Monday, December 31, 2012

The last run

The mountains showed themselves from their best side today. They were dusted with perfect white snow, kissed by the suns rays giving them a healthy glow, framed by a clear blue sky... a perfect setting for a run.

When I woke up and looked out the window I knew I had to run today and so the mad time management calculations started in my head. It was now too late to go before work... in my lunch break I was going to be pressed for time... and the evening was reserved to spend with the family. I felt my heartrate increase at my desperate attempts to find a time to run. I got edgy. I reached for the good old notepad  and began to write out a time plan, breaking down the time I'd need to get home, changed, get back, shower, eat and get back to work. I was left with a bit over 30min running time, not good enough in my world (I know, 30min is better than nothing, but I can't bring myself to accept it). I'm sure other endurance athletes will understand that anything sub-hour is just not justifyable. What to do? I decided to assess the flow of business that morning and workout the potential of how busy it could get (which realistically you never can) in the afternoon. After assessing the situation I decided it would be quiet enough for me to, shyly, ask my co-workers if I could take an extended lunchbreak so I could run. Of course they, without hesitating, exclaimed a loud YES! Hallelujah, my day was saved.
From that moment on my legs were in running mode and my mind was counting down to the running hour.

The day had developed into a warm winters day, which made running conditions ideal, creating the perfect surface to run on; grippy yet not slushy snow. Two layers of clothes sufficed and a few minutes after leaving work I emerged out of the house in my running gear (it pays to live accross the road from work).
I decided on my usual 10km run, which spoils you with the glorious view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau skyline the entire way. People were throwing snowballs (not at me), kids were playing in the snow, people were smiling. This was going to be a good run, I could feel it in the air, my last run for 2012.

2012 has been an incredible year of running for me, and as my feet hit the ground memories started whizzing through my brain like electric currents. My favorite (running) memories are running with my best friend Shayne. I can always call on her for an adventure, we hit the same stride, we talk and laugh, we philosophise about life, we talk about boys, we have fun. There have been mornings we'd meet at 4:30am just to fit in a 20km run before work. Every run is then ended with a PRC (post run coffee), our little tradition. That's a big part of why we get up so early, just so we don't miss out on our well earned PRC...
Back in Australia, every sunday was reserved for sunday long runs with an wonderful running group made up of diverse, interesting, motivating and amazing people, lead by the running guru, Chief Al (as we call him). We would run anywhere between 20-30km along Newcastles gorgeous coastline, chatting, laughing and challenging one another. As a group we trained for the Newcastle Hill to Harbor, where I had my first half marathon victory.

When I moved back to switzerland, the beginning of April, my running became very solitary, which triggered me to  channel all my focus into training for a 78km Ultra. Training solo was a great time for soul searching, learning discipline and self motivation, and getting to know my bodys limits and abilities. For a long time I have flirted with the idea of an ultra marathon, and once I crossed that startline I didn't stop until my feet crossed the finishline, 8hrs20min later as 11th female. It was the run of my life.

The Jungfrau Marathon soon followed and my ambitions were set high, however, that race turned out to be the trough of my running season. I learnt a valuable lesson that day, that sometimes you are missing a piece to the puzzle, the piece to a successful race. That day I was certainly missing the fitting piece to the race I had imagined, but I filled it with another piece, finishing and creating a different outcome to the original image I had painted in my mind.

New York called as the final race for the year and we all know the outcome of that race. Some things are out of our control, such as a cancelled race, but that doesn't mean there can't be another kind of race. On a truly beautiful day, which was meant to be race day, a group of wheelchair athletes and I set out to do our own Marathon through NY, although mine wouldn't be running but on a bike instead. It sure wasn't the exact race any of us had prepared for, yet cruising through the streets of New York, seeing fellow runners, watching a city being revived will forever be embeded in our memories and a truly unique take on the New York Marathon.

As I was reminiscing about the past year I rapidly got pulled back into the present when I found myself running on the ski piste instead of the trail, dodging skiiers left right and center. Lucky I didn't run off the cliff I say ;)

I walked back in the door with 15mins to get showered and changed, but I felt revived and alive. Running has given me a new breath of life. The beauty of the sport is no matter where you are you can run. No matter where you run you will meet a fellow runner who shares your passion. No matter what your level of fitness is, it's always challenging. It fuels the soul.

My last run in 2012 has evoked wonderful memories not only of running, but also of many other aspects in my life. Had I not have had that extra time to run today I would have, most likely, missed out on that time to reflect and appreciate a blessed year.

... with that said, bring on 2013! Happy Running Year, I mean New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Since I was a little girl I have had a love affair with perfume. Some of my earliest memories are of me walking into the bathroom after mum or dad had spritzed on a scent. I remember feeling incredible comfort at the train of scent they left behind. Dad's aftershaves were always dominant, masculine and herby; Mum's perfumes were feminine, gentle and sweet.

It's amazing how we can associate a scent with a particular person, how it can evoke memories and feelings, and exactly that happened to me the other morning. As I was rushing to get out the door, I randomly grabbed one of my perfumes and spritzed some on. The little dust pearls instantly woke my sense of smell, which lead to awakening my memories letting them flood into my conciousness, inviting me to reminisce.

One summers day, while I was still in hospital, Mum came to visit me and brought me a little present - a sample perfume of CHANCE by Chanel. Her reasoning for it was because she felt I needed another chance, more importantly I needed to give myself another chance. She also thought it might make me feel better about myself, that it would make me smell life again. I tentatively sprayed some on, tentatively because I have a very particular taste when it comes to perfume, tentatively because I didn't like it when I didn't have the control of choice. The moment I got my first whiff of that chance I fell in love, I knew that was the scent for me.

Sporting my new fragrance, I walked down the hospital ward headed in the direction of Dr. Prinz's office. I so vividly remember walking past the rooms of the other sick children, and it struck me that we all need a chance (or more) sometimes, another chance at starting something, another chance at love, another chance at LIFE. It was then I realized that my chance was right infront of me, that I just needed to take hold of it and run with it. The kids I shared time and space with on that ward of the Insel Spital didn't have the same chance as me. They're conditions, unlike mine, weren't self-inflicted; their chance rested, mainly, in the hope and trust of the doctors, whereas my chance rested, predominantly, in my actions. I could actively make myself better, I just needed to see it, take it and do it... and eat.

We all get given chances in life if sick or healthy, young or old, poor or rich, skinny or large... but in the end it's up to us what we do with that chance. It may sound silly, but everytime I put on chance, I am reminded of the chances I have been given and continue to be given. It feels like a new start and reminds me to appreciate life, to open my eyes and recognize the chances I have.

Dear girl,
Anorexia is not a chance;  Anorexia takes away and hides your chances. You are her chance at gaining power, don't let her do that. Never stop seeing and believing in the chances you have, the chance to get better. I am so glad I took that chance to get better and gain my life back eventhough; it still, isn't always easy. Believe in yourself, believe in the chance of life and don't believe in Anorexia.

Dear Mum, Dad, Family and Friends,
Never stop believing in the chance of hope; because where there is hope, there is a chance. I know, from the experience of my family, that anorexia can be incomprehensible, frustrating, frightening and seeming hopeless. My family never gave up on me, eventhough it may have been the easy thing to do at times. Never stop giving your daughter, son, wife or friend another chance, as sometimes it's exactly that one last chance they need.

Dear self,
Always remember the chances you have been given and the chance you have within your own choice. Never forget that you chose to get better and with that choice come responsibility and commitment, not only to yourself, but also to those who gave you chances and showed you trust. Keep that knowledge close to your heart, because you are one of the lucky ones who had the option of choosing between life and death.

I'm so thankful to my mum for giving me chance on that warm summers day. I'm thankful that it awoke me to the subtle, sweet, playful, comforting and dramatic scents that life brings with. I wear my chance.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


So recently, well since I've moved back to switzerland, I have been totally engulfed in the world of vampires, addicted to watching Vampire Diaries and True blood. For that I will blame Jenny, my step sister, who introduced me to the (fantasy) world of those blood suckers. It is something I tried to avoid for a long time because I thought it was stupid, a waste of time and served no purpose. Call me a hypocrite, I'll take it, but have absolutely fallen in love with the shows. I feel slightly better liking them now that I've got my best friend Shayne hooked. She is probably the most level headed, kind hearted, determined and funniest person I know (that she is also a great runner goes unspoken). She doesn't put up with crap and I knew if she didn't like Vampire Diaries then I was going to have a hard time justifying my love for vampires. To my great luck however, she loved it, and I think she devoured the first two seasons faster than I did (and that was fast too). In short, thats my justification for watching the shows.

