Before I go on, don’t worry, I’m not going to be that guy who posts up pictures of myself in various states during my illness. I know how triggering that can be, especially the more revealing ones. This one, however, is more to show how I was before all this started. This was me at my 40th birthday party when I was still classed as morbidly obese. Do I find it hard to see myself that way compared to now? Well the straight answer to that is no, but then logically I find it hard to see myself as I do now…illogically of course my illness doesn’t either. Illogically I still see myself as big as I am in this picture. Anorexia and logic don’t marry themselves in any way, shape or form. I do know, with logic, that whatever the future holds I will never be the guy in this picture again. I wasn’t healthy, I wasn’t in control then any more than I am in control now. Maybe I had an eating disorder for a lot longer than I realised, indeed it has been suggested so by eating disorder specialists who have cared for me since my diagnosis.
So, how did all this come about?
At my 40th had been a woman I’d only ever been in touch with via social media previously. She was the mother of my daughter’s best friend, a woman who I found exceptionally attractive yet never made any attempt to make my admiration known. You see, such is my low opinion of myself, both visually and otherwise, that when someone who I perceive as completely unattainable is in my life I behave in a manner of reverence, of humility. I put them on a pedestal; I am not their equal and should never even attempt to try. However, some time after, months had melted away my awe of actually being in the presence of this lady and I found myself inviting her out, going completely against the grain of all I had taught myself. Rarer still I found her open to the idea. This was new territory and I didn’t feel comfortable. Elated, yes, but how could this be? After a few non-starters and cancellations it finally happened. A booked trip to see a play at a Cheltenham theatre, something I had only done a couple of times in the past, and I was out with my perceived Goddess. It was a truly stunning evening, the play was great and as we sat having drinks afterwards I felt like I could achieve anything. At the end of the evening there was nothing to suggest that this was anything other than friendship, a peck on the cheek and an agreement that we had both thoroughly enjoyed the date, but all was good and I was happy that I’d had the most perfect evening I could have wished for, being who I was. To my unmitigated shock 24 hours later that she text me saying that perhaps we should be ‘naughty’ and meet up that afternoon for a few ‘cheeky vinos’ in town as her daughter had friends round and she didn’t want to be the adult party pooper. It was the afternoon that changed everything, it was the evening that welcomed in the potential for change but opened the door to the dark road I was to head down. In reality it should have been the evening that started a better life, but it was what wrecked everything. It was in no way her fault nor mine, it was just the perfect environment for the illness to be born, for its lungs to fill with oxygen and to fill my being with all its evil intent. Its roots were set and it started its work.
We met as suggested and hit one of the local bars. As the afternoon wore on and one bottle of wine quickly became two our ease with each other grew and our barriers came down, mine pretty much disappeared. The flirting that had been pretty much reigned in until now was off the scale and it was increasingly obvious that there was some mutual attraction. This was incredible. I remember thinking that all my Christmases had come at once. The woman of my dreams was sat opposite me by choice, at request, and was seemingly as into me as I was her. Could this really be happening? And all at once we were leaning across the table of this busy bar and the first kiss was there. Yes, drink was helping to remove inhibitions but this was real. Game, set, match. Suddenly all talk was about us being together and plans for all manner of things we could do together were being made. I should have realised that we were just caught in the moment but I was rolling with it, or at least I was too tipsy to realise. We were on the phone telling my mother what had just happened – it was hilarious in retrospect but at the same time we were just having fun and enjoying those moments. We decided to move onto another bar and this was the moment when the change happened. As we walked up the High Street in Cheltenham, hand in hand, I shot a look toward one of the shops and caught our reflection. There she was, tall, elegant, beautiful. I was mesmerised. She was with me, I was smitten, I was the luckiest man alive without question. I then I saw myself. A reality check. What if all this was JUST drink. She was making a massive mistake. She COULDN’T be interested in me. I was massive, I was like a balloon. No women of this magnitude could want me, no woman like this would want to go to bed with me let alone be seen with me or call me her partner. This was all wrong. I was disgusting!! If I was to actually be with this Goddess I would need to do something about how I was and fast. I needed not to be this whale, I needed to change NOW. Fast. And there it was…the first signs of the types of thoughts that have dogged me since.
The rest of the afternoon and into the evening was intense. The drink took over and she needed to get home to her daughters. I wanted her to stay out, to carry on the fun we had been having, paranoid that it would all end once she awoke and realised that her prince was actually a warthog. I guess my paranoia got the better of me for the morning after I read a few texts I sent that relayed that worry, but her assurances alleviated much of it and as the day progressed, despite my hangover, she seemed happy to take things slowly but surely. Of course, I wanted things to go marching on but that’s me – heart on sleeve. But I was about to give the potential illness even more strength and expose myself to an even greater danger.
If I wanted to keep the woman I had spent such an amazing time with I needed to stop being what I was, I needed to tame the compulsions to eat the way I had for years. I’d heard much in the media about ‘My Fat Story’, a show that had been made over two parts by the controversial columnist and TV personality Katie Hopkins. To this point I had never formed much of an opinion of her. So many people seemed to be enraged and horrified at some of the things she had said in the press and on TV, but I took a lot of what she said with a pinch of salt, believing she had created a persona that she was playing to. The show was designed to get one point across: that she believes that if you are fat you are lazy & that the solution to the problem is simple; you need to eat less and move more. Curiosity was getting the better of me that late morning, so much had been said about me and with all the thoughts going through my head to make a change I wanted to find some inspiration to keep me on the path I had chosen to go on. I searched the internet and found where to download it, paid the fee and was soon watching the first part. Over the course of the next two hours, as part one became part two and my curiosity became obsessive viewing, the shift was already beginning. Everything she said, every scene, all that she did on those programmes seemed to work. It was almost like her words fed into the illness that now, unknown to me at this very early stage, was already starting to take hold. Katie gained over 3 stones in weight by eating the sorts and amounts of food that I had been for years before and then lost it all by simply doing what she said would work: eating less and moving more. Eureka. It was easy really, at least that was what I believed. Again, without going into triggering numbers, I immediately cut my calorie intake and started exercising in the form of walking – far more than I should have done on both counts.
