I have a friend called Anonymous. What is more romantic than the unknown?
She has given me goals, satisfaction.
She has taught me endurance.
She has taught me to put food in my mouth, and taste only guilt and shame.
She has taught me to relish the pain: our favourite date is self punishment.
She has given me an identity.
She is so good at surprises too! Just last week, I found she had given me Osteoporosis in my spine; Osteopenia in my hips; a BMI of 12.8; a weight of 38.9kg; and a weak heart.
"Near fatal", the doctor said. "Severe". Oh, she loved that.
They want to put me in hospital. She says I don't need anyone else, I have her. We will be together forever, she says. She is very supportive you see.
Anorexia Nervosa: my friend called Anonymous. Because what is more terrifying than the unknown?
Despite advice, I am choosing to fight this battle as an outpatient. I am doing this for and with my family. I want to be Ellie again.
This is me, choosing to recover from Anorexia Nervosa in a city obsessed by food.
Here is my journey xx
Time is brewing up something spectacular.
At least, that’s how university should taste in the end. When the admin has fermented and the reactions started, and when the inevitable finally hardens into a solid reality. Only then will I taste it. The recipe I’ve been working on for over two years: a uni, a flat, a fantasy, a future.
If Ellie has this right, it will be delicious.
Everything is simmering along nicely. I’ve found a flat not far from campus; sorted transport cards and even ordered my course books. I’ve bought a cute academic diary that I’ve already filled with lists:
I threw in a dinner party for good measure: just a pinch of fun to season this interim period. As if I didn’t have enough to do without moulding falafel into identical little balls, blitzing hummus into cream and smashing avocados as if they were anorexia herself. This set of jobs, though, was a pleasure to work through. I’m Anonymous to many of my friends, so it really was wonderful to spend some time with them.
I haven’t laughed that hard in years.
A university branded pen quivers in my hand as I write. It’s threatening to kick off, to scrawl and spiral off on a tangent somewhere. To circle round and round the jobs that cannot be done yet, to doodle in the margins of why I’m really going. To outline my weight graph, or perhaps just scribble all over it.
At home, flyers clog up the postbox and touts have wormed their way into my inbox. “The Greatest Fresher’s Week of my life” blares ahead, just down the path I’ll be careful to avoid. I’d rather keep a low profile, to be Anonymous in a crowd of hurling 18-year olds.
My phone has added another dimension to the build up.
Oh, the symphony of desperation: the cry of estate agents to please, do come and view this apartment. A din of nervous freshers, and the sinister buzz every time something changes on student finance.
I’m buried in paperwork securing one flat, but still the estate agents call. Spam is the mating ritual of a struggling agent failing to match person to property. I’ve been crowded in urgency: but perhaps that’s why I’m flourishing. This: the nourishment of purpose, however many routes it ventures down.
But the volume alone is anxiety inducing.
Everything’s boiled over a couple of times. The panic suddenly rises and teeters over the brim, and then the tears stream down. Bubbling clots leak into the present and burn gaping black holes into the future. I freeze, and the whole idea of independence becomes an unmoving picture, stuck in wishful thinking.
The anxiety fizzles out violently, sparks flying in my eyes and head blotting over all black and blue. The stakes are so high, I just don’t know where to begin in containing it when a series of harmful reactions are triggered. The worry just gets everywhere, all my prospects soaked in doom.
Anonymous admitted that taking on a part time job at Waitrose was a mistake only hours into her first shift.
Whilst Ellie struggled to weigh up how heavy the hours would sit against her work, Anonymous was fighting with the chair. The checkout exhausted my cheek-muscles and frazzled my brain, but the seat invalidated any sense of tiredness in Anorexia’s eyes. That anxiety triggered an episode of gut-wrenching panic, and an entire day was lost in regret.
I question whether I can afford to sacrifice the time or head-space to such an anxiety. It may just be one thing too many. When everything has started, I couldn’t risk my anxiety brimming over and burning out all over everything else.
Aside from fixing some accommodation, I’ve also examined the work I’ll have on my course.
An obese reading list dragged my attention down to the base layer of fear upon which Anonymous prowls. The amount of work I’m going to have will render her allotted ‘sitting’ time useless. The call for hours spent stuck at a desk, with legs motionless and growing fat on time. If only it were as easy as making Ellie swallow a few pages of a book, and the letting her do the rest.
