Mind: the Gap

Every morning, I unfold Body Image and examine it in the mirror. The glass fogs up with smoke.
From under piles of leggings and wooly socks, I pick out the same pair of words I wore yesterday, and the day before, and the one before that. They don’t suit each other very well, but they’ve been crammed next to each other in a sentence anyway.
The mirror cracks into a smile, and the girl bulges from side to side through the glass. Anonymous leans in and looks for my new number: she looks to see where that 0.5kg went this week. Damage to Anonymous’ shell dimples my cheeks and plumps out the cushions around my legs. Whispers of health pass by in a curl of strengthened hair. A single blush graffitis a perfect shade of pale.
Anorexia keeps my body caged in an image, and accessorises it with her thoughts, and her judgements. They are narrow and unflattering, fiercely protective of the sharp edges the marks her boney borders.
Ellie looked at the image before her and shook her head, wondering why weight must be in the foreground. It takes up the whole picture: the only hard evidence that recovery is passing through. It just seems so out of proportion. Far too big and taking up far too much space.

I put Body to one side, making sure it was folded up so the creases were as thin as possible. The mirror gaped at what was left of my Image. Ellie, Anonymous, and myself. A gathering of unsavoury characters, and a story full of holes.

I had negotiated a 4 week gap between my hospital assessments, in order to prove that I do not need to be admitted as a day patient into the Eating Disorder Unit. It never occurred to me that I had just dug myself another hole, and found another empty gap to fill.
My plate was piled high with promises: the dietary increases would start tomorrow. The scales would fall away to weight welcomed with pride. Time would crack, and prise Anonymous away from my meal plan. Ellie would testify that she could react to Anxiety in some other way than cutting off her crusts, or watering down a smoothie. For four weeks, Anonymous has had nothing to eat but her own words. Here is the bitten word: weight gain.
Anorexia fed me denial for the first week. Surely, I didn’t need to increase my diet. All this food is far too big, and takes up far too much space. It wouldn’t be real, just a trick of gravity.
-0.1kg.
The second week, I dithered in my comfortable gap between an increase, and an intention. +- 0kg. An anomaly, surely. Ellie had been gnawing around the hull of her strawberries, and licked the spoon twice. Those teaspoons of hummus had been heaped for heaven’s sake. Still, the image flickered on the scales.
The third week, I was pushed into it. Anonymous’ logic was sweet as I ate it, and spat it out. A tablespoon of nut butter melted into my porridge, and it conjured up a miracle. +0.5kg.
Don’t let that slip between your fingers, Ellie.

It is so easy to talk myself out of increases, so I literally have to eat my words.

I unfolded up those numbers, and held them up into the light. Then realised what I was looking at. A gap had opened up between my meal plan and my metabolism. That’s the crack my efforts were falling into.
Ellie closed her eyes, and braced herself. It was so deep, and so dark.

Anxiety has been trying to talk me into staying in this hole, I think. It’s hard to tell, because I don’t ever fully understand what it’s trying to tell me.
When it tries to speak, rational words become strangled, crushed by the pressure of so much emotion climbing upon it from such a height. Change looms up there, and it alarms Anxiety. So it starts making all this noise.
Listen, Ellie. What is Anxiety actually trying to tell you?

My brain hasn’t got the kcal to waste on thinking efficiently. Ellie is so out of practice in dealing with her thoughts, that she ends up over-thinking. This often results in a obsessive surge, and then Reason blacks out. Anxiety has to take over: someone has to reestablish order.
It spat thoughts in my face with every mouthful.
An extra centimetre of cucumber burnt my tongue like acid.
A Times article on the possible – improbable – irreversible damage a whiff of bacon can wreck on metabolism crippled me for days afterwards. I hobbled around work in the coming days, desperately trying to shield my nose from the aromas rising off my customer’s plates.
Suddenly, my legs were being prised open all over again. Food blared between the pages of my magazine. I was catching fat from that person on the train and this person in the queue. An angry, vengeful rash of pregnancies and STIs came back to bite me from the past.
Thoughts gathered together and descended upon me like a mob. Time was chewed up and pressed harder against this four week window. Failure stared straight through me.
Of course Anxiety felt threatened. She was crying out for help. Anorexia is in trouble, she is being exposed.
Your friend needs help. She helped you, remember?
Each hour was littered with signs to turn back and retreat into my hole.

