It’s 10.30pm and I’m driving up the Waterloo Road back towards the ring road. Molineux is on my left lit up by the stadium lights, Billy Wright’s statue standing proud, guarding the stadium against all who would dare to try and topple us as we build this new dawn of footballing greatness. “Goodnight Billy” I utter as I drive by. I’m smiling, yet at the same time I feel a little bit sad. I’ve had a truly memorable night, filled with the very best of everything that brought me to Wolverhampton today, that got me through last night’s anxiety nightmares and saw me actually relax for large swathes of the evening. So why would I feel a sadness? The truth, my dear readers, is because I was again leaving behind my true home. I hate departing Wolverhampton, and this chapter is designed to tell you why. Tonight has cemented everything about what makes these people the jewel in the United Kingdom’s crown & why Wolverhampton Wanderers as a football club can consider itself to be truly unique, truly special, and truly golden.
I’m not a believer in fate, but how fitting it was that on the day that Steve Plant chose to launch his book celebrating the achievements of last season’s promotion campaign, Nuno was confirmed as the Premier League Manager of the Month for September. It cements what we all knew of course, that this is no ‘flash in the pan’ and that we have something special going on at our club. I’ve talked about it in previous chapters, the turning tide of opinion in the press about Wolves, how the doubters are suddenly sitting up and taking notice. Now the likes of Shearer & Neville are calling for Coady to be picked for England, and pundits actually predict us to win matches ahead of kick-offs rather than scoffing at the mere notion of it. Opposition fans cast envious eyes at our style of play and covet our players. Have we got used to it yet? I don’t think so, but we’re learning.
Learning. It’s a thing I have to do too. Not only about the football, but about what is going on in my life, about my abilities to face the challenges I put myself through and, as tonight has brought home, that it’s ok to believe that people are real. However, before I go into all that I want to talk about the night itself and how I dealt with it, to keep things in context with the rest of the book. This chapter is obviously a little different than the others but warranted being included. There’s no match this week as it’s an international break. We have a great number of our squad representing their countries, notably for the first time Jonny Castro Otto for Spain (who also became a father this week), and Helder Costa for Portugal. Again, it’s a mark of how far we are going as a club that our players are being recognised for their achievements by being rewarded with international caps, though a couple are still being overlooked. It’s only a matter of time before their performances will demand those places though; Conor Coady is metaphorically smashing Southgate’s front door in with his stellar defensive performances!
Back to last night. Dean had invited me to go with him some weeks ago after I’d said I really fancied it but, as is the case with very social functions like this, had already ruled it out with it being something that would set my anxiety alarms chiming like a full peel at Westminster Cathedral. The idea of going with Dean still had me in ‘quarter peel’ mode, but it’s always with a sense of security that his company brings that I feel empowered and I’d taken up the invitation. I find occasions like this very different to going to the matches. The idea of being in one room with a lot of people, many of whom would be strangers to me, for a long period of time; for some inexplicable reason it strikes the fear of God into me. It’s the same with going to gigs or festivals. These are things I used to do with regularity, so much so that my entire summers were spent outside of work at gigs in the evenings or at festivals all weekend. I was hardly ever at home, I was every bit the ‘social butterfly’ that I’ve described myself to others as. Completely the opposite of what I am now. These days, outside of the football, I sit as I am now, in my flat, only seeing my mum every other day or my CPN once a fortnight. Away from that I go for walks as dictated by my eating disorder compulsions, but interaction with other people is limited to non-existent. Trying to explore the psychology of what has brought me to this is hard and is still being explored. I guess it’s multi-faceted. On one hand I believe it’s the fear of letting people in, or of getting too close to people and facing rejection or being let down again (I’ll come back to this later in this chapter.) On another it’s that I get anxious that I’ll commit some kind of social faux-pas by saying the wrong thing, face awkward silences, not knowing what to say to someone or appear to be lacking the intellect to carry off a conversation. Sometimes I just plain get overawed by people, indeed last night there was an example of that but it had a semblance of understanding about it (meeting Carl was always going to leave me a little awestruck.) And then there is the element that plays the biggest part, that brought about by the self-awareness and self-loathing that anorexia brings. Do I look thin enough? Do I look fat in this? Can I cope with food being around me? What if someone tells me I look well? If someone tells me they are on a diet is that going to spark a reaction in me? Can I cope with the criticism? What if someone tells me to get a grip? Would it not just be better to stay home and avoid all this hassle? And so the eating disorder voice starts again. “Stay home with me, don’t eat, go for a long walk, you look vile anyway. Who wants to know you anyway, you don’t deserve friends.” This is the stark and real reality of it all laid bare. Yes, this is what goes on in my mind, what I hear. The dialogue that goes on and taunts me. I don’t deserve you; I don’t deserve your friendship or your love. I work to battle this, this constant mantra that even as I stand talking to you is going on. Overcoming, or at least trying to work past these social anxieties is one thing, getting ANYWHERE with my eating disorder is another. It’s why I don’t even start with it; it’s too big right now.