If only her interest were enough to shut Anonymous out whilst she works. It may not manage that, but it certainly gives her the will to try. I intend to take the war of words off the page, and stuff it into the very back of my mind.
I’ve also attended part of a “mature learner”’s Welcome Day – because that is what I am now. Stunted by anorexia so early in my academic career, I’ve just about to managed to catch up with the students several years younger than myself. When I received an invitation to join the Mature Learner’s society, I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. That there will be a community for me, Anonymous old me, is a comfort.
The Welcome Day itself was a challenge that dented Ellie’s confidence but bulked out her determination to try harder next time. I persuaded Anonymous to stay for one lecture and some mingling, but confess that she won me over after that, and slowly extracted me from being made to sit any longer.
It wasn’t just the sitting that was difficult, it was the faces. A room full of faces twisted into unnatural expressions of interest. Smiles plastered over snarls and nerves. Then the blank ones, the warm ones, the ones that secreted a certain air of respect. An unreadable score to which I had no idea to react. Neither Ellie nor Anonymous seemed appropriate, and yet I had to carry them in on my back. It occurred to me then how damaged my social skills have been by anorexia, and how I still have to fight to salvage what is left. There is work to be done.
I’m going to try and leave Anonymous behind when I go to uni. I have no wish to take her into my lectures or seminars; into the cafe, the fresher’s fair and certainly not anywhere where she’ll introduce herself ahead of me.
But how could I not take her there? How, when she shields her hands around my mouth, eats words off my tongue and steals this student sinto a small, estranged self? How will I explain my behaviour, if not confessing to never having owned it in the first place?
Leaving lectures and jiggling under the desk. Eating at 1 but not at 1:04. The anger, the tears, the exhaustion. As these are not mine, why should I take the credit for all the Anonymous happenings? Shape the semester like a crop circle. A warning: will you make it through the year. This is already an unrealistic endeavour. I’ve had meetings with the finance and administration team about how they can help an anorexic through her studies. The most helpful thing, really, would be to let her stew awhile, and see how she turns out.
I’ve let it all stew.
Occasionally prodding it, checking my weight (which is creeping up, I might add), and feeling around for some sense of where Ellie is in all this.
As I’m swinging from one thought to the next; through the excitement, dread and doom, I drop things. I drop sight of why and the smell of what. The when and where scream angrily as they drown under uncertainty. Time slops. I’m washed into a crisis, and then have to face it. I have to face myself, and remind me why I’m doing this.
Because it is spectacular. Whatever happens, the future promises to be quite a spectacle.
I couldn’t begin my schema therapy this week, because I self-harmed and allegedly gave myself concussion.
There it is, in black and white.
But yellow. Those tears dripping down a sweat-waxed face. I melted into the wall, the burning scene dipped into a glittering haze.
Green: a sick spiral, stomach gripping on for dear life. And lighter we spun, round and round.
Then white. The whole episode swept away in glitter. Swept away, another spec of dust knocked into place.
The light died, and the colours dimmed. The noise faltered for only a moment, the trigger retreated as if blinded.
Then it all began again, but I could grasp only the fragments of the scene before me. Whatever that may have been. I just don’t know.
The concussion disappeared. The bruise did not.
The bruising itself was small, and easily hidden under a generous layer of foundation. The grey tinge complimented the circles under my eyes. Anonymous fits that person, she’s just a bit peaky. If only it would fade. This ghostly smudge just won’t budge.
And time just didn’t heal over. It left me exposed to the week ahead: and to the
I walked into the clinic in pieces.
The ones from yesterday, the day before, and before that. Bits broken off the last few days by furious mood swings and leaps of doubt into disaster. They had rattled in the back seat of my car menacingly, making the drive to the hospital almost unbearable. The red traffic lights were so sharp, the roar of the engines muted by my own mechanical cognitions. I’m running out of fuel.
Then the questions. The perfect marks of inquisition softening sentences round the edges. How enticing, how tempting to hand all these pieces over to my doctor. But where would I start? How do I begin to describe the disorder caused by my anorexic eruptions?
The food? Holding steady.
Mood? Not mine to say.