As Jenny and I were snuggled up on the couch last night, sucking in the lastest episode of Vampire Diaries, I had a sudden epiphany; Anorexia and Vampires aren't all that different and if I could give Anorexia a face she would look sweet and angelic, to lure you in, but she would have her vampire like fangs hidden so she could latch onto you at the right time. Okay, admittedly Anorexia doesn't drain you of blood, but once she pierces her fangs into you, she slowly drains the life out of you.

Anorexia finds you at a vulnerable time, pretends to be your friend, gains your trust, galmours you. Just like vampires can glamour you into believing every word they say, creating a different reality. She forces you to gradually cut the ties to anything that gives you hold in the REAL world, so she has more pull on you in her IMAGINARY world.

The more a vampire feeds on human blood, the stronger it gets. Same goes for anorexia, the more she feeds on you, the stronger she gets. Ultimately they both want to suck you dry, taking your life away.

Statistics on anorexia have revealed that mortality rates are higher than from any other psychological disorder, and that 2 in 10 sufferers will die from the illness. It's unfortunate to say that the numbers of people anorexia has latched on to is increasing not only in females, but also in males. Those are frightening statistics which evoke the question in me - how can we kill such a force?

Vampires are killed by piercing a stake through their heart. In Vampire Diaries there are original vampires, the origin, the source the other vampires evolved from. These vampires can't be killed with an ordinary stake, like other vampires are killed. It is only with a rare white oak stake that they can be killed. If they are staked through the heart, with any ordinary stake, and it is left in place, the original vampires go into a "temporary" death, until the stake is removed.
We need to find a white oak stake equivilant to kill anorexia, but to my knowledge that does not exist as yet. My Vamporexia has a stake through her heart, but occasionally, for unknown reasons, she comes back to life and attempts to sink her fangs back inot me, so she can be brought back to life.
She did exactly that recently, glamouring me back into her world, making me believe that I missed her and needed her in my life. She slowly gained strength and control over me. The stake wasn't completely removed and before she could feed on me too much I managed to kill her (temporarlily) again.
The thing is, I was letting her flirt with me again, until I realized the trap I was falling in to. I found myself doing self distructive things, loathing myself and my body, questioning my life. I told an amazing friend about Vamporexia slowly taking hold of me, which eventuated in me telling mum and dad. They were the antidote to Vamporexia's venom. Anorexia stands alone, she is strong, stronger than you alone, but if you have an army behind you, and you are at the force of that army ready to battle, she stands no chance.

I am incredibly thankful and fortunate to have family and friends who are there for me, unconditionally, without judgement.
If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that the only way Vamporexia can be staked is when a family unites. The only person who can stake Vamporexia though, is the sufferer themselves.

I always knew there was a purpose for my love of these shows, and with that in mind, I will continue watching them... who knows what else it may reveal about anorexia.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ping Pong

Christmas is in the air and my favorite city at this time of the year is Bern, Switzerland. As you emerge out of the train station you are greeted by the massive window of one of the stores, which is always elaborately decorated to suit the season or event. Yesterday was "chlousetag" or  "Santa day" in Switzerland, where Santa comes to your house, determines if you were good or bad, gives you mandarines, peanuts and a present. Yesterday however, Santa was inside the window taking photos with little kids, infecting them with the joyous christmas spirit. Vendors selling christmas cookies were lining the streets, the scent of cinnamon and pine was drifting through the air and the roads were elegantly laced with christmas lights. It was going to be a good day.

I awoke with excitement, because today was the day I was going to see one of my favorite and most trusted people - Dr. Prinz. I still remember, so vividly, the first time I met him. I was a frail girl, lost and lifeless. He was a larger than life character with a mighty laugh and with a genuine interest to help me. We instantly clicked and he became a fundamental part in my recovery.

The perception we have of psychiatrists is, generally, very stereotyped. There's a sofa on which you sit, the psychiatrist sits opposite you with his notepad firmly placed on his lap. Often the index finger sits somewhere near the corner of his mouth to give him an analytical look, eyes slightly squinted in thought, attempting to decipher the root of your problem.
Dr. Prinz was the opposite of that. We both sat in chairs as equals, I got to choose my spot. His office was decked out in Disney and Pixar posters, the notepad lay on the table not on his lap, he was interested in me as a person, not me with a problem.
The thing is, a person batteling an addiction, a condition or an illness is still a person. That "condition" isn't what identifies them as a person, it is simply a part of them, it is not the essence of them. Admittedly, when I was in the grips of Anorexia, I did believe it was my identity, the essence of me. Dr. Prinz taught me otherwise and now, in retrospect, I believe that was a crucial part in my recovery.
See, as Dr. Prinz was more interested in me, the person Belinda, he also encouraged me to learn about myself, to peel back the layers and realize that there was more to me than just a "successful" Anorexic. With Dr. Prinz Anorexia never stood in first place, she had to take the backseat, behind me.
Prinz taught me to gradually let go of Anorexia and gradually start grabbing on to life. There were sessions where Anorexia didn't even make it into the conversation because we were too busy discussing Roger Federer, or the events of the 2004 Athens Olympics, books and movies, but my favorite of all - playing Ping Pong. Who would have thought that a Psych would play Ping Pong with a patient when, in reality, they should be taking apart your problem and "fixing" you?

When we first started playing I hit the ball tentatively, to ensure it would hit the table, I wanted to be "perfect" at the game. I didn't want to make errors, because I believed they would reflect my failings as a person. Prinz, an outstanding Ping Pong player, would adapt his game to my level, occasionally hammering a winner over my end of the table (at his usually level) which, in turn, encouraged me to lift my game. Over time my apprehensions vanished and my game loosened up, much a reflection of my state of mind. The idea of hitting a ball that went too long, or even missing a hit became much more acceptable. And instead of playing with determination and tension, I began to play with fun and ease. Thats how I started beating Prinz, that's how I began beating Anorexia.

As I took a seat in Prinz's office yesterday his first comment to me was " I brought another T-shirt to change in to so we can have a Ping Pong rematch". Wow, he was getting serious about this game. So after lunch and catching up as friends, no longer on Doctor/Patient terms, we ventured to the Ping Pong stadium.
We began to play and I was keen to show him that my game had become stronger (thanks to the recent lessons from some great friens), as had I as a person.
The ball was hitting the paddles at a rapid pace, tactics were becoming ever more evident and pearls of sweat began to trickle down our foreheads. GAME ON!! We both played with an equal portion of competitiveness and fun. We were literally  chasing the ball from one corner of the table to the other. It was intensely fun... except for the part where I (hmmmm, should I admit this...?) Lost.
I lost the game but won my life back.

The religious game of Ping Pong with Prinz has been a great reflection of the process of my recovery from Anorexia. I learnt that in order to improve my game I had to learn to work on my weak points, I needed to learn to read the game, to have trust in my ability and to accept defeat but not let myself be defeated. As I have become stronger as a person, so has my game. And watch out Dr. Prinz, I will be back for revenge.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The snowflake

Today I awoke to a lush curtain of snow infront of my window. Thick snowflakes were gracefully floating deep into the valley creating a fluffy white carpet on the road. Needless to say my running shoes laced themselves up in no time and, before I knew it, I was out dodging snowflakes that were attacking my face and kicking the freshly fallen snow up behind me.

There really is nothing, in my opinion, that matches the magical feeling that snow on a cold winters day produces. Sure, the cold is a minor minus, but once you get moving the heat you generate out-heats the cold, creating the perfect running temperature. So running in the snow is actually a big plus, just like the swiss flag.

