Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Life, and fathers (update)

Tomorrow marks a month since I last spoke with my father. By my father, I mean my biological one who I traced down almost a year ago now (I call my step-dad 'Dad' which may confuse some people!).

I haven't updated you much on the whole father situation and in all honesty that is because it's been a terribly tough few months and has resulted in a complete lack of contact. I don't want to waste a whole blog post simply diminishing him because that isn't fair, but to say that I've been left heartbroken by this whole course of events is an understatement. Some days I go through with no thought of him whatsoever, and on some I'll be triggered by the smallest things, listening to Coldplay or Tears for Fears, watching films and reading books about absent fathers, even friends who talk about their perfect relationships with their Dads allow me completely lose my mind and break down into a fit of tears, through no fault of my own.

I hate myself often for being so resentful and so pained by this whole experience, as I tell myself that I lived without him for close to 22 years, so living without him now need not be a concern - or at least, that's what others like to tell me anyway. The beautiful Nancy Tucker, author of The Time in Between (which I reviewed in my last blog post, so check it out), presented me with a fantastic analogy however which allowed me to rethink the whole thing. She said: It is like having been trapped in a desert for 22 years, then given a huge bottle of water, taken one gulp and had it taken away from you again - and then having someone say, 'what, you're STILL thirsty? But you were FINE before'. She is so completely right (and this girl comes up with the best analogies I've ever come across!).

I'm going through a lot of self-doubt at the moment, I feel stressed, unable to fully concentrate, plagued with thoughts of the future and pretty much every other aspect of my life that could be worried about. I feel not good enough and unworthy at the smallest dip in grades which may not seem small for some people but seem momentous to me, and I'll cry and cry and cry and crave to be liked, to be seen as good and worthy and perfect by those around me. Over the past few weeks I've beaten myself up more times than I'd even like to admit and had some ridiculous thoughts which internally, I know are ridiculous yet doesn't seem barricade them in any way.

My father's rejection of me is a slight kick in the face and seems to perpetuate these emotions and I wonder if this is ever something I'll ever be able to shake a stick at. I provided the man who is supposed to love me unconditionally with a chance and that chance, although initially seeming promising, ending up being disregarded. Maybe I am ridiculous for being distressed over this, I don't know, but what I've learned to realise is that nobody has the right to tell me how I should or shouldn't feel about a situation. What I do need to do, is to learn how I can move on from this, if I can, and not let it affect my self-esteem even further than it already has done. I currently feel stuck, and I mention this a lot, but stuck genuinely in a place which has no future, I am worth nothing and can do nothing.

I'm still thirsty from something I'm lacking in life, and if it can't come from the one person I assumed was going to help fill that void I don't know where I can hydrate myself. I can't quite work it out either way. I don't know where I'm going, who loves me, who appreciates me, and what is quite reality. It all just seems a bit strange. I've reached a stage where I'm not even being contacted for internships to say they've received my application, not even an acknowledgement of my existence. Where no matter how hard I strive to make tutors proud of me - I can't seem to get the recognition I crave, firsts are not good enough anymore and 2:1's are certainly not either. I really don't know what I'm looking for in life, what it is infact that I'm here for.

Last week at University we were asked to look at Plath's poem 'Daddy' - a poem I know well due to my poetry tutor sending it to me during a particularly rough patch a few months prior. I remember my personal tutor saying that he hated discussing this particular poem in class as it made students rile up with emotion with how much they hated their fathers, and mothers and members of their immediate family. Whilst that would never be a topic I would discuss openly in seminars - it really made me think of how many others out there that there are who have gone the majority of their lives unknowingly feeling unloved by a presence that was never there in the first place. How many people are dying to scream out to those around them how much they detest the one person who was supposed to provide them with love, how much Sylvia Plath's poem resonates and rings small bells in their fragile minds. I know I am one of many, and I won't be the last.

I apologise for what may be a very in-depth post for me, which hasn't happened in a while, but I was struggling with what to write and I knew I had to get something onto paper. Thank you to Nancy for being fabulous and supportive, and I'll leave you with a poem that even though did not achieve particularly high grades in my creative writing coursework for Uni (which as you can imagine, devastated me no doubt) - I remember being rather proud of at the time. It's a personal one, but I can't keep blocking these feelings and emotions from the world, not at such a crucial and confusing time of my life.


You separated me from the world, Placed your offspring into exile, Dragged wool over their eyes With your extraordinary dissociations, ‘I don’t remember saying that’ - Thoughts as distilled as whisky and your death sticks. Your ‘mechanisms’ leave me souvenirs that pluck chords in my psyche, Flashbacks to a five year old lioness, Who wanted to scream, Unable to peel her face from yours.

