Sunday 17 May 2020

Guest Write | I Never Thought I Had a Problem - Jenn Broome

Welcome back! It's been a minute, hasn't it.

I'd like to introduce you, dear reader, to an exciting new addition to my blog. Through INIIML,  I hoped to create a space where you could settle in with a cuppa (or glass of vino), and join me in losing yourself for a moment or two in discussing the frivolity of life and deeper thought processes that we all share in this crazy world. That sounds a bit arty-farty doesn't it... essentially, I want you view this space as your online friendship group, where like-minded souls can convene to escape reality and at the very least, read something (I hope) that resonates. Just a couple of friends, talking it out and putting the world to rights. 

I feel this new chapter edition really helps to represent what INIIML is all about, as I welcome Guest Writers to share our space and use this platform to offer fresh new insights, and juicy stories. This is something I have wanted to introduce for a while, so it felt important to have just the right voice for the job in being my first ever guest - so it brings me great pleasure in introducing a dear friend, Jenn Broome. 

I never thought I had a problem.
I was fitness.
I was glute goals.
I was part of a couple that trained together to stay together.

But, actually,
I was unhappy.
I was Isolated.
I was cheated on.

My relationship with exercise started at a fairly young age. I was part of a local theatre group and dancing four times a week; Ballet, Jazz, Tap and Modern. I was a waking musical! It was a hobby that made me smile and my mum and dad happy as they preferred me spending time there, rather than the streets of Bradford, and honestly can you blame them?! Around this time I also started to run as I wanted to be fitter and quicker in class. And then in the blink of an eye I became a little too dependent on exercise and super aware of my body.

I wasn’t the best dancer, but I thought at the age of 12 ‘if I'm the skinniest I’ll at least look good in the costumes and distract them with my looks and not that I’m actually four counts behind’. The negativity I held against my body and the doubt I held against my ability to perform carried me through my teenage years. I hated my body; I hated my appearance and I hated how slow I was at picking the steps up. I compared myself to others and felt very little love towards myself. And then, to only further complicate the relationship I had with myself, along came relationships with men. 

I see now as a grown woman what I wish I had seen then, or at the very least what I wish someone would have told me then; from a very young age so many girls subconsciously allow a man's perception of them define how they feel about themselves - I was one of these girls. I, like so many others, noticed how a man's opinion mattered more to me than my dance teachers, more than my friends and more than your own. We seek the male approval and start to realise the attention you begin to attract is because of how you look. Men don't seem to care about your mind or how kind you are, all they care about is you small waist and BIG FUCKING ARSE. Their words not mine. No surprise then that my appearance became far more important than anything else. My mind doesn't matter, they told me I was thick anyways. I’m a dumb blonde with just a great body. And God forbid I ever let myself think otherwise. It got so bad I used to pretend I wasn't intelligent - thinking this would make me more attractive and easier to love. 

Inevitably, with this mindset, another relationship in my life took a complex turn as I started to count calories, limiting my intake in order to control my appearance; my relationship with food changed. Something that upon reflection I’ve always found difficult. My disordered behaviour around food and serious self-criticism started at school. It began with secret little rules or tasks I'd set myself to stay in control of my appearance. 
Don’t eat your packed lunch.
Don't eat chocolate for 6 weeks.
Don't eat bread - lie and say it gives you tummy ache.

The list of tasks and restrictions went on and on and this torment led to no end. I’d stand in the mirror and cry. Pinch bits of skin tightly and wish it wasn't there. Looking adoringly for hours at photos of celebrities wishing I looked like them and not like me. I battled with this negative mindset for years, though eventually allowing myself to ask for help from family as the battle was becoming too hard to face alone. Talking with family helped a little and I started to develop my own coping strategies (flawed - but they helped!) to live a life that was seen as “normal”.

A few years later, I met a man whom I always believed to be a myth, like a unicorn or a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I met my very own Mr Big. Mr Big saw me for everything I actually was and still loved me. He was a man who made me feel as though I was able to be myself. He encouraged me to pursue my dreams of becoming a personal trainer and even bought me a house. Our relationship went from casual to forever in just six months.
Now, what I will say is this - NEVER be grateful for someone allowing you to be yourself. This should just come naturally within a healthy relationship. I have learnt this the hard way.

Body building was Mr Big's real big passion. I’d never really heard about it but guess what I decided my real big passion was??? BODY BUILDING. Yes, we adored it. We went to loads of shows together, we trained together, we counted macros together. We did everything together. I obediently listened to Mr Big speak for hours about different diets and the importance of eating enough protein. I was hooked. Not because I even agreed with it all but because we had something in common. I had something in common with a man I actually fancied and he loved me. No not the real me, she was hidden - but the Jenn who loved body building. Body building was secretly a way I could go back to a negative coping mechanism of controlling my food to then “enhance” my appearance to ensure this guy stuck around. And if I could look like the girls he watched on stage - I would never have to worry about him leaving me. I would have him forever. I never wanted that high to go away. That amazing high you get when you meet someone who you absolutely adore. You just want them to like you as much as you like them. You idolise every single thing they do. Even the way they burp after gulping down their protein shake - It's just mesmerizing because you love them.

