Being chronically ill has fundamentally changed me as a person in so many ways it’s impossible to write about. At the age of 26 I was already on a journey of growth and discovery but spending 10 years stuck in bed feeling every day like I was dying didn’t half speed the process up.
I had a chaotic childhood where conflict was settled by blazing rows and chucking stuff. So that’s what I learned. This only happened inside my home, though, not outside – God forbid anyone on the outside should know my family were dysfunctional. To the outside world we showed politeness, courtesy and respectability, but the second the front door was shut all hell broke loose. It made me quite mixed up as a teenager as I’m sure you can imagine.
I remember the day I stopped rowing with my boyfriends. I was 23 and in the middle of yet another argument over something ridiculous. And I remember thinking to myself “what the fuck are you doing? This is exhausting. You love this person and you need to stop.” So that’s exactly what I did. I said in the middle of the row “I love you, can we just stop this please?” and with relief he agreed. We then calmly sat down and discussed the issue properly. I can probably count on one hand the amount of arguments I’ve had since.
The boyfriend I was with when I got sick with M.E. in 1994 was ambitious. He was money driven, wanted a big house, expensive car, holidays abroad, designer clothes……..and I tagged along, even though I didn’t really care about any of it. I didn’t have the confidence to say I wanted a quiet, unassuming life and that I thought all the trappings which came with wealth were pointless. Spending 10 years unable to get dressed or leave the house let alone go abroad on holiday only served to re-enforce to me that stuff is just stuff and has no meaning. A cuddle, or someone cooking me a meal, means more to me than any designer handbag. Needless to say we parted ways and he ended up in London as Editor at Sky news with the life he wanted, and I ended up in a little cottage in the country with the life I wanted. His job and lifestyle became so stressful it gave him a stroke at the age of 39, but that’s a story for another day.
In my early twenties I was very image conscious. I worried if I gained 3lbs, spent hours at the gym getting my stomach flat and my butt curvy and never left the house without my slap on. The stress I put on myself was ridiculous and none of it was for me. I was happiest slopping about in my pjs or joggers and being sick enabled me to do just that. And I haven’t stopped 😉 I only buy clothes when it’s critical and by critical I mean that my jeans have a hole in the arse. I bloody hate clothes shopping and spend my life in leggins (in which I both sleep and go out, often the same pair for days on end), wellies (rain boots) or walking boots (even in summer) and either a t-shirt or a jumper quite often with my lunch spilled down the front. I think I’ve worn makeup twice so far this year and had my nails painted once (and even that was too much effort). It’s so incredibly freeing to not care what the world thinks of me and, while I know that kind of body confidence only really comes with age, I wish it were something we taught our young girls.
I have a friend who is 24 and overweight. I photographed her a couple of years ago and she was mortified I put the images on facebook. She agreed to be photographed but I think she thought I’d somehow airbrush them to make her look 2 stones lighter. I have no intention because she is beautiful as she is and that’s all I see – her beauty. I want to shout at her for not recognizing that and for wasting her life hating herself. Here are her choices: lose weight or embrace her weight. The only other option is spending a lifetime hating her body – the body that is keeping her alive, enabling her to walk, to laugh, to love her fiance, to do up her first home and to have fun with her friends. Why would someone choose that? I’m nearly a stone (14lbs) overweight which when you’re 5ft nothing is quite a bit, but it just is what it is. I can’t diet with my hormones the way they are, and I certainly can’t exercise it off, so I just accept it and buy bigger leggins 😉
I don’t watch a huge amount of telly these days. I find it all bizarre. The adverts selling me shit I don’t want or need. The news which makes me want to hang myself. The reality TV with people shagging and swearing and getting pissed every night of the week. It’s all so LOUD it hurts my brain and is absolutely irrelevant to my existence. I don’t do Twitter or Instagram or What’s App – what a fucking waste of my precious time and energy. I am on Facebook but I have less than 100 ‘friends’ and only follow half a dozen of those, mainly my family who now live in Australia, friends in other countries or very poorly friends who aren’t up to visitors in real life. That’s because I actually see and speak to everyone else and don’t need to be talking to them on the sodding computer!
The biggest thing I wish someone had taught me as a young girl would have been to listen to my gut. My gut tells me a lot of things which I, to my cost, ignore. It told me I was in the wrong job and the wrong relationship. It told me I was living in the wrong place surrounded by the wrong people. I was baffled as to why buying stuff didn’t fulfil me and why I woke up every day fundamentally miserable. My gut got physically sick when people treated me badly, were rude, dismissive, mean or discouraging yet I allowed them to remain in my life. It took getting really ill to give me the courage to explore who I am, to stand up for my happiness and to live authentically, which was a bit extreme but I wasn’t taking note of the small clues so God chucked a brick at my head instead and that did the trick 😉