They aren’t strangers, not anymore. They drop in a lot now, and walk with me until they grow tired. Always have done I suppose.
I can’t remember the first break-in, not one exact moment out of the many that have been stolen.
It matters not what they take, but what they leave behind.
They run wild and naked through my mind. Anxious and angry, demanding an instant fix or reassurance to make the bad dream go away.
They become so rowdy, so disruptive, they are just impossible to ignore. They peel my memory to shreds, piece by piece, and begin to rearrange it.
Intruders don’t always arrive empty handed.
Some of them arrive bearing gifts of temptation. Rich, rewarding temptation. Those sticky choices that can cling to my thighs and make them shrink.
Exercise has become the biggest temptation since I met my latest weight milestone, because it was promised. The ghost of what should be haunts my recovery.
Ellie promised that when I hit 50kg, I’d be allowed to go running.
The prophecy tries to unfold only by an Anonymous hand. She has gripped it in my mind, firmly rooted in the front above all else. Minutes of inactivity have been made more potent, and opportunities more obvious, mouth-watering. I’ve got all this energy to use up looking for trouble.
I should be allowed to slip among the other anonymous faces in a sweaty gym scene, I should be allowed to get fit. Get fit: oh the irony. To be fit, I have to put on this weight; whilst I appreciate Anonymous would rather it was muscle, she doesn’t quite get the full picture: I will never build muscle without first building more kg out of fat and kcal.
I should be exercising, because now I’m heavy.
I’m heavy all the time now.
I’m heavy now, even, and I should be exercising. It is a thought that is with me, always. Coping with it was easier when it was nothing more than an itch. This side of 50kg, the temptation draws closer. I can taste regret on it’s sweaty breath, and just hold mine until the feeling passes. One day, this too will pass. The anxiety will die down and rest awhile.
Is this yet another guest I must host in the name of recovery? Ellie clutches her thickening thighs and despairs: when will she be rid of this fat feeling? When will it be ok to be like this, when I should be exercising because I’m like this?
It would be so easy.
A simple matter of slipping my trainers into a bag, then smuggling it out of the house. I take a water bottle everywhere, that wouldn’t arouse much suspicion.
Remembering, of course, to change my online banking passwords and internet search history. Suspicious transactions to “FL LEISURE acc” on a regular basis could never be written off as impulse buys in a retail park. Google cannot retain a secret, least of all the lists of gym opening times; gym location; gym prices; gym gym gym. Not a dance club or a team sport: but a gym. Somewhere I would just slip into anonymity.
I’d be another Anonymous face in a sweaty sea. Brows bobbing up and down on the treadmill, surges up an erg and muscles dilating under the shoulder press. Electrolytes glitter in waterbottles; that smell of feet dancing with the dusty air-con. All I’d have to do was dress her up in leggings and give her a game face. Anorexia can wreck havoc under the noses of leisure centres, and they don’t even know it.
Even scrolling down sweaty pages feels. It feeds the wrong part of my brain. Anonymous doesn’t need any more energy than she already has.
Anorexia is constantly weaving a web of white lies to hide her smaller indiscretions; this wouldn’t be so different.
A small sedative has kept this temptation at arm’s length. I know that if I succumbed to this burning desire, truth would hold me hostage by my own guilt.
I hate lying. I hate it, hate it, hate it. Just like Anonymous hates confrontation. And so, if confronted, she’d lie. Just to protect herself.
And I know I could never live with myself if I let her.
Satisfying one thought would impregnate it with more: a litter of paranoia nipping at my heels with every second spent lurking in the dark corner of a gym. The door would swing open and in would walk my parents, my doctors; a friend, a fan – anyone who knows better than Anonymous how crucial it is at this stage of my recovery not to be tempted.
The door would swing open and in would walk a faceless stranger, who’s features would contort into that of my parents.
The walls have eyes. Cameras would stare me down as I edge into the room.
Paranoia would scrutinise every inch of my alibi. Guilt flares a harsh light and shows up all the loopholes. A thin layer of lies that would unravel should anyone ask why I’d parked on that side of town, why I’d logged into the gym’s internet, why someone who looked just like me had been burning hard earned calories on the treadmill.
Exercise is just another stranger. Another uninvited, unwelcome and unbecoming guest of my hungry imagination.
I know what happens to anorexics who are caught exercising.
They are displaced: signed off as intruders in their own lives. And so that life is confiscated, for they cannot be trusted to deal with it if they insistently elope with their illness. Out of their hands, that life is clinically altered, rebalanced. Out of their control, and their progress no longer theirs to hold up, proud.
Exercise threatens the crop of independence just coming into season. Lures it back into the ground, a slippery slope down an axis. It would be so easy.
Even now, how do you read this as anything but a lie? Why would you trust the word of someone so torn between the temptation, and the truth of the matter?
Perhaps it is that fickle thing called trust. There may still be some inkling of faith left in me to be honest about having these thoughts; these hurtful and damaging thoughts.
If I am brave enough to expose the intrusive thoughts, to ask for help, I will earn trust.
It is hard, only because Anonymous thinks she’ll be convicted to a clinic chair for harbouring these thoughts at all. There must be an amnesty, sometime.
Having these thoughts isn’t my fault: I’m ill. But Ellie, we must not act on them.
The only thing we must exercise, is caution.
(Disclaimer: I just wanted to use that title. There is nothing remotely mediocre or badly written about this body. Not a boring kg in all 50 of them. I’ve worked hard for this shit.)
The 50th May 2018. A day swallowed by history, and devoured by recovery. For it is as we hurl ourselves headlong into summer, on the cusp of all things bright and beautiful, that Ellie performed some sort of miracle.
I’ve made it to 50kg.
Two years, 11kg and several tons of avocados has washed us up here. Tidal tears and volcanic tantrums. I’ve moved mountains: and piled them on. Dragging all this weight up an axis towards a horizon that has finally melted beneath my feet.
The numbers flashed once, twice, then fixed me with their unblinking infra-red eyes. 50kg glared down at itself, and Ellie squealed.
Surprise raised my mood up to dizzying heights for a moment: up there where the air is clear, and anorexia struggles to take breath. As I stood there on the scales, basking in my nurse’s applause, I let Ellie gabble on and on at what this might mean. She filled my head with her future, the one she designs at every mealtime. The one she has haphazardly been attempting to unearth under layers of thick and sticky anonymity.
It was days before I reeled her in, back into this body. Only then did I calculate my BMI, something I find myself doing immediately after any fluctuation in my weight. Anonymous wanted to see how far she had let me wander towards the line between “underweight”, and “anorexic”. 16.6 is a few kilos too far to just do nothing. It must mean something.
Unlike anorexia, Ellie can communicate with weight gain. She can decipher an accurate meaning of it. Yes Ellie, at this moment, I understand. This means we’re trying to get better. This means things will be better.
I clambered off, then got stage fright. That’s when anonymous caught me. This means we’re getting better. Now what would that mean?
I had set short-term rewards for weight deadlines to tempt myself and Anonymous into surrendering to Ellie’s hunger. My reward for this one was exercise: that much was decided on the day I was diagnosed. At 50kg, I could exercise again, so long as the calories were provided for. As I type, every 50 kilos of myself is quivering. I’ve plans for exercise, but have already let anorexia starve me off sharing them with anyone. She has forced words of retribution and denial on my parent’s tongues before they’ve even had a chance to listen for themselves. My body has tuned in to the fear: that I have come so far, chasing a lie. That it is all some nasty trick to make me fat or force me into inactivity. Hang on, let me weigh that up: yes, that feels anorexic. But it also feels real. I want to go to the gym tomorrow, but couldn’t cope with the guilt of doing it behind my parents’ backs. My choices are made shadows when they’re turned the other way. I can’t work out how to bring up my body without dredging up fear with it.
