On campus, Anorexia has worked to maintain Anonymity.
She allows me to turn up (the long way round, to squeeze in some extra steps), get my head down, and keep it there. Down there, I write. I scribble and scrawl, I think until my legs vibrate under the table. The effort lashes my brain into action: keep up, keep up, keep it up. Stuck to my pencil case is a post-it note, a luminous square stemming the steady leak of anorexic thoughts. “Your brain is a muscle too”.
And so, it must work. Just to persuade my legs to stay stagnant, to convince my throat to swallow, to prove I can do it – my brain must work.
In some ways, it is quite useful. The work is delicious: syrupy lines of poetry, juicy chunks of prose, long and indulgent writing workshops. Thick, waffly passages from some overrated critical theorist. Each lecture is a feast. I stuff myself with the point of it all, grinding everything down until it is a filling ball of purpose. I let it consume me, and take refuge in it’s vastness. Anorexia has trouble finding me here.
The work is such a brilliant escape plan. It almost offers Anonymous another home, a seasonal escape. It gives her something else to use, something else to eat.
I race my lecturer through her notes, jumping on the next conclusion ravenously. Please feed my starving brain, please give it something to chew on that isn’t the duration of time I’ve been forced to sit here and grow sedentary.
Only a couple of times has it gone into overdrive, and anorexia takes control. I stand up, I leave the seminar. I let my legs take the strain. Exhaustion is a familiar place, and a comfort.
I’ve adapted my diet to this strange land of libraries and liberals. Ellie takes care to calculate the precise amount of calories she’ll need to consume days in advance, and presumes anorexia will comply when the time comes.
A portion of my day is spent roasting vegetables, boiling quinoa, whipping up dressings. They’re all stored in neat tubs in my fridge, until they’re packed up and taken on their final outing after a lunchtime lecture.
When I prepare food, Ellie prepares herself. Together we cook up a plan to eat properly tomorrow. It’s all part of this great heist to take back my life from my eating disorder.
The terrain here is harsh. It is sensory assault, inflicted by a campus wide cultivation of the survival of the fittest.
The Sports Park glitters just moments from my classroom. Work-out sessions and fitbit competitions crown the social calendar. Student life is mined with anorexic traps. Already I have been caught a few times: I’ve joined the gym, and used it. I’ve been on a fun run, and even did some dancing. I let Ellie loose into a group of people who didn’t know that, to them, I’d always be Anonymous. The twisted bit is, I feel amazing. It’s a slipper slope, and Ellie already wishes we hadn’t injected these extra bits of exercise. Anorexia has an addictive personality.
How I wish I could say I’ve come out better for it. But the bruising, the twinging, the sinister grinding of my leg bones. Osteoporosis haunts me as I nurse my feet at night. Why must anorexia ignore it’s warnings?
And now, the people. Other cell-structures allegedly functioning on a similar biological level. How can they tolerate their campus being consumed by food?
The popcorn passed round lecture halls; the street food outlets stalking the corridors, the greasy mark of a long digested pizza. A confetti of croissant crumbs that somehow spray in between the desk edges. The cake brandished in our faces as if free food were a weapon. Every seminar carries the stench of whimsy. My concentration slips in the fug of steaming doughnuts and noodle cartons. I had forgotten how integral food is to student life. Perhaps that’s why I turned on it so determinedly at Manchester.
My calorie radar has been triggered several times by the simple presence of another person. Excessive after shave and powerful perfumes grab anorexia by the throat and hack calories out of thin air. Paranoia sniffs out offenders and tries to sit as far away as possible from them. For the disgruntled few who turn up late and sit beside me, I can only apologise. I’m Anonymous: so I have to move my desk away from you.
You might make me fat.
Anonymous makes herself a bit of a spectacle.
She is a talking point after class: “why did that girl not talk to any of us?”. She makes a repellant of herself quite accidentally, by jiggling her legs under the desk, or fidgeting. She shakes the calories out from under her skin, even during the most enthralling discussions. She doesn’t sit down until the lecture finally begins, but prowls round and round her chair, sizing it up and preparing herself for the gruelling 50 mins ahead.
After class, Anonymous disappears. She takes the long walk around the lake, desperately trying to make up for the gluttony of sitting so long in a classroom.
