Name: Nikki Upton
Job Role: Firefighter
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Have faith in yourself.
Describe yourself in 3 words – Organised, energetic and happy.
Favourite Penguin – A big awkward one that falls over
Nikki’s Story (In her own words)
I’ve always felt that I’ve needed to prove myself. I don’t think anyone has put this on me as such, I think it’s just a quality that I’ve developed myself.
In many ways this has been brilliant-I believe it’s a big part of why I wanted to be a firefighter, and it’s certainly a part of being in the Antarctic Fire Angels; however it has a downside too. Back when I was in school I was known for being a skinny beanstalk. I was already close to my fully grown 6ft height by the age of 16 and in those days skinny was a good thing.
I put so much pressure on myself to stay the ‘skinny beanstalk’ that I developed what can only be described as an eating disorder.
I never sought any help and never told anyone the depths of what I was doing to my body or my mind, and for that reason I have no name for it; but it was damaging and destructive, and took up my entire existence.
At no point did I really understand what was happening, and I always thought that I could get myself out of the vicious cycle I’d got myself into if I just exercised more control over it. I considered losing control and entering ‘self destruct‘ mode a failure.
It was like this from the age of about 17-18 with varying degrees of severity. Then in 2017 I attended the biggest fire I will hopefully ever have to face that shook me and my world severely, and whilst trying to process it all, my Nan had a fatal stroke and passed away. This was too much for my little brain to handle. Suddenly I was dealing with different emotions around grief, loss, chaos and confusion.
My normal obsessions around control and calories and consumption paled into insignificance compared to the new ones, and it suddenly felt ridiculous to be worrying about a sandwich amidst so much grief and heartache. There was simply no room in my head for that anymore.
The result was that I started eating ‘normally’ with no restrictions or control, something I hadn’t permitted myself to do since childhood. After a while I noticed something interesting, my body hadn’t ballooned as I had expected it to.
All this time I thought that if I’d lost control I would get ‘fat’, but the reality was that my body was reacting to stability in the best way. I started to use my much loved physical training more for my mind and my mental health, whilst enjoying the effects exercise has on my body for the strength and performance, rather than constantly chasing weight loss.
These were revolutionary to me and I still recognise that and tell myself how lucky I am to be on the flipside.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still human and will always be a work in progress; I’m scared of restriction or specific diets in case in brings on a relapse something I know I need to work on.
However I feel like I see things with so much more clarity now, and just being aware of it all will hopefully put me ahead of the game. I’ve always taken pride in being a positive person who has a lot of passion for the things I love, one of those being that I want to prove to other women that you don’t need to be issue free to achieve your goals, like mine of being a firefighter.
We do the job because we love it and it’s helped me become a better rounded person by seeing the world from a different perspective.
George is co-founder of the Antarctic Fire Angels and Team Leader of the Wales team known as WAFA. She has been a firefighter for 20 years and currently serves with South Wales Fire and Rescue service...