Lots of people I knew through match days and from Twitter were going last night. Many of them I had already met, some of them I hadn’t. In the case of a couple we’d already made vows to ensure that we’d meet in the flesh at last, so I was very much looking forward to that. Dean, as one of the sponsors of the night through his work with the organisation ‘Never Afraid To Ask,’ was going up at 3 in the afternoon to help Steve and some of the others set up and suggested I meet him there around the same time. It felt like a good idea, I’d avoid having to walk into a room that was already full of people and have that instant “hit” of panic or, worse, avoid going in at all (this has happened in the past.) After having had a really rough night of nightmares, waking at 3am in an actual terror sweat, I’d calmed myself down in the morning, got ready and headed up around 1pm. I got to Molineux just after 3pm and met Dean outside. We went up into WV1 where things were already being set up for the evening and was greeted by Steve, Dave Foster and Steve’s wife Andrea. I felt instantly anxious, conscious that I wasn’t much use to anyone with my dodgy arm but yet wishing I could be more help. Andrea in particular was lovely and had a chat to me, telling me that at any point in the evening if I needed to talk to someone to come and speak to her. I was so grateful for that. We’d only once met before, very briefly in Manchester after the United match, yet here she was offering the hand of support and being very understanding. I thought about this as I wondered over to the window of WV1 and gazed out across the Molineux pitch and the stands. Andrea, Steve, Dean – they had all already been supportive, kind & reassuring. Within a short space of time I had gone from being shaky & nervous as I walked into the room, to feeling a lot calmer and welcomed. Wolverhampton, Molineux, it’s like it’s a beacon of force where a collective of all the positive people in my life congregate and get energised and then, in turn, radiate that energy into me. I become more like the version of me that I want to identify with, more free of the shackles that bind me on a daily basis when I’m not around them. I’m not going to pretend that they free me of my eating disorder binds, but those binds of anxiety? Looser, I can move, I can breathe, I can do things. I’m able to fight against the thoughts that are definitely there, but I am able to negate them better. I’m the fighter on the canvass, the referee is on the 7 count and you’re shouting at me to get to my feet and I do. You encourage, I battle, I get up.
As afternoon became evening both guests and VIP’s began to converge on the room. Chris & Louise Cobbold arrived as Dean & I were on our way back up from my “vape break” and I was surprised when Chris recognised me from Twitter (I’m always stunned when anyone recognises me!) It was lovely to meet them both, such warm people and Louise, an exceptional talent. Shortly after, Tim Nash & Kenny Hibbitt entered the room and it was my absolute honour to speak to them both at length. I recounted one of my favourite tales to Kenny, of a time some 25 years ago when he and I had a chance conversation during a short stint when I worked at the now defunct BT Directory Enquiries service. We had chatted then for some 15 minutes (Kenny had called for Swindon Town’s number) and I had got in big trouble with my line manager for holding the line for so long. I didn’t care; I was talking to a Wolves legend and one of my heroes. Kenny told me last night that he had been calling Swindon to try and get a player in on loan! Such a terrific man, down-to-earth, funny and engaging. From reading his book that Tim had authored with him, I just knew he would be that way. It will be one of those meetings in my life that I will never forget.
