Picture the scene: me, alone, after midnight, on the floor in tracksuit bottoms and an old band t-shirt, hair essentially one matted lump by this point, twitching occasionally, a little red-wine-drunk, arm-deep in a pack of Doritos (see also: orange smudge on chin, crumbs in […]
So as I mentioned in the last post, I’m doing the whole pick-yo’-ass-up-off-the-ground thing that follows a period of not-so-great physical and mental health.
Having been freakin’ miserable for a while, I decided at the start of this month to try to approach things a little differently. I decided to try thinking of food not just as sustenance or a mood-flattener, but as a kind of medicine.
This, in theory, is ok – but in practice, it seems kinda cheesy. I put the hashtag #healingwithfood on an Instagram post and then almost deleted the entire post, because… Well, it’s corny. I’m British. I can’t.
But my doc had told me I’ve got some kind of underlying issue that’s making my immune system go haywire, not helped by the fact that I am The Worst Coeliac Of All Time – which in turn may have been contributing to the fact that I’ve been suffering with the kind of low mood that makes the thought of getting out of bed in the morning seem about as doable as climbing Mt. Everest in a bikini, in a blizzard, with a downright furious and somewhat overweight Great Dane strapped to my back.
(Still bad with metaphors, y’all. Some things never change.)
So I did some research.
Unfortunately, everything I read/watched/listened to on the subject was written with in a way that made me all but cringe myself inside out with over-the-top enthusiasm and a mildly embarrassing cure-all approach – so I decided to take myself shopping, without thinking too much about what I’d read – but with the sole purpose of buying food that I knew would make me feel good.
No plan, no rules, no bans on anything in particular – just food that, when I looked at it, made my body go “yuh-huh – that’ll be nice.”
I imagine it’ll come as a surprise to precisely no-one that by the time I got to the checkout, I had a basket full of fresh fish, meats, avocados, mangoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, and a whole bunch of other things my body was apparently after. I am not saying there’s anything new in the fact that bodies like delicious, nutrient-rich foods. This ain’t news.
Almost two weeks later, however, and I’ll admit – even as the ol’ clean eatin’, gym-goin’, fat-girl-representin’ blogger I’d very nearly forgotten I was – I’m surprised at how much better I feel. I have less pain and more energy. No migraines. No nausea.
And also, my skin and hair are lookin’ healthier than they have in ages. I am practically Beyoncé with the hairflips and glow right now.
The big change, however, has happened in my head.
I can confidently say that, in my experience, having had five knee surgeries, severe obesity, a not-all-that-mild addiction to prescription painkillers, and various other physical illnesses in my time, that nothing has knocked me for six quite like a period of real, dark, long-lasting depression. In my experience – and it’s different for everyone, obviously – it’s been like having all reason and sense and logic sucked out of me, in favour of an overwhelmingly self-destructive and quite frankly, kinda bitter mood, on a near constant basis. For months.
The upshot of that is that this last few weeks – since I made the decision to make some kind of peace with my body, which itself is a sign things were getting better – have been like coming up for air. I had completely forgotten what it was like to be me, and the relief of remembering – of that awesome life I had, of fitness, and health, and downright joy in things like a sunny autumn morning – has been hands-down one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
And that makes me think there’s something in this whole food-as-medicine thing. I mean, obviously there is. But, y’know, more so than before.
Now, let me be clear: I am not for a moment suggesting that you abandon or ignore any medical advice given to you in favour of sweet potatoes and salmon. If you’re on medication (which I’ve certainly been in the past), don’t change that without a doctor’s advice. You know this.
But I do think – more so than ever before – that supporting your body with food that you enjoy, and that does you good, can have a profound effect on how well you are, both physically and mentally.
The reasons for this are twofold. First up, good food = good nutrition = happy body, and blah blah blah. I’m not going to bang on too much about that, because it’s been said repeatedly before.
More than that, though, it’s a mindfulness thing. Mindful shopping, mindful cooking, mindful eating – regardless of what you’re eating, even (and especially) if it’s cake – is a form of control that, when you’re suffering with the chronic, painful blues, can seem almost impossible… But which, if you can make it work, can give you something of yourself back from the apathetic and downright miserable ol’ black dog that’s gnawing at your coat tails.
They might sound like small, even obvious, things, but trust me: when you’re depressed, stuff like this is the Big Fight. It’s hard. But even attempting to do it is a hella brave, hard-as-nails kind of thing to do (even if I do say so myself.)
