Brave

So, that girl made it to the law ball after all.

I knew I wanted to go, wanting to go wasn’t the issue. I wanted to go and have a great time with my friends and I didn’t doubt for a second that I wouldn’t enjoy my time with them. But it’s so difficult to ignore that voice. No matter how much you are enjoying yourself you can never fully ignore that voice in the back of your head.

The one that whispers, ‘wow, those girls are so slim’.

The one that murmurs, ‘wow, they’re so pretty’.

The one that shouts, ‘wow you’re so fat.’

I was dreading that voice before I went to the ball and although I tried to ignore it, I just couldn’t quite manage it. I felt beautiful before I went, but upon arrival that slowly deteriorated. I can’t help but look at everyone who is smaller than me and feel ashamed, wishing I was more like them. I can’t ignore that voice that compares me to them, making me feel embarrassed to be there.

You can tell me I looked beautiful, you can tell me I was perfect but I won’t and can’t see it. I had a lovely time but every now and then that voice would creep into my head and start to make my heart feel as if it was about to split in two.

People don’t realise that sometimes its the emotions you experience after an event that are the worst. In that very moment you are enjoying yourself, the people you’re with, the occasion you’re at, but when its finished, when you go home, when you’re lying in bed, the thoughts just go running in your head.

Did I really eat that tonight? They were all so much skinnier than me. I’m going to be so fat in those pictures that get posted on Facebook tomorrow. I really hope I look alright in them. What if I don’t? What if I look so fat? But I am fat, so I’m bound to look fat. I’m going to look so fat. I’m going to be that girl in those pictures.

My friends say I should be proud that I went. That I made the decision to go and I didn’t need them to persuade me to attend. I didn’t require their confirmation of how good I looked and I handled the night well. In some respects I agree with them. In some respects I do feel proud. I was so nervous to go, I was petrified of not being able to cope with the emotions in my mind but I did. Even though the thoughts came running, even though the thunder clouds came storming I coped with them as best as I could. I didn’t let the voice stop me from eating. I didn’t let the voice make me purge afterwards. And, most of all, I had and amazing time with my friends, which is the most important thing after all.

I went morning training today for the first time since surgery and a friend told me I was brave for writing this blog. Brave in general. In that moment I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just being kind even though I still appreciated his words.

But then I thought to myself. Then I realised something.

I am brave.

I’m brave because, although I feel embarrassed, although I feel ugly and fat in my swimming costumes that feel tighter than usual, although I feel ashamed to be at the pool with the other, slimmer, swimmers, I still went.

I still went training even though I knew I would experience those emotions that usually trigger the cycle and I went to the Law Ball even though I dreaded the same emotions.

I’m brave because I knew those emotions and voices would enter my head. I’m brave because I knew they were coming and I still went anyway instead of staying home and hiding. I’m brave because I fought them, because although it hurt, although I was in so much pain, I didn’t let it trigger the cycle. I’m brave because I felt as if I was going to break but I refused to relapse.

I am brave because I wake up every day and it breaks me to feel so fat but I still leave the house and do what I have to do. I am brave because I am scared of what people think of me, i’m frightened they’ll call me fat but I still go and speak to them anyway. I am brave because my dream of Rio feels like it has gone but I am still training. I am brave because I feel broken and I’m still trying to fix myself. I am brave because I’ve not given up.

And I am proud of just how brave I am.

I even managed to pinch a little memento from the Law Ball, because at that time, I was so proud that I went. I was so proud of how brave I had been.

And I am brave today; brave enough to post a picture of myself on here.

Thank you Peter, for making me realise just how brave I am.

The Ex-Almost

It wasn’t really anything.

You couldn’t truly call it something.

It didn’t amount to much.

Neither of them did.

He was never realistically going to be your boyfriend.

You weren’t truly dating.

It didn’t amount to a fling.

But I still felt something.

I still fell for that guy the guy that was never going to be. And boy did I fall hard.

The ex-could-have-been.

The ex-what-if?

The ex-almost.

And if falling for the ex-almost wasn’t bad enough. I ended up falling for another one just a couple of weeks later.

In hindsight, I think I definitely fell for one that little bit more than the other. In fact, it was the one that was so out of my reach that I fell for the most. And I told myself not to, I knew nothing was ever going to happen. I knew it wasn’t serious and I told myself not to do it, not to fall for him, but I did.

I didn’t necessarily want a relationship and in fact I was scared of one. I was scared of opening up to a potential-something about my eating disorder and so I never did. It was something I was frightened of being judged upon, convinced I didn’t deserve anyone because I was so broken. Yet at the same time I wanted someone to fix me. I wanted to mean something to someone and I wanted someone to mean something to me.