Not long after, Carl Ikeme came in. It had been my desire all week not only to meet Carl, but to say a few things to him, namely just what an inspiration he has been to me personally in the way his determination to fight his disease has given me the same determination to fight harder in my own battle. Myself, Dean and Chris (HugeWolf) took our copies of The Pack Is Back over to him to sign, get a picture and have a wee chat. Dean & Chris chatted quite freely with Carl, and, although I got him to sign my book, Dean & I had our picture with him, I did get overawed. It’s hard to put my finger on just why, but I am so full of admiration for the way he has battled something so huge & come out the other side that in the moment I felt like my own troubles paled into insignificance. Later, when I reflected on this I realised it wasn’t right to think that way, that I’m playing down the significance of the things I face myself. I don’t want to reel off stats the frighten me (yet, scarily, have no impact whatsoever), however anorexia alone has the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness there is, let alone the dark corridors that the symptoms of borderline personality disorder can lead you down. However, in the moment I forgot all that and just thanked him for signing the book, for the picture, shook his hand and listened as the others talked to him. It was lovely to meet him though, and it was great to see him looking so well, hear him taking things one day and one step at a time, but generally feeling positive about things. An inspirational man as I’ve said, a man I definitely draw a lot from.
The main part of the evening was just incredible. The video presentations looking back at last season swelled me with pride and the same sense of jubilation as it did at various points during that memorable year (as I’m sure it did for just about everyone else), the tributes to John (Foz) Hendley brought a lump to the throat and brought a sense of sadness that he’s no longer with us to share in what’s happening at the club now. The presentation of the Duncan Edwards Award to Steve Plant was just brilliant and, although his own humility made it hard for him, I could tell he was proud to receive it. Steve, sometimes you just have to accept that people want to show you that you are appreciated mate, because you are, and deservedly so. And again, that was further cemented when Chris & Louise Cobbold presented him with a painting that Louise had done of Steve with Steve Bull & Laurie Dalrymple from the End of Season Awards last year. A beautiful touch, a superb painting, and richly deserved. The fundraising auction (all profits last night were going to Birmingham Children’s Hospital) was remarkable. I had a bid on Louise’s original painting of Carl but it went beyond my budget, however the highlight was a stunning £1200 paid for the match worn shirt, signed by Ruben Neves, that he was wearing in the infamous 1-0 away win against Cardiff last season. The generosity shown by that room last night was just astounding but, again, I’m not surprised. When this club, these people, get together to do good things, they do them better than good, they do them to their very best.