My path took me along a 10km trail that runs along the waterfront. Dogs were frolicking in the snow, couples were walking hand in hand beneath the trees that were dressed in white and the smell in the air was hinting that christmas is looming. The wall of snowflakes was so dense that it impaired my vision, resulting in me running squint-eyed the whole way (I occasionally opened my eyes completely so as to be sure that my eyelashes hadn't frozen together):

Snowflakes are beautiful, especially the ones we see illustrated with their 6 branches that exted from a star-shaped center - pure, glittering, perfect. However, the reality of a snowflake is that each one is individual and unique in structure... no one snowflake is the same. From the moment they are created within a coud they undergo continual change in their shape due to the differing temperature and humidity zones they float through on the journey. No snowflake is perfect, but we know that, once the snowflake falls into its place, it becomes a piece of a bigger picture, it becomes a part of perfection.

We are not all that different from a snowflake. We are all individual and unique in our personality, shape, beliefs, prefrences, lifestyle etc. Our lives are in a constant state of movement which creates change, whether we realize it or not... Our bodies change.
As I was running throught the snowflakes I began to imagine the snowflake being a reflection of my body. I know the image I harbor in my head of my 'perfect' body, just like we know what the perfect snowflake 'should' look like. I began to realize, that just like the snowflake, my body is designed to change, to fit with the bigger picture that makes me up as a person. That image is not solely made up of the appearance and shape of my body, but also by my personality, values and the environment I live in and many more componants that, eventually, make up the bigger picture of Belle.

I think we place so much value on our physical appearance because its (often) the first thing that represents us before we have the opportunity to reveal ourselves through words and actions. Maybe we should change our attitude and let ourselves float through the different zones of change until we fall in into the spot that is waiting for us. Although we could debate if that spot even exists...? The point I'm trying to make is that instead of fighting change we should embrace it, in all its forms. A snowflake can be moulded into a snowball once it has fallen, so maybe we too, can mould change into a snowball that fits in our fist. The ball is in our hands.

In a trans-like state I kept running through the beautiful snowflakes, imagining myself being one of them, perfectly unique and individual.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Run with endurance

This blog is going to start with a public confession to my mum - Mum, I got another tattoo, I'm Sorry. I can just see how you are pouting your lips and tilting your head to the side saying, in an anguished tone  "Oh Belinda". We  both know that when you use "Belinda" I'm in trouble. This tattoo, as opposed to the one preceeding this one, I do not regret at all. May I be confident enough and say that I think it looks brilliant. So before I leave you wondering for too long about what the newest addition to my collection is (and assuming you are still reading after the initial shock) I will reveal to you now that it sais "Run with endurance".
It has found its place on the same arm where I have my "Run with life" tattoo (on the inside of my bicep). The new tattoo runs on the same line, from my elbow to the middle of my forearm. Elegantly written in the same font, so as to continue the flow. I actually think you, mum, will like it, at least I very much hope so.

It's no secret that I like changing my body. Part of it is always linked with the ambition to make myself that bit more ideal, or perfect to state it honestly. I have taken my body to the extremes of emanciation, I have played with lifting weights to create a more muscely physique, I have died my hair, I have tattoos. Maybe my external manipulations to my body are a way to create internal acceptance for myself? However, I like to look at it from the perspective that I discussed with my psychologist, Dr. Prinz, who instilled in me the notion that the body is a blank canvas and we have the ability to fill it in however we please. I keep painting on my canvas, often re-painting it, but the tattos are now a permanent fixture on my body.

After fighting Anorexia , and as I continue to fight it, and as my passion for running has given me a new focus, a phrase hit me "Run with life". Upon that I decided to get that inked on my left inner bicep, to remind myself to appreciate the life I have, to keep myself accountable and to remind myself where I have come from.The left inner bicep because it is close to the heart.
There are many times where I forget to "Run with life" and it feels like I am stuck, or standing still. Much in the ways that Anorexia prevented me from moving forward. It felt like I was stuck in a type of quicksand that sucks you in so deep until you can no longer move in any other direction than downwards. It took "endurance" to claw my way out of that quicksand, the runs I love to do take "endurance". "Run with endurance" feels like it is the yang to the ying of "Run with life".

Fighting Anorexia is like running a Marathon... There is one critical difference, however. With the Marathon there is a prdictable and definite finishline, with Anorexia there isn't. I recall writing a letter to mum when I was in hospital, and before I had ever run a Marathon, in which I stated that I felt battling Anorexia is like running a Marathon, and that you need to save some energy for the final sprint to the finishline.
2 years after my hospital stint, and holding a steady weight, I ran my first Marathon by that philosophy. I ran conservatively for 36km to ensure I had that little bit in reserve for the final km's. It proved to work, and I finished in 3h36min, 4th female.

When I decided to actively take up the battle with "The Bitch" (anorexia) I started the battle tentatively and conservatively. I didn't know what kind of hurdles and walls were expecting me. I think I did it that way because I wanted to gain weight slowly, because I knew that if I gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time, I would have panicked and reverted back rapidly. I had numbers (in kg's) in my head that I wanted to reach by a certain time, much like I do when I run a Marathon (in km's). That concept of goal setting helped me move forward stride by stride and let my head adapt to the number.

There is nothing that makes me feel more satisfied than the feeling of complete and utter depletion. Anorexia depleted me daily - mentally and physically. Mentally the battle between the good and bad side within me drove me crazy. Physically the deprevation of energy made me feel empty and lifeless... that was a very destructive depletion.
Running depletes me physically. That depletion makes me feel cleansed. It gives me a fresh start to replenish myself, mentally, everyday. Anorexia never had that effect, she just kept depleting all systems until there was nothing left.

Running and Anorexia share so many parallels. Although I will argue that the parallels are differentiated by one attempting to take your life (anorexia) and the other giving you life (running).

I vow to myself to "Run with life" and "Run with endurance" literally and metaphorically... who is with me?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mirror Mirror...

"Mirror Mirror on the wall who is the skinniest of them all...?"

When we look into the mirror we expect to see a true reflection of ourselve. We look into it with a certain expectation, with the hope to see exactly the kind of reflection we have created in our mind. A reflection of perfection. At least that's how it was (is) for me.
How close to reality is the reflection that we see in the mirror though? Do we see what our mind is telling us to see or do we see what truly is? And because of this expectation attached to our reflection will we ever be truly happy with the reflection starring back at us? Is it the physical reflection we reject or do we reject the reflection of who is looking us back in the eye?

I use to stare in the mirror for hours on end, counting every protruding rib, measuring the width of my waist, arms and legs. Having to be able to grip around my upper arm with one hand and having my fingers touch, having to grip around my thigh with both hands with ease and the same method of measurement counted for my waist. I would spend hours analyzing the shape of my stomach, bending over forwards so I could count the amount of 'rolls' that formed and measure how thick they were. I would stand tall, straight spine, shoulders back, anckle bones touching to measure how big the gap between my thighs was. I would lie down, get a ruler and place it from hip bone to hip bone and measure how big the gap from my stomach to the ruler was. I would tie my hair up, get another mirror and count my protruding vertabrates.
Eventhough I could count every rib the mirror reflected, I could see my spine as though it was about to cut through my skin and could see the gap between my legs being big enough to make them look like nothing but two twigs, and although there was barely a gram of fat on my body, my reflection, the one that I saw, told me I was fat.

"Mirror Mirror on the wall I hate you so but love you more..."

I hated to love looking in the mirror because I knew that I wouldn't find that perfection I was looking for. In some way I hated that frail, shapeless and lifeless being that was starring back at me, but on the other hand I felt incredible pride and satisfaction, even comfort, at what I saw.

I so often felt like I was trapped within the wrong body. I felt so disgusted at my reflection, because I was never Skinny/Perfect enough. All I could do was spit at the mirror, at myself, to give me a sense of relief. I wasn't only spitting at my physical reflection, but also at me, the person I saw. I was no longer Belle, I felt like I was taken hostage by some demon that had taken over my body and my mind. That demon was Anorexia.

"Mirror Mirror on the wall are you real at all...?"

My reflection to the outside world was seen as skinny, frail and lifeless. My reflection in my world was seen as fat, unworthy and so very imperfect. Even at my lowest weight, 31kg, I still saw a girl who needed to lose weight, who still had a roll around her stomach and who had a double chin. I would try and eleviate some of my frustration by lathering my face with make-up, a way to try and distract from my body.