The colour of my behaviour. Oh, doctor, it still sparkles white in places. No, no sickness, not since that day. Yes the dizziness was only momentary. No, no I can’t have. This won’t have been concussion.
My state spread out and organised: you are not in control.
They allowed time for this. Six months in fact: there is no rush nor reason why everything must begin now, why time must go by in order.
This week, I will begin again. Embrace the fresh start, splash it all over like cold water.
Then Anonymous starts.
She jumps the gun and casts my recovery in the firing line, be it on my plate or in my running shoes. Anorexia has leapt out of the Cambridge bustle and dived into perceived inactivity, and it has really start to hurt. So much so, that I’ve been itching. I’ve been to the gym, just for a short release. Then the bite comes back harder, this time smarting with guilt.
Guilt is a mislead care. And I care for my recovery, but also my personality. I am not a dishonest person, yet I’ve been made to lie about those times I’ve smuggled exercise in.
My nurse said I could try some gentle swimming or weights, only if I ate a bit more and only when I wanted too. She has told me to exercise more caution than muscular strength. To not go crazy, to not over do it.
But of course, anorexia had a false start, and got to exercise first. She lied.
The delay to starting therapy is one of a number of false starts I’ve encountered this week.
Those hopes and plans I had lined up on the horizon have melted, one by one. They are slumped and deflated against the sinister glare of another receding day.
It is taking all the strength Ellie has in her to just grit her teeth and swallow. She chews through every setback: modules, university, therapy, another glorious mood swing into the dark. I can’t quite say how I’ve managed to get a grip on my floundering hopelessness, but today I really do feel I’ve got to get a hold of everything thats happening.
I’ll hold tight, and begin again.
Perhaps that begins with this struggle. There are days when reality beckons me out of my own skin. I step away from myself and watch it crouch over the day’s calorie calculations, and really wonder what would become of it if it could be something other than anorexic. I’ve a vague idea of what I’d like, and am moulding my future.
I start university in a few weeks, and am already immersing myself in subject reading. I begin my new job at Waitrose in two weeks. And I will finally start to unknot anorexia this week as I begin schema therapy. For real this time.
Every waxing day is an opportunity that I too often let anxiety ruin. We’re chewing through the calendar of new starts. Every day is refreshed by the night, and it begins again. It all just starts over itself, as if yesterday’s life were just another false start. Aren’t we lucky to have so many? Ellie, we must really make the most of them.
It can all start, and I will start again.
I’ve a better week lined up this week. It should keep my anxiety in order, and so the days may pass by with the clouds.
And then, the storm will begin again.
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.
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.
I’ve started climbing into myself to hide from triggers.
A noise will flash or the crowd will flare, and so I’ll leave my twitching limbs and retreat into the soft spot behind my eyes. The space between my ears, the attic above my nose. The place bad things go.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.
If I reach Ten and it is still there, I’ll do it again.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.
Ten again. Try again.
The slow, slurry numbers spoken soundly above the clamour. Time bought to heel for ten seconds. It is not a prevention method, it is merely distraction.
I count until the numbers run out. Until the sound swallows and I take a deep breath before sinking into anxiety. Or, I count until it all ends. Until the alarm is turned off, the child quietens, the gang pass by.
Day 29 snuck up on me.
I glanced at the rota and thought nothing of it: 15:00-01:00, nothing abnormal (insert ironic laughter here). The day was just over the brow of the night before when I saw it: I saw what I’d actually be doing. It is a summer school tradition to hold the shameless event that is a debate. A few hours for the Colleges to let off some steam and rip up some nerves. I was expected to supervise: so I was also expected to sit.
Anonymous did the maths. It would be approx. 1hr 15mins seated. This, Ellie reasoned, is much less than the average day at clinics back home. So why do I feel the need to still eat less? Even when it transpired that I’d be lingering on my feet anyway? My snack lots 200kcal and my motivation a substantial amount of energy. Supper shrank as I prepared it, the seated prospect blocking me from fully appreciating the long shift I had ahead of me. At 21:00, when all I had had been eaten, when I was roaming the quad gathering stray students, I regretted it. I chose regret of not eating over the guilt of doing so.
Only the short spat of rain vomiting from the sky gave me respite from the blame game rocking back and forth in my head. When the cloud cleared, it only made the heat hang it’s head in shame. Humidity bowed low, just scrapping my chin.
