Wednesday, 22 October 2014

How Lynda Bellingham Helped Save My Life

Following the news about Lynda Bellingham at the start of this week, I'd decided not to say much. I wasn't ready to, not then. But I feel that now, when information has had time to sink in, the moment is right for me to pay tribute to one of the most considerate, caring, beautiful people I've ever known.

It's probably a good idea for me to provide a little background information so you know where the journey I'm about to share with you is coming from. To make a long story slightly shorter, I was hospitalised in 2007 with an eating disorder. Anorexia had bitten me; there was no light in my life, no hope in my heart. During the therapy I received following my discharge I was advised to focus on something I wanted to achieve, an element of my future in which I hoped to succeed. It was an easy decision: I chose my career. Always have, always will. And for my 15 year old self back then, the ultimate dream was to sit among the Loose Women panel (a dream, I confess, that has never left me).

This is relevant for two reasons. For one, the show became my best friend at lunch times - the hardest meal of the day when I was required to eat the largest quantity of food - and it provided me with a regular comfort, a safety net and the familiarity that I so craved. However, it didn't just distract me from my meal; the panel, and two panellists in particular, became wonderful inspirations. One such person was Lynda Bellingham.

For reasons I can't recall, I wrote to Lynda around that time. I can only imagine the look on my face when she replied, her handwriting beautifully sprawled onto a card donning her name in elegant italics (pictured below). I can't remember the exact details, but I must have responded with a thank you and a few more questions, because I soon received another reply.

This correspondence carried on for a number of years. Often I would write about nothing very important, and Lynda would always reply with enthusiasm, interest, and love. Sometimes her responses arrived on her own personalised card, and there was the occasional typed letter or wee handwritten note on rough paper if it was all she had access to from her hotel. One year there was even a Christmas card, and I only wish I could remember what year that was from.

At some point along the way our correspondence ceased. I can't remember which of us stopped writing, which of us did not reply to a letter, but it ended. Time runs way from us often, and I never really thought about it a lot until sorting through them all today. The last letter I received from Lynda arrived a few weeks after I met her for the final time in 2011 when she was touring with Calendar Girls. The kindness she displayed that day, as ever, is something that will remain with me forever.

What those letters from Lynda provided, especially in the early days, was a source of hope and support. I was lonely, isolated, and struggling to find the strength to carry on with my existence. Her words supplied a crucial lift in my spirits that was essential to my recovery, necessary to save me from my own destruction. Whether or not Lynda knew this I do not know, but she provided a rock for me when she did not have to. She could have ignored my initial letter. She could have stopped responding two or three letters in. But she didn't. 

When you've forgotten how to live for the present and only exist in hope of a brighter, successful future - such torment I suffered during the worst of my eating disorder - then somebody like Lynda, whose kind heart and soul remained constant, makes all the difference. There was something about her, a quality that very few people genuinely possess, that shone brightly. Our correspondence may have been brief in comparison to that of many, but the impact it had on my own strength and hope is invaluable.

Lynda may not have known just how much her words over the years meant to me - they make me smile even now when I reflect on their content or the emotions I quickly came to associate them with - but perhaps that's not important. What does matter is the fact that Lynda touched the lives of many, and that it can be said, with confidence, that her name will forever live on.

I will light a candle for Lynda at Christmas, and I hope you will join me. If the flame shines half as brightly as she did, the light of her love will continue to warm us all.

Thank you Lynda. Without you, who knows what life would be.

Amy x

With Lynda in 2009

I gave Lynda a teddy bear dressed in Calendar Girls inspired clothes
in 2011. Needless to say, that night she gave a stunning performance.