My goal for 2019 is to help 1000 people live a more nourishing and soulful life, when I spotted that the wonderful Spiffy were opening their doors to submissions of stories, I jumped at the chance. This gigantous goal is to be completed through supporting others in any which way I can, without charging a penny. How do I measure the amount of people I help? Now, that’s the tricky part, I’m not quite sure. But I’m a firm believer that when you put something out there into the universe, when you start something even if you’re not quite sure of the ins and outs, it has a way of working itself out.
Let me introduce myself first, as it’s rather rude not to. I’m a cat mum of four, two ginger ninjas and two tabby bears. I live in Barcelona, Spain and have done since the age of 12. I’m originally from Cornwall, England and I LOVE a cup of tea. I drink between 10 and 15 cups a day… it’s a lot, I know. It’s my fuel. I can often be found chatting on Instagram stories, reading a Roald Dahl book or thinking up a fairy story. By day I work in a Primary School and by...well... any other time, I enjoy sharing the knowledge I have gathered about living intentionally, eating intuitively, accepting and learning to love my body and trusting in life. My not so hidden super power is managing to slide cat chat into pretty much any conversation.
In order to share my story we need to go way back to my childhood. Nestled in a little fishing town in Cornwall I attended a very small Primary School. I can remember very clearly the first time I was hit by a hatred I hadn’t realised even existed, towards my body. In the run up to our annual family holiday in the canary islands, my mum sat looking at the catalogue with me. I was to pick a new swimsuit for the occasion. I desperately wanted to be a grown up, at the age of eight, and wear a bikini. Eventually my mum compromised, it wasn’t quite the bikini I wanted but it was a sporty shorts and crop top number and I was over the moon. I wore that bikini every single day on holiday jumping in and out of the pool, burying myself under the sand, rolling around in the sea. Just generally loving the freedom of being on our holibobs, the sunshine, and of course my new bikini.
A couple of weeks after we got home the holiday photos arrived. I can remember looking and immediately wondering why we had so many pictures of a random girl in a bikini. Then it hit me, that girl was me. She didn’t look the way I was supposed to look, she didn’t look the way the models in the catalogue did. She had rolls around her sides. Her thighs were far too big. Her face was puffy and red. Her hair didn’t fall in beautiful beach waves, it was slicked back with sea water covered in sand. I can remember wanting to change my body immediately in that very moment. You may think that eight is a pretty bloody young age to be worrying about such things, however according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 81% of ten year olds are worried about getting fat. The average girl goes on her first diet at the age of 8.
Throughout my childhood I suffered severely from a poorly tummy. I would always be running to the toilet. I also had very bad joint pain “it’s growing pains” I was told over and over again. Except these ‘growing pains’ were excruciating and if these were growing pains, I really wasn’t much good at growing. After many visits with our family doctor I was told at the age of 12 I had arthritis and IBS, both ran in my family, so the doctor was pretty sure. Not to ruin the story here or anything, but I didn’t have either.
That same year we moved as a family to Barcelona. It was a whole new way of life, sunshine 300 days of the year, lots of outdoor activities, delicious fresh fruit and veg and yet my symptoms persisted. By the time I was around fifteen I had started vomiting too. I kept a food diary to find the culprit, there were quite a few. Among other things dairy made me very sick, as did bananas, I later found out I was allergic to both.
During my late teens I became very ill, the vomiting persisted even though I had completely removed the trigger foods from my diet. I had blood test after blood test, went to private doctors as well as the public health care doctors. I was referred for an endoscopy, with two cameras searching for the problem at the same time, I was so weak that I had to be put out for the procedure. When I awoke, the same answer I had been hearing for years came back “You’re absolutely fine, you’re perfect.” Except, I wasn’t. I carried on with life, I worked hard, I fell ill often, my immune system was weak. If I got a cold it would often turn into bronchitis and at times, even pneumonia. I did my very best to take care of myself, I ran every day, I meditated, I did yoga daily, I ate what I was told was a healthy diet. I ticked every single box of the healthy lifestyle but I didn’t feel healthy at all. I despised my body, how could it fail me like this? Why wasn’t it fighting more? Why wasn’t I stronger? Why couldn’t I do what others did? Why didn’t I look like everyone else and for the love of god, why didn’t I fit into THOSE size clothes?! That nattering, horrid bitchy talk was non-stop in my head.
At the age of 21, whilst in the shower, my hand brushed past my neck and I felt a lump. I booked an appointment to see my doctor, who I saw pretty much every six weeks for one thing or another. I told her I felt a lump, she checked it very haphazardly and said I had tonsilitis. I was very very very prone to tonsilitis. She prescribed me with antibiotics, but because I had taken so many antibiotics over the previous few years, they weren’t working anymore, I’d become immune to them. After a few days, and a worried friend asking me what the lump on my neck was, I returned to the doctor and asked her to check again. It wasn’t going down, in fact, if anything, it was growing in size.
She checked again, she called someone else in to check and she referred me immediately to the hospital for a biopsy. I went straight away. The doctor there talked me through the procedure and the word ‘tumour’ brought a dark cloud of worry into the consultant’s room. The biopsy results came back without answers. By this time I had named the tumour Norris. It’s a lot easier to talk about something called Norris than throwing the ‘T’ word around, the ‘T’ word seemed to make people uncomfortable, Norris on the other hand always cracked a smile.
