A swarm of good things descended, and spread change like a disease.
Last week, Anonymous contracted Hope.
What did I ever do to deserve all of this.
All these good things that started to happen were a curse. I hadn’t earned them, and I’ve been waiting for the repayment to start.
I still can’t quite believe how happy I was allowed to be, and how much that cost me.
I have squeezed more into the past seven days than I have managed in two anorexic years. A week so full, so bloated on life. Anonymous’ limit on how much I can bear began to split at the seams in angry, erratic panic. How greedy it seems to take all of this: all the opportunities presented to me over the last few days.
The first bit me as I dreamt about it. A vacancy for fulfilment opened up at the school I currently work at. The job description matched Ellie, and Ellie it. Details of personal qualities I’ve been working hard to claw back from Anonymous. So I applied, and set the dream aside into my imagination. I expected it to stay apart from me, and apart from my future. Then January rolled in and term began. Luck swept me into a job interview, and I landed it.
Hope’s venom thickened in my blood.
This positive poison then worked up what I had been putting off.
Denial has been eating up so much of my time. It has been cramming in sticky, unmade decisions, then swallowing them without trace. Eventually, it choked.
Denial could no longer put off the change that is edging closer as the year melts away. The first thing to be spat out, was university.
Perhaps you recall I had a place for Anonymous at Exeter university. It was deferred until September 2018, to give Ellie a chance at winning it back off anorexia. This oncoming deadline only a few months away has helped weigh down my recovery: I cannot chase a target moving away so quickly. Failure was the fibrous thought that flushed out my sudden change in plans. I needed a place at my local uni, the good one. Ellie will get her degree and her life back from this illness if it kills her – and it very nearly did.
With 48 hours until the UCAS deadline, there was nothing for it but adrenaline. A thin hope began to dilate as I dragged my family through an administrative war: the violent withdrawal, the hap-hazard stab at convincing my old professors to be my reference. I wrote my personal statement in 2 hours after crying about it for 7. I cobbled myself together with name, address, finance, education, work experience. Every passing hour was mined by triggers.
The air thinned in panic.
At 16:07, I came up on the other side. I will never do that to my family again.
Now, I am tending to the casualties of such a violent displacement of hope, and of relief.
My life tries to come together, drowning under control.
I don’t get on very well with Good Things. I never want them to get too close, to become too real. There’s always that chance that if I touch them, they’ll snap, bite back. Give way and let the facade fall to reveal an ugly truth.
When Good Things do come, I take care to keep fate from feeling jealous. I feed Fate with something bad, some repayment. It’s the only way I know it could still be kind to me. If it has something bad to digest, it already has something to store for the future that can make up for any fortune that comes my way. I save up the bad bits so I can splash out and try to enjoy something good.
I can control karma by balancing it on a knife edge. Or perhaps knocking it a few times against the wall, or slicing my meals in half. I bottle up exhaustion and keep it on ice, ready to barter with. Enticing Fate in a merry dance, I like to think I can see it, and predict it’s next move. Hear this Anonymous voice fooling itself into thinking it can order the future around.
This is Anorexia at it’s most toxic. Here, it feels like a reward, not a punishment.
My thoughts ventured out of control and got lost. They turned in on themselves and began to drown each other in deepening confusion. One latched onto the ongoing discussion of my treatment: inpatient? Psychologist? Maybe you just need some time away. To consider if you’re ready to recover. You’re taking up so much time and space doing nothing, going nowhere. What a waste, Ellie. Anonymous twisted an option into an ultimatum: they’re going to drop you. Leave us to fed for ourselves. I was going to be let go by my clinic: a lost cause. Another tragic statistic to be quoted to scare dithering politicians. That’s all you are, Ellie. Just another number.
Her ugly head raised to smell my sweat on the air. The sweetness of good things was burning a guilty hole in my head anyway; aided by my sudden leap at the opportunity of the new job and new hope for university. Out of this black place, Anonymous caught a scent of weakness and burrowed her way in. She inclined her head towards the rushing river, poked it out of a four-storey window. Only for a moment.
Then she blinked. She didn’t want that either. Focus on your food. That will district you for now: just watch your food.
I watched myself restrict food with morbid fascination. The desire to lose weight swelled so suddenly, I lost track of who was anorexia, and who was Ellie. Everyone sounded Anonymous.
Change was potent.
In the ED unit, I sat in my chair trying to work it all out. Build up any sort of sequence, string together some sort of explanation for my horrific reaction to all the good things infecting my life. How had I managed to infect the good with so much bad?
My nurse smiled. “There is nothing anorexia hates more than change.”
Symptoms of change ruptured as I started my new job. Having lunch in the staffroom threw up challenges all over my nice anorexic routine.
Half an hour earlier than normal, I waded into lunchtime. Clutching a lunchbox and a newspaper, holding them up against the harsh sunlight streaming through the blinds. Dregs of yesterday’s tea fossilised onto the cutlery; plates towering up and out of the sink; spillages smeared on the walls and carpet. Soup bowls scraped clean but for the skid marks. A display that would have put any university student to shame. I ventured in another few minutes. I made for the corner of the room, and began to set up camp. Water, paper, napkin. Teacher-speak permeated the air. The New Year’s diet was on everyone’s tongues. A dinner lady received a hero’s welcome when she produced a tray of meaty leftovers. Fat curdled the air and shone from the lumps squeezing between each teacher’s fingers as they popped a couple of sausages in their mouths. Let us not forget that insolent man from the council who turned about the room, rubbing BO into the air. His meaty fingers massaged the slippery lining of pork scratching, rustling.
