Two weeks ago, I experienced a very bad Monday. I had my purse stolen on my lunch break, which led to a panic attack (in public and the office, no less). This was followed by the onset of a migraine and sickness, which in turn triggered my ongoing flare up. Ironically, I’d told myself on my walk to work that morning that it was going to be a great week. A couple of days later, still slightly in the grip of a migraine hangover, I went for a walk by the river.
I’m writing this from bed as I recover from a flare up of coeliac symptoms. It started last week and since then I’ve experienced blurred vision, migraines, sickness, gastritis if I dare to eat more than a handful of food at a time, tingling nerves, shaking, swollen legs and joint pain that has made walking difficult. I’ve spent most of the past few days lying in a silent, dark room trying to sleep. I feel fortunate that my life isn’t like this constantly (I last experienced this combination in March), but it can be overwhelming – especially when I want to feel like a normal 22 year old.
Trigger warning: eating disorders, weight (numbers and photos), anxiety.
‘Worrying about our bodies is a trap. It’s a great, big, ugly trick that keeps girls quiet and under-confident. It is used to keep them occupied and small and it stops them from being and doing whatever they want to be and do.’
I saw Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, speak in Oxford earlier this month. The words above, from her new book Girl Up, resonate with me. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t aware of the societal tendency to ascribe worth to thinness. I had a happy, loving childhood but that didn’t exempt me from seeing weight loss praised in magazines and the idea that fat is bad demonstrated by the slender bodies dominantly represented on television and in films. I observed the women in my family expressing dissatisfaction with their bodies, then dieting to try and fix “problem areas” that were never a problem at all.
Coeliac disease is a chronic autoimmune condition affecting roughly one in every hundred people in the UK. It’s passed on genetically – through both sides of the family, in my case – and can be triggered from birth or later on, due to internal and environmental factors. Having dealt with symptoms and complications throughout my life, I was diagnosed in the summer of 2015. I’ve written about that experience on the Student Minds blog.
Travelling as a coeliac can be complicated. I’m particularly prone to flare ups whilst abroad, when a lot of time is spent on the move and gluten contamination is hard to avoid. Before my diagnosis, I suffered from exhaustion in Ecuador, sickness in New York, a migraine in Paris and stomach pains in Copenhagen. Oh, the glamour. I’m fairly good at managing my condition now, but flare ups can happen as a result of tiredness or stress, regardless of whether or not I have accidentally consumed gluten. Still, I don’t want that to stop me from exploring new places.
Failure and rejection happen to everyone. I believe that we need to be more open about this, especially considering the rise of pressure-related anxiety in children (see mental health advocate Natasha Devon’s recent speech to learn more).
If you’re a self-development or social innovation enthusiast like me, you might have heard of ‘failing forward’. As this Forbes article explains, ‘[f]ailure isn’t fatal; in fact, it is actually REQUIRED for innovation success—as long as you don’t freak out, make catastrophic mistakes or (ironically) fail to learn from it.’ This stands true in both our personal and professional lives.