With social media trends like humpday and flashback Friday we have seen the rise of ‘transformation’ shares. These transformations are usually along the lines of ‘hey! look at me aren’t I good for losing 3st?’ or ‘get me! I’m now ripped to shreds after three kids and Competing in body building comps’. But these transformations are transient. They are fleeting parts of a persons life. They are the visual, aesthetic values we have been brainwashed to admire. They somehow perpetuate this ridiculous notion that if you don’t look a certain way or have everything in your life figured out then you’re failing or worth somewhat less than if you did. Ok these transformations might have taken some effort, and some discipline and they might have long lasting impacts on a persons health. However, they don’t tell of the person’s development as a character, a person, as whole being. Because being nice, being confident, strong, brave or kind doesn’t seem to matter anymore. As long as you get likes or followers, own an Audi or have taken that really expensive international trip you’re winning at life it seems.
So why am I writing this tonight? Because now more than ever I don’t recognise myself. Not just physically but mentally, emotionally, and as a ‘whole’. It dawned on me today, during a pivotal moment at work, teaching a poem to my favourite class that I am not the person I was when I started this job, shaping the minds of the next generation hoping to inspire someone somewhere to be whatever they want to be. I don’t know how I got to where I am. Some people say there is a path for everyone and some things were simply not meant to be while others are adamant that we shape our own paths and destinies. I’m not quite sure what I believe. I know I’m incredibly lucky. So lucky I’m terrified everyday that something might take it all away from me in an instant.
Where do I start? Do I start when my parents separated and I was just an 18 month old baby? Do I start with my first memory being passed about like a package with a value attached to it to each member of the family? Do I start when the one person who is never meant to give up on you had all of my clothes and belongings in a couple of black bin liners at the front door and told me to go? I was 11. Is this where I first felt inadequate, worthless, invisible, rejected? Or was that already there when I first counted the calories I was eating aged 8? It’s a tough one. I could blame the parents, I could blame the system that said I couldn’t live with my grandparents and forced me to live with a woman that left me behind as that 18 month old baby and who never really knew how to love or look after me. I could blame my pushy father who always wanted me to do my utmost best and relentlessly pushed me to study hard and get the best grades. I could blame school for not watching me closer, seeing what had happened under their noses and what was happening each and every day, how I became introvert and how I tried to disappear. But I know the only one to blame is myself. They were my own actions, my own choices.
I didn’t know I was ill at the time. You don’t with Anorexia. You don’t see it coming. You don’t know it’s there. The only thing you know is that food is the one thing you can control and nothing or no one is going to get in the way of that. I’d be at my grandparents, my safe place, my happiest place and I’d eat at the table, I’d eat proper meals. The minute I had to go ‘home’ to my mums or to visit my dads that’s when I refused to eat. I’d pick at every morsel and feed it to the dog. I’d go out of my way to avoid mealtimes, I’d hide in my room, walk for hours around the block or even force myself to sleep to blank these times out from my daily life.
School was lonely. After the first hospitalisation (of which there was so many I began to lose count) I seemed to lose my friends to new fads, trends, circles of new students that filtered into each class and became unimportant and insignificant as the closest friends forgot about me to do what every kid should do and have fun. Hospital became safe. It became home. The nurses there became my ‘friends’ and make shift family. I spent the majority of 12 years hospitalised on various wards and specialist units. Once I was sent to an ‘adolescents’ unit sharing a dormitory with girls who had violently attacked others or been addicted to drugs. I was categorised as an unruly child that was out of control. They didn’t understand of course. No-one ever does. I tried running away from that place twice and failed so ended up playing the game, eating, gaining weight and getting discharged to be free from the nightmare of the dorm to come home and ‘start again’.
I used to survive on as little as possible. Half a Weetabix with warm water was my favourite. I averaged about 160 calories a day and feared everything that might get in the way of that ‘perfect’ controlled way. The lower my weight dropped the lower my idea of what ‘perfect’ might actually be. I exercised everyday in my room, I walked the dog hours on end to burn every ounce of fat I might have ingested. I became paranoid about fat. That I might absorb it in any form through my skin or in the air I breathed. I panicked when I didn’t get to walk the dog before the chip shop opened because I was convinced I would breathe in fat as I walked past it. I would insist on fresh tea towels and plates that had been bleached and boiled before I ate anything. Thing is you don’t realise this but your brain stops working, it fails. Rationality and reason go straight out of the window and a paranoid, stressed state unveils. A nasty, spiteful, horrible side that you never knew you had.
My first hospitalised weight was 6st. My lowest weight was around 3 and a half stone and I was 21 years of age. I had been diagnosed as anorexic for as long as I could remember at this point. It had been most of my life. I was 21 and I didn’t know any other way of living existed. I had just been rejected from my dream university place to study ‘English and Performance with Dance and Drama’ due to my health and whilst every one I knew was partying hard, going on holidays, forming new relationships, moving away or getting dream jobs I was laid in hospital wired up to machines suffering seizures daily, struggling to walk, see, control my bladder or even talk and make sense. My body was giving upon me as were the people around me.
