Week 3: Forced Fun

Day 15: Friend!

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.
Ok. So.
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?

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How to think straight: drink coffee, write, and just eat.

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?

Later On:

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.

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I took myself back to the meadows on my day off. Sometimes retreating is the best way forward.

50 Shades Heavier

(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.

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Progress much?!

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.

On Gratitude

I’ve been trialling a new treatment for Anonymous this week.
It was prescribed by my nurse after she had briefed me on it’s previous success in other anorexia cases. A cheap and sometimes time consuming therapy, to be taken every evening just before bed.
Naturally, I was sceptical. Anonymous is suspicious of anything that might bring about the inevitable: she is wary of change. Why change, when my current prescription is working so badly? Why take the risk of finding something that actually does work, something that will pull me out of anorexia?

After one week, I am willing to believe this could be life-changing. I feel amazing, almost high.
The wonder drug? A “Positivity Journal”.

After I’ve brushed my teeth, put Anxiety in it’s pyjamas and filled out my food diary; I pull out a cloth-bound diary and a biro.
I write the date, three positive things that happened today, and three things to look forward to tomorrow. The first attacks fear, and the second attacks dread: the two strains of hopelessness. Three is a magic number, but doesn’t curse my entries as a rule. One day last week was simply crawling with good things, so I pinned all of them down under my nib.
Something positive is my final written word of the day, and I can go to bed and welcome sleep.

The best part is that I sort of understand the science of it. Whilst other treatments remain mysteries, this one is relatively simple, and completely under my control. Unlike weight gain – which has side effects more grotesque than the illness, so seems utterly pointless (in my anonymous opinion) – “positivity” is a relief. It is an instant painkiller for a bad feeling, and antidote to anxiety. “Antidon’t”, if you will.
Just like weight gain, I notice the medicine as it starts to work. Knowing I have to write three good things about the day later forces me to find the good things as time slips by. Each day has been turned into a treasure hunt for nuggets of positivity: the rain waited to start until I had reached the car; I made two old ladies on the train smile; I woke up to a crying cuckoo.
Better still is what can sometimes happen to the bad things. You see, when one single monstrous occurrence threatens to ruin an entire day of delicately placed positivity, Ellie gets defensive. She leaps upon this selfish fiend and pulls at it’s form, with the intention of turning it into something good. Failing that, she’ll tear off a handful an anxious period and call it a lesson, to be carried around and referred to as WORD. Only good things can come from being informed. It may keep a similar bad thing from happening in the near future.
This may not be a cure nor a sustainable source of help, but it is a diversion away from things that could aggravate anorexia. Fewer flare ups give Ellie more energy to focus on pulling thin pins from the side of recovery.

It gets better. No, it really does.
Writing down the good things in life is a natural remedy. Because it has no hidden agenda, no additives or calories – emotional or otherwise – anorexia just swallows it. It is an easy painkiller to administer.

Essentially, I am drugging Ellie with positivity. She is drip-fed the good stuff all through the day and a final shot in the evening sees the day pass into the night.
Positive features of the day mingle together and become a cocktail. Hope becomes a vision in these fumes. Every night for the last week, I have caught Ellie looking forward; already planning where she’ll look for good. This is a stark contrast to Anonymous, who still casts her eye around, anticipating the bad.

Journalling is a psychedelic experience.
Pulling a thought or a memory out of my head and forcing it onto paper has long been a comfort throughout my recovery. It always looks different down there, smaller almost. Not quite the monster it was when it was locked ink my head.
This “positive” journalling adds another dimension to the whole experience. An extra sense to guide me through the harsh terrain in recovery, which is mined with anorexic traps and triggers. The principal of evaluation remains the same.
Words stare at me from the paper, reflecting my thoughts back to me. There it is, all in writing. I marvel at them awhile. It is in these moments of reflection, that I am learning how to be grateful.

Having good things happen to you makes you grateful, not greedy. This is a pretty detail I’m gradually becoming aware of, even if I’m not convinced I’ll ever believe it. So much life can fall in the gap “knowing” and “believing”.
Yet it is this depraved and frightened belief that feeds anorexia. Anonymous justifies bad things happening by expecting them, almost greeting their occurrence with relief, as if I’ve repaid some of the debt to the universe I owe for simply taking up space.
How interesting it is to write that on paper.

Gratitude is a pleasant side effect to positivity, and is accentuated by reflecting on it.
It is a high like no other. I can’t believe what I’ve been missing, and what I still deny myself when I let Ellie retreat into black space.
By denying myself the pleasure of positivity, I have also been mistreating the good things.
Ellie, how do you treat the good things in life? As though you’re embarrassed by them, perhaps? As if they’re shameful, or somehow incriminating? Why must you push them away, as if you’ve no right to them?
Taking positivity has bought my fear out and demanded an explanation from it. Explain: explain why you cannot accept the good things for what they are.

I am one week into the course of “positivity”, and already I can feel the weight dissipating on my shoulders. Gratitude lifts the day out of my hands and casts it out of my control. It only invites me to chase the sun into the next day.

This week, I am grateful to have heard the cuckoo call. I am grateful to have felt a burst of rain lash against my face before the sun burst out like a boil. I am grateful to have heard the rain’s arrival: the sharp tap on a leaf or a window pane. I am grateful to never hear it descend, only arrive.
This week, I am grateful for space. I am grateful to have somewhere to roam, ponder, and grow.

This week, I am grateful for exposure: for good things to befall me disguised as baddies.
In the cinema, I sat next to large people eating large portions. The salty smell permeated the air, broken only by smacking lips. Ellie endured, and I thank her for proving science right: no, Anonymous, you can’t catch fat from other people.
In the car, I was strapped in with intrusive thoughts. I rode the day with a premonition: a threat glaring at me in my rear view mirror. Ellie endured, and I thank her for getting me home safely; for scrapping Anxiety’s script and rewriting how the day would be.
At home, we have been plagued by noise. Road-works and car horns, the crack of clicking bass from next door’s summer party. The house quivered anxiously. My nerves stretched past the point of anorexia’s tolerance with every day spent under house arrest from other people’s selfish intrusions. Ellie endured, and I thank her for not tearing all her hair out.
This week, I am grateful for exposure, because it shines a new light on my resilience. Still pale and flakey, but a hide strong enough to withstand small portions of life.