So when Mr Big said, “You should get on stage. You’d be great at it”, I could not believe my luck. He actually believes I'm as attractive as those amazing women up on stage. I am in the same league as him after all! I'm not the pity party. The ugly one in the relationship that everyone feels sorry for. I am actually good enough to be with someone as amazing as him. (Yes this is actually how I thought. And please be kind - my self worth was back to its ultimate low as I never ever ever felt good enough within this relationship.) So I announced to everyone I'm going to compete. It's just a challenge and I'm only doing it for the experience. Of course I  didn't tell the truth; that I was actually doing it only to seek approval from others because my self worth was at rock bottom; because I was in a relationship with someone who had begun to control every single thing about us, about me. And the easiest thing to do was to follow. To be the dumb blonde again and not ask questions.

The preparation that goes into being stage ready is AWFUL. You might get the odd high about how your body is changing to fit criteria for your chosen category (doesn't sound much of a high does it?), but the majority of the time you feel like shit. Low energy, malnourished, sleep deprived and so anxious. But for me it was giving me a sense of control. Yes, I was hungry, but I had my man and that's all I needed. Yes, I was seriously insecure, but really we were a power couple and doing this together. But did we actually do it together? Did the likes on instagram make him proud of me? Why did I never feel equal to him. Was I really just the silly side chick when he was my world? I always felt like I should be grateful that I was picked to be seen with him, and God forbid I would be the girl next to him that didn't have abs of steel.

As you can imagine it was exhausting, so exhausting, trying to be perfect.
Painful to watch.
And harder to write!
But it's the truth.

I ended up doing two body building shows and I won't go into too much detail about them ~ you pose on stage and your physique gets judged against 20 other women standing on stage,  being judged only on your appearance. An appearance, by the way, that is impossible to keep long term... no one really tells you that… and for someone like me with my past issues, I found this quite hard to take. Standing on stage in a limelight of course only enhanced all of the negative thoughts I had about myself, however, I had been here before and I was getting bored of this pattern of self loathing. So, I tried to focus on other things like my career and through this I started to open my eyes to the possibility that I could be more than just my appearance. I started enjoying having a life outside the gym. I began seeing Myfitness pal as not really a pal at all. I suddenly had all this extra time that I filled with enhancing my PT business, and in turn my business grew. I started to feel good about myself and my new found freedom. I was beginning to see exercise as just something I did for fun and not as a punishment or a way to manipulate my appearance. Food became something I enjoyed and no longer something I had to calculate. I felt like I had found myself, and she didn't want to sit and listen anymore. No. She wanted to scream and dance and break away from the stereotypical mold she had felt stuck in. But this didn't suit Mr Big, who had lost his job and didn't win any body building shows, and certainly didn't have the courage to live away from calorie counting. This didn’t help as the relationship turned sour.

I was ignored. I was treated like a slave. I was dismissed. I was unheard. I was there to only support his needs but never to be asked about my own. I was constantly made to think I was going mad. I was left alone not knowing where he was. And then comes the gut feelings, the ones that everyone tells you to trust because your instinct is never wrong, all the while you secretly pray that on this occasion, you are. You pretend that this is all normal and acceptable behavior from someone you love, because after all they lost their job. They are allowed to be emotionally abusive, because they are dieting. But deep down you know. You know it's not right but there's no way out. And you feel trapped and so confused. Because the guy who used to support you is now the guy that makes you feel worthless. And you want to hate him but you can't because you love him, you can’t. And love makes it so much harder, so much worse.

I won't divulge into the ins and outs of how I found out Mr. Big was cheating, or the months and months of lies or the juicy gossip about who it was (sorry, I know we all love a scandal but there are just some things that need to be kept to myself). It's not really important. What is important however, is the moral of this story. 

NEVER, and I repeat, NEVER change yourself for someone else. And definitely not for a man! Because, when it's over and you’re left not knowing who you are anymore; left feeling that you have become so used to their version of you that you don't even know who you were before this, that is the saddest loss of all. You have become so used to their version of you that you now don't even know YOU. And it's exhausting to think that even after everything you did for them and every pressure you put on yourself to be the perfect woman - it still wasn't enough. This is my second point, never for one moment think you're not good enough. You are enough. And you don't even have to be perfect. You are allowed to be yourself and you are never too much or too soft or too ANYTHING, for the right person. 

Anything and everything you do in life should come from your own heart, not to try to win the heart of others. Stay true to you - invest in a positive relationship with yourself. I'm still learning and it's taken years and lots of money (therapy isn't cheap!) to rebuild from this experience but I am grateful for the lesson as it made me the person I am today. And she's not all that bad, in fact, she's me - and I’m so proud of her.


