When Clare Foster-Pickup got engaged a couple of years ago, she could have done with the advice in this letter.
Congratulations. If this letter reaches you at the right time you’ll be sitting under a tree on Hampstead Heath. Alex has just popped a bottle of fizz to celebrate your engagement. You’re both excited about the future. You should be – it’s been great. Your wedding was the best day of your life, full of love and magic and friendship.
But there are a few things it might help to know. If you’re not careful, your mental and physical health could take quite a bashing over the next couple of years.
One. You can’t control a wedding diet. Change the dress, not yourself. Your disordered eating lurks much closer to the surface than you think. You’ll slide into militant calorie counting, restriction and purging through exercise. You’ll use the excuse it’s ‘just for the wedding’ but you’ll take a guilty pleasure in losing weight again. Your dress will end up too big.
You’ll spend your honeymoon struggling to find a manageable balance – running miles in the early morning when you should have been cosy in bed with your new husband. Your periods will stop and your attempts to conceive will be put on hold. It isn’t worth it.
Two. You need the medication – and that’s fine. I know you’ve been on it for years and you’re desperate to know who you are without it. I know you’d rather be medication free before you conceive. But again, it isn’t worth it. Coming off the Sertraline will wreak three months of havoc on your body, health and relationship before you finally admit you need it.
It’s helping you be yourself. Without it you’re a dark, anxious shadow. Your world will narrow. Anxieties will bulge and take over, distorting every joy. You’ll lose the strength or clarity of thought to control those eating or exercise demons.
“Your body will keep on changing throughout your life. You could fight it for another 30 years or you could spend that energy learning to be happy in the only skin you’ve got.”
Three. You need to look after yourself better if you want to conceive. And looking after yourself isn’t pushing your body to extremes or restricting fat or calories. Looking after yourself is allowing time for rest, relaxation and sleep. Eating for health rather than size. It isn’t easy. But…
Four. The body positivity movement can help. You’re not the only one who functions with a constant and negative internal dialogue about your weight and appearance. But people are fighting back. Women you respect are talking sense about body positivity, challenging destructive attitudes and unapologetically being their beautiful selves. Look for books, blogs and social media posts that can slowly adjust your perspective.
I know you’ve always based too much of your worth on how your clothes fit and how slim and muscular your body is. Even if in reality you’re unhappy and look unwell. Work on valuing softness, rounder curves and hips as a proof of mental strength instead. It’s really hard, especially when you’re feeling anxious, vulnerable or stressed.
It will take a while to stop the recrimination and resolutions, to realise that gaining a little weight isn’t losing control. But one day you’ll get to the point where you can see your curves as part of a healthy, beautiful body and a more flexible mind.
Your body will keep on changing throughout your life. You could fight it for another 30 years or you could spend that energy learning to be happy in the only skin you’ve got.
Finally Clare, remember that change happens slowly. Stop thinking of your time in hours and days. Don’t beat yourself up if you seesaw up and down while trying to find a balance with food or weight. Don’t think you’ve failed if sometimes only a long run will calm the panic.
Things will change. But that change is measured in months and years, not days or weeks.
I hope you’ll listen to me – but sadly I know you probably won’t. You’ll need to feel the pain of withdrawal and the slow deterioration into relapse in order to build a simpler, more accepting relationship with your medication. And it might just take the full force of a relapse into eating problems to finally push you into making serious moves to change your attitude towards your body.
Good luck. You can do it. And have a brilliant wedding day.
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Clare is trying to breathe more and run less. She's slowly untangling her eating, anxiety, exercise and depression at www.clarerosefoster.co.uk.