Stand Tall Little Girl

Stand Tall Little Girl

by Hope Virgo


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781911246152
Publisher: Trigger
Publication date: 06/02/2017
Pages: 152
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Hope Virgo suffered with anorexia for 4 years before being admitted to hospital in 2007. She lived in the hospital for a year and since being discharged, has fought to stay well.
Hope now lives and works in London, runs marathons and has a keen interest in exercise and maintaining good mental health. She is in a whole new place, taking each day as it comes and living life to its fullest.

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Stand Tall Little Girl

By Hope Virgo

Trigger Press

Copyright © 2017 Hope Virgo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-911246-17-6



My death certificate would have read: Jennifer Hope Virgo died of heart failure, as a result of anorexia nervosa, aged seventeen.

But was I born with a genetic susceptibility to anorexia, or did life make me anorexic?

I was born on 8 May 1990 at St Michaels Hospital in Bristol, the middle child of five. Kate and James are older than me; Samuel and Mollie are younger. Growing up, I felt so lucky to have so many brothers and sisters to play with, and I loved our house and garden. We'd spend hours running around, playing ball games, and climbing the trees in the summer. Whenever we lost our ball over the fence, we'd take it in turns to dash across the grounds of the residential home next door, daring each other to see how far we could go without getting caught! It felt like a little act of rebellion, but then I was already getting a reputation for being a rebellious child ...

When I was four, I had amazing long hair, like a mermaid. Kate loved it. We'd sit on her bed and she would brush it for hours. It always felt so nice, and I enjoyed spending time with my big sister, so I can't quite explain what I did next ... One day, for some bizarre reason ... I ran off and hid, and then, quite calmly, I took some scissors and started cutting great chunks out of my hair. I was caught halfway through scalping myself, but it was too late; I'd managed to hack off half my hair. My sister was devastated. But at the time, I didn't care at all; I felt absolutely no emotion until I went back to school. There was a girl there who had such long hair she could sit on it. And that's when it hit me: I was absolutely gutted mine had gone, and I'd been left with a short bob. I wanted my long hair back so badly!

As my birthday was in the spring, I would often have swimming pool parties. But I'd just sit on the edge and dangle my feet. It wasn't that I didn't like swimming, I just hated being in a swimsuit. I can't ever remember not feeling self-conscious about it. Mum bought me a tankini so that I didn't feel quite so exposed, but it didn't make me feel any better.

I'd look at the girls that came over – all different sizes – and wonder why they weren't all feeling as self-conscious as I was. If I absolutely had to go swimming, I'd wear shorts and a t-shirt over my costume. By secondary school, I'd get out of swimming by saying I was on my period, or I'd forgotten my stuff. I'd rather face an hour of detention than risk being seen in a swimming costume.

I much preferred cycling. The day before Mollie was born, we cycled to Bath. Cycling was the one-and-only thing we used to enjoy doing as a family. We'd stop for ice creams along the way and enjoy a pub lunch. Getting out on our bikes was always such a wonderful relief. So even though Mum was very pregnant – and Mollie was already overdue – she didn't want to miss out. I remember the thrill of racing each other along the way. We laughed a lot, and enjoyed the feeling of being part of a close-knit family. But that feeling of closeness never lasted very long.

That night I slept on a mattress in Mum's room. I often slept in there because I had such vivid dreams that left me feeling scared and alone in the middle of the night.

When I woke at about 6.30am, I saw that Mum's bed was empty. Mum and Dad rarely slept in the same room any more, so I checked Dad's room. He was gone too, but our neighbour had arrived to look after us. It could only mean one thing ... Mollie was on her way!

It was so exciting welcoming Mollie home. We all loved her instantly and I hoped her arrival would bring Mum and Dad closer together, but deep down, I already knew their marriage was falling apart. I was getting more aware of the arguments. They had become a routine part of our family life.

I guess I learnt to switch off from the bickering. In a way, I became completely unengaged with any sort of emotion. It just seemed easier that way. I didn't need to get involved; I could just push all my feelings, my worries, and my sadness straight under a mat.