I know what your big question will be here: aside from sweet potatoes (gawd, woman, stop going on about sweet potatoes) – what did I eat? What’s the miracle cure?
And quite frankly, I’m kinda loathe to answer that.
Because there is so much conflicting information out there already. I did some research and discovered I should go vegan, go paleo, quit carbs, eat more carbs, juice, avoid juices, and… Yeah. You get the picture. Not one person needs me to put another whole bunch of ideas based purely on my own personal experiences and no scientific evidence out there, because the internet is full of it, and a lot of it is… Fluff.
Not just fluff, in fact, but kind of mean, even if written with the best of intentions. To my mind, the worst thing you could say to someone who’s struggling to even get out of bed in the morning is that they’ve gotta follow some kind of ludicrously strict, complicated, rule-ridden diet that’s going to put a bunch of additional pressure on them.
What I will say, though, is that I’m currently eating real foods, most of which I’m preparing myself, when I want them (like that burger at the top – which was one of the best things I’ve ever made.)
I’m listening to my body. I’m being mindful. And it’s helping. I’m also not ruling out cake, because I know there will also be times when cake is going to give my mindful self actual honest-to-god joy.
What I’m getting at here – and what I guess I’ve been getting at since I started this blog in 2012, even if I did kinda forget it for the last few months – is that you know your body better than anyone else. You know what makes you feel good. And making the decision to listen to that, even when things are about as bleak as they can get, is one of the bravest things you can do.
So, the conclusion of this tale.
First up: if you’re struggling at the moment – if things are dark, or bleak, or grim, or any of the other words I’d have used to describe my recent mental state – it will get better. Things will improve.
But also, believe in the little things you can do to help yourself.
Even if that’s just making one meal that your body craves, buying some fresh fruit, even taking a couple of steps out the door when you really, really don’t want to – these things, cumulatively, will make a difference, because they’ll show you exactly what you’re capable of.
And trust me: you’re capable of pretty much anything.
So, godspeed team – and if you’re in the dark right now, I wish you all the best of luck.
(See that? Two nineties R&B/hip-hop references in one blog title. Anyway…) Picture the scene: me, with a sick bug. Me, feeling really sorry for myself, lying on the bathroom floor, trying my level best not to die (or at least tweet what I’d like inscribed on […]
Up until a couple o’weeks ago, I’d never heard of the Food Babe. But I’ve been watching the recent spat between she and another blogger, Science Babe, with interest – not least because I bloody love watching good ol’ fight for exactly the same reason I enjoy […]
It’s been a while, huh?
I’d like to say I’ve been away because I’ve been on a rollercoaster of endless fun stuff, but if I’m totally honest, it’s been a weird few months. A weird year, in fact.
Y’all might remember last year, when I ran the Bupa 10k in May – resulting in a stress fracture in my foot. And then, in August, I ended up in the hospital after a weird heart thing that meant I had to take a break from exercise for a couple o’months.
What you won’t remember (’cause I didn’t write about it) was that, over Christmas, I got a bit blue – through a combination of burning the candle at both ends on a few projects both at and outside of work, the absence of regular exercise in my life, repeated bouts of ill health, and the general negative feeling that can only follow a year that was mediocre at best.
So, I booked a holiday. A solo holiday, to a spa in Marrakech. It might’ve eaten up all my hard-earned bonus for the year, but hell, it was my first holiday since 2010 – and the only thing I could imagine helping me out was getting as far away from my regular life as possible for a lil’ bit.
I mean, don’t get me wrong – I have incredible friends and family, I love my job, and objectively, I have nothing to complain about. But when you’re depressed – and I’d say, lookin’ back, that was probably the appropriate word for where I found myself for a pretty substantial part of 2014 – none of that really makes a difference.
You get through, or you do your best to; and that’s why I wound down pretty much everything outside of work. I stopped writing – I pretty much stopped tweeting, even. I did the bare minimum – I’d get up, drag my butt to work, and then go home and go straight to bed. At weekends, I’d do all of nothing – just eat, sleep, and repeat.
February rolled around, and come the 20th, I was on a plane to Marrakech, to literally get away from it all. I had a half-bottle of champagne on the flight at 6:30am, because I was on holiday, and I’d be damned if I didn’t make the very most of it.
And trust me – it was heaven. Marrakech, the hotel, hell, the waiters – all gorgeous. Exactly what I needed. For about five days.
After that time, though, I found myself starting to realise that the whole “grass is greener” schtick?
Turns out it’s true.