People here don’t know me as Anonymous. I introduced myself as Ellie, and use her skin as a mask. On my anxious days, I pretend to be Ellie just by turning up. Sometimes, just making myself go is the biggest anorexic challenge. It looks so big up there, and it will eat me alive.
My Anonymous mask has slipped a bit as of late.
After a terrible anxiety attack (more on which later,) I forced Ellie into a meeting for the student newspaper. A 2 minute speech, regurgitation of confidence past and a rush of blood to the head later, I was voted in as the new Opinions editor. Anonymous, indeed.
I’ve also managed to let one or two people in. Not so far as to show them my Anonymous side, but enough for Ellie to believe they are her friends. She feels quite content with this, a little bonus to the whole thing. I hadn’t expected to make any friends. I really thought Anxiety was set on preventing it altogether. Something must have eaten that sentiment up. It’s quite nice being around young people again.
And they are very young, really. I’m but four years older than them, and somehow have missed the generation memo. This snapchat lingo is baffling. I’ve a Fear Of Missing Out on where it is I can take refuge from my own ignorance: what pray, is beef? As an anorexic vegetarian, I hope to never have any, with any of them. The crisis was well and truly announced when my lecturer paused mid-sentence: “In Friends … you’re probably too young for Friends”.
Covering for Anonymous is exhausting, but I’ve really enjoyed my first few weeks at uni. And now, the but. For there is always a but.
Something has been eating me. Devouring, actually.
It is souring all the good things to tell about my first three weeks at University. All the joy has gone bland. All the hope, now bitter.
I’m being marinaded in my own sweat, and perfectly seasoned for a relapse.
It is a particularly delicious time to be gobbled up by Anxiety. There is so much to me: so many meaty changes, fresh excitement and pick-of-the-crop opportunities to let Ellie do well. I’ve moved out, started university, eaten white potatoes again.
And now, the but.
I’m being eaten alive in my flat, and I’m not supposed to talk about it.
I’m beside myself now, and will persuade it to open up to you a little. I can’t give details, but can lend some feeling.
Each day I am lured back to my flat, looking forward to some solitude, some peace, some slack from all the challenges that pull at Anonymous. Somewhere for Anonymous to retreat from battle, for Ellie to lay down her weapons and books, and bak away from the reality of it all. The sheer hustle and bustle of a life once lived, and starved.
Then it bites. A smog curls up from below and smothers hope in it’s sleep. I wake up every morning to the nightmare I had tried to escape last time. The past smells sickly sweet, and it lingers on the air. Distress tattooed across my forehead in black and blue. Angry lashes against the floor and the noise levels, anxious explosions ignited by the sweet stench floating in the air.
These are all the details I am willing to give at the moment. All that is left to say is that there are no words to describe the distress I’ve been in over the situation I’ve found myself in.
I didn’t put her here, not again.
Why, why am I being put through this again? Just when everything else was going so well – there had to be some reason for me to recoil in Anorexia’s arms. She feels just as frightened and out of control as I.
What’s worse, is the whole thing is exhausting. For now there is no slack: I’m challenged at uni, and challenged at home.
We’re all just waiting for something to give.
If I have to move home again, I will be destroyed. Anorexia won’t cope with the commute and the lectures, she won’t manage so much sitting in one day. Not with food too. She will lash out under scrutiny and burrow down a black hole to grieve.
Until I know whether or not I can stay here, I’m just trying to hold it together.
Bits of Ellie flake away.
Anonymous tears time from my day one hour at a time, like petals.
All I can do it stuff Anorexia full of work and distraction, and hope she can’t speak with her mouth full.
This week, it worked.
Despite the anxiety, the cruel series of unfortunate events unfurling in my flat, the exercise, the food stalking me in the corridors – I’ve held it.
I held it all together: every 50kg.
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.
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.
Once again, I have neglected to write about today, because I’ve been too busy making a meal of last week on my blog. It is now published, and so I can draw a line under what was a very anxious week. Lines can always be blurred, but the only thing I want to take with me into the next is my desire to do better. This week, I want to do well.
I’m sure I’ve had plenty of positive and constructive thoughts on the day, but alas: writing of the last tore me from the present, and I haven’t really been in the moment at all. I have been chewing it all over, rewriting my misery again and again. And now what of today? Where am I, here and now?
So here I shall commence: in the here and now, at my desk and scribbling fast so I can get to bed.