A continued note from Jordana:
Jenn and I met in what feels now like a different lifetime, but I'm so bloody pleased we have kept in touch all these years later. It has been a great privilege to watch on the sidelines as Jenn found herself through a love for exercise and training, becoming someone she is proud of. Thank you for being my first ever guest writer and sharing your journey, reminding us all of this importance of self-care. 

Passionate about inspiring and aiding other women now as they take on a journey to loving themselves, Jenn is a ladies only PT based in Leeds, motivating and inspiring us all to lead a healthier and happier lifestyle. This lady brings light and joy into the darkest of days, and I live in total awe of her positivity and light. If you'd like to follow her continued journey, or maybe even sign up as a client yourself, you'll find her on instagram at

Tuesday 21 April 2020

A love letter to Bryony Gordon

Monday 20th April, day who-even-knows-anymore of lockdown, I'm sitting in my parent's garden with clear blue skies above me and a strong coastal wind knocking the oxygen I so desperately needed today into my lungs, while reading a book I have fallen in love with; Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon.

I'm 210 in of the 294 pages, and so far can only describe it as incredibly raw and brutally honest page turner, printed with its in so many ways painful words that have sparked a familiarity in me.

For those who do not know Bryony's story, I urge you to pick up a copy of this book and lose yourself in it. Whilst personally I cannot relate to the drugs and alcohol addiction that captured her in their fake promise of happiness, I felt every word of her written journey as she regaled her past and the stories of love and heartbreak defined by the cruelty, and the unkindness weak men can unveil unto women resonated with me on a level I'm saddened to understand as well as I do.

Today's particular chapter began at page 177, titled 'I think I might need to do something different'. I don't want to issue any spoilers as I really do mean it when I say you must read this book, but I found myself weeping with joy in tandem with Bryony's words. A sense of 'finding the light' spread like the warm gentle glow of wildfire in the realisation that it does get better. There will be a turning point, when the stars align and you wake up to know in yourself, I don't want to feel like this anymore. I do not want to put myself through this anymore. And you welcome change like and old friend. I am 6 weeks into making that change in myself after deciding to seek help in managing diagnosed PTSD from a recent trauma in my personal life that I may never speak of outside of therapy or with those closest to me who already know (so please never ask me about it, writing this is hard enough).

I vey briefly met Bryony last year after running 10k through central London in my underwear, an event she had arranged with Vitality in a bid to inspire body acceptance. I'd never run in my life and in all fairness I certainly let myself down when it came to training, with all the best intentions when I signed up - I did absolutely fuck all. Despite waking up filled with total dread and a lingering anxiety that almost stopped me from boarding the tube, the day was actually filled with so many highs, each kilometre bringing me closer to the finish line so I could rest my knees which were screaming at me in agony.

I ran with women of every shape, size, colour and age and for the first time felt a part of something amazing. I cried as I crossed the finishing line, admittedly with joy at completing the race but mostly in sheer agony and vowing to never again put myself through that torture, all while simultaneously brimming with pride and sense of accomplishment. I had carried myself across that finishing line initially for no other reason than to prove to myself that I was capable of finishing something in my life for once. Though running the actual race itself felt so much more than that.

Having since donned my running shoes again on the odd occasion - I've found there's something freeing in feeling physical pain when I'm struggling so much with my mental pain, as though overcoming a physical hurdle gives me a power in taming the mental demons - however the recent 5K for the Run 5, Donate 5 and Tag 5 campaign absolutely wrote me off, I won't lie. Apparently running 10k once (carried only by the high gifted to me by adrenaline) does not mean you'll be able to do it again with no training or warm up, who knew?

After that May Bank Holiday 10k, I sat in Queen Liz's back garden, St James' Park, with two friends sipping Marks and Sparks' canned cocktails and scranning crisps when my friend and fellow race companion (who abandoned me at 4k by the way to keep up with Loose Women's Andrea McLean as I lagged behind gasping for air - I've not forgotten that Sophie!) spotted Bryony. We ran over to her, suddenly the pain in my knees forgotten, to thank her for an incredible day; to tell her what I meant to us and to tell her what an inspiration she is. It was a bit of a fan girl moment if I'm completely honest with you, but to meet someone IRL who you idolise is incredible.

Left to right: Half of me, Bryony Gordon, Sophie

There are a select few people whom I have never met yet would like to think I'm friends with, and Bryony is one of them:

- Bryony Gordon
- Lewis Capaldi
- Fearne Cotton
- Chloe Plumstead
- Greg James
- Ant and Dec
- Clara Amfo
- Bridget Jones

It's no secret that I struggle with anxiety, and I'm forever grateful to people like Bryony who challenge the Stigma of mental health and fight to normalise it. They keep me going and give me the momentum to keep on living. Serving as a living reminder to be kind to ourselves on the days we struggle, and to let ourselves enjoy the days we don't without living in fear of the next time we spiral and plummet. To get back up, and keep fucking going, even when it's damn hard to. That love is important but most importantly we must love ourselves.

I'm on a long journey to get there, but one day I will. And on that day I'll write it all in a book of my own. And if that book helps one person like Bryony's books help me, then I reckon that's a win.

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