Whilst the auction was going on an attractive young lady approached me and said my name. For a second I looked at her blankly, trying to put a name to the face, and then the penny dropped. It was Gemma Sephton, one of the people on Twitter who I had talked to a lot yet, somehow, had always sadly missed at all the matches we had both been to. It was fantastic to finally meet her (and her lovely Dad) and we spent pretty much the rest of the evening chatting, along with lots of the rest of Wolves “family” who were there last night. It was like a match day without the match and no football shirts. We were all dressed up to the 9’s, there was a band, and it was a lot warmer than being in the stands! Amongst the usual suspects were Pat, Phil, Jon & his dad, Horace and Mikey (once he escaped from the far end bar), Simon (simonsaysyow – who was on the door, who was going to argue with him??), Ryan Leister, Suzi, and the superb Steve Green. It was also a total joy to meet Kelly Burge for the first time who said some massively encouraging things, not least about how she could see that I am always happiest when I am in amongst this group of people…
This group of people. I come back to my opening salvo. I have lived and stayed in a lot of places up and down this country. Through the away games this season and through various away games over the years I have never known a support like ours. We have a passion for our team and our club that I have yet to witness anywhere else. Sure, it would be easy to say I have the blinkers on, but honestly, show me the same joy, anticipation, dedication and downright bloody mindedness when our backs are to the wall and I’ll back down. But it’s not just about that. There have been times in the past where on social media I’ve seen some people be a little bit uncomfortable with the term “Wolves family” or “pack.” Maybe they think of it as some “on trend” tag or cliché, but think of it another way. Think of it as a body of people with a set of very unique qualities. I was born in Gloucester. I have no (known) relatives from Wolverhampton or that immediate area. I lived in Bridgnorth for a couple of years from the age of 5 and then in Cleobury Mortimer & Highley for around 8 months when I was 19 before ending up on the streets in London. I declared myself a Wolves fan at the age of 6 when my dad’s RAF mate used to come round and talk about them relentlessly and that stuck. I started going to see them from the age of 16 whenever I could. I had a season ticket for 3 seasons when I was 25 and then new fatherhood and a pressured home life put a stop to it. However, I continued to come as often as I could. It was only last season that I got a season ticket again, before I got to know ANY of most of you reading this. I got it because I’d already spent over 2 years sat in isolation at home, suffering with these illnesses, and a combined 6 months in residential eating disorder hospitals. I needed something to look forward to, I needed something else, I needed ONE love back in my life.
I talk about that life before, me as that social butterfly. I thought I had a lot of friends back then. The truth is this. When I got ill those friends vaporised, almost overnight. Some simply stopped contacting me. Some pushed me so hard that I pulled away from them, and then they stopped contacting me. Some were just plain nasty so I stopped contacting them. The thing is, friends don’t treat you like that, friends stick by you through thick and (excuse my head) thin. When you’re up they celebrate with you, when you’re down they rally and do all they can to lift you. If they can’t lift you they come to your level and they comfort until you’re ready to rise again. Whether those friends are one or many in number is irrelevant, they do it alone or they do it as a group. What they never do is desert you. But that is what happened to me. It’s not a sob story, it’s not me telling you this to get sympathy, it’s just what happened. For a long time I grieved the fact, and then I just accepted and got used to it. The lasting damage was my lack of trust of people, and the resultant anxiety element. Trust is everything in friendship, without it there’s no basis on which to build a friendship in the first place. So, when I started to come back to Wolves on my own I had no expectation of forming friendships, this was just something I was doing on my own. Come to home matches, travel up, take my seat, watch the game, escape a little bit early to avoid big crowd surges, go home, be glad for the time out. And then I got to know some of you on Twitter.
Letting you in, or at least meeting up with you was the easy bit, mostly. Learning to trust again was never going to be given all that had gone. However, YOU lot MAKE it easy because of who you all are. You do all the things that people who care are meant to do, what friends are meant to be for each other. When someone is broken you spend time trying to put all the pieces back together again, when someone is poor you scrabble around together to make them solvent, when someone has nowhere to sleep you’re offering your sofas/mattresses/beds, when someone is hungry you offer a place at your table. It’s not just one or two of you; it’s all of you time and time again. And if you think “oh well it’s just what people do isn’t it?” Well no, it’s not. There is something VERY unique about the people of Wolves that I haven’t seen the like of anywhere else. You stand united, you stand proud, and you look after each other. When one falls you all pick him or her up. You sing together, you laugh together, you cry together. You celebrate together, when times are hard you share the sorrow, dust yourselves down and get ready for the next fight with an optimism that we can rise again. And with me, even on the days I drop my guard and let you know that “hey, I’m still feeling shit, and today it’s even more shit” you don’t say “ah fuck this guy, I’m done with him” – no, you say “Si, we’re still here, and we’re still standing with you. If you need us, we’ll carry you.” I’m typing that with a lump in my throat. I’ve never known a love like it. Big hard blokes who would normally scare the shit out of me, highly professional people, media people, people without two pennies to rub together, retired people, people a lot younger than me – you all stand there and help me, help others, help each other. Selflessly. Do you know how special you are? Wolverhampton people. Black Country people. Wolverhampton Wanderers fans. You are, very literally, the salt of the earth.