I don’t know why it was then that things changed. Maybe it was sheer fear of dying. I could feel it coming. I could see myself leaving my granddad and grandma behind before I had chance to tell them how much I loved them for being the best parents when mine couldn’t put me first, before their own power struggles and need for attention. Maybe it was the fear of being completely forgotten, unnoticed, without a mark on this earth to let people know I existed, I was here? Maybe it was just hunger. Whatever happened that day, week or month (it all fades into a blurry memory now) but something changed. I wanted more. I wasn’t ready to give up.
I came home weighing 4 stone. I saw my 22nd birthday in (despite many saying that wouldn’t happen) and I got into Sheffield Uni. I still wasn’t quite there though. It was still taking its toll. I didn’t make friends at Uni, I didn’t get to party hard, hold a job or even stay up late writing essays. I was 4 and half stones and relied on being dropped off and picked up from every lecture by my dad and one kind lady at Uni, Carole Ann who took me under her wing and protected me from being invisible. I didn’t know how to win this thing.
I tried. That’s all I could do. I went to the counselling sessions, I ate what I could. I tried. I kept trying. 3 years later weighing 6 stone I was graduating Uni and it’d passed in one big blur. I had no fun memories of Uni, just hard slog and arguments in the car with my dad about the size of a jacket potato or added cheese to a unsuspected sandwich. I was still unable to work full time but it was then when someone gave me a chance. They noticed me. It felt great. I’d started going to yoga classes when I was discharged to help me regain strength, confidence and the ability to relax. I went to the local gym and it detracted me from the routine of daily hour long walks after every meal. It broke the regimental and gave me a sense of being ‘free’. Now this isn’t a hippie enlightening where yoga saved my life by no means. I was still ill and still scary to look at but people spoke to me, they saw me and they didn’t run away. I never really got to say thank you to Kev. If he reads this he will know who he is. There’s a saying somewhere about doing one small thing that can change the world, the butterfly effect. Well he did that for me. He asked me to teach a yoga class. Me! I was completely rubbish. No coordination, nervous as hell, fluffed my words, wobbled my way through but somehow he believed in me. The staff were lovely too. They all made me feel for once that I was liked, I was part of a team. I belonged. I was worth something. Isn’t that sad that a person actually feels that they are not worth anything? I look back now and can’t quite believe that I felt that way. It seems a stark reality compared to life now. But it was a reality and I can’t quite forget it either.
After that I never looked back. Life just got better. I got stronger. It’s not all been plain sailing, there’s been a few that have knocked me be back down to ground zero. There was a few times I felt like a giant reject mistreated and used by others to their advantage and viewed as a complete joke. There was a baby that didn’t make it. Not really a surprise after all my body had endured. I like to think it just wasn’t the right time or place and that little soul is somewhere better now. I’m not really religious but I’d like to think I’ve made peace with that loss and pain. Not that that ever goes away either.
There was ‘no way’ I’d ever have kids they said. My body just wouldn’t be able to do it they said. But I like to prove people wrong. I like to fight people’s doubts in me. I don’t use food to hide my insecurities anymore. I don’t over exercise to earn my worth either. I know I’m worth something to someone. More importantly I’m worth something to me. I know I have the capacity to change the world in just one small way.
I can’t say it was just one person that got me here. It’s many. I wish I could name them all. But every single one that was a friend, who didn’t giggle about that skelly bob walking miles with that dog everyday, that didn’t avoid me in passing or gave up on me. Those friends who made me go out, made me eat, made me go on that ridiculous date, buy that dress, have that vodka and dance like a loon. I owe all of them my life, my right here my right now. I really do feel like I have it all.
My right here right now? Well let’s see. It is a bit cheesy I guess. I got the degree, I got the job, I got the house, went to far away places, found the man I should have been with from the start who makes everyday filled with laughter and love. Who has taught and still encourages me when I have wobbles of my own self worth and how I should be treated by others. We have a beautiful baby girl against everyone’s expectations. What I hope for her is simply this. Self worth. I hope with love, care, attention and support she grows to be confident, independent and most of all ‘nice’.
The big deal for me? I have friends, real friends. Friends that I know won’t read this and have tittle tattle or have a scathing remark about it. Friends I know I can trust. That’s the big deal see, trust. It’s a hard one to earn and even harder to keep. Once it’s broken there’s never really anything left is there? That’s where I think this all started. Broken trusts that broke my idea of my self worth. From all of this I think there really is one deep and meaningful message. Be kind with your words, your actions and your intentions. You never know whose world you might change. A person’s worth is not a visual, measurable tick list. A person’s worth is their ‘whole’.
I haven’t put any ‘transformation’ photos on this. It’s not about me really and how skeletal and poorly I looked compared to now. It’s not about the illness or how it almost killed me. This is just how one person, somewhere along the way, one kind gesture, one nice act can change a persons whole world. For others who might just see this and identify with something somewhere, you’re not alone. Peace ✌️️