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.
Before I launch into this I need to make a point. I need to make it because I know for a fact people will get to the end of this and say “why should we listen to someone who clearly has an eating disorder?” So, read this and take it in. I suspect you’ll want to come back to it again at the end:
If you break your leg you don’t forget how to walk. Whilst it’s healing you simply can’t walk, your leg is broken, but you still know that you can when it’s healed. The same is true of my situation. Factually speaking I know I can eat, and that all I am about to say (or have said) applies to me. However, my mind is broken, and for the time being I simply can’t. In time, hopefully, that will change. A broken leg can be seen with an x-ray, a broken mind can’t, but it doesn’t make it any less real.
My grandparents lived to a really good age. My nan was 87 when she passed away of complications arising from dementia. Up until her dementia diagnosis she had been fit & healthy throughout. My grandad was 94 and, aside from the fact that he’d developed an extremely rare muscle wasting illness later in life, had lived a long & healthy existence. Both were happy, both were fit, both were healthy. I’ve deliberately used that last word a few times because it’s key. Healthy. They got to those ages in the days before social media, before the internet was a thing, before even personal computers were around. Hell, computers weren’t even dreamt of as they were growing up, playing in the fields and streams of rural Gloucestershire. In fact, it wasn’t until 1956 that televisions were even rising in popularity in the homes of the UK, so I doubt that either of them were influenced by anything coming from that medium.
Growing up for that generation was very different to what we know today. It had an innocence about it, yet at the same time it was about survival. Coming out of the first world war it was inevitable that times were hard. People lived off the land and you grew what you ate, you raised & killed what you cooked. Rolling into the second world war this was even more important as the stranglehold of rationing kicked in. I guess there were parallels of how it was back when we lived in caves. The survival mentality. The hunter gather. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go too leftfield on people here, I’m just drawing on comparisons on how things might have evolved back then. But I imagine that’s how it could have been. Self sufficiency would have very much been the key to things. It wouldn’t have necessarily impacted on the delights coming out of the kitchen though, people were exceptionally creative in the days when my grandparents were growing up.
I picked up a set of WI cookery books recently, some really old ones. There were some amazing recipes for old classics like spotted dick, plum puddings, suet puddings, steak & kidney pies and so on, all dating back to the days when “times were hard.” These would have been the sorts of things that adorned the tables of my grandparents, and I know they did because I still remember having them on my visits to them as a child. Those traditions didn’t die as they grew older. I have clear memories of those visits, of my grandparents house in a quiet hamlet of a village nestled between Gloucester and the Forest Of Dean. What I remember most is that grandad had a massive orchard with many apple & plum trees, further apple trees on the lawned gardens, a greenhouse that housed big juicy tomatoes, cucumbers & lettuces, a vegetable patch behind his workshed that had carrots, beetroots, potatoes, marrows, radishes and courgettes. Across the lawned gardens was another larger vegetable patch. Here he grew runner beans, broad beans, peas, sweetcorn, celery, onions. You know what? Over all those veg patches, if it could be grown he damn well grew it! Whatever was in season he would have it growing over those patches and he took care of them throughout, forever keeping them weed-free and the pesky crows & pigeons at bay. There was no need to go to the supermarkets for any of this stuff, that was for sure. Fresh veg adorned the plates of my grandparents table every time.
For all grandad’s endeavours, nan was equally as devoted to using the efforts of his toils in the kitchen. Whilst a lot were used as part of the meals as they were, much were used in vegetable pies, in salads, in stews (her stews were absolutely legendary, as were the dumplings that accompanied them) and many pickles & jams. It wasn’t just main meals however. Puddings & cakes were her absolute starring commodities. Her chocolate cakes were incredible, rich in chocolate, sponges done to absolute heavenly perfection. But it didn’t stop there. Her pastry on whatever pie she did was always on point, the fillings whether sweet or savoury were bang on, her gateaux were to die for, trifles thick with fruit, thick yellow custard, the best full fat cream and sprinkled with hundreds & thousands. And sherry, you could always taste the sherry. My 10 year old self used to believe he was having a crafty drink, somehow.
At tea time there were her scones with lashings of home made strawberry jam, jam tarts, raspberry flans, home made teacakes. Salads were served buffet style. Cold meats were laid out and large slices of ham with fat still on. And here we go with the point of all this.