Itching. It was an assault when anorexia made me most vulnerable: when I was confronted by food as well.
On Friday, sore and exhausted from a week of staffroom endurance tests, Ellie summited a final challenge. People began to talk to me.
Anonymous bristled when the headmaster passed and said hello. Someone’s voice pierced the air mid-bite. Then, this woman sat opposite me at the table. She opened her soup fresh from the microwave, and began to swirl bread into it’s depths. I felt her consider me.
“A lot of tired faces about the school today, isn’t there?”
Anonymous spluttered at her audacity. To sit there, slurp soup and dare to disturb me and my lunch. There nerve she had to talk to an anorexic during her mealtime. A blitz of abuse was being hurled from one side of my mind to the other, all confined behind my blinking eyeballs. Not at her, but at me. She dared, because she didn’t know. You’re not thin enough.
Ellie held my tongue and ran from the temptation to cry for mercy, to be released from the clutches of this woman’s attention. She made me nod, smile, fork small talk out from somewhere in between mouthfuls of avocado. The poor woman. She was only trying to be nice.
I was watching Change trample over ground it already knew quite well. Change has happened at school, at my place of work. Here, Ellie, you are a teaching assistant. There is more to you than skin and bone. It was perhaps this moment of madness: not wanting to seem anorexic in favour of seeming competent, that rubbed change in my face.
It is still itching, worrying me. It just doesn’t feel right yet, I’m not used to it.
This will subside with practice. Each time I face an anxiety, it loses a little bit of it’s worth. The hyperinflation of anger, sorrow, alarm eventually makes the worry worthless and cheap. If only I had the courage to try and apply this to my weigh gain. Things might be different, it could all change.
Anorexia snared the first week in my new job. Anonymous waded into the week, gulping at air beyond the boarders of my control. Time began spent at the mercy of children, their education, and their innocent whims. Time spent out of my own head.
“Draw a shell Miss Davies! Can we have a story Miss Davies? You be the customer, welcome to my hairdresser’s!”
Miss Davies, why are you standing up?
Why, oh why, must all these activities be done sitting? What did Anonymous do to deserve that? The classroom air stiffened with the clamour,
One week in, I’ve made it out the other side. Carrying only a little of the anxiety I had to begin with. Anonymous, let it never be said again that emotional exhaustion is any less valid than the physical. Surviving a pile-up of children craning their necks to see the storybook, ears using up extra energy to guard against the noise and the sheer weight of worry whenever one child deigns to push the other; this is child’s play in comparison to forced positivity. Yet I carried it off and out, and feel lighter for it. As if it were the one carrying me, gently bringing me back down to earth as I leave at the end of the day. Ellie gets high on the joy for simple things. The comedown kicks in when she climbs back into herself to find Anonymous up, and waiting. Weighting.
After I’ve showered and shaken off the day, I remember.
Other side effects of change include a broken routine on Tuesday morning that wasn’t fixed by fear, but tolerance. Effort made room for reason and shifted onto my plate. I managed to share one of Mum’s home-cooked dhals, relishing the memories raised by it’s spicy aroma. Change haven’t approached the carbohydrates on my plate yet: I still trust nobody but Anonymous to weigh out my rice allowance. Even Ellie could accidentally sneak an extra 7g without even realising.
Let us not forget the great grievance of the week, that of the UCAS application. My window of opportunity to get it completed and submitted was lodged firmly in the afternoon, right when I should be walking. Panic threatened to get in on the action when I realised healthy people can sit and complete an application online: indeed for most people to think straight, it is positively mandatory. Ellie used Change as a bargaining chip, and negotiated a dietary restriction, a shorter walk at twilight and a standing desk for a complete application. Not ideal, but we managed.
Recovery promises to teach me how to manage change. This I know, but have yet to feel. Every difficult test of my coping strategies fails, until I look around me, and realise Change has been sweeping me along without me even realising.
Sweaty feet edging towards the future suddenly grew cold.
Change was building up. It began to ooze into my routine, right from the moment I set foot in my new classroom. There was too much squeezed into one week: so I burst. Of course, just like that. My mess spurted out all over my family and smeared itself into my work, and my writing.
I speak as if I’m indifferent to how much has been achieved in one week alone. Anonymous is only too aware of how well Ellie did to put herself in a vulnerable position, then thrive.
I survived an interview. You’re sitting still for so long. My heart was burning more calories in stress than you’ll ever manage with a walk, anorexia.
I sent back a latte that was definitely not skinny just look at that thick creamy whiteness look look look.
I told Mum something. Something that happened, somethings that happened. A little piece I’ve been trying to shift ever since.
I should be proud of what has happened recently, but all I feel is guilty.
Perhaps that’s why I turned away recovery. With all this shiny newy-newness, I didn’t deserve recovery too. There isn’t room in my thin anorexic life for that as well.
I inflicted the bad to ward off the effects of good. It is hard not to punish myself for punishing myself because I wasn’t being punished.
I will arrange to meet Ellie on her next weigh in, to take stock. Change is, in itself, a sort of punishment. Something I have to get through in order to reap the rewards of time, and recovery – if it ever comes.