The Fear

fat

I wish I were as fat as the I was the first time I thought I was fat. (Thanks www.someecards.com)

The first time I thought I was fat I was a size 14. Yes. A 14. It was my first year at Uni and, up until then, it was the biggest I’d ever been. To set the scene – I’m 5ft11” and a pretty sturdy build. I’m big, I’m tall and a 14 on me looks like a 12 on most other people. Up until I left sixth form I was a 12, and I looked pretty damned good in it. I possessed the most precious of all the gifts that are wasted on the young, a high metabolism, and could pretty much eat whatever I wanted and still look hot. I was also intrinsically lazy, and as such never learned how to keep fit and slim.

Once I hit university I discovered alcohol. Oh, I’d discovered it long before that, of course, I mean, this is Britain after all. However, I was equipped with a series of crippling fears when I was younger, a lot of which hung on until, well, until this year actually. They were very strong, particularly, and most enduringly, the Fear of Sick. I was absolutely terrified of the thought of throwing up, or of anyone throwing up near me. This extended to seeing people on TV throw up, and even hearing stories about people who might have, once in their lives, thrown up. It got so bad that I once, when about 13 years old, begged my next door neighbour to let me spend the summer holidays with her because the thought of getting on a ferry to France and getting inevitably seasick filled me with such revulsion and fear that I couldn’t sleep, I developed weird eating habits and I felt sick every day because I could think about nothing else. I used to avoid eating meals that were too big in case they made me feel sick. I refused to eat eggs or chicken because I was convinced they were going to give me food poisoning – a fear only exacerbated when I took the Basic Food Hygiene course at age 16  (spoiler: everything can and will kill you, but only after making you horrifically, ruinatiously sick).

I had a routine when travelling in cars – I’d put my headphones on, listening only to music I already knew, nothing new, and refuse to speak to, listen to, or even acknowledge anyone, whilst praying silently that I wouldn’t throw up. I used to measure journeys in tapes (I know, I know, I’m ANCIENT) and refuse to consume anything but dry toast and water before getting in the car. This was probably because of the time I threw up croissants, melted cheese and dandelion & burdock in our brand new Rover. I still seriously hate Rovers. Trains were the only method of transport I considered “safe” as they didn’t generally make me feel sick, and if we were travelling for more than half an hour by any other medium I would spend my days thinking up creative excuses to get me out of going, even if the destination was somewhere I really, really wanted to go. In my mind the end did not justify the means.

It never occurred to me, at this point, that this wasn’t normal. I knew that other people didn’t have a problem with throwing up, but I think I just assumed that everyone felt that way about something, but for some it was heights or snakes, or some other reasonable threat. It never occurred to me that this was a phobia, an excessive, obsessive phobia that had literally taken over my life. Of course, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one phobia, oh no, I cultivated two or three others – dentists, and insects and spiders, being the most prolific – which I also dealt with incredibly unhealthily, but nothing even came near to my Fear of Sick.

It was this fear that kept me from truly “discovering” alcohol. I was happy to get drunk, but I was always careful to stop well before the Danger Zone. It’s a shame really, as the music and club scene in Hull in the 90s was such that being drunk would have considerably improved it. It wasn’t until I started University and discovered the overwhelming freedom of having absolutely no restraints – of being able to smoke without doing it in secret, or being able to spend all my money in one day without being chastised, of missing every single lecture in a week with only a slight slap on the wrist to show for it – that I truly embraced alcohol. I was already drunk on what I thought was freedom (please note the massive, gaping errors in my logic), what more harm could actually being drunk do? After all, wasn’t I invincible? It’s strange, because the fear of throwing up never left, but the love of being drunk started to rival it I suppose.

Anyway, at a size 14 I thought I was huge. I’d always had an unhealthy relationship with food. My Dad, a fit and healthy person who watches his weight and does regular exercise to stay strong and fit, never really grasped the fact that I was a very tall teenager who was constantly hungry. Every time I tried to eat enough at mealtimes he would ask me “Do you really need that?” which would shame me into putting it back. I very often went to bed hungry and actually dreamed about food. It was my own sense of shame though, not his input, which led me to feel embarrassed and gluttonous. Whereas anyone else would have spoken up and said “Actually, yes, I do need it, I’m a growing teenager who is already taller than you, and I’m really hungry”, which he would’ve understood, I kept my head down and felt ashamed.