I wasn’t looking for a relationship with either ex-almost but there was some potential with one and yet I think I fell for the other more. Admittedly, perhaps, my second ex-almost came at a time when I needed him and, although that makes him sound like a rebound, he wasn’t anything of the sort.

I was hurt by the way my first ex-almost ended things and I felt he could have handled it better. After a weekend where he accidentally stood me up…yes….that girl got accidentally stood up…on valentines day…yes…she did…then a last minute get together the day after, and suddenly he just didn’t want to talk to me. It wasn’t hard to get the picture from his messages. I knew he was busy and I didn’t mind that, but when you get with someone and they suddenly act as if they don’t want anything to do with you, its so easy to jump to the wrong conclusions. And in hindsight, I think that I did.

I never set out looking for something serious and I knew it was never going to be that. I knew from the beginning and I was under no false pretences. In fact, I think that’s why I allowed myself to go there in the first place, because I was scared of ‘serious’ and knew this was never going to be anything of the sort.

I didn’t even hang out with him that much and I tried to keep my emotions in check but I let myself feel something. I let myself fall. And that’s why I was so hurt. I felt I could have protected myself better. I felt like I had been so stupid. But I fell for him and there’s no denying that.

24 hours of feeling sorry for myself and ex-almost number two accidentally comes along. Genuinely by accident. I still thought I wasn’t after something serious but this was the first time I let down that wall. I told him about my eating disorder and he didn’t judge me, in fact, he made me feel better. He took away some of the shame and the internal stigma seemed to fade.

For the first time I let myself consider the potential of being in a relationship. The first time since my long-term ex who had hurt me so badly over and over again. I had happily had fun with friends and had also turned down guys who were interested in something more. But for the first time I let myself open up and when he told me he didn’t want anything more than what we ‘were’, a pretty debatable term seeing as neither of us had a clue what we ‘were’ anyway, I was heartbroken.

I couldn’t understand it though.

I genuinely couldn’t work out why I felt so much pain. I didn’t understand the emotion.

I hadn’t known him long. Nothing we were doing indicated something serious in the future. We hadn’t really dated and we weren’t truly treating each other as a fling. So why did it hurt? Why was I crying down the phone to my best friend? Why was I running home to Newcastle because all I wanted was a hug from my mum?

Back then I didn’t know. But now I do.

That was the trigger moment.

That was when I relapsed.

And it wasn’t their fault. I would hate for anyone reading this to think that either of my ex-almosts treated me badly. They didn’t. In fact, they were honest and I can’t ask for more than that. I had been with guys before who weren’t going to amount to anything so I couldn’t understand why I was hurting so bad over these two.

It’s because I felt as if everything had gone. I had no swimming. I was struggling with my workload. I had gained weight. And the two things that potentially helped me feel normal, that maintained the small glow of positive thoughts in my head had gone.

The thing I miss about my first ex-almost was the banter. I have no idea if he felt the same, or if he considered me completely mental (which is probably true) but I actually enjoyed chatting to him and he made me laugh nearly every day. There was never much flirting but when we did it was good. I mean, it was good. I didn’t really have that with my second ex-almost. He was handsome, sweet, funny and I loved that he was ambitious but I think I was hurting because I felt as if I had lost a friend in the first.

I was missing the near-daily conversations. I noticed I wasn’t getting texts that made me smile in the way that his did. I felt like I had lost something and I wanted it back but I had to accept that it was gone. It was impossible to be friends with him. And I felt weak. I felt weak for needing his friendship. How did I become dependent on someone I only met about 5 weeks earlier?

But I ended up surprised. A month or so later when I was at rock bottom, when I felt like the world was caving in and I had nowhere to turn, he ended up being there. 2 months later he was there and it was completely unexpected. I may have foolishly written something on social media but it never once crossed my mind he would read it and contact me.

I actually remember it happening. I remember the three-way-emergency-skype-call I was having with my best friends and just as we were signing off he text me. Those two were just as shocked as me! I remember dropping my phone and was actually momentarily scared to look at it because I couldn’t work out why in the world he would be texting me.

He said he didn’t want to be weird but could tell something was up and wanted to see if I was alright.

It hurt so much but I let myself open up. I was sat crying on my bed but I let myself tell him what was going on. I ignored the voice telling me to be ‘strong’ by remaining silent and I told him. He reacted better than I ever expected. And that was when I realised something. He didn’t have to text me. He didn’t have to notice I was down and reach out. But he did. This ex-almost cared.

This ex-almost was a friend.

