In Praise of Love

 

Love Locks Paris

This is a true story.

I was in hiding. Or trying to disappear. Or both. Something like that. You get the idea.

I was eating 500 to 800 calories a day because that happens sometimes and I was running a lot and living alone and binging of Six Feet Under and I had given up on the idea of love. Romantic love. The kind of love people write about and sing about and commit crimes about.

There was one, once, that had been love until, I discovered, he loved a lot of women … at the same time … without them knowing. That could be love – it’s just not my kind of love. The one I thought might have been love wasn’t love. Not even close. He belittled my music choices and stole my washing machine and forgot my birthday. That isn’t love. I was done.

That was that.

I was staying in my mould-ridden studio apartment, doors locked and blinds closed because of the strange man who camped out on the balcony opposite and would look directly into my bedroom slash lounge room slash kitchen. He argued with his wife and liked to sing the national anthem. She would kick him out and he would create a tent, string up sheets and towels across the balcony and sit underneath it, crossed legged on a little cushion and shout “my life, my life” over and over like some sort of mantra. Some days I felt like doing the exact same thing.

I was OK.

And she said, as mothers do, someone will come along when you least expect it and it sounded like something she had heard in a rom-com starring Meg Ryan and I said I don’t need anyone –

I am totally fine with this –

I am a strong, independent woman –

I’m OK –

and I was offended even though I knew she meant well because she is my mother and she loves me and I love her. I know she loves me because she tells me. Growing up, she told all of us numerous times a day – I love you – just in case we died, tragically, bam, gone, just like that. She never would have forgiven herself if she hadn’t said it; if she didn’t know that we knew she loved us.

My family were across the desert and sent their love in pixelated Skype calls once every couple of weeks.

Love you, they would say at the end of the call because what can you say after that?

It was OK.

It really was …

I was writing and I loved writing. I was in Melbourne and I loved Melbourne. I was eating tomatoes and I loved tomatoes. I was performing and I loved performing and I was hanging out with the cast and I loved the cast and I loved the theatre and I loved running and I loved Sundays and loved Six Feet Under and I loved living alone and I loved being thirty two and I loved living so close to the tram line and I loved –

Not much, actually.

Not anything, really.

It was becoming difficult to leave the house. I turned up when I had to turn up. And I smiled and laughed and drank too much wine and would go home in taxis and tell the drivers my boyfriend was waiting for me at home because you have to do that sort of thing sometimes.

Here’s where I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I wasn’t sad because I didn’t have a boyfriend. I wasn’t lonely because I was divorced. I wasn’t empty because I hadn’t eaten.

This was just me back then. Disappearing.

Until someone saw me.

It was unexpected.

Like something my mother would say.

He had nice shoulders and wore great shirts and had a whole face smile and easy laugh and he was taking me on a date and I had no idea what that meant, not really, but I turned up late and we took it from there.

And then I started to fall in love with him and could only hope he was falling in love with me. Even though I knew I wasn’t meant to. Even though I knew the “timing was bad” and I should be “keeping my options open” and “seeing other people” and just being “chill”. Whatever that means. Falling in love makes you vulnerable and stupid and happy and distracted and it is awful and wonderful all at the same time.

I tried to hide the real me as I fell in love with him but I would trip upstairs and lock myself out of restaurants and collapse as elegantly as possible into the gutter and I was always late or changing my mind and he wondered why I wasn’t hungry again and he just kept on looking and watching and seeing me.

But I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want anyone to see me. Instead, I tried to make myself as small as I could. Just small enough, you see, nothing crazy – I would know when it was getting crazy. I had this under control.

Except I didn’t.

There I was, watching myself from afar, being in love and going through all the crazy-crazy whirlwind romance stuff and feeling elated and hungry and fat and ugly and gross and anxious and miserable.

I wasn’t eating enough.

I was living alone.

I was turning up when I had to.

I was smiling too much and drinking too much and staying over at his place way too much.

I was holding my breath and waiting for him to run.

But he didn’t. He started cooking dinners. And put avocado on English muffins for breakfast. And made protein filled lunches.

Then he said he loved me … even though he could see me. The real me. I could no longer hide. He wouldn’t let me disappear. He wouldn’t let me become invisible.

Love found me. It noticed.

Love became doctor appointments and specialists and therapists and waiting rooms and The Age quiz and driving and feeding the parking metre and celebrating small victories with champagne and eating and swimming and saying you’re beautiful even if its not quite true and an old camera and space and time and listening, really listening.

It was being seen.

I got better, so much better and I’m always getting better because of him and that love. I would have disappeared without it.

As George Elliot wrote “Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another” – love deserves its praise because that one true, loving soul can encourage us to grow and heal and get better – maybe even save us. Isn’t that what love is about? Maybe?