I was fantastic at showing people I was okay. Or at pretending to be whatever they wanted me to be. Wearing a mask from such an early age was hard work, but it guarded me from pain and made my life so much easier.

I know it was tough for Mum. She would look at me with love in her eyes, and see a blank, empty face staring back at her. It looked as if I didn't reciprocate her love. As if, at age nine, my emotions were already broken.

The answer? Therapy. What else?! Little did I know that this was just the start of a young life full of talking to therapists, counsellors and doctors.

So every week, Mum would take me to see a therapist. I had to paint lots of pictures for her – and I hated it, just because I was so unartistic! Then she'd ask me to write my worries and my bad habits on little pieces of paper and put them in a tissue box. It was supposed to help me feel free of them. But it didn't work. I definitely wasn't brave enough to access my deeper feelings like that. So instead, I thought, 'What worries and habits would other people come up with?' and I wrote those down instead.

I was already a very matter-of-fact person and when my emotions got too much for me, I boxed them up, masked my feelings and just got on with things.

I was at the same junior school as Kate, but I wasn't as academic as her, so I spent most of my childhood feeling inferior to her. Teachers would compare us, or announce to the classroom that 'Kate wouldn't have done it like that'. So I was delighted when my parents moved me to a different secondary school, and I settled in quickly. I made new friends and did all the things 'normal' girls do. But my rebellious streak didn't go away. I used to get into trouble for talking too much, or rolling my eyes at the teachers. I thought a lot of lessons were a complete waste of time, and I didn't keep my thoughts to myself. It might not have been the most sensible thing to vocalise them so openly, but I didn't care.

I worked hard anyway. I couldn't help it; we were a hard-working family. Dad worked long hours as a lawyer, and the rest of us had to get up to do music practice for an hour every day before school. The enjoyment of music didn't come easily to me; practising was boring, and exams just felt like another tick-box exercise. My biggest escape was sport. And as life started getting harder, I started to crave physical activity more and more. It was my relief from all the pain I was feeling inside. James had always been sporty, and I liked that we were both good at it. My main sport was netball, but team sports frustrated me. I used to get overly competitive and frustrated with teammates who didn't work hard enough.

Maybe that's why I decided to join the cross-country team. I loved everything about running; I especially liked proving myself against other runners. I never really thought I was obsessed with it, but I suppose the signs were there. I liked to work hard, I was driven and determined – but what athletes weren't? I was certainly committed to training and dreamt of being a professional athlete. So when I look back at all my issues around food, it's hard not to feel frustrated that I missed out on opportunities to pursue my dream. But within a few years, my life was falling apart ...



By the age of 12, I was already self-conscious about my weight. I wasn't as thin as the other girls at school. My parents kept saying I would thin out as I got taller, but I didn't think that was going to happen. Shortly after my 13th birthday I got sick. I didn't eat properly for a few weeks and lost a fair bit of weight. It was fab! I was finally thinning out and people around me were saying how much better I looked for it. Some might say this is where my insecurities began and I developed my driven personality. But at that point in my life, I still felt in control of my eating.

After people noticed my weight loss, I started to feel better about myself, and began to think more about what I was eating. A few girls skipped their school lunch, and I joined them a few times saying I didn't feel hungry. We'd lie to the teachers when they asked us if we had eaten, or hide in the toilets until the coast was clear.

It was easy to miss meals, and it was a quick way to force my calorie intake down. When I did go for lunch, I'd give half of it away to anyone who wanted it. There was a points system and you had ten points to spend. A bread roll would be one, a main meal: five, sweets: three, and an apple: three. Most people would try to max out the amount of food per point, but I spent my time seeing how little I could get. When I did end up getting too much, I would pick my way through it, drop it on the floor, or give it away. No one suspected a thing. And I definitely began to feel better about myself.