Yes, I can hear these anonymous words: the worst thing is that I’m still listening. I’m heavy enough to recognise her, but too light to throw her off, for now.
There is much work to be done.
I have walked miles to reach this mile st.
This is the highest point my weight has reached in recovery. It has finally starting to pop above the hazy stagnation it had been suppressed under for so long.
I wish I could say that it was Ellie: all Ellie. I wish I could say she was enough for me to pull kilos of myself together, just for her. It wasn’t, not entirely anyway. It is the fruit of the future dangling just out of my reach. If all things good hadn’t conspired to laden the branches so, it would never have leaned in close enough for me to smell it. In Spring’s twilight, it smells more fragrant than all the summer blooms. We are on the cusp of something good, some summery shred of possibility. Thank heavens my parents are here to point it out, everyday.
50kg was set in st as a goal weight the day I as diagnosed. It is a historically significant weight: it is the weight that gave anorexia it’s name, though I never uttered it until I was sure. At 50kg, people noticed Anonymous; they pointed her out in the street and called her anorexic.
50kg was the weight I was pulled out of my university Women’s VIII, weeks before regatta season. It was the first time a flashback felt boring, dull, muted. The first time the pain finally numbed.
At 50kg, I realised I was in a relationship with anorexia, and had been for a very long time.
That was then. 50kg feels different now, somehow. As if something has started to pick at it’s bones.
The time was right months ago. This over-ripe fruit is ready to be picked, but I have to prove I can do it alone. Independence itself is one of the plump, juicy temptations “getting better” has to offer. Sts and all.
The stench does get heavy. It can leer so close that Anonymous becomes afraid of being smothered by it. She will see me bite into it, and disciover it is rotten to the core. She’ll have me choke on it’s imperfect skin, and grow fat and lazy on all the sweet calories it contains.
The problem is, Ellie is still starving. She is hungry to try that sun-pecked fruit, almost excited. Recovery would mean so much if it spoke with a satisfied tongue.
To grow the good things: friends, family, independance, even happiness: I force myself to wake up next to Ellie every morning. She points up at my future, chides me along to get up and try.
I’m strong enough to grab the low hanging fruit most days now: most days, I fulfil my swollen, fattening, weight-gaining meal plan. On the good days, it tastes good.
Recovery has been feeding me small rewards for reaching 50kg without my even noticing. Occasionally letting go the branches of my family that I weigh down so has been delicious. The guilt of placing so much of myself on my parent’s shoulders is squeezed out when I managed to attend to clinics all by myself. I did the car journey and everything. Cruising along to Coldplay felt too nice to be naughty.
The ability to occasionally divert Anxiety away from an attack has meant the days feel lighter. They don’t hurt so much, and pass through with minimal bruising. Blocking Anxiety as it raises itself, ready to pounce, weakens anonymous but strengths Ellie’s cause. If I can only get stronger, surely, Anxiety will be easier to control, even quarantine? My senses are 11 kilos sharper, my mind 11 kilos less empty.
Even challenges are being offered up to Ellie as rewards. A plateful of independence is on my summer menu. I plan to go away for a few weeks, live alone and unsupervised, and work at a summer school. Be a ghost to my former self, who was so good at her job. This particular fruit is, admittedly, shrouded by a thick skin. Sharp spines that threaten it’s failure only serve to back me further than Ellie’s arms. My biggest worry is not having the energy to do my job. One school day at the moment is enough to send me into a sleepy trance. To break through this worry and reach sweet success, I have to eat.
Anxiety is cancerous. It spreads and multiplies, swells something small into a monstrosity. It reached 50kg as soon as surprise died on the scales.
Anonymous has been rattled. She didn’t see 50 coming, not really. It crept up on her and has hijacked her distrust in my own strength. I must have been wearing 50kg without even realising it: my clothes hugged me comfortably, and I still experienced episodes of dizzying hunger highs. Short, yes, but still at exactly the same times. Like clockwork telling time to wait.
Now I have locked eyes with those two red numbers on the scales, I’ve noticed. 50kilos watches my back as lumber along the street, my heavy footsteps clamouring in my ears. Recovery has dilated on my thighs and shrunk my jeans. Bloating drowns satiety into a sinister hum, lost to groaning indulgence.
This is an easy target for Anxiety. In some ways, it is quite nice to have it attack something close to me – on me. Something easily solved should the pain get too much, and easier to manage than the irrationality of another person.
The fruits of my labour make me sick.
Anonymous convinced me I’d be immune to those 11 kilos, that they’d never get near me. Now it is upon me and Ellie yearns for more, the only way I can manage the symptom of recovery is to monitor it closely. See what happens when things start to get better, see how I’ll cope.
Recovery, I understand you believe it is worth all of this.
Don’t show me the incoming hoard of angry thoughts, feelings and memories. It will put me off my supper. You mean well by giving life back to me, but slowly please. It is just too much.
Yoga drip feeds me life, as does my family and my plans. Life is swelling up. I can even turn it on its’ head, and precariously balance the risk of attempting an arm balance. This feels good, I just wish I felt more confident wearing it than I do wearing anorexia. Some things just take getting used to, even the taste of success. It leaves a bitter after taste, but Ellie seems determined to try it.
She think we’ll enjoy it.
Reaching 50kg has been gruelling. But as it turns out, I always had it in me. Now I have it on me too.
I’ve recovered 11 kg and have more to go. I’m not out of the woods yet, but at least I now know I am definitely on track. The same fabled track walked thousands of time by thousands of other anorexics, their families, their doctors. Come, heave your weight up here. It will lead us out. Soon, you’ll see the view.
Recovery is happening. A natural disaster shakes the ground beneath my feet, closes gaps and highlights cracks. The 50th of May is just another day in recovery: another day swallowed by history.
I’ve been trialling a new treatment for Anonymous this week.
It was prescribed by my nurse after she had briefed me on it’s previous success in other anorexia cases. A cheap and sometimes time consuming therapy, to be taken every evening just before bed.
Naturally, I was sceptical. Anonymous is suspicious of anything that might bring about the inevitable: she is wary of change. Why change, when my current prescription is working so badly? Why take the risk of finding something that actually does work, something that will pull me out of anorexia?
After one week, I am willing to believe this could be life-changing. I feel amazing, almost high.
The wonder drug? A “Positivity Journal”.
After I’ve brushed my teeth, put Anxiety in it’s pyjamas and filled out my food diary; I pull out a cloth-bound diary and a biro.
I write the date, three positive things that happened today, and three things to look forward to tomorrow. The first attacks fear, and the second attacks dread: the two strains of hopelessness. Three is a magic number, but doesn’t curse my entries as a rule. One day last week was simply crawling with good things, so I pinned all of them down under my nib.
Something positive is my final written word of the day, and I can go to bed and welcome sleep.
The best part is that I sort of understand the science of it. Whilst other treatments remain mysteries, this one is relatively simple, and completely under my control. Unlike weight gain – which has side effects more grotesque than the illness, so seems utterly pointless (in my anonymous opinion) – “positivity” is a relief. It is an instant painkiller for a bad feeling, and antidote to anxiety. “Antidon’t”, if you will.
Just like weight gain, I notice the medicine as it starts to work. Knowing I have to write three good things about the day later forces me to find the good things as time slips by. Each day has been turned into a treasure hunt for nuggets of positivity: the rain waited to start until I had reached the car; I made two old ladies on the train smile; I woke up to a crying cuckoo.
Better still is what can sometimes happen to the bad things. You see, when one single monstrous occurrence threatens to ruin an entire day of delicately placed positivity, Ellie gets defensive. She leaps upon this selfish fiend and pulls at it’s form, with the intention of turning it into something good. Failing that, she’ll tear off a handful an anxious period and call it a lesson, to be carried around and referred to as WORD. Only good things can come from being informed. It may keep a similar bad thing from happening in the near future.
