I am sat opposite a woman on the tube. She is asleep, wearing a huge coat on this sunny day, legs with nobbled knees and hands with bones of a tiny bird. Her face is defined, but not like that of the models I work with, it is drawn, skin stretched across her face, sallow, hollow, huge dark circles around eyes which I have no doubt, when open, house fear and repugnant self hatred. She holds her emaciated body. Leggings hanging loose. I stare at her, running my hands down my hips. The hips which I have been hating. I sweep my hands across my collar bone, onto my shoulders. Let them rest there. I look back at the woman. Tiny. So much of me has yearned lately for weight loss. Slender body. "Just a bit more toned". "Just loose a bit of this fat". "Just slim down those saddle bags". I remember the freezing cold nights. I remember the terror over every bite. I remember the time lost. I remember the love lost. I remember the power it brought me too, the sense of achievement with every kilo lost. Then I stop myself. Why? Why should I shrink myself, shrink my body, my spirit, my life, demolish my home to nothing? Why should I extinguish the laughter, the ambitions, the dreams? I do not mourn for the anorexic body I once lived in, for the fragile bones and wizened exterior. I miss the days of thin only in the moments I am insecure over my curves, the gentle dip between my hips and my thighs. I am more than the light that can shine between my legs and the power to starve myself. I have taught myself that I am determined. When I set my mind to something I will achieve it. All that dedication should be put to good use. So, sat opposite the cold woman, wrapped up in her coat. I strip off a layer and message my housemate about the dinner we will share. I plan my boxing session the next morning. I read my script. I remember, I am no longer where I once was and I am more than the gravitational pull between myself and the Earth. I am the travels I am planning and the nights of laughter with the grannies, I am the daughter who needs to be strong, I am the actress who will succeed, I am the writer who has finished a play...almost, I am the baker and the cook, I am the friend who people can cry on over a break up, I am the lover, though I don't always show it, I am the giggler with Mickey, I am the yes woman (sorry Jake), I am learning to say no, I am a sister, I am the confidant. I am dedicated to a life of hedonistic pursuit. I am more than the gap between my legs or the dip where my hips meet me thigh, and that is vital.
Friday, 3 March 2017
When I was first told how much I’d need to gain to be deemed ‘healthy’, I remember thinking that they were the insane ones. Today, I sit, over 20 kilos heavier than the waif that sat crying over every morsel of food, whose heart beat dangerously slow, who was fragile as a China doll. I am not always comfortable with where I am, I am not always kind to my body, but recently, as I agonised over parts of my body my brain still likes to abuse me over, a friend simply said to me “Stop-you’re better than that”. He’s right. I am. Everyone deserves more than self hatred and mental abuse. Everyone deserves to nourish their bodies and feed their souls. So, here are 20 things I gained, that weren’t just the kilos, because ‘I’m better than that’:
1. Empathy- I refused to admit this at the time, I claimed I was just the same, still able to be there for my friends. I was better than many sufferers of anorexia in the sense that I still considered my friends and how they felt, but I was so starved and preoccupied with the body that I saw as too big, I was unable to truly be a friend. To understand others struggles. Now I take pride in the fact my friends can rely on me and that it’s back to being a 2 way thing.
2. Laughter-No longer hollow, sometimes so fierce my stomach aches, it comes often and is something no one should take for granted. A few nights ago I sat with my girls and laughed so hard that I felt i'd done an intense ab workout, all whilst sitting at the table eating pancakes. A far cry from the girl who hid potatoes in her pockets and cried if I had to eat sweetcorn instead of green beans...
3. Career- For quite a while, I think there was some fear this would be it. I would be a professional anorexic, constantly in and out of hospital. Now, I have a career I love.
4. Ambition-I plan to succeed, anorexia will not hold me back, I work hard and I get the results. My friends joke that I never do things by halves, if I was gonna get thin, id get really thin. Same goes for my career and life, I am determined to be successful…like, really successful.
5. Heart- Start with an obvious one, I don’t just mean love or all that a heart symbolises, I also mean the physical gain. Anorexia physically shrunk my heart and feeding my body helped it get stronger. I used to lie in bed and feel it beating beneath the cage of bones that was slowly dwindling, now it is strong and healthy.
6. Friendships- I constantly say it, but I have some of the best friends I know. I have changed indescribably over the past few years. I am no longer willing to let negative energies bring me down. I am proud of my friends and I try to tell them often.
7. Energy-The girl who once ran on starvation and self loathing now has the energy to achieve far more important things.
8. Clarity- I see things differently, I know how I expect to be treated, I know what I look for in friends.
9. Fun- Nights out, dinners, cosy nights with a movie, the list goes on. Anorexia gave me none of this, I hollowed not just my stomach, but also my life.