When I got myself to here today, it actually turned out to be really nice. Nice is not a word I use liberally, but it’s quaint and inoffensive qualities render it perfect for this description.
Anonymous dreads her days off. The vast hours of time moving at a glacial pace through the day serve as a tribute to all I have lost by wishing it away. Boredom lurks too close by, and preys on me as I drift.
Today was a day off: ie, a day in my control. This is how I want to think of it, for it is a day that belongs entirely to me. Aren’t you lucky, Ellie?
Ellie decided to do something brave with her precious morning. She took a gamble with how much exercise there’d be in it for her, and agreed to meet a friend from work for coffee. I’ve been trying to keep the extent of Anonymous’ power over me away from her, so glued my tongue into my cheek when she told me she knew of the “perfect” coffeehouse. Two unknowns found in the plan.
I’m so glad I went. Cancellation was a tempting escape route away from the possibility for sitting for longer than usual, dodgy waiters who lie about the fat content of their milk. “Of course this is skinny milk,” they say. I have to drip drops off my spoon, holding it up against the light. Only skinny milk is watery enough to see through. The latte itself came out bigger than I expected. Prickling panic subsided after Ellie reminded me that we’d normally be having a snack too, not just a latte. So it was alright: not ideal, for Anonymous had a slim plan, but alright.
I went because Ellie enjoys spending time with people. She likes feeling together, especially when she’s able to be with herself too.
The activity anxiety stung less as soon as we stood up to go for a walk down the river. The air was cooler today, and I know my body had to use some extra calories to wrap my jacket around my shoulders tightly. I knew the walk was coming, and I wasn’t having to hold off too long because she drank her coffee at about the same pace as me. And so it came to be that Ellie could enjoy the time, the place, the company. We had a very gentle chat on the nourishing pics of literature, family, jobs and gossip. I think I feel better for just having some normal human contact with someone. Working relationships are propped up and unnatural.
Don’t get me wrong: I do like being alone. Most of the time actually, it suits Ellie and Anonymous quite well. One can think, and one can write. Sometimes though, three is a crowd. It gets stuffy stuck in this head.
Mum and Dad left for their holiday today. Not that it makes much difference to me literally: they’re at home and I’m up here. But the safety net of their phone calls has been moved quite far out of reach, out of range and signal. Which is fine. It may do me good to try fighting Anonymous without running crying to someone afterwards. It will do them good too.
I just hope they didn’t leave worrying about me. I’m so selfish: I ended up calling them again last night out of desperation. They didn’t need to hear their daughter being eaten alive by her illness, it is cruel. I just couldn’t keep her in.
The sun came out, and time took it’s course on the day. The afternoon seems to have been trodden into the ground by distraction. I’ve kept busy by prepping tomorrow’s food, finally found a Waitrose, (don’t laugh, where my food comes from it very important to me. I’m anorexic, not just a Surrey girl), and writing this feeling quite pleased I published my blog earlier.
Achieving sends me on a high, and somehow it is just easier to believe that it is all going to be ok. Even if the achievement is something as small as willing something good to happen, amongst all the bad.
Out of a hard week last week, I was able to produce a blog post. Something to write about.
This week, I’d like to cope. That would be a novel idea: plenty to get my teeth into there.
Day 16: Friday 13th, of course.
I just screamed in public.
I will never be allowed back into Clare’s Scholars gardens again, not if any of the tourists reported the strange sight that was myself. Cross-legged and cowering beneath the dahlias, glaring at the glum gardener as he continued to mow the lawn over the spot I had been sitting near not a few moments ago, but had to absent on grounds of rising noise anxiety.
I had taken my snack to the nice corner, the one far away from other people, and so far away from triggers. Just as I spilt my tea over breakfast; as the recycling man clattered as I was taking my first mouthful of porridge; as the traffic lights turned red – it was never to be smooth. I ran from the swarming tourists on the street, and hid in the garden.
Then they all found me. The gardeners emerged from the hedges clutching machines and clippers. Punts drifted to this side of the river, screeching children and screaming babies making their air sodden with alarm. Greasy teenagers lumbered along to the beat of their music that they had to be playing out of speakers: because clearly the revered Cambridge ambience and birdsong wasn’t upbeat enough for them. Noise rose in the air and collected together with the swarm of other triggers following me: exhaustion, fear to eat but fear of not eating, loneliness, and dread of the long shift ahead of me later on.
