The first of my every day champions is the absolutely, drop dead gorgeous GEMMA. For a long time Gemma suffered with Anorexia Nervosa (an eating disorder characterised by an obsessive need to lose weight, often by not eating and excessive exercise) and after a really shitty struggle, became a CHAMPION of her mental health and came back kicking. Now Gemma models, works bloody hard, exercises and eats well to take care of her body and travels the world! Gemma kindly agreed to be an every day champion, here’s what she had to say…
How I’d describe myself at the time of being unwell:
Whenever I think back to that period in my life, to be perfectly honest, it all just seems really rather fuzzy. It’s all just a sedate kind of blur, constant low energy, having the personality of a soggy lettuce, mood swings, attending social functions but only being ‘half there’ due to being so occupied with food, what she’s eating, what I’m eating, estimating how many calories are in this or that, how I look, how she looks, what size she is, do I look like that, etc. And of course there was the guilt for not exercising or punishing myself in some other way anorexia would have undoubtedly preferred, after all, I certainly didn’t deserve to be having a good time or enjoying myself, heavens no. All of which was overshadowed by a numb sensation, whether that was a numbness to the hunger I endured constantly or the knowledge that I was self-destructing. I bit of both I suspect. In a word I felt utterly removed. Removed from life, living, my family, my friends, the things I used to enjoy and most upsettingly, removed from myself. Anorexia made me forget who I was, I felt hollow.
How long was I unwell for?
That’s a really tricky question. Medically, so in terms of being underweight and displaying physical symptoms of anorexia such as a critically low heart rate, I was only ill for about 7 months. However anorexia is a mental illness and the seed develops in your brain before the weed takes over your body. That seed started growing when I was about 14. Lunchtimes at secondary school were spent alone in the library after having ditched my sandwiches at break time, where I’d distract myself with work so when I got home I had time to do my exercises in my room and watch clips from the Victoria’s Secret fashion show to reinforce that starving myself was good, food was the enemy and a thigh gap was a goal.
One little thing that helped me:
I know as a society we’re told to live in the present, enjoy the here and now and seize the moment. Generally I couldn’t agree more. However when you’re trying to overcome something as challenging as a mental illness, thinking ahead is what keeps you going, or it certainly was for me. I remember thinking to myself ‘where do I want to be in 10 years time? Counting calories, feeling cold all the time and not really enjoying my life?’. Of course I didn’t. I wanted a life! Doing all the things I love with the people I love. And that’s essentially what kept me going when times get tough.
One quote I live by:
‘Gratitude is one of the most medicinal emotions we can feel. It elevates ours moods and fills us with joy.’ – Sara Avant Stover
Not particularly punchy I know, but boy does it help! Everyone gets down, whether it’s about body image, work, friends, how your studies are going, how much money you have or don’t have, the car you drive, the house you live in, etc, etc. Once you start thinking negatively it’s so easy to spiral, it’s literally like quicksand, the more you struggle and the more emotional you get, the further it sucks you in and drags you down. But shifting the focus to something you’re happy about and grateful for, can save your from sinking. Trust me, once you start doing this it’ll quite quickly become second nature. I use this technique a lot in the gym, when I find myself criticising parts of my body. Instead of fixating on how ‘chunky’ I think my legs look, I’ll focus on how much stronger I’ve become in just a few months, how I can climb up and ski down mountains, how I can travel the world… the list is endless and suddenly, in the grand scheme of things, not having spider-like legs, doesn’t seem the be all and end all.
A song that cheers me up:
It’s a bit of a cheesy one but I can always rely on the 1975’s ‘Girls’ to cheer me up! It’s a bit of a whacky coincidence but watching the music video to the song was the thing that spurred me to apply to my model agency at the time, I just thought ‘hmm, that looks alright, I’m sure I could give that ago’… needless to say two months later I was in the South of France on a photo shoot with a famous photographer wearing a 9 grand dress. Insane. But as awesome as that is, it’s not actually the crazy part. A few months ago I starred in a pop-rock music video with the band Tamsyn that was actually based around the 1975’s ‘Girls’ video. Mental! It was a day punctuated by fits of laughter, awesome clothes, chilling with musicians and just generally having a sweet time. I should probably mention it was quite hard work too, but still! So yes, that’s why the 1975’s ‘Girls’ never fails to cheer me up! (You can follow LifeofLittleThings on Spotify for a playlist from Every Day Champions)
Things that make me happy now:
To be honest, it’s seems that the littlest things are the things that put the biggest smile on my face. Having fun with friends, hikes and climbs in Wales, going on walks in the park with my mum, bingeing on Star Wars or Game of Thrones at the weekend, lifting weights, the list goes on! In a nutshell it’s just anything that my eating disorder used to prevent me from either doing or enjoying, so as trivial as all these things are, they make me feel strong and proud of myself for what I’ve overcome.
Let’s hear it for Gemma and her amazing strength ♥
Stacks of love,