Whitney Houston, Eating Disorders & The Greatest Love Of All

“Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone to fulfil my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I live as I believe

No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity..”

The words above seem more poignant than ever today, as news of the death of one of our generation’s greatest voices spread around the world, via texts, tweets and status updates. My own reaction was not, I imagine, dissimilar to that of many other people who, like me, grew up listening to her music. A sense of sadness and loss, not only of a fine singer, whose life was cut short, but a loss of the era she represented. For all the fanciful make-up and hair spray [not to mention those horrendous shoulder pads], the 1980s were also the time when I discovered the joy of music for real. It was a time when music sounded like it had a life not only through the melodies or the words, but through the very record, with their unique individual kinks and scratches. Back in the day when such imperfections could not easily be remedied in a computer program, and listening to my father’s copy of Whitney Houston’s now iconic 1987 album was a completely different experience to listening to the same record at a friend’s place, since their copy had different scratches and kinks. I was only 11, but I remember the feeling as if it were yesterday..

The picture of Whitney Houston on that album cover trigger other, very different, memories, too. It reminds me of one of my cousins who had a large poster with that picture on the wall in her room. I only ever visited her once in her home, as she and her family would normally travel up north to see us [and the rest of our family] for Christmas and Midsummer, and I didn’t even know her that well, because she was almost ten years older than me, and would usually hang out with my other older cousins. And yet, she left a big impression on me, and I think of her often.

My cousin died young.
For much of her life she vacillated between battling anorexia and bulimia, and in the end, even though she had got to a stage where she was ready to accept the help she so desperately needed and had begun the twisting road to recovery, it was too late; her heart was literally broken and it gave out.

I don’t often talk about her. I may mention her, but I rarely say much more than what I just wrote. That she died young, of an eating disorder. But, she’s often in my thoughts.

I haven’t got the best of relationship to food myself; I tend to comfort eat when I feel down, or to not eat at all – and being a survivor of sexual abuse I am automatically at higher risk of being caught in the claws of an eating disorder.

Physical abuse [sexual or other] has been shown to have a huge effect on the way we view ourselves, not only in terms of our personality traits, but also in terms of body image, and I know that my own need to be in control of things could easily encompass my eating habits. So I have good reason to be extra aware of thoughts of this nature. The memory of my cousin helps with that, helps me to not just brush it off and think of it as not a big deal, but to recognise that anorexia and bulimia are real illnesses, illnesses which people die from.

I remember my cousin and honour her memory by making myself at least try to improve the way I relate to food [and by extension, my body]. It doesn’t often last very long, this improvement, but long enough for me to catch myself before getting stuck in that very unhealthy pattern where you feel you have to be in absolute control over what you eat..

Of course there are no guarantees, I – like anyone else – could slip, could forget; if it was easy to avoid the trap of eating disorders then no one would suffer from them.. But, I really feel that the memory of my cousin, and the way she struggled, gives me that extra kick to keep my alarm bells powered up.

So I guess, in a backwards kind of way my cousin has been a role model to me, and even in death she has left a legacy.

As has Whitney.

‎”..I believe that children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be..

Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all ..”

xx

Extracts from The Greatest Love Of All © Michael Masser & Linda Creed
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Survival – Knowing When You Need Help

Things aren’t going so well.
Downward spiral at breakneck speed, I feel frightened at how quickly I’ve gone from doing really well to finding myself stuck in a pattern of inward turned anger and self-harm. A few weeks and I’ve managed to undo all the hard work I’ve put in these last four years.

Realising that I’ve lost control of things I have been forced to accept that I need someone to help me, and so on Monday I called my GP to make an appointment. Couldn’t get one until Wednesday, and let me tell you, that felt like a very long way away.

These last few days have really have been rollercoaster like, oscillating between trying to stem flashbacks by using cords and scalpels and later on feeling very very angry with myself for not having been able to stop myself from going back to this very destructive behaviour. And it’s becoming increasingly erratic. This morning I woke up and immediately reached for a fresh scalpel to punish myself for having, the previous night, used a cord coiled around my neck to make myself pass out. – There’s no logic to it, and I can see that. Yet, I don’t seem able to stop myself from acting out in this way.

I’ve been trying to do things in the last few days to try to prove to myself that I’m not quite such a bad person as I sometimes think I am. To show myself that I’m not a waste of space, that I am of some sort of value to the community. But it’s hard to hold on to those thoughts when it has to come through external actions rather than from some internal place..

Saw my GP this morning. I say my GP, but really, I saw a GP. I saw Dr H., a newbie doctor, in her own words. This turned out to be a pretty good thing; she listened to me and seemed to really take in what I was telling her, in contrast to some GPs who’ll whack out the ever-so-patronising “How Depressed Are You?” multiple choice questionnaire at the earliest possible opportunity in a bid to avoid having to actually listen to the patient. Given this opportunity to be heard I tried to be as honest as I could with Dr H. It’s hard, when you’re a bit of a people-pleaser like me, and you don’t want to make the other person feel bad, but I think I did OK.

Dr H. made the decision that she didn’t just want to start me on some meds, but that I needed to be seen by the mental health crisis team. She asked me to wait in the waiting room while she sorted it all out, as she didn’t want me to leave the clinic before she knew for sure that I’d definitely be seen by the crisis team. A reassuring touch, I have to say. I’ve certainly come across doctors who say they’re going to make a referral and send you off with a “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” style parting phrase.

As it turned out the crisis team wanted to see me at noon, so I essentially ended up going straight from the GP practice to the Highgate Mental Health Hospital. Felt quite anxious about going there, as I was still experiencing flashbacks and I was worried that I’d become too confused and disoriented on my way there. Also, I didn’t know what to expect. It’s been several years since I’ve been in touch with any form of NHS run mental health service. A lot of my work has been aimed at getting away from this system.

Then I was thinking of the advice I would give – and have given – friends who have found themselves struggling in the way I am right now: accept any help you can get, whatever that may be. This is not a time for pride, it’s a time for survival.

Talking to two members of the crisis team I did feel a lot better. They reassured me that their aim is to support people struggling with self-harm and suicidal ideation in their homes, rather than pushing people into wards, which may not at all be the best for a person. They did – of course – make it clear that if they felt I became more destructive and posed a serious danger to myself they would have to put me on a section order, but that their aim was to find alternative ways of supporting me. They made the decision – based on my previous history – that they’ll want to see me every day for now, and also asked if I would give them permission to liaise with A. regarding what would be the best way to go about things. Initially I didn’t feel comfortable with that, but in the end I decided that maybe it could be helpful to not try to keep different parts of my life separate. As I was a little unsure of A.’s number I told them I would ask A. to call them instead.

My session with A. today was quite difficult. I was just feeling so low, so defeated at finding myself back in this very dark place. I’m finding it very hard to motivate myself to not give up, keep falling into thinking that no matter how hard I try, no matter how hard I work, I will always come crashing down..

A. said a few things that made me feel a bit better, made me feel like I’m not entirely on my own. But it’s still very very hard. She also added an extra session for me this week – first thing tomorrow morning – which felt comforting. Also I have been given the number for the crisis team, which is a 24 hour care service, so I can call and talk to someone on the crisis team at any time between seeing them in person.

I hope this will help stop me falling any further. Because last time I felt the way I feel right now I drank half a litre of anti-freeze and ended up in ICU..

So, if you have any to spare, thoughts and prayers are much appreciated.

xx