I so wanted my snack. To curl my tongue around it and savour this: my prize for getting to 11:30. I was so hungry. There was so much noise in my head, and suddenly too much outside it.
And so yes, I screamed.
My anxiety jumped when I arrived in town. I locked my bike up after a bemusing journey in (more on that to follow), and then I was swept up in the clamour and sweat of thousands of people teeming down King’s parade.
Up to the click of my lock, I was doing ok. The morning, in normal circumstances, would have been written off as “pointless”. Turning up to a yoga class in a strange city, anticipating an hour or so of the much missed therapy it gives me at home, had opened the day up to chance. I knew there was a chance the class wouldn’t be as good as my one back at home, I was prepared for that.
What I was not prepared for was to rock up to the studio and discover it was nestled behind a pungent vegan restaurant. Even at 9 in the morning, the stench of seared aubergine soaked the air in oily odours. The floor in reception was thudding from the heavy metal music playing in the kitchen next door. In the yoga studio: a place of peace and contemplation, was tarnished by the screaming vocals tortured by squealing guitar chords. Then the teacher turned up – let me not even start on that. To push up into downwards dog and call it anusara, nose blocked and ears ringing, is something contradictory to the famed intelligence of this city.
I left after nine minutes, my head feeling noisier and shakier than I had when I walked in. Not quite the point, some would agree. No matter. I have my bicycle, so I’m not too worried about missing out on the muscle tone leant by my weekly yoga at home. It just would have been nice to do something familiar, something comforting.
Despite the disappointment, I was a little amused. What would have been a waste of time at home I can simply write off as “futile”. In which case, I have achieved what every explorer aims to probe: pointlessness. For only when we discover something is completely useless do we call it useless, and make it a boundary. This is how we build up our knowledge of the place we are in. I will not attempt to go to yoga here again.
Then I got to town, and to all the people. And now here I am, screaming.
Let me move now along to here: my evening shift.
I already hate this.
Tonight we are throwing the student’s graduation party, and we’ve already had dramas erupt like champagne corks. My worries are threatening to do the same, but with arguably less energy. I don’t have enough to spare. I certainly don’t have enough to get me through the next few days: ten hour shifts back-to-back, with two night shifts thrown in for good measure.
I’m frightened my body will fail.
I’m frightened my mind will burn out.
I’m frightened the cold night air will help me catch a cold.
I’m frightened I’m not going to have enough to time to prepare all my food.
I’m frightened because I don’t want to eat this.
I’m frightened because I have to.
How else will I achieve the week?
Day 17: Shake and rattle
Ok I’m struggling.
Someone is in the flat next door playing jazz. Let me clarify: they are playing smooth jazz from good quality speakers, and have been doing so all evening. There was an interval that coincided (miraculously) with my supper. I suspect the hot date taking place over there most likely gave their ears a break and let their mouths do some work. I’m talking about eating and talking, by the way. Anyway, it has started again. It isn’t hurting me, but it is making me anxious. Mainly because I’m convinced the sound has stressed me out too much, and now I won’t sleep.
I have a 12 our shift tomorrow and two night shifts in the days following that. Does anyone else sense I’m heading for a burnout?
Exhaustion makes me eyes lose focus sometimes. In order to not lose focus on what is on my plate, perhaps it would be useful for me to address my food and exercise in this diary. I can’t hide from it, especially not with another weigh in coming up.
Today I have been restricting, and have been duly punished for it. I’ve been feeling quite ill all day. Anonymous made me stand all the time. A day catching up with work admin was not going to serve as an excuse to sit at a desk. Instead, I volunteered to run errands and move bags. I fetched students and vigorously put paper through the shredder, flying arms and all. I sat down for 20 mins at lunch, and 10 because I needed some coffee. Why does that still feel like too much?
Tomorrow is the first of three difficult days.
Having indulged my feelings in this notebook, I think I know what I need to do to manage the coming shifts. Survivor’s instinct dictates that I draw on what I know works. So maybe what I should do is force the days to be good ones.
Against their will and the will of fate too, perhaps. But this is a more positive angle than the ones I’ve had before.
I guess for today, I can at least say that I’ve achieved an angle.
Day 18: Difficult Day 1
I’m already not enjoying this.
