How beating an eating disorder inspired a cartoon character Blog

A NEW Irish graphic novel deals with eating disorders in a humorous and imaginative way – Loopy Loo: A story of Beating Bulimia is available on Amazon, written and illustrated by Dan Reynolds and inspired by the story of Rosalyn Sheehy who decided to share her tale of recovery to help others going through similar issues.

First Fortnight spoke to Rosalyn about how the book came about…

“CBT! Comic Book Therapy – that was my notion. Loopy Loo is a story poem about my road to recovery from bulimia which I developed right after the death of my Dad. Like most mental illnesses, bulimia is accompanied by a shed-load of shame and mortification. It is insidious and can steal so much from you, if it is not nipped in the bud.”

The semi-biographical character Loopy Loo is aimed at anyone with food issues and packs a punch, Rosalyn says. “It is short and not so sweet and can be read in one sitting.” She felt it was important to approach this difficult subject with honesty and a sense of fun and sought an illustrator who would be perfect for the book.

She said: “I needed to put a little humour in its tumour. I contacted a few cartoonists. Dan Reynolds was top of my list as I loved his wacky farm animals and ‘Loopy Loo’ was a farmer’s daughter. Dan replied telling me his niece had actually died and was resuscitated from anorexia. He has a degree in psychology. Let’s just say – he dug me.”

What was the turning point for you in recovering from an eating disorder?

“A two-week stint in St. Patrick’s Hospital, for which I am eternally grateful. The initial thought of it scared the bejesus out of me, but once I walked down those white corridors with beautiful modern art hanging on its walls and I met comrades in arms with the same food fight, a tonne-weight immediately lifted off my shoulders.

“I have a poignant memory of sitting in the hospital rose garden on a sunny June morning – initially looking at the walls thinking how was I going to climb out – but then I talked to a girl from Cavan and described to her the lightness and brightness of being binge/vomit-free even for a few days. I told her if I can do it, anyone can (using Dynorod as a barometer!) She said “only for you, Roz!”. I was stunned and it hit me that I had actually helped her in some way. Through helping others, you help yourself. Volunteering is a good way to lift your spirits and you see people in worse situations than yourself.”

You describe yourself as a world adventurer and a bendy bikram yogi…how important are travel and exercise for you in dealing with emotions and anxiety etc?

“With eating disorders, goals are crucial. Planning a hiking or yoga holiday somewhere sunny and exhilarating gives you something to aim for. You need distraction from your distraction by a distraction! Bikram yoga is a brilliant aid for bulimia recovery. You cannot go into a class unless you have survived ten days binge/purge free. If you go in dehydrated, you end up in A&E, as I did.  The class is as tough as hell (and as hot) but you go in feeling dreadful and come out feeling like an elated warrior princess. Bikram taught me self-love and self-discipline. The fit and healthy instructors encourage you to eat well!”

What would you say to someone who currently is suffering with (or feels they may be at risk of developing…) an eating disorder?

“Loopy Loo’s motto is  ‘the best thing you can do, Loopy Loo, is get good at being you!’. Bulimia might seem like the only option available to get you through a tough time but I say ‘Find and Replace!’ Do something you love and get support from others. Bulimia is a terribly lonely and expensive all-consuming waste of time. Find something else creative and beautiful that all-consumes you in  a healthy way. For me, it was a course in Interior Design and Bikram. The biggest regret of my life is the damage I did to my teeth, my mother spent a fortune on orthodontics for me. I would also say  the day I couldn’t remember the last time I vomited was the happiest day of my life! I could close out the hall-door without a diabolical fear that I had left a detectable mess inside.”

How have you fared with accessing medical and emotional supports to help in your recovery – are there any avenues of treatment, support groups etc you’d particularly recommend?

“One of the reasons I created Loopy Loo was because of the lack of fun books available on the topic. I remember buying what looked like a car-engine repair workbook and having to tear the cover off it in case anyone would see the dreaded B-word emblazoned on the front. I would like to heighten awareness and understanding of bulimia. People cruelly think it is the reserve of clothes-horses. The truth is you don’t have to look like you have an eating disorder to have one and they can destroy lives.

“St Patrick’s Hospital and Bodywhys are fantastic. There are myriad online resources and helpful apps to download. A kind confidante is key then it is about accepting responsibility for your illness. Once you follow the prescribed professional steps you are on the road to happiness.”

Are there any pieces of art, films, music, books etc that you find inspiring or uplifting when you’re going through a tough time?

“Definitely. I mentioned the art hanging in St. Patrick’s. One painting, a David Hockney springs to mind. I remember looking at his glistening blue Hollywood swimming pool, wanting to dive in and not come up! I was feeling like a force-fed chicken but like they say in yoga – ‘this too shall pass’ – and it did! After a few days of treatment, I swam laps in Terenure College pool for an endorphin rush instead!

“My favourite film is The Assassin, a remake of Luc Besson’s Nikita. Bridget Fonda survives drug addiction and the death penalty by turning her life around….. with grace, with a little help from her friends. Loo says – grace before meals, grace during meals and grace AFTER meals.

“The movie introduced me to Nina Simone. I love her song ‘Here comes the sun’. My father used to say to me ‘things are seldom as bad as they seem’. Music and all-important laughter always lift my spirits.

Loopy Loo is available to buy on Amazon here


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