On the Road Again

Getting on my bike today for the first proper time in 8 weeks felt absolutely amazing.

My legs certainly didn’t know what hit them when we left for Alderly Edge averaging 19mph and pushing up any sort of ‘hill’ we came across. Riding with 14 people instead of being alone made all the difference too and I just came home with this massive sense of satisfaction.

We ordered pizza to share for dinner as neither of us could really stand in the kitchen and although a couple of negative thoughts swooped into my mind I think I handled it really well. I think doing the exercise meant I was more relaxed with my food choice and the fact we had really pushed in the ride made me feel happier.

Theres always a massive link to me being happy and me being far more relaxed with my food choices.

I know that if I rode alone I wouldn’t have ridden that fast and I feel so proud of myself. Its always so hard to get back into the group rides, its always so easy to stay in your comfort zone and trundle along by yourself but riding with the rest made me push so much harder and it even felt great to meet some of the new riders as well as my old friends.

My legs, after having a 8 week break, kept struggling occasionally but its amazing just how much we worked to motivate each other. It really does go to show that no matter what the situation is, if you’re with other people you can really push for more or get further. Motivating and helping each other out is definitely key and I’ve always noticed that in regards to my eating disorder.

I’ve always noticed that having more people around me who know about my situation and my struggles just makes me come on leaps and bounds. But in regards to today, being able to ride, and knowing it was just so unfortunate I broke my foot and my ribs, made me want to make the most of it. I have disabilities that prevent me from doing things, disabilities that make me susceptible to injuries and so I just need to make the most of it. No point wondering when something bad is going to happen and if I have the time to work out then I should.

Make the most of things. I have lots of opportunities open to me that others simply don’t have and if I’m able to be on the road again, then I’m going to make the most of it.

Special

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I’ve written it before and I’m about to write it again. Over-achiever, Striver, Never-Satisfied, whatever you want to call it, I am it and once again it came up in my therapy session to discuss why we think i’m still relapsing.

It all came down to something quite straightforward, something I’ve briefly touched upon occasionally in this blog.

I’m not special anymore.

And I want to feel special.

But I’m not.

I’m no longer the athlete with World Records to her name. I’m never going to hear my name announced or have other athletes look up to me when I give speeches. I’m nothing anymore. I’m a nobody. A has-been. I feel invisible, I feel like every other person walking down the street and I hate that. Not from an arrogant perspective but from the perspective of the person who always used to stand out.

I’m no longer doing something that no other law student has managed to do. I’m no longer being asked how training is or how my last competition went. I’m no longer a role model, I’m no longer anything worth mentioning.

I’m just normal. And I can’t stand it. I’m not happy simply being me and I don’t know how to accept that I simply am me. This is who I am right now but I can’t accept it. I wont accept it.

Being the best in sport kept me sane (to a certain extent).

Initially, it made me feel better about my weight, better about the bullies, better about me. I was able to say they were all simply jealous of me, but not anymore. Not now. Not ever again. I’m fat but I’m not an international athlete. I don’t have that status to cover up the issues I bury deep inside me.

I want to be special. I want, to a certain extent, to be admired.

Always second best, never even equal to my brother growing up. Bullied. Called stupid and fat by ‘friends’ and teachers and coaches alike. Never allowed to be satisfied with just being me. So i always pushed for more and I most definitely still do. I was never good enough for anyone so I reached for high grades, good university and challenging career. I pushed to become a better athlete and to win more medals, break more records.

I pushed to lose weight.

To become that ‘ideal’ I needed to be, at least, what I thought I needed to be, but it was never good enough. No one ever praised me or let me enjoy any success. It always had to be more. One more percent, one more second, one more pound. Never allowed to be satisfied with me. Never allowed to let myself be happy with me.

Always second best. Never good enough. And now I’ve lost something that, whilst contributed greatly to my eating disorder, still kept me happy…well…it didn’t did it. Thats a lie. This year it didn’t make me happy and thats why I left. But theres that voice lying to me in my head telling me that if I go back I’ll be happy again.

I know thats not true.

Problem is, I don’t like me at the moment, and I don’t know how to make myself like me at all.

Old Habits Die Hard

When did it start? If I’m honest, there were a few times towards the end of my first year of uni that I made myself sick. Never enough to be a habit though. Just after a cheat meal to make myself feel less guilty for the foods I wasn’t meant to eat. It was a cheat day but I wanted to punish myself and thought that I’d soon associate bad food with being sick and that in order to not be sick I’d stop eating the bad food.

