The scArlet letter

Anorexia, a word I have come to hate. Why hate? Because the word alone brings with is discomfort, confusion, questions and often misinformation. The disorder itself is a death trap, literally. It destroys the victim, their families, creates distances between friends and dishonesty, doubt and brokenness spread like a disease. It is a word that usually doesn’t cross my lips and the only time I talk about it is when I blog.

Imagine my surprise when my 12 year old daughter asked me if someone we know “has anorexia?” In utter disbelief my first reaction was, “where did you hear that word”? I could feel my heart racing and a cold shiver run up my spine. She said very innocently that her best friend (from gymnastics) mentioned it. Now I don’t know where her friend would have heard the word, but she is first year high school and I think it is something her mom would say is general talk. I then asked my daughter what does she know of that word? She said that it is when someone doesn’t eat and gets very skinny. I told her that yes, it is correct but there is more to it than what most people make of it. I know that my daughter need to be aware of these disorders (and others) but I truly believe that 12 is too young to expose her mind to such knowledge. There will be a time and place for it, and I will surely correct her if her friends provide her with non-factual information.

The person she was referring too when she asked the question is a lovely young lady and ex-rhythmic gymnast who has now turned her passion for this beautiful sport into a small business as she makes gorgeous leotards. I met her for the first time last year March when my daughter trailed to compete overseas. She attended the event as one of the gymnasts needed alterations to a leotard she made. I didn’t know at the time who she was, but it was clear that she was not healthy and you can also see why most people would jump to the assumption of her suffering from ‘anorexia’. An extremely skinny rhythmic gymnast in a highly competitive sport = you must have an eating disorder.

I contacted her early December of last year to ask if she is available to make my daughter’s leotard. She was and I was thrilled with her design and colours. So we started the process. Several months had gone and I didn’t hear from her. I took it that she must be a very busy young lady so I will leave it just a little while longer before I contact her. Soon after, my one friend who is also waiting on a leotard from her contacted me and I found out that she is actually very sick. No, not due to an eating disorder, but because she has gastrointestinal problems yet to be diagnosed. She had been sick for over 2 years and her health deteriorates each day. She eats 5000+ calories a day, yet still looses weight. In her own words she describes how the doctors have told her she is dying and there is nothing they can do to help her, except send her for more tests. It is absolutely dreadful and my heart breaks for her. I have seen a recent photo of her on Instagram and I cried.

To place a label on someone before knowing the truth is to dehumanise them. I feel like it could be associated with having a scarlet letter stitched permanently unto your skin. We forget that the person carrying a mental and/or physical disorder is still a person. They are separate from their illness. The disorder should not define them. We would rather whisper behind our hands, these days behind a phone screen, before offering assistance or help.

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Procrastibaking – when there’s a pile of laundry to iron but you bake instead

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My sister tagged me in a post on Facebook to which I could only giggle as it is so very true. I have always enjoyed baking but only truly found my passion for it over the past few years. I think it came about when I started baking to fundraise for my daughter’s gymnastics competitions back in 2011. We had additional costs that year as we were travelling up to Auckland from Cambridge once a week for extensive training. I started out by baking one of the best biscuits I had ever tasted called Death by Chocolate biscuits. It is not an easy biscuit to bake compare to the ones I bake now, but they are devilish good. Rich, sweet, decadent and literally melt in the mouth.

Soon afterwards my husband bought me my first Nigella Lawson cookbook. I have made several of her desserts and baked goods but what I love the most about her books is the way she writes them. You might as well be having a one-on-one conversation with her. It’s personal, funny, witty, just like her.

Baking cakes only started in 2013 when I worked for a company where sharing your baking was considered the best thing since slice bread. At first I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes (the seasoned company bakers) so I didn’t bake anything for the first few months. It was only when we moved to our new premises in April 2014 and we lost more than 1/2 of our workforce that I brought my baking in. I baked traditional and fail proof cakes, muffins and biscuits at first. It was through the encouragement of my work mates that I started experimenting with flavours and cake combinations. Whatever I baked I took with to work. I baked for individual employees, whether it was to celebrate their birthday or send them off as a farewell. I felt great joy when I could share these baked goods with them. My most memorable cake was the Hummingbird Cake which I baked for the sales manager’s farewell. It was rustic and full of flavour and oh so pretty.

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Today I still mainly bake to share. I bake to give as gifts, to show love and empathy when friends loose a loved one, for my husband to share at work (expecially when the ladies ask for anything sweet with chocolate). One of those cakes was a traditional Black Forest Cherry Gateau. I baked it for my husband’s birthday so naturally he took it into work for everyone to share.

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I bake because I learn something new every time. I bake because I can’t think of anything more satisfying to do. I bake because nothing smells more divine than the aroma of freshly baked cookies. I bake because I owe it to myself to enjoy food.

