I’m crawling to the end of my time here in Cambridge.
Slowly, slowly now. Just the act of unsticking my limbs from each other, rising them out of bed. Dragging them through each day, through every meal, over every line. Pausing to rearrange them every now and then, either cowering against the wind, or crouching out of the way. Heaving the heaviness of empty words about empty days. Wrenching something, anything, from this deep hollow place I’ve slipped into this week. I wade into each hour like it’s treacle, and seem to sink deeper no matter how hard the struggle to snap out of disorder. Time is thickening, perhaps. Curdled by soaring temperatures then washed out in a storm. Or drowned, doused by the decibels erupting outside my flat, humming from the fridge, even the murmur of radio 4. Triggers latch onto my load and drag it down. Or perhaps time has just passed. It has sweated out beads of joy and sorrow, it has used up it’s loose change and now the change has become tight. Constrictive, this Change is beginning to close in. Every scale falling except the one I stand on, where my weight still lingers at 49.8kg. On the dot: exactly the same as last time. As predictable as the wasted seconds passing into this hollow, empty place. Even the scraps of my routine have given way to hopelessness. And still, time insists on passing slowly.
My last week was hard. The cold succession of empty days broke my brittle emotions. I found anorexia’s soft spot in a hard place. And now, to pull it to pieces and explain how I sank before the last hurdle despite weeks of successful floating.
Starting is always the hardest. Day 36 had already aged in my eyes. With a 7:30-3:30 shift pulling the bulk of the day down into an uneventful haze, it was to be saggy and tired. An easy target. Lots of time to stare into the next blank moment, and begging Anonymous not to let me be swallowed by it. We are put on shift during the day to be there just in case. Just in case a student has a question, or something happens, or something threatens to happen later on in the day when their lessons are over. When there is no case to be had, I simply have to make do with my own Anonymous case. To avoid setting her off, I spend as little time as possible in the office. As a rule I take my work outside. Somewhere where I am not trapped in a room with too many chairs, and too many invitations to take a seat. I could feel the minutes sticking together, and passing as uncomfortable clots. With no distraction, nothing to do and nothing to think about, my mind grew lame. Anonymous preyed on me and drove me into the corner of myself. This empty corner from which I lied to my nurse over the phone, told her everything was fine. From which I screamed into the bathroom sink near midnight after having been driven further by the piercing shriek of a car alarm. Cambridge must be the neediest city: so many alarms cry out for attention. It is in this corner that I can see triggers coming, and pray they don’t see me. Should Anonymous be caught out by one: a sound, a smell, a memory – I’d have nowhere to run.
To get through it, I cut Day 37 into bits and gave away a part to some of my characters.
My time on-shift was cast to the anxious anorexic. Incarcerated in the office again, begging time to hurry up. Let me out, let me out. She was resourceful, of course. With very little direction she transformed a sparsely scripted list of jobs into an action packed monologue. Thus hours of erratic errand running began: we took detours, walked the long route, leapt on any opportunity to make something of the endless, empty time. She managed to appease Anonymous, just. Only Ellie is left to mourn the loss of a day she could have spent with herself, and catching up with her recovery.
The second part of the day was smaller, but much sweeter. This was given to the comforted and cheered friend: for this is how I felt after meeting some friends who had popped over from Singapore. We only had an hour, but time felt dense with rich, indulgent energy. This character had been nervous about accepting to part at first. She was convinced she wouldn’t manage it, that the lines were too close together and that she’d trip over the ones with difficult terminology like “sitting”. Alas, the nerves were as redundant as the alternative. She became swept up in the role and encouraged by the clattering applause of passing minutes spent walking to and from the park. She was, for want of a better word, well. Everything just seemed well.
And the final part of the day was handed to the foolish festival goer. You read that right: this anxious shell of a young person forced a ticket of the Cambridge Folk Festival upon herself, bound by some imagined duty to do “things” whilst I’m here. Make the most of the time, and all that. I’ve just had too much time, and now I’m sick of it. The scenery was as you’d expect: gaudy tents, tie die, the trees twitching to the thump of a bass. Everything drawn together by a happy crowd and strings of fairy lights. I’m sure it would have been fun if I’d been with people. If there was someone there to share this time with, as opposed to sitting by myself under a tree gorging on it all by myself. I lasted just under 1hr 30mins. Not bad really, considering the triggers. The festival field was mined with flashing lights, sticky patches and plumes of smoke rising from barbecues. It was when one man with an unfortunate height collided with my elbow and tossed cider down my leg, that I finally called it a night. I raced home, desperate to get the spicy substance away from my skin before Anonymous could get to it. This is why anorexics don’t trust other people: you just don’t know when someone will spill their shit all over you.