This led to eating in secret. When my parents were out I’d run to the kitchen and eat a sandwich before they got home. When my friend and I started going into town on a Saturday daytime we would always have McDonalds for lunch because it was forbidden. I felt I needed to hide what I ate, and project a façade of healthy eating and mini portions when at home. I suppose I developed the same approach to alcohol too. Either way, eating was something to be ashamed of, and eating at home often seemed to be a contest of who could eat the least. I remember taking half a pastrami sandwich and a mini can of Weight Watchers soup (also known as coloured water) to work for lunch one day when I was 25, only for my Dad to say “Do you really need all that? I only eat fruit at lunchtime”. I literally despaired.

It is no one’s fault but mine, and certainly not my Dad’s, that I was not equipped to deal with freedom. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of co-dependency – an inability to set appropriate boundaries and control one’s behaviour. It was just unfortunate that the message I’d managed to retain was that enjoying food was bad. For this reason I saw it as a treat, a comfort, something to be treasured because it wasn’t really allowed. Which is why, when I got upset over the fact that I’d started to put weight on I would eat to make myself feel better. And then drink, to make myself feel better after the eating. And then eat because I was drunk and hungry. And then drink because I felt bad……

What came next was an absolutely abominable relationship with a severely damaged and stunted individual, a series of truly terrible grades (lowest scoring person in my faculty to fail the first year, and still ever so slightly proud…), a marathon of nights out I couldn’t remember, and a steady upward creep of the needle on the scales. I’m simplifying of course, the years between 18 and 24 were some of the worst of my life, to such an extent that looking back actually frightens me, but you get the idea.

So, yeah, I wish I were as fat as I thought I was the first time I thought I was fat. Size 14 is my target size nowadays. I’m currently a 20, and when I started this blog I was a 22 (not this post, this blog, that would be the fastest weight-loss EVER), I’m aiming for a 14 because I think it’s reachable and sustainable. It will also get me back into the pretty high street dresses that call to me as I walk through shopping centres. Man I love clothes….

The issue I’ve always had though is that I kept trying to diet. I spent years trying to cut down on certain types of food, but constantly relapsing into a spiral of shame and pizza, wondering why nothing ever worked. It wasn’t until I accepted that I was an addict, and applied to food the same logic that alcoholics apply to alcohol, that I finally started to see results. And it’s easy. It genuinely is. Sometimes I have a massive craving for pizza, or ice cream, or crisps, but every mealtime I make healthy, informed choices on autopilot, and I sincerely enjoy them and then feel good.

So I’m going to do something now that I find incredibly difficult, and have been working up to the whole time I’ve been writing this. I’m going to post my least favourite picture of myself, right slap bang next to a picture of me as a size 14 when I was about 26 years old. This is not an exercise in shaming, or a way to punish myself for being fat and ugly, this is something that feels right. I’m acknowledging the people I have been, and I’m accepting them both.

Me3Me4

And for the purpose of documentation – this is the most recent photo of me, taken on Saturday. It’s terrible quality as it’s been zoomed in on, a lot, but it’s what I have.

Me5

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The ties that bind

My therapist told me I was inspirational. She said it made her feel quite tearful to think of how far I’d come. She could remember when I was so deep in my lethargy and my pit, it was so dark, that she wondered if I’d ever get out of it. Now I’m eating well, feeling stronger, healthier, I’m not longer drowning my brain cells in alcohol, I’m using my brain, I can remember more things, I’m busier, more productive. I’m taking better care of myself, more pride in my appearance. She said all this in one session, and my answer was: “Really?” followed by “Oh, um, thank you, but I wouldn’t go that far.” I couldn’t take the compliment. In her words, I kept batting it away. I was so surprised, and touched to be described as inspirational, but I couldn’t acknowledge it. She set me the task of writing it down, here in my blog, for all to see.

The next thing she asked me to do was to say aloud “I deserve to be noticed”. I fidgeted, giggled a bit and said “I’m always noticed, I’m a six foot, overweight redhead, everyone notices me”. She told me to stop hiding behind humour and to just say it. It was so hard, so hard to say. I felt silly, and arrogant and silly again. I said it into the air. “Again” she said. I said it again into the air above her head. We did this four times and I still couldn’t look her in the eye.