You see, there was an honesty about all this. Nobody ever told them what was right or wrong. Nobody ever said this was bad for you or that was too little or too much. Instinct was enough. Listening to what their “self” was telling them was all that was ever needed. There was no pressure, there was no expert, there was no instagram picture to aspire to. I can remember (pretty much) what my grandad used to have in a typical day. He would have a full bowl of cornflakes with full fat milk and a banana cut up over it for breakfast followed by a couple of slices of toast & butter. He’d have a cup of tea around mid morning, always with a couple of rich tea biscuits, often with something like a lardy cake or a cream cake of some description. During the week lunch would typically be a couple of rounds of sandwiches, typically stuffed with ham (we’re talking thick ham, fat still on) with salad & loads of mustard. The bread would be thick with butter. This wasn’t shop bread, no, this was slice-your-own bread. Doorstep pieces. A packet of crisps. Something like a “Club” biscuit. An apple. Evening meal (or tea as we call it down this way) would be something like chicken or lamb, beef on a rare occasion, with potatoes (boiled AND roasted), green beans, carrots, cabbage & peas. Loads of gravy that was thickened with cornflour and the meat juices. Possibly a Yorkshire pudding. Good portions, not OTT, but enough to fill you. If there was too much on the plate you stopped eating. The dog would always welcome the leftovers. Pudding had to be considered after all. Apple pie or apple crumble. Or some other pie/crumble. ALWAYS with thick custard or ice cream. There might be a sandwich or packet of crisps for supper (or both). But it wasn’t always like that. Weekend breakfasts were fry ups. Eggs, bacon, sausages, fried bread, mushrooms – the works. And you know what? Often cakes would come out at random times. It was perfectly ok to have cake. Whenever you wanted. It’s ok. If you’re out and busy, if you’re expending energy and your body is telling you that you need something, why would it not be ok? And why the HELL do you need to look on the back of a packet at the numbers or contents?!
Who is sitting there shaking their heads or tutting or counting calories? I am. I shouldn’t be. I have an illness. That’s why I am. Why are you? BECAUSE WE’VE BEEN CONDITIONED THAT WAY. But they weren’t. This was how it was for them. Go back over what I’ve written. They lived to 87 and 94. Apart from when they got very old, they were never ill (save for the odd cold). No heart attacks. No cancer. They weren’t fat. Fit & healthy. They were active. They didn’t sit in front of the TV all day, they got out and did stuff. They socialised (that doesn’t mean sit in the pub all day). They met with friends and went to places, they explored. They saw a bit of the country. They weren’t afraid to go back somewhere if they’d been there before. It was ok to go back, especially if they’d enjoyed it the first time.
Yes, we live in different times and things are not as simple as they were, but let me get to the point of where I want to with all this. I sit here day after day looking at the TV schedules and through social media and all I see are people telling us what we should or shouldn’t be eating. How much is too much. How little is too little. Why we should eat this and why we shouldn’t eat that. And as soon as we have that information someone else comes along and tells us the complete opposite. We have “experts” – people who are nutritionists, doctors, professors, food scientists, sports gurus, fitness coaches, lifestyle coaches. The list is endless. Each one trying to outdo the other in trying to get us all to live at an optimum. Jamie Oliver, a chef, is forever telling people that they are making bad food choices. First of all he was telling kids that eating turkey twizzlers was bad for them and got them removed from school menus. He has no right to do that, no right whatsoever. We should learn from our parents naturally what’s good & bad, and as parents it’s our duty to inform our kids and nurture them from birth. It’s definitely not up to some “chef” on the bloody TV. His biggest crime was actually in not saying “actually, they just taste like crap.” Further, maybe it’s time we just made a bit more time to do a bit more ourselves. It’s actually really satisfying to create, to bake, to prepare, to cook. There’s nothing better than to hear someone say “thank you, that was lush” or “you know that cake you made? It was incredible!” I mean it, if it bothers you that much, having control over what’s in your food CAN be down to you.
In truth, nobody has the right to look at your plate and tell you that you shouldn’t be eating what you are eating. Further, nobody has the right to look at you and tell you that you don’t look good (unless you’re at the doctors and it’s a health matter, of course.) Society is responsible for creating the issues we are facing, and society is each and every one of us. We’re guilty for looking at someone the wrong way if we don’t approve of the McDonald’s they’re eating. We’re guilty if we make some disparaging remark about the size they are. We’re guilty if we comment that someone has “put on a bit of timber.” Similarly, we’re guilty if we turn our back when someone is struggling. And as for the “experts”? They’re now the most guilty of them all. SHUT UP. The lot of you, just SHUT UP. We don’t need all these TV shows telling us what carbs are good, what carbs are bad and actually, no carbs are good at all. We don’t need to hear about the crash diet you go on for 15 days and then gradually reintroduce food again and we’re re-programmed. We don’t need Joe’s look good in 15 book. We don’t need the 5/2 diet. We don’t want to hear about Hopkins and her Fat Club (shoot me right now that I ever got involved.)