Didn’t quite work like that did it? Eventually it didn’t stop me eating the bad food but ended up justifying it because I’d go get rid of it later. It didn’t even only apply to bad food, but even healthy food didn’t stay down long.

The purging really took hold towards the end of my second year though, when I started living alone…after the London team had been announced…I remember thinking that my two week summer break would help. That I had developed a bad routine of being sick. A bad habit. And that having two weeks with my mum would make me stop it. I was obsessed on that holiday though…I took my scales…who takes their scales on holiday? A girl with an eating disorder that is…I refused to admit I had issues, even mum just thought I was being careful so that I went back to training in the best shape I could whilst enjoying my break from training.

So that was the end of 2012, vomiting on and off but nothing to make it frequent in my opinion. It really was just when I’d over indulged or felt too full. Compensating for slip ups. Eating super healthy then getting rid of my cheat day. As if it had never existed.

I remember googling eating disorders but convinced myself I didn’t have one. I

I convinced myself I was in control.

That I could eat three meals a day.

That I could stop purging whenever I wanted to.

But that wasn’t true. I look back now and I was so wrong. I lied to myself, thinking it would all be okay. Then again, the first person I sought help from did say to me, “well, if that’s what you want to do then do it, I’m too busy to worry about you”

Someone who was supposed to care clearly didn’t. I reached out for help because I was scared. I was scared I had an eating disorder and I didn’t know what to do. I was hurting and in pain. It sounds stupid but I was confused. I didn’t want to believe I had one, I mean, how could I? I was fat dumpling Eleni. I had always been and I was always going to be. No one would believe I had a problem. Why would they? And if the first person I asked for help made me feel smaller than all the bullies had done. I wasn’t worth helping. I wasn’t worth anything.

He was wrong. I’m worth so much more than I ever thought.

But I keep falling back. When I’m alone I just slip and sometimes I don’t know if I even try to hold myself up. I was rejected from a law firm I really wanted to secure today and I was alone. Just arrived in London for an assessment day with a different firm and alone. Wasn’t even in Manchester and able to postpone my journey down so that I could see someone who cared. I feel like a let down. I’ve failed in swimming and failed in that. But I know it’s not true. I haven’t failed and for some strange reason I’m not too upset.

It’s hard to explain. But it’s the reminders that burn. I’m alone and down and all I want to do is eat and be sick. The purging gives me a sense of release and relief and I feel better afterwards. Calmer. In control. Constantly seeking that control. The urge to control everything that becomes my sole focus following anything that’s not in my control. I’m just reminded of how I felt after every team I didn’t make, every grade I didn’t secure and I just want to purge. I don’t won’t to binge, I just want to eat something I don’t usually let myself eat and then get rid. Let myself have that comfort and then punish myself for being out of control.

I’ve slipped up a lot the past two weeks and I’m trying to get a grip on everything. I feel like I’ve let everyone down by falling back today. I should be strong enough on my own, but right now I’m not. Right now I’m strong with people around me and to be honest, there was a time when I wasn’t strong when I was with others. Many a day went by when I threw up in training or during uni time. So in some respects, I’ve made great progress there but not so much on my own.

I hate being so dependent on them. I feel they’re going to reject me one day, that I won’t be worth their help or, worse, that they simply won’t want to help me. I thought that securing a training contract would have made this sporting failure of a year something decent. I’ve lost Rio. I need to have a training contract. I can’t lose two futures. I can barely cope losing one future. Please, not another. I’ve lost my sporting career. I don’t want to have failed to secure a legal career.

I thought I was fine but I’m not. And there’s that voice.

“At least if you were slim you’d be happy. You’re fat. You’re a crap athlete and you’ve no chance of being a lawyer. No wonder no one wants you. No ones ever wanted you. You’re fat.”

I’ve focused so hard on these applications that I’ve not trained and my weight has gone up. This summer was meant to be spent getting in shape, but I’ve not and I feel like a failure. I’m so focused on doing well tomorrow but I have so much riding on everything and that’s probably where I’m wrong. Too many of my body confidence issues were dependent on Rio. I thought if I made Rio I’d be happy about my weight but that’s probably not true. I probably would have been under even more pressure. So when that was taken from me I focused on the education side of things. Judging my self worth based on grades and progress with these applications.

I feel they’ll be mad at me. I’m scared to tell them. Scared to say those words. To admit I’ve fallen. To say I’ve failed at something else. One big failure.