This may not be a cure nor a sustainable source of help, but it is a diversion away from things that could aggravate anorexia. Fewer flare ups give Ellie more energy to focus on pulling thin pins from the side of recovery.
It gets better. No, it really does.
Writing down the good things in life is a natural remedy. Because it has no hidden agenda, no additives or calories – emotional or otherwise – anorexia just swallows it. It is an easy painkiller to administer.
Essentially, I am drugging Ellie with positivity. She is drip-fed the good stuff all through the day and a final shot in the evening sees the day pass into the night.
Positive features of the day mingle together and become a cocktail. Hope becomes a vision in these fumes. Every night for the last week, I have caught Ellie looking forward; already planning where she’ll look for good. This is a stark contrast to Anonymous, who still casts her eye around, anticipating the bad.
Journalling is a psychedelic experience.
Pulling a thought or a memory out of my head and forcing it onto paper has long been a comfort throughout my recovery. It always looks different down there, smaller almost. Not quite the monster it was when it was locked ink my head.
This “positive” journalling adds another dimension to the whole experience. An extra sense to guide me through the harsh terrain in recovery, which is mined with anorexic traps and triggers. The principal of evaluation remains the same.
Words stare at me from the paper, reflecting my thoughts back to me. There it is, all in writing. I marvel at them awhile. It is in these moments of reflection, that I am learning how to be grateful.
Having good things happen to you makes you grateful, not greedy. This is a pretty detail I’m gradually becoming aware of, even if I’m not convinced I’ll ever believe it. So much life can fall in the gap “knowing” and “believing”.
Yet it is this depraved and frightened belief that feeds anorexia. Anonymous justifies bad things happening by expecting them, almost greeting their occurrence with relief, as if I’ve repaid some of the debt to the universe I owe for simply taking up space.
How interesting it is to write that on paper.
Gratitude is a pleasant side effect to positivity, and is accentuated by reflecting on it.
It is a high like no other. I can’t believe what I’ve been missing, and what I still deny myself when I let Ellie retreat into black space.
By denying myself the pleasure of positivity, I have also been mistreating the good things.
Ellie, how do you treat the good things in life? As though you’re embarrassed by them, perhaps? As if they’re shameful, or somehow incriminating? Why must you push them away, as if you’ve no right to them?
Taking positivity has bought my fear out and demanded an explanation from it. Explain: explain why you cannot accept the good things for what they are.
I am one week into the course of “positivity”, and already I can feel the weight dissipating on my shoulders. Gratitude lifts the day out of my hands and casts it out of my control. It only invites me to chase the sun into the next day.
This week, I am grateful to have heard the cuckoo call. I am grateful to have felt a burst of rain lash against my face before the sun burst out like a boil. I am grateful to have heard the rain’s arrival: the sharp tap on a leaf or a window pane. I am grateful to never hear it descend, only arrive.
This week, I am grateful for space. I am grateful to have somewhere to roam, ponder, and grow.
This week, I am grateful for exposure: for good things to befall me disguised as baddies.
In the cinema, I sat next to large people eating large portions. The salty smell permeated the air, broken only by smacking lips. Ellie endured, and I thank her for proving science right: no, Anonymous, you can’t catch fat from other people.
In the car, I was strapped in with intrusive thoughts. I rode the day with a premonition: a threat glaring at me in my rear view mirror. Ellie endured, and I thank her for getting me home safely; for scrapping Anxiety’s script and rewriting how the day would be.
At home, we have been plagued by noise. Road-works and car horns, the crack of clicking bass from next door’s summer party. The house quivered anxiously. My nerves stretched past the point of anorexia’s tolerance with every day spent under house arrest from other people’s selfish intrusions. Ellie endured, and I thank her for not tearing all her hair out.
This week, I am grateful for exposure, because it shines a new light on my resilience. Still pale and flakey, but a hide strong enough to withstand small portions of life.
This week, I am grateful to have been rootling in the moment for something good, not scraping around in the future for something bad.
Of course, like all treatments, this one has it’s limitations and side effects.
Being on standby for something good is almost anxiety inducing. When time runs dry of nice things and I am left clutching at straws by the end of the day, I become aware of how desperate I feel. My life dwarfs next too everything I hoped to achieve today and everyday. Eventually I’ll retreat into myself to wallow in my misery, and let myself shrink.
Some days are easier to swallow with a positive pill than others. Time sometimes chokes on a trigger and too many thoughts churn reality into a sticky mess. It is easy to lose sight of the good when it is drowned in all the bad. It’s absence haunts me.
And of course, there’s that all too familiar sensation of failure when I am unable to see any good, or even any point. Blinded by anorexia, anxiety, or just the dull, a surrender is inevitable. I am hoping that with time and “positive” treatment, I can turn away from “failure”, and instead learn to manage it as “disappointment”. A hard task for anyone I think you’ll agree, especially if one hasn’t the ability to think straight anyway.
I know one shouldn’t get too excited by the initial results of a new medicine, but I can’t help feeling that this is some sort of magic pill. Time goes down smoothly, like thick drops of syrup.
Can you overdose on positivity? Imagination run away with the idea of the future, and forget that I’m not invincible, only inevitable.
Here are my three biggest positives this week: I made a new friend, I managed to do a headstand in yoga (perseverance and practice pays off!), and I put on weight.
Let me write that again, just so we can reflect on it. I put on weight.
A whole 0.4kg of positive energy, for which I will be grateful. Perhaps not quite yet, but soon, I will believe that this too is a good thing.
This too, is inevitable.
We must be grateful for the inevitable; else we will simply grieve.
A line of ulcers tell the tale of my weekend away. As the train neared the coast and the day melted on the streets of Brighton, I bit my lip. Every word in my head throbbed and ruptured, one swollen worry after another.
Every ulcer bulged over an anorexic boundary. Each one a scar from a battle raging behind my blinking eyeballs.
For just one night, she wanted to step out of Control. Ou of the never ending cycle of food, school, food, bed; out of the four walls of this house that press my empty inbox against my face. Out of character and out of excuses, Ellie decided we needed to go away, and get out of Control.
Brighton was a realistic target. An eclectic seaside town would doubtless be full of people to watch, meaning I would be unlikely to get bored and turn on myself for entertainment. Brighton is close by: only an hour or so on the train. Anonymous can handle trains, she can stand trains, and on them.
I wanted to examine myself and my progress under a harsher light. There would be no home comforts to hide behind, no easy escape from any triggers.
The point of this trip was sharp and threatening. A serrated edge to dissect just how much of myself could cope in difficult conditions.
I named the main 3 Brighton ulcers: Food, Comfort, and Komedia.
These worries oozed threateningly, slipping around on thick layers of sticky anorexic panic.
There are smaller tears on my lips surrounding each ulcer, like little moons orbiting three central problems. They’re known as “Inactivity”; “Timing”; “People”.
The most grisly worry about going away was, of course, Food. The F word.
I could feel this ulcer forming from the moment I recklessly hit “confirm” on the National Rail website all those weeks ago. I wanted my meals planned as early as my rail ticket.
The very thought of eating out not just once, not twice, but four times in 48 hours was simply ridiculous. My anorexic eyes stung each time I looked to the future, and saw those meals coming. It was grotesque, unthinkable. Lost too far beyond the borders of Control.
Despite trawling websites and menus from the safety of my bedroom, the food in Brighton remained elusive. I got on a train to meet a stranger on my plate.
Brighton is an eclectic pocket of the UK.
Vibrant vegetarian cafes; a grid of lanes fallen under a vegan siege; locally produced platters of only the finest and freshest foods. There were so many areas of opportunity to try new things, way out there: out of Control.
Anonymous saw the food for what it was. At least, she nestled into the gaping holes next to each item, and filled it with her own list of ingredients and nutrient information. She feels around on the inside, still entirely in Control.