"Mirror Mirror on the wall please tell me I can stop, that I have reached the goal...?"

That point never came. I never felt, and as perverse as it may sound, still don't think I ever got skinny or light enough. It's irrational thinking I still can't comprehend. The reflection I saw was never at that perfect state, the state that would allow me to stop. Ask me what that perfect state looks like and I couldn't tell you because it's and illusion.

The reflection that I saw and believed for so long shows that our comprehension of that reflection is linked with the frame of mind we are in. We feel good, we generally like what we see. We feel down/bad, we generally don't like what we see eventhough the reflection has stayed the same.

"Mirror Mirror on the wall, be my friend don't let me fall..."

I am learning that its not actually the mirror that is my enemy, it's my mind. I'm learning to see the mirror as my friend, as a tool that is there to help me learn to accept myself and like myself. And not as a tool that only wants to expose my flaws.

"Mirror Mirror on the wall give me a smile, that is all."

I still struggle with my reflection. Very rarely do I actually like what I see. There are times where I wish I could still count those ribs, just for reassurance, but I know it's not a reflection of reality and its just a trap. That way of thinking and living is too tiring and self distructive. Now, when I look in the mirror I look myself in the eye, because they are a reflection of my soul where true beauty is found. I give myself a smile and accept myself, body and mind, for the way I am at that moment. It's not always easy, but its far better to smile at your reflection than spit at it.

Next time you look in the mirror smile at it, you might be surprised to see that it will smile back at you too.

Note: Using the term 'we' is used as a general term, obviously not relevant to everyone.
 I am aware that this way of thinking can be hard to comrehend for some people reading this. Anorexia is an addiction and evokes irrational thinking and behaviour. If by writing this I can help broaden the understanding of the issue, help other sufferers and give hope then I will feel like I am making something positive out of my experience.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Daddy's girl

Dear Dad,

remember when we use to go skiing together, or when I pretended to be asleep when really I just wanted you to carry me home from the restaurant? I was always "daddy's girl" and will forever continue to be "daddy's girl".

Some people say that Anorexia is a cry for attention, which isn't all that wrong. Some would say that my Anorexia was a cry for your attention, to regain my spot as "daddy's girl" in your life. The spot I felt I had lost when you left home and moved in with your "new" family. Maybe that isn't all that wrong either.

Losing weight, the pain from hunger and the torment in my mind brought me a distraction from the inner pain I felt from feeling like I was no longer "daddy's girl". I started going to the gym and lifting weights, going for runs and playing tennis because I knew that they were things you were passionate about and took pleasure in, something I admired you for. I thought it would make you proud if I enjoyed the same things as you did. I became obsessed.
I still admire you for those, and many more things, Dad. What I love even more is, that now, we can do those things together, share a passion that you, in one way or another, ignited in me.

For quite an extended period of time you weren't present in my life. Lucky for you I'll say, that way you didn't have to put up with the obsessed, moody and manipulating Belle. When I was around you I worked so hard to put on my "strong" face and act all in control and problemless.

Deep down I thought you'd be proud of my lean and "healthy" looking physique, because in my mind being skinny reflected success and an adult image. I thought that by showing you the restraint and control I had over my life, it would make you think I was growing into a mature woman. Oh the irony in that, because in reality I was physically turning myself back into a 10 year old girl.

I remember when we, just you and I, went on a holiday. I was bad, but not yet at my worst. You saw me in my bikini and blankly said that I looked like a skeleton. I was shattered. I wanted to hear you say that I looked great, that you were proud of me, that I was growing into a fine young woman. That week was such a struggle for me. I didn't want to show you that I had a problem with food, but at the same time I didn't want to lose Anorexia by gaining weight. Frankly, I couldn't wait to get home and back into by own secure routine of exercise, calorie counting and weight control.

We lost touch. I lost weight. I was no longer "daddy's girl" I had become "Anorexia's girl". She gave me the comfort and company I needed. She encouraged me and complimented me. She cared about me... or so I thought.

When you did see me you made concerned comments about my weight and always encouraged me, sternly, to eat more. That enraged me, because it felt like an attack, like you didn't understand me, didn't understand my struggle and I guess a part of me felt like I would simply never be good enough.

You weren't there when I was battling through the mud, patially because I never reached out to you or let you into my world, and partially because you were oblivious as to how sick I really was, until you saw me that day... 3 months later.

From that moment on you were there every step of the way. You took the reign into your hands and made me go to the doctor becuase you believed you were looking at your "dying daughter". Looking back that was a scary reality.

It was the first time you and mum united in peace since you left home. You united for your daughter and for a short while my family was re-united and my world was in harmony... and then I got admitted to hospital.

Dad, you were the silent hero. You never said much, but you did say that you knew I could beat this, that I was strong and determined. I wanted to prove you right and make you proud.

When you visited me in hospital you left me little gifts that I would find hidden somewhere after you had left (although gifts were against treatment policy, did you know that?).
You never questioned me, never got angry at me... you were just there, ready to catch me if I were to fall.

A cry for attention was only another component that fueled Anorexia. It's like a spiders web, many threads interwoven to make her stronger and more resistant. Once caught in that web however, its hard to get out and Anorexia keeps finding new threads to add to the web to entangle you even more.
Thanks dad, for being there to help untangle me...

'Daddy's girl' xx

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dear Mum

Dear Mum,

It has taken me this long to realize that it wasn't me you were actually challenging, you were challenging Anorexia - The Bitch. In doing so, I can see now, you ignited the fighter within me, the only person who could take Anorexia down.

I hate to tell you this mum, but I say it with the hope that other Mothers might see through the games Anorexia plays, even on them. You were easy to manipulate in the beginning and I even pulled you into my game by asking you to tell me to stop eating when you, yes you, thought I'd eaten enough. By doing that I was ridding myself of any responsibility regarding food, and should I gain weight at least I'd have someone to blame. I took advantage of your willingness to help me out.

Do you remember when I was about 10 years old and we saw a documentary on TV about that girl who had Anorexia, who would walk 10km each day and eat no more than 500 calories, just enough to survive day by day? Remember how I said 'Mum, you won't have to worry about me ever having anything like that... I love my food way too much...'. Well irony bites you in the butt sometimes, and three years later I was that girl and you were her desperate mum.

You noticed things early on; you noticed how obsessed I became with swimming and going to the gym. You noticed how I would quietly make my way to the toilet after every meal, not to purge, but to weigh myself and carefully examine any changes that may have taken place on my body from the food I had just consumed. You confronted me about it, yet I always had an explaination at hand, no matter how far fetched, and you, giving me the benefit of the doubt, decided to believe my words.

I know, or rather Anorexia knew, that if there was one person who would stand in my way, confront me and challenge me it would be you. I had to be well prepared if I wanted to 'outsmart' you on this one. For some reason Anorexia gives you this amazing 'skill' when it comes to manipulating people, and so, eventually I managed to get you off my case.

I attempted to be the 'perfect' daughter, trying to be as unobvious as possible in order to also make Anorexia seem unobvious. I was desguising her. I was hers, she was mine, and no one was to come between us.

That summer, when I got really bad, I was out of your sight. Lucky for Anorexia and me I was surrounded by people who would bend over backwards to make me happy. I took advantage of them too. They didn't question my obsessive training regime. My obsession with food. My gradual change in mood and general being. My rapid weightloss.

I came home. You were shocked. I admitted to having a problem with food. You took me to the doctor. I promised to get better. We ate McDonalds. Nothing changed.

Mum, I remember your desparation, your overwhelming desire to fight the battle for me and just have your girl back. I also remember your 'head in the sand' attitude (the one anorexia favored), because I kept convincing you that I was working on it and that you had nothing to worry about. I told you I was seeing the doctor and gaining weight... Well, they were all lies. Lying to you added to my dispair, but I just couldn't stop.

After hiding the real state of my body for many months, the volcano suddenly errupted. You 'outed' Anorexia. It was that night I was trying on clothes that use to fit me and you got a glimpse of my legs and reacted with panic and disgust. You confronted me about my wasted and bony legs. I told you I'd always had skinny legs. You confronted me about not having had a period for a year. I assured you that it was normal for girls my age. You confronted me about the shower drain being blocked because I was losing so much hair. I told you that hair goes through cycles, and I was in the 'malting' cycle. Again, to ease the situation, I promised to work on myself. Again you believed me.