This week, I am grateful to have been rootling in the moment for something good, not scraping around in the future for something bad.

Of course, like all treatments, this one has it’s limitations and side effects.
Being on standby for something good is almost anxiety inducing. When time runs dry of nice things and I am left clutching at straws by the end of the day, I become aware of how desperate I feel. My life dwarfs next too everything I hoped to achieve today and everyday. Eventually I’ll retreat into myself to wallow in my misery, and let myself shrink.
Some days are easier to swallow with a positive pill than others. Time sometimes chokes on a trigger and too many thoughts churn reality into a sticky mess. It is easy to lose sight of the good when it is drowned in all the bad. It’s absence haunts me.
And of course, there’s that all too familiar sensation of failure when I am unable to see any good, or even any point. Blinded by anorexia, anxiety, or just the dull, a surrender is inevitable. I am hoping that with time and “positive” treatment, I can turn away from “failure”, and instead learn to manage it as “disappointment”. A hard task for anyone I think you’ll agree, especially if one hasn’t the ability to think straight anyway.

I know one shouldn’t get too excited by the initial results of a new medicine, but I can’t help feeling that this is some sort of magic pill. Time goes down smoothly, like thick drops of syrup.
Can you overdose on positivity? Imagination run away with the idea of the future, and forget that I’m not invincible, only inevitable.

Here are my three biggest positives this week: I made a new friend, I managed to do a headstand in yoga (perseverance and practice pays off!), and I put on weight.
Let me write that again, just so we can reflect on it. I put on weight.

A whole 0.4kg of positive energy, for which I will be grateful. Perhaps not quite yet, but soon, I will believe that this too is a good thing.
This too, is inevitable.
We must be grateful for the inevitable; else we will simply grieve.

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And of course, I’ll always be grateful for caffeine.

Bright On

A line of ulcers tell the tale of my weekend away. As the train neared the coast and the day melted on the streets of Brighton, I bit my lip. Every word in my head throbbed and ruptured, one swollen worry after another.
Every ulcer bulged over an anorexic boundary. Each one a scar from a battle raging behind my blinking eyeballs.

For just one night, she wanted to step out of Control. Ou of the never ending cycle of food, school, food, bed; out of the four walls of this house that press my empty inbox against my face. Out of character and out of excuses, Ellie decided we needed to go away, and get out of Control.
Brighton was a realistic target. An eclectic seaside town would doubtless be full of people to watch, meaning I would be unlikely to get bored and turn on myself for entertainment. Brighton is close by: only an hour or so on the train. Anonymous can handle trains, she can stand trains, and on them.
I wanted to examine myself and my progress under a harsher light. There would be no home comforts to hide behind, no easy escape from any triggers.
The point of this trip was sharp and threatening. A serrated edge to dissect just how much of myself could cope in difficult conditions.

I named the main 3 Brighton ulcers: Food, Comfort, and Komedia.
These worries oozed threateningly, slipping around on thick layers of sticky anorexic panic.
There are smaller tears on my lips surrounding each ulcer, like little moons orbiting three central problems. They’re known as “Inactivity”; “Timing”; “People”.

The most grisly worry about going away was, of course, Food. The F word.
I could feel this ulcer forming from the moment I recklessly hit “confirm” on the National Rail website all those weeks ago. I wanted my meals planned as early as my rail ticket.
The very thought of eating out not just once, not twice, but four times in 48 hours was simply ridiculous. My anorexic eyes stung each time I looked to the future, and saw those meals coming. It was grotesque, unthinkable. Lost too far beyond the borders of Control.
Despite trawling websites and menus from the safety of my bedroom, the food in Brighton remained elusive. I got on a train to meet a stranger on my plate.

Brighton is an eclectic pocket of the UK.
Vibrant vegetarian cafes; a grid of lanes fallen under a vegan siege; locally produced platters of only the finest and freshest foods. There were so many areas of opportunity to try new things, way out there: out of Control.
Anonymous saw the food for what it was. At least, she nestled into the gaping holes next to each item, and filled it with her own list of ingredients and nutrient information. She feels around on the inside, still entirely in Control.

In my head, the calorie inflation rate rockets the further from home I go.
A tablespoon of homemade hummus costs fewer calories than a dollop of alien hummus.
An exact tablespoon of homemade hummus costs less anxiety than someone else dumping liberal amounts on my plate.
Homemade hummus is stiff and lumpy, which is characteristic of it’s sparing olive oil content. The hummus out there, out of Control, looks like velvet. A cloud of soft spread wobbling slightly at the touch, skin spotless and smooth. This hummus would be heathen. One can almost see too much tahini. The scent of garlic ripens and permeates with obvious additives.
I tread carefully around food when it has been prepared without anorexic supervision. Avoidance has simply been a way of delaying the inevitable, which is what I was faced with in Brighton. Eventually, I was always going to cross that line, and taste forbidden hummus.

I arrived and cursed Instagram for planting false expectations in my head.
“Vegetarian food” was ripping off the weight loss trade and tipping over the edge of indulgence. Slabs of gooey gluten-free cake, tottering towers of coconut ice cream, grains glazed in thick dressings and quivering mounds of hummus. Beads of chickpeas in salads; greens smothered under a thick tahini layer; thick wedges of bread with lashings of avocado; seed-studs like bullet holes.
It seemed each deli was attempting to outdo the next with their plant based platters. Anonymous was wrong to assume they’d be in the business targeting weight loss markets.
The servers themselves floated behind the counters, piling generous portions onto people’s plates. A bit of this and a bit of that. Their eyes were glazed over, dilated.

Nowhere was safe.
Even a humble bowl of soup could not be had without a twirl of cream or fistful of nuts. Everything was being served on huge plates, tantamount to small cauldrons. This was dangerous territory for an anorexic. Unnecessary calories grew like a tumour on every meal.
I had a choice: risk being snared by calories, or almost certainly passing out in a strange city. It is with pride that I tell you Ellie’s voice shouted louder, and Anonymous was resolved to try and eat something.