There were cracks just waiting to swallow me up as I advanced forward, trembling with fright from the spectre of hospital food.

Looking into the future, Anonymous can already see cracks that will trip me up further down the road to Recovery. That one just there, the one hiding just behind my mirror. And over there, the gap between “weight restored” and “recovered”. That’s a hard fall there: one which nobody cares about, and nobody takes seriously.

Some holes are placed just where Anonymous can trip other people up too.
The space between your mouth and my ears is dangerous. Meaning leaves your tongue with good intentions. Healthy compliments fall ill as they travel over the gap of understanding. When I receive them, they are twisted and tortured into Anorexic weaponry.
It is so easy to offend Anorexia: just remind her she is failing. Just point out she is weak enough to let me get this healthy, to “look so well”. When someone falls into this trap, Ellie gets dragged down too. If we look so “well” at this weight, Ellie, why should you want to gain any more?

IMG_6177
Anonymous worries if Ellie looks too happy in a picture.

Anorexia tries to press her image up against your screen, so the gap in your knowledge widens. My social media pages are subject to censorship: she has an image to uphold. She needs to maintain her anomity: it is what keeps her safe.
Let us unfold a few that have been cast out. I wear them well.
Here, a plate of food. Pictures of food: proof of Anorexic failure. Ellie: are you eating solid food yet? This is one hole Ellie wants to explore. I have now set up a ‘sister’ instagram account where I can put pictures up of some of the (very exciting) food I eat. It can be found @eatenbyellie and is designed to add detail to the picture of Ellie, who is recovering. And she is proud of it.

IMG_6242
I just want to show off how pretty food is 😉

Ah, what about this one: Ellie wearing something nice. I had dithered in front of the mirror for hours. Shall you wear pretty, or thin? Whichever is more comfortable, or whichever you feel the most confident in.
Any image of me is fed to you in self-defence. Anorexia isn’t cool: it is freezing. And so very lonely. I struggle to see friends who will only have a memory of Anonymous. I am still competing against my own ghost; even if Ellie is so much better than she was.
Please, don’t offend Anonymous. She is my friend, and I trust her.
Scrolling through loneliness and desperation and inadequacy: other people can be blind to what is pictured on a screen. Look for that gap. Can you hear the screaming?

In the mirror, I can see holes in Recovery’s smile. The gap between my assessments made it crack from side to side, and reveal a set of perfectly disordered gaps in my understanding of this illness. Somehow, I fell through a crack.
Nestled in Now: somewhere between the past and the future, I am trying to find a face to pull over this gaping hole. Perhaps covering it up is as inefficient as Anxiety’s communication. It’s just that finding something to fill all these holes summons Fear from the pit of it’s hovel.

Recovery will work with Nothing to make Something, and it will possibly mean Everything. I have learnt that it will possibly be drafted and redrafted, edited, scraped, compared and contrasted with the other side of the gap, the other side of the argument. Always trying to be bigger and better and thinner than the last mouthful of words.
Ellie just needs to keep chewing through the knots of her confusion.
Eventually, Recovery will unfold another image of life beyond maintaining the image of a thin body. Surely, it will be more filling than this morsel of life.
Because this just isn’t Ellie. Anorexia simply isn’t me.

Dead Lines

My nurse gave me my weight chart, and told me I was to have an assessment the following week. I held the results from a year long experiment, testing my theory that Ellie can recover from Anorexia at home, as an out-patient.