In my head, the calorie inflation rate rockets the further from home I go.
A tablespoon of homemade hummus costs fewer calories than a dollop of alien hummus.
An exact tablespoon of homemade hummus costs less anxiety than someone else dumping liberal amounts on my plate.
Homemade hummus is stiff and lumpy, which is characteristic of it’s sparing olive oil content. The hummus out there, out of Control, looks like velvet. A cloud of soft spread wobbling slightly at the touch, skin spotless and smooth. This hummus would be heathen. One can almost see too much tahini. The scent of garlic ripens and permeates with obvious additives.
I tread carefully around food when it has been prepared without anorexic supervision. Avoidance has simply been a way of delaying the inevitable, which is what I was faced with in Brighton. Eventually, I was always going to cross that line, and taste forbidden hummus.
I arrived and cursed Instagram for planting false expectations in my head.
“Vegetarian food” was ripping off the weight loss trade and tipping over the edge of indulgence. Slabs of gooey gluten-free cake, tottering towers of coconut ice cream, grains glazed in thick dressings and quivering mounds of hummus. Beads of chickpeas in salads; greens smothered under a thick tahini layer; thick wedges of bread with lashings of avocado; seed-studs like bullet holes.
It seemed each deli was attempting to outdo the next with their plant based platters. Anonymous was wrong to assume they’d be in the business targeting weight loss markets.
The servers themselves floated behind the counters, piling generous portions onto people’s plates. A bit of this and a bit of that. Their eyes were glazed over, dilated.
Nowhere was safe.
Even a humble bowl of soup could not be had without a twirl of cream or fistful of nuts. Everything was being served on huge plates, tantamount to small cauldrons. This was dangerous territory for an anorexic. Unnecessary calories grew like a tumour on every meal.
I had a choice: risk being snared by calories, or almost certainly passing out in a strange city. It is with pride that I tell you Ellie’s voice shouted louder, and Anonymous was resolved to try and eat something.
So it was that I haunted the North Lanes for over two hours, chewing over what I could eat.
My ulcer throbbed for every second wasted: I was running out of time. Lunchtime would soon be over.
I peered into every eatery in Brighton, scrutinising the menu and adding up the calories. I occasionally entered, and fascinated over other people’s plates. Tongues twisted flat breads into dough sculptures. The food was unreal, ridiculous. One deli actually let me stand around the counter, and watch them assemble a Buddha Bowl.
Before my eyes something beautiful was born.
A layer of crunch leaves, shredded beetroot, juicy plump tomatoes. Then grains rained down in clumps, glued together by a thick dressing. A scoop of dhal cushioned the salsa and stopped the juices bleeding into the hummus. It’s velveteen layer bristled with a final handful of herbs.
Anonymous watched apprehensively. There was so much food for so small a meal. I backed out of the door.
By now, Anxiety was beginning to snap at my heels. The familiar panic that I wasn’t going to get anything to eat started to set in. The chase was on, and Ellie ran back to that deli. It was their kindness that saved me, I think.
Ellie ordered a Buddha Bowl and Anonymous ordered adjustments: leave off that, only a tiny bit of this. No, no dressing thank you.
She clawed lunchtime back under her control and installed me in a window seat.
I watched the world go by through the condensation. Such a busy world going so far, so fast. How difficult it is to keep up.
When my first meal out in Brighton was finally set down before me, Ellie was gagging for it. Even Anonymous can’t talk with her mouth full of anticipation. I picked up my fork – then dropped it in horror.
It was huge. The long prongs rang as it fell with a clatter, and it bared it’s enormous fangs in a metallic grimace.
At home, I eat with small cutlery. I only eat with small cutlery, because Anonymous can only take small bites. It’s how she controls how much I eat. On what planet can one shovel food into their mouth with such a contraption as this? How does it even fit between one’s lips?
I looked around for a teaspoon, but none could be found. Tentatively, Ellie picked up her fork and plunged it into the quinoa. Small bubbles clung to the prongs, then settled on my ulcer. That was my first anxious bite.
Ellie worked her way around the plate, small servings belittled by this giant fork. It seems I swallowed my dignity along with my food: moments after finishing the last mouthful, I began lapping up the dressing with my finger. Oily skid marks smeared my smile, and residue was all over my ulcers. It was delicious.
I chewed over my first food ulcer long after lunch had finished. I was haunted by that giant, quivering dollop of hummus.
Even examining the photographs I had taken didn’t offer any answer to that one, biting question: how many calories was it worth?
I couldn’t shake this feeling that I had done something terrible, something unthinkable. Something so out of character, and out of Control.
My next meal would be important: it would dictate how much energy I’d have to get through the rest of the night. It would assure Ellie that this gamble was still a good idea.
I cannot remember what I did to pass the time between lunch and supper. I had to redo the whole thing the next morning, after the climax of breakfast. My mind was in my mouth, chewing over where my next meal would come from.
The ulcer began to swell under time pressure. I grappled with supper and reused my lunch plan the next day.
I managed my food. I ate my food. In some respects, it was an interesting experiment that showed eating out alone is far less stress-inducing than eating out with other people. On my own, I’m only responsible for how I feel.
On their own, each meal would have been an average challenge. Collectively, they were enormous.
The uncertainty lasted 36 hours, and that is an enormous mouthful of time for Anxiety to swallow.
Whilst calories infected one ulcer, cleanliness did the next.
The longer I lingered out of my house, the more dirt gathered together, weighing me down. It was one aspect of going away I hadn’t considered, and it was a shock to discover how much I struggled with feeling dirty. Simply because the unfamiliar is filthy.
This ulcer is rancid.
Sweat, skin, cheap shots, sex, second-hand air. The salty sea air seasoned the fug of hangovers, urine, and fried food. This seaside party town was sweating under the strain of stag dos and cigarettes. The pavements wept gum and greasy wrappers, tears of beer bleeding into the gutter. There was no air to dry out the damp. Instead, it became a moist blanket thrown over the layers of other people.
I inhaled other people. Anonymous kept catching whiffs of people: fat, drunk, high. She was utterly terrified, knowing her anxiety did not make her immune to catching the calories rising off another person’s plate.
Anonymous’ existence is sterile, carefully executed in clean, calm Surrey. My environment is a sanctuary to which I retreat to avoid any anxiety triggers, like drugs and alcohol.
Away from home, I was suddenly cut off from the support network my parents give me. I was alone, drowning in this sordid world.
Everything in Brighton had been touched.
A million grubby fingers had held that handrail, this fork, sat in that chair and pressed that button. Anonymous felt as though Ellie was forcing me into another person’s shoes, squeezing me into another person’s habits by exposing me to them at close range.
Every chair was weary from supporting too many people. I could catch other people simply by breathing the same air as them, I knew it.
A single fingerprint on a mirror flashed a thousand possible people I might turn into, if I wasn’t more careful.
Anxiety settled on my skin in a layer of sweat. Dust and dirt mingled into a grimy layer. The shower at the youth hostel only added to it. The bathroom was dripping in other people’s dirt, humid and heavy. I smelt drugs in the air and felt them burrow into my pores. Here in my head, anorexia felt a shift in my metabolism.
I did what I could to ward off anxiety with a small bottle of hand sanitiser, some wet wipes, and distraction. The ease with which other people passed in and out of public loos was fascinating to watch.
This was a culture grown out of Control. It flourished in the warm climes of friendship and relationships.
Perhaps that is what I was missing, perhaps company was integral to breaking a fear of other people.
Anonymous was careful not to touch anything, lest she catch any calories, or any fattening habits.
She was cheered by the fact I had to squat each time I used the bathroom (which is quite frequent during weight restoration). The extra seconds of exercise burned my thighs with anorexic satisfaction. It was such a relief to finally be able to nestle my bottom on the friendly seat at home.