Fuss over Vitamins

I have been encouraged, by my husband and mother, to consume a large amount of Vitamin C for my current head cold. Vitamin C helps your body to fight the nasty little bugs by boosting your immune system, and also helps with the absorption of other vital minerals such as iron. Vitamin C is essential to combating colds and flus. And I know this because I remind my children of the exact same thing and therefor they have their multi-vitamins and Vitamin C with Echinacea every morning. But as an adult I almost feel like saying “Do I really have to?”.

I don’t have a problem with taking additional Vitamin C although I prefer it to be in an effervescent tablet. What I do have a problem with is taking multi-vitamins. It is really hard to explain the reasons and no one actually understands because I am not allergic, or have a health related issue that I can’t take it. No, the reason is simply that in my post-recovery mind multi-vitamins provide additional nutrients, which I can’t get myself to accept.

During my battle with ED, both anorexia and bulimia convinced me that anything additional I put in my mouth, whether I glass of water or a multi-vitamin tablet is one extra foreign object in my stomach which will make me fat. I know how ABSOLUTELY  ridiculous that sounds, trust me even typing it out and reciting it back to myself I sound like a complete nutter! But it is the honest truth. I think it most likely came when the doctor informed us (my mother and myself) that taking a multi-vitamin will give my body the desired nutrients it needs as it was then being stripped from all that is good. My corrupted mind told me otherwise: drink multi-vitamins and you will be feeding your body. Uhm, what?! I didn’t touch a single tablet during that time much to my mother’s frustration.

Some years after my recovery, when I found out I was pregnant with my first child, our doctor instructed me to drink a pre-natal vitamin, which is required for when you have another little human growing inside of you. I forced my fears aside and took the tablet once a day. Shortly after her birth I stopped taking the tablet and tried to continue with a multi-vitamin supplement but I often “forgot” to drink it that I gave up.

Apart from drinking Berocca in the morning, as I suffer from fatigue due to low iron levels, I can’t fathom drinking anything else. But I DO want to get better from this horrid head cold! What a conundrum. Perhaps I should just put my big girl pants on and take the vitamins like the grown-up I am. Sigh!

Is social media an acceptable platform to ask for help?

A week ago I read a post, which was controversial to say the least, on one of the groups I follow on a social media site. The group is aimed at connecting South African expats within New Zealand, answer immigration related queries and general support. This particular post however was very unexpected and abrupt. A lady posted a photo of a handgun and in the post she admitted to buying it for the purpose of committing suicide. She confessed that she is depressed and has been since immigrating 7 years ago. I found it to be raw, emotional, honest and heart-felt. She was asking for help! She was begging for someone to contact her, reach out to her, show her she is not alone.

Now you can imagine the response she received. Overwhelmingly some members firstly tried to contact one of the administrators of the group who also happens to be a phycologist. Then they responded with constructive comments, telling her that she is not alone and that she did the right thing to reach out. I refrained from commenting at first, and instead I send her a personal message. I asked her if there is anything I can do to help and that it seems like she is receiving immense support from certain members so that is a positive outcome. I also told her that she is not alone as many immigrants often experience depression or anxiety either due to a lack of friendships,  or relationships taking a strain in a new country or from being home sick. I didn’t hear from her straight away, but when I did I was mortified to what happened next. She said that someone called the cops on her and that she received an aggressive message from one of the members. The message was filled with hostility towards her, telling her that social media is no place to post such extremities and that she’s only looking for attention. Now that got my blood boiling!

I do agree that it was shocking and unexpecting to see the post, but since when do we discourage people from seeking help, or place restrictions on when and where to ask for help? Are people so ignorant to the need of others or do they simply not understand the seriousness of mental illness? How many people don’t seek help because of the lack of empathy from others? Or that they are scared of being judged, criticized and ridiculed?

A few hours passed and I didn’t hear back from her. And it wasn’t only me who was concerned. The administrator of the group put out a message asking if anyone who knows her personally can please go out to her place of residence to check up on her as no one had heard from her since. And this is where the floodgates of opinions opened and a platform created for fingerpointing and blame-shifting. One of the comments posted was in support of the lady, a friend of hers (she clearly knew of all that was said via personal messages). Her courage to post her comment gave me a boost of confidence and I put in my 2 cents. I posted one comment, and left the discussion. I needed to express my utter dissapointment and frustration towards those who blatantly blamed her for posting the photo. I know that I possibly overreacted, and that this is a topic so close to home it still hurts but I feel that it shouldn’t be overlooked because it then means we are not crediting the person, not accepting that their feelings are real and true and don’t believe that they really do need help.

Thankfully and with great relieve the lady responded to the comments, expressed her gratitude to those who contacted her and said she is feeling less anxious and can think clearly about her situation. She did however mention that she doesn’t think calling the police was the right thing to do because even though they meant well, it placed more pressure on her to deal with their queries as well as made her panic about the possible outcome.