A world of glorious sunshine, all-you-can-eat (and drink), regular massages, no schedule, and no demands on my time was exactly what I thought I’d want on a permanent basis – and yet, after five days… I missed my life. My crazy-busy, often stressful, regularly tiring life that I was 99.9% certain I was fed up of… Was exactly where I wanted to be.
Now, I’m not suggesting y’all take a solo holiday – because I know I’m really, ridiculously lucky to finally be in a position where I can afford one (and trust me, it wasn’t without significant “should I actually spend this money?” deliberation… A girl’s still gotta hustle, if you know what I mean).
You don’t need to do that to think about all the things you love about your life, because let me tell you: I got on a plane and went all the way to another continent, only to realise that all the stuff I really wanted was right here at home. When it comes down to it, I’d wager that there’s a strong possibility you’d find the same.
So that’s revelation no. 1.
For no. 2, I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I spent quite a lot of last year unwell – and, for various reasons, not able or allowed to exercise. Y’all know exercise for me is a form of therapy – so it doesn’t take a genius to see how physical and emotional well-being for me are totally linked.
Even for a badass fitness blogger like m’self, it’s ridiculously easy to fall out of good habits. The treadmill, for me, is the absolute cornerstone of my healthy lifestyle. Without exercise, I struggle to motivate myself to eat well; without eating well, I struggle to motivate myself to prevent one glass of wine from turning into a weekend-long party; and with a hangover, I struggle to motivate myself to do… Well, anything.
So being banned from exercise for a big part of last year threw everything else outta the window.
This, from a woman who oughta know better: you never, ever, really know better. And even when you do, it’s hella easy not to listen to your own good advice.
Now, I’m still having to be careful about a dodgy knee, and I know I’m not going to be running a marathon any time soon – but I can get back on that treadmill and carefully put one foot in front of the other. I may not be takin’ on any Olympic weight lifters, but I can take some lil’ dumbbells and start working those muscles again. I might not be as fit or good as I was a year ago, but I’m still me – and I can go out and kick butt if I decide that’s what I want to do.
(Clue: it is.)
Having good health out of my life for a while has really brought home the fact that being able to exercise, and having the tools at your disposal to be a moderately well person, whether that’s just access to a gym, a yoga mat, or a decent food shop – that’s a privilege. It’s one of life’s great joys (even if it doesn’t feel that way when you’re dragging your tired ass there after a long day at work) – and the decision to make the most of that is one of the best, and sometimes hardest, things you can do.
What I’m getting at, I guess, is that life sometimes falls apart a bit, and it can seem near enough impossible to put it back together. Be kind to yourself when this happens, and do exactly what you need to do to get through it. I’m very lucky to have excellent friends and family that gave me that advice, even when I couldn’t imagine it being true.
Because even if there are days, weeks, even months where you don’t feel up to it, and where the world doesn’t seem to be working in your favour, eventually there will come a time where the sky’s a lil’ brighter, and the path to your own version of good stuff suddenly seems possible again.
At that point, you’ll suddenly find the things you love in life – for me, that’s having a job that’s as heart-glowingly rewarding as it is demanding, and friends and family that I love in the smooshy, come-‘ere-you-big-lug kinda way – and be mindful of them. You’ll remember that your life choices got you where you are, and you’ll be aware of the reasons you made those choices in the first place – and you’ll have clarity on the things you can change, and the steps you can take to move on.
Trust a girl who knows: it’s not always easy, and life does get in the way.
But the upside of darkness is that it makes light magical – and when that light comes, hell… It’s a beautiful thing.
Damn it, I freakin’ love Christmas. I love the music, I love the twinkly lights, I love time spent with friends and family… And I really, really love the food and drink. My Mum’s cooking is better than anyone else’s (sorry ’bout it – there’s […]
Following yesterday’s post about why it’s a good idea to be critical around supposedly body-positive advertising and the like, I awoke on this fine morning to find the following photo sent to me by my very lovely Twitter follower: Apparently, I’m so savvy I discovered […]
As the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a break of late. I’ve been on the road with work since mid-September recruiting brilliant promotional staff as part of the ol’ day job, which has been lovely – but all very planes, trains and automobiles, if you know what I mean. On the up-side, I’ve seen a lot of towns I’ve never visited before; on the down-side, I’ve consumed a lot of really, really bad coffee.
Anywho, that means I’ve not been quite as on the ball with what’s going on in the media at the moment – but there are certain things even I, under a heap of paperwork and suitcases, would’ve struggled to miss. Y’all know what I’m referring to: of course, like most of the now-apparently-broken internet, I’m talking about Kim Kardashian’s butt.