I was born in Gloucester. My heart belongs in Wolverhampton. You are my friends. I am blessed.
Last night was special. The book is sensational, Steve Plant is a hero, but above all else I realised I am standing amongst giants.
As football fans we await that first game of the new season in August full of hope, anticipation, dreams, wonderment. We’re keen to see how the first 90 minutes of what has been a long close season will unfold, eager to meet up with friends we haven’t seen for weeks. Hell we’re even looking forward to having that greasy substandard burger and overpriced dodgy tea, it’s all part of the match day experience after all. Football, for those of us that follow it and love our clubs with the passion that sees us part with vast sums of cash to actually go and watch the games live, is a unifying thing. These “rituals” are part & parcel of it all. Without it, in those long weeks of the close season, we are aimless creatures, just waiting for August to come around, for the madness to start again.
That’s how it is for the vast majority. That’s how it has been for me too in the past. Elements of it were there as yesterday approached, although clouded by the dog of anxiety, fear and nervousness induced from all those issues that are documented on these pages. Of course I was excited to see how we would play. We’re a Premiership club now, and we damn well deserve to be. We’ve made some astute & astounding signings during the summer and I’ve been chomping at the bit to see how they would perform up against Everton, the first team we were to face. I was also keen to see a few people too, people I’d not seen since the end of the season, albeit that I was already in a situation where anxiety was preventing me from fully engaging in a naturally social way. However, I’d done some baking and I really wanted to pass that on.
But the dog of anxiety. How is he driven? It comes from two strands, or rather, two illnesses. From an eating disorders perspective it’s all about self-consciousness. I am overly concerned with how I look, convinced that I am still huge, just as I was when I was over 24 stone. Logic tells me I’m not, the eating disorder voice tells me otherwise. I only need to see a shift of a single pound on the scales and it all goes off in my head. That there’s any kind of fluctuation is a mad thing given that I seldom eat anything of substance, often going days without anything at all. And yes, this has been a feature for a long time, and yes it has been just as bad, if not worse, during the time since I last blogged. Physically, again, this is taking its toll. Certain vitals are at low levels in my blood chemistry and injections & supplements have been prescribed. My left arm is totally useless, and tomorrow I go to hospital to start having tests to get to the root cause and to explore the way forward. Suspicions are osteoporosis, a common side effect of long term anorexia.
So how would that self-consciousness stop me seeing people? Apart from worrying about how I look it’s also worrying about how other people see me. There’s two ways I worry here. First, I worry that people think I’m fat. Totally illogical. Second, that I just look “odd.” Logical. Third, and this is the killer. I worry that people will tell me i’m “looking well.” This is the worst thing in the world for me to hear. It’s a tonic for most people, it’s what people like to hear. For someone with a mental health condition such as an eating disorder it’s one of the most inflammatory things. You mean well, I totally get that, and appreciate it completely. However, the eating disorder voice will play a game. “Looking well” means you’re putting weight on. “You’re having too much of a good thing.” “You can’t look well and be anorexic, the two don’t marry.” “If you’re looking well you’re getting better, people will think you’re ok.” These are examples of the bullshit of lies that an eating disorder voice will start telling you once those words leave your lips and enter my ears. And yes, I see it for what it is, lies. But that eating disorder voice, in my illness riddled brain, is convincing and I come to believe it. And so I get more ill, and I don’t look so well. I might not have even looked well in the first place, you might have been just trying to encourage me, being kind. Oh how I wish you’d said “how are you doing?” You’ll always get an honest answer, it might not always be the best, but it’ll be honest.