So it was that I haunted the North Lanes for over two hours, chewing over what I could eat.
My ulcer throbbed for every second wasted: I was running out of time. Lunchtime would soon be over.
I peered into every eatery in Brighton, scrutinising the menu and adding up the calories. I occasionally entered, and fascinated over other people’s plates. Tongues twisted flat breads into dough sculptures. The food was unreal, ridiculous. One deli actually let me stand around the counter, and watch them assemble a Buddha Bowl.

Before my eyes something beautiful was born.
A layer of crunch leaves, shredded beetroot, juicy plump tomatoes. Then grains rained down in clumps, glued together by a thick dressing. A scoop of dhal cushioned the salsa and stopped the juices bleeding into the hummus. It’s velveteen layer bristled with a final handful of herbs.

Anonymous watched apprehensively. There was so much food for so small a meal. I backed out of the door.
By now, Anxiety was beginning to snap at my heels. The familiar panic that I wasn’t going to get anything to eat started to set in. The chase was on, and Ellie ran back to that deli. It was their kindness that saved me, I think.

Ellie ordered a Buddha Bowl and Anonymous ordered adjustments: leave off that, only a tiny bit of this. No, no dressing thank you.
She clawed lunchtime back under her control and installed me in a window seat.
I watched the world go by through the condensation. Such a busy world going so far, so fast. How difficult it is to keep up.

When my first meal out in Brighton was finally set down before me, Ellie was gagging for it. Even Anonymous can’t talk with her mouth full of anticipation. I picked up my fork – then dropped it in horror.
It was huge. The long prongs rang as it fell with a clatter, and it bared it’s enormous fangs in a metallic grimace.
At home, I eat with small cutlery. I only eat with small cutlery, because Anonymous can only take small bites. It’s how she controls how much I eat. On what planet can one shovel food into their mouth with such a contraption as this? How does it even fit between one’s lips?
I looked around for a teaspoon, but none could be found. Tentatively, Ellie picked up her fork and plunged it into the quinoa. Small bubbles clung to the prongs, then settled on my ulcer. That was my first anxious bite.
Ellie worked her way around the plate, small servings belittled by this giant fork. It seems I swallowed my dignity along with my food: moments after finishing the last mouthful, I began lapping up the dressing with my finger. Oily skid marks smeared my smile, and residue was all over my ulcers. It was delicious.

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Well hello there

I chewed over my first food ulcer long after lunch had finished. I was haunted by that giant, quivering dollop of hummus.
Even examining the photographs I had taken didn’t offer any answer to that one, biting question: how many calories was it worth?
I couldn’t shake this feeling that I had done something terrible, something unthinkable. Something so out of character, and out of Control.
My next meal would be important: it would dictate how much energy I’d have to get through the rest of the night. It would assure Ellie that this gamble was still a good idea.
I cannot remember what I did to pass the time between lunch and supper. I had to redo the whole thing the next morning, after the climax of breakfast. My mind was in my mouth, chewing over where my next meal would come from.
The ulcer began to swell under time pressure. I grappled with supper and reused my lunch plan the next day.

I managed my food. I ate my food. In some respects, it was an interesting experiment that showed eating out alone is far less stress-inducing than eating out with other people. On my own, I’m only responsible for how I feel.
On their own, each meal would have been an average challenge. Collectively, they were enormous.
The uncertainty lasted 36 hours, and that is an enormous mouthful of time for Anxiety to swallow.

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Flowers make everything better, even breakfast!

Whilst calories infected one ulcer, cleanliness did the next.
The longer I lingered out of my house, the more dirt gathered together, weighing me down. It was one aspect of going away I hadn’t considered, and it was a shock to discover how much I struggled with feeling dirty. Simply because the unfamiliar is filthy.

This ulcer is rancid.
Sweat, skin, cheap shots, sex, second-hand air. The salty sea air seasoned the fug of hangovers, urine, and fried food. This seaside party town was sweating under the strain of stag dos and cigarettes. The pavements wept gum and greasy wrappers, tears of beer bleeding into the gutter. There was no air to dry out the damp. Instead, it became a moist blanket thrown over the layers of other people.
I inhaled other people. Anonymous kept catching whiffs of people: fat, drunk, high. She was utterly terrified, knowing her anxiety did not make her immune to catching the calories rising off another person’s plate.

Anonymous’ existence is sterile, carefully executed in clean, calm Surrey. My environment is a sanctuary to which I retreat to avoid any anxiety triggers, like drugs and alcohol.
Away from home, I was suddenly cut off from the support network my parents give me. I was alone, drowning in this sordid world.

Everything in Brighton had been touched.
A million grubby fingers had held that handrail, this fork, sat in that chair and pressed that button. Anonymous felt as though Ellie was forcing me into another person’s shoes, squeezing me into another person’s habits by exposing me to them at close range.
Every chair was weary from supporting too many people. I could catch other people simply by breathing the same air as them, I knew it.
A single fingerprint on a mirror flashed a thousand possible people I might turn into, if I wasn’t more careful.

Anxiety settled on my skin in a layer of sweat. Dust and dirt mingled into a grimy layer. The shower at the youth hostel only added to it. The bathroom was dripping in other people’s dirt, humid and heavy. I smelt drugs in the air and felt them burrow into my pores. Here in my head, anorexia felt a shift in my metabolism.

I did what I could to ward off anxiety with a small bottle of hand sanitiser, some wet wipes, and distraction. The ease with which other people passed in and out of public loos was fascinating to watch.
This was a culture grown out of Control. It flourished in the warm climes of friendship and relationships.
Perhaps that is what I was missing, perhaps company was integral to breaking a fear of other people.

Anonymous was careful not to touch anything, lest she catch any calories, or any fattening habits.

She was cheered by the fact I had to squat each time I used the bathroom (which is quite frequent during weight restoration). The extra seconds of exercise burned my thighs with anorexic satisfaction. It was such a relief to finally be able to nestle my bottom on the friendly seat at home.