You can tell me I’m not. I mean, I know I’m not, but right now I won’t see it.

I’m close to breaking it, but old habits die hard.

Raw

They wanted to weigh me and I hadn’t anticipated that. They sat me down and oh so casually said they needed my weight

I haven’t seen my weight for more than two months and the instant panic made it impossible to speak, I could have told them I didn’t want to see it, or that maybe I didn’t have to, but I couldn’t. So I got up and I stood on the scales.

64.5kg

That’s what the skinny girl weighing me called out.

And the voices came running. The pain struck me and all I wanted to do was cry. I’m sat in the waiting room waiting for the consultant and the tears are burning, trying to burst and run down my face.

I haven’t seen my weight for more than two months and all those doubts were right. I’m fat. I’ve gained weight and I’m so fat. I need to lose it. I knew I needed to lose it but I ignored the voices and let myself eat. I allowed myself to eat similar amounts to everyone else and whilst I haven’t trained I have paid for it. Oh have I paid for all that over indulgence and wrong choices.

Why did I eat what I ate?

Why did I drink what I drank?

Why did I not train as much?

It’s my fault. I’ve gained so much weight and its all my fault. I feel numb and broken inside and it hurts. When that number was called out I felt as if a thousand knives stabbed me at once.

I just felt raw.

I felt the self-hatred come back. It seethed through my body and it burned my insides. My head started spinning and I had a lump in my throat. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I almost didn’t want to breathe as if I could pretend I wasn’t there. As if I could pretend it wasn’t true, but it was. Almost 65kg and yeah I had my clothes on, but that doesn’t really add much on, does it?

No point hiding from the fact that I’m fat. No point trying to comfort myself and soften the blow that I’m so fat right now. Its blatantly obvious. No point denying it.

One year since things went downhill with swimming and I’ve gained 9kg.

I feel like a disgrace and I need to get my anger out. I just want to scream and shout and just cry…I just really want to curl up and cry away all the pain.

As if crying would make it better anyway.

I can’t even describe how I’m feeling with my words in any sense that is actually an adequate representation. All I know is that I am fat and it hurts. I used to be 55kg and I want to be that weight again. I don’t care if I was purging at that weight, I just want to get there without purging.

I want to be that tiny girl again.

I need to be slim. I need to be better than what I am and I want it now. I don’t like feeling this hurt, I don’t like the pain that burns in my head and my body and I’m sick. I’m sick of being this mess. I’m sick of my life revolving around my weight and the sooner I sort it out the better.

I feel so raw.

I need to sort it out.

I feel so numb.

I just need to lose weight.

I feel so broken.

I just need to be slim again, that small again

I’m so scared that I can’t do it. I’m so frightened that I am always going to be this fat.

I want to do it healthily but I’m scared that that option won’t work.

I just feel empty inside. I feel so hurt and depressed when I look at myself. I want to be more than this. I want to be slimmer.

I feel so broken and numb, but it doesn’t feel like there’s anything I can do about it.

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A Little Birdie Told Me…

On my first race day at the UCI para cycling road World Cup, I woke up to a little birdie tweeting. It told me I was disgusting. It said I was a cheat. It said I was going to fail. It told me I was a crap swimmer, a crap cyclist, and a joke to disability sport.

It tweeted at my club sponsors, my university, British cycling, and UCI.

It was only tweeting about me.

I knew who was behind the pseudonym but that didn’t make it any better. I knew they were jealous but that didn’t make the cuts any less deep. I knew to ignore the comments but that doesn’t mean they didn’t hurt.

I’ve been bullied a lot, especially when I was younger and at school. I remember being scared to go to school as a result and for the first time ever I was scared to go online. 12 hours of these tweets and I was frightened to post anything in case it provoked more abuse. It made me think how much more straightforward bullying was when I was younger; at least I could escape it when I got home, but with every notification my heart jumped, with every ‘ping’ the panic set in.

British Cycling took care of the situation and my friends took care of me.

The other team members started to send me the most supportive tweets and what one person from home sent me was just what I needed:

Whenever something knocks you down, that’s exactly when you find out exactly who cares about you.

It hurt because I had never done anything to her daughter. I had never made any comments about how good I could be as a cyclist and I never would. I had done nothing to provoke such nasty comments and yet she felt the need to send them, she felt the need to create a Twitter account and wait until race day to attack me.

