As I sat on the loo fawning over Kim Kardashians ombre locks and dropping my acrylic nail into the toilet pan, I read the story of Wentworth Miller who has been body shamed for not looking like a rock hard Adonis of yesteryear. His response about the depression he has suffered has thankfully put people in their place and I felt like I had to write something about my own experience of this.
As most of you know – I had postpartum psychosis and generalised anxiety disorder after I had my son Joe six years ago .I was terrified of being alive, feared my son’s very presence and wanted nothing more than to die. I was admitted to a psychiatric mother and baby unit and my recovery started. There were ups and downs but I’m now six years recovered but the whole experience has taught me so many things , not least the reaction to my new body that wasn’t just caused by having a baby but by the recovery process.
I remember when Joe was around six months old and I was on the jolting train that is the recovery express. I was at a friend’s house with Joe feeling terribly anxious, chattering teeth but I was there, living, breathing, being brave, working so hard to live in and enjoy the present that it exhausted me. I was proud of myself for the steps I was taking in an attempt to find Eve again. I had been so lost in my illness but I was pulling myself through it. Baby steps to others were giant leaps for me.
An acquaintance walked into the living room. I didn’t get a kiss hello, a cuddle to say, Eve, well done, you’re here, we are so happy to see you alive and well. No, I got this – “bloody hell Eve, look at the size of you”. Said person then proceeded to look me up and down and shake their head and “you want to get some of that weight off you, John won’t put up with you looking like that”. I could feel my eyes fill with hot tears. I grabbed my hem of my dress and scrunched it up and sat on the sofa and put a cushion over my stomach and said “do I look awful?” The response “awful doesn’t come close” and they let out an exhale of breath and walked out.
I sat there in tears. Five months before I had been on the verge of killing myself. I could see no point in living, I felt worthless, terrified of the world and everyone in it and scared of being alive. When I was unwell I would grab my stomach, the stomach my baby had grown in and wish it would melt away to take away the reminder that it had grown the baby I was so scared off. My stretch marks at that point didn’t represent a tiger mama showing her victorious stripes but served me a frightening permanent reminder that the baby I couldn’t even look at had been kept warm in my tummy and I couldn’t look at my c section scar as it was from there that my baby had been brought into the world . The moment that happened, my spiral into the depths of psychosis began and my mind it seemed had been permanently stolen.
In order to get better, I took so many medications I could have plonked myself on the shelves of WH Smith as a grab bag of skittles or be used as a human maraca. I was on anti-anxiety meds, anti-psychotics and then magic little calming pills which put me into a sedated trance when my thoughts would paralyse me into hysteria. I managed to avoid the rare side effects of black furry tongue and the even more glamorous ‘sudden unexpected death’ (thank you Dr Google for that one) and instead put on three stone in about three days. No need for me to eat 42lbs worth of butter – I may as well have just spread it all over my hips and thighs as that is where it eventually ended up.
To make the living room scenario even better, I dried my tears and went into another room and saw someone else I hadn’t seen since before I was ill. This was their first time seeing me and meeting Joe. I’d made myself look nice and wore a nice dress. I wanted to be funny Eve, bolshie Eve and thought; I’m with people I know, they will be nice to me. So, I went into the room still holding the cushion over my apparently offensive stomach and said oh hello, long time no see. First thing said person said “your hair looks awful. Why does it look like rats tails? You better get that done and sorted quickly”. Within a ten minute period, my feelings of bravery and strength had been destroyed with a few passive aggressive put downs.
My hair had endured the wrath of my illness. At my worst , such as the day I was admitted to the mother and baby psychiatric unit, where I had been on all fours on my in laws bed screaming so much I had cut the sides my mouth and had blood down my face, my hair was falling out. I remember when I began to be more lucid and I saw the patches around my hair line and thinking, nothing has escaped my illness. Not only had my mind been taken but my body was bearing the effects of it also.
My meds had dried my hair out. I hadn’t wanted my hair to be cut or coloured as in my mind , that was me losing something that belonged to me and my whole illness was based on the fact that life had changed and I was grieving the changes. Six months on, my hair had started to grow back. I looked someone had sprinkled some magic seeds on me bonce as little tufts of hair started appearing – it was like when I cut my own fringe when I was seven which instead of being fancy schmansy bangs , it looked like hacksaw Jim Duggan had gone wild with the garden tools.
So there was me, three stone heavier, with jagged ended brittle hair, open season for ill-judged comments from people. It proceeded to make me feel terrible about myself and though it send me to the depths of the despair I was in when I was super unwell, my confidence took an enormous hit. What of course they should have said is , Eve , you’re alive , you’re a great mum , we are so thankful you have recovered, well done on getting through what is one of the most horrific things that can ever happen to somebody.
John taught me I didn’t need their comments though. With the help of him (who does accept me for whatever I look like and doesn’t kick me out of bed for eating biscuits) and meds, I got better. Eve is back again – I’m confident, I feel empowered. I feel like I’ve learnt things about myself I would never have known had I not been ill.
I think I last saw my feet 7 years ago. My stomach has turned into an evolutionary apron that I can sling over my shoulder and it looks as though I’ve stuck three bread rolls along my groin. I can’t tuck it into a pair of size 12 jeans – believe me I’ve tried. I’ve done the whole lying on the bed with said jeans on, pulling the zip up with a deconstructed coat hanger and then standing up to find that a) I have cut off my blood flow b) felt on the verge of fainting and c) that said stomach that had previously been scrapping along the floor had now been pushed up by the adorable skinny jeans and created an elephant type neck. Breathing is totally overrated – being able to walk 1.5 steps in a world obsessed with thin being in is clearly more important.
Just this weekend someone said to me , oh Eve , you don’t seem to mind being overweight do you and I said no , I could give two shits. If it got to the point where Jerry Springer has to remove the side of the house to get me out then I would consider not drinking double cream out of the carton but I’m fine and dandy. I haven’t caused my partner a weight inflicted injury while hanging from the sex swing we have in our house (we don’t have this but one can dream), being a size 16 doesn’t seem to have affected my ability to do my job (it seems that using a keyboard and reading emails can be done regardless of the size of your pants) and people seem to like me. I walked into the pub at the weekend with John and saw his group of mates in front of me in a corner drinking bitter. One of them jokingly shouted ‘Eve, you can’t be here, where’s your dick? “And I said “I’ve tucked it in my pants because it’s bigger than yours and will put you to shame if I flop it out and dip it in your beer”. And I can say that because I’m alive. And I’m alive because I went on meds- meds that made me put on weight. And do I care? Not a curvy jot.
To those who may mock or express disdain at someone’s changed appearance, sew a zip on your mouth and keep it permanently shut. Your misjudged thoughts should remain in your head and do nothing to support the recovery of someone who has been unwell.
And to those like Wentworth and I, regardless of the physical effect of mental illness on your body, you are amazing. You’re a warrior whatever size you are, however your hair looks. You are alive, which is more beautiful than anything.