It’s why I back off on social media sometimes. It can happen on there. I’ll post a picture that includes me, someone will say I look good and BANG – a million alarms go off in my head. Alarms become explosions and the cavalcade of things that happen is uncontrollable. Self harm has slipped back into my “behaviours” and it’s not nice, I hate it. But it’s so hard to control it, as are all of these things. Were I able to control any of these things I wouldn’t be writing this now, I wouldn’t be so ill. And remember, I’m ill. Don’t lessen the legitimacy of mental illness. It really is real. By the way, I’ve made a pact with myself never to post pictures that include me again. It’s just safer.
The second strand is from borderline personality disorder, also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder. That second is probably more descriptive and apt in its name. It certainly describes me (and I had a little ironic chuckle as I typed that.) To try and describe what this is and how it affects me would take too long. I’ve had this for years, far too many years to think about. It’s better that I provide a link (for those who might be interested in reading more) and leave it there: Borderline Personality Disorder, MIND.
The thing is, these two illnesses just rub along together to make an impossible situation, and they are making life, and any enjoyment of it, unbearable. Even down to everyday living. For example, the arm issues; I’ve just had to trade in my manual VW Golf for an automatic VW Passat because the action of changing gear was unbearably painful. I loved my Golf. Don’t get me wrong, the new car is nice, but it’s things like that which remind me just how much life is being restricted by these issues. Today I was hoping to be at a festival I’m patron of. I thought about it for two minutes this morning. A minute later I was taking a laxative overdose so that, along with the anxiety, I ensured that I couldn’t.
By the time yesterday came around I had been so overwhelmed by my feelings that I had restricted my interaction to meeting one person, handing over the things I had baked for people (cashew salted caramel brownies & giant choc chip cookies) and then just getting into the ground for the game. I’d made a resolve to not bug out early to avoid crowds, I really wanted to try and tackle that one, but that was going to be the extent of what I felt I could manage. But no, it was never going to be. I couldn’t even face meeting that one person. The only people I was to see were the people I sit by. So I gave the majority of the stuff to my mum, took a couple of samples for the lads I sit by, cancelled meeting up with who I had planned to meet and set off. And why?
I know people are supportive, I know people want to help, and I am more than grateful to them for that, but I feel ashamed & guilty that I keep “putting on” people all the time because of how I am. It just makes me feel worse. I’m putting pressure on myself and making the match day harder than it should be for all, but mostly for me. It’s easy to take a smaller sample of things to Simon & Alan, I’m sitting by them. For now it’s better this way. Until I can stroll into a bar or pub before the game and hand over my bakes and be with my friends in person I’m not going to ask anyone to interrupt their match day fun. My problems, it’s up to me to live with them.
The sad thing was I saw so many of you. I can only think of this analogy. It’s like being at one end of the playground and seeing a large gathering of your pals at the other, all playing together. You want to go and join them, be with them, chat to them, have a laugh. But standing in the middle of the playground is the school bully, with his arms folded and a snarl on his face. You’re not getting past him, no way. Until I can get past him I’m not calling over one of my mates to lead me past Cyril Sneer, because I know that Cyril will kick the shit out of me later anyway. I need to be able to walk past him myself, or be able to deal with the kicking enough to give a sly dig back before I can do it.
I’m sorry if any of you saw me and thought I was being ignorant & didn’t come over. I wasn’t being, I was being merciful to the crap in my head. I was being ill. But I wanted to be with you all. Every part of me did.
The football though, that was great. We stood up to Everton. 2-2. Ruben Neves scored a worldie free kick right in front of me. That was worth the hell I went through even in that controlled way. Football. Wolves. Still has the power to give me the pinprick of light in my darkest of moments. I love them for that. I love you lot too. Please bear with me. One day I will shine a bit brighter. I can’t ever say how bright, but it will be better than this. I won’t ever be Premiership, but maybe I can get out of the National League some day.
Oh yeah, I made it til they held the board up for the 4 extra minutes. Meh. Almost.
Oh, and you might be missing out on the baked stuff at the moment, but you won’t for long. And anything that the guys I’m sitting by get to taste…you’ll get the recipe for it in due course. There’s a thing going on. Won’t say what just yet. All will come to pass in due course.