Have a great week everyone. I'll be back soon with another book review of Natasha Devon and Lynn Crilly's new release, Fundamentals.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Book Review : The Time in Between - Nancy Tucker

As we approach the beginning of Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2015, it is about time that I take to my blog to review 20 year old Nancy Tucker's debut non-fiction memoir The Time in Between, published on the 2nd April 2015, a documentation of Nancy's experiences with both anorexia and bulimia nervosa, spanning through the duration of her teenage years.

Why am I reviewing an eating disorder memoir do you ask? In a way, I asked myself the same question when I was asked if I would like a proof copy from Icon Books. Having too experienced an eating disorder throughout my teens, and owning two eating disorder memoirs myself but never actually gathering the courage to read them, eating disorder memoirs were texts I steered from for fear of using its content as gospel, as an excuse to further my self-destruction. Yet, as one who would class herself as now recovered, I was drawn to Nancy's story through a phenomenal interview with her that was delivered by Leena Normington, Nancy's publicist and an incredible YouTuber who I watch regularly. I believe the interview is no longer available, but I became captivated by this very courageous and remarkably talented girl and her story in a way in which I'd never been so interested by this work of non-fiction before.

When Nancy Tucker was nine years old, her class were asked to write down what they wanted most in their life. After thinking long and hard, without knowing quite why, she wrote 'I want to be thin'.

The book spans Nancy's life from her birth in December 1993 to the present day, documenting her growth, family life, schooling experiences, and influences from the outside world, each chapter represented by a colour which describes her life at that stage in time. Many of Nancy's experiences struck a chord with me as they brought me back to my own pre-teen and teenage life, difficult relationships with my father, being unable to fit in with peers, constant comparisons to others, and a deep rooted perfectionism which never seemed to let loose. Yet this piece is not conducted in a way in which every other eating disorder memoir seems to suggest - with the intention of triggering others. I have personally an interesting outlook on triggers in general, and what drove me to the book was Nancy's rather similar outlook that if you wished to use the novel as your eating disorder bible, then that is 100% your own decision. Yet, Nancy doesn't want you to. For it to serve as a guide to eating disorders is NOT the point here.This memoir contains no mentions of weight or calorie numbers and serves for a purpose to conveys nothing else but pure honesty of the life of the eating disorder sufferer, and beyond this.

This honesty is what made the hairs on my arms stand up and my body shiver, what struck a blow to my heart and what reminded me of the hundreds of thousands of other young people fighting this battle each and everyday. Nancy addresses the sides of the illness which many would be shamed to even admit to themselves, the real depths that one goes to further perpetuate their eating disorder. The way in which friends consequently become pushed to the side, studies become non-existent and living in your own home becomes a never-ending battlefield. What really happens to our bodies once we starve it of what it needs. How we really feel about the professionals that attempt to 'help' us, how we begin to view those around us as less inferior as long as we are succeeding in the one skill we believe we can ever truly be good at - losing weight. That it doesn't matter who or what sticks around, as long as your eating disorder, what Nancy refers to as 'The Voice', commits to a sort of friendship with you, a love-hate relationship which seems impossible to break free of.

The book is not simply just a story but also could be described as epistolary, told also through the use of scripts, hypothetical letters and lists, and diary entries. I personally found this such an original and interesting way of addressing the topic, ways I had never previously though of before. The capitalisation of professionals, friends, 'The Diet', and 'Loss of Control' (as examples) really helps to personify the illness and highlights how often it can felt like a real presence as opposed to just the imaginary. An an English student, I was drawn to the powerful metaphors within this book, so intelligently put together and thought out and through these the novel became more and more compelling as I kept reading.

The discussion of what Nancy refers to as The Time in Between brought a tear to my eye. The idea that recovery doesn't have an end point, a finish line. The road is long, and windy, and bumpy and complicated, it messes will you and convinces you of one feeling when you really feel another. A time where others assume that you are recovered, want you to be recovered when you're not, and you can't be because what is recovered? Not an end destination, that's for sure.

Nancy's story was heartbreaking, brutal, yet beautiful, lyrical and poignant. I'd be very surprised if anyone could pick this book up and not take its intended message away from it, its uniqueness captivating and overall eye-opening. I do hope that Nancy is unbelievably proud of her achievement through the publication of this book, as she deserves to 100%.