Going away was only the mouth of the rabbit hole: the youth hostel I had booked into would be the real test of Anonymous tolerance.
I gaped when I entered the dorm. Not sure what, or who, to make of it.
A pair of flip flops, a hairdryer, a couple of crumpled Topshop bags. An empty Starbucks cup with no name scrawled on it’s side. A wet towel melted into the carpet. A warning sign of 5 unmade bunks, with their duvets twisted into grotesque polyester sculptures.
All but one mattress was claimed by a stranger.
I locked my bag in the empty cubby hole and inspected the bathroom. Youth Hostels are functional and hospitable, just not entirely to anorexia’s taste.
The empty beds were the most biting issue. The absence of their hosts haunted my imagination, and filled it with bogeymen.
I cowered behind Margret Atwood, hiding from the drunken drawls creeping through the window. The first emerged shortly before midnight, a chatty Texan who could drown out the noise from the nightclub next door.
Every spike of ecstasy from outside stabbed ice into the pit of my stomach, and I try not to remember. Revulsion rises like bile with the roar of merriment.
Later that night, when I was cocooned in recycled sheets and feigning sleep, I heard the other roommates prowl into the room, one by one.
They silently diffused into bed in the dark, not even turning on their reading lights. They shut the window on the drunken night outside, and settled into easy sleep.
Out of the fug, I salvaged pockets of sleep: 25 mins here and there. A bit of this and a bit of that.
At 3am, the bunk above creaked threateningly as my cumbersome bunk buddy ascended the ladder. Anxiety gnawed at me to get out of there sharpish: the bed would surely collapse, and I would be crushed. I’m still not sure why I stayed.
Anorexia tried to spring me from my bunk too. As the slept, my dorm mates became musical. Their bodily functions syncronised and the air was thick with with harmonised farts, burps, barfs. A cloud of skin, sweat and food descended. One had clearly had a liquid dinner, and there was the definite stench of cheesy chips. The signature scent of student halls, I remember that one well. Airbourne calories stalked me in my slumber, and backed my nose and mouth behind my hand. I was too afraid to move, just in case the fat gobules floating in the air would rush towards me and pounce.
Instead, I wrapped myself in these slutty sheets, like the hundreds of other guests thrust upon this bed before me.
The night shed it’s slippery skin slowly, but soon it was morning. I awoke with relief, and a mouth full of ulcers.
I crept around my right to get up, and tiptoed out of the room. Ellie pondered on this behaviour over breakfast. The way I melted into the wall, the way I was careful not to be spotted, lest my presence stagnate my dorm mates’ fluid fun. The thought that I could even have been responsible for it in the first place.
Do not pity me. Anorexia is not a sympathetic character, and Ellie did this to herself. She took control and hurled me out of it. This is a tale warranting not pity, but pride.
It is with pride I present to you the final Brighton ulcer: Komedia. A concentration of triggers bulging before anxiety. Let’s lance the boil.
By 5:30pm on Saturday, I was crawling up Regent street. The sun was finally settling down onto the cloudy skyline, and the first part of my journey was nearly over. Ahead of me was a long lonely night. The hours were empty aside from the inevitable scarpering of sleep at the slightest noise. And there would be noise: the air was hotting up to receive the Saturday night fever.
Nightlife has two strains.
The first can induce pleasure among those susceptible to it, the other brings anxiety. The dark hours are dampened by sweat and encourage the growth of alarming behaviour. Noise seeps through the streets like mould. The spores were already being released: pubs spilled out onto the streets, hairspray gassed the hostel corridors, and anticipation condensed against my eyes.
By 5:30pm, I still had no plan how to navigate through the next few hours out there, away from Control.
All the anorexic-tolerant delis would shut at 6: an hour before suppertime, and half an hour from now.
Triggers were beginning to cat-call over another foaming pint. The night beckoned time to a slow shuffle. It was going to be a long night if I didn’t come up with some means of distraction from the world around me, and within me. I needed somewhere to hide for the next few hours. I also needed food; something to starve off anxiety, but also feed that part of myself that had dragged me here in the first place.
Right on cue, Ellie spotted a sign in the street. One thing led to another, and I drew up a plan.
By 6, I was no longer clutching at straws, but a ticket to a stand up comedy night, and a salad box bought just before closing time. Ellie chewed on her lentils, leaves and ulcers, listening to my rules crack between her teeth.
A comedy night, on a Saturday night, after dark, in Brighton. You’re joking, right?
Well, we’re down this crazy rabbit hole now, Ellie. We’re eating supper far too early and are out far too late. How much more can you take? Let’s lance this boil, and see what happens. Let’s watch your rancid fears splatter out of Control.
I installed myself in the furthest booth from the stage. It was a dark corner, but was spared having to endure a long night next to a couple doing a risqué performance of their own a few tables away. From here I could make a quick escape through the fire exit, but also watch other people’s sticky nights unfold and take flight, beer in hand.
Anonymous flinched each time she glimpsed my watch. It was so late to be out alone.
I felt myself biting on a smaller ulcer, the one formed when I realised how much I missed being home.
Anonymous wasted no time in telling Ellie she could be curled up with her dog at this time. She needed have said anything; Ellie was thinking it too. Clubs were never really her scene.
Now, I realise it wasn’t home I was missing as such – it was me. A home for my self.
The air was heavy, rubbing up and into my pores.
Alcohol spiked the air. Steely, sugary sickness rose into my nostrils as the gaffs kept coming. The lights flashed and microphones boomed. Airborne calories pulsed with the stereos. It was an assault that I am honestly shocked to have survived.
There were too many triggers for Anxiety to grapple with at once. My mind simply couldn’t spend too much time chewing on one before the next was rammed down her throat. I struggled to swallow the scene before me.
At 9pm, we retreated. I wormed m way out onto the street, and ran back to the hostel. Neon lights and car horns lead me back to the main road without me even having to glance at my map, I just trusted the world around me to help.
I expected Anxiety to stalk me from the dark alleys, but there were just too many people. Too many lights.
I haven’t been out of the house so late for a very long time, of course I felt exposed.
I slumped back in my chair. As I spat the final mouthfuls of my tale out into the cool, unmoving hospital air, my nurse smiled.
“I’m proud of you,” she said. The words felt nice. I repeated it in my head, over and over. I’m proud of you.
“You’ve got so much potential, Ellie.”
Yeah, I guess I have. Maybe I should start to believe it.
Brighton exposed Anxiety to the world Anorexia tries to hide me from. It was interesting to watch it fend for itself out there, out of Control. In some respects, it was easier to control than it is at home. At home it has various lairs in which it wallows: my cutlery, my quiet. Me, me, me. Away, Anxiety just didn’t know what to settle on. There was so much for it to feast on, it became sick, but dragged me up to dizzying heights in alarm.
I was very anxious in Brighton.
I was frightened of the food, and alarmed by the air assaults of smells and sounds. The clamour of lives clashing in the streets broke one moment and passed it on to the next. Time was told by anticipation for what trigger would arrive next.
It was a struggle just to escape my own head, but there were pockets of time when my mind was free to wander, and follow Brighton’s enticing features.
Yes, it was uncomfortable.
The electric thrill of not knowing what was going to happen next buzzed in my bloodstream. It burned like salt rubbing into a wound, an ulcer perhaps.
Only by pushing myself, did I realise I still had the capacity to cope, and to enjoy in spite of endurance. I need not be taught how to fend for myself, merely revise it.
In Brighton, I discovered the world’s best hummus, my sense of humour, and confidence.
This trip was worth the calories. It has taken a while so come down from the high, but I can look back and stroke the ulcers fondly with my tongue.
I will take the Bright on. May it bleed into the next few weeks.