What we need to do is simple. Look at our grandparents, or, if we’re too young that the generation is too recent, look at their parents. I bet most of them lived to ripe old ages. I bet they left the fat on their ham. I bet they dipped bread in the meat juices of the Sunday roast of beef. I bet they didn’t give a stuff what the scales said. I bet most of them didn’t even have scales. It’s time to stop winding each other up. It’s time to “just be.” Listen to your body. As Ruby Tandoh said in her book “Eat Up!” – if you want a Creme Egg, have a Creme Egg. Have two. Stop judging everyone, stop judging yourselves. You need what you need. Your body is a machine, it needs food to operate, and y’know, it’s OK to enjoy it in the process. There is NO bad food. Eat what the hell you want to eat, just eat it until you know you don’t need to eat any more of it. Plain and simple. Like my grandparents, they knew when they’d had enough. They had what they wanted when they wanted it but never more than they knew was comfortable. Pretty simple really. Want a tub of Haagen Dazs peanut butter cookie dough choc chip with extra gooey whatever? Fill ya boots.
Hell, I have anorexia nervosa. If I can see all this I am DAMN sure that someone without an eating disorder can. But just remember what I said at the start. And if you don’t remember, and you think “hold on, what a hypocrite, why should I listen?” go and read it again. I’m broken. At the moment.
Point made. Experts. SHUT UP. And whilst we’re here, put something entertaining on TV. We don’t need to be dictated too. Actually, a bit more “Bake Off” a little less (none) “How Food Can Kill You.” Ps…I’m not dictating, I’m just saying what I see. Ignore all this if you like. I’m still struggling, but tomorrow my head says I can eat. And guess what? I’ll enjoy it.
Dedicated to Wally & Hilda Stait. They knew.
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
Groundhog Day. It’s a film that so many people have seen, a popular film that for so long I hadn’t seen. I finally watched it a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Watching films is difficult at times, my attention span isn’t very good these days. If you aren’t familiar with the film you’ll at least be familiar with the concept. Every day being the same as the last. Well, that’s very true of my life as it stands, and as it has stood for a very long time now. I’ve been masking the truth of course.
Things are taking a serious nose dive right now. I’ve been in limbo for a long time, in a rut. I’ve danced to the tune of my eating disorder. We’d kinda done a deal, reached an agreement, and I’d stuck to my side of the bargain. I personify my illness, it allows me to cope with it better. A lot of sufferers do, and that’s ok. The first time I heard someone actually name it I was horrified and didn’t get it, I do now. If you can give it character it gives you something to take aim at, it gives you something to hate. Sadly, it also gives you something to talk to, to reason with, but it also gives it a voice. Sometimes that voice is loud. At the moment it’s the loudest voice there is.
Groundhog Day has, at times, been interspersed with nice things. The odd gig here (Paramore, Ricky Ross, Katherine Ryan) and, of course, the football. On those days the deals made are tricky. Ever tougher regimes in order to make up for the fact that I will need strength to get through those occasions. Strength means food. Tougher days follows those. Swings and roundabouts, but I have to have some break from the Groundhog. What I haven’t realised, until the past few weeks, is that the eating disorder has slowly been gaining an upper hand. The deal has been getting changed, it’s got stricter.
If you follow me on Twitter you see me masking a truth. I probably come across as quite content. You’re aware of my issues but I seem positive, at least I think I do. I talk about my baking and the Battling Baker project. I’m always posting things about what I’ve baked. You might think I am eating that stuff. No. I try bits, but it’s never more than a pinch. The truth. That was the aim, but the ED slammed that plan hard. Not that i’ll give up. My passion is too great, and one day, maybe, I’ll swallow more than a sparrow’s beak amount and not walk it off afterwards.
I find it hard to say all this on Twitter, or to anyone in fact. People ask sometimes. “How are you?” I almost dread the question because I WILL tell people if they ask, but when I do I hate that I’m saying it. I hate that I’m writing this now but I need to get it out there. Also, I hate that I have nowhere to turn. That’s the thing – I don’t have the help, I don’t have the therapy and I don’t actually have the means to ask anymore.
So how bad is it? Wolves played Birmingham City on 15th April. I ate a meal that day. I’ve eaten 4 other meals since then. It’s 10th May now. Other than that I’ve had an average of 2 of my own “rescue” biscuits per day to keep myself vertical. Yes, I’ve lost weight. No numbers – I know it’s not good to write that stuff down. What I will say is that the eating disorder tells me that in order to have the next meal I must be X weight, each time the X number must be lower than the time before I ate last. No amount of fighting from me stops the relentless attack mentally if I even try and break it.