This is co-dependency. This is a “shame existence bind”. Which is a situation where I feel ashamed to exist. (Link will take you to an excellent explanation of this).

One thing I’ve never been able to do is to tell people how I feel about them. Really tell them I mean, in a “You’re amazing, you’re so much fun and I love you” kind of way. I can do it with Tony, and with our cat, I have no problem telling them, but I can’t tell my family. I call it simply being terribly British and not feeling comfortable saying these things out loud, but it’s more than that. I feel like I’ve missed out on stronger relationships with my family members because I just can’t tell them that I love them.

When my birth family tells me they’d like to see more of me, that I’m always welcome, I worry that I’ll be imposing if I just announce that I want to visit. When my aunt and uncle tell me how loved I am and how important, I’m dying to tell them what they mean to me, but I can’t. I’m worried it’ll sound crap and insincere, and I don’t really know how to say it anyway, so I don’t. And they carry on not knowing that I feel that way.

When my sister tells me how nice I look, how brave I am, or how good it is to see me, I feel dowdy and awkward and want to tell her how inspirational I find her and her life. How smart and beautiful she is and how proud of her I am. But I can’t. I’m worried it’ll seem too much, that I’ll embarrass her, and I know I’ll definitely embarrass myself.

When my sister’s sister (it’s complicated) says I’m funny and kind, I want to tell her how great I think she is, how I love her passionate geekiness, her contagious good humour, her sensitivity and her endless enthusiasm. I want to say how glad I am to know her, and how grateful I am that she declared us ‘quarter sisters’ at our first meeting, which made me feel like I belonged.

My cousins, I want to tell them how much fun it was growing up with them, how I seriously loved it. How I wish I lived closer and saw them far more often. That they’re funny, amazing people who mean as much to me as brothers and sisters. That I’m so proud of the kind, good-hearted, successful people they’ve become and that I want to be in their lives. But I can’t. Because it would sound forced and wrong and it would be ‘too much’. So I say nothing and continue to miss out on their company.

I don’t want my nephews to grow up not hearing me say these things to them. I want them to know how much I already love them, these little boys, these incredible little forming personalities. How it’s an overwhelming feeling for me, someone who doesn’t know how to be intimate with people, to suddenly love these little people so much.

So I’ll practice my affirmations in the mirror. I deserve to be noticed. I am enough. I am loving, loveable and loved. I am able to be intimate with others. I can receive compliments. I’ll practice them until I can say them without laughing. Until I can say them out loud to my therapist, and actually look her in the eye. Until I can tell the people who mean the most to me that they do, in fact, mean the most to me.

Weekend wins!

Oh wow, where to start? Things have been going well over the past couple of weeks. Not stupendous fireworks and fanfares well, but the realistic kind of well. The sustainable kind.

So, let’s cover the main points first:

Eating – Great, I’ve stuck to the programme and had no slip-ups for quite a long time now.

Exercise – Slow start, but a very promising finish.

Mental health – Pretty bloody good altogether.

Finances – Errr…..

General wellbeing – Awesome.

Let’s start with the Easter weekend. For most people, the Easter weekend is pretty amazing, containing as it does 2 bank holidays. For Tony and I, however, and all other employees of our particular charity, it contains 3. That’s right, we are given the Tuesday off, for free, no catch, allowing us to savour that rare and fabled beast… The Five Day Weekend. Followed, of course, by the 3 day week. Bloody marvellous.

We chose to use our freedom to go up and visit my parents. I’m becoming increasingly aware recently that the topic of parents is one on which most people are terrifically divided. When mentioning the old homestead and family, people either gush enthusiastically about their loved ones, or pull a face like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle. Thankfully, I fall wholeheartedly into the first category. My parents are awesome. Like, really awesome. They’re understanding, accommodating, welcoming, interesting, fun and above all, really really nice people. Over the years they’ve been invited to the weddings of 3 of my closest friends, which says quite a lot about what people think of them. Anyway, we were excited for the weekend, and it didn’t disappoint.