I just didn't want to let you down mum, be a burden on you. I don't know what it was that I wanted. Maybe I was simply striving for a better version of myself, a perfect version, but instead I created the opposite.

You alone could never have won the battle with me or for me, it needed more.

Ending up in hospital, where they had a free bed to my life saving luck, with a great team of professionals joining force to help me battle, was my saving grace.

Thats when the point came where you had enough of my games and were sick of feeling like I was wasting the time of all these people willing to help me. So you confronted me and set me an ultimatum infront of the whole medical team. You exposed Anorexia yet again. At first I saw it as a challeng to challenge the strength of your ultimatum, but over time it triggered a fight mechanism within me. I felt like a traitor to everyone around me, a traitor to myself.

From that moment I began to fight and you have been there every step of the way. It has been a long fight. It has been a tough fight. Sometimes you felt like strangeling me. Sometimes I felt like strangeling you. You let me cry, talk, laugh and understand. You helped me let 'The Bitch' go. You continue to help me keep myself 'in-check'.

It takes a strong person to overcome Anorexia, but it also takes a strong person/people to take up the battle with you.
Thankyou mum, for never giving up, eventhough it would have been easier to walk away at times.
Thankyou for showing me unconditional love and for loving me just the way I am.
Sorry for hurting you, manipulating you and fighting you. I'm so grateful to have you as my mum.

I loveyou x

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dear Girl

All I ever wished for when I was physically and mentally at my lowest, was to hear from or meet a girl who would tell me and show me that I could get better, that I wasn't the only one affected by this, that there is an after life, a life without "The Bitch" - Anorexia.

Dear Girl,
I once was you. Worried and obsessed about my weight and appearance, worried about not being good enough for my parents, worried about not living up to their expectations.

I don't know how it was exactly for you, but with me it started slowly and subtly; Anorexia and "the voice" slowly and slyly started to take hold of me, luring me into a false reality, one that was so destructive not only to myself, but also to my family and the people around me.
But Dear Girl, I stand here now to tell you that you can fight "The Bitch" and eventually beat her. I want you to know that you're not alone, and that not only myself, but many other girls/women have have over come it. Here is my story...

If I were asked to describe Anorexia in three words I would use:
  1. Manipulative
  2. Selfish
  3. Destructive
Once you let Anorexia into your life, this is what you also become. The thing with Anorexia is that it doesn't become you, but you become it.

Do you make up excuses saying you ate at a friends place or will eat later just to get yourself out of eating a meal to avoid consuming extra calories?
I did, constantly... It made me a compulsive liar.
Are you afraid to look in the mirror and see your reflection because you are convinced you'll see a fat reflection of yourself?
Well, its not reality. Your mind is playing tricks on you.
Are you obsessed with seeing other people eat and cooking for them, because it brings you comfort and reassurance to see other people eat while your aren't?
Watching people eat made me feel full, strong and in control. It made me feel proud of myself.
Do you keep thinking you can stop this when you've reached a certain weight or point, but find yourself never finding that point?
I never found that point, until I decided to seek help and get healthy.
Do you feel incredibly lonely and empty and lost?
I did for years, and sometimes still do. But you have no reason to be lonely. You can fill your emptiness with love, laughter and life. You can find yourself, sometimes it just takes patience, alot of patience.

I still wonder what the trigger for my Anorexia actually was, and there are a few things I could list that I believe could be a factor in contributing to me suffering from Anorexia; like my parents breaking up... being bullied at school... low self-esteem... being a perfectionist... social pressure..., but then theres that theory that maybe it is simply something that 'just' happens to you, for no tangible reason.

I became obsessed with my weight and the shape of my stomach. I loathed my body because it didn't reflect that of the "perfect" body that so many women sported in magazines and on TV. I believed that losing some weight would bring me that bit closer to being ideal, being good enough, which would automatically generate approval and acceptance. Dear Girl, I learnt that the one and only person you formostly need approval and acceptance from is yourself.

Losing that first Kilo was like a rush of adrenaline and a boost of endorphines. I wanted more. I wanted to see the numbers drop. I wanted to see bones poke out. I wanted a six pack. I wanted nice boobs.
The numbers never seemed to drop low enough. My stomach never got flat enough. My hip bones never protruded quite like the girls I idolized. It wasn't really that the images of those girls drove me to lose weight, they simply acted as a benchmark.

After a while I started hearing voices. Voices that lured me into deep self-conversations and mind battles, all revolving around food, calories and weight. I began to call them the 'Angel' and the 'Devil'. The Angel was the voice that was still fighting for me, Belle, fighting for me not to lose myself to Anorexia. The Devil was Anorexia. So strong and loud, constantly setting me new challenges that I found so inviting, that I thought if I'd meet the challenge I could stop. But now I can see that by starving myself I was feeding the Devil, making its voice stronger.
On reflection I feel so incredibly sad about what I put my family through. I became a real Bitch. I played games, I manipulated so I could get my own way. I isolated myself, letting no one into my world, and by doing that, I convinced myself that no one cared about me. When someone wanted to offer me a helping hand (of which there were many) I would shut them down, eventhough I really wanted to reach out to that hand, but "The Bitch" wouldn't let me.

By physically wasting away I felt like I was becoming invisible. By being invisible I wouldn't have to face the world, be a burden on anyone, I wouldn't have to see my reflection in the mirror.

I loved to hate food. Everything about food became a game and so controlled.
Do you eat at set times? Do you weigh your food? Do you cut your food into small bites and chew for ages? Do you time yourself when you eat? Do you secretly throw away your food or give it to the dog?
It's a tiring game, isn't it!?

You're probably growing a fine layer of hair all over your body... Are losing hair that use to luciously grace your head... have dry skin and sore patches... Bad breath. Is that really more beautiful and perfect than before? Are you a better person with Anorexia? Is this who you want to be?

Oh Dear Girl, I wish I could tell you how to get better. I know you can though. You need to be STRONG, ACCEPT HELP and start LOVING YOURSELF. And remember, just because you have reached a phyically healthy weight again, doesn't necessarily mean your mind has reached a healthy state.
I have to work on myself every single day. Life is worth living. Begin to Fight back, its an investment in life. Don't be afraid. I understand you.



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The autumn leaf

As I glared out my dining room window my eyes were spoilt with the beautiful colors of autmumn. Green turn leaves turn into a vibrant red, red turns into many shades of brown, beofore detaching themselves from the branch they are anchored to and gracefully float to the ground, to cover it in a carpet of leaves.

As a kid I was always aware of autumn, but I never took real notice of its beauty. In my mind it simply marked that winter was near and it wouldn't be long until we could jump on our skis and hit the slopes. I do however, remember a tree near the playground that use to have a mountain of leaves just beneath it, making for the perfect matress to jump into as we flung ourselves from the branch.

That day I glared out the window my running blood was pumping through my veins, and I simply wanted to engulf myself in the whole energy nature was offering me at my door step. I laced up my shoes and started running aimlessly and without a plan, all I wanted to do was run.

I ran along a trail that lead me up the valley along the gushing river. Everything seemed more alive than I had seen in a long time...  Yet ironically, while everything seems so alive in autumn, it is slowly dying as well.

I stumbled upon a mountain of leaves and I couldn't help but launch myself into that magnifcent nest. As I was laying in that moutnain of leaves, I felt like everything âround me was melting away, it was a moment of peace, a moment of being in tune with nature.... thoughtless, worryless, careless. until a damn ant started dancing around on my face, upon which I jumped up and quickly started to run again. Ahhh that stupid ant, but instead of being annoyed that it interupted me, i was thankful that i got that moment of solitude and peace.
In autum nature strips itself bare and dies, only to be revived and start afresh with the next coming spring. So its not death, its just a temporary break, to strengthen and be ready to be lush and beautiful for the months its needed to be. Maybe we need to allow ourselves such a break too, to strip ourselves bare, regroup and be ready for the next season with a fueled and calm tank.