As a marketing campaign – or rather, a publicity stunt – for a magazine I’ve personally never heard of, you’ve gotta hand it to ’em: it worked. And I actually don’t hate it.
I mean, don’t get me wrong – there are a whole host of problems with it. The did-she-or-didn’t-she photoshop question; the did-they-or-didn’t-they reference to problematic black imagery; the ever-present do-we-or-do-we-not care about Kim Kardashian in the first place issue… As predicted, the internet is collapsing under the weight of thought pieces about a butt.
But at least they’re (ahem) up front about it. It’s a cover that just declares it’s intentions from the start: to make you talk about it. To share it. To make it trend. That’s what they want, and that’s what they’ve achieved – and that’s fine. Honesty is, after all, the best policy.
On the other hand, though, there are a whole bunch of other similar controversies that have cropped up over the last couple of months.
For instance, you’ve got Vogue, who declared this to be – officially – the “Era of the Big Booty” (as though I haven’t been personally working that look since about 2004 – duh, Vogue); and then, there was this campaign from Victoria’s Secret:
The backlash that followed resulted in over 26,000 signatures on a petition demanding it be changed to something less body-shaming (I would’ve termed it “bitchy,” but, fair enough), and the campaign was quietly changed to “A Body for Every Body” a week or so ago.
Now, I’m all for the petition, and I’m glad they changed it – but I doubt very, very much that the wrath of the internet was a surprise to anyone working in the Victoria’s Secret PR team. As Oscar Wilde said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” – so if this wasn’t in the mind of at least one person in their marketing department before the campaign was deployed, I will go out, buy a hat, and eat it.
Which is what makes it different from, and yet the same as, Kim Kardashian’s ass. At least with the latter, it’s right out there: Paper wanted to cause a storm on the internet, and they did.
I’m pretty sure the same could be argued for Victoria’s Secret, and even Vogue’s article on the big booty – they wanted to make people talk, and they did it. No such thing as bad publicity, and all – and that’s never been more true than now, in a world where the best marketing campaigns are the ones that get the most shares, the most likes, and the most tweets.
Whether they’re positive or negative seems to be irrelevant – in other words, we’re being trolled.
But there’s another, more insidious level to this, too – and one that makes me think it’s worth remembering that in our crazy-ass media landscape, you’ve gotta exercise a certain level of criticism at all times, if you’re going to make it out alive.
The “Era of the Big Booty,” if it is happening – and to be fair to Vogue, the body-type we’re seeing more of nowadays does, generally, have an impressive posterior – seems to be protected from body-shaming accusations by the logic that made “real women have curves,” a non-call-out-able statement that shames thin women by default. Apparently, we’re fine with Photoshop perfection if we don’t see bones – but in a lot of instances, we seem to be too blinded by the butt to call it out for what it is: a new “perfect body” that is still, generally, unattainable for the masses.
In other words, while the words say “bigger is better,” or “real women have curves,” the message is still the same: that this body, this tiny-waisted, big-bootied, shiny body, is the one you should wish you had. The one you should aim towards, to aspire to, and the one which, by comparison, makes you “ugly.”
It’s almost as though the language of self-love – the body confidence rhetoric that, in the nicer corners of the internet, has been spouted for a number of years – is being used to disguise the same old sh*t.
Of course, we love looking at bodies – although apparently, when it comes to magazines and ad campaigns, we like our women wearing far less clothes than our men (it’s no surprise that after two years, the most read post this blog is the one where I’m standing in my knickers – sorry Dad.) Other people’s bodies intrigue us, because they’re different – and that difference invites comparison.
But the message we’re getting from media outlets of all sorts – magazines, music videos, ad campaigns, and so on – isn’t on difference as a positive thing. It’s on perfection of a different kind, rather than difference as perfection itself.
So I invite you to be critical about this more “body confident,” “self-loving” media. Think about the “era of the booty,” before you declare it a good thing. If it invites you to love your body, and to respect every woman you meet for loving hers, then the message is a-ok. But if, on the other hand, it’s a statement that “this body is the best body – you jel?” then something ain’t right.
And in the meantime, love your own body.
Hell, I am definitely a few pounds heavier thanks to two months of eating on trains and in hotels, but I still love my body – if anything, what’s a little faded in muscle definition is more than made up for by my more impressive rack, and I’d love it just the same at whatever size it was, because it’s mine. That ain’t to say I’m not looking forward to getting some exercise, but that’s because the feeling of being strong, and making my heart beat a lil’ faster, is something I enjoy infinitely more than reading magazines that tell me I’m ugly.