I’ll tell you one story. It was the last home game of the season. I’d planned this. I wanted fish & chips. MAJOR for someone with my issue. Deal was done. HARD week before, but the figure the eating disorder set was reached. All the way home it tried HARD to talk me out of it, but I’d stuck to my side of the deal. I was doing it, even if I only managed half. By the time I got to the fish & chip shop I was already “talked” into only having small fish & chips rather than standard. OK, I was backtracking but at least I was doing SOMETHING. I was in a cold sweat going into that shop. It was so hard. There was a wait for the fish, they had sold out. Instant panic. Just wait it out, it was ok. 3 minutes passed. 5 minutes passed. My head was SCREAMING. I began to cry. Not just hidden sobs, this was proper crying. In a shop full of people waiting for fish to cook. I kept my head down but people noticed. I wish I’d run out but I didn’t. 10 minutes it took. The woman handed it over and apologised for the delay, maybe thinking my distress was over that. I thanked her, said it was ok and ran out of the shop. I’ll never go there again. I can never face that ordeal again. I ate half the meal. I’d wanted to enjoy it, it was marred.
Groundhog Day is more frequent now. The football is over until mid August. I have a week holiday at the end of June and that’s all there is to break it up. The deal for that is too severe to put down, but I am going to try hard to make that week as good as I can. However, things are SO bad at the moment. One meal a week is making me very ill. I have developed acute tendonitis in my left arm that starts in my shoulder and goes right into my wrist. Physio would help, but without muscle to build up strength won’t be very effective. Food will help build muscle. So the cycle continues.
I sit here this morning and I know I haven’t hit where ED says I can have a meal. I probably will tomorrow. HOORAY. Mum goes on holiday for two weeks. Two weeks I probably won’t see anyone, although I believe someone I have got to know on Twitter is popping in for a coffee on one of the days. The hardest thing in all this is the lack of support from the people who are meant to help. I can’t ask for ED services help now because they have said they will only help if I do their day treatment therapy. Well, if you read my previous post on that you will know I am in no place to be able to engage with it. There ARE other alternatives but they will just NOT entertain it. I can’t discuss it with my CPN because they don’t deal with eating disorders and have no experience. Psychotherapy team won’t engage until I’m eating. I can’t go private because I can’t afford it. I’m trapped.
Sometimes I sit here and I wonder what the escape route is. Do I just exist like this? Is there a way out? Sometimes there’s a dark answer and it seems a light one.
When I try and fight, when I look at my life as it was (the good bits) and fight for that, the power of this illness really does show its grip. That’s how I know just how ill I am. Yesterday, whilst out walking, I was listening to a song by Anne-Marie. She sang about not caring how she looks, about eating her body weight in chocolate, about loving herself for who she is, about being comfortable in her own skin, about loving herself for her. Suddenly I thought “yes, why am I being trapped like this? Who am I doing this for? Why don’t I like myself?” I started to fight a little. SLAM. Suddenly my couple of miles around the block became a lot longer. I was put in my place. I’m so ill.
So, the masking. It really is a mask. This is the truth. I’m REALLY struggling. I hate it. I want a way out and I can’t find it.
I’m sorry this isn’t more positive. I can’t keep masking. This is my hell.
This post very much follows on from my last blog entry but amends the idea for now. This follows feedback from a book publisher and subsequent thoughts about how best to tackle things. This is especially as, on one hand I’m making tiny little baby steps and, on the other, I’m getting battered by anorexia for even giving it a go. The site is aptly called The Battling Baker and can be found at www.thebattlingbaker.com
The publisher feedback was a reality check, a positive one but one I had not considered. In principle they would have been interested IF I had already been ‘recovered’ or, at least, sufficiently in control of my condition. However, they felt it wouldn’t have been in my best interests to go forward with it until such a time as I was confident that this was the case in order to deal with the pressures that might come with the book being published. An older version of me might have taken this quite badly, but I actually took this with dignity and totally agree. If I can get to a better place this could still happen – and that would be a celebration on so many levels. Also, it reminds me not to rush. True recovery needs time, and as I am learning already, this really will be a long, hard road. I’m not calling myself the battling baker for nothing.
However, I really wanted to share a part of what I am doing. I wanted to share my recipes and a little of the journey I am taking. I don’t want to say too much about the battle itself, that wouldn’t be good for those that are struggling themselves and I realise sometimes I say too much anyway. However, I want people to try my recipes! So, in a condensed form of what exactly I’m doing I decided to launch The Battling Baker. Now I can share my recipes, people will know that I’m fighting because I’m only going to post what I’ve created and tried, and people might just try the recipes out themselves. THAT will give me a massive boost! I know for a fact that bakers/cooks/chefs love nothing more than to hear from people who have tried out their recipes and loved them. So if you try mine – tell me (unless you hate them, then just file it under ‘bin’ and try a different one. They won’t all be bad. Promise).
So that’s it – The Battling Baker. Pop & have a look. Get your apron on. Get a bowl. A wooden spoon. A tin. And…..ready, set, BAKE!! (apologies to The Great British Bake Off).
