By Frankie Thompson.
Illustration by Michael Julings.
Four years ago I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and admitted to hospital for urgent treatment as part of CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). After eight months I was discharged. I had just turned eighteen and was no longer recognised as a child or adolescent.
After this I began developing exercise bulimia. Exercise bulimia is a less widely recognised eating disorder where the sufferer alternates between overexercise, often paired with starvation, and eating vast amounts of food known as a ‘binge’.
In my case, I would get up at 5am to swim for forty minutes then walk eighteen miles on chewing gum alone. I would then come home and eat four loaves of bread (not a fun thing).
My eating disorder devoured my life, in turn leading to further depression, self harm and isolation.
One day my binge was so extreme that I was violently projectile sick alongside crippling stomach pain from too much chewing gum. After a brief stint in an ambulance I decided enough was enough. I stopped. I booked a trip to Edinburgh Fringe and on the train told my mum why I had been so distant that past year.
And this was when my life started again.
On my first day in Edinburgh I met a community of performers collectively living in and for their art. Thanks to their kindness I began to perform clown in front of people (dressed as a cloud that spat out water, high class stuff).
Over the year that followed, performing and bringing laughter to others gave me a role in life which wasn’t based on my image. I found a power in the grotesque persona I created for myself, finding the power of utter ugliness. And eventually, after a lot of panicking, I managed to eat on stage in front of people. Considering I could barely eat in front of anyone in real life, this was a monumental step.
Ultimately: In performing I found a purpose and community which still matters more to me than my eating disorder.
With the outbreak of the coronavirus we are entering into a time where live performance is threatened. For me, this makes me deeply vulnerable to turning back to old habits. All the things I rely on to support my recovery are banned. I used to swim everyday, the swimming pools are closed. I used to spend time at museums and go to shows, these are all closed. But the biggest of all, my career plan for the year ahead, has completely vanished into uncertainty. Mum is terrified that my health will go ‘tits up’.
In the last couple of days I made a choice to hold onto my overarching goal to be a performer and part of the performing community that supports me. This doesn’t mean I have to be hugely productive in my quarantine, I won’t be writing King Lear, but it does mean that I can hold onto the knowledge of who I am, which is half of the battle won against anorexia.
Having a glowing career as an artist, creator, musician, performer etc is not necessarily possible right now (or not in a way we have discovered yet). But being a creative with a love of creativity is not a choice - it’s intrinsic to our sense of self and will always rise above the conditions that threaten it. We are still allowed to use our imagination to beat the barriers that stand in our way as we have always done.
Confronted with this huge challenge ahead of us, I hope that we all can reconnect with the reasons we chose a creative career in the first place. And away from the eyes of a judgemental world, we can keep hold of who we are and blow raspberries at our demons.