My Dad once told me that inside every man is a little boy, and what he desperately wants is a football and someone to play with. Despite the fact that Tony and I are 34 and 33 respectively, he and my Mum arranged an Easter egg hunt for us. No really, they bought us treats, wrapped them up, went into the garden in the morning and hid them. They then left us a note from the Easter Bunny, handed us a bag each and watched with glee while we rooted around in the foliage. I confess to feeling a little foolish when first we ventured out, but I soon got into the swing of things and I loved it. By far the best part was finding that M&D couldn’t actually remember where they’d hidden everything. They subsequently spent the next 2 days wandering around the garden bickering, looking bewildered and pointing at bushes.

Bunny

My parents are big supporters of my health and wellbeing. That should really go without saying but, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not the case for everyone. We had our difficulties, oh yes, we very very did. We went through years of not knowing what on earth was wrong with me, why I was so odd, why I kept putting weight on or why I didn’t seem to be able to function like a normal human being. Their reaction to the fact that I had mental health problems was hugely unhelpful at first. They wouldn’t really talk about it, certainly didn’t understand it and I subsequently felt I had to hide everything from them. However, as they did more research, learned a little more and listened a little more I started to open up to them and actually tell them what was going on. We’ve never had a stronger relationship than we do now. They know about the alcoholism, the addiction, the eating disorder, the co-dependence and have learned how to support me through it all. For this reason, my bag of Easter findings contained no chocolate. No, instead of sugary brown joy that would send me into a spiral of binge-eating, physical allergic-reaction and shame, they filled the garden with amazingly thoughtful gifts wrapped in bright yellow paper. These included candles, bath-related treats, cute little Paperchase note cards in an adorable box and an accompanying pen with abstract cats on it. I love stationery, like, seriously love stationery. Geek. It was so thoughtful, so sweet, and exactly the kind of thing they’d do.

Don’t worry though, Tony’s bag was brimming with mini eggs, creme eggs, white chocolate Easter chicks, and other assorted goodies. Which made him very happy too.

Mum, known for being a damned good cook, has also been incredibly accommodating of my food choices. I turned vegetarian 4 and a half years ago, and she saw it simply as a challenge and starting swotting up on veggie recipes that everyone would enjoy. Having now cut out sugar, gluten, caffeine, alcohol and processed food though, she didn’t throw her hands in the air and shout at me in despairing tones that I could sort my own bloody meals out, as would have been her right, no, she simply saw it as another challenge. When we arrived the table was littered with print outs of sugar free recipes and a copy of Gluten Free magazine. Mum had absolutely surpassed herself. She had managed to make me a sugar and gluten free version of absolutely everything that she was planning to cook that weekend. Seriously! Check out my personal gluten-free bread and butter pudding made with honey!

Pie

Isn’t it the most hipster dessert you’ve ever seen? Especially in its tiny little Le Creuset dish! Awww, middle class win. It was amazing.

This weekend showed me that all this is going to be a damned sight easier than I thought it would be, because I have the support of not only my awesome friends, but my truly one-off parents. I felt pretty special to be honest. I also managed to go for a swim, my first in two months I think. I’d been putting it off mostly because I currently have horrible annual eczema on my hands and seriously couldn’t face the effects of the chlorine. I took my swimsuit though, and I only went and swam a bloody kilometre! Very pleased with that.

So, when Tuesday came we headed south again (traitors) and returned to work. Since beginning to eat properly and exercise more, it’s been amazing how much better I’ve felt. I mean actually fireworks and fanfares this time. I feel healthier, stronger, more positive and more motivated. I no longer put things off, I just do them. I no longer take the lift because I’m knackered, I climb the stairs, and feeling boosted after our jaunt to The North, my motivation was even stronger.

I bought a book about giving up sugar, I bought another containing sugar-free and gluten-free recipes, I bought a set of digital scales so that I could weigh myself every week and keep proper track of my progress, and then I actually did weigh myself when I got home – and recorded it too. I bought some brightly coloured beads and put them in an old glass coke bottle – not an arbitrary task, my intention is to transfer them into another bottle every time I lose a pound (why is a pound represented as ‘lb’? Neither of those letters are in that word?) However, the beads I’d bought were too small and the amount of pounds (lbs) I want to lose took up only about an eighth of the bottle. So I multiplied it by 5 to make it look better. I’m guessing this will also be more therapeutic, transferring 5 beads for every pound lost instead of 1. My motivation didn’t stop at just buying things though. I also dug my poor, long-neglected bike out of the cellar and bloody well rode it.