As I started work at 11 today, I thought it would be a good idea for me to get a coffee and have my snack beforehand. I approached the cafe stemming the cold sweat that has been breaking out since last night. 30 degree heat appears to be doing nothing for my immune system, and I think I’ve come down with a cold. My feet have been dragging somewhat because my thighs are a bit stiff. They still aren’t used to cycling, nor to disrupted sleep patterns. I have really been quite looking forward to this coffee. It has been a busy morning prepping for lunch, snacks and supper, and already getting hot out there. I’ve been wanting to fill you in.
And now here I am, feeling worried.
Perhaps it is because the cafe’s dishwasher has broken, and I now have to drink my coffee out of a paper cup. Perhaps it is because I miss my Mum and Dad, because I haven’t had a hug in weeks. Perhaps it is because whenever I go on Facebook, my newsfeed clogs up with all my happy friends embracing each other in their graduation gowns. Perhaps it is because I have such a long way to go before all that. Perhaps I do just feel a little left behind, and at the mercy of this illness.
Perhaps it is the disgust I feel for all this self-pity.
Ok Ellie, stop. You’ve forgotten to breathe again. You’ve forgotten where you are.
I didn’t check this was skinny milk. Oh no, I’ve already drunk at least half of it. I sigh: how will I think to remember this when I get on the scales tomorrow? That this one latte will have such an influence over my weight.
Stop Ellie. Try and enjoy these 15 mins you have here. Put your pen down if you like: you shouldn’t be writing if you’re only doing to prove something to Anonymous. Sip your coffee, taste your snack.
I think this is skinny milk. It looks watery enough.
1:24am: I just got home. It was actually a pleasant cycle home. The streets are less worrying when nobody else is on them.
Today actually went quite quick, which is really all I’d ever ask for. It was arrivals day for the next batch of students staying here this summer. They seem a little bit, well, cool than the last lot. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as they are not too cool for rules.
In any case, the icebreakers I ran went down a treat. Nothing beats zip-zap-boing. In fact, the games were a perfect metaphor for today’s shift. I approached it thinking I’d be completely out of control. As it turns out, I didn’t have to force any fun. It all just happened.
Day 19: Difficult Day 2
I’ve just been weighed. Was not expecting that.
How exhausting it is to discover that in 5 days, gravity has grabbed every morsel of my body and yanked it up 0.8kg. How? After all these long days, these dodgy mealtimes, these restrictions – how – have I managed to regain the weight I lost last week?
It was a rather horrible experience all in all. I’ve registered as a temporary resident at a GP surgery here, and met the nurse and the scales that will be weighing me from now until the end of my time here.
Today turned out to be very different to last week, when I was shown into a GP with a pair of old fashioned scales. They ticked and creaked, and settled well below the weight I had arrived in Cambridge with, if you remember correctly. Today, I was ushered into a waiting room underground for 25 mins. The room was packed and airless, dark and with very little room to let Anonymous out to pace. I became extremely anxious and burst into tears before the nurse had come to get me.
After all that, I got on these new scales. As my weight leaped up, my jaw dropped. So did my guard. I was utterly overwhelmed by all these feelings.
49.8kg. Back to that weight I had when I arrived here three weeks ago.
How? How did I do that without realising?
How did I lose control?
Now for some logic. Only here, cupping a strong coffee and considering it all, can logic get a word in edgeways. I’m just trying to work out which of these feelings are mine.
First came horror. It still sort of lingers, like a bad aftertaste.
Then I remember logic. Logic reminds me that these were a different pair of scales. These were scales of superior stuff to those I had relied on last week, for they were calibrated and electronic. These scales didn’t click menacingly upon receiving my weight. Last week may have been a lie altogether: could it be that all this worry about gaining weight so quickly could have been the work of misinformation?
Logic also reminds me how focused I have been on my plate this week. I swallowed the shame of bringing in so much food to work, and just did. I ate everything prescribed to me and counted every last calorie.
And the exercise? Perhaps there is something in what my doctor’s say: exercise only does so much to weight. It’s what you eat that counts.
Let it not be forgotten, too, that it is 11:30, and a hot day. I’ve been drinking lots of water and haven’t managed to have the ceremonial poo prior to being weighed.
If Anonymous lets me believe my eyes, and lets me think that this is nothing but a sign that I’ve been good, then that’s another matter.
