Hello guys. As part of my ongoing healing process, I’m feeling called to share some personal stuff on my blog. I find that whenever I share deeper personal stuff, it works as cathartic and therapeutic for me, so over the next year I will sporadically be sharing some stories of my life that have been painful, inspiring or significant to the journey of my life. I will call it: witnessing. You, the reader, are my kind witness. No response is needed for you to witness my stories, but should you want to respond with kindness and compassion: I welcome your kind thoughts & comments with joy always. :) However, I would kindly request for you to refrain from giving advice, leaving judgement or expressing pity. I’m sharing the stories so that they can ‘come out’, so that I can ‘express’, so that they can be ‘witnessed’. I’m not looking for advice from anyone as well intended as it may be. I am also not sharing my stories to evoke pity or sympathy in you. I have either already dealt with or am always in the process of dealing with my issues, thank you for understanding. Comments are always moderated, so at times I may choose not to publish or respond to comments if I do not enjoy them. I love you for reading my blog though. Thank you for being here. <3
Trigger warning: this post refers to disordered eating, weight loss and weight gain and contains images of myself as very [too] thin later in the post.
“How Radical Wellness Came to Be”
This is me in Indonesia. It was 2007, two years before Dylan was born. I had just started taking steroids so that I could conceive a baby. The previous medication I was on was lethal to a foetus, so I had to change to steroids (steroids can cause weight gain amongst other side effects, more on that later). We didn’t seem to conceive naturally and I eventually fell pregnant with Dylan through IVF. Back to the pictures above, we were in Indonesia on an amazing Island, I think it was Bintan (we’d travelled to a few islands in the area then, while we lived in Sri Lanka) and we stayed at an amazing beach resort. The sand was like cotton wool so soft and the sea a beautiful blue.
On the day those pictures were taken Andy and I had decided to do a long walk on the beach, follow the entire strip down the shore and just see where we ended up. The beach was super quiet. It was fairly secluded, we seemed to be the only people there. It was very much like being in paradise.
The things I remember about that day are: how the sand felt soft to my feet, how the water was so crystal clear and beautiful blue, how, hilariously when we arrived at the end of the strip, a rock ‘blocked’ our path and Andy went to investigate the other side, he had to walk around the rock through the ocean, when he came back and found that the other side had a new strip of beach, he carried all our stuff (towels, shoes, camera etc) above his head around the rock, wading through the water again, I followed him only to realise that we’d forgotten one pair of shoes! Eek, he had to go all the way back to retrieve them and get back through the water again. We both still laugh about that story now!
The other thing I remember really clearly about that day is that throughout the walk, I was deeply concerned and worried about what Andy might be thinking of my fat legs. I continually tried to ‘cover up’ my legs with a towel or sarong and did not feel comfortable to wade freely through the shallow water. It contaminated and ruined the walk for me. Andy is an awesome man, couldn’t care less about ‘how my legs looked’. Yet I could not shake the concern that I might be repelling him with the awful fat that was hanging off my legs.
The odd thing is: when I look at that picture now I completely love how I look there. I absolutely adore my shape, my glow, my energy. But then, in that moment, I was just mortified by the thought that Andy was seeing my legs. My legs were surely going to be the reason for him leaving me, that’s how hideous they were.
I feel very sad and distraught at the thought that I could not fully enjoy the stunning beauty of the beach, the ocean and my togetherness with Andy in that moment because I was distracted and pained by thoughts of what my body looked like and the response it might invoke in Andy.
As a child I was always taller and larger than my peers. This had mostly a disastrous effect on me. I was different; children bullied me. I never felt accepted, acceptable, worthy or ‘ok as I was’. Though adults tried to include me and treat me as equal, from them too I picked up ‘you are different and odd’ messages. Adults often assumed I was older than I was, which meant that my behaviour seemed childish which meant that to adults too I seemed odd. The girl in the picture above on the right (a class mate and girl who I used to do ‘gymnastics’ with) is the same age as me in that picture. As you can see, I am a head taller and in my entirety look more mature. I looked more like a teenager already. I was still a kid though. In the class photo above, you can see how my clothing style is still really child like, but I’m so tall, I’m part blocking the head of the boy behind me. A class mate told me in the week after the photo was released that her aunt had asked her if the class had two teachers. (One of them being me, I completely died inside after hearing that).