It was easy to find new diet tips on Google, and I quickly became an expert. The frustrating thing for me now is that I learnt too well! I know the calories of pretty much everything. So if I have a bad day, I can't help myself adding up all the calories on my plate. Great for pub quiz questions perhaps, but a real burden to bear if you're fighting anorexia.

My thoughts gradually became dominated by food. I would spend hours cooking in the kitchen without ever eating any of it. Mum would get angry about all the food I was wasting, but I wondered if she was secretly envious of my self-restraint.

Things were getting harder at home. James was angry a lot of the time and I think he struggled a lot with his emotions too. One evening, he punched a wall – shattering all the bones in his hand – and then he stormed out of the house.

Hours later when he still hadn't come home, I told Dad we had to go and find him. As we drove around the neighbourhood, I looked into the houses, at all the other people I could see there. I wondered what was happening in their lives, and what was going on in their minds. It struck me then that we never really know anyone. I felt lost and alone, as if nobody really understood me, or cared for me. Perhaps I didn't even want them to care.

When we finally found James, we took him straight to A&E. Dad was lost for words. I was hurting inside, and as I looked in to James' eyes, I saw a lost, young boy, alone and afraid of his own strength.

Mum and Dad's relationship was splintering. I remember spending evenings sitting on the stairs whilst they argued, or hiding away in Mollie's room, trying to stop her listening. Sometimes the arguments would escalate to the point where Mum would pack a bag, grab things for Mollie, and say she was leaving. Then Dad would break down and ask her to stay.

Dad wasn't like me. Whilst I kept my emotions locked up, he wore his heart on his sleeve; I'd even see him well up at sad films. Being so in touch with his emotions wasn't such a bad thing, but Mum was very different. She certainly wore the trousers in their relationship, and I really looked up to her. She was career driven and determined. When she had ideas, she made them happen. I often wondered if that made my dad feel threatened.

It frustrated me how much Mum and Dad argued, but it frustrated me more that nothing was ever resolved. Everyone would go to bed with the nasty words still running through their heads. Next morning, we'd all have to go about our business as if nothing had happened. And I'd feel like I had to fix everything. I took on the worries of the world and spent hours trying to resolve them. It was my responsibility in a way; I had to be there for my brothers and sisters.

It was a huge responsibility, but right from an early age, I accepted it. It was what I did. I remember when James had his appendix removed. He went into hospital on a Friday morning and I went in over the weekend. I talked to him for hours, switched on the TV for him, fetched him drinks, and talked to other people on the ward. I loved caring for them all, and felt like I had the right temperament for it.

When I was 15, I volunteered at a kids' club, and ended up running a girls' support group focussed on developing self-esteem in girls from a deprived part of Bristol. I liked being able to help, and the girls really looked up to me. Lots of them even wanted to be like me. I would spend hours talking things through with them, and we'd cook a healthy meal together. As soon as they went home, I'd worry about them until I saw them again the next week.

I just wanted my girls to learn to feel self-worth; to feel special. I loved being there, but deep down, I knew I was a fake – I preached one thing, and practised something completely different. Even though I was a failure, I thought that I could still fix them. So that's what I did. I stopped caring about myself, and spent my time supporting everyone else.

As I got older, I spent more time away from my family, and when I was at home I'd shut myself in my bedroom. I was content with my own company, and hated people stepping foot inside my room. My friend Charlotte and I had recently painted it dark green and cream. Half the room looked amazing, but we'd got bored halfway through, so the other half was a bit messy. My bed was a mattress on the floor, and I kept my diary hidden underneath it, away from prying eyes – or so I thought ...

I spent time every evening writing in my diary – everything from boy crushes, to arguments, to food tips and yearly goals (which always consisted of losing weight).

There was a bookcase jutting out from the wall so that the bed was hidden from the doorway. It gave me a feeling of privacy – this was my space and mine alone. My room wasn't anything special, but it was my sanctuary. I had all my belongings neatly laid out, and I'd spend hours organising and re-organising them so they were all really neat.