I hit the valley, where I thought I would stop and go back with the train, but I couldn't. I just couldn't get enough of that day, of living in that moment. So Forest Gump style, I stopped, turned around and kept running. At that point it started to dawn on me what people mean by "living in the moment". We get so caught up in planning ahead, trying to create and ideal life, an ideal world that we forget to appreciate the things that are right infront of us. They are simple things that can bring so much joy into your life.

A leaf on the tee branch has no other choice than to live in the moment. It flutters in the direction the wind blows, it showers itself in the drops that the rain pours onto it, it grows and creates its own unique shape, it changes in color as it matures. Maybe we should all take a leaf out of the leafs book and enjoy "the moment".

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The blank canvas

I had the most wonderful Psychologist/Psychiatrist (I still fail to understand the difference between them both, but I prefer to use ologyst, because it has a nicer ring to it) when I was in hospital, Dr. Prinz.
I came to understand that what makes a great psychologist is his ability to not make you feel like a person with an "issue". A great psych is a person who sees you, the person, before it, the problem. Prinz never treated Anorexia, he treated me, to strengthen me and help me gain a better understanding of me, Belle, in that way giving me the tools to beat anorexia. He taught me that I  have my own identity, that anorexia wasn't it, that I could do better than it.

In hospital I learnt to enjoy art and creativity, a concept that, in earlier days, had been far removed from my sphere of interest. As I had nothing else or no other occupation in hospital, I started to take art and craft classes. The beginnings were a struggle, because what I had created was never good enough, never perfect enough in my eyes and I always took great pleasure in destroying what I had created just so I could let out my anger and frustrations of not having the ability to create perfect things which, in essence, would have made me feel that bit more perfect.

Maybe anorexia is a physical manifestation of your whole being attempting to reach its perfect state and balance, may I even use the word homeostasis...? If you are perfect on the outside it would obviously reflect a perfect internal life resulting in a perfect person. By losing weight, by altering our shape, our exterior appearance, we adhere (and I use `we`as a general term, which can also include numerous other addictions and obsessions) to perfect ourselves as a person. Ironically we remove ourselves from that homeostatic state the more we torture ourselves chasing that ideal image.
Anorexia reflects an insecurity of self. It becomes a force that brings out the worst, not the best in you. It becomes a quest for physical perfection that seems to be marked by a body that is bare, that has no form or shape, let alone life. It becomes a bare/blank canvas.

I was sitting in Dr Prinz's office. We were discussing my inability to complete an artwork and my great ability at destructing and destroying the artwork.
"I just don't understand why I can't do it well enough... I can never make the picture on that canvas look beautiful... I'm just not good enough." Prinz sat there for a while, with a victorious smile invading his face, quietly glancing at me. This irritated me quite a bit. What was he thinking? Was he mocking me? Was he thinking 'finally she realizes that she's hopeless at art'? No. Instead, after what seemed to be an eternity, he got up, walked accross the room and high fived me. SMACK (it was a good high five that was deserving of another high five to celebrate the greatness of the previous one).

My frustrations about finding my perfect self, about creating the perfect body had translated into the way I viewed the art I was creating. The key word is canvas. Prinz went on to say 'The thing is you as a person, you as a body are a blank canvas. You can do anything you want with it until you've created the artwork that you like. Your whole life you can alter its look. You can add or change color, you can expand it, make it smaller, you can do anything you like, just stop destroying it or else there will be nothing left in the end.'
Now it was my turn to look at him blankly, speechless. it took me a while to comprehend what Prinz was getting at, it even challenges my thoughts at times now, but it has also become a comforting thought.

From then on I tried to see myself as that blank canvas, because I couldn't strip myself anymore bare than I already had. I was ready to add life to my lifeless self. Knowing that I had the control to alter the look of the artwork I was creating, gave me a sense of security, it also posed as a challenge.

I'm still working on my artwork. At times I like what I see, at times I don't. But from that session with Prinz, I learnt not to destroy what I didn't like, but simply to change the color, shading or form, until it felt right for that moment in time.

We are an ever evolving artwork, all beautiful and perfect in our own right.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The butterfly

Do you like butterflies? I am fascinated by them; by their beauty, elegance and individuality. No butterfly is identical to the other, they differ in coloring, shape and size, much like us people, we are all unique.
We don't see a butterflies true beauty until it has completed all stages of metamorphisis of which there are four - Egg, Lava, Pupa (chrysalis) and Adult stages, until it finally emerges in it's full glory.

A butterfly was always what I wanted to turn into when I had anorexia. I felt like a trapped caterpillar or lava, unable to move, unable to breathe. I wanted to believe that I could form myself into a pupa or chrysalis, and then emerge freely as a butterfly ready to fly.

Ironically the process anorexics go through to recover from anorexia is similar to the metamorphisis of a butterfly.
The first step of the metamorphisis is simple -  an egg is laid upon a leaf, which the mother fly expects its offspring to be feeding off the most after it hatches. When it hatches a butterfly doesn't instantly emerge, rather the Larve aka caterpillar. For it's survival it must eat to grow so it can develope to its full capacitiy before it goes into its final stage of transformation - Pupa/chrysalis where the butterfly developes all the parts that distinguish it and turn it into a beautiful butterfly.

So... what does this have in common with anorexia? To some extent anorexia is mostly associated with an attempt to achieve perfect beauty, which in reality simply does NOT exist. Anorexics try and achieve this state by starving themselves, going through what you could choose to call a 'reverse metamorphisis', turning themselves from already beautiful in their own right, into a caterpillar trapped within its cocoon.

Anorexia engulfs you so much that you, as the person, have no other choice than to retract into a cocoon, because it feels safe and non-threatening, you are trapped within your own little world. The only way for a butterfly to break out of its cocoon is all tied up with how strong they are before entering their final transformation. If they haven't built the strength they need to break free while they are a caterpillar, the battle to emerge out of the cocoon will be all the more challenging.

The only way for me to get better was to go back yet another step in the metamorphisis process and let myself become a caterpillar, feeding on the things that would make me stronger, physically and emotionally, until I knew I had built the capacity to begin the positive process of my own metamorphisis, form myself back into the pupa to eventually breakfree as a butterfly would.

That process started in hospital, where my focus was on nothing other than to get better. For too long I stayed hidden in my 'safe' cocoon, letting anorexia feed me and continue to control me. Over time I grew weaker and I knew if I didn't change now I would never break out of the cocoon anorexia was trapping me in.
I was on a 'normal' ward in the Insel Spital in Bern, surrounded by children who could not alter the outcome of their illnesses, who didn't even have a choice about being sick. I could alter the outcome of my illness, I had a choice about being sick, and after too long it was time to poke my head out of the cocoon, even if not as a butterfly rather as a caterpillar, and actively begin to get stronger, even if that meant gaining weight.

The lighter you get, the more weight you lose through anorexia, the weaker your will to fight becomes. But in reverse, the more weight you gain the stronger you get and with that your will to fight strengthens too.
If you think about it, the more you starve yourself the harder it is to think on a rational level. I haven't done any detailed reasearch as yet, but malnourishment has been shown to lead to chemical imbalences, which is then also a trigger for depression. Once you start fueling properly again you start progressing to a state of equilibrium, when your body gets stronger your mind gets stronger and you can start thinking clearly again, you can start thinking as you not as anorexia.

With an incredible support network around me I began to form a new cocoon, one that I would enter with strength so I could emerge as that butterfly I had always invisaged. I stayed in that cocoon for a while, maybe too long, but I needed that time to continue to develope as a person, to let my body recover from the ordeal I had put it through.

Sometimes I feel like retracting back into that cocoon, but then I look around me and see the beauty of life. I can feel myself fluttering around freely, the way I had always dreamed of when I was trapped in the cocoon of anorexia.

A butterflies metamorphisis has four stages, which I have renamed to reflect what that process represents to me - GROWTH, CHANGE, LIBERY, BEAUTY.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Puzzle

When it feels like all pieces of the puzzle are coming together, it creates an incredible feeling of confidence and excitement. That's how I felt about this years Jungfrau Marathon (JM), confident and excited because my puzzle pieces were finding their spot. Physically I have never felt better. Mentally I felt confident. Running wise I felt strong. On the day that all these pieces were meant to fall into place, they seemed not to fit.