If what has happened is true, some would interpret it as a good omen, not a threat.
It shows that despite ‘everything’, I can still let go of Anonymous.
‘Everything’ embellishes life here: cycling, sun, snacks, books, work, work, work, the energy to work. ‘Everything’ can serve as an excuse or an explanation for what I did with my food. Whatever happens to ‘Everything’ though, this weight shows I can do it.
Ellie, you can be trusted.
Imagine what you could achieve if it transpires you can maintain your weight alone?
Today has just been an invitation to hate myself.
I am so stupid and a burden and utterly utterly useless.
Ellie, you did wrong. And now we’re crying outside the gate of the College for all the world to see. I think that tourist even just took a photograph.
I’m feeling useless and stupid, which is what I am.
If I had been educated at Oxbridge like everyone else here, maybe I would have a few more brain cells to use. Maybe I would have realised how to do my job properly.
Any other student counsellor here would have known how to run detention. Only I appear to be thick enough to think that holding students in solitary confinement for 3 hours in the midday heat is punishment enough for turning up late for registration.
Indeed, I felt I was being punished too. Anonymous hates being left with her own thoughts. I’ve got cramp from pacing round and round in circles; for that is all the exercise I could do in there. It was maddening.
Perhaps I’m just not a punishing person. When one of the students put his head on his book and shut his eyes, I didn’t think twice.
Only now I’ve been chastised for not forcing the students to do their homework during detention, do I realise how stupid I’ve been.
So stupid, that everyone agrees. It must be the talk of the staffroom: Ellie on detention duty, and she can’t even manage that properly. Utterly laughable, it I wasn’t affiliated with her name.
The worst part is is it is supper time, and I’m too worked up to eat. I’ll surely throw it all up in a frenzy. I can’t force any more anxiety into this body.
It won’t hold, and certainly won’t hold over the course of the coming difficult days.
(Disclaimer: I did eat supper, eventually. I really needed it. Crying is tiring.)
Day 20: Third and Final Difficult Day
Yes I may have overreacted a tad yesterday. I took criticism too personally, only because my professionalism was worn thin from tiredness. I know I say it a lot, but exhaustion is very real to me at the moment.
I’ve been watching threats come and go today, and have a theory regarding why they scare me so. They just get too close, too real.
My mind’s eye catches them out and Anonymous drags them in. She turns them over and over, examining them closely. She studies them to know them better, thus making it possible to anticipate their next move.
I watch people walk into a house and know the music will start soon. I see the binmen coming over the hill and know the sound will stay with me long enough to ruin the peace I need to eat.
And now here, back in Fitzbillies’ coffee shop. Two no doubt terribly important and clever people having a loud and egotistic conversation in an otherwise gentle environment. Why do their decibels make me so angry?
Is it because I came here to calm down; are they stopping me? Or are you letting them?
This is me re-angling myself into the here and now. Almost forcing ‘ok’ onto my tongue.
Stop. You’ve forgotten to breathe again.
How are you doing Ellie?
Well, I’m looking forward to my day off tomorrow. That’s after tonight’s night shift of course.
I’m also looking forward to buying myself some flowers later.
And writing in my positivity diary that despite ‘everything’ occurring in this cafe, I’ve managed to move my mind out of harms way. I’m doing ok today, like I said I would do.
I’m so looking forward to tomorrow. Mainly because I’ll be in control of my day and my food. Presuming of course that I make the choice to do so.
I hope I have a good day.
Day 21: Long awaited day off.
Tiredness is pretty. It blurs sharpness into a creamy lather, into which I have been sinking today. On my bike, shopping, wandering the meadows. Today, I have just leant back into tiredness, and let it drift on through.
I haven’t acted upon it as others can: I won’t sleep in or rest of anything. But Anonymous will grant it some acknowledgement at least.
All my work colleagues are in the cinema watching the Incredibles. As I write, they are probably a couple of minutes into the adverts.
I would love to have gone. I was invited of course, and had even allowed myself to get excited. Having been unable to take part in any of the social events happening for staff owing to anxiety, mealtimes or exhaustion, I really thought this would be the one I’d make it to. It transpired that they wouldn’t be attending an evening viewing like I thought. Instead, they are in the 12pm one.
I can’t sit for 185mins in a cinema, in the middle of the day. Anonymous won’t let me.