When you’ve got the confidence in your own self as a definition of gorgeous all of it’s own – when you choose to see perfection in the mirror, rather than on a billboard – it makes you more immune to the greased-up, Photoshopped images of what we’re “told” to be, whether heroin chic or bootylicious.
In other words: go forth, and love yo’self.
Now, I’m not inclined to say “I told you so.” Actually, that’s a load of crap. I’m definitely going to say I told you so, because I did: here, and here, and here (and various other places – but hell, I’ve made my point. Consider me done.) […]
A week or so ago, thanks to some smooth moves (read: a very embarrassing public fainting situation) on my part – I found myself stuck, for a couple of days, in hospital. Yep – your resident health blogger got stuck in a hospital ward, feeling very […]
I’m not normally one for eulogising a celebrity death. I find it all a bit awkward, if I’m honest – so for fear of saying the wrong thing, I tend to stick to nothing. Robin Williams, though?
That damn near broke my heart. It’s rare to see such universal love and respect blooming in the wake of someone’s death – but what’s been particularly flooring about the circumstances around Robin Williams’ suicide has been the acknowledgement of depression as someone that can hit anyone, no matter who they are, or what they’ve got. There’s been an outpouring of stories of personal struggles with it – and as a result, I figured it’d be the right time to add mine to the chorus in the hope that it might nudge someone to speak out, or get help.
See, I like to think I’m a pretty funny person. I’m not exactly a stand-up comedian, but I’m good for the occasional giggle – and generally, I’d say I’m friendly, chatty, and all the things you don’t tend to think of when you’re describing someone who’s depressed.
Which, at the moment, and for a long time now, would be right. It’s been a while. Right now, I’m good.
When I was depressed, however, none of that changed.
My main experience of depression came shortly after (and arguably, not unrelated to) my decision to stop messing with painkillers, and – ironically – start getting my life together. Things were looking up.
For me, it was like suddenly realising I’d fallen out from under a mask. As though I was holding my outside self a good six inches from my face, and still trying to act with it. I was wearing a ridiculous, ill-fitting, heavy costume for a character I had no idea how to play. (Y’all know I struggle with metaphors – but you get my drift.)
When I was alone, my days and nights were interminably long, and filled with a kind of painful nothingness. At no point would I say I was sad, in the traditional sense. Hell no. I was just numb. Tired. Empty.
But as soon as I was with other people, the stage lights would come on, the curtains would open, and I’d be back to the act. Back to normal. And while the words ‘I need help,’ would be on the tip of my tongue, ‘I’m great! Want to get drunk?’ would come out, no matter how many times I resolved to talk to someone, or to ask for help. If anything, I’d be more bubbly, more outgoing, and more inclined towards black humour – I was my most fun self, because I was playing a part. I didn’t need to be me.
As a result, I’d pretty much managed to convince myself that it wasn’t real.
Because, y’know, if it were real, I wouldn’t be capable of reverting to my regular sunny disposition when other people were around.
In my mind, depressed people would sit there, catatonic, making it clear to everyone that they need help. To be really depressed, I figured, you’d have to be incapable of ‘faking it.’ You’d be in no doubt that you needed help, and you’d get it.
And anyway – I had no reason to be depressed. Objectively, life was pretty good.
So I didn’t get help. For a good two or three months, I’d go out, function entirely normally as I went about my day, and then lie awake at night with a bulk-bought packet of surgical blades and a bottle of aspirin in a jiffy bag under the bed.
Now, I never, ever planned on using them. I wouldn’t. They were almost like a comfort blanket – they were there, just in case things ever got darker than they were. Deep down, I knew I wouldn’t – not necessarily for me, but for the family and friends I knew would be left with my decision – but it was reassuring to know there was an option.
But the thing was – I still wasn’t sad.
I was still numb, tired, and empty. I didn’t feel a thing, other than that I was entirely disconnected from my own life. That there was nobody under the mask. I’d find the hours spent in company exhausting, being the ‘bubbly fat girl,’ and maintaining my reputation as fun, lively, outgoing – and then, I’d go home, relieved to be alone, but crushingly lonely, all at the same time.
In hindsight, I cringe. There were so many people I could’ve told, who would’ve helped me with every drop of kindness and generosity they had. But for me, the decision not to tell anyone was almost beyond control – I knew what I wanted to say, and I knew who I needed to speak to, but the mask was always in the way. In essence, I’d been acting for so long, I’d completely lost my voice.
