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