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.

Is What You Eat Making You Ill?

Food

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To say I have always had a complicated relationship with food would be an understatement. Me and food have been in a volatile, long-term relationship since I can remember, while various phases of my life have come and gone, good old food has been my ever loyal companion. It has certainly not been a relationship lacking in passion, it has destroyed me and then it has helped to heal me – we have both hated and loved one another, sometimes to dangerous extremes and often at the same time. It’s been rocky, but food has never given up on me.

There’s nothing quite like being diagnosed with a chronic illness to make you re-evaluate some stuff and for me, a huge part of this stuff was my diet. While there is little scientific evidence to show that diet has any direct impact on the disease, there is no question that food affects the symptoms. The problem is that these are different for every sufferer, for every individual it is a case of trial and error and painstaking food diaries until you eventually figure out what works for you – and even then this is subject to change. So my life became centred around food once again, only this time for entirely different reasons. After years of counting calories, shunning food groups and dreading meal times, now all I wanted was to be able to eat a what I considered to be a ‘normal’ meal. It’s kind of ironic really – in that cruel way life likes to laugh at you from time to time – eating was literally making me ill.

Knowing as you do by now my affiliation with food, it won’t surprise you that when I heard about a food intolerance test a local health food shop was offering, you couldn’t sign me up fast enough. Admittedly, people are sceptical of such things and rightly so, I’m not entirely sure how it works myself, although I’m led to believe it has something to do with the pulse. These tests aren’t cheap (decent ones, anyway) and they’re not as reliable as a medical diagnosis, but they don’t pretend to be either. They are aimed at people who suffer from a range of medical conditions, from IBS to Eczema and are there to help you figure out if what you’re eating is worsening your symptoms or making you ill. Although my nurse may be inclined to disagree, food does have an impact on the body – it can improve symptoms just as it can worsen them – sure a gluten-free diet may not be as affective as a heavy course of steroids but looking to the long-term it’s a more realistic approach (plus, its side-effects don’t include leaving you looking like you’ve shoved too many Maltesers in your cheeks.)

I left the test feeling fantastic, brimming with information and advice – given to me by a very helpful dietician – about how to manage my illness, what supplements I should be taking and the actual effect that food could have if I played by the rules. It was the best decision I ever made, until I sat down, studied my results properly and realised that I could no longer eat anything. When I say anything, I mean gluten, dairy and sugar, which to someone who loves bread, pasta and cheese as much as I do, is basically everything. As well as the main culprits, it also turns out I am “sensitive” – the correct non-medical term, as they are not diagnosed allergies – to sweet potatoes, mushrooms, beef, grapes and strawberries to name just a few.

A few weeks down the line, I wish I could say I have embraced this new lifestyle with open arms and now exist on a completely free-from diet filled with plants and beans, but I am only human. It’s tough and it’s a work-in-progress that I will no doubt share with you if you care enough to follow. However, whilst I regularly rue the day I ever took the food intolerance test – particularly as the boyfriend devours his double cheeseburger with sweet potato fries – it was certainly an eye-opener. As mere human beings food is a huge part of our lives but we really have no idea what we are putting into our bodies or what the hell is going on inside there. More and more people are announcing their intolerances and cutting out certain foods, even if their reasoning is as simple as it makes them feel better, we’re starting to realise that food isn’t just fuel, it is medicine.

In an ideal world, I would have everyone take a food intolerance test, but then in an ideal world I would be able to eat pasta for every meal without consequence. I believe we could all benefit from knowing if what we eat is making us ill. In the meantime, my love-hate saga with food continues, but the relationship is blossoming – I’ve purchased recipe books and even started to bake. I’m slowly learning to love the food that loves me back, it’s not easy but I’m in it for the long-haul this time.

Murdered by Anorexia

News

Image copyright of orangetreetheatre.co.uk

One year ago, 56 year old actress Briony McRoberts took her own life, jumping in front of a train. Her real killer? Anorexia.

After suffering with the eating disorder in her teenage years, Briony had lived a normal life, relatively free from Anorexic tendencies until she reached her 50’s and the illness began to develop again, this time fatally. On BBC Radio 5 Live this morning (see link below) her husband, Downton Abbey actor David Robb gave an incredibly moving, influential interview discussing Briony’s struggle, in a bid to raise awareness of the fact that Anorexia can effect anyone, at any age and it is not just a phase which is going to go away.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p022tvgd

Although eating disorders may be more widely discussed now than a few years back, it is still generally thought that Anorexia is a ‘teenage girls illness’. Briony’s tragic story brings to the forefront just how real and dangerous Anorexia is. I personally, found the discussion extremely difficult to listen to, it really hit home hard, as I’m sure it did for many other listeners, but I felt an overwhelming respect for David for speaking so bravely, with such depth and understanding and for bringing the issue to attention. As harrowing as stories such as this are, society needs people such as David, and the other women who called in to the show to share their stories, to speak out. This is the first step to making people aware of the reality and creating some sort of general understanding.

A woman, also in her 50’s and a sufferer of Anorexia since her teens, spoke honestly and openly on the show of how the Anorexic voice in her mind is stronger than her love for her four children. It is completely unfathomable to a non-sufferer but it is the brutal truth.

Just as a sufferer of alcohol or drug abuse can overcome their addiction but it will still stay with them, lurking in wait of an opportunity to show up again, a knock back in life, a moment of weakness, Anorexia is the same. It never goes away, it can be overcome, but there is always a chance that the sufferer will resort to those same coping mechanisms (starvation) again, giving the illness the power to manifest again.

People do make full recoveries from Anorexia and live a life free from the illness, but it doesn’t just disappear. Anorexia can affect anyone, any age. It isn’t just a fad and it isn’t going away.