The graph plots three stories. That line, floating around up there in our imagination, is a healthy BMI. An alternative ending to this recovery story: featuring periods, hormones, fun, fat and freedom, and feelings. Food for thought, as well as plenty of material to form a balanced and well rounded narrative. A promising start with plenty to write about. This one just beneath it is a dull tale. It has little content, settling on the boundary line between “underweight” and “diagnostically critical”. And now this line. All the way down here, where I am now. This story shows up a lie. An alleged tale of recovery that has no substance, only noise scattered between +0.5kg; -0.5kg. A dead line with no direction.

IMG_6072
Let the story continue.

This weight chart is a three line whip I used to beat myself up with in the week leading up to my assessment.
I had stuffed words into my doctor’s mouth before I had even arrived for my assessment. I knew what they would be thinking, because Ellie was thinking it too. Anonymous scripted an argument to defend herself, and could only hope that tears wouldn’t send her off piste. Anorexia was backed into a corner by three doctors and my mother. Ellie couldn’t protect her. Anonymous restricted my intake, and I lied about it to protect us. Like a child changing their wet bedding in the dead of night.

Here are my dirty bed sheets. For six months I have been looking Anorexia straight in the eye, and running away. I have not been pulling my weight away from my Eating Disorder. Everything decision I make is ill. My thoughts are plagued by suspicion about who put them here in this head. Anorexia responds to Anxiety by restricting: that stagnant weight is a scar left by worry. Anxiety has had plenty to chew on in recovery: the time pressure from university looming ever closer; the weight of expectations that will surely grow with my waistline. So I starved it. Under the scrutiny of weekly clinics, I only really hid my restrictions in plain sight. But hide them I will, because I don’t want anyone to be angry with me. Ellie doesn’t want you to be disappointed.

The subject was rising. Talk of the present escalated into the future, and I couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t stop those doctors from snatching hope out of my hands before I had time to destroy it for myself. That dead line of weight stagnation drew a line under my performance of “Fine”. Something has to change, Ellie.
“We need to talk about your treatment plan.”

Effective treatment for Eating Disorders is famous for its’ clinical qualities. Clinicians ‘recommend’ patients enter a day-patient programme, which involves intensive therapy and monitoring of a patient’s every move. The therapy begins at 8am with a supervised breakfast and ends at 4pm, all within the four walls of the Eating Disorder Unit. Breakfast, snack 1, lunch, and snack 2 are all overseen and chewed over in group therapy sessions, DBT, pottery and sewing classes. Sitting is the main order of the day, served up with a plate of beige food. Typically, clinicians want patients to gain about 0.5kg per week. Whispers of the food served hang in a lingering stench on the corridor. Meaty lumps and quivering bulges of mass-produced buttered carbs, all made for me and plate up for me. I walk past that windowless dining room every week. Paper napkins dotted with gaudy daisies crown tubs of ketchup satchets. Six people go in, eat, then leave. The same six people go in again the next day, eat, then leave. In My Head, I can see it all play out it’s grand performance of recovery. A true test of a patient’s patience.

The description of life as a day patient tore the scales from my eyes. No, please no.

I have been bailed out by my age. I have bought myself four weeks with my 21 years. Ellie is on rationed time, and now she has to use it to prove that she can gain this weight at home. About 0.5kg a week, just like they do in the hospitals. If not, I will be fed to the dining room on the unit.

The face of my crisis is so horrifying, it has chased Ellie out of my head, and into the comfort of Fact. In Fact, Ellie, you are critically underweight. In Fact, you need to eat. And while we’re here In Fact, my patience with this illness is really starting to wear thin. And you, Ellie. What are you playing at?

My routine needed to be reordered, so I could cram those extra kcals of effort in without stretching the seams of Anonymous’ tolerance.
Ellie radically reformed her behaviour in response to the threat of hospital. Her meal plan was taken out of exile, and reinstated to it’s full capacity.
Sanctions on dairy were lifted and emergency aid given to protein portions. Where Anonymous toed the line at 100g of yogurt, Ellie overhauled it back up to 150g.
She identified risky areas and imposed safety measures, reducing the chance of falling prey to an Anonymous sniper. Emergency numbers to call on in a crisis are now detailed on post-it notes: 300ml; 150g; 3 tsp.
There can be no amnesty for Anorexic thoughts, I don’t have that time to spare.
After the initial emergency response, Ellie had to treat the casualties of kg lost in the last few weeks. An extra 5g of granola and handful of berries bulked out my crisis care plan. In this hostile climate of my own head, it was all I could afford. It seems to working a treat. That extra crunchy bite at breakfast keeps up my morale through the rest of the day.
Long term management plans include a reeducation drive, in which Ellie is being reminded on how to make falafel. And why she needs to.