One New Year's Eve, I spilt black nail varnish on my new carpet. I was so scared of Mum getting cross, so in desperation, I got Kate to help me scrub it with bleach. And then Dad came in and tried to help, but the damage had already been done. After that, my no-admittance policy went back into effect!

The family arguments continued, but they had started to feel like a part of everyday life. I don't know if it was a good thing or a bad thing, but I actually got used to them. I was numb to the sounds and the feelings of unhappiness, and I could tell which arguments would blow over, and which ones would get worse as the night progressed. I got to the point where I almost didn't care what happened, or what was said – as long as I wasn't involved.

And that's how I learnt to live my life. When people got too close, or my emotions got too much for me, I learnt to box it all up and push people away. I switched off from all the unpleasant emotions and pretended to be fine. I was starting to find that exercising complete control over my food helped me manage my emotions too. More and more I was relying on my patented Hope Virgo defence mechanisms!

Even now, I get nervous about people knowing me and my feelings, and I prefer to steer conversations away from my emotions and focus on other people instead, or on telling silly stories. As my friends and family will tell you – I remember all the minor details of other people's lives. And I just want to help. From volunteering in Thailand and at the Calais Refugee Camp, to checking in on people at work, supporting others makes me feel truly complete.

I probably came across as being emotionally mature, but in truth, I couldn't stand feeling my own emotions. I literally hated feeling anything. And that's when my Anorexia came to the rescue ... She taught me how to be numb from pain and hurt. She told me there was no point in spending time with people or getting to know them. Sooner or later, she said, they'd always hurt me. But she wouldn't ever let me down. She was there to build my confidence and protect me from a world of hurt.

As my family life got harder, and as Mum and Dad's marriage strained to breaking point, I took on even more responsibility for my family. It didn't matter how tough the family arguments were; it didn't matter how scared I felt; I didn't want to show any sign of weakness. I didn't want people to know that I cared. And as the arguments raged, my mind wandered to food or exercise, and I spent hours Googling how to lose weight. It helped to distract me from reality and I preferred to spend mealtimes adding up the calories on my plate instead of taking part in the conversations. It helped me box up the family worries and arguments. I was starting to find that I would rather be on my own than embrace the reality of the world.

My Anorexia gave me a kind of self-worth. I was so bad at life. I was so bad at saving my family ... But I was going to be good at dieting and exercise. I was going to know everything that I needed to know about nutrition. And all that time researching gave me so much satisfaction.

I craved that sense of achievement; I wanted to switch off from my feelings, and my Anorexia was helping me, more and more. Over the weeks, months and years, my feelings of detachment became who I was. The control around food gave me direction, and a new purpose. These new thoughts in my mind were becoming a friend. A close friend. In fact, my best friend. She wasn't going to let me down or leave me like others did; instead she was going to help me conquer life.


Excerpted from Stand Tall Little Girl by Hope Virgo. Copyright © 2017 Hope Virgo. Excerpted by permission of Trigger Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Hitting Rock Bottom,
Chapter 1: Back Where It All Began,
Chapter 2: Living a Life Dominated by Food,
Chapter 3: Why Didn't We Spot Hope's Anorexia?,
Chapter 4: Losing Control,
Chapter 5: Being Watched,
Chapter 6: Spiralling Out Of Control,
Chapter 7: Hope Virgo Versus The World!,
Chapter 8: Learning to Let Go,
Chapter 9: Pasta and Cream Cheese!,
Chapter 10: My Diary of Life in a Mental Health Hospital,
Chapter 11: Discharge From Hospital,
Chapter 12: Going to University,
Chapter 13: I Survived 365 Days Out of Hospital,
Chapter 14: Life Strikes Back,
Chapter 15: My Grandma – The Anorexic,
Chapter 16: Thriving,
Chapter 17: Running Further ...,
Chapter 18: Pushing My Limits,
Chapter 19: Starting to Slip,
Chapter 20: Flirting with Anorexia,
Chapter 21: Ready to Die?,
Chapter 22: Am I Just a Functioning Anorexic?,
Chapter 23: Living Life On My Terms,

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