I have been fumbling with the day, unpicking it hour by hour, working towards tomorrow. My thoughts inclined to the downward slope. Yes, I was looking forward to my day off. I was looking forward to a normal day when I could eat normal food. I was looking forward to having time to gather these loose thoughts together, and try to wrap up the leftover ones from last week. I still haven’t published last week’s blog update, and I’m trying to remind myself that that is ok. It is my blog, and I write for me. So if ‘Me’ is having none of it right now, that has to be ok. Even if it means my name shrinks and becomes Anonymous.
Today actually went quite quickly. All this journalling is good like that: it helps me monitor time to ensure it passes by in an orderly and constructive manner. If only it could slow the pace down a bit. This short epoch of my recovering is starting to draw to a close. Independent living will be extinct within weeks. I just don’t feel ready for that. But the days just keep coming, they just keep hunting my time down.
Not good. Day 31, no. Not good.
I hit my head. I screamed into the sink. I hurled my arms about and threw pillows. Dull thuds, muffled glugs. Induced dizziness to shake it out, tremble it out. Nothing made the noise stop. Nothing made it all end.
In the nose, out the mouth. Time oozing through a thin capillary of pain, squeezing, squeezing, squeeze me tight.
It hurts when you look forward to a day, welcome it even, and then it strikes you down. To fill it with plans and feelings, only for it to sink and drag one down with it. I had been so excited to potter, to see, to think. And then I woke up, and the noise was there. A tinny progression, the whining wheeze of age 0-3 weaponry. The wrath of Peppa Pig.
My morning fell into crazed disarray thanks to a toddler, and a little rain. The accommodation block next door house many an interesting character, but none more so than the small army of children that march back and forth over the lawn. One such child, and it’s ignorance of Fisher and Price’s cheapskate designs, was where this anxious morning started. How to describe the dying cries of a drowned music box? How to capture the high-pitched squeals it made as the batteries refused to die, for a little over 18 hours? How to imagine what misfortune came upon the battered toy when it was left on, and out in the torrential rain? It fought hard. Only my anxious appeal to the nice man in no.7 ended the torment. Together, we hopped over the low fence and confronted the toy. Blood-curdling squeals of the pink piggy echoed throughout Cambridge as we took a screwdriver to the back and gouged out the batteries. It stopped. All but the breeze rustling in the trees was still.
No thanks to you, Peppa. The noise, and the anxiety of not knowing if or if ever it would cease, almost destroyed me. I got home, and virtually collapsed. My blood rushed and roared in harmony with the march of the hours around the clock face.
All this pain, all this worry. What a waste of a day.
Day 32 is my lookout post. I caught a glimpse of the next two weeks, and they were small. They’d slip through my fingers like sand. Chips in time, fragments, grains of a memory. It had felt like such a long time, a big period: but now I feel as if I’m watching the dune collapse.
I’m at work, and bored. It’s arrival’s day (the final one thank heavens!) and have had scant to do save for showing one student to their room. It’s just too early for anything else to be happening. So we are being paid to wait. We are waiting for time to just go already.
As such, I’ve had ample opportunity to pull apart today’s edition of Anxiety. May I please, for a moment, just talk myself through some of my surface worries?
My food. Anonymous hates the lack-of-structure to days like today almost as much as I do. I’ve had to eat at really dodgy times (who eats a snack 45mins before a meal?!) and it has really unsettled me. I’ve let Anonymous convince me the eating too much all at once has caught my body unawares, and that a calorific ambush is taking place. Plus I’m being weighed tomorrow and definitely haven’t drunk enough water, so won’t be able to flush any food out as poo. Don’t get me started on what lack of sleep will be doing. When every other cell in my body is delirious with exhaustion, what trickery will be played on my digestive system?
Am really tired and still have the rest of this 15 hour shift left to go. Oh, and I’ll have to cycle home. In the middle of the night. And its raining. And am terrified for getting ill; more terrified of getting ill and being forced to lounge about in bed whilst the flu works so hard at making life a misery.
I still haven’t had time to write up last week’s blog. I’ll have to bang it out tomorrow night, I just wish I had more time this week. The only deadline I’ve missed is my own, but that’s why it feels so important. In essence, I’ve failed.
