There’s Nothing Aspirational About Exhaustion

News

A website called ‘Fiverr’ which allows people to offer their freelancing services to others for rates reported to be as low as £5 has, quite rightly, been subjected to a social media shit storm. Their new advert was spotted in a London Tube station and shared on Twitter where users have labelled it “deeply depressing”, “irresponsible” and damaging”. It is all of these things and worse.

The advert which features a photograph of a model with hollowed cheek bones and unkept hair, yet still looking admirably glamorous, reads: “You eat a coffee for lunch. You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”

It then signs off as: “In doers we trust”. Sorry, what?

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Photo by @b_cavello on Twitter

 

“Eating coffee for lunch” and choosing “sleep deprivation” as your “drug of choice” might mean you are a “doer” but it also means you are well on your way to some serious health issues. Not getting enough sleep alone, leaves you prone to a whole catalogue of problems, don’t even open the Pandora’s Box of caffeine addiction and skipping meals.

There is nothing sexy about pushing yourself to the brink.

Working hard is great, but so is self-care. At some point we all have to realise that nothing is as important as our health and wellbeing. Nothing even comes close. I came to this realisation far earlier in my life than I had intended to. I had envisioned that my twenties would be a whirl of working and playing hard, spending long hours and late nights pursuing my career. Alongside this, I thought I would also be able to balance a social life, relationship and exercise regime and had even hoped that I would travel, when time and money permitted. These weren’t unique or even unobtainable aspirations, as my generation goes they were pretty average.

However, a chronic illness had other ideas and it soon became clear that I would be lucky if I could manage two of these successfully. On a good day – and thankfully there are more good than bad – I can get up early, drive the hour commute to work, be productive for the most part of eight hours, drive home, cook dinner, have a bath and wash my hair. Not exactly rock and roll is it? On a bad day though, these basic, fundamental tasks are a real struggle, if manageable at all.

My point is that there is nothing glamorous about exhaustion; take it from someone who deals with the effects of it far more often than they would care to. There is nothing glamorous about bursting into tears after taking a shower because it has used up every single drop of energy you had managed to muster. There is nothing aspirational about not being able to progress at work because the brain fog has replaced your once highly functioning brain with cotton wool. There is nothing at all cool about not being able to get out of bed because, even though you had a full eight hours sleep last night, your body is aching from head to toe. And no, you didn’t run a marathon yesterday or dance until the early hours, you went to work.

To get back to the advert, I don’t think there is any question that to promote exhaustion in such a way is beyond awful. To advertise working long hours at the cost of your health and wellbeing, is not only irresponsible but sickening. As one Twitter user pointed out, are we really supposed to feel guilty for eating something at lunch time and making sure we get enough sleep? And all for a company who’s freelancing rates start at £5? Well no thanks, Fiverr. You simply can’t put a price on  someone’s health.

Weight Is Just A Number

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No one likes stepping on the scales to be faced with the horrible reality that they probably ate too many slices of cake last week. The chances are you’ve had your suspicions about those extra couple of pounds for a while but have been in a firm state of denial with yourself. Finally, you pluck up the courage to see for certain and can deny it no longer – the numbers don’t lie after all. While to most, a little weight gain is a minor confidence blip, an inconvenience, for me it’s a minefield. No matter what size I am, I spend my life both dreading it and trying to avoid it, in equal measure.

So when I started to return to health after an illness that saw me shrink to just under 8 stone, the joy and relief of recovery was tainted by the fact that I would inevitably gain weight. I knew it was something that needed to happen – I was the thinnest I’ve ever been, even when in the throws of an eating disorder, I just wasn’t prepared for how horrific it would be when it started to become physically noticeable.

I didn’t notice for a while, I was too busy thinking about what I was going to eat next, high on the excitement of being able to enjoy food again and while I was aware that the food I was shovelling into me wasn’t particularly good for me, I was powerless to my appetite. White bread, smothered with Lurpak became the staple of my diet, I would go to bed dreaming about McDonald’s double cheeseburgers and my boyfriend watched in awe as I devoured sticky toffee puddings every weekend at dinner. Concerned by these new eating habits, I broached the subject with my dietician and of course, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation. My body was starving. I should point out that by this point I had been ill for a considerable amount of time, struggling to eat barely anything most days and what I did manage to eat, my body wasn’t absorbing any nutrients from. It turns out the human body is a pretty intelligent organism and it knows what it needs. I was craving these calorific foods, high in fat and carbohydrates, because my body was severely lacking the nutrients that they provide. The dietician reassured me that once my health and weight began to return to normal these cravings would stop and my diet would stabilise and she was right. Now that my body is nourished again, the bizarre cravings have stopped and I’m back to eating the balanced diet I had before, I’m back to myself again.