The JM is dubbed one of the Worlds "most beautiful Marathons". Starting in Interlaken, it then winds up a 25km valley to Lauterbrunnen before the beginning of the ruthless 17km ascent all the way to the base of the Eiger (maybe not quite that far, but it sounds impressive all the same) before descending the last km to the finish line - Kleine Scheidegg.
This Marathon is literally in my backyard. I had trained on the course numerous times, with each run feeling stronger and more confident, making friends with the mountain instead of seeing it as an enemy. So really, what could possibly go wrong if everything was falling into place? This marathon taught me that a piece of the puzzle can be a misfit on that particular day, and that one misfit can change the whole picture.

Race morning arrived and I was filled with excitement, especially because my friend Shayne would be out there on course with me. There was an edge of apprehension however, because I had been given an elite startnumber, something I felt I couldn't live up to just yet, something I didn't feel deserving of, especially because it was the world long distance mountain running championships. I was determined to run my own race, and not be influenced by that red two digit number. As the startgun blasted I quickly realized that the number had sucked me in and I was running at a pace much faster thatn I was comfortable with. "I've got to stick with the front if I've already got this number", I kept hearing myself say. The initial stride that I found wasn't all that uncomfortable. I felt like my legs were working with me and I wasn't too strained aerobically. "Relax, Breathe, Focus" I told myself, but after 10km, only 10km (!!!) my legs started to come off. It felt like they no longer responded to the cues my brain was sendint them. I dropped pace. I dropped confidence. I dropped enjoyment. My legs didn't feel tired, not did I feel aerobically challenged, but the Tank was empty. I felt like I had no control over my body. Frustration engulfed my initial feeling of excitement and the run that was meant to set me apart from my previous achievements turned into agony.

As I was being reeled in by dozens of fellow runners, and I felt hopeless about doing anything about it, my morale plumeted. All I could think about was seeing my mum at the half way mark, making it there and then reassesing.

The thing is, the Puzzle isn't just made up of pieces of your own, the puzzle is also made up of pieces other people bring into it, their encouragement, belief and support. Once you feel like the picture isn't coming together on that day, you not only feel like you're letting yourself down, but you feel you're letting those people down who attribute a piece of the puzzle to complete the picture. Reality is that you're not letting those people down. They believe in you as a person primarily, then your athletic abilities. They are the people who define us as a person, not as an athlete or runner. We, as the person keep searching for something to be defined by, yet we fail to realize that we are already defined by the person we are.

Giving up seemed like such a tangible option, to simply drop out of the race, not to have to answer any questions and go and hide under a rock until all the disappointment disapated. What reason did I have to give up? Nothing hurt, I wasn't sick, I just simply couldn't get my body to move. There was no reason I couldn't reach the finish line, except for reasoning with my pride, even if it meant not breaking even with my expectation. A DNF beside my name though, would be worse, would be longer lasting and nothing more than an easy out. So on those grounds, dropping out quickly got dropped as an option. I decided to take a different approach, sit back and have fun, run with other people, chat to the volunteers and cheer people on who were having a better day than I was. I needed to turn that misfitting piece of the puzzle into on that would fit, to just slightly change the end product of the picture.

That is how I met Phillip, a guy that was hard to miss, with his tall, lean physique and the most attention drawing aspect of him was that he was running in sandals, Tarahumara style, shirtless and watchess. I pulled up beside him and first of all high fived for both running watchless. His words were "your heart sets the pace". Phillip wasn't having a good day either, and as me, resigned to the fact that making it to the finish line would be the goal of the day. Still fighting feelings of anger and disappointment, Phillip and I started talking about the essence of running, which isn't the racing, but the joy it brings and how the good days along with the not so good days create the fundamentals for a long lasting love story. We were partaking in a race, but we were doing what we love, that is winning in itself.
15km can pass quickly when your sharing passion and agony. 2km from the finishline Phillip cramped and I was left to make the final descent to the finishline solo. A whirlwind of emotions inveded me and I didn't know if I was happy, sad, angry or disappointed. Maybe just a little of everything.

The picture was complete. I made it to the finishline, althought the picture didn't quite reflect the desired image I had painted in my mind, it was still complete. The puzzle piece fit in the end, now its up to me how I look at that picture.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Apart from the many other things I love about running, I love that it can serve as a great tool of exploration. I spent the past week in Nottwil Switzerland, situated perfectly on the shores of the Sempachersee, which also offers itself as a perfect 20km running loop around the lake. Instead of doing the usual loop around the edge of the lake, I ventured up into the hills with farms sitting so invitingly at it's crest.
The fantastic thing about Switzerland is that everything is so well sign posted, so eventhough I wasn't exactly sure which sign to follow, I randomly picked one and followed its lead.

The first 5km took me along the usual loop  until I veered off that path and entered the forest and a steeper than expected hill stared me in the eyes. I wasn't unhappy about that because I had been growing board of flat runs. As I trotted my way up the incline the forest grew darker and more dense. I began having flashbacks to the movie "Snow white and the huntsmen", which I had recently seen, and began convincing myself that the branches of the trees would reach out for me at any moment, or some abstract creature would jump out of the scrub and see me as the perfect breakfast... Oh the mind games that can be created never fail to amaze me. At that thought though, my pace certainly increased to more of a gallop than a trott.

Out of nowhere I hit an intersection. The forest was still so dense that I couldn't see any of the farms I was headed towards and I'd lost my orientation a bit. The path that I was to follow was marked with its sign (a yellow diamond shaped logo) painted onto a tree. The sign was there, staring me in the eye, yet I didn't quite trust it. I became hesitant and with a hint of mistrust I eventually followed the marked path.
This pause in the path lead to the start of a question brewing in my mind. How often do we see signs but don't trust them, or choose not to see them, because a sign seems like something outside of our control. And the human species love control.

There were so many signs that attempted to highlight the beginning of my battle with "The Bitch". Initially I would do subtle things like eat a bit less, exercise a bit more. I grew overly interested with the appearance of my stomach, continually asking for reassurance, from family and friends, if I looked fat. Now, these things can appear normal (to a degree) and innocent, but in my case they were the initial signs of which would turn into a long hike.
Here are some signs  that should be looked out for when confronted with anorexia, especially for family and friends. There are Behavioural signs and Physical signs.
Initial Behavioural: (initially its mostly behavioural signs)
  • Obsession with weight and focused attention on one body part
  • Decreased portions/food intake
  • Elimination of food groups
  • Sudden dislike for previously enjoyed food - especially sweets and meat
  • Sudden increase in exercise
  • Subtle weightloss

Intermediate Behavioural:
  • Refusal to eat at the table
  • Excuse that "I ate earlier... or at a friends place"
  • Mood swings
  • Urge to eat at set times
  • Routines - such as weighing food, time routines... these routines can then stretch further than just food related.

  • Noticeable weightloss

Advanced Behavioural:
  • Increased obsession about food, food preparation and food consumption (including liquids and anything with caloric value)
  • Self isolation - becoming increased anti-social and not attending family or public outings
  • Increased interest in feeding and cooking for others, yet not eating anything themselves
  • Extreme Mood swings
  • Panic attacks
  • Exclusion of people
  • Living in a routine
  • Hair loss
  • Bad breath
  • Dry Skin
  • Loss of Menstruation
  • Severe fatigue
  • Decreased concentration
  • Insomnia
  • Self abuse/Bruises
  • Constantly cold
  • Akne
  • Bone protrusion due to severe weightloss
  • Bloating due to malnourishment
The signs, like on that path, were there. One pointing me in the direction I should be going, one pointing our the direction I shouldn't be going, Both however, are pointing out something, we just need to learn to look and trust. If we are aware of the signs, we are so much less likely to get lost.

I finally exited the forest and was now surrounded by open farmland and cowshit accross the whole path. The sun had risen above the lake and I had found a farmhouse that was selling fresh berries. Always prepared, I had 10 bucks in my pocket, so I feasted on a breakfast of blueberries, rasperries and strawberries, perched at the top of the fields, overlooking the misty lake.