As I mentioned earlier, tiredness is doing things to me. Strange decisions are to be expected, but things may have gotten a bit out of hand last night. To celebrate my first payslip, I blew it on some more tickets to a Shakespeare play, and also to a folk music concert. The venue is far too close to my flat for me to not be able to hear it, and I know the noise will make me anxious if I’m trapped in the flat in my supper routine. So if you can’t beat them, join them. This may be a mistake for many a mental reason; not least because now I’ve given Anxiety something financial to chew over too.
What if I’ve gained weight tomorrow? How will I stop when I get home? When my bicycle is taken away, when I’m confined to a car, when my meals are easier to manage? These are not the questions I should be asking, and I know it. What the real question is, is why would it be a bad thing. It means I’m trying to recover, after all.
I’ve written all that down now. It’s on the paper, so it doesn’t feel so crowded up here, in my head. So now, I would like to say how much I am looking forward to my day off tomorrow. I will have a shower in the morning, and eat a nice breakfast. I’ll take a little potter round the city after my weigh in, perhaps wander into St John’s College. I haven’t been there yet! Oh, and make a good snack. Also write my blog, go to the market for some peaches and generally soak up this inspiring city.
Oh, I also just got home and completely freaked out. At 1:34am, tired and a little sweaty, I made towards the kitchen to begin unpacking my bags. The door swung open, and there it was. A plastic bag, knotted at the top, just sitting in the middle of the floor. I hadn’t been home all day, and so there was only one explanation. Someone was in the flat.
With the calm and sleepy help Mum and Dad gave me over the phone (who needs sleep?) I searched the whole place. The guilt that reined when I spied the open window, felt the breeze, and discovered the suspicious substance was in fact only a handful of bayleaves, was almost unbearable.
Mum, Dad – sorry.
Day 33 was sucked away by my weigh in. Down 0.2kg.
I normally use the word “overwhelmed” on weigh-in days. Most of the time that’s fairly accurate, or is at least crushing enough to warrant such a heavy hyperbole. It doesn’t quite cover it today though. I’ve not been swallowed, I’ve just been left. The ground pulls away from underneath my feet, and confusion surges with tidal yearning. It happens suddenly. Everything bursts out, then in a flash it is all over. Now, there’s this hollow shell, and that sinking feeling. A derelict battlefield in a turf war.
These times are a relief. All my worries taken out of my hands and left out in the cold, but I am made to look at them. I’ve so much to do, to worry about.
But today I can’t. Today, I have left myself; because I am totally useless.
Today has been the first day I’ve egged time on. C’mon, get it over with. I just want my Mum. My Dad, a hug. I want to go home to my family. That’s where I’d find myself again.
Tidal feeling surge all the time in recovery, but they always flood new challenges in a harsher light. Today, I made some decisions. One of which was that I will once again not be going on holiday with my family this year. I won’t manage it. I’m not well enough to fight that battle yet.
And that should make me sad, but t has pacified Anonymous. So now, I just feel this nothing. This relief, this shame. This hollowness I’ll sink into and watch it all pass with the rush of time.
I had to fill it with something: so I finally published last week’s blog. If only I could go to bed with that lovely warm feeling of fulfilment; but alas, I cannot. The writing was terrible and done by the hand of exhaustion. There is guilt between the lines too, because I really should have spent this evening planning for my yoga class tomorrow. Instead, I’ve wasted time on myself.
Day 34 restored itself after some sleep. Yesterday, Tomorrow was to be a calamity. Now that it has fledged into Today, I’ve found that I’ve actually managed it quite well.
I spent a happy hour on my yoga mat this morning, letting time go with the flow as I pieced together a few routines to take my class through this afternoon. (That’s right: me, the anusara addict, has now been asked to lead a yoga class tonight. I’m armed with incense and essential oil!) I hope students sign up for it, I’ve worked quite hard on it.
Perhaps the prospect of mat time is why I rose from my slumber feeling so peaceful. Even the unfortunate timing of the rubbish lorry didn’t result in the usual angry outburst. It was heartbreaking for my breakfast to be ruined by the loud clatters and calls of the bin men, but I just held it in. That’s never happened before. I stood up, and left my porridge steaming. The few minutes it took for them to empty the bins and leave, taking their loud voices and rattling van with them, were agonising. And yet, I survived them. I returned to the table, and calmly carried on spooning cold oats into my mouth. I have never been more grateful to Anxiety that it chose to let that one ride.