What isn’t quite as simple however, is accepting myself. As much as I know that gaining weight is a good thing, I can’t help but be disgusted every time I look in the mirror. When I step on the scales and the dial inches up a few more notches, my heart sinks a little bit more. Each time I’m offered a well-meaning compliment along the lines of,  “You’ve gained weight,” I die a little bit inside.

My arms – the only part of me I have ever considered as slim enough – now appear twice the size they used to be, my collarbone is no longer protruding and the gap between my thighs is getting smaller by the day. While all of these are positive signs, physical indicators of good health, I hate each and every one of them and I also hate the fact that I hate them. I’m happy my body is healthy again, yet I can’t accept it in its healthy form.

The worst part is not knowing if what I’m seeing in the mirror is as it really is or if my mind is lying to me, distorting my view with it’s dysmorphic tendencies. I might feel bigger than I’ve ever been, but the scales say I’m no heavier than I was before I fell ill – a healthy weight – and the numbers never lie, right?

I may be healthy physically, but mentally there’s still some work to be done. I need to listen to my body and to trust it, if I’m craving that slice of cake it’s not because I’m fat and greedy as the voice in my head would have me believe, it’s because my body needs sugar. I need to train my mind to work with my body rather than against it so that the dinner table is no longer a battlefield. I need to learn to love my body and to look after it, because it is healthy and for that I am grateful. For me gaining weight is the first hurdle, but the real recovery begins after.

What Does True Luxury Mean To You?

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Luxury

[luhk-shuh-ree, luhg-zhuh-]
noun, plural luxuries

‘free or habitual indulgence in or enjoyment of comforts and pleasures in addition to those necessary for a reasonable standard of well-being’

The dictionary defines a luxury as an indulgence, something beyond necessity, a pleasure to be sought after and enjoyed. We grow up with pre-conceived ideas about luxury, the thrill of fast cars, the feel of soft Egyptian cotton against your skin, the exhilaration of champagne bubbles slipping down your throat, white sand between your toes. To put it simply, luxury is usually inextricably connected to money and possessions. In reality though, it means something different to everyone. Who is to say that what gives one person the ultimate enjoyment out of life is the same for everyone else. In reality, luxury is much less a materialistic thing and more the ability to have a certain experience or a particular outlook. A feeling rather than a thing.

I recently read a blog post by about what true luxury means to someone who suffers from anxiety and it pretty much summed up all my thoughts on life right now. What luxury means to me has suddenly and dramatically changed, whereas I’ll gladly admit I used to have those very same materialistic concepts about luxury which I mention above, luxury for me now couldn’t be more different.

Luxury for me now is being able to eat a meal of my choice and actually enjoy it. At no point in my life did I ever think it was possible to get so excited about having a cup of tea in the morning – I actually go to bed looking forward to this very prospect. Speaking of which, another luxury is actually sleeping through the night, as is going to work every day. Luxury is waking up in the morning and wanting to go outside, to make plans with friends and to be able to stick to them, to not flinch or pull away when your partner touches you. Laughing and making someone laugh is one of the greatest luxuries life has to offer.

I used to read articles in magazines about people who had found a new love for life after overcoming illnesses and personal battles but these stories never resonated with me. I found them touching, sure, but emotionally they never really scratched the surface. Now it turns out, I can not only relate to these accounts but I have one of my own. I have had the epic realisation of how enjoyable every day life is once a heavy burden, such as illness, is lifted and I am probably happier than I was even before the burden was put upon me. Throughout the worst of it, it seems I was too busy concentrating on simply getting through another day to realise how much my illness was affecting me. Slowly eating away at every aspect of my life. It sounds grim and it is, but when you come out the other side and begin to reclaim each of these aspects, the happiness is overwhelming. It’s like discovering everything you love for the first time again.

It’s safe to say that there are very few benefits to living with chronic illness, a lot of the time it sucks, but the times when it doesn’t and I am well, I feel a sense of genuine happiness which I truly believe – knowing myself, as I think I do quite well by now – I would never have felt had I not had to feel all the bad stuff. That to me is true luxury.