As I sat on the windowsill of my year 10 classroom, I could feel the warmth of the sun on my back. I was desperate for this heat. It was May and the temperature outside was typical of the month, mild, cloudy but with sunny outbreaks. I could hear the laughter from outside, teenage girls in little clusters scattered all over the courtyard, deep in animated conversations. From within the classroom, there was also chatter; conversations about lunch, who was dating who, and plans for the weekend. I tried to focus on what was being discussed, a smile painted on my face, trying to demonstrate that I actually cared, when in reality all I could focus on was willing the sun to warm up my shivering body, which was buried beneath layers of clothing. Whilst everyone else was in full summer uniform of striped blue and white blouse and navy skirts, I was still sporting full thermals, topped with a jumper and blazer to cover my tiny, vulnerable under-nourished body.
Unless you have experienced a restrictive eating disorder like Anorexia, you will not truly be able to appreciate or understand the cold, even in the height of summer, it seeps into every corner of you, deep into your bones, to the point it aches to move. I don’t remember much of this time but I will never forget what it felt like to be so cold you were numb; to feel so incredibly alone, enhanced by the sheer void and emptiness that had been created within me. The isolation, which I would also experience years later going through my divorce and while not to the full extent, I’m definitely noticing similarities right now as I write these very words in lockdown during a global pandemic; you become enveloped in it and it not only repels any form of care, love or comfort; but also shields you from further hurt pain and suffering. It takes you to a place where thoughts are dark and intrusive but also loud – “You are not good enough. Nobody likes you.” The more isolated you become, the more these thoughts takes over and become your truth.
My Anorexia had caught everyone by surprise; we were in the 1990s and the only real case study was that of Karen Carpenter. No one expected an Indian girl, brought up above a shop in a council estate to develop an eating disorder. I baffled medics for months. Nobody could work out why the weight just kept falling off. Like all Anorexics I was a master at manipulating any situations around food. I disguised my body under layers and layers of clothing and went about my daily tasks with gusto, demonstrating to everyone that I was fine and fully capable. When I finally did get the help I needed, I was literally days away from death.
My recovery from Anorexia was not linear, it never is. Indeed, it has taken me over 2 decades to appreciate this and understand that even times when I thought I was “recovered”; where food really was no longer an issue, there was still a problem. Its only really been in recent years that I can see, the discomfort I felt at 13 years and denied through restrictive eating has plagued me through my adult life. I just used other methods to try and fix it.
I spent my 20s worrying too much; always chasing something- the perfect job, the number on the scale, collecting accolade after accolade to prove I was enough and always in search of that ultimate pair of skinny jeans that worked for me.
In my 30s I chased run paces and finishing times at races. I beat myself up daily for not being an earth mother, feeling a continual disappointment as a wife, and never feeling satisfied with my career path. The search for the perfect pair of jeans continued.
In my 40s, I’ve faced more losses, hurt and adversity but finally I have stop chasing. I have found acceptance and belief. I stopped and took stock. The answers were always there, within me, I just needed to understand. That is, I just needed to understand me.
I have come to the realisation that there has always been so much evidence that I’m enough just the way I am but I chose not to see it; there was always love and friendship that I denied myself because I didn’t feel worthy.
I’ve stopped chasing happiness because it’s not a destination, it’s not a body aesthetic, it’s not about having a partner; it’s not about being successful or receiving external validation through work or races.
It’s a place you reach when you learn to forgive yourself and embrace being uniquely you. It is a place where you can sit comfortably in your skin, being grateful for those that bring love and laughter into your life; where you can drink coffee, eat cake without care; where you don’t assume that acceptance and approval is based on what you look like. It is where you do what makes you smile, whether that’s a run in the mountains or dancing in the kitchen and it’s not about creating an illusion of the “type” of person you want the world to think you are. It’s about being true to yourself, maintaining authenticity, even when the chips are down.
It’s about appreciating “That Life’s Beauty is inseparable from Its Fragility”
“We experience love but also loss; we achieve success but also failure.”
I’m the same Renee but finally, I feel sassy, sexy and in the best shape of my life but most importantly, I am no longer looking for that pair of jeans- I’ve found that I rock a pair of dungarees instead.