Going away was only the mouth of the rabbit hole: the youth hostel I had booked into would be the real test of Anonymous tolerance.
I gaped when I entered the dorm. Not sure what, or who, to make of it.
A pair of flip flops, a hairdryer, a couple of crumpled Topshop bags. An empty Starbucks cup with no name scrawled on it’s side. A wet towel melted into the carpet. A warning sign of 5 unmade bunks, with their duvets twisted into grotesque polyester sculptures.

All but one mattress was claimed by a stranger.
I locked my bag in the empty cubby hole and inspected the bathroom. Youth Hostels are functional and hospitable, just not entirely to anorexia’s taste.
The empty beds were the most biting issue. The absence of their hosts haunted my imagination, and filled it with bogeymen.

I cowered behind Margret Atwood, hiding from the drunken drawls creeping through the window. The first emerged shortly before midnight, a chatty Texan who could drown out the noise from the nightclub next door.
Every spike of ecstasy from outside stabbed ice into the pit of my stomach, and I try not to remember. Revulsion rises like bile with the roar of merriment.
Later that night, when I was cocooned in recycled sheets and feigning sleep, I heard the other roommates prowl into the room, one by one.
They silently diffused into bed in the dark, not even turning on their reading lights. They shut the window on the drunken night outside, and settled into easy sleep.

Out of the fug, I salvaged pockets of sleep: 25 mins here and there. A bit of this and a bit of that.
At 3am, the bunk above creaked threateningly as my cumbersome bunk buddy ascended the ladder. Anxiety gnawed at me to get out of there sharpish: the bed would surely collapse, and I would be crushed. I’m still not sure why I stayed.
Anorexia tried to spring me from my bunk too. As the slept, my dorm mates became musical. Their bodily functions syncronised and the air was thick with with harmonised farts, burps, barfs. A cloud of skin, sweat and food descended. One had clearly had a liquid dinner, and there was the definite stench of cheesy chips. The signature scent of student halls, I remember that one well. Airbourne calories stalked me in my slumber, and backed my nose and mouth behind my hand. I was too afraid to move, just in case the fat gobules floating in the air would rush towards me and pounce.
Instead, I wrapped myself in these slutty sheets, like the hundreds of other guests thrust upon this bed before me.

The night shed it’s slippery skin slowly, but soon it was morning. I awoke with relief, and a mouth full of ulcers.
I crept around my right to get up, and tiptoed out of the room. Ellie pondered on this behaviour over breakfast. The way I melted into the wall, the way I was careful not to be spotted, lest my presence stagnate my dorm mates’ fluid fun. The thought that I could even have been responsible for it in the first place.

Do not pity me. Anorexia is not a sympathetic character, and Ellie did this to herself. She took control and hurled me out of it. This is a tale warranting not pity, but pride.
It is with pride I present to you the final Brighton ulcer: Komedia. A concentration of triggers bulging before anxiety. Let’s lance the boil.

By 5:30pm on Saturday, I was crawling up Regent street. The sun was finally settling down onto the cloudy skyline, and the first part of my journey was nearly over. Ahead of me was a long lonely night. The hours were empty aside from the inevitable scarpering of sleep at the slightest noise. And there would be noise: the air was hotting up to receive the Saturday night fever.

Nightlife has two strains.
The first can induce pleasure among those susceptible to it, the other brings anxiety. The dark hours are dampened by sweat and encourage the growth of alarming behaviour. Noise seeps through the streets like mould. The spores were already being released: pubs spilled out onto the streets, hairspray gassed the hostel corridors, and anticipation condensed against my eyes.
By 5:30pm, I still had no plan how to navigate through the next few hours out there, away from Control.

All the anorexic-tolerant delis would shut at 6: an hour before suppertime, and half an hour from now.
Triggers were beginning to cat-call over another foaming pint. The night beckoned time to a slow shuffle. It was going to be a long night if I didn’t come up with some means of distraction from the world around me, and within me. I needed somewhere to hide for the next few hours. I also needed food; something to starve off anxiety, but also feed that part of myself that had dragged me here in the first place.

Right on cue, Ellie spotted a sign in the street. One thing led to another, and I drew up a plan.
By 6, I was no longer clutching at straws, but a ticket to a stand up comedy night, and a salad box bought just before closing time. Ellie chewed on her lentils, leaves and ulcers, listening to my rules crack between her teeth.
A comedy night, on a Saturday night, after dark, in Brighton. You’re joking, right?

Well, we’re down this crazy rabbit hole now, Ellie. We’re eating supper far too early and are out far too late. How much more can you take? Let’s lance this boil, and see what happens. Let’s watch your rancid fears splatter out of Control.

I installed myself in the furthest booth from the stage. It was a dark corner, but was spared having to endure a long night next to a couple doing a risqué performance of their own a few tables away. From here I could make a quick escape through the fire exit, but also watch other people’s sticky nights unfold and take flight, beer in hand.

Anonymous flinched each time she glimpsed my watch. It was so late to be out alone.
I felt myself biting on a smaller ulcer, the one formed when I realised how much I missed being home.
Anonymous wasted no time in telling Ellie she could be curled up with her dog at this time. She needed have said anything; Ellie was thinking it too. Clubs were never really her scene.
Now, I realise it wasn’t home I was missing as such – it was me. A home for my self.

The air was heavy, rubbing up and into my pores.
Alcohol spiked the air. Steely, sugary sickness rose into my nostrils as the gaffs kept coming. The lights flashed and microphones boomed. Airborne calories pulsed with the stereos. It was an assault that I am honestly shocked to have survived.
There were too many triggers for Anxiety to grapple with at once. My mind simply couldn’t spend too much time chewing on one before the next was rammed down her throat. I struggled to swallow the scene before me.

At 9pm, we retreated. I wormed m way out onto the street, and ran back to the hostel. Neon lights and car horns lead me back to the main road without me even having to glance at my map, I just trusted the world around me to help.
I expected Anxiety to stalk me from the dark alleys, but there were just too many people. Too many lights.
I haven’t been out of the house so late for a very long time, of course I felt exposed.

I slumped back in my chair. As I spat the final mouthfuls of my tale out into the cool, unmoving hospital air, my nurse smiled.
“I’m proud of you,” she said. The words felt nice. I repeated it in my head, over and over. I’m proud of you.
“You’ve got so much potential, Ellie.”
Yeah, I guess I have. Maybe I should start to believe it.

