Dave Chawner is an award winning comic, published author and mental health campaigner. Here is the full transcript of Dave’s TEDx Talk titled ‘My Battle With Anorexia’ at TEDxClapham conference.
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Dave Chawner – Comedian
Hello, my name is Dave and at my TED Talk is — I am an anorexic. I have been recovering from anorexia for the past eight or nine years; everyone needs a hobby. That is what this is all about.
Before we kick off, I am very comfortable talking about this. I don’t want anyone to be awkward or kind of cringing. You can see me, I am not like butch or tough. I will be honest; I don’t even have a strong bladder. That is what this is for. It is just a massive TENA pad. If you saw me in the street, you are not going to think, “Phwoa! There is an alpha male.” Much more likely, “Oh, vegetarian!” You would be right because I have been veggie for a while now. There are certain things that I miss. A lot of respect.
There is a really good reason that I bring it up, because there are 1.6 million people in the UK that suffer with eating disorders. Probably more, because a lot of people feel embarrassed to talk about it. A lot of people don’t realize that they are suffering, and that was exactly the same for me. A lot of my friends, when I slipped into all of this, asked me how I was losing so much weight so quickly, and I guess I was embarrassed. I used to tell them it was a combination of the Atkins diet, coupled with being vegetarian. Just sounds much nicer, right?
By trade, I am a stand-up comic and I love the unique ability that comedy has to reach people. I really wanted to use that in order to help, and in order to change how we see mental health. It was a difficult show to write. It was a really tricky one because I had to be funny, but also I had to be informative as well. Obviously I wanted to be sensitive. We didn’t always get the balance right.
When we took it on tour to the Leicester Comedy Festival, one of the first reviews said that the bit I did on bulimia was too, “Gag-heavy”. It is like saying a show on domestic violence lacks punchlines. But it is absolutely true. I want to promote change, especially towards mental health, because we haven’t changed our attitude in the UK to mental health since the Victorian era, really. Then we would have freak shows, now we have reality TV. We just haven’t come that far, and I wanted to use that. I will never forget the first time that I ever tried this in a show. It was awkward. It was horrible, it was awkward, everyone was really… and it wasn’t ready.
After the show, a woman came up to me, and she stood there, and she said, “You weren’t really anorexic, were you?” And I could not help but think, “Are you calling me fat?” I said, “It is all absolutely true.” She just turned around, and she walked off. And I thought, “I have offended this woman,” and that is the last thing I want to do.
But then five minutes later, she came back, and she stood there, and she said, “I can help you. I can help you get over this.” And then from behind her back, she produced a packet of crisps. Like the answer to this neurological, psychological, mental health disorder was a packet of Monster Munch. It was only then that I realized how little people actually know about this.
So I decided to start telling my story. For me, this all began when I was 17, and I had just got the lead role in a play. It was a play called, “Sparkleshark”. I am not even gay. I am as surprised as you. So is my boyfriend. I am not homophobic either. Some of my best friends enjoy musicals. I am of course kidding. I am a very left-wing person, I am very liberal. The only thing I can’t tolerate is gluten.
I got this role in this play, and I had to appear topless. I guess it was the first time that I have ever had to think about my body. So I decided to lose a little bit of weight. I just did the usual thing; cut out snacking. I just had breakfast, dinner and tea, and I lost a bit of weight. Wanted to lose a little bit more, so I cut out breakfast, just had dinner and tea, lost a bit of weight. Wanted to lose a bit more, and then cut out breakfast and dinner and just had tea, and lost a bit more. It was a great way to save money on food bills. Although what I did lose in weight, I also lost in Nectar points. It is not all happy families.
As I lost the weight, something incredible happened, and I got noticed by this one amazing, beautiful, wonderful, awesome girl. For legal reasons, I am not going to name her. I am not going to get within 50 feet of her after this goes online. All you need to know is she was amazing, we started dating, and I fell in love. She became my heroine. By which I mean, she was addictive, exciting, and blooming expensive. But like heroine, she also became a cause for me to lose weight; she became an inspiration to draw me on, to lose more of my fat. Not that she ever made me. I really want to get that across as well. She actually never actively made me lose weight. She hated that I was skinnier than her. I will never forget one conversation. “Does my bum look big in this”
“I am over this.”
You have to understand that in my mind, I correlated getting skinny with getting this incredible girl. In my mind, I correlated getting skinny with being good-looking, skinny meant success. I know that is mental now. I understand no girl has ever been asked, “What do you look for in the ideal bloke?”
In my mind, that made sense. Inevitably when we broke up and she broke my heart, that was when it spiraled out of control. If we are talking about change, one of the things that I want to change is that anorexia is not to do with vanity, and it is very little to do with weight. It is about addiction, obsession, and control. So for example, I became absolutely obsessed with exercising. Anytime I had eaten anything, no matter how much, I would run upstairs to my room, I would do 50 push-ups, I would do 50 sit-ups and I would do 20 squats. It was then that my mum and dad realized that something was up. They never approached me. They never said anything to me about this. And I didn’t know the reason until I asked them recently. I said to my mum, “Why, when you knew something was up with the exercise, why didn’t you say anything to me?”