This grey and drizzly snacktime, I have had to do something a little different.
The first dreary cloud clogged up the skyline last night, and now all that sun has been ruined. I had to slip back into that person who arrived here two weeks ago, clutching a handful of useless ideas of where she might go when she needed her snack.
This is what I came up with. Sat at a bright table by the window, I’m sipping a semi-skimmed latte and bending over this notebook. Semi-skimmed not necessarily by choice, but because that seems to be independant-coffeehouse-speak for ‘skinny’. I think not, but after last night and this morning, I’m actually too exhausted to care. Anonymous can quibble over the handful of extra calories floating in this cup, but I’m having no part in it. Now, this here is a strange occurrence not just because of the coffee quandry. Perhaps you can hear it between the lines, perhaps you can sense the clamour shaking words off the page and out of my head. I walked into this noisy – nay, bubbly – coffeehouse, and felt anxiety turn me right around and march straight out. Grinding beans and steaming pumps, gurgles and burbles and babbling gabbling. It was a clamour to turn any anorexic’s empty stomach.
It was already 11:30, and I was already running late for my snacktime. Anonymous considered our options, and drank the room. We were in Fitzbillies: an iconic Cambridge coffeehouse, that must so happens to be a little too far away from anywhere else. When visiting, everyone “has” to try Fitzbillies. Coming here in the first place had been nothing more than an effort to be more adventurous. A table by the window watched me weigh up my options. Over ten people passed through, ordered, sat themselves down, but still that table remained empty. It was waiting for me to be brave, and so I stayed.
The food here looks delicious. I wonder if I’ll ever try one of those granola bars. No, not today. I’m a bit busy with my latte, see. Look how creamy it is! The milk is like velvet. I wonder how many calories it costs to be so fluffy? No, I haven’t googled it yet. I don’t think I should really, do you?
The noise in here is dying down a bit, and the coffee rush will be over in a matter of seconds. I can hear myself think again, and now I can’t avoid thinking of it any longer.
It is weigh day. I finally patched together a plan to get weighed each week, as requested by my clinic whilst I’m here. After failing miserably to get anywhere with the on-site-fabled-possibly-non-existent who has still yet to materialise, I snatch control before my nerves wrapped their fraying ends around this trigger, and registered as a temporary patient in a local surgery.
The scales have been falling all week. The needle click click clicked, and pulled gravity to my feet. The number was smaller than the number I arrived with, that is all I wish to say. Anonymous cast sweeping assurances that these were foreign scales, that I left my watch on, that I had cycled in, failed to poop, failed to get an appointment at 10 o’clock and instead had to attend at the farcical time of 9:35. So many units to build up to get an accurate weight, but this is the one I have. It is the number that I will work with and negotiate into next week.
I knew I was losing weight, I just didn’t know what that meant.
The whole country has caught football fever, myself included. I seem to be the only one in any discomfort; everyone else rides out the spasms of noise without blinking an eye. Anticipation assaults us all and yet I am the only one to fall.
You’re reading this and feeling revolted, I can taste it. How has anorexia managed to starve me of even the tiniest inkling of patriotism, any sense of fun? Allow me to explain.
No, listen. Actually listen: the explanation is in the air, mingling with all those gasps and cries and endless chanting. The noise is actually excruciating. It cuts right through me, and shakes Anxiety awake just when I’ve worked so hard putting it to bed.
There is still 26mins until the game starts, but the signs of a noisy onslaught have already been sighted.
Seven people clutching beer have just been appeared in next door’s window. Cars clot the drive; the shelves of every off-licence in Cambridge are bare, skeletal. And this: the sinister silence hanging over England, like bait.
I did not manage too well when England beat Sweden last week. I covered my ears and tried not to breathe in the sound. Still something must have leaked in, for an hour or so later I was curled up in my cupboard and howling for it to all be over: please, please let me sleep.
It is all too easy to brush Ellie’s words of comfort to one side: it’s a Wednesday, people need to be up in the morning for work; next door’s flat is tiny, they’d have to decant to a pub for an actual party. As a former student, I can say with certainty that no amount of limited space nor commitments will hold back a rush of alcohol infused desire to have fun. Oh, I wish I could still have fun.
My plan might work. I shall wade through each minute as if time weren’t stuck. There is a small chance the game itself will contain the masses. People will be glued to the screen, and noise will only be unstuck and lodged into my side if something actually happens. This should buy me enough to time to make supper, and eat it battling only Anonymous, not Anxiety as well.