Brighton exposed Anxiety to the world Anorexia tries to hide me from. It was interesting to watch it fend for itself out there, out of Control. In some respects, it was easier to control than it is at home. At home it has various lairs in which it wallows: my cutlery, my quiet. Me, me, me. Away, Anxiety just didn’t know what to settle on. There was so much for it to feast on, it became sick, but dragged me up to dizzying heights in alarm.

I was very anxious in Brighton.
I was frightened of the food, and alarmed by the air assaults of smells and sounds. The clamour of lives clashing in the streets broke one moment and passed it on to the next. Time was told by anticipation for what trigger would arrive next.
It was a struggle just to escape my own head, but there were pockets of time when my mind was free to wander, and follow Brighton’s enticing features.
Yes, it was uncomfortable.
The electric thrill of not knowing what was going to happen next buzzed in my bloodstream. It burned like salt rubbing into a wound, an ulcer perhaps.

Only by pushing myself, did I realise I still had the capacity to cope, and to enjoy in spite of endurance. I need not be taught how to fend for myself, merely revise it.

In Brighton, I discovered the world’s best hummus, my sense of humour, and confidence.
This trip was worth the calories. It has taken a while so come down from the high, but I can look back and stroke the ulcers fondly with my tongue.
I will take the Bright on. May it bleed into the next few weeks.

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What a mouthful that story was.

Stretch Marks

Progress is hideous.

I’ll see it in the mirror, catch an ugly feature protruding towards me from the glass. Progress grips my legs between it’s purple fingers. It squeezes swollen veins up to the surface where they throb buoyant on layers of whitening blubber.

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Up a size now aren’t I!

Skin bulges out of the top of my bra, the straps struggling to contain this heaving, heavy flesh. Thighs leer at each other, and are leaning in for a kiss. Parts of me try to move independently from the bones of my body: arms flap, jowls quiver and giggle, my belly balloons and floats through the rest of the day, high on food. A voluptuous smile parts the pouches of my cheeks, and sallow skin is flooded by a blush. Beads of sweat jewel my face when the weather turns warm, like medals to celebrate the return of some body heat.

Anonymous is sometimes masked under layers of make-up. Cakey and indulgent, moist, melt-in-the-mouth. A single spray of perfume freezes her presence in other people’s eyes. Chanel makes her choke, Jo Malone is itchy. The stench of effort fills the air with the fume of progress: for here self respect can spawn everyday, if it is left to.

Stretch marks the spot. And here were can join my spots: dot-to-dot, we can draw the conclusion that my hormones are on their way back.
They’re coming.
Pimples rupturing in greasy cavities between my nostrils, fat pustules moulded over with flaked yellow pus. And on these hormones rage: words tingle on my tongue as a tantrum brews. Out they burst volcanic fury, casting my thoughts and feelings all over the place.
It is exhausting being all over the place: there are too many out of reach things to mind, and I can’t quite stretch far enough to real them in. Instead, these ugly thoughts and alien feelings simmer, stoked by rising hormone levels and panic. Complete and utter panic: for they break the banks of what I can cope with. I can’t stretch far enough to manage all this, all this feeling, and thinking.
There is so much of me now, I just can’t seem to hold it all together.

Yes, my mirror tires me out.

Any reflection on my recovery is utterly exhausting: it glares at the future, waiting for something to happen. It is not Progress that strains me, but my reaction to it. I find myself constantly over stretching myself to meet some mark of approval from either Anonymous, or Ellie.

Progress is not the only distressing thing Recovery has dragged up. My mirror image, the picture of my present, is bored and lonely. Tired, and fed up.

Triggers have sharpened to a knife edge and attack me with ease, for I am a bigger target now.
A car door slams and a fox cries; a hundred murmuring voices press me into the walls of an art gallery. Protecting myself from an anxiety attack is haphazard, and doesn’t work the way anorexia does. Retreating into the next room to punch a pillow, or reciting Alt-J doesn’t have the same numbing effect anonymous did when she wiped me off Life’s landscape.
There are some things I can do on an anxious come down: A darkened room, cocooned in a duvet. White lights, and black coffee. Relief splashed like cold water. She makes the sound the sound the sea makes,
to calm me down.

I am all over the place, and that is not a sight for my sore eyes. I keep leaving bits of myself behind. I’ll forget my concentration and leave it at the breakfast table, still chewing over whether or not that tablespoon was too heaped.
My attention slips out of reach and stumbles into tomorrow already. Today means nothing when tomorrow is still up for grabs.
I fumble through the one coffee date I’ve had with a friend for months. I lost thread of the conversation as soon as anorexia began counting down the seconds until I had to stand again.

The only human beings I have actual interactive contact with outside the children I teach at school are my parents, the postman, and that pervy dog-walker with the one-eyed spaniel. Company is a basic human need of which I am literally starving.
I haven’t had a real conversation with anyone my own age in months.
There are many reasons for this, each as frustrating as the next.
Only one of them could be under my control.

I have spent too long locked in my own head.
Recently, I have been over-stretching myself attempting to meet up with other people. I’ve been pushing myself into texts, trying to tempt anyone to meet me. I hadn’t anticipated that the hardest part would be writing a text compelling and desperate enough for them to simply reply, rather than just scrolling on by.
Needless to say, my progress has been moving too slowly for some, and they have moved on and left me behind. Which is fine. I’m not hurt at all. At least, that’s not a feeling that means all that much to me anymore.
Badgering people to see me did pay off in some circumstances. A visit from my godmother and supper with my Grandparents were breaths of fresh air. My brother came home for a brief visit and resuscitated some will to live, even if that air blows in different anxieties. I met a friend for coffee and struggled to be present. All I could feel was anorexia watching her sip her coffee slowly, digging deeper into time spent sitting down.
This sort of meet up will take practice: it was nice to feel like I was trying though. A sort of novel experience.