 

***

This monologue was presented at The School of Life’s Symposium: In Praise of Love. I spoke in praise of love and then posed my question to create conversation amongst the audience. It was exhilarating and terrifying – a bit like falling in love … 

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Detaching the shadow: letting go of anorexia

“I wasn’t crying about mothers,” he said rather indignantly. “I was crying because I can’t get my shadow to stick on. Besides, I wasn’t crying.” 

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

The old demon is back. Actually, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure it went anywhere. And if I was honest … No, if I could be honest, about this thing which they call anorexia (a word I find difficult to verbalise and even more difficult to write without feeling stupid and apologetic) that would probably be a good start. But I’m kidding myself. Maybe.

It is always lurking. No matter how often you declare look I ate all my dinner and feel happy and not guilty at all about it. No matter how often you remind yourself that when someone says you look healthy they don’t mean chubby or fat or obese. It’s a good thing. Healthy equals good. No matter how often you run and refuel body. Because you know that. You’re not stupid. Refuelling. Like a car. Think of your body as a car she told me. That will help. And it does. Sometimes. But it is lurking. Still. That big, grey shadow lurks, waits, eavesdrops, niggles and niggles, somewhere between the bottom of my ribs (which probably aren’t as obvious as they used to be which, if I was honest, makes me anxious from time to time) and the pit of my stomach.

Today the shadow bounded from its hiding place full of bad energy and cruel words. It bounded like a pretentious child from the pit of my stomach to the top of my head, filling every part of me on its frighteningly quick journey. Cement. It’s quick-drying cement.

To be honest, which can be hard with this grey shadow, the journey probably wasn’t as quick as I’d like to think. I’d like to think; wow, where did that come from? That took me by surprise. But it hasn’t. Not really. I know it has been meandering on its well-trodden path for sometime. I was just able to slow it down. For a bit. But now it has taken the front seat. Shotgun! it must have shouted, leaving common-sense and you-know-better and grow-the-hell-up to squabble over who had to sit in the middle. No one likes that middle seat.

But why today? Today I got a call-back and an audition. For tomorrow. Both of them. It’s not like I ever get a lot of warning about these auditions and things but something about getting these two opportunities, in close succession, just made me feel so ….under-prepared. Not from lack of research, reading the script, practising, rehearsing, training. No. None of that. Under-prepared because I haven’t been suffering from anorexia for nearly a year now. Because when I was thin anorexic I felt I was the perfect size for film and TV work. I felt good. People said I looked thin and good – god, you look great, look how thin you are, they would say. The camera adds ten pounds, right? Right? I mean, it must be true if the Daily Mail says so. Plus, those actors always look so much smaller in real life …

I think I am fairly intelligent woman and I know the damage an eating disorder causes and I know that I’m not fat. I know it. But I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that the film and TV industry wants someone who isn’t an Australian size 4. Emma Thompson recently spoke of the pressure on female actors to be like models. And it is true. I get casting briefs that provide me with “character references” that are descriptions of models, not characters. I sit in casting waiting rooms with women whose legs are as tall as me. I have listened as the casting director bemoans the fact that the models can’t act but that’s what the producer / the director / the production company wants. Because anyone can act, of course, but not everyone can be a perfect size 4. Now, I am not saying models cannot act, or vice versa, but, well, sometimes …

I am not blaming the industry for my problems. I mean, it all started long ago – I link a lot of it to watching Ariel’s waist in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. How is she so skinny and beautiful? thought 10-year-old me who now wishes 33-year-old could go back in time, smack myself in the face and shout IT’S A DAMN CARTOON IDIOT – IT’S NOT REAL! EAT THE FRICKIN’ POPCORN!

No, I am not blaming the industry but I know what it wants. I worry I don’t live up to those expectations, those thin, tiny bodies it so adores. As soon as that worry sets in, well, the grey shadow can sneak up and grab the front seat. I’ve left it wide open.

This grey shadow. It’s boring. It’s predictable. It’s the most selfish thing in the world; there are people dying of starvation, dying of obesity, living in poverty, living in fear, not living at all …

But this grey shadow isn’t so great and letting me see things with honesty.

It used to make me run in heavy sweatpants – even when it was warm. It used to make me do a lot of math – but never count over 1000 but, better still, 800 on a “successful” day. It used to make me obsess over jeans and brush my teeth at weird times and stare in the mirror and not leave the house. It used to make me tired. It used to give me dry skin and rings under my eyes. It used to make me believe you could never be too thin and thin was everything. It used to make me think I was happy – that was its second biggest lie. It used make me think it could define me – that was its biggest.

Honestly I will try honesty – I will call it now that I’ve seen it. I will take notice. I will do those things I have been taught to do and I won’t let it define me. I will eat. I will drink. I will be merry. And I’ll keep reattaching my true shadow and not this dishonest, unhealthy version of me. I’ve already made a start here … honestly.