Day 5: Recovery measured in books

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Day 5 – National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Friday: share any tips for reaching out. Give people advice for sites, books, hotlines, or anything else that helped you or might just help them in recovery!

*****

Since childhood books and reading have been my way of understanding the world. I spent playtimes at school reading Harry Potter and my mealtimes bouncing Lord of the Rings trivia off my parents. So it isn’t much surprise that when I come to recommending “resources” that a person could use to encourage recovery from their eating problems, my recommendations are all things to be read. So here’s my reading list for recovery, starting from those childhood years when I first had eating problems.

When I was about twelve years old I read “Girls Under Pressure,” by Jacqueline Wilson in which the teenage protagonist, 13 year old Ellie, struggled with bulimia. This was the first book to introduce me to the idea that a person could die from an eating disorder. In the book, Ellie is awakened to her own need for recovery by the hospitalisation of her friend. Until I read this book, I didn’t really have a language for what I was experiencing. Thank God for Jacqueline Wilson. I was never told by a doctor that I “had” anorexia, and this book was my first moment of linking my experiences to the disorder. Ellie’s story gave me the first narrative for my eating disorder, not only that it was problem but that it could be overcome.

In my teenage years I lost myself in fiction as a solace, but I read and re-read “Chicken Soup for the Teenager Soul,” and “Chicken soup for the Teenage Soul – Tough Stuff.” In these compilation anthologies of teenage stories I could found voices that sound like mine. They were scared and frightened too, although they spelt “Mom” wrong and I had no idea exactly what “middle school” was. The books were passed onto me by a friend’s Aunt who lived in America. I hadn’t found anything in the UK where normal teenagers were sharing their stories quite like this. True stories. When I read them, I felt like I was hearing from people who were telling me it was going to be okay, but they were saying it from very very far away, over oceans. I suppose in the early 2000’s, this was the equivalent of something like Tumblr. This book of real-life tales and anecdotes was my first awakening to the fact that other people’s stories kept me going. Fiction was my oxygen,  but real life stories told me to keep breathing.

Nowadays I have particular places on the internet where I find people who inspire me in the same way those voices from Chicken soup used to do. I read post-secret, the  blog hub of secret keepers on the internet. During my really bad period at University it got to the point where I was sitting on my computer on a Sunday afternoon, waiting for it to turn midnight in the states and for the Sunday secrets to be refreshed. Post-secret is the group confession of strangers – they have a suicide outreach program, they run huge public events and publish books. They create a platform to say the things we feel we can’t say in a safe environment. They connect us to one another, through our secrets. On the worst of days, when I couldn’t get out of bed and everyone felt very far away, I could go online and read other people’s secrets and know I was not alone.

I also subscribe to newsletters where I know I will never come across a piece that will talk down to mental health, or people with eating disorders. I read The Pool and Lenny. Both websites are run by women, they demonstrate awareness of mental health, and they promote whole body health, not “perfect” body health. They are sources of online writing where I feel I will always find something to uplift me. I also look for stories on sites like narrative.ly, buzzfeed big stories, hellogiggles and the newyorker, where long form stories are honest and empowering. Here are just some of the articles that have helped me in my recovery:

“What it feels like to live with an eating disorder at Christmas,” by Victoria Smith, The Pool. This helped remind me that there are other women out there who continue to live with their eating disorders. This article gave me a lot of strength over the most recent Christmas break (always a bad time for me)

More eating disorders than ever are being formally recognised and that’s an important thing.’ by Natalia Lusinski at Hello Giggles. I related a lot to Natalia’s story, and also appreciated the detail she went into about the variations of eating disorders out there.

‘Getting a massage shifted my relationship with my body’  by Lesley A Miller at Buzzfeed. I know too well the feeling of being afraid of showing people my body – I feel like this story gave me more confidence to be open about what I might need for my body. Like a massage!

‘My Boyfriend Loves Fat Women,’ by Kristin Chirico at Buzzfeed. This artucle was really challenging for me,because I recognised in Kristin’s words the same disbelief that I felt about people finding a bigger body more attractive than a smaller one. But it encouraged me significantly, because even deeply ingrained thought processes we have can be worn away with time.

And in the less electronic written words, I can definitely say the following books have helped my continuing journey of recovery. They all fall into the ‘memoir’ category, and the women who wrote them have all taught me something about my own ability to overcome my current situation:

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed: Cheryl attempted to overcome her grief, divorce and drug problems whilst walking one of the most intense hiking routes in America. It is moving, beautiful, heart-wrenching and uplifting. I cried at the last chapter because I knew it was ending, and I couldn’t bear that Cheryl’s journey would go on without me. I thought it was just going to be The Incredible Journey but with people. It kind of was, but I had forgotten how much The Incredible Journey made me cry. Bawled like a baby. Not sorry.

How to be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran: Caitlin has always made me laugh, but her book made me laugh and feel strong. The way she talks about ‘fat’ and the fetish of young women’s bodies in our society was revelatory to me. It was like she provided this genuine reason for why it always feels like the world is shouting “BE THINNER!” at me. Caitlin has the strange ability to write like she’s my best friend and my guru at the same time. Don’t read it on a train though, you will laugh so loud people will stare. Trust me.

Not that Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham: Lena is completely open about the fact she still fights her mental illness on a daily basis. She’s funny and smart and makes a lot of sense, and I know this book got some bad rap at the time but I really think the people who were dishing it out just didn’t understand the kind of brain a child/person with anxiety really has. I felt understood by Lena. Her candid writing makes me feel like I am talking to a friend about my stuff, and she is saying “Oh yeah, I totally understand.”

Giving up the Ghost, by Hilary Mantel: Hilary is one of my favourite fiction writers and her memoir reads like the exquisite story of someone else’s life. Yet her description of her struggles with illness in her life leap off the page and give me so much inspiration to keep going. She kept going, and look at her. She has also had an astonishing life, with anecdotes and an intriguing past and even a few ghosts thrown in the mix. When I finished the book I felt like Hilary had basically told me that whatever doesn’t kill you at least gives you a good story.

That’s my reading list!

I read to find the people who are saying the things I feel. I read to find the words I am unable to say. And then, when I have found someone who has been brave enough to speak, I feel strong enough to write my own story with my own words. That is what this blog is, really, and especially what it has been this week as I have tried, painfully, to un-work some of the tangles of my eating disorder in the hope it might help some other people untangle their own. But without the constant support and inspiration from all these written words, all these writers and authors and journalists and bloggers, I wouldn’t be writing this at all.

So a thank you is due – to those who have written words I have felt understood me, and those who have read my words and understood.

Thanks a bunch.

*****

Do you have some resources, books, articles, anything that have really helped you get through the day? Let me know. 🙂 Do you need to talk? I’m here.

I’ll be back tomorrow for Day 5. Last post for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and then I’m tucking into my favourite victory food: potato cakes. Yum.

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