10. Adventures-Being locked up in hospital with your only focus food and weight is not fun. Going on holiday and having everyone manically planning how and what you will eat prior to departure is not fun. Booking a trip to Bali, exploring the Cornish countryside on a whim, planning an adventure to Morocco, that is fun.
11. Responsibility- I’m not gonna go into this one, other than to say a few days ago my mother sent me a message that said “I’m so glad I have such a strong woman as a daughter to help us all at times like this”.
12. Freedom- There is no freedom in the midst of anorexia, you are trapped in a cage that people think is of your making. With every kilo, I gained an escape route.
13. Perspective- I see things differently. Life, to me, is about trying to enjoy it. Working towards goals. I appreciate the small moments, as for a while I thought I’d had my last.
14. Assertiveness- This is a big one and something I really had to learn. I’m still not there fully (I remember that fun assertiveness scale), but I am so much closer. I will say when something’s ‘not okay’ and I will stand up for myself.
15. Risk- This is one that I actually don’t think I would have the same sense of if it weren’t for getting sick. Prior to anorexia I felt very much like my life had to follow a trajectory-school, uni, good job, marriage, kids. I still feel these pressures, however, I also know what I want from my life and what a good job looks like to me. Running away to Barcelona (NOT TO BE ADVISED) was the best thing I ever did for me, it showed I was still in there and still had my fight. If something isn’t working (as things so rarely do), I back myself to get things going again.
16. Sass- I have one man to thank for this, Sam Burnard (known to me as sasquatch). He is the best friend who inadvertently taught me to once again be grumpy, angry and ‘sassy’ when necessary. He encourages it all and wont allow me to feel guilty for not being ‘angelic’.
17. Fitness-I am the strongest and fittest I have ever been. I am learning to fuel my body like an athlete. I am learning what I need. I am proud of my ability to run, lift, box, surf. I am proud of all of this and proud of the amazing, strong, body positive people I meet along the way.
18. Curves- It is ironic, people think we starve ourselves for beauty or to appear ‘sexy’, they thought I wanted to look like a Victoria’s Secret Model. I didn’t look like a Victoria’s secret model then, and I don’t now. I have curves, curves which I don’t always love, but which some days, I am okay with. Curves which people tell me are beautiful. My body is mine, not anorexia’s, and that alone is something to celebrate.
19. Strength- I am proud to call myself a strong woman. I do not regret what happened to me or how unwell I got. I believe it was my way of resetting and giving myself a second chance. I had to learn to find a voice and a way to tell people ‘that’s not okay’ that wasn’t starving myself or hating my body. I’m still learning and building myself, with a lot of help from those around me, but one thing I know is that if I had the strength to eat all the food it took me to get to where I am, the strength to step on all those scales and the strength to fight for my life for all I’m worth, then I am a strong woman. And I’m happy to say that. Anorexia taught me many things, and leaving it behind was the best thing I could have done.
20. Identity- When you get diagnosed with anorexia, people refer to you as ‘anorexic’, they make it your identity. When my mother got breast cancer, I didn’t refer to her as ‘canceric’. Everything I did had a link to my eating disorder, I was Maya, the anorexic one. My friends fought hard to help me keep individual identity, still talking to me about things they knew I’d be interested in, the truth is, in the grips of severe anorexia, I was engulfed. The obsession with shrinking into nothingness was so strong that it did become my identity. Now, I am Maya who is an actor, fitness freak, annoyance, sister, aunt, daughter, panicker, kind, model, Instagram-wanker, cook, blogger and recovery warrior. Along with MANY other titles and facets, and I’m okay with that. I am no longer one of a pair, I have my moments of self doubt, they happen a lot in fact, I have moments when I look in the mirror and hate what I see, times when I feel my body and want to cry, but I also have moments filled with so much more. If you are clinging on to anorexia and think you can lead a normal life, I’m sorry honey, you are wrong. You can’t have both. Anorexia numbs it all, the good and the bad. And without both, life wouldn’t be the wonderful mess that it is. Stop measuring yourself in kilos and pounds and start counting the things that really matter.
Monday, 27 February 2017
“How many evenings did I stand in the middle of grocery store aisle, paralyzed with fear and indecision? It's not just the time I regret; it's the loss of who I might have been if I wasn't so consumed. It's who I might have loved, how I might have lived, what I might have accomplished. I might have been a force to be reckoned with.”