I still don’t truly understand it but his words helped me more than he will ever realise. I realised I didn’t necessarily fall for him in the romantic sense, but the way in which you fall for a friend. As crazy as that sounds, that is how I can best describe it and that was why I hurt when he didn’t really want to be friends anymore. Because boys come and boys go. Relationships start and relationships end. But it is your friends that are there throughout it all. And whilst I was on the verge of relapse that was what I needed. I needed friends and I felt as if I had lost one.

And whilst ex-almost number two was a wonderful guy, he almost acted as a distraction, as soon as he left, I was reminded of the friend I had lost. And it wasn’t until he text me that I realised I hadn’t really lost him at all. He was there, and yes, we weren’t talking, and yes, I’m yet to actually speak to him rather than just wave at him in the library, but he was there when other people weren’t. He was one of the people who didn’t know about my eating disorder on but he was the one who wanted to check if I was alright.

He’s still an ex-almost but more importantly, in that one moment, on that one friday night, he was a friend. He was exactly what I needed right there and then and even though he doesn’t know it, I’ll never forget him or his influence in my recovery.

The (Internal) Stigma

If you asked me to describe myself in several words I would probably say something along the lines of, small, loud, crazy, fun-loving, always laughing, confident, and happy. Mainly, because, for the most-part those words are genuinely a true description of me.

But that’s how I would describe myself to you.

If I were to describe myself to me, the words couldn’t be more different. Fat. Ugly. Weak. Unwanted. Shameful. Worthless. Disgusting. Scarred. Mainly, because, for the most-part those words are genuinely what I believe to be a true description of me.

Everyday I wake up and I go and stand in front of that mirror and, for some reason, I willingly say those words to myself. I stand there and look at every inch of fat on me and hate myself for it. I stand there wishing that girl was skinnier. Fitter. Prettier. I wrongly believe that everything, including my happiness, depends on my weight and I let that demon whisper in my head. I don’t try to fight it off, I listen to the whispers of, ‘you’re so fat, and ugly, and weak’. I let it tell me that I’m ‘worthless and don’t deserve anyone whilst I’m so fat’. I truly believe that when I walk out the house everyone I walk past is going to take one look at me and confirm that those words are true inside their own heads.

I know its not true but the fact of the matter is that, right now, it does not matter how many people tell me I’m beautiful, because I simply do not and will not see it. I’ve not felt beautiful since December, and I’ve not felt perfect since February.

It’s funny how the last time I felt ‘beautiful’ doesn’t coincide with the last time I felt ‘perfect’.

I felt beautiful because I was slimmer in December. Having shoulder surgery, however, meant that what was once a 36 hour training week became nothing at all. I inevitably gained some weight and I was so unhappy for it. However, due to my lack of training I was able, for the first time, to go out with my friends on nights out and I actually enjoyed it. Naturally, boys slowly came into the equation. At first, I thought people were messing me around, I thought I was that fat girl who was the inevitable joke. But I slowly realised this wasn’t the case. Some of my friends were genuinely interested in me and as much as I’ve never needed validation from a guy, it gave me confidence. It made me sit back and think that maybe, just maybe, I was alright. I wasn’t as ugly or as fat as I thought I was.

Yeah. I was alright.

But the weight kept increasing. And when I reached 58kg at the end of January I couldn’t handle it. The whispers became louder and I started skipping my meals and the purging slowly crept back into a regular habit. I began hating myself, I can remember sitting in front of the mirror and crying. I hated that girl starring back at me. She was so fat and it was her own stupid fault for gaining the weight. I remember wanting to smash it, I was in so much pain and my heart was breaking. I couldn’t stop the tears, I couldn’t purge because I hadn’t eaten and I couldn’t even bring myself to stand up because my legs were so weak. I hated that girl. I hated her.

I hated me.

And that was the first, and I am glad to say the only, time that I cut myself.

I felt as if I deserved it. As if I deserved to be in pain for being so stupid as to gain weight. As if I deserved to be as scarred on the outside as I felt on the inside. I felt like I had all this pain in my heart and I couldn’t get rid of it. I wanted it to leave so badly, I wanted to be that smiley, bubbly girl again and I hated the fact I was so broken. I wanted to be normal. But that girl had never been normal from the day she was born. I had all this pain and hurt and anger and I couldn’t get rid of it. The demon whispering in my head began to shout and I wanted it to stop. Even the fact I only cut the back of my hand, because deep down I didn’t want to seriously hurt myself, made me feel weak. I hated myself and cutting the back of my hand let me get that anger out. I felt like I was hurting that girl in the mirror because I hated her. It didn’t feel like I was hurting me.