Throughout my childhood I was perpetually given the message that I was unacceptable, that I was different, that I was weird and odd. Even amongst friends, I’d still be the ‘odd one out’. This caused for a pretty shattered self esteem with pretty dyer consequences. I decided early on that ‘to be loved and to be accepted’ I needed to change. I’d either have to become ‘normal’ or I’d have to do exceptional things like: become a super model, be an amazing actress, artist or singer. I decided to become a model. I told my parents, they said: you’ll need to lose weight. And that is where it all began.
Dieting didn’t really go very well as a child and I started to become more and more obsessed with food. My weight, though fairly normal, would still go up and down a lot and I was never happy. I always thought I should be lighter, thinner, prettier so that I could finally be accepted. It never worked, it was never good enough.
While stressed I started to eat in secret and would walk go out on ‘secret walks with the dog” so that I could go to the shop and buy a bag of chocolate bars. I would eat them secretively while out. Food became an emotional crutch.
In my late teens I was diagnosed with early onset RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis). I remember hoping that this meant I *had* to stick to some sort of diet, so that I would lose weight. The link between food and RA featured strongly some years later in my life. I’ll get to that.
Years of struggles with food meant that I was at a much heavier weight than I wanted to be. I had started seeing a group therapist who worked with young girls who ate in a disordered way. This was partly effective. At the end of my high school years, I fell in love with a wonderful boy and creatively I was very much enjoying myself, for some reason these two things meant that I lost weight (in a fairly healthy way), I was high on life and love and did not need food to emotionally fill me. The picture above shows me in my final high school year right before I fell in love and enjoyed more of a creative outlet. It was the heaviest I’d been in a very long time.
2000 – 2003
After a stint at the Art Academy in Amsterdam (where I gained more weight due to how miserable that place made me feel) I went to London to work as an au pair. I loved London so much that I decided to stay on and study there. After about a year or so, my rheumatism started to flare up incredibly badly.
I was highly stressed because I was working on one side of London and studying music at Goldsmith’s University on the other side of London. The travel between and the high pressure both at work and at the university caused me to become sicker and sicker. Highly fearful of chemical medication, I started reading books about homoeopathic treatments for RA and also about how certain foods can influence how the RA acts. The RA flare up got so bad that I had to stop work, stop studying, could barely walk and would spend my days (for weeks and months) in bed in excruciating agony. Not just a little pain, torturous agony. I read and read and read. The books were conflicting. Some said: it could be dairy, some said: it could be starch, some said it could be wheat/ gluten/ meat/ fat/ sugar/ night shade family vegetables/ tomatoes etc etc.
I decided at this point to experiment and stop eating all the things the books suggested which left me with very little options (salad, fruit and fish, mostly). I became rigid about my food intake. This pain, this RA had to stop. If it was food I would control it.
Obviously, as a side effect, I started losing weight. And I liked it. It was super exhilarating to suddenly fit into clothes I never fitted in before. I felt strong, in control, empowered. The RA also improved (the pain did not go away completely but it improved) which confirmed to me (then) that my low food intake and avoidance of many foods really was the “right: thing to do. Of course, I look at the pictures above now (me at my most unhealthy and thin) and am mortified by how skeletal and unhealthy I looked. I totally know now how that approach to ‘health’ (starvation effectively) did not do me any good.
My Rheumatologist was not impressed with my approach to the treatment of my RA and always used to offer me a ‘steroid shot’ (like it was a cup of coffee) on each doctor’s appointment which I strongly refused. Until later in 2003/ early 2004 when I was in a stressful relationship with someone and the RA flares got really really bad again. I went to see the Rheumatologist on a routine appointment and once again he suggested chemical medication upon seeing me struggle to get out of the chair. He was more insistent this time (even though he continued to call me ‘tough little Dutch girl’) and I’m not sure what the difference for me was then, but I agreed to try some of it out. He gave me Vioxx (now banned related to heart disease, woops) and Methotrexate (used for throat cancer).
The first time I took vioxx, I threw up on the underground. I remember it so clearly! However, I did continue taking both medications and lo and behold: the difference for me was between night and day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a big advocate for trying herbal/ alternative remedies first, but when I could suddenly live without the excruciating torturous pain (and I do mean an improvement of 95%), I wanted to fall down to my knees and cry with gratitude. I felt stupid and sad for not having given the chemical meds a try before (although I completely understand/ understood my own motivations then).