Finally, it’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week this coming week. I hope that people will really engage with all the media activity that is bound to come and share things on social media. It’s important that we keep pushing for the important matters; things like early intervention in the treatment of ED’s and the right level of funding from central government. I might be doing this alone now (no comment) but I still recognise that the NHS works well for a great many people, it’s only right that they are given the funding they need to do it effectively for all. It’s also important that the public realise just how serious eating disorders are for those of us that suffer. Power, love & strength to all of you that struggle – I’m by your side even in my own darkness. x
On a scale of one to “I’m in the bowels of hell” this really has been one of the worst weeks in a long time. I can tell you, the bowels of hell aren’t too pleasant. It’s been a mix of a continuation of assessment work at the autism centre, a lot of physical tests at the GP, meetings & reviews with my CPN and, finally, a showdown with the team at Gloucestershire Eating Disorders Service. The outcome of that meeting was, in short, not good. That’s an understatement to be honest. I am divorcing them, but only because they have engineered it in the most despicable way imaginable. They would say they are “getting tough with anorexia.” I would retort that within this is still a person, still Simon Rickards, still dignity. Why am I divorcing them? And in reality, am I ACTUALLY doing so or are they actually giving me no options at all? In reality, are Gloucestershire Eating Disorders Service washing their hands of me, giving me an option that they know I am in no place to be able to engage with and therefore fully aware that I am going to be off their hands anyway. And if they know this how can they happily allow it? Here’s the thing; I actually asked that question. The answer is horrifying.
As my physical health has been deteriorating lately with anorexia’s stranglehold taking an even stronger hold, I had begged for further treatment and, with advocacy from my CPN, the ED services had re-engaged with me. I begged them for further inpatient treatment, afraid of my own vulnerability at the mercy of the eating disorder’s will and not trusting of my own strength to be able to engage with their day treatment programme, the very one that I had failed at right at the start of my descent into all this when I wasn’t as bad as I am this day. There was resistance to my pleas but I felt like maybe I was getting somewhere, particularly given that the physical issues were becoming ever more serious. Yesterday’s meeting was with not only my care co-rdinator, but with the decision maker, the man who decides what options to give a patient in the services’ care. After keeping me waiting almost an hour past my appointment time and barely apologising for it they began a line of questioning that almost made me feel like they were calling into question my whole diagnosis. I stopped them and asked them if they thought I was making it all up, becoming emotional. They assured me this wasn’t the case. They checked my weight. Still very low. They checked my pulse. Still very low. They acknowledged my low body temperature and so on. They could clearly see just what state I was in. But they were being very abrupt, almost to the point of how a boss speaks to an employee that hasn’t been doing their job properly. Now, I know that people with eating disorders have to take some responsibility for their recovery, I get that, but at the same time when you are very ill, and have had zero help, support or therapy for over 12 months it’s bloody hard! Their approach took none of this into consideration and I felt like my dignity as a human being was being compromised. At this point we hadn’t even got to the hammer blow.
They have decided that under no circumstances will they offer inpatient treatment. They also regret ever giving me inpatient treatment in the past, suggesting it did me no good (well, it didn’t, but only because it was handled badly) and that it doesn’t matter how I am now or will be in the future it won’t be happening again. There are a variety of treatment options accessible through them, however I can only access them through one route; by doing their day treatment programme. Now, if you have an eating disorder what I am about to say may be triggering so read on with that warning in mind or close the browser now. Otherwise those without or accepting the warning; I haven’t eaten a proper meal since I left the last eating disorders unit in Bristol this time last year. Anything that I’ve eaten out of the boundary of what my eating disorder dictates…well, I’ll just say I deal with it, again as my eating disorder dictates. Rules of day treatment; eat ALL food within 20 minutes. There is NO flexibility. Outside of the programme, at home, you are to follow the agreed meal plan and not engage in any eating disorder behaviours. Ok, all fair enough – people go on that programme to get better and sign up for that. Understand this: I WANT TO GET BETTER. I want to get control. I may never get rid of this completely, but I want control. So take that as read before we go on. Back to my point. I have not eaten properly in over a year. There is no chance in hell that I am going to be able to go from where I am at this moment to eating a full meal (with pudding) in 20 minutes. There is no way that I am going to be able to spend 18 hours a day in my own company outside of day treatment, and weekends, and be able to not engage in behaviours that have dominated my life for approaching two and a half years. It doesn’t matter how much I want to be better than I am, I am mentally ill and at this stage, right now, as things stand, day treatment will not be an option I can realistically succeed in. They know this, I know this and I am sure that anyone reading this will understand and will come to know this too.
