Fingers covered in buttery, chocolate-chipped cookie dough; conquering an oversized mouthful of steamy sourdough drowned in salted caramel sauce; strong, rich, red wine sipped in between smooth chunks of brie cheese; making banana smoothies on a late and lazy Saturday morning... these are a few of my favourite things! And these are a few of the vivid and evocative memories that highlight this smorgasbord of my life.
I’ve always loved food. So it’s no wonder that whilst traveling through Europe over the last two years, the discoveries that excited me the most included the tiny Italian restaurant, hidden in the small nook between the cobble stoned walls opposite the village church. Or the Polish markets where toasted cheese was served with a dollop of homemade cranberry jam. Not to mention the corner shop in Paris that sold endless flavours of macaroons. However for me, food hasn’t always had these good, heart-warming and belly filling connotations.
Growing up, I always saw myself as also growing outwards slightly. Yet, this little “baby fat” tummy didn’t seem to deflate my overly confident personality too much. I flick back through my catalogue of self, to remember a smiley, friendly, all-too-ready-to-perform, confident girl. And yes, maybe I could add a “pudgy” tummy to the list, but I was a bit of a rock-star… I genuinely loved people and was proud of who I was. I’m really fond of this girl. But if I was to flick forward to a later version of myself, the image I see begins to change. I’m all too aware of my own body. This wasn’t helped with the start of what became my 8-year (and still going) battle with chronic stomach pain due to slow colonic transit.
If you’ve ever sat in a doctors waiting room and happened to come across one of those posters, you know the one, “do you suffer from bloating, flatulence, indigestion, constipation, trapped wind, can’t fit into any of your normal clothes, you look 6 months pregnant when you’re not, you constantly go to bed praying you wake up and do a big poo!?” that was me! The picture of the lady rubbing her bloated tummy with the scrunched up, pained face… that was me. And whatever the poster was advertising, my symptoms never went away. I was usually in the doctor’s waiting room, waiting to beg the doctor to help me. I’ve been through a lot of unpleasant procedures, a lot of IBS diagnoses, a lot of prescriptions and a lot of tears!
After many visits, and not so many successes, I was advised to see a naturopath to see if I could improve my symptoms naturally. At this point, I was willing to do anything. I saw the most wonderful lady and was honestly so thankful for her kind hearted and compassionate soul. She was genuinely invested in helping me walk this journey. We tried cutting out gluten, then dairy, then sugar and then a few other things to see if we could pinpoint anything that was upsetting my gut. After an emergency email to her from New Zealand, asking in desperation what I should do, she suggested getting some other help. I was 5 months into my everything-free diet and was still in a tangled web of pain, exhaustion, despondency and anxiety. Whilst being on this diet, I lost a lot of weight and from the outside I appeared to be at my healthiest state. But the web continued to entangle me.
So not only were my physical symptoms beginning to imprison me, but my emotional state was losing its game of hiding from the prison guards and my psychological state was simply holding out its hands, waiting for the cuffs. I was beginning to feel trapped and incapacitated. My mind started telling me that my love for food was what was punishing me and even though I was strict with my diet to prevent the pain, when it surely came around I was placed behind a wall of guilt, thinking I must be doing something wrong. Behind this wall was my prison mate, fear. I started to fear food, I feared losing control of being able to stick to a harm-free diet as well as losing control over keeping my body healthy (which was all a façade, anyways).
At this stage, if I was to look back at this version of myself I would sadly admit, it was a low point. I had given up hope that my symptoms would ever go away and I was living everyday in agony and discomfort. At the same time, my husband and I were organising ourselves for our BIG ADVENTURE… our exciting move to the UK. We had planned it for so long, I was determined to get there before I pulled myself apart in frustration and disgust towards my uncooperative body, limb by limb.
Our time in the UK was the best and hardest time of my life. We travelled, just as our hearts had dreamt. We saw, we loved, we tasted and we laughed. We also cried. Tim was often the one holding me whilst I wept in despair, but he cried out of helplessness. I was fighting against not only my sickness, but also the bigger enemy on the battlefield – my fear and the imprisonment of my mind. I had lost sight of my confident, cute and fun little self, now despising the tubby tummy that caused me pain, and now struggling to look at myself in the mirror. My rose-tinted glasses were crushed beneath my weighed down boots. Food became my weakness and if I was in pain it was because I had eaten something I shouldn’t of. Which was now all the time, apparently, as I couldn’t stick to the “rules” I’d given myself and therefore I deserved to feel this way.
What a dark, dreary and horrible place to live. It’s unbearably not me. I remember one day waking up on a rare sunny Saturday in London. I thought how incredibly welcoming the beautiful day was and how I wanted to finally enjoy my day. I slowly pulled off my heavy coat of despair and with the help of my husband I untied my heavy boots of fear and unhappiness. I had finally had enough. I was carrying too much and my negative outlook on life was eating me from the inside. Before it chewed everything into destruction, something from within me stood up. Maybe weakly, at first, but it was then I knew I was the one that had to change this. Each day that I made a decision to be positive and stop focusing on my problems, my little hero from within stood a little taller, with a little more strength. I remember a few months later, Tim said to me “your happiness and confidence is back. This makes me the happiest man in the world.” It’s so much better being happy. It’s not easy. But it’s better!
My symptoms never completely went away. And I still deal with a lot of pain, even now. This is still heavy to carry at times, and it gets me down frequently. But I have a decision to make. Going back to my “versions” of me… I’m not perfect and there are days where the clouds are overwhelmingly dark and gloomy. But, I really want the snapshots of me to reflect the best version of me. Dealing with physical pain is out of my control. The stress that comes with that is really difficult to come to terms with. But, the way that I carry myself and the way that I choose to pick myself up again are in my control. It’s a continuous journey (still going to doctors appointments, still trialing this and that, and still waking up hoping for something…) and I’m not sure of the end result. But, holding onto an anchor of hope is far more reassuring than drowning in fear. I choose hope!
And may I say, letting go of fear and allowing myself to enjoy the delicious food of the world… it was honestly the best “snapshot” of me, which I will forever hold onto and love ever so warmly.
Love Shelley Williams X
Shelley has always been the embodiment of joy, vibrancy and friendship, no matter where she is or with whom she meets. She adds value to the lives of those she connects with, and brings energy to any room she walks into. I have watched her go through her own freedom journey and have always been proud of the truth she clings to and the choices she makes.
You too can make a commitment to freedom, to begin your journey towards a life overflowing with freedom rather than bound by fear. Choose hope today, and chase positive change for your world.