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  • Writer's pictureDawn Ford

Being Gail Porter

- viewed on BBC iPlayer

"I never wanted to grow up."

This was such an emotional documentary of a beautiful young lady who found fame at a very young age, as a children's t.v. presenter in 1995 (and later working as a presenter on the incredibly popular Top Of The Pops) whose celebrity fairytale became a real life nightmare. Looking back at her time on the t.v I see a very thin and very young looking girl. Later on Gail says herself " I never wanted to grow up."

"The root of my problems."

And this is her story of how mental health can affect anyone. Throughout the documentary you could feel that Gail was easily transformed from a very happy person to very sad one, she was someone with extreme emotions. At the core of the programme was her awareness that maybe her mental health issues were linked to an underlying childhood or family experience/s. She was on a mission to find "The root of my problems." I thought she was extremely courageous to seek this past journey on national t.v.

" I wish I was a better person."

Gail spoke of her depression and how on her worst days she didn't want to leave the house. But she would SMILE outwardly and PRETEND that she was OK. How many of us do that? 90% probably. Anxiety has also kept her company over these last few decades and as she walked towards Westminster she had a panic attack. It was uncomfortable to watch her so distressed, but with so many of us suffering with anxiety and panic attacks this is the reality of this condition. This is how some people really feel, many on a regular basis. As I watched this documentary I became increasingly aware of a sentence that Gail repeated many times " I wish I was a better person."

Edinburgh was where Gail grew up and we see her catching up with two of her best friends. One of the issues that she was unaware of at the time, and which upset her to hear now, was how her friends themselves had worried and struggled witnessing her demise; her mental health spirals, her dips into anorexia, her self-harming habit. It was obvious that she enjoyed meeting up with her old friends; they looked over old photos, talked about specific memories and hugged loads too. But when she turned to talk to the cameraman, down the street, she voiced the overwhelming feeling of 'selfishness' and I got the impression that this was a new emotion for her and she took it hard. She felt guilty.

"It's family that forms us"

And then we get to her family. Behind closed doors her parents constantly argued, she wished her mum & dad had split up earlier. Parent's arguing and the tense atmosphere that many children live in, takes a huge toll on the children - mentally and emotionally; many feel they should stay together 'for the kids', even though most children when asked would not chose to stay in a home where parents are at each other's throat, where the air is toxic. There was one vivid memory of her and her brother walking in to the house where they saw their mum and dad cuddling and Gail and her brother instantly thought that someone had died.

She learnt to 'keep things in', she stored it all 'inside.' "It family that forms us." Eventually her mum and dad did split up and her dad moved to Spain.

We witness Gail and her dad meeting up in a pub and she was nervous. She didn't know how this was going to go, would he hug her or shake her hand? I sensed real intrepidation. I'm not quite sure what went on between her and her dad in her childhood years but it was very painful to see their 'interaction' was awkward and when she said she had let him down her dad answered " You didn't let me down. You let yourself down." I couldn't believe his words.. dear Gail's body went immediately in to 'hurt mode'. She looked absolutely devastated. He was insensitive to her needs, to her long-standing pain. His hurtful comment only 'kicked' her further into the spiral of negativity, which in turn heightened her self-loathing attitude. So sad and so unnecessary. He appeared unphased by the enormity or the power of his words. Why do people we lean on for support, or those we look up to, or those we seek affirmation or praise from kill us with a look , with their words? I believe it comes from emotional unmet needs in their childhood. Her dad may never have received affirmation, or praise, or unconditional love himself as a child and as a consequence he couldn't give it or perhaps he didn't know how to give it.

" I still struggle with food & my body,"

Whilst Gail was living in London in her early 20s she 'restricted her intake' and became anorexia "I lived on wine and jellybeans". She still struggles with feeling 'overweight' today and associates being 'thin' with being attractive. " I still struggle with food & my body." "When I was thin people used to say "You look great". Her thinness was her seeking control and it also brought with it adoration from others. I think the really sad thing is that Gail still equates being a slimmer person with being 'a better person'.

" I was the same smiley me."

During her celebrity status and the so called 'fairytale' years Gail got married, and pregnancy followed. In 2003 her daughter Honey was born. With her husband away on tour a lot and with post natal depression Gail struggled, but again carried on pretending and " I was the same smiley me" but " I thought I wouldn't be good enough."

In 2004 her and her husband split up.

In 2005 she lost her hair (she was told it was either a thyroid issue or stress)If ever there has been a story that demonstrates how the emotional affects the physical and vice-a-versa this is it. No hair meant no jobs and the phones stopped ringing. Gail turned to drink to numb the pain. Sleep was a huge problem, not eating too - no strength , no energy, no resilience. and then it all went BANG!

"I was still keeping everything in."

In 2011 Gail took herself off to Hampstead Heath, whilst feeling 'floaty' and not in touch with reality and text several people a message that alerted them that to the fact that all was not well and maybe Gail was at harm to herself and her life at risk. "I was still keeping everything in." Police arrived and told her that friends were extremely concerned about her welfare and as a consequence she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and put on suicide watch for 2 weeks; in isolation, not spoken to, just left alone. I struggle to see how this can be in anyway beneficial? It was evident that the trauma of that distressing time in isolation are still with her today.

"I thought I had failed everyone".

In her session with a wonderfully warm 'self-harming specialist' Gail spoke openly about her 10years of self-harming and the shame she still feels. But she also talked about the complexity of self-harming; "I thought I had failed everyone.... and "I enjoyed the pain". With the self-harming came control just as with the restriction of food. It was eye-opening to hear the specialist say that we all self-harm to a point, just in different ways. And she's right. We may not cut ourselves, or pick at our skin, or hair, instead we might drink excessively, or over eat or engage in toxic relationships. She felt listened to and not judged with this specialist and it had a huge impact on her "Acceptance, Listening, Caring.. is intervention itself."

"A label doesn't fix me"

Gail visits a psychiatrist in Scotland and he tells her she probably has a borderline personality disorder. BPD - " a label doesn't fix me." At the end of this documentary I was left feeling something was missing. Her story wasn't quite complete and this documented emotional journey into the past had not hit on everything; Gail still didn't know why her mental health had suffered so badly over the years and why she still felt the way she did. But one thing was for sure and this was a great sign - "I don't want a badge. My name is Gail thank you."

I wanted to hug her as she walked along the street in London and spoke these words; " London is a very busy but lonely place." Gail Porter you are a very brave lady and I hope your heartbreaking personal story will help us break the stigma around mental health. I hope you find limitless self-love and accept the phenomenal good that lies inside you and when you smile it comes from within too. Depression, anxiety, anorexia and self-harm along with guilt and shame this beautiful lady is incredibly inspiring. It's not easy being so publicly honest, but she did it, she nailed it.

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