Mat, playlist, speakers, candles. Check, check, check. It’s snack time on a stressful day, but today I can enjoy it. How lovely. Well, almost enjoy it. Anonymous must always find something to hold against me, and today she has chosen the cafe I’ve chosen to sit in for my snack. Only because I came here twice last week: it is becoming a bit of a regular really, and anorexia hates that. It is not what should be done when one is somewhere new. There are a host of cafes I should be trying: cute independents, indie artisans and the bustling ones just off Market Square. The thing is, I like it here. It is cool and quiet, and has large sweeping windows that overlook the street two stories down. Books muffle the noise, and so the road is muted into a silent movie. There are too many stairs to bring up prams; indeed the majority of the customers are bent over large volumes, noses inches from the page. But indulging in this too often feels like a betrayal to my recovery. It does not prove I can go anywhere and order coffee, nor train me to do so. But why, Ellie, is that such a bad thing?
Surely enjoyment is part and parcel of recovery?
Day 35 kept jumping into the future. It flashed forward a few weeks, leaping headfirst into the time I’d have to leave Camrbidge, and go back to normal. Back with the same food, but without the exercise. Back to the clinic: and back to weight gain.
I’m talking to my nurse on the phone in a few days, and will make a contingency plan. I know the Anxiety that awaits me when I return home, and I don’t want to bring it into the house. Mum and Dad have also been allowed a break from this whole horrid anorexic thing inside me, and I don’t want to expose them to it anymore. I can’t help feel that the time I’ve had here has helped it. The obsessions and compulsions feel stronger; and the fight harder. Everything is getting noisy in here, and I’m frightened.
I’ve also resolved to make the most of the good snacks here. Anonymous will never let me have such yummy things without earning them first by bike. At least for now, I can savour the time that I can tuck into a thick dollop of peanut butter.
This week, I’ve watched time hurry by. Sometimes in a bid to reach something good, some end goal; and then as if were running from something frightful.
Which it will be, Time will tell. Until then, and only until then, I would like to say how very lovely and privileged I feel to be here. I feel truly lucky to have Now, and to know of all the Thens.
This post arrives huffing and puffing.
It straggles behind the days that have passed since my deadline. I set it myself: this is my own downfall. Late.
I am so sorry this post is late.
I journal every day.
It is a small, achievable goal; one that eases the passing of time. Writing keeps me safe.
Blogging, however, is vulnerable to Anonymous. Deadlines are set to be constrictive, and they always fray a little, forking in different directions. They create a three line whip. My blog is helpful, but this fickle friend sometimes seems like a plot to push Ellie. To succeed, to earn something, prove something.
So here it is: the tarnished edition.
The late one.
Every word gasped in embarrassment for my tardiness in writing this up. Excuses may heave between the lines: I’ve had so many late shifts; my body aches by the time I’m allowed to write; the gaps Ellie squeezes her writing into during the day are getting thinner and thinner.
Days 22-28 have melted together.
Time bared down, the moments swam. Days are slipping between my sweaty palms.
The pages of my notebook have stuck together, and the events that plotted my week have sunk into illegible diary entries. I cannot tell what lead to what, not what lead me to stand on the scales at my weigh in and for it to read 49.8kg. Exactly the same as last time: the fine balance holding my recovery together. Not up, not down, but afloat.
And now, to write. Deciphering where I lost time is like trying to cut water. The days are submerged under work, sweat, and suncream. How can I divide time into paragraphs? How to separate this tender week into days, as if they are somehow apart from one another? What has time to do with wringing out opportunity, and squeezing out these thick, gooey memories?
So I shan’t try. I shall just marvel at this sweltering lump of good and bad, up and down. I shall look upon the week and admire how time changes when it is held up in euphoria, or dropped into the depths of anxiety.
Some things cling to the memory of this week like beads of sweat.
The ones that glitter are tainted golden. Formed as time oozed by pleasantly like syrupy drops of honey.
My body wept in an emotional reunion with the heat. After two years trapped in an anorexic winter, the shock of feeling sweat sweep down my brow was crushing. I am proud to say I moped it up with pride. I’ve worked so hard for the privilege to sweat again.