Day 38 was left somewhere between sense and sleep. My body rose from my bed and moved about the flat, thoughts twitching strings to raise my limbs like a puppet’s. So far, I’ve fumbled through breakfast, lumbered into town in search of something to do. It is my coveted day off, but something is missing. Someone.
The crowd of thoughts I woke up in grew angrier and angrier through the day. I struggled to pen any of them down during my morning snack, for I was too consumed by the boiling rage that surged each time the couple on the table next to me opened their mouths. Their voices were hoarse, booming. Each syllable shook the nib between my fingers, each plosive a shock. In this diary, I just wrote “PLEASE SHUT UP.” that ain’t good writing.
I was torn to pieces by exhaustion and indifference, unable to see anything other than my own misery. I carried all that worry home with me for lunch, tottering precariously on my bicycle. They weren’t unloaded properly when I arrived. Instead, I dropped them into anxiety’s lap and it attacked. A nice lady from across the road heard me screaming and came to help. I wish I could have heard her name above the angry buzz rattling in my ears.
Noise hunted me down wherever I went. Motorbikes screeched by with their (illegal) exhaust pipes. A rock concert happening miles away somehow caught the find, and became trapped in the square of flats I’m staying on. Earplugs in, windows shut, two pillows over my head. Thirty degree heat. Nothing would make the noise relent, not even the comforting murmurs of Mum down the phone.
Still, I shake. I can’t fix something to animal to my page. My positivity diary told a resigned story. The lady who helped, remembering not to leave my helmet behind, and finding a film to curl up with: something to shut it all out.
I want to go home. I just want this all to stop now.
Day 39 was spent recovering from the horror that was the night before. The music may have stopped y midnight, but my imagination kept me awake into the early hours. It haunted me with the echoes of that infernal beat, with the ghost of what will come if the party started again. The mewling gaggle of tipsy teens tottering down the streets gave me a shock. The air was electric, and now the morning is a bit of a blackout.
I took myself away. I found a gap in the hedges of a walled College garden, and installed myself there. I watched dusty clouds melt into the horizon, and open up into a syrupy blue pool of sky. I was looking forward to going into work later. It is a long shift: 15:00-01:00, but at least that will earn up most of the time. I’m ravenous for things to do, and at least in the afternoon I’ve students to deal with.
Oh, one more thing. I saw a heron today, which in my family is a good omen. Now I’m home from work and ready to fall into bed, I can look back and appreciate what that heron did for my outlook today. It ruffled Anonymous’ feathers, and Ellie could giggle.
I just need to drink one more glass of water, then Ellie and I can get some sleep. We’re being weighed tomorrow morning, and I’m terrified I won’t be able to poo beforehand. So I’m just flushing myself out, hoping it will dislodge the knot twisting in my tummy.
On Day 40, I was absorbed in savouring my last time at FitzBillies.
This has become a morning snack staple on weigh-in days: a creamy semi-skimmed latte, a nice table by the window, a good seat to peer through the blue and white arch into the brewing station. Bright sunlight blowing through the ribbon-laced archway. I was lucky today: all the other customers were in the company of a book or pen, so nobody could speak too loudly and awake Anxiety. How strange, that even time spent here has become tired out. The next time I’m recovering from a weigh in, it will be back in Surrey, with my Mum. I’m really excited about that.
I maintained again. 49.8kg – the unprovocative number. Shifts have become dormant, sedated by the exact repetition of my food each day, every day. I know this works, and so I do it. I eat enough for Ellie and little enough for anorexia, so my weight can just hang there limply. When I spoke to my nurse on the phone, she gently reminded me that when I got home, the weight would be over. I’ll be back from my ‘break’, and they expect me to start gaining again. That worries me a bit.
Home looks shifty from here. I’m hoping to cram Anonymous back into the routine I had before. It was small enough for her to be snug but still allowed me some wriggle room to get her to gain. I hope she is still small enough to fit. It’s just that since being here, I think she’s got bigger. Anorexia is more potent, and I’m more aware of it. I’ll only appreciate how much she has grown if I compare her tracks with the ones left at home. Then, we will see.
Day 41 has not gone quite to plan. Another day lost to this. So please may I just make a quick plan for the rest of it?
13:00 reach town; to meadows
12:40 leave flat
12:25 arr. flat; prep lunch
12:10 leave town
Another day lost to it all.
I’m supposed to be sitting by the Mill pond for snack time today, but I had to come here instead. I couldn’t queue for that long in Caffe Nero: I’d never get to my spot in time and I’d miss it. At least it’s cool and quiet in here, if a little dark. Had I reached the field, I’d no doubt have sat in a cow pat. That’s just the sort of day it has been really.
A thin glaze of sweat had settled over me last night. I became gripped by the fear of getting ill, of being forced to my bed by a fever. So I did the normal thing, and called in sick. I did something to help myself, and yet I’ve somehow been convince by Anonymous that this was some sort of crime. That what I feel is a lie.
