It always starts this way. Here, the world curls it’s toes over the edge of reason. The stable ground underfoot cracks, and breaks away. This is how it will surely end: with the beginning of a panic attack.
There is an intrusion. A thought starting to circle sluggishly at first, swooping around my mind with a great whoosh. Faster, faster. I can never keep up.
Then the ground breaks. Anxiety begins to build. Towers of hours top up the day. Waffled thoughts pile on thick slabs of anxiety, paving the way between mealtimes. Reading Ellie-numbers or working through the tough layers of anorexia at the clinic. A sugared rush to keep to my schedule – you’re late – a sudden drop in pressure to bake the day dry. Flashbacks glue together like treacle. The aroma of burning bridges when Anonymous makes me cancel, again. Then it will finally arrive. A single cherry crowns the day. It always starts like that: when the cherry plummets, tearing through folds of creamed reason. Ellie topples over. Only a molten, sticky mess it left to wade through. Wade through it I must, because Ellie is in there. Somewhere.
I can carry the cherry around awhile, sometimes. Together, Anonymous and Ellie totter along, bickering over what to do. Ellie would choose to ignore it, cast it aside. Anonymous though, is hungry. She’d rather devour every last feeling-filled morsel, spraying crumbs all over an unfortunate family member who happened upon us.
I become exhausted from carrying it around all day. Limping through each hour, pushing that small splinter of panic deeper into my side. How I wish I had pulled it out earlier, examined it, and flushed it away. How I wish the affected area could be cleaned of any worry. Too late now: it has turned the day rotten. Inevitably, it will hit a nerve. My legs buckle under the weight of the world, and so I simply let it crumble around me. Poison brings out the world in black and white: it’s all, or nothing.
Breakfast is particularly susceptible. I am careless in guarding myself against anxiety in the mornings. Perhaps it is in the twilit minutes waiting to be fed; perhaps feeling fresh and over-excited. Perhaps it is wishing the day had never arrived.
In any case, it is not a comfortable way to carry my self through the day.
Behold, a trigger. See, just over there: a waft of cooking from the kitchen. This piece of edible substance giving off an odour.
A gas is inhaled. Garlic; cumin; the buttery scent of pasta. Something fishy in the air. The air licks my face. Can you feel it sinking? Into my hair, into the follicles. Burrowing into my cells and diffusing into my bloodstream. My skin saps food from the air, and the kcal begin to topple into kg.
Panic clots up the narrow openings of my anorexic mind. I am pushed into a place where reason fears to tread, and I cannot see. I can’t see how I can begin to save Ellie from the oncoming tide of pain. This Anonymous feeling pulls me under. There the world must end: here, when I am made the prey of an anxiety attack.
It doesn’t always work this way. If only there were a simple step-by-step criteria for the perfect anxiety attack. If only I could predict what and where and who – if only there was some warning: a why.
Anxiety’s system is broken. Sometimes, it takes all day to warm up. Only peaking when everything gets too much. Others, it lashes out and grips me from behind. A solo flight riding on shock: gotcha.
The system of panic attacks is broken, because it just doesn’t work. The moment is jarred by self harm or screaming: but it only backs away a little. Waiting around the corner the to get me the day after, or the day after that. I am being preyed on by my own self-defence.
Every week I tear cherries from my chest. My doctor will not help me clean up the gory splatters left behind. They are a mark in history, she said. They can tell us what happened, they can help us learn.
Sometimes to understand what happened, one must start at the end and work backwards. The end is all I have: the here and now.
Try and stop the here and now sink into my imagination. Swallowed up and churned about with what is real, and what is not.
I can get there before Anorexia. I’ve managed before, and I’ll try again next time. Even if I fail, again.
I waited for my family to return from their trip to the curryhouse. A ceasefire had been negotiated whereby my family would strip down when they arrived home, thereby confining the carriers of smell into the utility room. Anonymous licked her lips nervously, already catching the scent of vindaloo in the air. She was building up for a big one.
It doesn’t always have to end this way, Ellie.
I barricaded myself upstairs, and listened as jollity and jackets were stripped off and stuffed into tomorrow’s pile of dirty washing. The air neutralised, and I tried to communicate with what was real. I listened to my family help me. I smelt the pong of madras pollute the house until my brother opened all the windows. Gradually, reality ate away my anxiety, and I emerge. Limping away from that cherry.
Picking Ellie up after a crisis can take time. I explore her limits: temples, palms, squelching eye sockets. Fingers stretch to her end and toes wriggle. Earthed on the floor. Here is where you end: this is real. Here is the beginning. Start again.
I swallow the future in anticipation. Anonymous tinkers at the present with her wise imagination, applying this and accepting that. Going over and over every possibility until she is certain of every fiction, checking and double checking, round and round and
round, what if no stop yes but no please no
That thought never leaves. It festers, gradually provoking my worst fear into coming true.
It’s like asking someone to stop, please leave – but they just carry on.
And on I am carried. Backwards: in a flash, the present presses play on the past. Hard.
My flashbacks don’t just leap upon me. Some of them creep. Tripping along, wading through another dull day. Then I realise I’m being watched again.
Re-minding is violent. Attention is torn from sense, the here from the now. It is hurled back to another place, another time. Old stomping ground now overgrown with barbed judgements, and great memory blocks. I remember, I remember. I remember when it was dismembered.
The smell arrives last. Weed. Waste. Skin and sweat; soured sex. It lingers, perving. Long enough to stuff another cherry in my mouth, but not long enough to give me any answers.
Stuck under my skin, reliving it again and again. And still, I don’t understand what I’m seeing. I still don’t understand what happened to me, what I let happen.
You let this happen.
Something made me ready to topple into Anorexia at university. I was fertile for it, having been exposed to a few bad apples here and there, treacherous conditions and being left out in the cold. University was a very rotten cherry, topping a building mental health crisis. The more I explore it, the more I realise that university aggravated my illness, but didn’t necessary cause it. I have always had anorexia, but she didn’t always have me.
My psychologist assessments will start soon. The first approaches like a nurse with a needle. This might hurt. Turn back, look back.
Cross your mind, pass Anorexia. Look back, what Anonymous told me was derelict is writhing. Breathing, and furious. Memories grown rancid with neglect, regret. I don’t recognise a single event: this is just a jumble of words, smells, sounds. And feelings, so many feeling. Disorderly and drunk from the sedation of starvation. These memories are still woozy, but they are waking up. I can feel it, they are coming back to get me.
It’s real. It just seems so real.
My feeling have gotten fatter in recovery. The extra kg I have gained recently have ripped the banks of memory open wider. Banks of reason falling into the mad rush of anger, sorrow, joy, confusion. I feel dilated. I feel fat. Too big for the here and now.
So I stopped.
But Ellie, you’re not fat yet. I’m halfway to weight restored, and now I am terrified to taking the next step. The ground might break.
And how will that end?
Yet Ellie has forced me into the new year, eyes on the horizon. There is much to keep her busy: going back to school, going back to yoga, going back out of winter. Going back.
She is trying to edge forwards a little. A job interview and spanish evening classes embellish the return of recovery. Return it must.
I can’t stay this weight forever, that’s just too much to bear. I cannot make a story out of numbers.
There is more for me out there. If only there was somewhere easier to start, than this end.