Solitude is becoming less comforting now that I have become bored of my own company. There is nothing I can talk to myself about that isn’t base gossip or venting about the feral, shrieking kids down the road.
If I follow the stretch marks, and do as my doctor’s suggest, being alone with myself will be less abhorrent. One hopes the violence will eventually cease, and that I shan’t be punished for sitting, or punished for not sitting.
A change in my behaviour will see a change in the topics I can discuss with myself. Recovery will give me new things to talk to myself about, perhaps something less political than food, and exercise. Chewing over what my next meal will be sucks the joy from the moment when it finally arrives.

Loneliness does things to people, even Anonymous.
Each day unpicks a nerve.
I can’t take much more of this utter isolation. Sooner or later I know I’ll pick a side: wade into recovery and run the risk of being lonely, or go back to the one friend I do have: anorexia.

I am being passed around Anorexia and all her friends as if they own me.
She snatches up my emotions and loses them, dropping them as though the scorch her fingers.
At this stage in my recovery, I am unable to control my emotions, and I loathe it.
I’ve become an accessory to the my own destruction, and the violence that tries to tear my family in two.

My family is the last thing I have left in the world. It is precious, and it’s value has made me see how delicate it is.
Time together must be managed so it isn’t overcooked, and the heat of each other’s company doesn’t singe and boundaries.
Time apart must be constructive, so I am always able to hod myself up tall when I present myself again.
Then, Anorexia’s time must share with Cancer.
Both illnesses inhabit this house, but are excluded from our home. We trip over Cancer on a Friday, and slide though a couple of days of chemotherapy. The drugs will eventually lose their momentum and it all picks up a little. On the good days, we gather. We gather ourselves, and each other. We come together with the energy. We cling to these days carefully: for they are precious.
How cruel it is to feel anorexia slip, how unfair it is to lose control of her and watch her hurl pieces of our precious time together into despair. Anonymous chucks their light moods far away, where they’ll sink into worry like stones. Anorexia is a selfish friend, she drags everyone down with her rather than slip away quietly.
Worse still, to let her get hold of the heavy days. The days woozy with worry, rattling with pills and shaken nerves. How low it is for anorexia to stalk my family in the midst of the chemotherapy cycle.
The consequence of losing myself on these days is horrifying. Anxiety chews on fatty guilt for weeks afterwards.
No, there is never a good day to be anorexic. I will never function past this mark without learning to manage my emotions.
That will start with having the strength to hold them in the first place.
And I want to. I want to be there for my family, to hold them as they hold me: emotions and all. I want to get better so I can be better. I want to get better so I can get Ellie to help me help them. They are better support than anorexia is – you know they are, Anonymous. Leave them alone, leave my family alone.

Anxiety holds it’s breath, knowing the worst is surely on it’s way. That’s when I give way under the weight of it all. All is nothing, but at the same time – everything.
Facing it All – the now, the never, the perhaps and the presumed – I pour myself into anxiety, and let the feelings brew. Misery stirs my thoughts once, twice, thrice; round and round and round. My blood begins to roar, and then I lose it. I lose reality in the gloom, and the next few hours are at the mercy of anorexia, and all her friends.

I have to get out of here: I have to stretch out of this hovel.
Anything to stretch myself out of this hovel ad beyond the confines of my skin, just to remind me there is life outside madness.
A trip to London, a small supper party, and impromptu phone call overseas. Anything: Ellie has to push me against this restrictive bubble.
She hates seeing me struggle. Especially when she is too weak to help, worse still when she is string enough to try, but doesn’t believe I’m worth it.

My weight is a stretch mark on a graph. A slight trend, a hint. A clue so Anxiety has something to plot against.
And food.
Food?
Just another layer to my imprisonment.

Stretching food so it will one day be a loose fit around my life is sickening. So much eating is required, so many swallowed challenges.
My most recent gut-busting trick was to try, just once, to add a behaviour around food, rather than change one I already have. Thus the ‘bananadrama’ challenge was born: to eat, without planning or preparation, a banana with a spoon of peanut butter. Foodstuffs chosen because there ain’t no anti-anorexic treatment like my most favourite snack.
The trouble was with the timing: when could I possibly see fit to stuff an extra 150kcal out of mealtime hours?
The answer came on the day of a distressing day trying to meet a friend for lunch. In my anxious stupour, I avoided eating anything remotely calorific. It felt good to feel nothing, until I saw myself reflected, swaying uneasily bus window. I was hungry, and climbing high on hunger. They aren’t pleasant trips, are they Ellie? You should eat something as soon as you’re home.
My stomach stretched a little further with the progress I made that day.
It felt grossly uncomfortable, but it felt like progress.

Recovery is bruising my anorexic frame of mind, and opening it up to consider how it would be to live without Anonymous. I have spent so long locked in my own head, and am struggling so much to break out of it.

Sometimes, it is easier to shield you from my Progress. It is easier not to listen to your gasps at my transformation, it is less painful to confess weakness than declare strength. The latter just agitates Anonymous, and I become anxious again.
Sometimes I sit on my progress here. Literally – did I mention I sat through shivasana in my yoga class last week? Practising the art of meditation still evades me, but I at least talked myself down onto a bolster, and joined in the final 5 mins of class that are so vital to the essence of yoga. I didn’t quite manage it this week, but feel ready to try again next time. Even if only a tiny blip in anorexia’s regime, this is a scratch at progress.
I deny it exists too often, and so forget that like time, Progress is fragile too. A single anxious episode stretched out over a few days is enough to tarnish a month’s work of weight gain. Take last week for example. All that food, all that effort to reach 49.4kg; but then a single anxious thought could shake it down to 48.8kg by the next week. We can still follow Progress, even here. It moves forwards because of recovery, in spite of its weakness. Progress is a very loyal friend, just not that strong at the present.

I trace a stretch mark up my leg, wrapped around the pillowy flesh on my thigh. Progress is here, as alive as the time that raised it.
Only by accepting that the only constant thing is change, will I be able to control my progress. Acceptance could turn it into a friend, rejecting it could turn it into a slave. Head the future off, and Progress into madness.

 

Anor-Log: Unseated

I have chosen to write this retrospectively, because I found it too distressing to write about as it happened. Attention agitated it, and it bulged all out of proportion. Anticipation picked up a pen, but dread began the sentence. Words slid in their own sweaty mess, unable to catch reality in all it’s horror. The fear was just too big to confine onto a piece of paper.

