Dear 20 year old Cara,
Hang on in there, little lady.
I know every day hurts like hell.
I know you spend your every waking hour internally screaming as the scald of your mind burns through your soul.
I know you can physically see the embers of your former self disintegrating under the glare of the voices in your head.
I know you’re painstakingly soul-searching for the identity you’ve lost, as every second that passes strips you of all you have worked so hard for.
I know your fragile skin blisters under the shower, your heart races out of your control and your bones constantly ache with the cold, even in the height of summer.
I know you want to flee from the rotting carcass of your own body, outrunning the disease that coils around your veins.
I know you’re exhausted and already so sick of this shit.
I know you don’t want to carry on.
I know admitting defeat and giving up on it all seems like the only option right now.
But don’t give up. Believe me when I say that you have so much to live for.
Things haven’t always been easy, but you’re still here – you survived. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.
Cara, do you remember that shy teenager who woke up one September morning and caught the bus to a brand new college where she knew no-one? The three years that followed that courageous decision were some of the best of your life, and you earned that – it was your bravery that made it possible. You made a new life for yourself, because somewhere deep inside you, that flame of self-belief still dared to flicker, despite life having made its attempts to beat you down.
You didn’t realise it at the time – maybe you still don’t – but you have a remarkable quiet confidence and self-assurance. This is both invaluable and powerful beyond measure. Please never change, even when life pulls you far away from everything you know.
Life isn’t easy; there will be many more hurdles, but you’ll be ready for them.
At the same time, there will be new happiness to uncover.
Think back to the most rapturous times of your life. Remember how they felt. Hold on to them, and the person you were in those moments. That person was you, and that version of you is still by your side, just like every other version of you that has prospered through the hardships of life.
Keep going for that quirky child who was snubbed for her writing passion... And who went on to have her first book published at the age of 22.
Keep going for that invisible, nameless 16 year old who boldly took herself off to a new college and had the balls to hold her head high and unapologetically be herself.
Keep going for that plucky 21 year old who boarded a plane on her own and travelled across Europe.
Keep going for that quiet holiday rep who stood up in-front of 100 strangers and delivered a welcome meeting.
Sometimes, it’s hard to see how far you’ve come.
Remember those 500 calorie days and the backbreaking addiction to exercise? Well, a few weeks ago you went to London and ate a donut for breakfast. The next day, you missed your usual jog because you wanted a lie-in. And you didn’t punish yourself: that in itself is a victory. For every setback, there is a tiny little victory waiting to be acknowledged. Make sure you celebrate every victory whole-heartedly, no matter how minor.
It’s January 2022. You have now been fighting this battle for nearly eight years. Yes it’s still hard, and yes, some days it still hurts like hell. But has it been worth it? Undoubtedly.
You’re married (and no, not to a footballer or that Selfridges guy you and Carla call ‘Cinder-fella’).
You love running, and actually, you’re pretty good at it!
You have visited most countries in Europe.
Leeds United got back into the Premier League!
You’ve had numerous books and articles published.
You lived abroad (... But your bi-lingual ‘talents’ sadly still don’t exceed telling someone that you like their shoes in Spanish!).
You are surrounded by the most caring and loyal friends and family.
You own your own home that you adore (you didn’t quite manage to buy that EXACT cottage from The Holiday, but your house does have beams, exposed brickwork and ivy).
You live a joyful little existence, and that right there is the key ingredient.
I want to thank you for allowing me to experience all of the above. They are all blessings born from your perseverance.
This is your life, Cara. No-body else gets to live it for you and once it’s over, it’s over, so make it count. Fill it with beautiful things: laughter, friends, pasta, books, stationary, cacti, travel - whatever your passion. If you want to wear Adidas tracksuit bottoms with heels, then do it. If you want to sit in a cafe on your own writing books, then go get that table. If you want to clamber on top of bars and dance the Macarena, then girl, get up there!
Always remember to be as bold as that 16 year old version of you I mentioned before.
The sacred gift of self-confidence is the ultimate tonic for a lot of life’s crap.
My one piece of advice to you would be to stop running away from this new voice in your head. Don’t flee or shy away from it, because that’s what it wants. This voice, it has a name. Anorexia. Anorexia feeds off disdain, doubt and insecurity, so stand tall and look it in the eye. Have the bollocks to be happy, because it’s your divine right to embrace that goddam emotion and screw anorexia for making you believe otherwise!
Life’s hand dealt you anorexia, so what are you going to do about it? Lie there and allow it to infect your every fibre?
Or are you going to laugh in its face and keep moving forwards? Use your experiences to educate and inspire others?
Recruit your army wisely and broadly but know that ultimately, only you hold the key that unlocks the road to recovery.
Stop seeing recovery as a far-off destination that you’ll never reach; see it as a journey. A lifelong journey it may well be, but the secret weapon is how you manipulate that journey to your advantage.
You might feel as weak as a feather, but you are as strong as an ox.
If I promise you that things will get easier, will you to promise me that you’ll never give up, no matter what?
They say that everyone should strive to be their own best friend. Well, you are mine. You, you right now, and every other version of you; past, present and future.
Primary school Cara making odd clicking noises and ‘cantering’ around the playground pretending to be a horse.
High school Cara, who would rather pre-order the latest Jacqueline Wilson book than kiss a boy.
College Cara strutting up and down the ‘refec’ in two-sizes-too-small hot-pants.
Traveller Cara shouting at a hotel manager in Paris with a cuddly toy Mike Wazowski under her arm...
Rep Cara tirelessly trying to explain to guests that she is not responsible for coaxing the sun out.
Wife Cara threatening divorce if one more tube of toothpaste gets squeezed from the middle (seriously?!).
Homeowner Cara sabotaging the brand new washing machine with a hairpin and cutting the lawn with kitchen scissors.
Runner Cara placing first female in a 10k race and breaking down in tears of sheer elation at the finish line.
Future Cara winning the London Marathon, having an affair with Richard Madden and going on tour with Ja Rule... 🤣
I am so immensely proud of you and I hope this version of me is one that you will also be proud of in years to come.
28 year old Cara x
I don't often share 'before and after' pics as I like to keep my blog positive, but I felt compelled to include this. On the left is 20 year old me during my first year with anorexia. You can tell by my pale, drawn face that I was really struggling to understand what was happening to me. This was one of my lowest points in terms of dropping weight.
The photo on the right is me in August 2021 - feeling healthy and strong - securing my 10k PB at a running event. I'd never felt more elated or proud of my body.
Cara Jasmine Bradley