The sun smiled as Ellie took my hand and launched us into the day. When the endorphins were rushing faster than my thoughts, I found myself sucking every last drop out of the time I had this week. I tried new recipes and plucked up the courage to take on the food challenges I knew I’d win.
Day 24 was positive because I ate an unplanned banana when it transpired I’d be running sportsday. I needed the fuel, recognised this was so, and acted on it.
Day 25 was positive because I began dreaming again. Visions of a good job and a good life. It was only later I realised I was dreaming of recovery again.
There was more – a Shakespeare play, a yummy supper, seeing a friend. Every day, I’ve tasted the time and tried to savour it. Those that are left are rationed, and Ellie wants to enjoy them.
Other moments have made this week humid with worry. A series of consecutive late shifts rendered my body unable to hold itself up. I leaned against the wall, still hot from the heat of the day, and sapped energy from the bricks. On those days, I had to arrange my limbs carefully before my plate of food, and try not to give away to anyone how insufficient I knew those meals to be. Exhaustion is ravenous. I am so tired I find myself wanting to eat all the time, but I’m too scared to just in case my weight jumps again.
The days I’ve had to lock the windows just to keep the noise out.
Some days at work concede to the heat, and melt into listlessness. It is the combination of boredom and hunger that makes the bad moments so sticky. Even at home, when there is nothing else waiting for me but my book and bed, I can’t shake myself out of that hollow place. And still, the heat held me together, in place.
Other things hollowed me out that week. My newsfeeds were drowning under graduation gowns and champagne glasses. Every single on of my friends and several of my foes have now graduated. I’d then step out into the street in a city teeming with intelligence. Success pressed against me everywhere, and crowded me in my own inadequacy. I had to enforce social media quarantines to prevent the spread of shame from one day to the next.
Anxiety did not confine itself to the limits of a single week. No, as I approached the halfway point of my stay in Cambridge, the thoughts rounded on what will happen afterwards. They chastised me for letting my exercise get so out of hand, and began describing in detail how hard I’m going to have to work at reducing it when I get home. How distressing it will be. My thoughts loath the very idea of returning to a routine I now know to be futile: it will never be as good as it is here. Time’s tide turned at the halfway point, and began to suck me out to distress. How will I cope when everything returns to normal?
All the while, in every entry, I’ve just been reminding myself that I’m ok. That it is all going to be alright. I’ve proved I can survive time through thick and thin, and I’m just going to have to keep doing it. One day I’ll believe I can.
As time passed that week: thick, gooey and confusing, I let it lather itself over every moment. Sticky days dripping by, minutes clumped together like dollops of honey.
A warm, sweet taste to every bite at the day.
And tomorrow is Tuesday, and I have to start writing up the week we’ve just endured. Or else it shall arrive late, and the meaning I’m so lucky to have found in it will be lost.
A job offer was to be a mere threshold from which I could step out of myself, and into this new person. For a few weeks, it would all be new. A confident skin glowing with enthusiasm, one so honest and true it could mask anorexia for a few weeks.
A summer job would take me away. A breakout so violent it would shake Ellie awake for good, and make her turn time forward in her direction. The weeks away would blemish days with new things. Like acne, I’d stay awake to watch nights rupture into mornings. I’d do fun things and new things, cool things and social stuff. Escaping anorexia would redefine “things”.
It was a beautiful sight to behold.
Nights glittered with the dew of clubhouse sweat, mornings studded by efficiency and days brimming with life, friends, fun – things. Socials would wade into weekends and let the energy ripple right into Monday morning. Perhaps a love interest would bob along, perhaps a spark would jump from my mouth to a career path’s ear. Who knew? Who knew what “things” I’d encounter and claim as my own? Who knew what new “things” about myself I’d have to keep forever.
Who knew that what I had seen – what that vision had been, all those months ago – was a dream of recovery. I was dreaming of living in a recovered future.
Of course, these things are but a dream. A little pocket of calm amongst an anorexic nightmare. Still, Anonymous couldn’t quite deny Ellie the right to dream. It’s her favourite pastime.
Even in the days leading up to leaving, I hadn’t woken up. I was still indulging so much on a fantasy that my bags were bloated with glittery tops and high heels. My tennis racket waited in my suitcase for the day it would be used on a hot summer’s day. There was room in that bag to take the memory of a tennis partner home in, and the energy I’d surely have to do so. Even as I distributed Anonymous all over the flat, and let her loose to scope out where her routine would lie, I still didn’t wake up.