Eventually, it passed.
The nights got shorter, and I seemed to slowly begin to find my life fit me again. Things got better, life got easier – and as they did, I got help. I sought out a doctor. I used the Samaritans email service – which, if you’re someone, like me, who forgets how to speak when trying to talk about this stuff, is an incredibly useful thing.
And in time, things got good. Y’all know nowadays I’m damn happy – even if I don’t write as much as I’d like, what with work and various other projects I’ve got going on.
But the shadows are still there, in their own way.
I live life probably a little too intensely, and I don’t deal well with doing nothing – partly thanks to an excess of energy, and partly because sometimes, I’m nervous to find out what will happen if I stop. But I’m workin’ on it, by meditating, and looking after myself – and that is more than enough.
My experience, though, is just that – mine.
The thing with depression is that, while it goes by one name, everyone’s experience of it is unique. The media can (and almost certainly will) spend days, weeks, maybe months going over the grim details of why Robin Williams reached such a point – but we need to listen to the hundreds of other stories coming out in response to his death, and realise that it’s not a ‘stupid,’ ‘selfish’ or ‘ridiculous’ decision for someone with ‘nothing to be sad about.’
In that moment, for that person, it’s the only answer to a problem that – to them – feels as though it’ll never go away.
We need to educate ourselves, and each other, on the steps we can take to make things better – to make getting help easier, and to make compassion come naturally. If it’s not something you’ve suffered, it’s almost impossible to understand – and the paradox of suicide is that it’s impossible for us to ever really know what a person was thinking as they reached that point – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t approach it with kindness and an open heart.
It’s part of the reason my whole schtick is about being nice to people.
There’s no way of knowing what’s going on in another person’s life, or what they feel when they’re completely alone – and as a result, it’s a sure-as-hell safer bet that being kind to everyone you meet is hella less likely to screw them up. By the same token, people with mental health issues can’t help that – and, to quote an appropriate source, it’s not your fault. Whether it’s happening to you, or someone you know – it’s not your fault.
But it can be helped.
There are a whole bunch of resources out there – a good list can be found here – to help you get the support you need. And while it may not seem that way at the time, it does pass. Time does heal. It does get better.
Just remember – it’s not your fault.
I’ve got a confession to make. For a long time, I didn’t own a sports bra. And by a long time, I mean the first, say, 18 months of my weight loss – when me and my 42G boobs bounced around in a double-layered bra/top […]
Is that headline a tad too aggressive? Screw it. Let’s do this. A week or so ago, the Daily Mail published another of their regular “Let’s Give an Offensive Person a Platform for their Horrible Opinion” piece – this time by a woman I hadn’t encountered before, […]
I know, I know. I’ve been off the radar for a solid month, following the overwhelming high of running my very first 10k at the end of May. Man, that was a good day. A really good day. And I don’t regret it, even though a possibly misjudged plod somewhere around St. Paul’s Cathedral gave me an iddy-biddy stress fracture which I ignored for a week, before seeing a doctor and discovering I had to spend a lil’ bit of time with my old nemesis.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: The Crutches.
Damn it, I hate those things. I think given the three and a half years I spent on ‘em previously, I’ve spent enough time using crutches to last me a lifetime – and every time I use them, I’m reminded of a time when I was twice my size, and things seemed hopeless.
A couple o’things to say on that. Things were not hopeless because of the crutches themselves, nor because I was overweight – but because I didn’t have enough faith in myself to believe anything better could happen. Let nobody think I’m saying your life’s gotta suck because you’re on crutches; but for me, they’re associated with a total lack of self-belief – even though some sliver of hope must’ve started things moving for me to end up where I am today.
(On a side note – people treat you totally differently when you say you’ve got a ‘running injury’ than when you’re pushing 300lbs and ‘had a fall.’ We have some serious work to do on the judgement front.)
Anyway, in addition to the crutches, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants across the board. Some of this post was written on a plane last Monday morning; some on a different plane on Tuesday night; and a lil’ bit over the weekend at my parents’ house – and over the last few weeks, I’ve had both a sickness bug and (currently) a cold; plus, I have a to-do list of writerly business as long as my arm that just ain’t getting done. In other words, I’ve been hella busy – and while this ain’t a bad thing (my job is fabulous, if I do say so myself) I’ve been coasting along with my well-being, whilst sneezing and hobbling around on one leg.