Classification had not gone the way we wanted, they were questioning my disability and the last thing I needed, especially when I’m trying to start my recovery, is someone implying to the whole world that I am a disability cheat. I was in disability sport years before her daughter was and at least I have a MRI scan to prove my CP, unlike her. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important was that she set out with a vindictive agenda to cause me pain. The mother of another athlete set up an account aimed at hurling abuse at me, to send storm clouds thundering in on the morning of my very first international race.

I don’t usually access my phone in competition because if you do well you can get carried away with all the media hype and I’ve definitely experienced that when I made my comeback at Europeans to medal and social media went crazy for the bronze medallist over that day’s silvers and golds.

Now I know what it’s like to have the opposite side of social media.

I’m really good at ignoring stuff before a race. I wake up and I’m already in the zone, I do what I have to do and I get my job done. It’s after the race that the small upsets affect me. It’s when I finish that I let reality sink in and consider how cruel somebody had been. And I dreaded going back. I dreaded the possible comments I was going to receive.

Crap swimmer.

Crap cyclist.

Waste of space.

Disgusting.

Don’t quit your day job.

You’re a fiddler.

Cheat.

Disgusting.

Disgusting.

I refused to eat for the whole day and when my mum finally sat me down to eat I was in so much panic. So much fear. So much dread of getting fat. And it was because of the stress. I was trying to focus on something that I think can make me happy; being in control of my weight loss, and I didn’t even notice I was doing this. I didn’t realise I hadn’t eaten. I didn’t relaise I had entered autopilot. I don’t even want to think how I would have reacted on my own. More than likely a cycle of starvation and purging would have started.

I’m in such a vulnerable state of mind at the moment and I didn’t need that. Even if I didn’t have an eating disorder, I wouldn’t have deserved that. That quote has never been more true:

“Everyone is facing a battle you know nothing about, so be kind, always.”

Victim of cyber bullying…another thing to add to the list of things I’ve had to cope with.

It only lasted a day but it was unbearable. British cycling ensured the account got shut down and all of a sudden I got nice messages from the entire family. I know exactly who sent them and it was confirmed to me but I know how to handle the situation better, I know how to keep the upper hand, and that’s to say nothing at all.

One day. And she broke me down. I can’t begin to imagine how people who suffer from this on a daily basis feel. Actions hurt but words are crueler. And I’ve experienced that throughout my life and the other day through social media. The account was created specifically to abuse me and I think that hurt the most. It wasn’t an athlete I didn’t know questioning my disability…it was someone I knew from home who decided in spite to ruin my first international race.

But I had such a strong network of support and the message posted above was sent to me through Twitter. He knew what was going on, so whilst I received the dread of a new Twitter notification when I opened it all I could do was smile.

I really do have some amazing people in my life and I promise you that for every hater you have, you have 100 people who love everything about you, it’s just trying not to forget that which can be difficult.

The Decision I Never Wanted to Make

I think its time to break away from the sport that’s been part of my life for almost 21 years. I was 2 when I was first introduced to the swimming pool and I simply never left. Swimming isn’t something I do, it’s actually a part of me, a part of my life, my life is swimming. I don’t know any different. Until January of this year I didn’t know what it was like to not have that routine which was simply autopilot. I was introduced to a whole new life that others consider ‘normal’ but it was nothing like what I consdered ‘normal’.

As crazy as it sounds I struggled to cope without swimming in my life, I found the concept of free time difficult and struggled as the smallest change threw me. Something many would consider trivial, such as my sleep cycle changing dramatically, seemed to mess up my entire day to day life. Waking up so much later left me with less time to train and then I was naturally going to bed later because the four hours of evening training that would naturally ensure I would sleep early, no longer existed.

I turned to my studies to fill up the free time. Over January and February I pretty much locked myself in the library and focused so much on uni that, in all honesty, I was more drained than I had been in full training. I was pushing myself in studies because I couldn’t push myself in training. Leaving the house and returning at similar times to my swimming schedule and I wasn’t eating properly either. I was almost scared of the extra hours I would have had at home otherwise. I felt that all the free time spent at home would result in mindless eating and purging so I decided to stay away from home instead.

It didn’t really work, less purging but more starving and yes my weight dropped but once I started to swim again I needed to eat. 600 calories was fine with no exercise but not with even an hour of training. But then I judged myself for eating because of training. I hadn’t swam much I shouldn’t feel so hungry. I thought I was weak for feeling hungry. And the comments came too, the comments of how much weight I had gained, of how it was fine for now but I would need to shift it for any chance of Rio.

