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Content warning: These poems are based on the theme of recovery and contain descriptions of acute illness, including death. Some listeners may find this upsetting.
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Vitality is a deeply personal story, delivered as a vibrant, accessible, and fundamentally uplifting book. Initially conceived as an illustrated Ital cookbook, as it has grown into something with a much deeper significance: a document of its author's ongoing recovery from Anorexia.
When Eleanor Bradford developed Anorexia at the age of 22, she found her life was dismantled in a way it hadn't been before. Relationships, life and her sense of identity all had to be rebuilt. Ellie's way of piecing herself back together was to express what she was going through using all the tools and resources she had - documenting and discovering her story at the same time.
Vitality is different from most mental health literature. It resists the idea that there should be a choice between practical advice and personal narrative. Structured as different stages of recovery, from small bites through to meals for eating with loved ones, the book interweaves hand-illustrated vegan recipes with thoughtful accounts that explore ideas of identity, community, and culture. While sharing the most intimate experiences of Ellie's own Anorexia, the book simultaneously presents the battle to look outwardly and understand the deeper nature of mental illness and recovery.
For Ellie, reconsidering every aspect of her life meant weaving together a truly holistic approach to recovery. UK Sound System Culture and Ital lifestyle (a practice rooted in Rastafari faith), played an important role in shaping that approach. Ital encourages individuals to adopt a holistic practice, in which lifestyle choices are determined through self-reflection and consideration for one’s mental, physical and spiritual well-being, as well as for the environment. This is the philosophy which provides the framework for Vitality.
The result is an autobiographical cookbook like no other. It does not seek to define a specific approach or diet; rather it is a story that shares the challenges as well as the rewards of life battling chronic mental illness - with humour, sometimes stark honesty, and an open heart.
ABOUT THE BOOK
- Large, hardback book - 220 x 311mm
- 126 pages
- Full colour, filled with original artwork and recipes
Quick select rewards
Born in the early 90s, the only daughter amongst three sons, Ellie spent her youth immersed in the multicultural and creative melée of Bristol. From a young age, Ellie used art to express how she responded to the world around her. At 13 years old she was passed down her first 35mm camera, and from there her path as an artist was set. Moving to London at 19, Ellie became resident photographer and artist for Lewisham based Sound System, Unit 137, where her practice flourished through collaboration and open participation.
As a woman battling chronic mental illness and disability, over the past 5 years Ellie has also become an active campaigner for mental health awareness and healthcare reform. In 2019 she successfully lobbied the government alongside BEAT Eating Disorders, to introduce waiting-time standards in Adult Mental Health services.
At 27 years old, Ellie still lives in South East London, where she continues to expand her considerable repertoire of creative skills. Combining her keen observation and sensitivity as an artist with her determination to improve mental health provisions, Vitality is Ellie’s first book.
Each time I fell into crisis, there was a point whereby the label of ‘Anorexic’ ultimately consumed my identity. In the eyes and hearts of loved ones who could not continue to reason with me about feminism, or art, or Ital, when my life was so clearly in danger. In my family who felt lost, despairing, and distraught. In romantic relationships that I could no longer manage. Eventually in myself, when I could no longer imagine a future without my illness. Everything I’d known and believed in, including myself, seemed to disappear.
In retrospect, feeling that the label of anorexia consumed my identity is an honest reflection of the reality of my condition. I only got the support I needed (and deserved) because my loved ones refused to stand by and watch my obvious deterioration. They had to fight against me, and against a chronically under-funded and under-educated healthcare system, to get that support. Research shows that early intervention in eating disorders makes a huge impact on prospects for a full recovery. Widespread lack of understanding around eating disorders, even from within the medical community, makes early intervention all the more difficult. In June 2018, the Postgraduate Medical Journal published research showing that UK medical students receive, on average, 1.8 hours of untested training on eating disorders throughout a four to six year medical degree— with one-in-five courses offering no training at all.
The more experiences I had of being misunderstood, the more I blamed myself, and lost trust in the system. Some of the people who should have helped me, undermined the seriousness of my illness in ways that were measurably damaging. I was once shown out the door of a mental health assessment being told “We all have issues with food. You don’t need an Eating Disorder to claim benefits, you already have depression.” There were so many layers of judgement going on in that sentence I was stunned into silence. I just went home and cried. It felt like being told, ‘what you’re doing is not a real problem’. I felt unworthy— I was taking up too much time, too much space, and too many resources. My restriction and exercise intensified, my weight dropped rapidly, and I became hypoglycaemic to the point I could no longer stand up without fainting, or talk without slurring my speech. For months I refused to voluntarily seek help again, which obviously put a huge amount of pressure on those who were exhaustively trying to support me.
I blamed myself constantly for the difficulty I faced functioning on a basic day- to-day level. I wanted more than anything to be ‘normal’, but what was happening was not a choice. Eating disorders are not a protest, or a statement, or a diet gone wrong. It’s not a lack of will power, or self-control, or desire.
It was extremely difficult to dismantle the belief that I didn’t deserve help, even when I was eventually diagnosed in specialist treatment. It took a huge amount of support and enlightening words from others to relieve just a small piece of the blame I placed on myself. No matter how guilty I felt about compromising my feminism and Ital practices, or how ashamed I felt in wanting to honour Laura, the truth was that anorexia hadn’t been created in a vacuum and placed into me. My eating disorder manifested in me as a way to deal with a combination of pre-existing mental illnesses and simultaneous traumatic events— over which I had very little control or support with at the time. Anorexia protected my mind from the buried psychological pain of what I had gone through. Accepting this might be true meant I would need to uncover that pain, and to heal it. In the same moment of overwhelming fear, I realised it also meant that recovery was possible. I found hope.
- 23rd August 2019 WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY 2019, 10th October
October 10th is World Mental Health Day. The focus this year is suicide prevention.
The World Health Organisation has stated that every year close to 800,000 people die by suicide, and many more attempt it. Every suicide is a tragedy. The affect on families, communities, and entire countries is something that never truly goes away.
We have to talk about it. Putting the voices of lived experience…11th August 2019 A Balancing Act
A friend of mine described managing mental illness as ‘balancing on a high-wire’. She couldn’t be more right, in so many ways. Everything is a balancing act when you live with a mental illness. Push yourself, but don’t expect too much. Connect with others, whilst maintaining appropriate boundaries. It’s okay to ask for help, but not so much you become co-dependent. How many times am I allow to ask…30th July 2019 The ball's rolling (and I think we're okay about it).
Well, the ball’s rolling and I feel like my blood pressure is finally reducing back to a normal level- my body is acclimatising to crowdfunding!
Despite huge progress in my recovery and many accomplishments over the past couple of years (cue hair swish), managing my anxiety is still a 24/7 job. Every step in creating Vitality i’ve battled a punitive internal voice, interrupting my inspiration with…23rd July 2019 Take off
Well... it's been a busy first few days!
I was out celebrating the launch of National Park City at Beckenham Place Park on Saturday, where Sadiq Khan was opening the swimming lake. So obviously I wiggled my way through the crowds to pass him a flyer and tell him all about the project! He couldn't have been nicer, he thanked me for letting him know and promised to check it out. I followed…
These people are helping to fund Vitality.
Harriet st Leger