Week 5: Tickety-Boo

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.

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Today’s shift was totally worth it to have supper with a thunderstorm.

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.

Day 30 rose and fell in a sigh.

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.

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Offender A

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.

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It’s ok though!

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.

A Heaped Tablespoon

My family were retreating down the motorway, heading towards a week of bright horizons and rest: a holiday. I had to stay behind. If Ellie had gone, she would have taken Anonymous with her. I needed to keep her where I could see her. Ellie needed to know the grounds on which she was being hunted.

Anorexia has been dreading the summer. Just when Anonymous had adjusted her routine to the cold, the seasons had to change. Arrid hours made the days fat with extra time to fill. A heatwave burnt clothes off everyone around me and encouraged Ellie to shed the baggy coats she hides beneath. Anonymous blushes in the heat, embarrassed that this body seems well enough to know anything but cold.

I saw the challenges pile up in the hallway. Bags bulged with weaponry: a towel, suncream, a bottle of Pimms. Before my eyes, the patchwork of a holiday was being collected: the mismatch of relatives bedtimes and bathroom habits; lie-ins stretching the seams of a clock, chiming to no agenda. Gatherings and ruches around the table for a late breakfast. Sit-ins protesting the right to rest. Splashes of tea in copious cups of conversation, and waves of inactivity lulling one to sleep on the soft, sandy beach. A random pattern winding down into the sea.
Ellie couldn’t stomach the thought of wrapping Anonymous up in this unpredictable bundle. We don’t know how she would have reacted in such a hostile environment. Anonymous would never have flexed herself around the rules of a family holiday. It looked to be a hostile environment.
There was no Anorexia-friendly place to eat in isolation, and not enough stairs to climb. The spectre of mealtimes rattling uncertainly between 8 or 9 or 10 – depending on who does what, when they want. I was forbidden from exposing my brittle bones to grimacing waves, so could only have watched others dive into the sea. I would have been on the outside of my own pack.
I needed to stay behind so I could the tracks Ellie has yet to make in recovery.
I wanted to give my family the break from Anorexia Ellie couldn’t have. How naive we were to think it would be that simple: I spoke on the phone to my parents every night. Anonymous and I were still there in Cornwall, in spirit.
Declaring I wasn’t well enough to go on holiday rattled me. My parents had tried to shift expectation off my shoulders, explaining how we could make a plan to fit Anorexia’s habits around the holiday. Nothing could heave the burden of my own expectations: I had really thought there was a chance I would make it. So much so, I even booked a week off work in advance.

Last week was glued together by a heaped tablespoon of almond butter. Bronze and bulging, it hit the surface of a smoothie with a dull thud, echoing around the empty kitchen. Anonymous ate it for breakfast. It set her up for the day, energised with guilt. This tablespoon of almond butter stuck to me through that first lonely day. I don’t know why I challenged myself so early on: the real challenge was simply making it to the end of the week: no work, no family, no plan.

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Behold

Ellie could sense Anorexic activity. There was something insidious at work in the silence. An urge to pull away from my set meals, to sink beneath the responsibility of measuring the correct portion size. An Anonymous interference charged the empty air with anxiety. Decisions over food were made in cursed Whiching hours. Anonymous and Ellie fed each other ghost stories of what she might be capable of now she was left unattended. I became so crowded by my own company, and so frightened. Loneliness exposed me to myself, and I was under scrutiny. Watch closely. You’re about to be tricked.
My Anorexic rituals were practised to ward away the black magic of anxiety. I found Anonymous picking out grains of couscous until the portion size was exact. Ellie set a timer on her phone to monitor how long it took to finish a meal. Time was sticky, it slid by slowly. And everything was coated in a thick tablespoon of almond butter.

A week off work teetered on the cusp of a crisis. My meal plan has been doctored to balance my energy input and output, with extra energy to waste on my job as a waitress. By the pricking of my thumbs, I knew a week away from work would unbalance the equation. Less activity in the week would surely mean more energy to spare, and more energy to hoard under my arms. Any fluctuation in activity normally causes my food intake to drop: this is the Anorexic setting. I choose slim pickings if the sun dries out customers and I have a quiet shift at work, or if a traffic jam clogs up my morning with sitting. Being put on a small section at work means taking less steps through the day, and that can cause Anorexia to have a power surge on shift. Yet this week, Ellie had to test her balancing act. How would I manage that long, unwanted week ‘off’ balance?

Extra shifts lurked under the rota, right under my row of empty hours. Fat, juicy hours of movement and purpose. They were just so tempting: and they gave me something to do, something to take my mind off that heaped tablespoon of almond butter. My week ‘off’ was reduced, and so was my anxiety.

I took the tablespoon of almond butter into my hospital appointment: one of the first I have attended without Mum. I held it in my hand when I got on the scales, but dropped it in shock when I saw that I had lost weight – again. Anonymous couldn’t explain herself: she couldn’t explain why her logic hadn’t followed through. I had only worked 2 days, only sixteen hours skulking around an empty restaurant. Ellie heaped granola onto brand new smoothie bowls; gnawed around the hull of a strawberry after it had been weighed; seen oil bulge around the rim of a teaspoon measurement. I felt calories backing up thick and fast when I sat with my friend after we finished eating, and felt energy trapped by a heatwave that wouldn’t let it escape in shivers. And what about that heaped tablespoon of almond butter?
My nurse crushed my confusion: “You can’t think your way out an eating disorder, Ellie. You have to weight it out. You just have to do it.”

The words came up like vomit. I tried to stem them, trying to concentrate and order them. I tried to give it a name. But they just kept coming. I couldn’t control it: it just kept coming and coming. I emptied myself, and afterwards, everything was hollow.
I have been working with a psychologist, trying to work out why I am holding onto Anorexia. Last week we stumbled onto something:
My Eating Disorder helped me recover from an assault. It never occurred to me she might ask for anything in return.
Perhaps that’s why I can’t let her go.
End of session. We’ll continue this next week.
I walked out into the empty hospital corridor, and went home.

A memory rattled the window panes, shrieking into my injured silence.

It’s all part of the treatment, apparently. Sometimes it is hard to believe it is healing rather than harmful. Just like the almond butter, I suppose.

Anxiety subsided when it wasn’t under all that empty time pressure, and Ellie helped starve it out by keeping busy. We dead-headed the rosebush before petals could weep to the floor. We walked with boredom down public footpaths. We took time and placed it around the house: dust that shelf; take those bins out; arrange some flowers. Check and recheck and double check the clock, just to be sure time was wasting away. We froze bananas for my morning smoothie, we read Rumi Kaur. We digested each task slowly, never allowing temptation to lure us to our desk, or between the pages of a book. I settled down with Anxiety, and listened to it’s rasping snores. Writing this now, I can taste some sweetness from that week. Clamorous thoughts subsided into a gentle white din during the afternoons tending the vegetable patch. Joy coloured a day away from a grey job, and being treated as a waitress uniform apparently invites. I even plucked up the courage to ask a friend over for supper.

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(IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.)