that scene, when Cass came into our world. I had the most intense sense of purpose and, although I’ve always always wanted children, I didn’t know just how powerful that new meaning in life would be. It blew me away.

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I gave birth in an intense August heatwave. I drank ALL the icy orange squash and danced to Beyonce to try and get the baby to come out. FUN.

I’ve been watching One Born Every Minute and thinking about my future a lot. From the second I met our student midwife I felt a niggle in the back of mind telling me ‘You could do that!’ but having started and not finished a few different professional training courses I didn’t want to run into anything too hastily. However, my favourite jobs have always been those in which I get to work directly with people, helping and supporting young people and families. I think it’s time for me to return to a position in that gives me that purpose again. I might never be able to recreate the magic and awe that struck me a year ago at Cass’s birth but I can certainly be there for other women and help them feel the energy and strength that labour gave me. I know it doesn’t work that way for every woman and the number of new mums with PTSD from traumatic births is probably higher than we even realise. But my experience had panic, trauma and lots of blood and I would, without a doubt, do it all over again. Every woman deserves to miss her birth, I want to help make that happen.

I’ve got a plan, but unlike my birthing plan, I think this one might work out 🙂

 

I wish I was big… no little… no…

You spend your entire childhood wishing you were old enough to do grown-up stuff and then adulthood hits and BAM, what you wouldn’t give to make it all go away again. Like Tom Hanks taught us in Big, it’s not all white tuxedos and trampolines in your New York apartment. Being an adult is difficult and boring.

One of the scariest things about becoming a parent is how firmly it insists you commit to adulthood. You have to (try to) keep a steady income, you have to keep the fridge stocked, you have to write a will! I think I’m going to faint. Having said that I’ve never been much of a dependant, although financially my parents have bailed me out a good few times I did move out of home when 17 (dumb idea but I did it anyway) and I’ve been stubbornly independent since my preteen years. I think growing up in what was essentially a household of adults (my brother being seven years my senior) made it quite difficult for me to relish being 12. I always wanted to be part of the gang and (as I saw it then) that gang was my parents and brother, enjoying each other’s company as equals. If I knew then what I know now it probably wasn’t like that at all. I’m sure my brother was a typical stroppy and immature 18 year-old and my parents probably got on his tits a fair bit with their inherent parenty-ness. But I just saw them as these older, wiser, freer people sharing jokes and sharing wine and I wanted to be part of it. I hated being young.

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I will finally know how my older brother felt having to share absolutely everything all the time. Sorry, Bryn!

Of course as soon as I graduated from university, thrown out into the big bad real world, I really started to appreciate being someone’s child and have had far more of a mother/daughter relationship in my twenties than I ever did as a teen and I think that’s fairly normal. They were my rebellious teen years and although I was never cool or edgy and the label ‘rebel’ probably wouldn’t have been easily applied to me, I was certainly expressing myself and that often meant ignoring everything mum said. It’s a rite of passage.

Now my own son is but a few weeks away from splash landing and I’m excited as can be but I’m also grieving my status as just ‘child of’ as I prepare to also become ‘mother of’. It’s a whole different kettle of fish and there’s no point pretending otherwise. I told my mum about this feeling of loss I’d been experiencing in a time where all the emphasis is on my impending gain, and she had to admit she’s considered it too. She was wondering if I’d still want kisses and cuddles and to be mothered when I’m a mum too and the truth is, I suppose, I don’t know. I can’t imagine my relationship with my parents changing that much because we’ve always been so close, even when I’ve tried to deny it. I can’t possibly predict how I’ll feel; my emotions have so far been entirely unpredictable, although that is in great part to do with a hormonal roller coaster that no amount of PMS can prepare you for. The truth is, though, the older I get the more I appreciate long lasting, meaningful relationships of all kinds and the relationship I have with my parents, particularly my mother, is no exception. I will always want hugs.

I’m determined not to let the last few weeks of pregnancy be riddled with crippling introspection and a desperate rush to tie up every last loose end before the baby arrives. I instead need to take the time to appreciate being the baby before it’s all over. This is fairly easy when so many people are treating you like one and you’re too exhausted to focus on much more than sleeping and shitting.

I’ve not been freaking out about not partying like Andrew WK anymore. I’ve long made my peace with almost definitely never attending another sex party (or even having regular sex) again. I don’t lament festivals or gigs, magazine launches or wanky industry dos. I’ve had a lot of fun in London over the last 8 years but in truth it’s usually all very samey and I wake up with hangovers that make me yearn for a life by the sea with dogs and babies and homemade lemon curd. But I have been nervous about days when I just can’t be arsed; when I just want to sit in my bedroom on my own for a few hours and do my nails and listen to Blur. Days when I don’t fancy heading straight home from work and instead take myself on a detour via shops or friends or the cinema. What if I just want to go for a walk/swim/run whenever I bloody feel like it? That’s the sort of stuff that’s been freaking me out. Little acts of independence that were so easy but will now take planning and effort.

I will readjust, just as everyone else does, and it’ll be absolutely fine. But for the next few weeks, when I’m scheduled by every bloody pregnancy/parenting website to be nesting and getting everything in its right place, I will actually just be doing whatever I flippin’ feel like whenever I feel like, whilst I still can.*

 

 

*This probably involves quite a bit of housework, going to watch the new Bridget Jones on my own during the day whilst eating a massive ice-cream lunch and then a lot of napping. Can’t. Bloody. Wait.

