Content warning: eating disorders; self harm; depression
Before I begin this review, I do want to say that the documentary would be incredibly triggering for anyone suffering from an ED. Flintoff was still in a visibly disordered mindset and said some things that would not be helpful for those still in recovery.
We’ve always been a cricket kind of family. I played on the boys teams at school and the telly wasn’t allowed on in the summer unless a test match was on when we were younger. Unsurprisingly, I remember Freddie Flintoff’s later career (I wasn’t born until 2000) quite well. I remember the shock as he retired early and my Mum’s condemnation of him as a ‘glory-seeker’ when he took up boxing a few years later. I remember him being on Top Gear and the revival of Total Wipeout a few weeks ago (still the greatest show on Earth). I remember thinking that he must be clinging on to something that should have gone with his departure from cricket. It just shows how you should ALWAYS be kind.
This may be a magazine for womxn, but bulimia affects everyone, and it ruins their lives. The toxic masculinity spouted by Flintoff’s unwell self was jarring for someone who wraps themselves in the social media bubbles of your average wholesome-aspiring feminist. To me, toxic masculinity was still an issue, but one everyone I knew was aware of and fighting. Flintoff and I clearly live in very different worlds.
However, so many parallels could be drawn between our illnesses. When I first started to self harm, I couldn’t say the word, preferring ‘cutting myself up’ or ‘knocking my head against a wall’. I couldn’t say the word depression, or anxiety either. When psychosis came along I was more accustomed to things, but I’ve noticed I don’t say ‘mental illness’ still.
It was heart wrenching to see a man I’d grown up having on TV going through the same things as I went through as a 15 year old. Wrestling with the idea of needing help. In denial about the control he needed to feel. When he spoke about his eating disorder, I saw my anorexic and bulimic friends, deep in their illnesses, screaming that they were too fat, they shouldn’t be forced to gain more weight.
Flintoff had never been in treatment. If the world’s most high profile cricketer can fly under the radar, what about everyone else?
If you know me, you’ll know I believe that nothing exists in a vacuum and that everything is inherently political. I lobby for better mental health provisions and accessibility and I spend my life telling of how the system let me down and how that should never happen again.
However, maybe this is because I do live in a world of social justice warriors where the stigma no longer really exists. Speaking about the ins and outs of my illness has never really bothered me because of the world in which I live, instead, I focus on the issue close to my heart, politicians and legislation.
Flintoff quite clearly does not live in that world. In the documentary, he spoke of how nervous he was for when it eventually came out, his fear was palpable through the screen. I have seen immensely raw bravery in people, be it through taking that first step in recovery or reporting the people that hurt you. To add your worst nightmare- due to the toxically masculine society you live in- of having that broadcast on national TV into the mix must have been terrifying and was what I took away most from the documentary. Not the stats, or the story, but the sheer, unadulterated bravery that shone through. If you want the nod to begin your own recovery, whatever you are suffering from, this is it.
Photo courtesy of Alessandro Bogliari