Please do pre-order a copy of The Time in Between from The Book Depository here:

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

#BodyLove at the Canvas Cafe, Shoreditch

Last Thursday the 29th of January I had the opportunity to attend an event organised by the body image charity BodyGossip, hosted by Ruth Rogers of BodyGossip and The Canvas, and Natasha Devon of the Self-Esteem Team, aimed at parents and teachers regarding body image and self-esteem.

I have been involved with BodyGossip since 2013 when I became one of their ambassadors, and constantly admire the overwhelming amount of work that is put into an organisation which works to empower each individual to work the best version of themselves. BodyGossip is a now registered charity whose aim is the aim of self-love and after spending my whole life lacking in the particular category, I remember BodyGossip being the first organisation of its kind which helped me to adapt a different approach to the way I and many other young people viewed themselves and their body. Through their innovative campaign, BodyGossip spread across the country, with the launch of the BodyGossip education programme which is run by the Self-Esteem Team, organising excellent workshops in schools as well as in 2013 organising our first #bodylove flashmob, on London's Southbank, a simply inspirational and incredible event to have been a part of.

In October 2014, co-founder of BodyGossip Ruth Rogers launched The Canvas, a brand spanking new café and creative venue based just off of Brick Lane, in Hanbury Street, London. The café is designed not only to build a stronger community for London residents, but to encourage those who attend to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Events run at the café such as positivity workshops (next one will be held on the 10th February 2015 at 6:30pm - which I will be attending), TED talk showings, film screenings, and much more. Plus the café is rather literally a blank canvas - you can write on their walls and everything!

Natasha Devon, founder of the brilliant new Self-Esteem Team, who work in collaboration with BodyGossip and YoungMinds and work to educate young people on self-esteem and how to improve it as well as reducing stereotypes and stigma surrounding body image - gave an absolutely insightful talk to parents and teachers at The Canvas about young peoples body image and self-esteem. I live-tweeted the event along with my wonderful friend and activist Kat Cormack and we took many insightful ideas and approaches to guide young people into feeling  more positive about themselves and their bodies.

Natasha discussed the ways in which marketing companies are consistently endorsing not just their products, but endorsing a negative self-esteem of their audiences and a strong sense of inadequacy with ourselves. We have, as Natasha cleverly puts it, 'commoditized the body'. She produced an extremely insightful outlook on a famous Loreal haircare advert, promoted by Cheryl Cole, but noting the clever way in which Loreal had hidden the disclaimer r.e Cheryl Cole's hair actually formed of 'natural hair extensions' (whatever they are). The placement of this disclaimer, deliberately to the right hand side of the screen (where audiences typically will not initially read from) alongside the minute text and three second sustainment of this disclaimer, drew my immediate attention to Natasha's point. It's obvious that marketing companies must sell products - but the extent to which they go to to do so, by lying and then slyly covering their tracks, by falsely advertising what isn't reality, shocked me more than it ever had done before, following Natasha's talk.

Natasha suggested that young people/students  NEED to be questioning these media messages that they are being bombarded with on a daily basis, often without realising it (on the school bus, billboards, TV advertisements, Facebook advertisements, all of which take three seconds to absorb in its entirety). We are used to absorbing adverts as a natural process, but very many of us rarely take the time to really understand the true message that is being sent out to us, not look beyond the exterior of the advertising industry. Natasha encourages parents to take a few minutes out of the day to sit and reflect on these messages as opposed to simply inhaling this multitude of false messages, to outline to young people the reality of what they witness within the media.

I completely agree with Natasha's point that 'beauty, fashion and fitness are amazing ways to express yourself, if you are expressing yourself' and that is an extremely important statement directed particularly at students who are of an age where they become absorbed into an industry as well as through their peers where they feel pressured into enhancing and changing parts of their body. Although I begun to develop an eating disorder from the age of 12 years old, at the time the emphasis on girls wearing make-up and having perfect bodies was only ever really applicable to the popular girls. Now, it really is everywhere, and it particularly strikes me that upon talking to one of my family friends 13 year old daughters a few weeks ago, she proceeded to call herself ugly and felt like she wasn't good enough compared to her friends. This poor girl really hit home for me the way that I felt at that age, and even prior to that - but for her, the pressure to be perfect has multiplied by about 1000. I never grew up with social media, nor did I grow up in a world where girls wanted to be supermodels by the time they reached the peak of teen-hood. Yet I still came under the full force of an eating disorder, and it terrifies me to wonder how hard this is affecting secondary school students of today. It's extremely difficult to tell students who long to fit in with their peers that actually, standing out and being the best version of yourself is the best way to be, but it really is true and is a message we should be quite literally drilling into young people. 'How we feel about how we look affects how entitled we feel' is a particular point which stuck by me after this talk. Young people often believe they are unworthy of success in life due to bombardment of negative thoughts over the way that they look, and there is simply no correlation between the two. Beauty is unachievable, and the reason behind that is that it doesn't truly exist. Beauty is subjective, but also should not focus on the external. The way you look has no effect on how entitled to life you are, and students need help to ensure they draw a fine line between these two constructs.