The day was coming. I felt the week sink through the thickness of time, and suddenly: there it was. Tomorrow. Behold, Tomorrow.
All I could do was watch Tomorrow heave in it’s final moments, then give birth to the monster. Today.
Today was the day, it had arrived.

The corpse of my fear lay dismembered thus: a full day back in hospital. Two clinics including weigh ins, a psychologist assessment and a key nurse appointment. Food negotiated out, quantities and calories loosely patched up by some stranger working in the cafe. My walks and activity doses crushed under hours and hours of sitting, chatting, thinking.
When it had been alive as Tomorrow, it had been so real. Ellie was already being pushed over the edge by the mere thought of it. The day itself was a fat alien. So unnatural and so unknown, of course it was threatening.
My anorexic routine was being hunted. In one day, I saw an end. An end of my will to go on, to progress into it. An end of reason. Ellie just wasn’t sure she’d make it. She’d never make it to the other side of all that sitting.

Here I sit, on the other side. The monster was slain and here lies Yesterday. What a mess. I have been covered in sticky guilt, but also indelible pride.

One day was serving up a large portion of anxiety. I was being force fed by my treatment: it was clear I couldn’t avoid it, I’d just have to try. Either Anonymous would stand by as I choked, or I’d swallow.
Today was the first of many that will treat my fear of sitting. One day, one pill to kill the pain of inactivity. Anxiety is an inevitable side effect.

Anticipation tested the day’s itinerary on Ellie’s imagination. I fed her small tastes of what the day would hold, to see how she’d react. Feverish panic followed hot and cold flushes. Confidence flared then was smothered by the gravity of what I was about to do: I was about to sacrifice a whole day’s activity.
Ellie’s blood thickened with my thighs.

Ellie chewed the day over for weeks in advance. She broke it into bite-sized pieces, into phases. Each phase was finely furnished with an assortment of chairs. The developing apolstering of my bottom would be crammed into these seats with contempt: I could at least prepare it.

Phase 1: The car journey to hospital. 45mins; subject to lumps of traffic congestion. High time pressure in the passenger seat; angry outbursts possible.
Phase 2: Clinic 1: Key Nurse and weigh in. 60 mins. Time usually smooth and syrupy, easy to consume and digest. Pleasant passing of time depending on what number the scales award me. Lower numbers can dampen sitting anxiety for the rest of the day.
Phase 3: Empty. Hours are steroids to bulk out the time between appointments and lunch. Sedative side effects for anxiety include the possibility of moving about corridors and town a little. Distraction recommended.
Phase 4: Lunch. Highly volatile and often resulting in a drama or crisis. Hallucinations are possible: featuring magnified calories of specific food substances, and anxious trips up and down the menu in search of something smaller, safer. Chair itself invites about 40mins: a neutral time for lunch.
Phase 5: Car journey to hospital. 5 mins: short and hostile. Streets inevitably constipated; anxiety pollution makes breathing here difficult.
Phase 6: The psychologist assessment. The crowning glory of the day: the big one. The one that would come one day, the wonder drug Ellie has been gagging for since Recovery reared it’s scarred head. Nowhere to hide in this chair. An hour, maybe two. Duration subject to reactions.
Phase 7: Car journey home. Please God don’t let it be any longer than 45 mins. Ah shit, another red light.
Phase 8: Anorexic bribery in form of a walk. No chairs here, it’s ok. You’re safe now: the day is nearly over. No chairs, only empty skies and muddy footpaths. Walking is a minor pain-killer to relieve any residual anxiety from sitting and/or eating.

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Lunch was hard today.

Preparing for this feast of fear built the ground up under Ellie’s feet. We hoped it would make a fair and even battleground.
Ellie reduced the day down to numbers. Anxiety can understand those, even futuristic ones. She weighed the minutes she could see would be spent seated, and predicted her activity levels.
45+60+30+45+60 = the edge of anorexic tolerance.
Ellie’s findings were unprecedented and unexpected. Looking at this beast of the day, one would expect the numbers to be bigger. We checked her calculations over and over, but still we had the same result.
On paper, it worked on this one day of my life, I’d be sitting down for an extra 25mins. That’s 25mins more than a normal day at the hospital. Only 5 or 10 mins were shaved off my walks.
Why must this cost you so many calories, Ellie?

Solve that equation, make it digestible.
Let x be Seated Time.
x = (Phases) x anorexic catastrophisation.
Therefore,
x = terrifying.

Now work out the calorific cost.
Let y be excess calories.
y= x – (kcal x catastrophisation)

One can find the value of all this at the end on the world.
I just couldn’t make sense of it: the day was just too scary for reality to be telling the truth.

This is how I worked my way through one of the most challenging days of my recovery. I forced myself from chair to chair, and took care not to begin the next moment when my mouth was full of the present one.

I still carry the guilt I picked up from spending so long in all those chairs. Restricting my food didn’t succeed in making me immune from it. All it did was make Ellie feel like a cheat when she was promised some pride. A survivor’s guilt.
It is an unfortunate side effect to the “sitting” treatment. Anorexia almost always flares up, and restricts my food. Even after exhausting myself with a panic attack before 9 in the morning, Anonymous could not justify fuelling my lazy seated arse. She’d rather see me drained, propped up by the pine armrests.

Let me go.
Please, let this whole horrid episode be over.

And Now we are here. Now is calm, Now let Today go.

I see now why Ellie fought so hard to attend clinics yesterday. She has been desperate for these psychology sessions. The assessment itself lathered over an hour like balm. Words reel off my tongue and show themselves to my doctors exactly as they are in my head. In the stillness of the ED Unit, Ellie can stand back awhile. She reads over the notes on her life, as if it happened to someone else. She sees it, just for a moment, how it is.
Fine.
Sitting here just has to be fine, for it is necessary.

We shall have to wait for my next weigh in to see if all that sitting made any difference to my weight. We shall have to see if my anorexic predictions are correct: if it all as real as it is in my head.
There were so many calories blowing the day out of proportion.There were so many obese thoughts squeezing me tight where I sat, unmoving, in my seat.
And that had to be fine.