I’ll see it in the mirror, catch an ugly feature protruding towards me from the glass. Progress grips my legs between it’s purple fingers. It squeezes swollen veins up to the surface where they throb buoyant on layers of whitening blubber.
Skin bulges out of the top of my bra, the straps struggling to contain this heaving, heavy flesh. Thighs leer at each other, and are leaning in for a kiss. Parts of me try to move independently from the bones of my body: arms flap, jowls quiver and giggle, my belly balloons and floats through the rest of the day, high on food. A voluptuous smile parts the pouches of my cheeks, and sallow skin is flooded by a blush. Beads of sweat jewel my face when the weather turns warm, like medals to celebrate the return of some body heat.
Anonymous is sometimes masked under layers of make-up. Cakey and indulgent, moist, melt-in-the-mouth. A single spray of perfume freezes her presence in other people’s eyes. Chanel makes her choke, Jo Malone is itchy. The stench of effort fills the air with the fume of progress: for here self respect can spawn everyday, if it is left to.
Stretch marks the spot. And here were can join my spots: dot-to-dot, we can draw the conclusion that my hormones are on their way back.
Pimples rupturing in greasy cavities between my nostrils, fat pustules moulded over with flaked yellow pus. And on these hormones rage: words tingle on my tongue as a tantrum brews. Out they burst volcanic fury, casting my thoughts and feelings all over the place.
It is exhausting being all over the place: there are too many out of reach things to mind, and I can’t quite stretch far enough to real them in. Instead, these ugly thoughts and alien feelings simmer, stoked by rising hormone levels and panic. Complete and utter panic: for they break the banks of what I can cope with. I can’t stretch far enough to manage all this, all this feeling, and thinking.
There is so much of me now, I just can’t seem to hold it all together.
Yes, my mirror tires me out.
Any reflection on my recovery is utterly exhausting: it glares at the future, waiting for something to happen. It is not Progress that strains me, but my reaction to it. I find myself constantly over stretching myself to meet some mark of approval from either Anonymous, or Ellie.
Progress is not the only distressing thing Recovery has dragged up. My mirror image, the picture of my present, is bored and lonely. Tired, and fed up.
Triggers have sharpened to a knife edge and attack me with ease, for I am a bigger target now.
A car door slams and a fox cries; a hundred murmuring voices press me into the walls of an art gallery. Protecting myself from an anxiety attack is haphazard, and doesn’t work the way anorexia does. Retreating into the next room to punch a pillow, or reciting Alt-J doesn’t have the same numbing effect anonymous did when she wiped me off Life’s landscape.
There are some things I can do on an anxious come down: A darkened room, cocooned in a duvet. White lights, and black coffee. Relief splashed like cold water. She makes the sound the sound the sea makes,
to calm me down.
I am all over the place, and that is not a sight for my sore eyes. I keep leaving bits of myself behind. I’ll forget my concentration and leave it at the breakfast table, still chewing over whether or not that tablespoon was too heaped.
My attention slips out of reach and stumbles into tomorrow already. Today means nothing when tomorrow is still up for grabs.
I fumble through the one coffee date I’ve had with a friend for months. I lost thread of the conversation as soon as anorexia began counting down the seconds until I had to stand again.
The only human beings I have actual interactive contact with outside the children I teach at school are my parents, the postman, and that pervy dog-walker with the one-eyed spaniel. Company is a basic human need of which I am literally starving.
I haven’t had a real conversation with anyone my own age in months.
There are many reasons for this, each as frustrating as the next.
Only one of them could be under my control.
I have spent too long locked in my own head.
Recently, I have been over-stretching myself attempting to meet up with other people. I’ve been pushing myself into texts, trying to tempt anyone to meet me. I hadn’t anticipated that the hardest part would be writing a text compelling and desperate enough for them to simply reply, rather than just scrolling on by.
Needless to say, my progress has been moving too slowly for some, and they have moved on and left me behind. Which is fine. I’m not hurt at all. At least, that’s not a feeling that means all that much to me anymore.
Badgering people to see me did pay off in some circumstances. A visit from my godmother and supper with my Grandparents were breaths of fresh air. My brother came home for a brief visit and resuscitated some will to live, even if that air blows in different anxieties. I met a friend for coffee and struggled to be present. All I could feel was anorexia watching her sip her coffee slowly, digging deeper into time spent sitting down.
This sort of meet up will take practice: it was nice to feel like I was trying though. A sort of novel experience.
Solitude is becoming less comforting now that I have become bored of my own company. There is nothing I can talk to myself about that isn’t base gossip or venting about the feral, shrieking kids down the road.
If I follow the stretch marks, and do as my doctor’s suggest, being alone with myself will be less abhorrent. One hopes the violence will eventually cease, and that I shan’t be punished for sitting, or punished for not sitting.
A change in my behaviour will see a change in the topics I can discuss with myself. Recovery will give me new things to talk to myself about, perhaps something less political than food, and exercise. Chewing over what my next meal will be sucks the joy from the moment when it finally arrives.
Loneliness does things to people, even Anonymous.
Each day unpicks a nerve.
I can’t take much more of this utter isolation. Sooner or later I know I’ll pick a side: wade into recovery and run the risk of being lonely, or go back to the one friend I do have: anorexia.
I am being passed around Anorexia and all her friends as if they own me.
She snatches up my emotions and loses them, dropping them as though the scorch her fingers.
At this stage in my recovery, I am unable to control my emotions, and I loathe it.
I’ve become an accessory to the my own destruction, and the violence that tries to tear my family in two.
My family is the last thing I have left in the world. It is precious, and it’s value has made me see how delicate it is.
Time together must be managed so it isn’t overcooked, and the heat of each other’s company doesn’t singe and boundaries.
Time apart must be constructive, so I am always able to hod myself up tall when I present myself again.
Then, Anorexia’s time must share with Cancer.
Both illnesses inhabit this house, but are excluded from our home. We trip over Cancer on a Friday, and slide though a couple of days of chemotherapy. The drugs will eventually lose their momentum and it all picks up a little. On the good days, we gather. We gather ourselves, and each other. We come together with the energy. We cling to these days carefully: for they are precious.
How cruel it is to feel anorexia slip, how unfair it is to lose control of her and watch her hurl pieces of our precious time together into despair. Anonymous chucks their light moods far away, where they’ll sink into worry like stones. Anorexia is a selfish friend, she drags everyone down with her rather than slip away quietly.
Worse still, to let her get hold of the heavy days. The days woozy with worry, rattling with pills and shaken nerves. How low it is for anorexia to stalk my family in the midst of the chemotherapy cycle.
The consequence of losing myself on these days is horrifying. Anxiety chews on fatty guilt for weeks afterwards.
No, there is never a good day to be anorexic. I will never function past this mark without learning to manage my emotions.
That will start with having the strength to hold them in the first place.
And I want to. I want to be there for my family, to hold them as they hold me: emotions and all. I want to get better so I can be better. I want to get better so I can get Ellie to help me help them. They are better support than anorexia is – you know they are, Anonymous. Leave them alone, leave my family alone.
Anxiety holds it’s breath, knowing the worst is surely on it’s way. That’s when I give way under the weight of it all. All is nothing, but at the same time – everything.
Facing it All – the now, the never, the perhaps and the presumed – I pour myself into anxiety, and let the feelings brew. Misery stirs my thoughts once, twice, thrice; round and round and round. My blood begins to roar, and then I lose it. I lose reality in the gloom, and the next few hours are at the mercy of anorexia, and all her friends.
I have to get out of here: I have to stretch out of this hovel.
Anything to stretch myself out of this hovel ad beyond the confines of my skin, just to remind me there is life outside madness.
A trip to London, a small supper party, and impromptu phone call overseas. Anything: Ellie has to push me against this restrictive bubble.
She hates seeing me struggle. Especially when she is too weak to help, worse still when she is string enough to try, but doesn’t believe I’m worth it.