Only when the first staff social stomped nearby, did Ellie stir.
The details caused a disturbance in the air: punting in the afternoon followed by Pimms and strawberries on the lawn. Supper somewhere with a youthful (ie, greasy) name and then on to a pub until alcohol outstripped blood supply. My comfort zone stops long before this line of weakness. At the very invitation to such an exciting event, Ellie started to pick up and give out worrying vibes. Sticky carpets paved the way through crowds of people and clouds of calories looming in the smoky nightlife air. A whole chunk of Anonymous’ time would be handed over to another person and spread thickly, horizontal, on a punt. There, we’d be trapped. Incarcerated and subjected to an anxious few hours stuck seated, with nowhere to run but the shallow depths of the river.
Ellie still dreamt, she could still hear the utopian calls beckoning her to err on that side of the decision. The night advertised recovery in it’s fullest form. There were so many promises of interaction it would no doubt keep, in return for an Anonymous concession. Which she simply cannot give.
I couldn’t do it. Ellie woke up, and was frightened.
The staff social calendar haunts me. The happiest few weeks for a while have been stalked by the expectation that looms above me. It’s a shadow cast over the contentment I hold with solitude. I’m careful to skirt around it, and not tread on it’s toes with my big anorexic feet.
There have been meals, picnics, pub trips, punts. The events orbit food, and draw boozy blots over the summer. Things sit too close to food, and for too long in the company of inactivity. These things are too far out of my reach.
Ellie’s stomach twists with longing every time she says no. We walk together in the opposite direction, and let Anonymous be. She gets very worried if we wake her, better to let the beast lie. I always knew I’d have to choose my battles here, that I wouldn’t be able to do everything, not yet. There just hadn’t been any warning of this fact in my dream.
I’ve been starved of social interaction with anyone my own age for quite some time. Living in a quiet rural village and working with 4 year olds has it’s golden moments, but I am often foraging for them alone. When every other 22 year is out there doing things and getting things, there aren’t many people left with whom I can share what I find. So coming here has already given me ample amounts of exposure to people like me. And I’m relieved to say I really like it. I do like most people.
I’ve been so hungry for company. Only now I’ve tasted it do I realise how much so. Yet it has come, and much of the time I still don’t know quite what to do with it. How to digest something so rich, so nourishing? And how to be, how to hold myself in my generation. To recognise the bones that prop us up out of demography: that rapper, that film, that classic hit. What pray, does “reem” mean?
Aside from the obvious problems a recovering anorexic might have with socialising with people at events, there are nice gaping holes in my memory of actual human interaction. It’s not bad, but enough to make me wary.
And now, I’m hungry.
On the other side of town, all my colleagues are tucking into brunch. A staff trip to celebrate a great session and greater team. I shall allow you a little more than the excuse I scraped together for them as to why I wouldn’t be there. But please don’t expect the full picture: there are too many things in the nightmare for me to conjure into words.
Oh the hazards. Brunch trips over two meals and lands in a calorific puddle of sweaty uncertainty. The trickery that would do to my metabolism rivals the thought of what I’d be exposed to. Had I simply gone and sipped black coffee, I’d still have been there. I’d have been there in the presence of lumbering servers serving slowly. Wafts of bacon or eggs or caramelised fruit would gather in my throat and drip calories into my system. The endless chatter, however pleasant, would eat into my seat. The heavy weight of time would sit next to me and glare as an hour, possibly two, passed by with me being able to stand, or move, or exercise. There are some times in the day when this is ok. But not in the clear run of hours between breakfast and lunch. Not landed lazily between two well established mealtimes, not on top of so many other things. Not at brunch.
I won’t put myself through it. It would hurt too much. And that, I recognise, is selfish.
I should have gone, shown my face. I should have chosen other people’s desire to see me over my own to stay away. For I am Anonymous, and it makes sense to put everyone else first. Expectation is a crafty thing. It has so many mirrors.
Ellie is recovering her summer dream so convincingly one would have thought this is the best it could get. Even with Anonymous putting things all over it, my time here looks to be every bit as good as that vision.
And really, that is more than Reality had expected.