One day, it will all be.
Let it all just be fine.
Please Anonymous, even if only for one day, please just let me be.

Crushed

Something very un-anorexic just happened: I just left a guy my number.

Anonymous has been taking a strong dose of calories recently. The doctors said there were possible side effects, including increased energy, thoughts, and feelings. Mine are coming in waves. Hot and cold flushes, angry outbursts and depressive fronts. The pressure soars then drops, and it all comes out in relief rain. Sunny spells send me soaring high, tripping over all the colours.
The extra kilo I have gained recently has been lathered between jarred thoughts and disjointed feelings. Thoughts have been lubricated, and they slip and slide from moment to moment, meal to meal, face to feeling to fear.
My brain has gotten fatter. Stuffed with food and stimulus, my mind has dilated and feelings overflow all around me. There is more room in here to pack life into.
With every intended bite, every nibble at the corner of change, I am eating away at my own limits. Ellie tasted living all those years ago, witnesses it on the street. She uses her excess energy to dream. By gaining the weight I have so far, I have made room in my life for a dream world. Reveries featuring this afternoon’s snack; tomorrow’s game of scrabble; Mum’s smile when she hears of my progress next week; longer days; long lectures; travels; chapters and achievements. And yes, a boy.

My feelings about this boy have been pressed slowly against the confines of my brain, and now I am unable to cope with them.The real world leers through my sharpening senses. This emotion has been utterly crushed. And so it fights harder to be acknowledged each time he looks. Alive, and kicking.

Anonymous looked upon these messy, undignified feelings and blushed. Humiliated and confused, and completely out of her depth in this unfamiliar world of human interaction. Unsure of it’s threat.
I already know nothing will come of this. Anonymous wouldn’t be so unconcerned if she thought something in my life was about to change.

Ellie clung to her crush.
By clutching it close, Ellie can sink back into the cast of a normal 20-something year old. It is a drug that soothes the feeling of being an outsider, it is a reminder that even Anonymous is human too. Having a crush takes Ellie’s hot focus off me, even if just for a moment. An escape from all the empty space around me, all the vacant chairs and empty inboxes. A simple smile and light conversation cleared the air stuffed with nothing but myself, and my illness. Something else to think about, something less itchy. A crush that cracks open an unfamiliar part of life, and flushes my bleak horizon with interest.

The novelty of nervousness tickles where Anxiety normally bites. A fluttering, a flirt, an innocent throb of some thought process happening. Some change, or some yearning for change.

To him, I am Anonymous.
He knows a lot about the girl who drinks in his coffee bar after her yoga class: where she works, roams, rests; that she never takes her water in a glass but prefers to drink from the bottle; that sudden loud noises can draw tears from her eyes; to not speak until she looks up from her notebook; how important it is that her coffee is served with only skinny milk. He recognises her frown lines and wipes them away with a few gentle words. He knows she saw him blush, he knows he can tie her tongue up with only a smile.
He knows her as that girl, with no name. A half formed friendship growing too fast on one side, threatening to unbalance her from her stable, sterile solitude.

At Easter, the time to celebrate new life, Spring forces it’s head out of Winter’s tough hide. The sun lingers on the ruins of last year’s bloom. The air drags nature up and out of it’s selfish hibernation, and demands that the seasons share some life. Hardened flesh turned away from winter’s glare begins to crawl, wandering fingers pulling life into action.
When every leaf was shed in Autumn, every breath frozen in Winter; there is nothing left for Spring to lose.

Nature is brave. Maybe I can be brave too, maybe I could cast my fate to the wind, just this once. Now everything has been shed, now life has stripped itself away from Ellie’s skin, surely, there is nothing left to lose.
There can be Nothing for Anonymous or Ellie to lose by indulging myself in a crush. It’s the most normal thing that has happened to me in years, and it soothes my hunger for a normal life. Desperate not just for a life, but a full life.
The more I think about it, the more Ellie develops a taste for it.
I’m so hungry.

And so it was that on Good Friday, I marched into the suspect coffeehouse clutching a mahoosive bag of Easter eggs, and a gift tag bearing wishes and my number on it. Clad in my prettiest top and excitement induced, I was invincible.
I took my number and handed it over. My individual number, selected and plucked fresh for me by my mobile network, and stamped next to my listed name. A mobile number: the feature the grew on my reflection, as I stood before my mirror through the years, my phone clutched in one hand. A piece of myself I had control over. I mastered myself, and put it on paper.
He wasn’t even there that day: it was his day off. So I left it with one of his giggling colleagues, and walked out feeling taller and more capable than I have ever done before.

Ellie was a lazy dater: it is very unlike her to make the first move. Perhaps my illness has shifted her mind’s eye a little. Perhaps Ellie is learning the value of her own choices: there is nothing to lose, but everything to gain, by choosing to indulge in oneself.

This situation is no longer in my control, and I’m ok with that. The line between what I can do and cannot do is clear, and it is a very comforting feeling. My blood has been thickened by my pride, and confidence boost. I can do it. I can be brave.

He might receive my note, he might not.
He may text me, he may not.
He could toss my number in the bin, and laugh about it over a pint with his girlfriend later.
He might be forced out of his job by humiliation, reject any burden of attention and go on to lead a nomadic life as a recluse, in Scandinavia. He might not be.
He might be willing to let life slip between his sweating palms, and watch it flay and fray over there, out of his control. Like me, he might not.
There is so much that might and might not happen. This small pocket of the future punctured by ifs, buts and gaps; dashes through the dreams that itch away at Anonymous, and make my skin crawl all around her.
For now, I can sit with Anxiety as it picks over all this. There isn’t much for Anxiety to go on, really. Ellie lapped up most of the residual pride at actually taking control, for once. The power lies in the decision-making, and that wasn’t done by Anxiety.

If he did get my note, at least I’ve made it easy for him now.
If he texts, I’ll celebrate with a grand finale to Easter. I’ll be really, really brave. Guys, if he asks me out, I’ll face the biggest, itchiest fear food thus far: a creme egg.
The indulgence of fear, may turn out to be the indulgence of Nothing.

Happy Easter! x