I think the best way of describing it is that I wanted some physical pain to match the mental pain that was breaking my heart. Almost as if physical pain would draw away from the mental pain. You can do something constructive about physical pain; you can put a bandage on it, you can fix it. Mental pain is so much different and you feel so out of control, like you can’t fix it but surely you should be able to fix mental pain yourself? Just stop thinking all those negative thoughts.

I wish it really were that simple.

Although I cut myself I wasn’t truly fully relapsed then, as hard as that may be to believe. Over those two months there was something that helped me and yes, it involved a boy. Two boys to be exact. This was the time when I didn’t feel beautiful, but I felt perfect.

So, I had gained weight. But cutting my wrists forced me to open up to my family and best friends and they were there immediately to help. I felt stronger because they knew I was struggling and they were going above and beyond to help me feel better. To be stronger.

I met a guy and even though I knew things weren’t going ‘anywhere’ he made me feel perfect because when I was with him I was genuinely my normal loud crazy self, talking about the most random crap and the ‘banter’, for want of a better word, was great. For the first time since I broke up with my long-term ex I actually thought I guy didn’t like me because I was slim and, therefore, beautiful, but that a guy actually liked me for me. So although I was fatter than I was in December I actually felt perfect. He made me feel perfect.

It makes me smile to think about that time because I can remember how during that month I was genuinely so happy and me and my friends were having such a good time as well. I remember our girl nights out and they were hilarious. I remember the group chats that made me cry with laughter. I remember sitting with them at Piccadilly station whilst they were waiting for their trains simply because that was where I wanted to be; with them. To be with them made me so happy. For once I was happy with the way I was. I didn’t feel beautiful. I still wanted to lose weight. But for once I was happy.

I was happy because of the people I chose to surround myself with.

I didn’t know what ‘it’  was but I knew ‘it’ could never be serious but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt when this guy ended ‘it’.

But as one door closes another one opens and a different guy accidentally stumbled into my life. And I was genuinely surprised at just how much I liked him in such a short space of time.

If I didn’t know what was going on with the first one I most definitely didn’t have a clue with this one! Admittedly, I don’t think either of us knew what to make of the situation. Again, he ended it and he did so for all the right reasons. He told me that he didn’t want me to be ‘a bit of fun’, but then he didn’t want to lead me on either and end up hurting me a few months down the line.

That was a bit of a whirlwind that I’m not going forget quickly. Although I appreciated his honesty, I almost hated it. Its easier to hate someone than to accept their kind actions which happen to cause you pain.  However, for the very first time I opened up to a guy about my eating disorder. I thought he would run a mile, but he didn’t. The problem was that when he did end it, I couldn’t help but listen to that whisper of, ‘well why would he want to be with you anyway when you’re so broken.’

I know deep down that wasn’t the case. I know he isn’t the type of guy to have judged me on that and he was the first guy who made me feel as if there was nothing to be ashamed of. We didn’t talk about it much more, and admittedly we didn’t even hang out much more, but I never once felt as if he judged me because of it.

And that’s the thing.

I constantly believe that if I open up to people they’re going to judge me. I feel that they’re going to hear me say those words, ‘I have an eating disorder’, and they’re going to think I’m weak, disgusting, broken, worthless, fat. All those words I say to myself every day that I wake up and look in the mirror.

But that’s just it. There is no stigma with eating disorders. Well, there is, but its internal. Its me saying those hurtful things. Not my friends. Not the people in the street. Not those two guys, both of which turned out to be friends. Its me. I see myself that way and that means that only I can change that.

I always assume people will react negatively to my eating disorder and that makes me scared to open up but they don’t. I feel they won’t understand, and they might not, but they always try to understand. My friends can tell me I’m beautiful and perfect, and I genuinely don’t need a guy to make me feel that way, but until I see it, until I get rid of that internal stigma regarding my eating disorder, I’ll never become that happy girl I used to be.

And I want to be that girl again. And there are days that I am. I just need more of those days but I feel like I’m getting there. Slowly, but surely, because the days where I am happiest are when I am laughing with my friends and it is those moments where I don’t have a care in the world about my weight. I’m laughing because I’m happy. Because in that moment I am perfect, and I don’t need to stare in a mirror to confirm that.

It’s still raining but it’s a little bit lighter today.

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‘That Girl’

I am the girl with a list of things wrong with her as long as her name.

Ask anyone who knows me and they will confirm that I am that girl. If I had a pound for every time I heard the phrase, ‘it could only happen to you’, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be worried about being that girl anymore. From being in the most ridiculous and laughable awkward situations to being diagnosed with, what feels like, more and more medical conditions, there is not a single day where something doesn’t seem to happen to me.