Although my family pointed out and were aware of signs of my abnormal behaviour, I could always find a way to justify those signs. And eventhough my family could see the signs, they also chose to ignore them. Surely their daughter wouldn't follow that path... we are all victims of denial sometimes.

Descending was a much easier affair. I had the lake in view the whole way down and could also see Nottwil over the other side of the lake. It was hot, I'd been running for a good few hours, the end was in sight. I plunged into the lake where a group of friends were already enjoying the welcome ice bath the lake offered to be and glared over at the forest, thankful that I'd chosen to follow the sign.

Even if you get lost and go down the wrong path, there's always going to be another sign to help you find the right path, or prevent you from going further down the wrong path. I got rewarded for trusting in the signs (when I eventually chose to), physically and mentally.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


"There are loads of footprints... there are lots of different paths you can take. Which set of footprints to you take, or do you make your own pathway? That's the same as life." Ryan Sandes

I love seeing footprints on the ground yet, at the same time, I love seeing none on the ground. Footprints give you a sense of comfort, someone else has walked this path, it seems less daunting, even less lonely. When you go a path where you are the first person to imprint on the path with your footsteps it's an incredibly liberating feeling, a feeling of achievement, adventure and discovery.

I spent the last winter in the ski resort Mürren. It was one of the best snow season we have had in a long time, with frequent fresh powder - snowfall at night, clear blue skies durin the days. I enjoy skiing incredibly, but since I've been taking running more seriously I have grown alot more respectful towards it, out of fear of injuring myself and compromising my running. Which, when you rationalize it, is a stupid way to think because there is a certain risk to everything in life, even running in the snow. I suppose we prefer to take on a risk that we feel in control of. I feel more in control when running than when skiing.

 I was concerned about how I could keep up my mileage throughout the winter season, and the idea of running on a treadmil wasn't all that inviting. Running, to me, is not just about the action of running, but also about the interaction with nature and testing myself against the elements. Mürren posed the perfect challenge for testing myself against the elements and leaving the first footprints in freshly fallen snow.

On the morning of my 23rd Birthday I wanted to literally run into the next year of my life (and when I say morning I'm talking about the first minutes that are classed as A.M), so at precisely 11:59pm I set off on a 23km run to mark the age I was turning. The conditions could not have been any more perfect. During that day and into the evening a good 30cm of snow had fallen and dusted the paths and ski slopes with a lucious fluff. As I set off ro run, the sky was showing off its beauty with stars glittering accross the sky and a full moon lighting my way. i wanted to make this a challenging but fun run, a run to last, a run to remember. I followed the path to Gimmeln, a small mountain restaurant, where I then jumped on the freshly groomed ski slopes (I am never again going to take the work of those guys for granted!!), creating a perfect grip for a long uphill slog. My target was to get to the top of the Schiltgrat, and at times the incline was so steep I could only crest (the sometimes minor) hills by going up on all fours. If the opportunity arrose I veered off-piste to dance around (I do mean run, but dancing adds an element of fun) in the thigh-high snow.
There was nothing but the sparkling sky, the snow and myself. I felt free. I felt worryless. I felt happy. After a good hour I made it to the top of the Schiltgrat chairlift station looking back (as far as my eyes could see in the dark) on my footprints in the otherwise untouched snow. A speedy descent followed before I began the next climb. This pattern continued for quite some time - ascent followed by descent... A bit like life, it goes up, it goes down... it gets hard, it gets easy and sometimes, like it was the case that night, you can find a good side in both aspects.

There's something inviting, mystical and scary about forests. As I approached the last 10km of my Birthday run I ran towards it with caution. The forest is where I realized that my footprints weren't the first to hit the ground, there were already some paths made from rabits and one that seemed to be that of a fox. Oh panic tickled me for the first time. It was time for the headlamp to come out for duty and with that my terrible singing skills, as I was convinced my singing would scare any pradetor away. That panic was only temporary however, as I began to focus on the trail ahead and the paw prints in the snow, which followed no consistent pattern and zig-zagged from one side of the path to the other. The fox paw prints disappeared. I relaxed.
I didn't want that run to end, but I was starting to get cold and only had 1km left until I hit my target. My footprints ended infront of my house.

There are footprints everywhere... some are visible, some invisible. Sometimes you walk alone, sometimes you walk in company. Your path and footprints are unique.

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed
that during the low periods of my life,
when I was suffering from
anguish, sorrow or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord,
"You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during
the most trying periods of my life
there have only been one
set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most,
you have not been there for me?"
The Lord replied,
"The times when you have
seen only one set of footprints,
is when I carried you." - Mary Stevenson

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Panoramic memories

For the first time in a long time I went  running in Mürren again, the fairytale - like village I grew up in. It's located in the Jungfrau region and situated perfectly on the mountain edge or as the locals like to call it the "Mürrenfluh". Mürren is such an amazing place to grow up, as the whole town and it's surroundings become your playground; in winter with skiing, tobogganing, snowball fights, ice skating and more... In summer the vast trails and lush forests make the perfect setting for fun and adventures. From an early age we got set free. It's not unusual to see a 3year old roaming the village streets, or older kids staying out until after dark playing and having fun on the village streets. We had to use our imagination, always coming up with new games to play and all kids, of all ages, would engage in games together. It was a bit like a big family, everyone looking out for one another. Parents were never overly concerned over their kids whereabouts, because they knew that somebody  would always have seen them and there was no stranger danger. It was a really liberating place to grow up.
Our school was tiny. I only ever had three kids in my year, which meant that years 1-4 and 5-9 were merged and still those merged classes would only ever reach a max of 20 each. I have always said that we didn't learn much on the academic side of things (not implying we had bad teachers, but they just had a different focus), we did however learn a lot about life - about manners, personal ability, discipline and the appreciation for nature.
That's where my love for the outdoors started, in my upbringing and schooling. School sport, in winter, was either skiing or ski touring. We did breathtaking things like ski down a glacier (behind the Jungfraujoch aka Top of Europe) to then apply a type of fur or carpet to the bottom of our skis, with a hingeable binding, which then allowed us to walk up the ice valley and eventually summit an over 3'000m mountain. Summers were the time fir cross country running and outdoor sport, and although it seemed like a chore at the time, we all (well most of us) enjoyed the weekly challenge of attempting to improve our 2km running time.

As I was sitting above the village, peering down at all the familiar sights, I had finally found my appreciation for the place again. It's amazing how you can come to take a place and people for granted. When I left mürren, with mum, to move to Australia I was sick of the place and sick in the place. I could no longer handle feeling like I was trapped on this mountain, as you can only get on and off it by cable car and only at specified times. So as a teenager it is no longer the paradise it was as a child, it becomes more of a prison. That prison resembled my internal prison at the time.

I hit the panorama trail, a place I use to always walk my dog Sydney to, a place I came to escape to, a place that gave me clarity yet also a place that gave me an excuse to exercise.
After running for a decent hour I took a moment to sit on one of the benches with a beautiful mountain canvas infront of me and memories flooding back into my mind.
From a young age I always ate lunch at my aunty Trudy's house. I could smell her cooking from far down the street as I approached the house. Always a keen eater I use to scoff down my food before heading back to school. But as "the Bitch" started creeping into my life, the excitement about Trudy's food started to fade and panic about the prospect of ingesting calories started to invade me. I didn't want it to be obvious that I was beginning to struggle with food, my physical appearance and personal identity, so I'd eat reduced portions, weighed myself pre and post meals so I could gage how much weight I'd gained in that sitting (I was convinced that all food was turning into rolls of fat on my body as I ate it) and I forced myself to walk to school over the panorama trail a 45min walk instead of a 10min walk so I could burn extra calories. It was great to have a dog to use as an excuse to go for walks and chase after, covering up the true drive behind this sudden interest and regiment of walking Sydney.
A major part of the problem with anorexia is that you begin to convince yourself, and eventually others around you, that your actions are normal and justified. The reality tells a different story though.

Sitting on the panorama trail  overlooking Mürren, I realized that occasionally you need to remove yourself from a situation or place, only to later let it unveil and you appreciate it's true beauty. Sometimes we need to lose ourself to find ourself. I was once lost... I am now finding.