So I asked them this question: “If I come on day treatment and fail one meal, what will happen?” Their answer: “We will discharge you from the programme and from the service.” So I asked them; “What if I don’t do the day treatment programme?” Their answer; “We will discharge you from the service.” My final question: “So you would knowingly, wilfully and happily discharge someone and give no help to someone with anorexia, who is as ill as I am?” A one word, cold, emotionless response: “Yes.” It was at this point where they claimed they were being tough with my eating disorder and not me and didn’t offer any support when I was clearly distressed. They told me to think it over and tell them next week. In my emotional state I told them I would if “I was still here.” They knew what I meant, read between the lines and you will too. I didn’t mean it but I felt it in the heat of that moment. Their response was to quickly usher me out of the room and escort me out of the building as quickly as they could.
I have given them many reasons why I believe things could be different with treatment at this point in my illness. Sure, I am much worse than I have ever been, but I believe that if I can get on the recovery path there are things that I can focus on now as a way forward. I’ve not had that before. My passion for baking, healing broken relationships, real concrete and good things that weren’t a part of life when I tried to engage in treatment in the past. Before I came out of treatment to….nothing. Now it would be different. This situation I’m in now is frightening, because I am going to have to rely solely on myself. I now have nobody to turn to in a professional capacity to help me fight and get control of this illness that has controlled me all this time. I know now that I am stuck with this for life, and I need to find a way to survive it for as long as I can, so that I can live.
I‘m not going to do that day treatment programme. I don’t want to suffer the indignity of being thrown out of a building in front of 9 other people who are all struggling, I’ve already had that happen and it’s a horrible and embarrassing feeling. Dare I say, it’s even more triggering than some of the more obvious things people expect. Also, because of how I’ve actually been treated on a human level I wouldn’t want to be treated by the individuals who operate within that service. They place no value on me as a person, don’t allow me any dignity, respect and have never listened to any of my views about my treatment. This ISN’T just about them not giving inpatient treatment when I’ve asked, there have been many MANY other times when I have been ignored, belittled, talked down and insulted (once they actually had to formally apologise to me) and I actually think they have done and would continue to do more harm than good.
So that’s it, this fight will have to start again, only I can only rely on one person. Me. I have absolutely no idea where to begin, how I will make even a baby step forward let alone a normal sized one. At the moment all is as was yesterday, last week, a month ago. At some point I need to find a starting point. One things for sure, it won’t begin with that team, ever again.
First of all, Happy New Year. It’s only right I say that as I am forever humbled by the fact that anyone comes here to read my blog, and I know they do from the stat reports I get. So thank you, and I hope that you had a good festive period. Mine was challenging in the ways you would expect it to be, although having faced a couple of Christmases already with an eating disorder I was mentally prepared and just accepted that, for me, it was easier just to treat the key days from the food perspective as any other. Self preservation works and allowed me not to get bogged down in the fact that I didn’t feel able to eat & drink as others do. I did enjoy my time with mum on Christmas day however, and visiting my dad on Christmas Eve. Presents? A plethora of recipe books by the likes of Nigella, Paul Hollywood, Nadiya and Mary Berry. Perfect – the baking bug is biting as hard as ever and my creative juices are flowing freely. Oh yes, that strange paradox is in full effect. I don’t question it, I embrace it and let it roll. No, I still can’t engage in benefitting from the end result but I don’t care; those that do are giving me the feedback I need to improve, that’s what matters. Judging by said feedback I’m doing just fine. As to other matters I’m afraid it’s a case of the same old situation.
I continue to be at a very low weight, in fact small amounts continue to drop. I still can’t eat any more than previously mentioned and other habits remain, although walking is a lot less purely down to my weakened state. The eating disorders services are now engaged again but it’s not clear yet what help they are prepared to give. I’m due to meet them soon to discuss the possibility of inpatient treatment. I personally feel this is the best way and will keep me safest, out of harms way, and will enable me to stand a chance at recovery this time. I feel ready, more than I ever have before. There are reasons now, I have plans & goals beyond. The baking, that passion for it, there are things I would like to do with it, but I need to be on that recovery road first and there is no way I can be on it as things are right now. Community care won’t be enough as I am so I hope they will hear me when I meet with them.
Next week I start seeing someone in relation to my Aspergers. I’m not sure what to expect exactly but it will be good to make sense of it all and understand the condition better. It’ll also be good to learn better ways of handling situations that I currently find difficult; things like social interaction, confidence, etc. I’ll ALWAYS find those things hard, autism doesn’t go away, but it’s finding ways to cope & deal with things more effectively. I’d love to find ways to deal with some of my sensory issues too – especially dogs barking!! They drive me mad – a cross I’ve carried all my life and never spoke of. I have to bite me arm to cope with the swell of frustration that builds inside me when dogs bark. Babies crying too. OMG. Understand, I know these are things that are natural but my brain can’t cope with the sensory reaction it produces. I either have to get away from the source or literally grit my teeth or self sooth/harm. It’s an odd thing. Anyway, the sessions start next week. Assessments first.