So where to begin? The driving force behind my writing was when I was diagnosed with the biggest medical challenge of my life, which was not physical, and I used writing in a diary to help me cope. After relapsing into old habits not too long ago I decided to begin recording my journey again but this time, not with pen and paper, but online instead.

The thought of writing about such personal details online was quite daunting at first. Trying to remain anonymous seemed the obvious option, but it would be foolish to believe that some people would not be able to work out who that girl is based on what I wish to talk about. Admittedly, perhaps 20 people have a rough idea of what is going on but less than one hand know the full extent. Three are there for me through every battle and for that I will be forever grateful.

I was bullied throughout school regarding my weight and disability; I was born with mild cerebral palsy which was not diagnosed until I was 21 and an accident when I was 6 caused further damage to the side affected by my (undiagnosed) hemiplegia. I suffered from bad psoriasis as a child and combined with a ‘claw hand’ from my accident, the bullying was relentless. A very complicated form of appendicitis at 13. Diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 15 and began to struggle with school due to the amount of time I was missing. I prolapsed discs in my lower back at 16 and at 19 I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis which just so happened to affect my disabled side the most. I then found out my dad had been having an affair since I was 7 and I had a half-brother I knew nothing about.

I had been involved in sport my entire life and it always gave me an outlet to cope with stress but after being told in 2012 that I was ‘too fat’ and an ’embarrassment to elite sport’ I was faced with my biggest medical challenge;

I developed an eating disorder.

I never thought I could be that girl…..that girl with an eating disorder.

Correction…

That athlete with the eating disorder.

But I was.

I still am.

And it hurts. God does it hurt like hell. To wake up every day feeling broken, staring in the mirror and hating that girl looking back at you. Trying to ignore that demon whispering how fat you are. How ugly and how weak. How shameful the choices you made were. And that voice makes you so self-conscious. And you think the only way you can get rid of that voice is if you lose weight. But it never leaves, and you panic. You believe you have to lose more to become happier.

You become desperate to find that happiness that seems to linger in the horizon yet never gets any closer and that hurts even more.

You convince yourself its only temporary. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

Wrong.

God, I was so wrong.

I became, what I can only describe as ‘lost’.

Lost in a vicious cycle I convinced myself I was in control of.

I felt strong if I didn’t eat but with 7 hours of training a day I had to eat eventually. I would eat small salads but this made me feel weak. I hated the fact I had given in to hunger. How could I expect to lose weight if I was eating? And that’s when the purging began. It made me feel a bit more in control, I had gotten rid of some calories. But then I would feel disgusting and weak again, so I would convince myself to skip the next couple of meals to feel strong.

I can’t remember exactly when it all started but I know it happened so quickly and took a hold of me more than I ever realised. I coped silently for 18 months before admitting I needed help. In December 2014 I was ‘signed off’, truly thought I was over everything and I had never been happier. But a series of events triggered my relapse; and this is where I am now.

And, again, it hurts. It makes me ashamed to think of how far I got to just fall back to square one. To have become that girl, that athlete with the eating disorder again. I hate the fact i’m back into old habits. I hate the fact I hate myself. I feel so embarrassed that I have to go back to my therapist. I hate the fact I’m broken yet again.

But there is one big difference this time. It took me 3 months to ask for help, not 18. And I’ve told a few more people. I’m beginning to learn that I shouldn’t be embarrassed, that there is nothing to be ashamed of. My eating disorder is part of who I am, and my two best friends are helping me see that. I’ve learnt that there is no shame in asking for help and support and, in fact, I finally accepted this is not a journey I can make on my own.

I always thought people would judge me for suffering from an eating disorder and I used to refer to myself as ‘damaged goods’. But one unexpected message made me realise that wasn’t the case.

A few weeks ago, when I really felt at rock bottom, a friend contacted me asking if I was alright because he just knew I wasn’t. I tried to avoid the topic but eventually told him I had an eating disorder and had relapsed really badly.

His message?

‘I know you and if you’ve beaten it once you can beat it again.’

It really hurt for me to open up to him. I wanted to tell him but I was so scared. I was frightened of telling him but I did…and it helped. People care about you more than you realise and his message helped me find a bit of strength. He was the first person who didn’t react with pity and he was the first to remind me that I had beaten it before. That I wasn’t at rock bottom. That I could beat it again.

Don’t listen to the voice that tells you that, you can’t.

Listen to the people who tell you that, you can.

I feel like it always rains on me but with the right friends I’m learning how to embrace that. Life’s an adventure, and mine just happens to be in the rain at the moment.

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