My weight is a stretch mark on a graph. A slight trend, a hint. A clue so Anxiety has something to plot against.
Just another layer to my imprisonment.
Stretching food so it will one day be a loose fit around my life is sickening. So much eating is required, so many swallowed challenges.
My most recent gut-busting trick was to try, just once, to add a behaviour around food, rather than change one I already have. Thus the ‘bananadrama’ challenge was born: to eat, without planning or preparation, a banana with a spoon of peanut butter. Foodstuffs chosen because there ain’t no anti-anorexic treatment like my most favourite snack.
The trouble was with the timing: when could I possibly see fit to stuff an extra 150kcal out of mealtime hours?
The answer came on the day of a distressing day trying to meet a friend for lunch. In my anxious stupour, I avoided eating anything remotely calorific. It felt good to feel nothing, until I saw myself reflected, swaying uneasily bus window. I was hungry, and climbing high on hunger. They aren’t pleasant trips, are they Ellie? You should eat something as soon as you’re home.
My stomach stretched a little further with the progress I made that day.
It felt grossly uncomfortable, but it felt like progress.
Recovery is bruising my anorexic frame of mind, and opening it up to consider how it would be to live without Anonymous. I have spent so long locked in my own head, and am struggling so much to break out of it.
Sometimes, it is easier to shield you from my Progress. It is easier not to listen to your gasps at my transformation, it is less painful to confess weakness than declare strength. The latter just agitates Anonymous, and I become anxious again.
Sometimes I sit on my progress here. Literally – did I mention I sat through shivasana in my yoga class last week? Practising the art of meditation still evades me, but I at least talked myself down onto a bolster, and joined in the final 5 mins of class that are so vital to the essence of yoga. I didn’t quite manage it this week, but feel ready to try again next time. Even if only a tiny blip in anorexia’s regime, this is a scratch at progress.
I deny it exists too often, and so forget that like time, Progress is fragile too. A single anxious episode stretched out over a few days is enough to tarnish a month’s work of weight gain. Take last week for example. All that food, all that effort to reach 49.4kg; but then a single anxious thought could shake it down to 48.8kg by the next week. We can still follow Progress, even here. It moves forwards because of recovery, in spite of its weakness. Progress is a very loyal friend, just not that strong at the present.
I trace a stretch mark up my leg, wrapped around the pillowy flesh on my thigh. Progress is here, as alive as the time that raised it.
Only by accepting that the only constant thing is change, will I be able to control my progress. Acceptance could turn it into a friend, rejecting it could turn it into a slave. Head the future off, and Progress into madness.
I have chosen to write this retrospectively, because I found it too distressing to write about as it happened. Attention agitated it, and it bulged all out of proportion. Anticipation picked up a pen, but dread began the sentence. Words slid in their own sweaty mess, unable to catch reality in all it’s horror. The fear was just too big to confine onto a piece of paper.
The day was coming. I felt the week sink through the thickness of time, and suddenly: there it was. Tomorrow. Behold, Tomorrow.
All I could do was watch Tomorrow heave in it’s final moments, then give birth to the monster. Today.
Today was the day, it had arrived.
The corpse of my fear lay dismembered thus: a full day back in hospital. Two clinics including weigh ins, a psychologist assessment and a key nurse appointment. Food negotiated out, quantities and calories loosely patched up by some stranger working in the cafe. My walks and activity doses crushed under hours and hours of sitting, chatting, thinking.
When it had been alive as Tomorrow, it had been so real. Ellie was already being pushed over the edge by the mere thought of it. The day itself was a fat alien. So unnatural and so unknown, of course it was threatening.
My anorexic routine was being hunted. In one day, I saw an end. An end of my will to go on, to progress into it. An end of reason. Ellie just wasn’t sure she’d make it. She’d never make it to the other side of all that sitting.
Here I sit, on the other side. The monster was slain and here lies Yesterday. What a mess. I have been covered in sticky guilt, but also indelible pride.
One day was serving up a large portion of anxiety. I was being force fed by my treatment: it was clear I couldn’t avoid it, I’d just have to try. Either Anonymous would stand by as I choked, or I’d swallow.
Today was the first of many that will treat my fear of sitting. One day, one pill to kill the pain of inactivity. Anxiety is an inevitable side effect.
Anticipation tested the day’s itinerary on Ellie’s imagination. I fed her small tastes of what the day would hold, to see how she’d react. Feverish panic followed hot and cold flushes. Confidence flared then was smothered by the gravity of what I was about to do: I was about to sacrifice a whole day’s activity.
Ellie’s blood thickened with my thighs.
Ellie chewed the day over for weeks in advance. She broke it into bite-sized pieces, into phases. Each phase was finely furnished with an assortment of chairs. The developing apolstering of my bottom would be crammed into these seats with contempt: I could at least prepare it.
Phase 1: The car journey to hospital. 45mins; subject to lumps of traffic congestion. High time pressure in the passenger seat; angry outbursts possible.
Phase 2: Clinic 1: Key Nurse and weigh in. 60 mins. Time usually smooth and syrupy, easy to consume and digest. Pleasant passing of time depending on what number the scales award me. Lower numbers can dampen sitting anxiety for the rest of the day.
Phase 3: Empty. Hours are steroids to bulk out the time between appointments and lunch. Sedative side effects for anxiety include the possibility of moving about corridors and town a little. Distraction recommended.
Phase 4: Lunch. Highly volatile and often resulting in a drama or crisis. Hallucinations are possible: featuring magnified calories of specific food substances, and anxious trips up and down the menu in search of something smaller, safer. Chair itself invites about 40mins: a neutral time for lunch.
Phase 5: Car journey to hospital. 5 mins: short and hostile. Streets inevitably constipated; anxiety pollution makes breathing here difficult.
Phase 6: The psychologist assessment. The crowning glory of the day: the big one. The one that would come one day, the wonder drug Ellie has been gagging for since Recovery reared it’s scarred head. Nowhere to hide in this chair. An hour, maybe two. Duration subject to reactions.
Phase 7: Car journey home. Please God don’t let it be any longer than 45 mins. Ah shit, another red light.
Phase 8: Anorexic bribery in form of a walk. No chairs here, it’s ok. You’re safe now: the day is nearly over. No chairs, only empty skies and muddy footpaths. Walking is a minor pain-killer to relieve any residual anxiety from sitting and/or eating.
Preparing for this feast of fear built the ground up under Ellie’s feet. We hoped it would make a fair and even battleground.
Ellie reduced the day down to numbers. Anxiety can understand those, even futuristic ones. She weighed the minutes she could see would be spent seated, and predicted her activity levels.
45+60+30+45+60 = the edge of anorexic tolerance.
Ellie’s findings were unprecedented and unexpected. Looking at this beast of the day, one would expect the numbers to be bigger. We checked her calculations over and over, but still we had the same result.
On paper, it worked on this one day of my life, I’d be sitting down for an extra 25mins. That’s 25mins more than a normal day at the hospital. Only 5 or 10 mins were shaved off my walks.
Why must this cost you so many calories, Ellie?
Solve that equation, make it digestible.
Let x be Seated Time. x = (Phases) x anorexic catastrophisation.
Therefore, x = terrifying.
Now work out the calorific cost.
Let y be excess calories. y= x – (kcal x catastrophisation)
One can find the value of all this at the end on the world.
I just couldn’t make sense of it: the day was just too scary for reality to be telling the truth.
This is how I worked my way through one of the most challenging days of my recovery. I forced myself from chair to chair, and took care not to begin the next moment when my mouth was full of the present one.
I still carry the guilt I picked up from spending so long in all those chairs. Restricting my food didn’t succeed in making me immune from it. All it did was make Ellie feel like a cheat when she was promised some pride. A survivor’s guilt.