Natasha also addressed the idea that students should learn to change the way that they receive compliments, and actually, this is not just applicable to students but to all of us: 'We value people for their loyalty, kindness, humour - not for their weight loss, great legs or new handbag, but we never tell them' and I myself am guilty of this and I'm sure many of you are too. If you learn to recognise your peers for the external superficiality as opposed to the internal, the external qualities such as weight loss and a perfect stomach become the qualities by which one defines oneself. Why do we not instead go up to our friends, our family, our colleagues, and tell them how much we value them? How much they make us smile, how much their loyalty is valued and what great friends they are? Because somehow, we've been modelled into feeling as if commenting on one's external self is the only way to ever give a true compliment, and this is simply not true. We all need to not just learn how to give great compliments, but also to receive them as opposed to complete dismissal. If someone gives you a compliment regarding your generosity, instead of simply telling them that they're wrong, accept the compliment and thank them. Absorb compliments in as much the exact way as you unwillingly absorb the advertising industry. Natasha says: 'Some people wear make-up because they are celebrating their face, and some people wear make up because they are apologising for it' and the more we learn to give and receive compliments, especially about one's inner self, it allows an internal confidence to shine through which radiates not just the way you feel about your personality, but all other aspects of yourself.

During her question and answer session, Natasha says: 'Your body is the only thing in your life which you will ever truly own' and if I'm honest, this is something which I forgot. I'm so used to belittling my body that I often forget that it is mine and it's not something I can return to New Look in exchange for another. I spent the entirety of my teenage years treating my body with such disrespect and looking upon it in disgust that I forgot that my body was something that I possessed and owned and actually had the capability to be proud of.  And as secondary school students reach puberty, they need to be taught to respect their bodies and their capabilities and embrace them, not to view them as an enemy and something to strive to disguise from society.

The talk was inspiring, informative, humorous and very cleverly put together. Natasha took topics that I already knew much of yet allowed me to think of them in new and insightful ways. This talk was a fabulous introduction to many more talks and programmes that will be taking place in the upcoming future at The Canvas, which as I attend I will blog about it due course!

Natasha Devon was also selling copies of her brand new book, Fundamentals: A Guide for Parents, Teachers and Carers on Mental Health and Self-Esteem, a joint collaborative with the wonderful Lynn Crilly whom many of you will recognise. Descriptions of the book include: 'A self-help book for people who are fed up with being patronised by self-help books. This guide will give you pragmatic, relevant advice on how to nurture self-esteem and discuss and deal with mental health issues, delivered with positivity, humour and realism'. I will be posting a book review on my blog in due course (after I have assorted my mountain of University related reading!) so please stay tuned, yet after this talk, I'm already extremely self-assured that this book is going to be just as interesting and insightful. If you would like to buy a copy (and I suggest you do!), I'll post a link here.

Group shot! Including Natasha Devon and Nadia Mendoza, 2/3's of the Self-Esteem Team, Jillian, a BodyGossip ambassador, myself, the lovely Ruth Rogers of BodyGossip and owner of The Canvas, and my good friend, inspiration and fellow activist, Kat Cormack! Twitter links to people involved in the event can be sought by simply clicking on their names!

Myself and my good friend Kat Cormack, who currently works for an organisation called BuddyApp which uses digital media to provide support to local therapy services. She is also a strong mental health activist and has previously worked with the NHS and volunteered so much time to mental health charities, more specifically YoungMinds, to make changes in the field of mental health.

My signed copy of Fundamentals by Natasha Devon and Lynn Crilly, a counsellor and author of Hope with Eating Disorders

Natasha Devon answering a Q&A for parents and teachers.

Kat looking beautiful infront of one of the canvas walls in The Canvas - the walls invite you to answer questions such as 'What's on your Bucket List' and 'What makes you happy' simply by grabbing a pen and writing your answers on their walls! Incredibly innovative and creative and adds such a personal touch to the venue.

Whilst I strongly urge you all to give The Canvas a visit as well as to purchase Natasha and Lynn's new book, I also hope that this blog was interesting and informative and helped you gain a different approach into the methods we should be using to teach young people to rock their own version of gorgeousness and to be themselves, and themselves only.

Until next time!