― Harriet Brown, Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight--and What We Can Do about It
How many times in the past week has your weight or appearance directly affected your mood or outlook? How many times in the past week have you deliberately tried to restrict your nutritional intake in order to change your body? How many times in the past week have you exercised in order to change your appearance? These are 3 questions that I have answered many times during treatment, I think they are something to do with accessing quite how anorexic I was. But in reality, give a woman or man deemed ‘healthy’ these exact same questions and I bet they’d admit (if truthful) that these were relevant to them. So, when does this become a problem? When did I go from just a weight conscious young woman to full blown anorexic? When is a penchant for healthy eating and regular exercise not a positive way of life, but an issue that needs to be addressed? The theme of this years eating disorder awareness week is early intervention, a noble and important topic, yes. One I often receive messages about “I’m worried about my girlfriend/friend/sister/brother/colleague/daughter/boyfriend, how do I know if this is a problem or just a normal phase?” My answer, in general, is that if you suspect something, it’s probably an issue and if it’s an issue, it must be dealt with. All well and good, but dealing with it isn’t always as easy as you may think. You suspect you have a PHYSICAL illness, you go the doctors, tests are run, they are positive or negative, you are treated. You suspect you or a loved one has an eating disorder. You have to admit it, or get the person in question to agree that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with, you then need to make an appointment and get the medical professional who sees you to agree there is an issue. You then need to be referred to a specialist, the time in which this takes is usually determined by how ‘sick’, or more honestly how ‘thin’ you are. A fabulous message to be sending ‘the more weight you lose, the more seriously we will take you’. Wonderful! A disease which often strikes the overachievers, competitive, perfectionists of this World…tell them they’ve gotta be better anorexics before they even get a look in?! By the time you reach the top of the list and are ready to be seen, it’s more than likely the monster has its claws more deeply embedded into the brain. Why is this? How, in a developed society can we genuinely only allow someone treatment when they are critically ill? The problem, I believe, lies in 2 main camps.
1. People think anorexia is a choice. They may not admit it. They may say they know it’s not, but hey, I still feel stupid for the fact that I got ill. I still apologize for the years I spent starving myself. If I still blame myself, how can I expect other people to recognize that in reality, anorexia is caused by an imbalance of brain chemistry and circumstance? I didn’t choose to stop eating because I thought it would be fun. I didn’t lose my identity, freedom and body for shits and giggles, I was ill.
2. We live in a society where weight obsession is normal. Now, this point may seem confusing and to be totally dismissing what I said earlier. I am not saying anorexia is the same as going on the paleo diet, what I am saying is that it’s far harder to recognize whether someone is sick or just another food and weight obsessed individual. I struggle to tell the difference in myself and others. God, I workout, I am conscious of what I eat and I am celebrated for this. I celebrate it in myself. I take pride in my strength, but in reality, is this just a more acceptable form of disordered behavior? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone could give me a definitive answer, and there lies the problem. In a World where we are constantly faced with people’s determination to lose weight, where our friend’s referring to their ‘flabby belly’ is normal, where we all seem to order the SKINNY latte, where the majority of those around me read the back of the packet, where there are thousands of apps to track our intake and outgoings of calories and exercise…how are we to distinguish between anorexia and ‘health’ obsession? I am lucky, I am still closely monitored and have space to talk about and workout whether my behavior is ‘healthy’ or ‘disordered’, most do not. I got away with anorexia for a very long time, so it was difficult for me to know when things were out of hand and difficult for those around me to know when it was a problem.
So, there lies the problem, but simply presenting a problem is futile and unhelpful. The solution? It’s going to take a while, but I’d say what I always say to those who question whether behavior is healthy or disordered…if it’s a question, it’s probably an issue. If you feel immense guilt for not managing something, the sort of guilt that can ruin your day and consume you, it’s an issue. If you are totally inflexible with your calories, macros, fat etc and have no reason to be so (and by reason, I mean medical influence or if you’re a PROFESSIONAL athlete), then it’s an issue. I ask myself these questions daily, I am often asked by others, both those who knew me when I was sick and those who know me now. I recognize the issues and deal with them, I don’t deny them as I once did. I would urge anyone who is struggling or concerned about another to seek help and advice. I am willing to answer ANY questions, but I am not a health care professional, I’m simply someone who has struggled with anorexia, but that does not mean I know all the answers or that I can connect to everyone’s stories. We are all different. One thing I do know is that no one deserves to be trapped in a World where they are consumed by self hatred and calorie counting. We all deserve more. Happiness does NOT lie in extreme thinness and it definitely doesn’t lie in an eating disorder. Help others to help themselves. Start that conversation and let them know you are there.