For once, an un-funny blog. Boooo. But you’ll see why…
Today I’m featured in a big piece in Grazia magazine here in the UK. Grazia is generally full of fashion and pretty people and badly-dressed celebs and must-have face creams. And today, it contains a bit of me as well. Eek.
The story – for those of you who live outside of this currently snow-covered Isle – is about mothers and what we want to pass on to our daughters. Or not pass on, in my case.
Because my story is about eating disorders. See – not so hilarious really.
Thing is, everybody who knows me, knows bubbly, happy, fun, smiley, positive, energetic, ‘Yes I CAN!’ Liz. Which is good, as this is how I am most of the time these days. Apart from when people piss me off or I’ve got PMT, obviously. Then I’m a witch.
But it wasn’t ever thus. For fifteen years I had an eating disorder that came as close to killing me as it’s possible to get without actually knocking at the Pearly Gates and having your bags checked.
It started when I was about 15 or so, and continued throughout the last years of school, through my Gap year – what a bloody waste of a good time! – through university (the worst years of it), and throughout three pregnancies.
This last bit has raised many concerned eyebrows since I first wrote about it in my best-seller, The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide (the title was ironic. Nobody got it. Ho hum…) in 2006. It was one paragraph in a 370 page book, and WHAM! I was on the BBC Breakfast sofa, on the GMTV sofa, talking to Marie Claire, and journos and random people in Tesco’s about it.
Crikey, I touched a nerve!
Seemingly, nobody had publicly admitted to having an eating disorder during pregnancy like this, and questions were asked of me: how can a woman who is pregnant have an eating disorder? How can she be so selfish? So irresponsible? Why can’t she just love her enormous belly and be happy that she doesn’t fit into any clothes without using a shoe-horn?
Well, my own question was always this: how on Earth can we expect any of the million or so people who currently suffer from an eating disorder in the UK alone, to miraculously snap out of their ‘selfish, stupid’ behaviour the second the sperm hits the egg and burrows its way in? Does it not seems a TAD unlikely to you that no pregnant women starve themselves, or make themselves sick, if this is the addiction they suffered from before they were pregnant?
And let’s be clear: the eating disorder I had – it was the B one, by the way, not the A one, although it was probably a bit of both most of the time, as is very common – is an addiction like any other. I lived for it, thought of nothing else, missed lectures and meeting friends and boyfriends, and experiences and too many fun times to list, spent hundreds of pounds and incalculable hours of a young life in the pursuit of eating more food than I now eat in a week, and then throwing it all up again.
Great. Nice one Liz.
The high was tremendous: during a binge (how I HATE that word) I felt I could achieve anything. My heart raced, my palms sweated, I was filled with adrenaline and excitement and possibility. The world and all the worry, insecurity, fear and crushing self-loathing it contained, disappeared during the eating, and I felt powerful, able and clever, I would pass these exams, write that book, achieve all my goals and show the world what I was made of.
And after the high, the inevitable low. Low, low, like you can’t imagine. Low so you want to die, every second, every minute because you’re such a waste of space on this Earth. Low so you hate yourself in ways you never dreamed possible, even on very shitty days. Low because you know you’re hurting others, and wasting everyone’s time. Low, so you swear you’ll never do it again.
And then you do. Because you’re an addict.
And there were the headaches, the strange heart beats, the sore mouth, the swollen face. It’s not a pretty illness, that’s for sure.
In late 2003 I came within a minute or two of dying due to this illness and I can honestly tell you that when you see that white light at the end of the tunnel, and you didn’t choose to see it, and you realise there are 3 kids upstairs in bed whom you might never hear giggle again, you want to LIVE more than you’ve ever wanted to live before.
And that’s what I set about doing, from that day: LIVING. I have never binged again, nor wanted to. Not ever. It’s as though someone flipped a switch, and I woke up in a different, better, clearer world.
A year after that day, I sent a book proposal to an agent, and a year after that it was sitting pretty in the best-seller charts. Then I wrote another. And then another. Now I’m writing my first novel, and loving every minute of it.
All of this is possible because the fog that clouded every day for fifteen years of my life lifted the second I got better. I could see clearly, remember things, hold information in my brain, concentrate, work, have friends, be a better mum and make up for the lost days and months and years that I’d flushed away. Every day now is a chance to make up some of that lost time, and every morning I’m happy to be here to live it.
I’ve done a huge amount of press about this, as I believe it’s still a massively misunderstood illness, and the more people who’ve had it – and have fully recovered, like me -that can speak out and explain what it’s really about, why it can happen, how serious it is, the after effects it leaves (I still have an irregular heart beat which terrifies me and my tooth enamel is a bit buggered in places) the more sufferers may be helped.
And I know I’ve helped many. I’ve had piles of letters and emails from readers over the years, saying everything from ‘you’ve saved my life’ to ‘you’ve saved my marriage’ to ‘thank you for making me aware of what my daughter is suffering from. I had no idea it was so serious and we’ll seek help now.’
That kind of thing makes the embarrassment at speaking of something so ghastly and un-pretty, worthwhile.
One of the most helpful comments I’ve ever had about this came from Dr Hillary on GMTV not long ago. He said to me ‘You didn’t have an eating disorder while you were pregnant. You had a pregnancy during an eating disorder.’ He is so right, and if you are suffering, please, please try to get help and get it sorted. It CAN get better. It CAN go away forever. And when it does you won’t believe how much EASIER and BETTER life is when you don’t have an eating disorder screwing up your brain 24/7.
I’ve not seen the Grazia piece yet, but I’m going to pop out now, slither across the ice and buy my copy. If you get a sec, do the same. They’ve no doubt chosen the worst mug-shot of me and Emily, but never mind. She’s an incredible girl, and all I can do is hope that I raise her to believe in herself and to be happy. And to come to me if she’s not.
Thanks for trawling through this. Like I said, not so funny today, but hey, because I’m better, now there’s always a tomorrow.
And there’s always a smile : -)