(Another side note – the moment when you’re on crutches and realise you’ve gotta sneeze is the Very Definition of Torture, I swear.)
And y’know, it hasn’t been pretty. The trouble, for me, when I’m on my crutches, is that those ol’ negative thoughts creep back in. I have enough perspective to know that they’re a minor problem in themselves – but for me, it’s like the opposite of the Battle Pose, where you get in a strong position, and feel stronger as a result. My crutches represent me at a low – and when I’m hunched over trying to get from A to B, in my head, I’m myself four years ago, whether the mirror reflects that or not.
So, for a couple of weeks, I was what you might call blue; because the intoxicating joy of the run, followed by the inevitable low of being told I had to stop – plus the fact that, without a good bit of cardio in my life, I feel like a dog that needs takin’ for a walk – meant emotionally, I felt wound up, and frankly, not quite myself. There were a good three or four days where I just wanted to stay in bed, order pizza, and watch TV – reverting back to type, and emotionally eating my way through the discomfort. Briefly, the fact that I’d been offered a prescription of codeine – to all intents and purposes, my god damn kryptonite – seemed like an appealing option.
But – and this is a very big but – the theme of the last few months seems to have been been Big Challenges. With capital letters, and everything.
I’ve learned to run, sure – and before I injured myself, I signed up to a 60k cycle with an Olympian (which I still have every intention of doing, this October, despite the fact that, right now, I can’t actually ride a bike.) These are challenges that are all about being stronger, fitter, and faster.
At no point did it occur to me, though, that the biggest challenge would come along in that moment of weakness.
Talking myself back round to my usual place of positivity and good stuff – from a place of self-doubt and what I’d say was my lowest ebb for a good two or three years – was a delicate operation, and one I didn’t think I could do, even while I was doing it. I’ve experienced wobbles before, obviously – but this was one of the first times where I’d say I’ve felt really, properly like my old self. Like I’d lost too much of that all-important optimism.
But I hadn’t.
In the end, Domino’s got precisely none of my hard-earned cash, and my prescription remained unfilled (before being torn up and dispatched to the bin) – and I had one glorious freakin’ opportunity to realise the way my hard work has paid off off the scale, beyond the mirror, and in a way I’m pretty sure will fortify me for the rest o’my life.
See, it turned out I’m not who I was four years ago. I don’t have to revert to type, just because things aren’t going my way. I’m stronger than I look, and harder than I think – and hell, realising that has only made me feel even more bad-ass.
I’ve said before that the journey is long, but joyous – and I think if you’re not in it for the little moments, but the end result, chances are you’ll miss some of the hidden shots at happiness that come along when you least expect it. Never has that been more true, for me, than on realising that – even when I’m at a low ebb, and when I just don’t have time to do things like yoga, or cooking, or any of the million lil’ things I lean on to make my day awesome – I can draw on those reserves of positivity I’ve been shoring up this whole damn time.
Every minute you spend investing in yourself – every positive choice you make, whether it has an impact in that moment or not – is worthwhile. Every time you decide to look after yourself, and make a choice to put stock in your own well-being, you’re not just generating results for now, or next Tuesday, or even a few months down the line. Nope – those good decisions, and that positive energy really go somewhere, deep down, and they’ll come on back to give you strength in those moments when you least expect it.
And soon enough, you’ll be back. Back to seeing the world positively oozing potential, and to everything around you seeming like an opportunity.
In other words: I’m back, y’all.
Last week, I had the huge, overwhelming privilege of meeting the one and only Jessica Ennis-Hill – Olympic gold medallist, world champion athlete, and one of my personal heroes, not just for her incredible feats of athletic performance, but her all-round excellent attitude to body […]
I was really lucky growing up.
My parents were always focused on our learning, our happiness and on making ourselves the best we could be – and we had plenty of opportunities to do whatever we wanted. I had violin lessons, but was terrible at sports; my sister hated to be taught music, but had an incredible talent for teaching herself to play. We were really lucky.
So for most of my life, I was pretty comfortably shielded from a lot of bullshit. I mean, I was a fat girl, with braces, spots and bad hair – so moving schools wasn’t exactly easy, and I didn’t have all that many friends. But generally, I didn’t doubt that I could do anything, and it never really occurred to me that I’d be any worse off as a result of my gender – because, in my Dad’s words, “there’s no reason my daughters shouldn’t have the same opportunities as someone else’s sons.”
(Yes, my Dad is awesome.)