I am fully aware that there are several people who has not dealt with mental illness before, and perhaps don’t know how to respond to such an outcry for help. I am also not expecting everyone to become warriors, fighting the battle of depression and suicide. I do however hope that the above mentioned controversial social media post brought awareness to the fact that people are suffering, most often in silence, from mental illness. I hope that this makes people stop, look at their friends, family and acquaintances and ask with true sincerity “Are you okay?”

So this is Christmas?

We were busy preparing Christmas lunch when I heard my mom say “another Christmas has come and gone, where does time go?” Looking at the clock (it was around 1pm) I was taken aback by her statement as we still had 1/2 a day left of Christmas day itself, yet to her it was over with. In my mind we still had time to spend as a family, lunch to eat, perhaps go out and walk on the beach. But no, in her mind that was it. Sad really.

That’s when it dawned on me, what has Christmas become? Have I too succumbed to the Christmas advertisements which seems to start earlier each year, the rush of Christmas shopping to get that perfect gift at a possible bargain, the stress of planning Christmas lunch, all while trying to get through the chaos which is school term 4.

I do love the Christmas season! As a child you don’t comprehend the stresses associated with Christmas, so the idea of Santa Clause, presents “appearing” under the tree on Christmas morning and spending the day with your extended family is the best thing since slice bread! As a teenager your concept of Santa Clause is now non-existent, but the random appearance of presents throughout December is still exciting and you most likely will be buying some family members presents too, which instils the spirit of giving. Even though I didn’t believe in Santa Clause anymore, I remember as a teenager being curled up on the couch with a book on Christmas Eve, surrounded by the flickering of the Christmas tree lights and being engulfed by a sense of peace and thankfulness. Now as an adult, the enchantment of Christmas seems lost.

I understand and believe in the true meaning of Christmas, the miraculous birth of our savior, and I will never forget this. But as time flies by, literally, it seems more and more that I am separated from this message. I know that this is my own doing, that perhaps I have become indoctrinated by the hustle and bustle of life and not make time to just clear my mind, meditate and pray.

This year felt the worse and I really struggled to get ‘into the Christmas spirit’. It’s really not any surprise seeing as I work Monday to Sunday, leaving me with very little time to get organized. I always try my best to make it special for my children. I bake, I make little gifts for their teachers and all their class mates, I secretly wrap presents, I add some decorations around the house, put Christmas stockings up. But this year it feels like I have disappointed them. When I’m home, I’m exhausted and don’t have the energy to make things ‘nice’. For the last week of school I planned to make all the little gifts (with their help), but this meant staying up till late at night. I was already dead tired by the end of the day, so the idea of staying up later than usual to finish the gifts was torture. This is certainly not how I wanted to feel.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE doing this for other people and the feeling of having the final product in my hand and giving it away is addicting but finding the balance is a struggle. I’m threatening to quit Christmas all together this year, and instead spend time not money on my family. Make a list of things-to-do, places-to-see and actually following through. Being present instead of giving away presents.

I think I should call a family meeting and start brainstorming …

Inked (part one)

Confession time … I LOVE tattoos! Ever since my husband (then fiancé) and I went to a tattoo parlour on a whim when we were 21, I have been interested in body art. We each selected a tattoo, mine on my lower back and his on his back between his shoulder blades. The tattoos themselves don’t have a specific meaning as I merely choose an image that appealed to me the most, but the event itself was memorable:

On our first holiday together, a little pre-honeymoon in the making, we stayed in a small cottage called Duck Tree Cottage on the Southern Coast of South Africa. It was idyllic, peaceful and a few steps from the beach. We fell in love with this quint cottage and its surroundings. We made several early morning trips to the beach, walked endlessly picking up shells, talking about our future and planning a life together.

One morning we decided to go to the township and local shops. Down one of the side streets there was a famous tattoo parlour…famous because I think no one leaves their holiday without making a pit stop here to permanently savour the memory of their time away in paradise. Once inside your eyes are immediately drawn to the 1000’s of samples, from animals, to skulls, to flowers and new age shapes, and in all sizes. I was captivated! The decision of what to get was lengthier than actually deciding on getting a tattoo. I felt lost amongst the walls of endless body art. It wasn’t until I thought about what I would like to get, something with a heart symbolising my love for my fiancé, that my focus turned to a particular tattoo. It wasn’t a personalised designed tattoo but it was good enough to have it placed on my body for eternity.

What I took from that experience is not only that my fiancé and I did something together set in time, but that I braved the then unknown pain. I didn’t doubt myself. I put my mind on a set target, and I saw it through. I grew. I understood my own pain threshold. I didn’t look back.

My battle with anorexia and bulimia left its own permanent mark; emotional scars that resurface when I have self-doubt, or am under immense pressure. Battling these eating disorders taught me resilience, not to give up when I am overwhelmed with negative thoughts. I am not trying to make light of the distressing effects of an eating disorder, but I am convinced that my recovery from these grappling mental disorders gave me the necessary tools to overcome such internal and physical challenges.

I will forever bear the marks of triumph over pain.

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