The beginning of the journey
I have been heavily into sport and exercise from an early age -- playing for school football teams, district sports championships, youth rugby and any other sports I could get involved in. I loved it, but it was also an excellent reason to stay away from home, as I was extremely unhappy there.
My father was extremely emotionally abusive, leaving no opportunity unexploited to drive home how useless, unattractive and un-loveable I was.
Mental and emotional health problems meant that I entered the mental health system at the age of 14. Having started drinking at the age of 13, by my late teens I had developed an intense alcohol and drug addiction. If I wasn't drinking, I was taking a variety of drugs to block out the anger, frustration and loneliness I felt inside.
I had sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous but their approach, whilst wonderful for others, just didn’t reach me and I spiraled further, attempting suicide in a desperate attempt to escape from my life. Luckily, I found Acorn Services (a charity which no longer exists) where a small handful of people, in one-on-one sessions, really gave me a sense of hope that I could overcome my addictions. Their human, down-to-earth, realistic and practical approach helped me set achievable goals that, step by step, got me functioning again. They were baby steps initially, but when you feel like nothing is achievable, reaching any goal is immense. I managed to stay clean and sober for 4 years.
I had started a cleaning job at my local convent to help with my recovery. I loved it there. The peace, quiet and compassion from the sisters gave me a feeling of belonging that I had never felt before. Ironically, this feeling -- that someone actually cared about me -- terrified me. The sisters organised a surprise birthday party for my 22nd birthday. The gesture blew my mind. My brain could not encompass the possibility of being loved and my fear lead to me relapsing.
The sisters did not once condemn me. Even though they were aware I had started using again, they simply offered me a shoulder to cry on. I knew I needed to stop, had been informed by my doctors that I would die within months if I continued with my habit... but there were no rehab beds available this time. I was on my own.
I locked myself in my car and went cold turkey. It took three days and is not something I ever want to experience again. But it worked. I joined my local ladies rugby club to keep me busy - they were my saving grace!
I celebrated my 10th year of sobriety this August (2015)!
Not out of the woods
In 2008, after numerous trips to the doctors regarding extreme changes in my moods and emotional responses to situations, I was diagnosed with Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder. It was found I had a particularly unpleasant form of Bipolar, suffering from bouts of depression and mania all in the same day.
Terrified to take drugs after being clean for so long, I realised I needed them to establish some stability in my life. However, the drugs’ side effects were horrendous (nausea, vertigo, skin rashes, migraines, bloating etc.) and the doctors had to continually change them to alleviate my symptoms. Once a quarter dose of medication knocked me out for 12 hours! Luckily, I found one eventually that I could just about tolerate.
Throughout this time, the only real ‘medication’ I found that had any impact on my mental health was exercise. This inspired me to qualify as a personal trainer.
I suffer with anxiety and dyslexia, so being in a teaching environment was extremely difficult, but I qualified and found I loved instructing clients, as fitness is such a passion for me. I didn’t enjoy the gym environment however and hated the way clients were seen as pound signs by the PTs around me. (I now instruct privately).
Old demons from my childhood - good old Dad’s daily lessons that I was fat, lazy and useless – were a constant presence in my head. Whilst I still struggle to feel deserving of happiness today, back then I ‘knew’ that I deserved all the bad stuff that was happening to me. I hated myself and dwelled in a dark cloud of damaging thought patterns.
My parents divorced in February 2009 and I was cited as one of the causes. Something snapped inside me and I rapidly developed Anorexia. I used my fitness knowledge to punish myself with excessive exercise (no sleep, exercise from 3am in the morning, no food). I would exercise until I passed out. A half-tin of Weightwatchers tuna and crackers could take me an hour to eat. I carefully chopped, scrimped and sneakily hid food to avoid eating.
I was 11st around the time of developing the illness. 5 months later, I was 7st.
By July 2009 (just days before I was due to marry my partner of 2 years, Rhi), I was hospitalised and fighting for my life. My body was shutting down. I collapsed 2 days before the ceremony as my heart was giving out. There were no nutrients inside me. My pulse was at 40 beats a minute. Rhi was beside herself with worry and threatened me with dire consequences if I didn’t make it to the wedding.
Fortunately I made it and finally started to take some steps toward recovery. I suffered setbacks with my eating, exercise and emotions. My extreme frustration with myself led to me self-harming. I cut my arms. I would punch myself in the head so hard that I nearly knocked myself out. The frustration and anxiety would coil in my stomach, getting so unmanageable that head butting the wall was my only course of action.
The start of me loving me
The stability and love in my marriage helped me start to take care of myself. I started to rest properly, to eat proper food. I bought myself a notebook and started to set myself little goals – for example, “instead of having 20g of ham today, eat 22g”. If I achieved that, I’d set the next goal. I got Rhi to talk about the future, about the things she wanted to do, how she saw our life. For me, it was always someone else’s dream. I never thought anything like that would be possible for me. In all honesty, I’d thought I would be dead by the time I was 18! I’ve filled endless amounts of notebooks since then.