I did have some stuff before Christmas I got very upset/angry about. The DWP cut my PIP from enhanced to standard on the one area that causes most issue, that around food related problems. They cut 2 points from preparing meals section. Ridiculous. I’ve read a lot about how they are penalising MH applicants and have targets on appeals. Well, I’ve appealed. Needless to say even cutting points in that area has a direct impact on the illness itself. “Ha, they think you aren’t ill enough. Well…let me show you…” Fucking illness. Bloody DWP. If only they could stay here for a week and see what it’s like to be me, to be anyone with anorexia. Look, none of us WANT to have to claim, but when you are too unwell to work you have to rely on the state. I’ve paid in all my life until all this started, so I’m entitled to the help. I shouldn’t have to fight, and I shouldn’t have to prove just how ill I am.
Onto happier things. Wolves are riding high in first place at that top of the Championship by 12 points. Giddy isn’t the word!! Ok I haven’t been able to go much. One of the unfortunate things about my season ticket is that the seat is in the disabled area where the roof doesn’t come over and if it rains you get wet. My body won’t fight any infection so being cold is one thing, being cold and wet quite another. I’ve been avoiding going to rainy games of which there have been a number lately. I did ask if they would move me but that would have involved a cost – but they have agreed to switch the seat on a match by match basis if the forecast is bad now, so I should be going again soon. Love you Wolves!! It’s so good to be supporting them right now, not that I ever wouldn’t, but boy we’ve had some frustrating years!!
Hopefully next time I blog it’ll be news of an inpatient admission. I need to get some control. I fear I’ll be stuck in this perpetual hamster wheel otherwise.
Up the Wolves!
I appreciate I haven’t said an awful lot lately. Those that follow me on Twitter may think that I’ve been ok as I’ve deliberately not been putting much about how things are. I try not to be that person who is a) triggering or b) constantly going on about their illness. I’ve been guilty of that in the past and found myself reading some of it back and being angry at myself. I don’t want to be a “victim” nor appear to be, or give people fuel to think I’m vying for attention – that’s something I was once accused of and it cut me to the bone. Indeed my Twitter posts have been mainly about how brilliant Wolves have been doing (I’m SO proud to be a Wolves fan right now) and all the different things I’ve been baking. What a contradiction for someone with an eating disorder right? But it’s a passion. I might not be able to partake, but I still love that creativity and the joy it brings people.
But here’s the truth. I’m gravely ill. I’m at my lowest weight since this eating disorder took hold and things have come to a head. My CPN intervened and now the eating disorders team are back involved. A section order was on the table, and still is. Yesterday I met with the ED team who are very worried about how things are and have sent me for an urgent medical assessment this morning (22nd November). The professionals involved in my care, the ED team, my CPN, my psychologist, psychiatrist and GP, are all meeting on Monday and will make a decision on how to act. This may be a section, it might be a straight referral admission onto an ED unit or they may try and do a community based programme that is far more intense than anything they’ve done in the past. This will all depend on the medical assessment and other factors. I think an admission is the preferred option, hopefully under referral.
I’m not scared, I’m relieved. Quietly I’ve been getting to a place where I knew I was in danger but felt unable to do anything about it nor ask for help. I’m glad my CPN noticed and stepped in. I don’t want to go on about it on Twitter so if I seem “normal” on there just know that I’m shielding the world from the hell I’m dealing with, they don’t need to see it. And hey, I like chatting about how awesome Wolves are. Speaking of which, I’m determined to go one last time on the weekend before I can’t anymore. It’s going to annoy me not being able to go for a while, especially when we’re doing so bloody well. Typical!! Although, if they do go with the community based approach I will still be able to go…long shot but fingers are crossed. AND I’ll be able to go to see Shed Seven (thanks Rick Witter). Anxiety permitting.
Thank you to those who have been so supportive – you know who you are – you have been incredible x
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Whether or not Louis Theroux has great power is maybe up for debate, but he is certainly an influential and respected figure. You only need read the reactions on social media to any announcement of, or feedback to any of his documentaries to know that he is both highly respected and revered by millions across the world. I include myself amongst his admirers. Indeed, I’ve spent many hours watching his in-depth look both into the lives of the rich & famous and tackling the dark worlds of subjects such as alcoholism and America’s gun culture. His unique method of engaging with the contributors, of gently exploring underneath the shell of the issue to pull out often difficult stories of why they lead the lives they do, is both skilful and, in some ways, really quite endearing. From a viewers perspective you can’t help but feel like you’d want him as a friend, a confidant, someone with whom you would run to if you were ever in need of a shoulder to cry on, not because he would necessarily have the answers but because you know he’d ask the right questions and would listen.
