Every morning, I unfold Body Image and examine it in the mirror. The glass fogs up with smoke.
From under piles of leggings and wooly socks, I pick out the same pair of words I wore yesterday, and the day before, and the one before that. They don’t suit each other very well, but they’ve been crammed next to each other in a sentence anyway.
The mirror cracks into a smile, and the girl bulges from side to side through the glass. Anonymous leans in and looks for my new number: she looks to see where that 0.5kg went this week. Damage to Anonymous’ shell dimples my cheeks and plumps out the cushions around my legs. Whispers of health pass by in a curl of strengthened hair. A single blush graffitis a perfect shade of pale.
Anorexia keeps my body caged in an image, and accessorises it with her thoughts, and her judgements. They are narrow and unflattering, fiercely protective of the sharp edges the marks her boney borders.
Ellie looked at the image before her and shook her head, wondering why weight must be in the foreground. It takes up the whole picture: the only hard evidence that recovery is passing through. It just seems so out of proportion. Far too big and taking up far too much space.
I put Body to one side, making sure it was folded up so the creases were as thin as possible. The mirror gaped at what was left of my Image. Ellie, Anonymous, and myself. A gathering of unsavoury characters, and a story full of holes.
I had negotiated a 4 week gap between my hospital assessments, in order to prove that I do not need to be admitted as a day patient into the Eating Disorder Unit. It never occurred to me that I had just dug myself another hole, and found another empty gap to fill.
My plate was piled high with promises: the dietary increases would start tomorrow. The scales would fall away to weight welcomed with pride. Time would crack, and prise Anonymous away from my meal plan. Ellie would testify that she could react to Anxiety in some other way than cutting off her crusts, or watering down a smoothie. For four weeks, Anonymous has had nothing to eat but her own words. Here is the bitten word: weight gain.
Anorexia fed me denial for the first week. Surely, I didn’t need to increase my diet. All this food is far too big, and takes up far too much space. It wouldn’t be real, just a trick of gravity.
The second week, I dithered in my comfortable gap between an increase, and an intention. +- 0kg. An anomaly, surely. Ellie had been gnawing around the hull of her strawberries, and licked the spoon twice. Those teaspoons of hummus had been heaped for heaven’s sake. Still, the image flickered on the scales.
The third week, I was pushed into it. Anonymous’ logic was sweet as I ate it, and spat it out. A tablespoon of nut butter melted into my porridge, and it conjured up a miracle. +0.5kg.
Don’t let that slip between your fingers, Ellie.
It is so easy to talk myself out of increases, so I literally have to eat my words.
I unfolded up those numbers, and held them up into the light. Then realised what I was looking at. A gap had opened up between my meal plan and my metabolism. That’s the crack my efforts were falling into.
Ellie closed her eyes, and braced herself. It was so deep, and so dark.
Anxiety has been trying to talk me into staying in this hole, I think. It’s hard to tell, because I don’t ever fully understand what it’s trying to tell me.
When it tries to speak, rational words become strangled, crushed by the pressure of so much emotion climbing upon it from such a height. Change looms up there, and it alarms Anxiety. So it starts making all this noise.
Listen, Ellie. What is Anxiety actually trying to tell you?
My brain hasn’t got the kcal to waste on thinking efficiently. Ellie is so out of practice in dealing with her thoughts, that she ends up over-thinking. This often results in a obsessive surge, and then Reason blacks out. Anxiety has to take over: someone has to reestablish order.
It spat thoughts in my face with every mouthful.
An extra centimetre of cucumber burnt my tongue like acid.
A Times article on the possible – improbable – irreversible damage a whiff of bacon can wreck on metabolism crippled me for days afterwards. I hobbled around work in the coming days, desperately trying to shield my nose from the aromas rising off my customer’s plates.
Suddenly, my legs were being prised open all over again. Food blared between the pages of my magazine. I was catching fat from that person on the train and this person in the queue. An angry, vengeful rash of pregnancies and STIs came back to bite me from the past.
Thoughts gathered together and descended upon me like a mob. Time was chewed up and pressed harder against this four week window. Failure stared straight through me.
Of course Anxiety felt threatened. She was crying out for help. Anorexia is in trouble, she is being exposed.
Your friend needs help. She helped you, remember?
Each hour was littered with signs to turn back and retreat into my hole.
There were cracks just waiting to swallow me up as I advanced forward, trembling with fright from the spectre of hospital food.
Looking into the future, Anonymous can already see cracks that will trip me up further down the road to Recovery. That one just there, the one hiding just behind my mirror. And over there, the gap between “weight restored” and “recovered”. That’s a hard fall there: one which nobody cares about, and nobody takes seriously.
Some holes are placed just where Anonymous can trip other people up too.
The space between your mouth and my ears is dangerous. Meaning leaves your tongue with good intentions. Healthy compliments fall ill as they travel over the gap of understanding. When I receive them, they are twisted and tortured into Anorexic weaponry.
It is so easy to offend Anorexia: just remind her she is failing. Just point out she is weak enough to let me get this healthy, to “look so well”. When someone falls into this trap, Ellie gets dragged down too. If we look so “well” at this weight, Ellie, why should you want to gain any more?
Anorexia tries to press her image up against your screen, so the gap in your knowledge widens. My social media pages are subject to censorship: she has an image to uphold. She needs to maintain her anomity: it is what keeps her safe.
Let us unfold a few that have been cast out. I wear them well.
Here, a plate of food. Pictures of food: proof of Anorexic failure. Ellie: are you eating solid food yet? This is one hole Ellie wants to explore. I have now set up a ‘sister’ instagram account where I can put pictures up of some of the (very exciting) food I eat. It can be found @eatenbyellie and is designed to add detail to the picture of Ellie, who is recovering. And she is proud of it.
Ah, what about this one: Ellie wearing something nice. I had dithered in front of the mirror for hours. Shall you wear pretty, or thin? Whichever is more comfortable, or whichever you feel the most confident in.
Any image of me is fed to you in self-defence. Anorexia isn’t cool: it is freezing. And so very lonely. I struggle to see friends who will only have a memory of Anonymous. I am still competing against my own ghost; even if Ellie is so much better than she was.
Please, don’t offend Anonymous. She is my friend, and I trust her.
Scrolling through loneliness and desperation and inadequacy: other people can be blind to what is pictured on a screen. Look for that gap. Can you hear the screaming?
In the mirror, I can see holes in Recovery’s smile. The gap between my assessments made it crack from side to side, and reveal a set of perfectly disordered gaps in my understanding of this illness. Somehow, I fell through a crack.
Nestled in Now: somewhere between the past and the future, I am trying to find a face to pull over this gaping hole. Perhaps covering it up is as inefficient as Anxiety’s communication. It’s just that finding something to fill all these holes summons Fear from the pit of it’s hovel.
Recovery will work with Nothing to make Something, and it will possibly mean Everything. I have learnt that it will possibly be drafted and redrafted, edited, scraped, compared and contrasted with the other side of the gap, the other side of the argument. Always trying to be bigger and better and thinner than the last mouthful of words.
Ellie just needs to keep chewing through the knots of her confusion.
Eventually, Recovery will unfold another image of life beyond maintaining the image of a thin body. Surely, it will be more filling than this morsel of life.
Because this just isn’t Ellie. Anorexia simply isn’t me.