I shall assess the situation when the familiar cries at the final whistle blows. If the decibels ring with alarm, I could put on a film. Not ideal, for I never watch TV in the evenings. Anonymous considers it a waste of time, but in this case she may just have to swallow it. Hard lumps of bad scriptwriting is easier to digest than what I daresay will await otherwise.
In the very likely event it reaches my bedtime and everyone is still at it, I’ll sink. An endless night of worry and exhaustion awaits, pressing in like treacle. Already noise is all over the neighbourhood, like a rash.
One wonders why I don’t just watch the game myself. Don’t get me wrong, I really want to. But it wouldn’t feel right, not all by myself.
Anxiety’s tolerance of noise has not made much progress at all really. If anything, it feels like it just drags me backwards.
Oh, I must just mention hummus-gate has been solved. Prior to my journey up here two weeks ago, I spent a happy afternoon in the kitchen making batches of my Anonymous approved hummus. I froze it in batches, and tried the first defrosted one today. As if it were made fresh, if a little stiff. Every now and then, it would do me good to defrost a little faith.
The Day before Yesterday
I can see my pillow from here, and it is calling. Oh my dear, I have been thinking of you since I left you this morning. All through the day, every word and mouthful, I was just thinking of your plump embrace, your lumbar support. How I would sink into you, and ride a dream out until dawn.
I am so excited to get into bed, so forgive me for keeping this brief.
Having just cycled home at 1 in the morning, I don’t quite see how I plan to actually go to sleep, for the adrenaline is still pumping a little too loud. If only it had hit me earlier, when I really needed it.
The morning confronted me with a grim cloud-clotted start. After yesterday, after the horror that was yesterday, today was promising to be just as frightening. I wanted none of it. I ate my breakfast grudgingly, docking a few calories here and there to start my anorexic sedation from the start.
When going on a school trip, Anonymous has always packed Anxiety. A great bulky load I had to carry all the way to London, again. After an anxious and restricted lunch, we loaded into the cell that would take us to the Strand, straight down the M11. I didn’t make it to work before I bucked under the stress. The thought of having to sit in that bus, through all that traffic, all over again. It was a heavy prospect, and it dragged my calorie count down. By doing so, it pushed Anonymous up. The 1hour 20 mins trip on a hunger high, still flying after this morning’s panic attack.
We arrived and everything left me. Every anxious animal in me collapsed in an exhausted heap. Luckily, the students had free time until the theatre show in the evening, and so so did we. I took myself off to those quiet corners of London that I know so well, and did everything I could to expel any residual worries before the show, and before I had to put on the show of ‘responsible adult’.
I was grateful to eat my supper. I packed it that morning, complete with a picnic plate. Pretending it was completely normal to picnic in Pret.
The rest of the trip was fine. I’m good at looking after things, just not always myself.
The heat backed off today, and all this worry has left me cold. Three anxiety attacks in 24 hours: pricking thumbs of something wicked. This way, it might come.
I’m being weighed tomorrow, and I can’t wait. It has been over two weeks and I just can’t take the strain of uncertainty anymore. I care not if I’m losing weight: that much I can sense. What though, if it turns out I’ve actually gained? What would all this worry and incontinence and exhaustion mean then? Is that what recovery is?
I wish I didn’t have to stay up any longer. I wish I could be with you now, pillow. Alas it is not to be for at least half an hour. There are food diaries and positivity diaries to fill in, a plan to be made for the morning.
Ellie, have you soaked your oats for breakfast in the morning? There is much to prepare to meet another day.
02:00am: Hello, pillow.
02:03am: F*** off is there a car alarm going off.
02:30am: F*** off is it still ringing.
03:07am: Why tho.
And thus our scene is set for another anxious, sleep deprived day. The perfect conditions to cultivate Anonymous.
The 12th Day away
So today has been a little bit horrific.
I had an anxiety attack on the bus, in front of all the students. Not to say any of them noticed, one hopes. I was fairly well-practised at disguising these assaults at university, and have not forgotten how to shut out my surroundings and turn it all in on myself. Cowering between the seats set a little too far forward for the cool kids to catch, stuffing a little too much of my uniform in my mouth for any of them to hear it. Wheezing engines of static, grid locked cars and thick headphones that beat sweat down everyone’s brows also helped cover for me. I was curled up in a ball, pressed in on myself and felt the heat, the traffic, the ticking clock counting the seconds I was stuck sitting there press in on me too. My phone was clutched to my ear, the desperate reassurances from Mum passing through my ears and absorbed into the anxious pit in between. This, my third phone call home in three days. If only I could stop calling Mum and Dad. I had rather thought this would give them break from me; a few weeks without their daughter ruining the good days.