This illicit day off is too thick. Threat hangs heavy in the clouds, licking the air. Humid to the point of haziness, and yet the light is beginning to dim.
I wonder which will break first: the weather, or me.
(Spoiler: ’twas a miraculous clash of moments, and my anxiety attack unleashed itself just as the heavens opened. Relief raining on grief. All washed away by hours spend crouched in an alleyway, willing Ellie to get some help.)
I had day 42 off work too. I panicked yesterday when everything went all peculiar. The rain made it cold and the wind made it hostile. I retreated into myself a little, and wrapped up against the world. And now, I’ve another day to fill. Nervously: careful now, carefully. Please Ellie, don’t get ill.
I’m really trying to ignore that reverse alarm. It’s been going on for 120 beeps now, and counting. Where can it be going? What business has it to crawl at that glacial pace?
I’ve coped with all this scary noise for over five weeks now, but I think I’ve reached the end of my tether now. Oh God, it’s started again.
Please make it all stop.
And the rain it swept in, and oh the rain: it swept out. 24 hours leaking by, the drip drip dripping of minutes. Day 43 eroded. I couldn’t stem the flood: the fear just kept coming.
Day 43 was the day I had a breakdown, in all it’s nebular glory. Self harming in front of my boss, barricading myself in an empty classroom, screaming as I cycled to get myself there. No matter how hard I cried, screamed, kicked and collapsed: I couldn’t get it out. The fear would leave me, it just kept going until it ran out of kcal – until my knees gave way.
I couldn’t call Mum: it was her birthday. Surely, Anonymous, you can let me give her this one day off? I was rescued by my best friend, who was miles away. She rang Head Office who rang the school office, who were then told that one of their staff members was in danger somewhere on campus. Someone found me.
There’s nothing else I want to say here really. Just that I didn’t deserve that, anorexia. I really didn’t need to be hurled down this black, black hole.
Tonight, there is no way out.
I just want to go home. I want my Mum.
I was requested not to come into work on Day 44. I knew it: I scared them.
I’ve given up fighting Time’s tides: I’ve just let the hours roll in, and roll out.
Finally, Day 45. My last full day. Walking away from the College with my head held high, I’ve decided to turn my back on shame. I wrenched my lanyard off my neck, threw my uniform into my rucksack and began walking away from it all. Chewing over the cold goodbyes and grateful exits will get me nowhere. Five days off work for mental health reasons is nothing to be ashamed of Ellie. And as for Thursday’s anxious display: it is much the same as someone with food poisoning throwing up everywhere. I couldn’t help it. I’ve not failed Anonymous. I have not failed.
Sir David Attenborough is wise: count the butterflies. It helps. Also the bees! Lest we not forget the flies, even the wasps as they wave those angry strings about. This is what I did after finishing work, going for a long walk, and settling down for a few minutes in Clare College’s gardens. I sat there, had my snack, and counted the butterflies. Two good things I did for myself, despite all the guilt and shame I’d been carrying around that week. Next to all this, why would any of that matter? Its finished now. The season for those worries has passed.
There will be time to be angry, upset and anxious, later. But here, I with only to blend into the flowerbed, and listen to the trees. Now the sinister whispering in my head has hushed, I can hear the trees. After that stagnant heatwave, after those thunderous storms and unforgiving nights, the trees have so much to say. Leaves clatter against this fresh air, and reach up to kiss the clear blue sky. Perhaps they are grateful to see it again, perhaps they accept all that has passed, and look only on what is yet to come.
I have much to learn from the trees. I think I’m ready to go home now. I’m so excited to see my Mum and Dad. Ellie, you’ll get a hug tomorrow. The trees said so.
I’ve been on quite a journey.
It is the smell that gets me every time.
Stepping into the Tanglin apartment on the edge of the jungle; into the Bombay heated flat and Surrey residence. Home, wherever it has been in the world, it is always the same: ripening wood, waxy pottery, the slight burning of cedar. The scent of bonfire, the cry of the cricket. Something in the air that immediately sedated any worry I had about coming back, at least for tonight.
I’ve made some toast and honey, have had a warm shower and warm hugs. I’ve been licked to pieces by Billy and am looking forward to climbing between the sheets and listening to the trees outside. They speak a different language at home, but their message is the same. Listen, hear what is in the air.
And now I’m home, back in this peaceful home I’m so lucky to have. I did it. And now, I shall listen to the trees.
I’ve things to look forward to this week. Little beacons of hope that will pull me out of the shock, the denial, and the anorexic protest of coming home. I’ve a job interview, and clinics. Coffee with Mummy and an oven I know I can use. Ice cubes in my water. The silence of the country nights.
I’ve got so much scrapbooking to catch up on! So will finish this post here.
Time can finally let me go, at least for tonight.
Tomorrow, the fight begins again. And I will be ready.