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I spent years trying to drink and eat myself numb. The numbness almost killed me | Life and style

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At 42, I believed that my food and alcohol dependencies defined me. In my mirror, I would always be as I saw myself then: fat and drunk. I was over the hill and past the point of any meaningful change. Who, at my age, truly starts over? I had clearly missed the opportunity to be one of those healthy, mindful people I mocked on Instagram. I was who I was: destined to remain in those cycles of dependency and to be unhappy, discontent and stuck. Then disaster struck.

The pandemic began as a drunken month of worsening depression, but I have since quit booze, taken up running and lost 7st (44kg). I am in the best mental shape of my life. It turns out booze – and a million social and work engagements – was covering up how unhappy I had become with myself and my life. I was hiding from spending time alone or thinking about who I had become: someone who regularly drank two bottles of wine a day, was medically obese and had done no exercise in four years.

From the outside, the life I had built as a writer and events manager in London looked glamorous and cosmopolitan. But it was all tits and teeth. Inside, I was grieving and trying to drink and eat myself numb. My mother had died in 2018 after a six-year illness with cancer, and I had spent three years pursuing rock bottom and experiencing very little joy. The numbness almost killed me.

Lockdown, however, imposed the solitude from which I had been running. Of course, I tried to avoid it using 10-litre boxes (yes, plural) of rosé. Then I got sick with shingles. I was terrified it was Covid and that I was going to die in this state.

So, I used the opportunity of the pubs being shut to end my lifelong relationship with booze. This led to huge changes. Five months later, I tackled the Couch to 5K programme. Then, on 15 October 2020, I took the plunge and joined an app for cognitive behavioural therapy and calorie-controlled weight loss. My original goal was to lose enough to place me in a normal BMI for the first time in my adult life. I had been size extra‑large since I was 18. I didn’t know anything else, so I wasn’t trying to regain some perfect figure from my youth. But I ended up losing enough to put me in the middle of the healthy weight band.

None of it was easy; in fact, it was a daily battle. I had to make decisions every single day. To get outside. To eschew Deliveroo. To sit with my grief, rather than wallow in it. To sit with myself. To do 20,000 steps. To make soup. To dance. To cry. To feel. To get therapy.

During the course of the year of my transformation, I ended my eight-year relationship with a man I loved, and still love, but from whom I had grown apart. I went on a solo honeymoon to the Maldives and came back to London with a new outlook.

Then, within a month of returning to London, Sarah Everard went missing. I, along with the rest of the country, was watching and hoping that she would be found. As a single woman, living alone during Covid restrictions, I was furious when I heard that the police were telling women the only way to stay safe while alone was to remain in their own homes.

Was I not meant to get groceries in case the delivery man was dangerous? Was I supposed to avoid taxis? I had tweeted about being devastated for Sarah’s family and that, as urban women, we deserved the right to walk home. The tweet blew up. So I tweeted that I would organise a vigil and I was put in touch with a group of women who were doing the same. Reclaim These Streets was born.

Jamie Klingler speaks after the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common, south-west London, in March
‘The women I worked with are incredible’ … Jamie Klingler speaks after the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common, south-west London, in March. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

Many readers will know what happened next. We planned a vigil in Sarah’s honour, but the police banned us from gathering, even though a serving police officer was suspected – and later convicted – of murdering her. We raised a legal fund and sued the Metropolitan police for our human right to protest. We went to the high court the day before the vigil and were told that we were permitted to protest within the parameters the police set, but the police refused to set parameters. They threatened us, as organisers, with £10,000 each in fines and prosecution under the Serious Crimes Act.

We decided that, instead of wasting our money on such penalties, we would raise funds to serve the people who needed it. Many people attended the vigil anyway – and the police manhandled attenders and arrested four.

The days that followed were some of the most intense, emotional and rewarding of my life. The women I worked with were, and are, incredible. On 19 March, we donated the £526,000 we had raised to Rosa, a funding group for women and girls, and created the Stand With Us fund.

I would not have had the emotional capacity or stamina to have done the work if I had still been drinking. I would not have had the headspace or courage to put myself forward if I had not been in the best mental and physical place in my life. Raising my hand to be counted, and standing up for the safety of all of us, was only possible because I felt strong and confident and had a clear head. I did more than 70 radio and television interviews over the course of that week. It was exhausting, but, along with my amazing cohorts in Reclaim, we changed the conversations about women’s safety in the UK and the world.

The work continues. In January, we will be back in the high court to try to have our human right to protest, regardless of lockdown restrictions, argued into law. We have become a women’s safety campaign group and are offering consent workshops with the social enterprise Shout Out UK. We are working on legislation and education reforms for women’s safety.

In June, I went home to Philadelphia for the first time in three years. But I went back a changed woman; I had discovered who I was. I don’t believe everyone needs to burn their life to the ground to start again. But making little changes and addressing dependency issues can unleash happiness that you no longer thought was possible.

It isn’t only about avoiding snacks or a second glass of wine. What really changed my relationship with food and my body was cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A daily stack of decisions, starting with a sports bra on a door knob every day, has made my old lifestyle unrecognisable. But the most revolutionary change is that I now want to spend time in my own company (well, with my dog, McNulty).

After a full MOT on my body recently, I learned that I had added a decade to my life expectancy. My metabolic age was 49 in October 2020. It is now 39. I am Benjamin Buttoning my life. I still miss my mom daily – the grief is still there – but it is counterbalanced by so much more. I still have work to do, but the results of the work I have done make getting up so much easier than I ever believed possible.

The mental health charity Mind can be contacted on 0300 123 3393 or by visiting mind.org.uk

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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