Family

Family is more than just the blood that runs through your veins and its more than being related to those with the family name. Its hard to think about how certain people within your family aren’t actually family, whereas, some outside of the blood ties and relations are some of your closest family members.

I don’t consider myself to have grandparents. I never really have. My mum’s parents and dad’s father dead and the sole living grandparent I had left was simply not a grandparent at all. I used to get jealous when other girls would say they were going to their Gran’s. It always sounded so wonderful, away from the strict parents, being spoilt rotten like the way kids were supposed to be treated. But I got none of that. I was fat, an embarrassment to the family and stupid. First and foremost, however, I was a girl and entitled to derogatory treatment from birth.

Friends talked about their Granny taught them to bake. Mine slapped me for not stirring some Tzatiki quietly enough. Friends spoke about how their granny let them eat treats, mine poked me and grabbed my fat. She ridiculed me and would imitate chubby cheeks and a chubbier waste. Friends would speak about how they didn’t have to lift a finger at their Grandparents, all I remember was scrubbing the floors and washing the windows without being allowed any sort of break.

Friends spoke about how much they loved their Granny. I questioned how much mine actually loved me.

I wish I had that experience. I wish I had known my English Granny and Granddad because they would have treat me right. They would have told me I was beautiful and perfect and hung my pictures on their walls. They would have made visits enjoyable and taught me so many things. They would have made me feel more than accepted. I wouldn’t have ever had to question if they loved me.

But unfortunately, like many, I didn’t have that. I also had a stressed out (pretty much single) mum doing everything she could for me. An absent father who supplied the money but didn’t truly supply any love, only stigmas, and hate, and shame, and lies. Oh god there were so many lies. There still are and I don’t know whats true anymore. I don’t know who knows what or what secret is a secret between who. I just don’t know.

Me, Mum, John and the dog. Thats one reason I love animals. They don’t judge. They love unconditionally. They don’t question. They don’t care about your weight, disability, finances, or intelligence. They love you for you. And I love that.

I always thought that was all the family I needed and used to withdraw from people so much. It wasn’t until my 5th year of Uni I began to open up and it was the bravest but best decision I have ever made. My Muslim family. I’ve written about them before and I’m about to write again. They’ve truly helped me through so much and I genuinely care for them like family. I love the way they don’t once act as if there is a guest in the house. I love the way I just help with little things occasionally, like setting or clearing the table.

I love the way they seem happy to see me. I love the fact its not a lie.

I went through this weekend and two comments were made and I realised that not only do I see them like family but they see me as family and thinking about it from this two-way perspective made me unbelievably happy. I was asked to be part of a family selfie and although it seems like such a small gesture, it truly meant the world to me.

Family is where you walk through the door and you don’t panic about how you look or what’s going on in your life. Family is where you’re not judged for what food you do or don’t put on your plate. Family is when you feel so comfortable your best friend can leave the house and you’re not at all put in an awkward position. Family is when you go for a bike ride and come back to find the house empty so you just jump around on their trampoline without a care in the world. Family is where you don’t have to ask for anything because you know its going to be provided or you can get it yourself without asking permission.

Its not just them but its my friends too. I see S and E as sisters sometimes and not just my best friends. I’ve had to get used to not seeing them as much as I’d like due to third year and different lectures but when I see them and my face lights up and my heart gets all fuzzy I know I’ve missed them. Its that feeling when you’re randomly walking down the street and unexpectedly all three of you bump into one another and you scream like little kids. Its that feeling when you have no time but you see them and you make the time and in those 30 minutes you are just smiling uncontrollably.

Its that feeling of normality being restored. Happiness being restored. Nothing can bring me down when I’m with them. They make me stronger than you can imagine and I’ve learnt to truly cherish every minute I get with them now.

They’re all my family. And they all make me stronger.

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Blame

He said its not my fault. He told me over and over again that I shouldn’t blame myself for having an eating disorder. Its nothing to be ashamed of. I shouldn’t feel embarrassed. The problem is, I do, and he says that’s one of the last hurdles in my recovery and its the one I keep falling at.

Having an eating disorder makes me feel disgusting and weak and embarrassed. I can handle my disabilities, they’re physical and I can’t help having them. But my eating disorder? I can’t accept it. There has to be someone to blame and it has to be me. I can’t admit to many that I have these issues with eating because I feel that it is something to be ashamed of. There’s a stigma to mental health and I can’t admit to myself more than anyone else that I have a problem.

Its difficult because I know I have one but for years I tried to kid myself otherwise. Tried to convince myself I didn’t have an eating disorder. I mean how could I? How could the fat girl have an eating disorder? Me? The girl called Hippo at school. The girl pushed and shoved around. No way she could have an eating disorder. She was fat. She couldn’t have one.

But I did.

I thought I had accepted it but I haven’t. I realised that today. I thought I knew where I stood but I didn’t. He asked me why I blame myself. I told him that there’s no other option. I told him I’m weak and worthless for having an eating disorder. I’m an embarrassment for having these issues. For having days where deciding what to eat takes me hours on end. For having days where I don’t eat at all. For having days where I spend half my time bent over the toilet with my fingers down my throat. It sounds so bad to write it out but that’s exactly what most of my days are like.

I told him I choose to do these things so therefore its my fault. I chose to comfort eat and gain weight all those years ago just like I chose to start losing it and eventually losing it by making myself sick. I choose to eat nothing or to eat to much. I choose to exercise too much or too little. I choose to purge.