I couldn’t train for Rio….so the only thing I could possibly do at this very moment in this time in the hope of going to Rio was to was control my weight. But I couldnt. It kept increasing and I wasn’t used to not having stuff to do. I tried to exercise to shift it but my shoulder was so sore and I could barely even run without it hurting. I refused to go home as much as possible trying to starve the fat away and naturally the purging followed days of starvation. I felt so weak for being hungry and then even weaker for giving into hunger and letting myself have some food. Then I panicked and purged and felt more disgusting for having doing that.

All I could think of was how much weight I had lost over the years and how it had all been ruined since my surgery. I ignored the fact I lost weight unhealthily, focusing on pictures and memories of how slim I had been. As I lost weight I’d gotten so much praise and even the attention I was starting to receive from boys helped me want to keep losing more. Sport emphasised I had to keep loosing to get faster and get to Rio and the compliments I got from friends, family, and boys made me want to stay that weight.

And all I can think of now is how much I want to be that weight again, but I’m battling with the voices telling me to go for the unhealthy options. I hate being the weight I am but I can’t get rid of the association of a lower weight means more happiness. I’m trying to get rid of that but there’s too many mental scars…especially in swimming.

I think I need to leave. I think I’m ready to leave the swimming world behind and its a scary thought. I’ve always thought that without swimming I am nothing. I have no success or anything like that. But it’s been part of my life for 21 years and I never considered how difficult this would be. How much it would hurt and break me inside to leave the sport of swimming. I suppose it’s not how I imagined it. I was going to go to Rio and then transition into cycling but the swimming has not been good for me.

Even before I became international comments were always made about my weight, that I was the wrong shape for the sport. I need to become healthy again and I don’t feel like being in the sport of swimming is conducive to that. I think the memories cut deeper than I realsie and there are so many dark demons with swimming that I need to escape from. I need to put myself first but I feel like I’m a failure for giving up on something that I loved. I read so many articles about athletes with eating disorders who had to give up their sports and I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t want my eating disorder to beat me but I feel like it has. I feel like I’ve failed. I feel like a let down.

All I wanted was to go to a games, and in 2012, they said I was too fat so couldn’t go…now they’ve changed my categories and refused to consider the medical evidence that they asked me to find…and I’ve had surgery…surgery I needed because my coach pushed me too hard, didn’t listen when I said I was injured so I got too scared to tell him, and then he would yell, saying I should have told him, that it was all my fault.

Everything’s always my fault. It’s my fault I was too fat for London, it was my fault I got injured and won’t make Rio, it’s my fault I’m so fat right now.

Maybe a break will be good. Instead of staying in the comfort zone of swimming, the life I’ve always known, I need to adventure into something different. As soon as I’m back from Italy I’m going to tell my coach and swimmers that I’m having an official break…although i doubt I’ll return. But I’m so scared to do it, I’m scared of admitting how weak I am, of how much help I’m in desperate need of. But I need the help and staying in swimming is holding me back. Too many upsetting memories, too much pressure to prove a point to every bastard who put me down…need to stop focusing on those things and focus on myself because without my health I have nothing. I’ve passed out one too many times and cutting my wrists should have sent alarm bells ringing about how bad things were getting for me.

I need everyone more than ever right now. I need them to hold me together and tell me everything is going to be alright. I need them more than ever before.

I’m scared of being a failure. I’m scared of never being good enough. About being the athlete who almost was, rather than the one who got there in the end.

I didn’t want my eating disorder to beat me and force me out of the sport I love…but if I had never been subject to such cruel comments and pressure maybe it would never had ended up like this. Maybe I’m not the only person to blame in my decision to quit swimming.

Glimpsing the Sun

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‘How can you like the girl who makes herself sick?’

‘Because that girl isn’t you. That’s your eating disorder, not you, and I like you.’

Slowly seeing the sun begin to glimpse in the never-ending horizon.

Slowly realising that its not just a distant memory of the girl before the eating disorder.

Slowly accepting that no matter what my past has been, my future is spotless.

Slowly re-considering my past decisions, not as failures and mistakes, but as choices I made when there were no other options available.

Slowly allowing someone else to chip away at that cage I’ve locked myself in.

Slowing refusing to let my eating disorder define who I am.

It is part of me. But it isn’t me. It’s not the sole factor that defines me or dictates my life, and it seems like I just needed the right person to make me realise that.