And so it began, literally from day one after watching those shows, from having the dates, I started on the pathway to my demise. I blame nobody at all, I was predisposed to this without doubt, but the illness that lay dormant was given a helping hand that under normal circumstances would have been completely innocent. It was encouraged by well wishers that I was thankful for, naturally, but also by the inspiration of none other than Katie Hopkins herself. I made contact with her when the fruits of my efforts paid off and I started to lose weight. That was no surprise at all, so extreme were the changes, and Katie was certain to be buoyed by a ‘success story’ like mine. I tweeted her and told her about the impact her show had on me, the changes I had made, how much I had already lost in the 6 weeks since I had watched her shows. She responded and in no time at all she lauded my achievements through twitter and later as part of a group story in the national press. This snowballed over time and my story made the national press again later in 2015 as my “achievements” were perceived to be even more impressive and Katie’s inspiration central to it. What wasn’t known, however, was the lengths that I was going to in order to sustain the way it was all happening. Anorexia, by its nature, is a very isolating and secretive illness. Behaviours are well documented so I feel safe to share that I was restricting heavily, massively over exercising and engaging in other behaviours that wouldn’t come as any great surprise to people now. There were certain individuals who were starting to show concern at times, making comments about how little I was eating or how often I would visit the gym or how far I would walk or run but I would laugh it off, insisting I was in control, felt great and that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. I was in complete denial.
It wasn’t until the start of 2016 that I really knew I was in trouble. Secretly I was regularly passing out. I was weak, my concentration levels were poor, I was barely able to function. I tried hard to project an image of someone who was completely ok, of someone who was healthy & happy, but the truth was totally the opposite. In order to keep up the façade I agreed to help Katie’s campaign to help people get fitter and took on the task to co-run her ‘Fat Club’ group on Facebook. Suddenly I really was living a double life. I was inspiring people to live better & healthier lives, using the inspiration I had initially gleaned, yet secretly I was consumed by an illness I was still denying. I’d given up all my musical dealings, let go of all the bands I was managing, become completely reclusive and all I was doing was helping to run the group, exercising, going to work and avoiding food at all costs. Something had to give…and it did.
I have suffered with aura migraines for the past 4 or 5 years and during my descent into this illness they got worse, a lot worse. The constant state of dehydration meant that the frequency of attacks made the whole condition unbearable. I was having to take days and days off work and visiting my GP with increasing frequency. I take medication meant for epilepsy that helps keep the attacks at bay and my GP was increasing the dosage to help, but this was only going to keep happening so long before questions were going to be asked. Finally those questions came and, eventually I buckled. In March 2016 I finally admitted what I was doing, how much exercise I was taking, how little I ate and all the other behaviours I was indulging in. Without hesitation my GP referred me to the eating disorders service urgently and within 48 hours I was seen and diagnosed with anorexia. I remember breaking down in tears, the reality of those words “you have anorexia” hit me like a train, yet at the same time there was relief. I didn’t have to hide anymore, no more lies. Lying doesn’t come naturally to me anyway, so that only ever added to my turmoil, it was easier to just try and be in denial. In the weeks that followed I was admitted to hospital as the physical effects took hold in various ways, but the illness remained, as it does to this day.
Telling people, being honest, was daunting but cathartic at the same time. Many people knew and were glad that I had, at last, been honest with my doctor. Some people weren’t quite so understanding. Katie Hopkins herself was one of those people. I understand that I couldn’t have carried on with helping her ‘Fat Club’ group, as much as I loved helping people, but the human element was sadly lacking. Her response to finding out was sharp. I believe that she would have preferred I kept quiet about it on social media, but it was always my right to be able to talk about my illness with whoever I chose and reaching out to my friends at my most vulnerable was only natural, and I was never laying blame anywhere. Katie blocked me on Twitter and I never heard from her again. From gifts & cards thanking me for all my help and time to that – to say it hurt at a time when I was already in an extremely fragile state would be a vast understatement. I had built up a different view of her from that of her public persona, but I will never understand why she treated me that way. Thankfully plenty of people have stood by me. It’s very hard to understand, I accept that. Any kind of mental illness, an unseen, is hard to fathom, but acceptance is everything and love is more. Those that are still with me are the ones that matter most and always will. I have lost so much – friends, work, passions…but I will always be grateful for what I DO have.
And that is how this illness came about. There’s a background before it, I’ve hinted at it, a poor self image which continues to this day, but there were triggers that took hold. Again there is so much of my time where I can be logical and I’ve been so in some of what I’ve said in the story of how this came about. The sad fact is that I am still very ill and I can’t apply that logic. However, logic also tells me that life gives hope, so with that in mind I cling onto the hope that one day I will learn to control this illness in some way.
Oh, and the woman? That was never going to last in reality. Damn this illness.