I hate the cellar. I watch A LOT of horror films and I have a healthy, reasonable mistrust of the cellar. I also don’t enjoy spiders. I went down there though, and went through the horribly frustrating process of pushing a bike with completely flat tires up the basement steps without being able to reach the handlebars. It was covered in dust and mould and crap and cobwebs, most of which I was wearing by the time I reached daylight. None of this really sounds like such an epic win does it? It sounds like an everyday task that anyone would usually do at a weekend. Let me assure you though, that there was a time when the mere thought of going down into the cellar and getting covered in cobwebs would have made me curl a little deeper into my bed and plan to do it later. A later which never came. Now though, I not only decided to get the bike, but I actually got the bike, then I actually pumped up the tires (which took for-bloody-ever) and I actually rode it. I rode it!

In the interests of saving money I’d decided to try to cycle to work. It’s only 3 miles, not a huge feat I know, but it is for me. I was actually surprised with how determined I was to do this, more so than the fact that I actually managed to do it! My problem has always been getting started. I knew once I was on the bike that sheer pig-headedness would get me to my destination, I just had to get on the bike in the first place. When I did I suddenly became painfully aware of those two little bones that you forget you possess until you get on a bike. I chose a direct route, straight along a massive main road, which was a stupid plan because I was terrified the whole way there. I took a clever shortcut though, which led me round an enormous, horrifying roundabout, and which I will not be taking again. When I arrived near my office I stopped in a supermarket carpark and forced my lungs back into my chest. Heat was radiating from my enormous, swollen, scarlet face in such quantities that young raggedy children in Victorian dress stopped to warm their hands and roast chestnuts on sticks against it. I looked as though I’d been inflated and then dropped from a great height. But I’d done it. The fact that I’d have to do it again in order to get back home was something I was trying not to think about, so instead I wandered around Morrison’s and bought cat treats, olives and a copy of Die Hard 5 (£3 – bargain!).

When I could walk again, and had forced two Nakd bars down my neck to stop my hands from shaking, I mounted my trusty steed with my two burning bones howling in protest and set off home again. I’m literally amazed that I cycled all the way home again too. When I arrived I was exhausted, a kind of exhausted I hadn’t known for years. A wheezy, breathless, light-headed, shaky exhausted with a glow of pride about it. And a massive headache. A really bad one, the kind that doesn’t even disappear when you go to sleep. It was worth it though.

So, I’d done it, I’d proved that I could cycle to work and back every day. Which means that I’m now going to have to do just that. Not today though, today is therapy and I’m not cycling the 11.4 miles there, let alone the 11.4 miles back again.

Other wins this weekend included: gardening, cutting the grass, eBaying clothes that are now too big for me, putting up pictures, booking my accommodation for my trip to the U.S. in August, doing 3 loads of laundry, picking up my prescriptions and doing a grocery shop. This is literally more than I have done in one day for longer than I can remember. I cannot tell you how positive I feel, how powerful. I even painted my toenails.

I wish I hadn’t stayed up late to watch a film last night though. No film is worth feeling tired over, especially not Final Destination 4.

Not cool

So, today I read an open letter from a J Barlow to Katie Hopkins. For those of you who haven’t read it, you can find it here, and you really should because it’s ace. However, I’m not (currently) going to get into the debate about mental health, or to add my opinion to J’s, because I agree wholeheartedly with him and he’s literally said everything that needs saying. Instead, I’m going to write an open letter of my own, one that I’ve been wanting to write since I started this blog, a letter with a very different subject. A letter to the woman who publically fat-shamed me just over a year ago:

Dear woman in charity shop with impressionable children in tow,

At first glance you seemed to be a pleasant person, you even blessed me when I sneezed upon entering the shop, for which I thanked you. I must admit that I didn’t really pay any attention to you though, following that short interaction, for no other reason than that I was going about my business of being fully engrossed in cheap cardigans and questionable DVDs, and you yours. To say that I was surprised therefore when, upon exiting the shop, you shouted for me to “keep my f*cking germs to myself” would be a massive understatement. I didn’t actually realise it was me you were shouting at, I even turned around to see if I could spot your  unfortunate victim, only to realise it was me when you looked me straight in the eye and added “yeah, you, you fat cow”.