I hope nobody saw me, I hope nobody heard. These feelings were so swollen, so cheap and nasty, I could have just given them away.
It was hell. Full, fiery hell. Anonymous pointed her pitchfork at my enormous bottom sat in a seat in the middle of the day. She rattled my nerves like the bars of a cell: I just wanted out. I was sitting so long, and was burning up in place of calories.
London’s roads were melting. Roads out of town a vast network of failing veins, with too many cars causing clots and tumours. Red brake likes lit the way out for over an hour. And then it was far from over: there was the great journey north. All the while taking place when Anonymous needs to be standing, moving, exercising. Yet here we were, shackled in place by a seatbelt. Hell, I tell you.
I have been negotiating all day. From the start, Anonymous had imposed traffic restrictions on my food. I was on-shift for a medic trip to a London hospital: of course I’d need to allow time to commute. I had sacrificed some food for that. But the extra time and extra traffic cost me dear calories. I hobbled home feeling disgusted at how empty and tired I felt: all I had done was take students to London and supervised their workshops on a ward. All I had done was a day’s work. Now, all I have is a shell of myself. My stomach is actually singing.
I really tried to help Anonymous survive the day. She leapt at any chance to make random trips around the hospital; she ran coffee and collected samples; replenished the syringe supply and disposed of the sharps. Even when we pulled in at 9am this morning, I let her feed me breakfast standing up. Anything to make the pain go away. War has raged all day.
And now I have to go through it all again tomorrow. I can’t face it. I’m too hungry and too worried, too frightened to eat in case the traffic comes back an tricks me into keeping those calories.
But I will do it. I have to: that’s my job. It’s part of recovery, and what I’m here for.
Oh, wait wait wait! Something good did happen today: in fact I am almost sure it is what stopped me from self-combusting on that bus.
I was published in the Times again! Yay!
(Now – journalists. They have to sit. If I want to be a writer, I will one day have to sit.)
I had another panic attack last night, halfway through 2 films I wasn’t really watching. One was being screened in the cinema, a ticket to which I had bought this morning without consulting my energy levels. At 5pm everything was empty. Even stuffing myself with supper hasn’t filled the hole, so I just stayed home, and tried to drown out the ghostly clamour of Saturday nights.
I failed. The noise got me, and Anxiety could feast.
I don’t want to write about last night. For now, let me just tell you that I am safe. I’ve eaten breakfast and my snack (a latte and energy ball, if you’re interested), and am about to tuck into lunch.
Reality is starting to get to close in Cambridge. It breathes down my neck, with condensation breaking out in an anxious sweat. Ellie needed to get out of it, fast. So we got on my bicycle and came here.
Here is where I have come to escape other people. Here is where I thought I could come and just be quiet, be alone. These are the Grantchester meadows: a great expanse of rippling grass that hugs the riverbanks. There, a pocket of willow trees leaning over the water, draping their branches to skim the surface. It is here, in the quietest, shadiest spot I could find, that I am writing to you now. I’m chewing a salmon sandwich, and watching dragonflies lick the lilypads. The light is almost blinding. What a relief to have the responsibility of foresight taken away, even if it is just until another person happens upon my seclusion and shatters my shield.
Here, I can watch the river traffic. Lumbering punts and pushy kayaks, a duck, a swan, a small boy on a SUP.
Yes, I feel safe here. I feel safe away from all that.
I’m going through the day with a fine-toothed comb, trying to find something positive to write. Today, I am pulling apart thick clumps of worry and anxiety, and pulling out microscopic good things like nits. Every now and then I get too close, and a spine of Anxiety gets lodged in my hands, which I must then carry through the rest of the day.
The novelty of being away and living independently has worn away. Exciting places and exciting prospects come away with very little resistance to anorexia. Suddenly, I can see straight through Ellie’s optimism and excitement, and see the vast but thin network of disordered thoughts. “New” has paled under scrutiny: for everything about me is just the same.
Anonymous has been given the opportunity to be everywhere. She is unsupervised, under pressure and armed with a bicycle. Just, I suppose, as I am armed with Ellie, but my weapon keeps getting distracted by the sun or the smell, or just fear.