After a couple of weeks it was obvious that Norris was making me really poorly. I was vomiting every day, the tumour was pressing on glands or nerves or something which was causing me to be sick. I couldn’t even hold down water. I stilled weighed myself though, I was tiny, a ghost of my former self, worn and withered. I had lost 20kg in the space of a few months. I looked really ill and yet I can clearly remember thinking a few more kilos wouldn’t hurt.
After a very bad weekend I was taken into hospital, my doctor put me to the top of the waiting list and 2 days later I was in hospital for surgery. The surgeon talked me through the operation to remove Norris. I was told that due to the position of the tumour, I could lose the use of my legs. I signed a piece of paper stating that I understood the risks of the surgery, I just wanted the tumour out of me, I just wanted to feel better.
The first thing I did when I came around was wiggle my toes. The relief and gratitude I felt for those legs I had despised was like no other. To this day I am still so grateful for how they carry me, that I can chase little munchkins along the corridor at work and practise yoga as I had done before. Later that day, after the surgery, my surgeon came to speak to me. He told me that they had managed to removed all of the tumour and once they had run tests on it we’d be able to get going on treatment.
Hang on, that wasn’t what was supposed to happen. That wasn't the deal. In my mind the deal had been remove the tumour, Peta is better. More and more tests ensued, the results came back as an unknown benign tumour, my doctor still wasn’t happy with this. It didn’t explain why other tumours were growing in my body at a rapid rate. Around 8 weeks later, on the morning of yet more blood tests my body said no. No matter how many different ways they tried, my body would not give the blood the doctors needed to run more tests. “I think we need to give your body a rest for a couple of months Peta, this is too much.”
I returned for tests a couple of months later and eventually, a year and a half after surgery, I was diagnosed with EDS - Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. It’s a very difficult chronic illness to diagnose due to the myriad of symptoms. In my body it manifests in tumours, stomach issues, headaches, hyperactivity at times and absolutely no energy at other times, hyperflexibility in joints and a lot of joint pain.
My immediate question was “What can I do to cure this?”
“There’s nothing you can do, you need to accept what you have, you will probably be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 30. Once you accept it, you can learn to live with it and move on.” Here’s the thing, I’m not really the accepting the cards you were dealt kinda cat mum. I poured all of my time and energy into researching EDS, tumours, chronic illnesses. Into diets, meal plans, exercise plans and lifestyles. I discovered that a plant based diet for some had resulted in tumours decreasing in size and in some cases, even disappearing completely. At my next doctor’s appointment I mentioned the idea of a plant based diet. “Absolutely not, no way, you’re not doing that Peta. You are very weak. You have been very ill. I’m sorry but no.” My family were equally just as worried. They, along with my doctor begged me not to do it. But, being the stubborn Cat Mum that I am, I went against their wishes. Within two weeks the tumours had halved in size, within a month they were pretty much gone. I felt amazing. I continued to follow a vegan diet for two years and whilst I felt the best I had in a long time, looking back I wasn’t very happy with myself and I wasn’t at my healthiest. A diet lacking in animal protein meant that I had an iron deficiency. No matter what I tried, medication and all sorts of plant based protein alternatives, I couldn’t retain a normal iron level. I was very anaemic and my face was absolutely covered in acne. I had no energy at all and the migraines were just ridiculous.
I decided to experiment with animal protein once again, through keeping a food diary to record results. It was like a light switch, too much and tumours would begin growing, I’d feel them in my breasts, my head, under my arms, around my neck. Too little and my iron levels would drop. After four or five months I found a happy medium.
I found that I had more energy, the migraines wouldn’t bombard me as often as they had been and I was really starting to feel good. I did a lot of work on my self. Took personal growth courses and read goodness knows how many self help books. I journaled often. I began to unpick my thoughts and feelings towards my body. After all, it had shown me how strong it could be, I wanted to feel that strength and show myself love. It took so much work, years of work in fact and I don’t think that personal work ever stops. I found the types of movement that worked well for me - low impact exercise at the gym, yoga, walks, careful workouts. But I found I was still punishing my body for food I had eaten, for how it looked. I delved deeper into this, intent on find a way to not only accept but love my body, after all it’s the only one I have, forever.
I discovered that the gym and at home youtube workouts brought me no joy at all, but dancing barefoot in the kitchen, yoga-ing on my patio, walks along the beach, bike rides with my other half and more recently, learning how to dance ballet and zumba as well as row has brought me immense joy.
I trained last year as an eating psychology coach so that I could help others find neutrality with food and an acceptance and love for themselves. A respect like no other and a way of caring for themselves they had never imagined could be so simple, so easy, once you get the hang of it. It takes a lot of inner strength to unpick the stories, thought patterns and habits we have held onto for a lifetime, those same thoughts that bring us SO much security. It would be much easier to just be given a diet and exercise regime and follow it, but that only offers deprivation of things you would love to eat and a hatred of your wonderful body just as it is right now.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to change your body, with wanting to live a healthier lifestyle, eat a more varied diet. But do it for the right reasons, don’t do it because you hate who you have become, because you can’t stand the sight of yourself in the mirror, because you wish, more than anything else, you had THAT body so that you could start living the life you’ve always wanted, so you can go on that holiday, so you can shop in those shops. Do it because you respect and love yourself so much that you want to take care of your body, the only body you have, you want to free up all of that mind space which is used up with diet, food and body negativity talk. Do it because you want to nourish yourself soulfully.
Read more about Peta's story on her blog - www.nourishingsoulfully.com