I told them I wasn’t feeling well when I cancelled, which I suppose is sort of true.
Stop writing now Ellie. You don’t have to write because Anonymous says so.
You’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.
But this week, I can’t help but think I’ve proved something to myself. I’ve don’t well. Because I said I would do.
(Disclaimer: I just wanted to use that title. There is nothing remotely mediocre or badly written about this body. Not a boring kg in all 50 of them. I’ve worked hard for this shit.)
The 50th May 2018. A day swallowed by history, and devoured by recovery. For it is as we hurl ourselves headlong into summer, on the cusp of all things bright and beautiful, that Ellie performed some sort of miracle.
I’ve made it to 50kg.
Two years, 11kg and several tons of avocados has washed us up here. Tidal tears and volcanic tantrums. I’ve moved mountains: and piled them on. Dragging all this weight up an axis towards a horizon that has finally melted beneath my feet.
The numbers flashed once, twice, then fixed me with their unblinking infra-red eyes. 50kg glared down at itself, and Ellie squealed.
Surprise raised my mood up to dizzying heights for a moment: up there where the air is clear, and anorexia struggles to take breath. As I stood there on the scales, basking in my nurse’s applause, I let Ellie gabble on and on at what this might mean. She filled my head with her future, the one she designs at every mealtime. The one she has haphazardly been attempting to unearth under layers of thick and sticky anonymity.
It was days before I reeled her in, back into this body. Only then did I calculate my BMI, something I find myself doing immediately after any fluctuation in my weight. Anonymous wanted to see how far she had let me wander towards the line between “underweight”, and “anorexic”. 16.6 is a few kilos too far to just do nothing. It must mean something.
Unlike anorexia, Ellie can communicate with weight gain. She can decipher an accurate meaning of it. Yes Ellie, at this moment, I understand. This means we’re trying to get better. This means things will be better.
I clambered off, then got stage fright. That’s when anonymous caught me. This means we’re getting better. Now what would that mean?
I had set short-term rewards for weight deadlines to tempt myself and Anonymous into surrendering to Ellie’s hunger. My reward for this one was exercise: that much was decided on the day I was diagnosed. At 50kg, I could exercise again, so long as the calories were provided for. As I type, every 50 kilos of myself is quivering. I’ve plans for exercise, but have already let anorexia starve me off sharing them with anyone. She has forced words of retribution and denial on my parent’s tongues before they’ve even had a chance to listen for themselves. My body has tuned in to the fear: that I have come so far, chasing a lie. That it is all some nasty trick to make me fat or force me into inactivity. Hang on, let me weigh that up: yes, that feels anorexic. But it also feels real. I want to go to the gym tomorrow, but couldn’t cope with the guilt of doing it behind my parents’ backs. My choices are made shadows when they’re turned the other way. I can’t work out how to bring up my body without dredging up fear with it.
Yes, I can hear these anonymous words: the worst thing is that I’m still listening. I’m heavy enough to recognise her, but too light to throw her off, for now.
There is much work to be done.
I have walked miles to reach this mile st.
This is the highest point my weight has reached in recovery. It has finally starting to pop above the hazy stagnation it had been suppressed under for so long.
I wish I could say that it was Ellie: all Ellie. I wish I could say she was enough for me to pull kilos of myself together, just for her. It wasn’t, not entirely anyway. It is the fruit of the future dangling just out of my reach. If all things good hadn’t conspired to laden the branches so, it would never have leaned in close enough for me to smell it. In Spring’s twilight, it smells more fragrant than all the summer blooms. We are on the cusp of something good, some summery shred of possibility. Thank heavens my parents are here to point it out, everyday.
50kg was set in st as a goal weight the day I as diagnosed. It is a historically significant weight: it is the weight that gave anorexia it’s name, though I never uttered it until I was sure. At 50kg, people noticed Anonymous; they pointed her out in the street and called her anorexic.
50kg was the weight I was pulled out of my university Women’s VIII, weeks before regatta season. It was the first time a flashback felt boring, dull, muted. The first time the pain finally numbed.
At 50kg, I realised I was in a relationship with anorexia, and had been for a very long time.
That was then. 50kg feels different now, somehow. As if something has started to pick at it’s bones.
The time was right months ago. This over-ripe fruit is ready to be picked, but I have to prove I can do it alone. Independence itself is one of the plump, juicy temptations “getting better” has to offer. Sts and all.