I’m starting to worry. Now the buzz has dipped off, I can hear it. I can hear the noise. Slamming doors and calls; squeaky railway tracks; spluttering motorbikes and hoarse men asserting themselves the only way they know how. It’s everywhere. A thousand final straws to draw.
I had my first anxiety attack since arriving today, and it was horrible. I was walking through town on one of the busiest streets at lunchtime, and it just happened. Something electric passed through the crowd and sun, and suddenly it had ignited. I couldn’t see for all the stars flashing like falling scales.
I’ll never know what started it, I never do. But we can draw on records from this diary in the moments leading up to it, and build a skeleton out of fragments. I had sat in the Fellow’s Garden with my coffee, and scribbled down any excuse I could for my shaking hands.
Is it simply the unknown I face everyday? The people, the place, my fate on the scales I still haven’t got on? Or perhaps the flat. Yes, Anonymous has gotten over the glamour of having a whole kitchen to herself, and has just noticed how small the flat actually is. She’s been doing the maths: how many steps fewer are you taking by staying here, Ellie?
Or perhaps, it is exercise itself. The happiness gleaned off my handlebars feed both Ellie and Anorexia. There is no greater feeling than soaring down a gentle slope on two wheels. When this gets taken away, as it surely will in four weeks time, how will I cope then? Anonymous will be hooked, addicted. Ellie will be bereaved. I shall deny forever that my grief at not being able to cycle at home is because I’ve taken a step backwards, and dabbled with exercise again.
Or perhaps it is all of it. Perhaps I can cope with these things in batches, but not all of it. Not all at once.
There is a quote that comes to mind every time I come here. These Fellow’s gardens at Clare college, set back from the river and the rushing tide of people and places. “I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it” (As You Like It, the Bard himself). This possibly isn’t relevant to anything. But I wanted to share it here. It might give you some sense of comfort I get by retreating into one of the many College gardens.
I have been quite agitated for a few hours now. Every sound a sediment, clamour building up like sand. I pray it does not burst it’s banks. No, this anxiety is louder than noise. This anxiety is Anonymous.
I think I’ve eaten too much. I’m not sure, I might have only eaten enough to meet my meal plan, but it is more than I told myself I’d be eating today. And that makes me anxious.
Put simply, it will be a matter of 140kcal. There is no excuse, but I would like to try and explain what led me to having that snack, instead of the smaller snack I had planned.
So basically I panicked. It was a hot, sweaty day, and I had turned up for my shift at 3pm having had a full day fulfilling anorexia’s walking quota, and had a telephone appointment with my clinic. To say I was tired would be bad storytelling.
I arrived, and was hurled headlong down a list of errands I had to run before setting up for the student’s party that evening. The tasks were simple but geographically complicated. I spent two hours marching about the city, picking up props and paying for punts. And then of course, I had to turn up at the venue to “show face” for the academy lest it be thought that we expected people to do their jobs without up breathing down their necks. By 4:30pm and 30degrees, everything started to go pale. I felt something in me lift – Ellie – and she went to the nearest juice bar and ordered.
I have lived my whole life believing a small Banana Buzz juice was worth 250kcal. I’ve had them before and survived. The hat got to me, and mid-slurp, I googled it. Just to check.
Anonymous immediately threw away her nightsnack and set about calculating how much of her supper she was allowed to eat. The problem was, it happened again. I excused myself from my post supervising the exit, and found somewhere quiet to sit and have my supper away from prying eyes. And then I ate all of it. Ellie just shovelled the food into my mouth, ravenous for any ounce of energy to help her through her shift until 1am. I don’t understand why, but I just felt I needed it. I was exhausted.
It has been a very emotional day, really. Surely that must be worth some calories?
And as my nurse said, I probably need them.
I just don’t believe I do.
I’ve just published my last blog so I’m going to keep this short and sweet.
Got very bored and agitated at work: too much admin in too smaller office; too many questions as to why I insisted on standing and running errands. Far too many Anonymous eyes watching me desperately try not to have an inactive day. (Ellie: “define ‘inactive’”?)
I will elaborate on the current argument between Anonymous and Ellie another time. It’s a recent dispute over whether or not Ellie is losing control of her exercise levels since she arrived here, and I’m just not wanting to talk about it right now.
I don’t want to scare myself by believing I’ve started going backwards.
Thank you for helping me retrace my steps through a very difficult week.
Going backwards has spat me out where I began: proud and full of hope.
Tomorrow, I will work to reset myself. Let us hope I can carry myself into the next week, and hold myself as the days rush forwards, clawing and pulling at Recovery’s scaly back.