People stared, people giggled, I was suddenly immensely and painfully aware of my boyfriend standing beside me and the fact that he’d heard what you’d said, seen the stares and witnessed the giggles.

Yes, surprise would be an understatement. Amazement is closer to the mark. That is why I stopped and stood bemused outside the shop until you came out. I wasn’t hoping for a confrontation, and please don’t mistake my bewilderment for bravado, I can assure you that I felt only shocked and humiliated.

Of course, you couldn’t possibly have known that I was on the verge of losing my job, that I had been diagnosed with some pretty serious mental health conditions only 3 days previously, that I was yet to start treatment or have any support whatsoever, and that my self-esteem was, at that point, akin to that of an unemployed, smelly, weedy cockroach whose girlfriend has just left him for a considerably younger and more virile cockroach, taking all his money and leaving him with a massive pile of debts and a severe case of leprosy. For you, a stranger, to shout at me in public was bad enough, that I had no idea why was worse, but for you to proceed to personal physical insult was the crowning turd in the water pipe (thanks Blackadder).

I’m actually glad that I stood outside the shop, frozen to the spot with my mouth hanging open, for long enough for you to emerge. At least it cleared up what I was being accused of. When you laid into me again for being a “fat cow” and “coughing” and “bringing my germs out in public” it was quite satisfying to be able to tell you that the cough you heard on our way out of the shop wasn’t actually me, it was my boyfriend, and that neither of us were even ill. Heaven only knows what possessed me to do what I did next, put it down to a very strong feeling that things couldn’t get any worse, but sensing the hesitation in your face when you realised you’d yelled at the wrong person (not that you would have been justified in yelling at the ‘right’ person) I took the opportunity to tell you that the fact that I’m fat has nothing to do with the reason you were angry with me. That my appearance shouldn’t come into it at all, and that it was an incredibly unfair bring it up.

I would genuinely like to thank you though, for standing and listening to me while I bundled up all my accumulated anger at the myriad people who had felt the need to mock my appearance over the years. Thank you for not simply walking away while I told you that all you’d succeeded in doing was ruining my day, humiliating me in public, knocking my self-confidence down to zero, confirming all my worst fears about myself and the way I looked and making me want to go home. Thank you for answering “no” when I asked if I really deserved that just for being fat. Or if my being fat was any of your business.

I may have walked away from you in tears, I may have felt like going home and eating an enormous pizza seasoned with my feelings, I may even have spent the rest of the day in a state of itchy paranoia every time I heard a giggle or saw someone look my way, but the fact was that I didn’t go home. I didn’t give in. The pure fact that you listened to me and admitted you’d been wrong gave me a bare ounce of my dignity back, which turned out to be enough to get me through the rest of the afternoon.

The real magic though came an hour later when you saw us again and purposefully crossed the road to apologise once more. You sounded genuinely regretful when you told me that what you’d said wasn’t fair, and that I could call you a “skinny cow” if it would make me feel better. As I ineffectually tried to explain though, that wasn’t the point. I wasn’t interested in calling you names or making you feel bad, I was interested in making sure that the next time you got angry with a fat person, you didn’t succumb to name-calling and public-shaming if it wasn’t relevant to your anger. My intention was to help you to understand that a person’s size, just like their gender/religion/ethnicity/sexual preference/dress sense or anything else so wholly irrelevant should never be brought into an argument as a weapon. Beggars are seldom allowed to be choosers however, and I was just very grateful indeed to you for being the first person ever to apologise for publically fat-shaming me. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you’re wrong, and to do so to a stranger, in front of your children, must have taken even more.

Sincerely,

Charlotte.

Incidentally, I think we had a Chinese, not a pizza.

Happy Easter, Easter-celebrators. Happy Bank Holiday, non-Easter-celebrators. I hope that whatever you do is enjoyable, relaxing and covered in sunshine x

Phil

A picture of Philip as, contrary to my claims at the beginning of this blog, he hasn’t been in it at all yet.