I was supported and encouraged by my family and friends. I did have a brief stay at a local eating clinic, but the traditional approaches just don’t seem to reach me and I found little help there. On my own though, with my baby-steps and goal setting, by 2013, my weight had remained stable at 9st for months. I was eating a balanced diet and exercising far more realistically.
My beautiful baby girl, Jasmine, arrived in April 2013, after Rhi carried her. She inspires me every day to maintain my weight and keep as healthy as I can, as I would never want her to experience what I went through.
Day to day
I am active every day. I walk everywhere and lift weights or do circuits only 4 x a week now. I find it hard to gain weight and am tired all the time, but I’m learning to love each day and taking life as it comes. This is the hand I’ve been dealt; this is what I’m making the most of.
During all these life changes, I decided to embark on furthering my knowledge of sport and fitness by studying through the Open University. I started my course in 2007 and gradually worked my way towards sitting my BSc Hons exam in Sport, Fitness and Nutrition in May 2014.
Thinking the hard times may be coming to an end, I found I was sadly mistaken just weeks before my Finals. I began to experience tonsillitis-like symptoms, bouts of exhaustion and joint aches. I sat my final exam feeling like I'd been hit by a bus, but I was determined to see it through. Amazingly, I ended up being awarded two regional awards for my studies!
Hit by a bus
Just a few days after the exam, I was once again rushed into hospital. My white cell count was practically non-existent, I had more than 20 ulcers filling my mouth, throat and eyes, lesions on my skin were appearing, I ached all over and was exhausted all the time.
I was kept in isolation but no one had a clue what was wrong with me. On being released, I was referred to a dermatologist, a haematologist, an endocrinologist and a rheumatologist. To a man, these 'specialists' dismissed the symptoms I displayed in their various areas of expertise as being simply acne or not in their remit or nothing unusual. So what was wrong with me?
I spent a lot of time researching my symptoms, seeking private advice from a nutritionist and chatting with others who'd experienced similar symptoms. It appeared I had developed some form of autoimmune condition.
My nutritionist ran numerous tests that lead to me making extreme dietary changes that improved my symptoms dramatically. I was put on a drastic exclusion diet – eliminating wheat, gluten, lactose, eggs, all herbs and spices, apart from onion and garlic salt, dairy, tomatoes and all processed food from my diet. I was allowed no grains at all, not even quinoa. By eating freshly prepared food, only organic meats and keeping off any grains, I am slowly starting to be able to tweak the diet to reintroduce certain items. I’ve recently reintroduced eggs with no flare-ups and I’ve managed to reintroduce oranges successfully as well. Can you imagine the joy of an orange when you’ve been prevented from eating them for years?
Work in progress
My approach to food is still a work in progress. There is always the risk that my need for control will slip out of whack and I will become too obsessed with going clean, but at the moment, I’m learning to love myself and learning to allow myself treats. I love to cook for my family, and what is the point of making these things if I’m not going to enjoy them myself? What’s the point of living if you’re not enjoying it? I’m certainly not ‘cured’, but am proud of myself that I was recently able to drown out the voice in my head enough to eat a peanut butter cup I’d made.
Despite still waiting for an official diagnosis of what keeps attacking my body, as I keep suffering with painful flare-ups, I have managed to use my chef training (one of my first jobs gained me a City & Guilds chef training qualification) and nutritional knowledge to develop a series of autoimmune-friendly recipes. These include using no wheat, dairy, gluten, caffeine or alcohol.
100% Drug Free!
In the last year and a half, I have not been on any drugs at all. In particular, I have taken no more bipolar meds since being in hospital for the autoimmune disease. It was only once I stopped taking them that I realised how much they suppressed my feelings! Obviously, I am now being very careful to recognise the warning signs of either a manic or a depressive change. I now have so many techniques to stop me going manic or really getting low.
I also run my own cleaning business, which is now one of the leading companies in my local area.
I have so much to be grateful for and am looking forward to helping others who may have experienced similar situations to mine, with either my recipes, offering fitness/nutritional knowledge or just by sharing my story.
P.S. These are the bits I wouldn’t normally choose to share, but which I was specifically asked to include. It still doesn’t come naturally to me to acknowledge my successes!
List of achievements:
2009 - Level 2 Personal Trainer (YMCA)
2009 - Regional and National Award Winner for the South East (The Open University)
2010 - Level 3 Personal Trainer (YMCA)
2010 - New You Awards Finalist (Fitness First)
2014 - BSc Hons Sports, Fitness and Nutrition (The Open University)
2014 - Transformation Contest Finalist (Early to Rise Website)
2015 - Regional and National Award for Graduates (The Open University)
Shock Absorber Triathlon finisher 2010
Bluewater 10k finisher 2010
Cranleigh 10k women's 3rd place finisher
2010 Saucony 10k finisher
2011 Guildford Gazelles Rugby Player
Chelsea Ladies Football Team Player
Milford Football Team Player