It is an unfortunate side effect to the “sitting” treatment. Anorexia almost always flares up, and restricts my food. Even after exhausting myself with a panic attack before 9 in the morning, Anonymous could not justify fuelling my lazy seated arse. She’d rather see me drained, propped up by the pine armrests.
Let me go.
Please, let this whole horrid episode be over.
And Now we are here. Now is calm, Now let Today go.
I see now why Ellie fought so hard to attend clinics yesterday. She has been desperate for these psychology sessions. The assessment itself lathered over an hour like balm. Words reel off my tongue and show themselves to my doctors exactly as they are in my head. In the stillness of the ED Unit, Ellie can stand back awhile. She reads over the notes on her life, as if it happened to someone else. She sees it, just for a moment, how it is.
Sitting here just has to be fine, for it is necessary.
We shall have to wait for my next weigh in to see if all that sitting made any difference to my weight. We shall have to see if my anorexic predictions are correct: if it all as real as it is in my head.
There were so many calories blowing the day out of proportion.There were so many obese thoughts squeezing me tight where I sat, unmoving, in my seat.
And that had to be fine.
One day, it will all be.
Let it all just be fine.
Please Anonymous, even if only for one day, please just let me be.
I left a guy my number. I told my Self if he called or texted, I’d have to eat a Creme Egg. A bit of anorexic banter to bait myself with. Except now he has texted, hasn’t he? And I can’t do it. I can’t eat a Creme Egg, I just can’t do it.
I hang my head in shame reading my last blog post. I go over the lines I so carelessly signed away, sealing my pride and integrity in oblivion. Oh Ellie, you foolish child. Look what happens when you take too many calories and too much adrenaline: look at the disorder it brings. Anonymous’ lines have flared up, angry and imposing.
Let me take you back to my dream world. I was lost in it now two days ago: tripping tragically round in circles, apparently chasing a life I have no right to. Chasing not just a life, but a boy.
Having left him my number, I offered fate a deal: if he texts, Ellie, you have to eat a creme egg. You know, the adultered cocktail of chemicals and sugar, the branded bad-guy hoarding your whole sugar allowance in a single bite. The tiny foil wrapped time bomb. The one that haunts you from the fridge door, where it compiled it’s lair after the deputy head so thoughtlessly gave it to you on the last day of term. Yep, you know the one. 150 empty calories, with no nutrition but happiness.
“Hey, it’s (him its him its him!)” – received Fri 22:43.
My personal dilemma beckoned, and swallowed me up on Easter day.
I can’t eat this Creme Egg. Anonymous won’t even peel back the foil; she won’t even expose he fingertips to it’s thick shell. She doesn’t want to see what lies beneath, she can’t imagine the Anxiety that will be unleashed along with all those alien calories.
My body will surely react in only one way: one bite will be enough to pollute my mind and send it on a downwards spiral; up and up and up.
No, I can’t eat this Creme Egg. I’d sooner eat my words, for they are worth less. Yet they are just as scary: see how I have to back away slowly, and explain my way back into the safe predictability of anorexia.
Just because I can’t eat it today, doesn’t mean I ever will. Look around you Ellie. See how your world has changed in a single year. Your plate may put on a sparse spread of anxious mealtimes, food types and absolute reliance on quantities being measured to the g. Please don’t overlook the colour, please don’t neglect to notice how well it goes with the life you lead at the moment. You live a half life, and so your portion of it will provide enough to satisfy half your needs.
There are more colours than there were two years ago on this plate. Angry reds and flushing pinks pepper my days with emotion. Behold the yellow flesh of positivity, and the lush greens of fibrous fulfilment: a good job, a university place. And the thickening dressing that glues your synapses together, and so you can soak it all up and devour it each day, everyday. A high rises from the surface like steam. You weren’t eating like this before now.
Keep your plate piled with motivation and bravery, Ellie, and you’ll soon be able to indulge in the fullness of life.
You’ll soon be able to eat a creme egg. Just not today.
My phone has been humming with messages from this boy for just over 48 hours now. The blue light of a flashing screen has shown how big my lonely shadow is.
This is a whiff of a relationship, caught up in a changing calorific breeze. Giving myself more energy to listen to my chortling feelings has enabled me to engage with them. I have found a ghost: the presence of something so normal as desire. My desire is very, very weak. Anonymous hasn’t the time nor the mental space to waste on anything meaningful. It would be destructive, almost. It could induce change to my routine, and my feelings.
She never thought I’d actually taste my desire. If she had believed he really would have texted, she would never have indulged Ellie on a dream.
Yet here I am, holding my phone nervously, almost blinded by disbelief. This part of life tastes different to how I remember.
Approaching desire after a thorough detox of emotions has taken me very close to it’s surface. Through this thin angle, warped and widened by memory and experience, I can see past the facade of flirtation. I am already finding the blemishes on human interaction. Why is this all so complicated?
Easter is a difficult time of year for me. It’s another time marker, another monument to past years when Ellie was able to enjoy herself, and enjoy time with her family. She cold ground herself in her home and wade through countless blessings. She could let her feelings be comforted, not confronted.
Pressure pressed it’s face menacingly against my family’s plan for the day. Church, lunch, love. Anonymous cannot bear such a strong force as that of family tradition, and so she and I must withdraw, even if just to avoid a scene. Even sitting beside a relative at the table, surrounded by the feasting and the festivity, Ellie is withdrawn. She holds the event at arms length, and watches herself perform “fine” for as short a time she can, before fleeing.
I cannot enjoy Easter celebrations on the day, because the very nature of it aggravates my illness. Anonymous cannot sit in church, nor for too long at the table. Anxiety devours me faster than my grandfather eats. Anonymous refuses to accept the speed my family eat will dictate how long she must sit at that table.
Easter’s purity has been hijacked and submerged in indulgence. The weeks raced up to the day, a gathering storm of chocolate, diets in the name of lent, and the reduction of our relationships taken from the size of our piles of easter eggs, of things. It is easy to mistake our celebrations to be of greed, not of gratefulness.
Yet, this year I did enjoy some Easter treats. Whilst I can’t have that Creme Egg, I want to try a little Montezuma chocolate bunny Mum bought me. The terms for an Easter treat were negotiated well in advance: perhaps I’ll manage a little bite out of a raw dark chocolate bunny. Other sugary highs for Ellie included moving her breakfast 15mins later, and forgoing a day at my Anonymous command for one loosely based on my family’s time plan. 45 mins at the lunch table was like nectar. So smooth and easy, until anorexia checked the time. Then I had to leave – I had to get home for a walk.
With anorexia, life is hungry. It is not plump with pride and ripe with success, nor is it fresh with renewed vigour. It functions, mostly on promise.
Recovery is offering Ellie a taste for life, and shows her what it would mean to feel full. For it is the fullness of life which we celebrate at Easter time. What with all this possibility, all these meals and meanings and metaphors on the horizon, it is only right that I celebrate Easter and the renewal of my life. I try to indulge in the novelty of recovery everyday. Each day is a blessing that needs to be counted, and sucked dry of opportunity. It will guide me to a new life, one day. Full of family and fun, and Creme Eggs. Of course.
Oh, the Creme Egg.
Is he worth a Creme Egg? Should I cheat on Anonymous, gamble with her belief so quickly and willingly on chance?
Now that this boy has been plucked from my dream world and splayed on my phone screen, it feels real. Close, and unfamiliar. I can feel the breath of someone watching me settle on my skin like sweat.
Anonymous isn’t coping with the unfamiliarity of normal. She can’t even string the words together to talk about herself: for he insists on asking. How on earth do I talk about myself as if I know anything about it?
It is a shock, dragging a dream down into the real world.
One of the few to turn out better than I could have dreamt, really, is Recovery.
And chocolate. The bunny was delicious. I’m sure the Creme Egg will do too, one day.