My use of Twitter has become a day-to-day lifeline, a connect of my choosing of what my interpretation of the real world to be. Of course it’s not the actual real world, but by filtering it into my interests and passions I’ve let it become a window into the world I would want to exist in were things not as they are. This window contains three primary passions; Wolves, baking and music. Element one shows me things directly from the club and connects me to fans, people I’ve forged friendships with on various levels. Baking gives me inspiration for new recipes and interaction with people I aspire to get to be as good as. Musically I follow those acts I’m into, to keep up with new releases, their news and what they are saying. One of those accounts belongs to Lily Allen. I’ve been a huge fan of Lily since she used to promote her work on MySpace way back at the start of her career. Quite simply I love her to bits, always have & always will.
Last week I stumbled upon a tweet promoting her appearance as headliner at Southampton’s Common People festival. I had somehow missed the original announcement, not that it would have mattered. As you’ll know if you’ve followed my blog before the idea of me at something so vast is unheard of these days unless done in some way that avoids the crowds or in some madcap fit of bravery that takes me immense of amount of time to get over and often regretful of. There’s also the preparation for such a thing. I’d need strength. That means eating. That’s something that really has been a feature of my life that has got less and less lately. Like, chronically so. Apologies for highlighting that but I’m flagging it because things are so bad with it recently that it makes what’s coming up even more remarkable.
Sometimes I tweet things as they come into my head, not really giving it thought. It’s almost as though my thoughts play out in my tweets subconsciously. There have been times when I’ve gone back the next day and deleted things because I haven’t actually meant to put them out there. It’s probably a dangerous thing – step away from Twitter Simon! That’s what happened when I replied to Lily Allen that evening on that tweet. Here’s what I said:
This was very much one of those moments where my thoughts were aimlessly playing out. Yes, I did tag Lily in it, but as she has nearly 6 million followers and the tweet I was replying to was days old it was just a flippant tweet, my thoughts expelling themselves from my mind to the twittersphere. Sometimes it works to stop me getting too down about something I wish I COULD do but feel unable.
Right after tweeting that there was a fifteen minute gap as I got ready for and into bed. By the time I had Lily had followed me back & DM’d me. Remember, I’ve been a massive fan of hers for years, and although I’ve only been to see her once (pre-illness) I certainly own all she’s done and, as many of my friends will attest to, have always talked about my love for her & her music. Suddenly she’s following me and sending me a message. Not only that, in clear recognition of the issues I have she’s offering to sort me out with backstage passes! I lie there in the dark of my room, staring at my phone in disbelief for a few minutes, somewhere between blind panic, disbelief and total joy. Could I do this? Would my head let me eat in order to get the strength? Could I manage getting through the crowds to even get backstage? Could I find someone to go with bearing in mind my daughter (who is also a massive fan) was away this weekend? What was I even thinking? It’s Lily Allen! You love her to bits Simon! OF COURSE YOU’RE GOING!!! To hell with eating if it comes to it, to hell with crowds (keep your head down, they aren’t there), this is happening.