Babymooning: stupid name, clever idea

Why call it a babymoon?  It’s like ‘babyccino’ or ‘mummy wine’, it makes something perfectly innocuous (like going on holiday when you happen to be pregnant) sound awful and like there will be bunting and Cath Kidston and forced smiles. But actually a relaxing, beachy holiday was exactly what Dan and I needed in the middle of this emotional roller coaster. Ten days of noses in books and asking each what we should eat next. Well good.

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We remembered to get one photo together! We forgot to not look like smug pricks! Yay!

The beach, for a start, is ideal. I thought I might get a gym like flare-up of body inferiority but actually I didn’t give a shit. I know I’ve usually got a waist. And even if I didn’t I know it doesn’t matter, it’s the beach and it’s the sea and so what? But the more pregnant I get the more at ease I am with being a different shape and weight, I don’t love pregnancy and I don’t think I ever will, but the whole odd-bod fear has just dissolved. Although presently I keep receiving kind comments about having a “neat little bump” still, so I’m aware that when my tan fades and I balloon over the next few weeks I mightn’t feel quite as Zen. Ah well it’ll all be worth it yeah yeah shuddup.

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Perfect beach attitude

Annoyingly, Sardinians and their tourists do not get their boobs out and this did upset me.  I love to be boobloose and fancy-free for a few days each year but there wasn’t a lady nipple in sight. I didn’t actually let this stop me but I didn’t feel nearly as relaxed as say, on Barceloneta, where the second your foot touches sand it feels completely natural to ping off your top and enjoy a couple of hours of not being ashamed of your disgraceful, disgusting woman breasts.  But I just sat, baps out, in the sea and piddled to my heart’s content as the lovely waves took the weight off my feet and back, and the empty horizon helped me stop thinking about everything and anything for just a few moments.  And then I dug a nice big hole in sand for my bump and lay on my front for the first time in weeks which was really satisfying. I hate lying on my side; it genuinely is one of my least favourite things about the whole business and I sometimes worry that the joy of finally getting to sleep on my back again in September will override my maternal instinct and I won’t get up to feed a crying baby. Dan, you are warned. Anyway if you can get to a nice sandy beach for a few days in your second/third trimester then bloody do it. It’s a real treat. We also accidentally hiked to a very Stanger by the Lake nudist beach where a leathery old Sardinian guy talked at me in Italian for absolutely ages, and then in German for a bit because he thought I was German, all the while with his cock and balls literally centimetres from my face. He was lovely and I was happy because I had my biff out in the sea which for me is nirvana, but I’ll remember that old, tanned, Italian winky forever because it was so close to my face for so long.

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Dan getting to know a baby seagull whilst i got to know some old dude’s junk

The real joy of a preggo holiday is just getting to reinvent your life around the inconvenience of being knocked up instead of awkwardly trying to fit

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er…#fitpregnancy

exhaustion/nausea/mood swings/blind panic/aching back/constant weeing/sobriety into your usual routine, and that for me is where the babymooning element comes in.  It’s a chance to change it up and actually enjoy being pregnant, however fleeting and unsustainable that lifestyle is. Trouble is that since I’ve had a break from doing that I’ve come back to reality and I really can’t be bothered now. I accidentally on purpose pissed away a slightly embarrassing sum of money trying to Lotto my way out of reality. I won’t do that again. It made it worse.

I’ll also add that I was definitely not a blissed-out hippie-woman for the whole ten days. Towards the end I had a few breakdowns of feeling irrepressibly sad and numb. Yeah sure nice stunning view whatever I just want to go home – tears building up behind my sunglasses and legs getting more and more lead like as my physical condition attempts to emulate my mental form. I’m not sure you can avoid these meltdowns even if your immediate concerns are only virgin coladas and dinner plans: hormones are just too powerful. It’s like smoking a massive joint and then trying to divert your way out of being stoned (or pulling a huge whitey as the case would be for me) by doing a Sudoku – you can’t just distract yourself from big chemical imbalances. They pass, it’s fine.

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Some mad cat and mice joint feast we saw in Cagliari. I just needed you to see it, really.

My top tips for babymooning are:

  • Get to the beach and get in that lovely big sea, it’s so soothing
  • Don’t buy loads of maternity wear for this one off exposure to proper sun, just get some cheap, loose dresses from Primark and some comfy sandals
  • Read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson and enjoy some entertaining and none too taxing edu. whilst working on your tannage
  • Get a load of podcasts loaded up, sometimes reading is just too much effort
  • Don’t get annoyed at yourself if you’re too tired to even make it off the apartment balcony one day because you’ll be not-pregnant again soon and that is when you will learn to paddleboard
  • Don’t plan too much: ‘beach, eat, sleep, repeat’ is quite enough
  • Don’t have a meltdown on top of a meltdown and get cross with yourself for being hormonal/mood swingy, just ride it out and forgive yourself for being a big dumb baby
  • If you can’t go away then at least try and take some annual leave, full-time work and being pregnant is super knackering and you deserve some serious sofa and telly time at the very least