So, having come to feminism pretty late – and only, really, because my body had changed so much as to make certain men treat me differently thanks to being more “conventionally” attractive – I was a tad behind on the whole issue of privilege, and the spectrum of shame, abuse and misogyny that surrounds online conversations today.
This week, however, the varying degrees of these things have been illustrated almost in order across my various online timelines.
There’s been the usual fare: models photoshopped out of all reality; and the Daily Mail, Now Magazine, and Perez Hilton all continuing to snark, because that’s what they do. Even the broadsheets got involved in the language of shame – with a female opera singer described as “unbelievable, unsightly and unappealing” by the Times, “dumpy” by the Independent and the Telegraph and “chubby” by the Financial Times.
Just concern, gossip, and critique, right? ‘Fair game,’ right?
Unfortunately, this week, those things – those instances of shaming, of snarking, and of downright abuse that consistently piss me off – fell at the lighter, gentler, and more innocuous end of the spectrum.
Somewhere in the middle, there lay the continuous stream of abuse that women face online. My amazing literary agent and good friend Juliet, for instance, faced this:
Just so you know, this is what happens if you’re a woman online & have a negative opinion of V*x D*y: pic.twitter.com/4DX4GjI64f
— Juliet Mushens (@mushenska) May 23, 2014
And at the time of writing, despite several reports to Twitter, the tweet in question still stands – as do thousands of others, racking up wherever women say something ‘unacceptable’ to misogynistic ears. I mean, hell – I get death threats at least a couple of times a week thanks to the fact that back in January, I said something to the effect that internet trolls are moronic asshats with no understanding of what it means to be a person.
As a vaguely outspoken woman online, that’s my normal. I have come to accept it as ‘a thing I have to put up with.’
And the extreme?
That came in the form of a gunman who murdered six people because he couldn’t find a woman to have sex with him. A man whose ego was bruised by rejection, and whose name I won’t repeat here, because he deserves forgetting. This was a man who came to the conclusion that:
“women are flawed. There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking. They are incapable of reason or thinking rationally. They are like animals, completely controlled by their primal, depraved emotions and impulses. That is why they are attracted to barbaric, animal-like men. They are beasts themselves. Beasts should not be able to have rights in a civilized society.”
This is misogyny, pure and simple. As is this, via @MyAvonHeart:
There is no way – no way – that this should be acceptable thinking or behaviour, whether on or offline. But it’s the logical conclusion of a cultural discourse which is consistently, violently abusive, shaming and demeaning to women. It’s a language we use around women now, and one which will continue to be spoken to our future girls if we don’t choose to change it in this crucial moment.
In short, it’s not ‘just a thing we should put up with.’
For a long time, it took me a long time to want to use the word “misogyny” for fear of causing offence, or of opening myself up to abuse or the “not all men” retorts. Being British, I’m allowing for a lil’ bit of that fear of offence coming as a result of that – but really, it’s entrenched in the way we talk about gendered positions online.
In fact, misogyny and shame culture go hand in hand, because they both perpetuate an idea that women have to look and behave a certain way – to perform a certain role – in order to play their part in society. It’s misogyny that makes rapists think their actions are justified, and shame culture that blames the victim. It’s misogyny that calls women sluts, and demeans them for ugliness – and shame culture that makes young women feel they have to spend hours worrying about how they look, and whether it’s attractive.
We have to make changes across the scope of our experience, and our interactions with each other, in order to make any progress whatsoever.
Men: when we talk about instances of misogyny – assume the “not all men” is implicit. Take it as read. Because I, for one, know that the people committing abuses of any size are the minority – but they do exist, and when we don’t talk about them for fear of causing offence, we’re only giving them more power.
And when we talk about personal instances of shame, or widespread cultural myths, these things are worth calling out for what they are – damaging, cruel bullshit with no place in a society of people who really ought to know better.
Because this is the environment we’re creating for them, and the world we’ll leave behind. This is something we can – and should – be changing, with every choice of words or every call-out of sexism, misogyny, shaming or abuse both online and offline.
We’re better than narrow definitions, simple categorisations and easy targets – but some things are wrong in black and white. In a week where we’ve seen every instance of cruelty, we have to decide, now, to change our words, our thoughts, and our actions – so that we can leave a better language for our girls.
I’m an emotional wreck. And I have been for a solid 24 hours, following the amazing Bupa 10k yesterday, which I ran for my favourite charity, the Willow Foundation – who give special days to young adults suffering from serious or terminal illnesses. Y’all know […]