Clare Verrall was in her early thirties when in 2015, while walking her dog, she was randomly attacked on the street by a man. She was left with a black eye and a broken nose, and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The way she describes it, there was a lot in her life that led to PTSD. “I had a bottle,” she says, “and every traumatic event was a drop in the bottle.”
“Some are little drops, some are much larger. Then eventually your bottle overflows. The attack was a big drop that caused the bottle to overflow.”
In early 2016, she appeared on the second season of Married at First Sight, and was paired with Jono Pitman, who she described as a “hot head”. Two weeks into the reality TV ‘experiment’, Verrall broke up with Pitman, and in the wake of the show airing, she said his tendency to “blow up” re-triggered her PTSD.
Speaking to Kyle and Jackie O in September 2016, Verrall said she was “recovering from PTSD and… was very open with [the producers] about that”.
Listen: Writer Marian Keys discusses her struggles with mental health. Post continues after audio.
“So they then matched me with someone who has… anger problems. So they thought that would make great TV.”
On Thursday, Daily Mail published photos of Verrall from a fundraising event in October last year, and reached out to her to ask her about her ‘weight gain’.
Verrall shared with Daily Mail that she “went from 70kg to 114kg,” and has “been avoiding going out or attending any events for the past year as I am very embarrassed by how out of control my weight has become”.
“I have turned down events, would hide behind my friends in any photos, and avoided posting photos of myself on Instagram unless they were throwback photos”.
She said her ongoing struggle with PTSD had been one of the major contributing factors to her weight gain. “My body went into fight or flight mode,” she said. “Your brain tells your body to store every ounce of fat as it thinks you are on Survivor when in reality I was in bed eating poorly.”
Verrall’s anecdotal experience is supported by research. In 2014, Laura Kubzansky and colleagues found that “experiencing PTSD symptoms is associated with increased risk of becoming overweight or obese”. Psychological research in general suggests that severe distress is related to weight gain, but PTSD symptoms specifically have been shown to affect a person’s body mass index.
“PTSD, severe hypothyroidism and my back injury have certainly contributed,” Verrall told Mamamia. “However I didn’t want to sound like I was making excuses for such excessive weight gain.”
"At the end of the day, I haven’t been exercising aside from walking the dogs due to my back injury, and I haven’t stuck to a clean diet."
But there are parts that feel out of her control. "I had gastro for four days last year badly," she said. "Only ate half a piece of GF toast the whole time... gained 4kgs."
Verrall says when she learned Daily Mail had the photos, she felt like she had been "caught out".
"I have always been so open and honest about my life and I had actively been hiding my weight gain.
"Gaining so much weight so quickly is a strange thing as well, as you don’t recognise yourself in the mirror. I feel like I’m living in someone else’s body. Like it isn’t really me.
"Also, when you become obese so quickly there are all these things you never even thought about before. Like only just squeezing into an airplane seat, or getting wedged in small armed chairs so when you stand up the chair comes with you and it’s so humiliating."
She says, "while the side of me who is very interested in psychology, mental health and chronic pain has found this fascinating, as a woman... I just feel disappointed in myself".
Verrall's honesty is jarring. While so many of us have internalised thoughts eerily similar to hers, we very rarely say them out loud. Saying them makes them real, and having them be real is uncomfortable. And scary.
It's the sort of internal monologue we would instantly challenge in a friend or family member, knowing it's simply not true. No one should be disappointed in their body. No one should be embarrassed by weight gain. Our bodies don't belong to anyone else, and our bodies don't owe anything to anyone else. But in ourselves, often we can't establish the same perspective.
For Verrall, her weight is messily intertwined with other aspects of her mental and physical health. For others, weight is just weight - there's no story behind it. Either way, women being honest about the way they experience their bodies is a gift to other women, and one that might make those who see parts of themselves in Verrall, feel far less alone.