With this change of meds also came the option to eat the previously banned foods again. So, I started to gain back some of the weight I had lost as you an see in the image above.
I was not happy about gaining the weight back at. all. It felt scary, unsafe, out of control, disempowering. But it was happening, to my great dismay.
End 2004 Thailand
At the end of 2004 I ended a relationship and took a 6 week trip through Thailand. (On my return I narrowly escaped the tsunami but that is another story). I lost most of my photos from Thailand, I also went alone so didn’t take many pictures of myself, but I remember knowing that I’d gained a lot of weight and I was super struggling with that fact. I was working very hard then on ‘loving myself as is’ and I remember dancing naked in front of a bathroom mirror in my hut on Ko Samui to Boy George’s Karma Chameleon. It was liberating and freeing. Something broke open in me then. A part of me melted away and started to properly love me, though I still had (and have) a long way to go.
Upon my return to the UK, something in me had changed, though I still had a wonky relationship with food, I started to change habits. For the first time in my life, for instance, I started to eat breakfast (at my worst times I used not eat during the day at all, some days not eat all, or only eat a small amount of dinner, sometimes all I’d do was a drink 1 litre of fruit juice), but coming back, I’d started to change a little. Breakfast was a start.
2005 – Sri Lanka & Andy
After years of working in market research as a project manager I found a magical job in a school in Sri Lanka. I was to be teaching art, drama and music to juniors, organise plays and other extra curricular events and be a close assistant to the head of school. The excitement of this meant that again food was less needed as a crutch. Weight was lost again. Possibly too much weight but hey, did I care? That feeling of empowerment and control was back and I liked it. My beautiful love Andy also then came on the scene and the combination of love and excitement (as before) meant that food did not play a big role in my life. I maintained a low weight for quite some time and relished in it, but also always continued to seek validation somehow (still that child wanting to be loved and accepted). I often hoped I would get that validation through creating beautiful photographs of myself (I still have this habit now), there was a time too that I took artistic nude photos of myself and posted them in closed groups on the internet. (They were tasteful and I have no regret having posted those pictures, but I know for myself that they were simply an attempt to be liked and loved by people).
That brings me back to the beginning of this post. When I started on the steroids in 2006 to try to conceive, I started to gain weight again due to stress and the actual effect of the steroids. This was again a point of great stress. Loss of control, loss of power, it all felt very unsafe. But I was determined to have a baby so I continued on with the steroids.
2007 – present day
Dylan was born in 2009 and Elliot in 2011. I gained a lot of weight during both pregnancies and have since not been able to reduce it down by much, until recently when I ran ‘Radical Wellness‘ (don’t worry, this entire post is not a plug to get you to sign up to RW, it’s just finished running, lol, in fact, this post is an exercise in healing and I’m encouraging the participants too to share their story and have someone witness it as part of their own healing progress, but I digress!)
Though over the years my work in the healing department of ‘loving yourself’ and ‘being healthy‘ has improved a lot (I’ve done so much work on this), I’d not ever really committed to making Radical Health changes in the way we did on the program. For the first time in my life, I’m actually losing weight holistically (in fact, the goal isn’t even weight loss, the goal is ‘holistic creation of health and wellbeing’ with a potential side effect of weight loss). We’ve been looking at all aspects of our lives, mental, emotional and physical. It’s been an incredibly ride, we all learned so much. I haven’t lost a huge amount of weight yet, but it’s not the point. I’m healthier, taking a healthy approach to creating health and well being and I feel incredibly awesome about it.
Yes, my relationship with food is still tricky and it likely always will be, those neural pathways have been established and will take a lot of work to be re-wired and yes, I would still prefer to be thinner so that I can ‘look’ better, but I’m so much more aware of what is underneath that story. And I have so many tools now to work with that story and stick to the healthy approach rather than the unhealthy one.
One of my huge sadnesses in life still, however, is that I was given the message as a child that ‘I was not good enough’, that being different meant being ostracised. I know I’m not the only one having experienced this as a child. And I actually find healing in the fact that my story resonates with many of you. You, we, are not alone. I’m still doing a lot of work on the inner child to process what has happened to me/ her then.
Thank you for witnessing my story today.
Nowadays I don’t share full-bodied pictures of myself much (body acceptance as is; still super hard), but on the Radical Wellness program we’ve been encouraging each other to wear dresses, so here is a pic of me, full-bodied (ish) in a dress. :)