You see, the demons were all there, and they were all there fighting me as hard as hell for the 4 days between that tweet and the actual festival itself. Anorexia told me I had to be XYZ weight in order to have something to eat to be physically up to it. That meant not a morsel passing my lips until Saturday morning. I was already resigned to that even before all this, because that’s how things have been lately. Anxiety, there’s little I can do about. It is what it is, even at the best of times. Sometimes I can suck it up, most of the time I can’t. When anorexia is at its worst it’s harder to overcome, so those demons were really hard to battle. There wasn’t anyone to take with me – this really was going to be a “solo flight.” However, to see Lily Allen perform, from the relative safety of the backstage area first and a segmented viewing area, and to meet her? I dug in hard. You see, it wasn’t just about that, this wasn’t JUST about wanting to see & meet Lily…
Kindness & compassion are important in this world. I try to show it in as many ways as I can. It’s limited, I acknowledge that. There’s only so much I can do given my problems, but I do what I can. If it’s to bake a cake for someone to cheer their day, I’ll do it. If someone wants a birthday cake made I will, and don’t even THINK about paying me for it. I love to bake, I love to put a smile on someone’s face. If someone is struggling in some way and can’t make ends meet I will give what I can, and if I think they won’t take it, again, I will bake all I can and hand it over. Hell, I might not be able to eat but I LOVE knowing that others are, and if they enjoy what I’ve produced then I love it even more! So, when someone shows me kindness & compassion I’m bowled over, humbled beyond words, and often overcome with emotion. The thing is, as I’ve said before on my blog, I don’t feel worthy. The things in my mind that keep me as I am convince me that I’m not worth anything, that I don’t deserve good things. Lily’s act of compassion, of kindness, of understanding – it made me stop. She doesn’t know me, at least she didn’t at that point. Yet she was willing to do what she did because she recognised that I wanted to see her play and found it tough. She wanted me to be there & enjoy it as best I could. She felt I deserved it even if I didn’t. I still can’t comprehend it even now. But how amazing is that? That anyone should do anything for me makes me bewildered, but this is Lily Allen – a woman I’ve admired for so long.
So Saturday came. I ate something. My head beat the shit out of me. Sod it. So I drove down. I listened to lots of music whilst I did to shut my head up as best I could. I got to Southampton. It scared the crap out of me haha! I found my way to the festival. It scared the crap out of me again. There was a bit of a mix up over the access I had and I spent the first hour and a half rooted to the same spot having a mini(ish) panic attack. There were tears. And there was vomit. However, in what I now know as true Lily style, she sorted things out and there I was. Backstage. There were a couple of the All Saints girls milling around. There was James (the band) fresh from a rousing performance.
And there was Lily, getting ready to go on stage. There was also her partner, Dan. A truly stupendous guy who talked to me for quite some time and had some really thought provoking things to say to me. One thing he said has been going around my head ever since: “You can’t love Lily if you don’t love yourself first.” I mean, I CAN love Lily regardless, and on meeting her (coming to that) I can only say as a person I only love her even more now. But I became aware through that conversation that I really don’t love myself and I’m not sure I ever have. It’s something I guess I need to work on & lies at the root of many things. But I do love Lily, and to be honest I love Dan for saying that too. Lily & Dan are well suited I would say, she’s lucky to have him and vice versa. As for Lily, she’s just the most gentle and caring person I’ve met for some time. She checked I was ok after my initial panic. She made sure we had that picture before she went on stage and we had a little chat after she’d performed. It really was obvious that she cares. This was no PR stunt or something that she was going to get anything out of – this was pure humanity. It makes me sad that she gets flack in the media and stick off people on social media, because this is the person I felt she was all along. A humanist, someone with a huge sense of morality but also a whopping dose of compassion. There’s no grey areas, no agendas. Lily Allen is real, honest. What you see is what you get. A truly remarkable, driven, caring and amazing person. It’s time she was given the credit for who she is and what she stands for and not always be taken to task on every utterance. One thing is for sure, she’s made a huge difference to my life in the past week.
Has all this made me better? Let’s be honest here, no. I’m still as bad as ever on the anorexia side of things and taking a huge hit for having done all this on the weekend. The anxiety is still there over all the same things. Would I do it again? Yes, of course. The thing that’s good out of all this is that Lily has made me feel that maybe I am worth something and that when I put my mind to it I can overcome things in isolation. Dan has also shown me that I really need to start to put some value on myself. I guess they both have shown me that, collectively.
I’ll end this with a deserved and shameless plug. Lily has a new album out on 8th June called No Shame. Having heard a lot of it at the festival I can honestly say this will be the best album she’s done so far – it’s flippin’ insanely good!! Bloody buy it, you WON’T be disappointed. If I can’t give her anything else but my thanks, it’s at least this much. Lily – thank you. You are, and will always be, a 24 carat gem of a woman x