The stench does get heavy. It can leer so close that Anonymous becomes afraid of being smothered by it. She will see me bite into it, and disciover it is rotten to the core. She’ll have me choke on it’s imperfect skin, and grow fat and lazy on all the sweet calories it contains.
The problem is, Ellie is still starving. She is hungry to try that sun-pecked fruit, almost excited. Recovery would mean so much if it spoke with a satisfied tongue.
To grow the good things: friends, family, independance, even happiness: I force myself to wake up next to Ellie every morning. She points up at my future, chides me along to get up and try.
I’m strong enough to grab the low hanging fruit most days now: most days, I fulfil my swollen, fattening, weight-gaining meal plan. On the good days, it tastes good.
Recovery has been feeding me small rewards for reaching 50kg without my even noticing. Occasionally letting go the branches of my family that I weigh down so has been delicious. The guilt of placing so much of myself on my parent’s shoulders is squeezed out when I managed to attend to clinics all by myself. I did the car journey and everything. Cruising along to Coldplay felt too nice to be naughty.
The ability to occasionally divert Anxiety away from an attack has meant the days feel lighter. They don’t hurt so much, and pass through with minimal bruising. Blocking Anxiety as it raises itself, ready to pounce, weakens anonymous but strengths Ellie’s cause. If I can only get stronger, surely, Anxiety will be easier to control, even quarantine? My senses are 11 kilos sharper, my mind 11 kilos less empty.
Even challenges are being offered up to Ellie as rewards. A plateful of independence is on my summer menu. I plan to go away for a few weeks, live alone and unsupervised, and work at a summer school. Be a ghost to my former self, who was so good at her job. This particular fruit is, admittedly, shrouded by a thick skin. Sharp spines that threaten it’s failure only serve to back me further than Ellie’s arms. My biggest worry is not having the energy to do my job. One school day at the moment is enough to send me into a sleepy trance. To break through this worry and reach sweet success, I have to eat.
Anxiety is cancerous. It spreads and multiplies, swells something small into a monstrosity. It reached 50kg as soon as surprise died on the scales.
Anonymous has been rattled. She didn’t see 50 coming, not really. It crept up on her and has hijacked her distrust in my own strength. I must have been wearing 50kg without even realising it: my clothes hugged me comfortably, and I still experienced episodes of dizzying hunger highs. Short, yes, but still at exactly the same times. Like clockwork telling time to wait.
Now I have locked eyes with those two red numbers on the scales, I’ve noticed. 50kilos watches my back as lumber along the street, my heavy footsteps clamouring in my ears. Recovery has dilated on my thighs and shrunk my jeans. Bloating drowns satiety into a sinister hum, lost to groaning indulgence.
This is an easy target for Anxiety. In some ways, it is quite nice to have it attack something close to me – on me. Something easily solved should the pain get too much, and easier to manage than the irrationality of another person.
The fruits of my labour make me sick.
Anonymous convinced me I’d be immune to those 11 kilos, that they’d never get near me. Now it is upon me and Ellie yearns for more, the only way I can manage the symptom of recovery is to monitor it closely. See what happens when things start to get better, see how I’ll cope.
Recovery, I understand you believe it is worth all of this.
Don’t show me the incoming hoard of angry thoughts, feelings and memories. It will put me off my supper. You mean well by giving life back to me, but slowly please. It is just too much.
Yoga drip feeds me life, as does my family and my plans. Life is swelling up. I can even turn it on its’ head, and precariously balance the risk of attempting an arm balance. This feels good, I just wish I felt more confident wearing it than I do wearing anorexia. Some things just take getting used to, even the taste of success. It leaves a bitter after taste, but Ellie seems determined to try it.
She think we’ll enjoy it.
Reaching 50kg has been gruelling. But as it turns out, I always had it in me. Now I have it on me too.
I’ve recovered 11 kg and have more to go. I’m not out of the woods yet, but at least I now know I am definitely on track. The same fabled track walked thousands of time by thousands of other anorexics, their families, their doctors. Come, heave your weight up here. It will lead us out. Soon, you’ll see the view.
Recovery is happening. A natural disaster shakes the ground beneath my feet, closes gaps and highlights cracks. The 50th of May is just another day in recovery: another day swallowed by history.