The storm has passed, and Anonymous has returned home. I unpacked myself, and tried to cram it all into a bottle.
As I began pulling six weeks of highs and lows out of my bag, I staked out the place. The obvious holes that had been left in my absence were inviting: even the shadowy ones anorexia lurked in. I could see where I was meant to put everything back: my meal plan, my exercise, my self. Home was the stage on which I had performed the spectacle of recovery and anorexia alike: and not one thing had changed. The furniture was still, the silence untouched. Our roses were still in bloom.
It was I – us -who had changed. We just didn’t fit: Anorexia had gotten too big, Ellie too jumpy, and I was 0.2kg too heavy. Anonymous was alarmed by the love in the place, as if she were being tricked into letting me venture out of control.
Since being home, I’ve been trying to squash myself back into the person I was before I left. The one who could tolerate the odd slam of a door, who could manage painful periods of food smells. It is a struggle, it is hard work. It is ugly and writhing and shameful. So I put it in a bottle, and tried to contain it. My favourite hiding place is deep within myself. How easy it is for Anonymous to reach for it and hurl the contents all around the house.
It has become her defence when she feels threatened: and at home, threatened she is.
Leaving turned out to be easy.
I had anticipated a fight from Anonymous, some kind of resistance. Yet I felt nothing but relief in the fun few hours throwing everything I had left into some bags. I traveled light, high on the excitement of going home, and in anticipation of the hugs to be had.
I left behind a feeling: one that fit me so well I’m worried I’ll never find one like it. It was a warm and snug sensation of doing well. I did very, very well. Pride was too big to fit in my bottle, but too weak to survive the anorexic elements that blew through in the following days.
A lot has happened since arriving home, and I’ve been trying to cram most of it into this bottle.
Ellie would have been happy catching up with her parents and dog. Anorexia, of course, finds no punishment here but for herself, so I’ve been largely denied the pleasure.
Anonymous had planned to starve off boredom, and had thankfully fixed up a few appointments here and there to bulk out my empty diary. Tearing her from the feast of activity she had in Cambridge and installing her safely back home was always going to be tricky: dangerous almost. A job interview, coffees, dog walks. Sighing trees and clicking insects.
Then there are the tougher chunks: the bits of life I couldn’t swallow, and have now been stored in the bottle.
Ellie has been installed on her meal plan she followed prior to her trip.
Removing the extra calories she fed me in Cambridge to fuel the bike rides and night shifts was relatively painless. I do not miss the sugary rush before having an extra date or handful of nuts. Only the power that came with it: that is the real drug.
My nurse argues I should have left it in, that I need to. But I agree with Anonymous: at home, it is too much. I take up so much space and energy already, what good will come from fuelling a brain that never ceases to spill poison all around the house?
Some adjustments have been harder. The worries I left behind ripened in my absence, and have now moulded over with unfamiliarity.
I returned to clinics with a shock. This week, I will begin the therapy recommended following a few months of psychologist assessments. It is called “schema therapy” (don’t google it.) The treatment plan is set out over 6 months, featuring a full life review, photographic analysis and in depth discussion. As the approach is of a “do no harm” nature, it promises not to inflict any emotions that are not already there. The doctors also said they’d stop the treatment if it became too painful. They’ve also told me it will be easier to undertake if I continue to gain weight. The kcal will build bridges between my cognitions, and provide extra momentum when reawakening parts of y brain that have allegedly drifted into dormancy. Needless to say, I’m terrified.
I’m terrified I’ll get upset, and so spread upset.
I’m terrified I’ll get angry, and so spread hate.
I’m terrified the therapy will break me into pieces and haphazardly stitch together a person who is fine being fat or lazy or un-Anonymous.
I’m terrified of naming and shaming myself.
I’m scared the parts of me I abandoned will be even more angry when I rediscover them, and my condition deteriorates out of Anonymous’ control and into something more final.
The therapy will expose me to my own toxins which I will no doubt spread around the people I love.
In other news, I was pleased to be back. There is something innately comforting about the bright lights, the stiff-backed chairs, the unblinking harshness of a hospital setting. It reminds me why I’m here, now, writing this. Ellie, we’re trying to recover, remember? And it helps me to think about why.
My appointments really helped. My nurse examined the contents of my brimming bottle, and began to help me scrape out some anxiety. Once anticipation has been shed, the worries themselves turn out to be quite small. My brother did turn down his music when asked. I was allowed to eat on my own. Anger does disguise concern. So many small things are allowed to spawn out of control when they’re bottled up and hidden away.
I’ve been anxious everyday, on way or another.
All the little triggers have sharpened. The ones I could run away from by going away have become more threatening. Dog food is more potent, the TV downstairs more moronic and distracting, the is air humid with an ever building storm.
This bottle is delicate, and it cannot hold everything. In the first seven days I been home, anxiety cited above average tremors and triggers. Things were shaken up by the arrival of my brother, good news and bad news, old news, fake news – the tirade of angry circumstance chipping away at the lining of my bottle.
So much happened so quickly. My brother, seeing grandparents, cancelling on friends and failing the rest; squeezing in my meals between the guilt. Information about the weeks ahead dumped on me too fast, and I erupted. My bottle kept breaking. I still don’t know how to fix it, mainly because I can’t see what is broken.
Perhaps it is the addition of guilt; perhaps it is a figment too real to stay writhing beneath my skin.
Sometimes I can contain it all.
Almost too well, and the bottle gets too heavy. It drags me down. Low I sink, lower still. The fermentation of thought weighs heavy.
Bottling everything up is not a good coping mechanism, but it’s the only way I know how. I’ve been doing it for years.
One thing that simply won’t stay in my bottle is fear. Not of anorexic things: not of the noise or smell or small irritations. But of myself.
My moods have been weaponised in alarm. They leap away from the here and now, swinging between Ellie and Anonymous, up and down, round, round, down. There is no trigger, there are no warning signs. It just happens, all the time. I’ve never been like this before, and I’m terrified.
Not I, nor Ellie, nor Anonymous can control them. I’m scared I’m going to lose the people around me, that they will be overwhelmed by these nebular cries.
These feelings are feral: wild. An untamed and angry beast stalking me in my own home.
They aren’t mine: I promise this isn’t me.
Despite the weeks passing, I’ve yet to put Anonymous in her place.
She sticks to me, a foul-mouthed deterrent to keep everyone away. Slowly though, I’ve found means to at least restore her to a lower level.
Chewing through the thick fear of feeding my dog, of the crumbs, of the clatter of other people in the house; working on through the noise and the smells and the endless wait for something to go wrong. Only by repeating and repeating the rituals of living around healthy people, am I only just able to sometimes swallow Anorexia’s outbursts. Instead, it can rage just beneath my skin. I’d rather keep the anger and hate all to myself: my family don’t deserve it.
Just because I’m struggling, doesn’t mean I’m losing.
I’ve kept my weight around 50kg by inclining Anonymous away from food and towards more solid means of help, like a wall. Or a fist.
I am back home, and brimming over.
Good and bad feelings, and the uncertain ones. Gratefulness, relief, anger, the low. A cocktail of confusion, overwhelmed by more love than I deserve. I’m still unpacking them all, and working through each one, each day.
I know what I have to do now. I know what recovery expects of me.
Whilst I’m lucky enough to be in this supportive environment, I’m willing to believe Ellie when she says that everything is fine.
Because it is. And if it isn’t, it isn’t me.