So, you can understand why when, in March this year, I was contacted and asked if I would be interested in taking part in a documentary in which Louis would explore the mysteries surrounding anorexia, I readily agreed. It would be an opportunity for me to fulfil two things. First, as someone who is passionate about showing that anorexia can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, background, sexual orientation, and equally as passionate about ensuring that nobody ever gets to where I am now and seeks help at the earliest possible opportunity, I knew that I would get a chance to lend my voice and tell my story to an audience potentially far greater than most other documentaries that had been made to date. Secondly, it would be a chance to meet Louis Theroux. If you’re an admirer of his and the opportunity comes to take part in his work and you’re willing you’re going to want to do it, right? Let me make this abundantly clear however, the first part is the most important. It was never about getting my face on the TV, there are much nicer ways of doing that and anorexia is not something I want to be known for (quite frankly it can get stuffed). However, I would do anything I can to stop someone who is heading this way in their tracks and to seek help, and that was my sole intent in agreeing to do it. Meeting Louis was the “nice bonus.”
Between March and July I met and had discussions with the producers who explored more about how anorexia had & is affecting me and what would happen when Louis came and filmed. When that day eventually came it was what you would expect from a viewers perspective, however being the subject was very hard. Nothing quite prepares you for the reality of how Louis does things. There’s no secret way he does it, it’s all as you see it on TV, but it really can break you down in the moment. My interview largely centred around me engaging in something I do a lot – baking. I made Louis & the crew flapjack whilst he interviewed me, asking me about how the illness affects me day to day, how it gradually became a feature of my life, what influences allowed it to take hold of me, what I felt I had lost materially and otherwise. My mum was also included and he asked her about the changes in me and how the impact of anorexia had affected relationships within the family. There were some tough scenes including one when the illness itself stepped in and made me “jittery,” reminding me that I should be taking laxatives and an emotional discussion took place with Louis almost trying to talk me out of it, me breaking down in tears and, in the end, me taking them anyway. Maybe it’s a good thing that wasn’t shown in the end (I’m coming to that), although maybe it should have been – seeing the power of anorexia in its most raw form. There were some lighter moments too. As Louis tucked into a large piece of the finished flapjack he said that I should go on “Bake Off” (I really want to do this people, I’ve just applied!) and we had a good giggle about that. It wasn’t all dark.
As those of you that watched the documentary tonight will know (Louis Theroux: Talking To Anorexia) this was cut from it. I had already been told that this would be the case. They like to do follow up interviews and check on progress and logistically it wasn’t feasible for them. In fact, the documentary featured 4 women staying in 2 eating disorders units in London, entirely not representative of the fact that anorexia (or ANY eating disorder) can affect ANYONE regardless of all the things I mentioned above. I also knew that this would be the case and had already been quite upset. I was upset at being left out without there being any men included and I was upset that I’d laid myself bare to Louis & the production team on camera and didn’t get the chance to do what I set out to, to hopefully make a difference to at least one person’s life, to stop someone ever getting to the point where their entire existence is determined by what goes on in their head at the hands of this illness. It was so important to me that everyone that COULD be affected by this monstrous illness was represented and I really felt, having been part of it, that they would be. That was as important to me as helping to stop anyone getting to where I am. I’m so disappointed that arguably one of the most influential documentary makers in the world has omitted the voices of a true representation of the indiscriminate power that anorexia has, especially as I vocalised how important I felt that was. For me he’s dropped the ball for once, and it’s a great shame.
On the plus side I do believe that they’ve captured some of the true hell that this illness dishes out. The inner conflict, the power it has, how it refuses to let go of its victims and, ultimately, all it wants to do is kill you. If we’re all honest with ourselves, or allow logic in, we know this. But it silences logic all the time – we must do what it tells us, it thrives on our fears. That very fear of letting go of it, of recovery, is what keeps us enslaved. For many recovery comes, for too many it doesn’t. Louis has done well to show why we are as we are and for that I respect what he’s shown. But I can’t get away from the fact that there still should have been a wider representation of the type of people it can affect, i.e. anyone. We spent the time, we had the material, it should have been used.
Don’t get me wrong, one mistake doesn’t change my view. I still think Louis Theroux is a great man, a great documentary maker and I still admire him immensely. The producers have promised to send me a DVD of our interview which is good, I hope that one day I’ll be able to watch it from a place where I have control over my illness as a reminder of where never to go back to. I say control because, as I’ve said in the past, I know that I will never be fully rid of this. But I have hope that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get help one day (if the eating disorders team ever change their mind and actually help me) and find a way to control things.
Sadly, I’ve taken a hit over all this. Anorexia, by it’s nature, will always seize an opportunity.
“They didn’t think you looked ill enough. You weren’t in hospital so they didn’t take you seriously enough. You’re too heavy. Do something about it.”
That’s what anorexia tells me since I took the call just over a week ago. Not anyone’s fault, that’s the nature of this beast, this illness.
I’ve lost just over half a stone since taking that call.
Anorexia. That’s the true voice, right there.