He told me to take a moment and to consider that perhaps I don’t choose at all. He referred to it as autopilot, a word I have used before myself. He told me I can’t blame myself. My eating disorder is part of me but it isn’t me. I need to start realising that I am ill. That there is a part of me that’s unwell, that tells me to do all these disordered things. The voice that overpowers all logic to the extent that logic no longer exists is the part of me thats ill. Most importantly, he told me its not my fault.

I remember when I told my boyfriend. He said to me, ‘that’s not you, that’s your eating disorder, and I like you.’

I relived that moment in therapy and couldn’t stop crying. He asked me what I was feeling and I knew it immediately. I couldn’t believe that someone could care about me in that way. From the ex refusing to help and using my disorder to manipulate me, to family who wouldn’t let me talk about it, I had experienced something completely different during that evening, and I also experienced it on Tuesday Night. Compassion. Something I don’t give myself.

I never take a step back and let me like me. He says, that’s also not my fault. He said its something that was engrained into me since being a child and I developed an eating disorder as my defence mechanism. Everything would be alright if I was slimmer. It all made sense. No more bullies. No more disapproval. No more not making GBR teams. Less weight. More happiness. But I still blame me. We briefly went over all the stuff I’ve gone through over the years. He asked me how I feel about that. I told him it hurt but I should never have let myself develop bulimia.

He got me to sit in a chair and look at the one I had sat in. He asked me to tell the empty chair, I had sat in, what I felt about myself. Fat. Disgusting. Weak. Ugly. Fat. Stupid. Fat. The words of hatred came pouring out all too easily.

He took me back to my original chair and said that the now empty chair contained a hypothetical person. He said this person had been bullied since she was a child. She had been told by her family she was useless, ugly, fat, and an embarrassment to the family name. She had been bullied physically and mentally by kids all her life and her first serious boyfriend emotionally manipulated her. She had spent years in sport only to be told she was the wrong shape and a freak because of her disabilities. She’d been called all sorts of names and had been made to feel ashamed and weak and as if everything was because she was fat. They picked on her because she was fat as that was the easy option. She had tried her best to get the highest grades but someone always beat her to it and her teachers called her stupid. She was one of the hardest working athletes but was prevented from competing at the Olympic games because she was deemed too fat even though she was British Record holder.

They used to call her Hippodopoulos.

And now she was bulimic.

He asked me what I would say to her. Would I blame her for her epilepsy? Her cerebral palsy? Would I say it was her fault the bullies chose her? Would I be cruel and call her names? Would I tell her it was her fault she inherited rheumatoid arthritis? Would I call her weak? Do I think she should be ashamed? Would I tell her she was an embarrassment?

Would I call her fat?

Would I blame her for the fact she resorted to sticking two fingers down her throat?

Would I tell her that her eating disorder was all her fault?

Or would I understand? Would I accept that her surroundings had caused her to act in ways that she felt ashamed of?

What would I say to her?

I told her she was beautiful. I told her she had gone through so much pain, had fought so many demons that she should be proud. I told her that she needed to keep going, that it would all be alright in the end because she had people who cared about her, people willing to take as much time as she needed to get better. I told her she wasn’t fat and that she could lose weight healthily. I told her she was better than what everyone had told her, that it wasn’t her fault. I told her it was a mental disorder and there was nothing to be ashamed of. That she wasn’t broken but rather a work in progress.

I told her it would get better. That she wasn’t to blame.

There was a piece of cloth behind the chair and he moved it. My eyes were so blurry, I hadn’t even seen it. The mirror behind it was revealed and I was looking right into my own eyes. Tears running down my face but there I was almost ready to crack a smile when I saw me. I would have hugged myself if I could have done. I would have picked myself up and squeezed so tight, whispering that everything was going to be alright.

That’s when I realised.

I’m not to blame.

Tuesday Night

He caught me. I heard his footsteps but I didn’t have enough time. Not enough time to clean up or sort myself out. Just not enough time.

I panicked and I freaked out. It happened so fast yet felt so slow. I heard him coming in and I rushed, I tried to sort everything out. Don’t see me like this. Please don’t see me like this. Not now. Not ever. I tried to hide it but it was pointless. I tried to cover myself up but nothing was within my reach. The fear had filled me up completely, I’ve never felt so scared than in those few brief moments.

I thought I was being careful. I thought he couldn’t hear me. I thought I had gotten good at being silent…that sounds so bad now I’ve typed it out.

I’ve never felt more scared than I did on Tuesday night. I was convinced that was it. He would leave. Why wouldn’t he? I’ve never felt so disgusting or embarrassed and the pain burned through me like a thousand knives stabbing their way to my heart. I’ve not panicked like that before either. I just couldn’t bear to think he was about to see me purging, that he was about to walk in.

Thought he wouldn’t notice. Bath running, doors shut, music blasting. Thought it would cover any sound I made. I was wrong about that. But I was wrong about other stuff too.

He caught me on Tuesday night. But he didn’t leave. He wasn’t cruel to me like others have been in the past. He picked me up and held me. Held me so tight I could barely breathe but I didn’t care. He didn’t make me apologise or make me feel the way that Demon does. He just held me whilst I cried. Whilst all the tears came running and he didn’t let me go. I’ve never needed him as much as I did that night.

I’m almost glad he caught me. I don’t feel like I’ve lost his trust but as if I’ve lost my trust in myself. He didn’t even ask me to but I’ve made sure I’m with him after meals and all the doors are open when I’m in the bathroom. Its weird because its not that he doesn’t trust me, but rather, I don’t trust me.

One relapse. And a bad one at that, but I’ve stuck to my food plan this week relatively well otherwise. Half way there. One step back but a few steps forward.