IMG_6014
Wah sorry I swore!

Details of this coup was leaked outside the kitchen. Before Anonymous had time to contain her, Ellie marched me into work and slashed my hours. Anorexia has lost a whole day of rampaging up and down stairs, to and from table 56 and 10 then 31 – water, side plates, card machine. Losing a day of activity may have been asking a little too much of me. The wound still bleeds regret into hours of extra time to fill. That extra day is being eaten alive by anxiety.

I was reintroduced to Anonymous in that meeting. Ellie had lost track of her when she veered away from the road to recovery, covering her tracks with sugar-coated tales of a feigned recovery. Anything to move Anorexia to a higher ground, away from the prying eyes of my doctors, parents, readers. Yet there she had been all along, hidden in plain sight. All I thought we had learnt about Ellie and Anonymous is now teetering on the brink of a crisis.
My psychiatrist stared straight through me when I told him about going to University in September, and I could read the words dancing on his lips. Is going to university not just moving Anonymous to a higher ground, Ellie? How can you be sure you are not being fooled into moving Anorexia out of harms way. Away from my doctors, my parents, my readers. Who are you eating for, Ellie?

I want University takes up a large portion of my future. It would be a bit of a mouthful whatever my weight: sitting in lectures; sitting in pubs – sitting, sitting and sitting. Waiting for something good to happen to pull me away from my Eating Disorder.
The future is a moveable feast. Ellie wants to savour it, not swallow it. As I am now, I do not meet the criteria for Higher Education Fitness to Study. “Underweight” doesn’t sit well with the limit on a student’s weight: which is a BMI 17.5. Ah.
Yes university can be saved for later, it’s just that Ellie might starve without it.
Effort can be persuasive. I have a meal plan: one chunk at a time, I will work through the coming weeks, and see where we are in Recovery in September. Right now, I am just gnawing at the next four weeks.

Find me an Anorexic who is not competitive. Thank you, Doctors, for challenging me to recover as an outpatient.
In 7 days of reformed eating, weight gain is now happening.

A crisis is nothing but hoarded energy. I needed to find it, I needed something to fuel the next stage of this battle. Shock will always produce momentum of some kind. Now, Ellie hold it. Hold it tight and don’t let it go. This crisis won’t be wasted.

Anorexia and Cancer both live in my family home. They don’t talk much: Anonymous occasionally jumps if she sees pills placed too close to the fruit bowl, and sometimes chooses to unleash an anxiety attack as Cancer comes home from a thorough beating at hospital, limping.
Mum and I talk about our illnesses behind their backs. We laugh at how one illness can’t see the other: how I look at Mum and only see her smile, whilst she can see straight through Anorexia and only see Ellie. We admire how Dad can administer hugs and drugs upon demand, and still build us a life out of depleted energy levels. The scandal we can’t stop chewing over is the impertinence of these illnesses. How dare they try and steal hope, right from under our noses?
Cancer and Anorexia would never be friends, they are far too alike. Both smear their treatments with resistance and rumoured futility. Anything to stop them being treated like something as weak an cowardly as an illness.
I watch Mum and Dad confront cancer together. For her to try and get better, Mum needs to take her pills. So she does.
For me to try and get better, I need to eat. Ellie, we need to trust that this medicine will work – however painful it is going down. You just have to do it. Like your Mum, see?
See what else she is doing? Thats right: walking all over Cancer – 5km In Fact! After three years and 46 chemotherapy sessions, she is adding a new number to Cancer’s story. If you, my lovely readers, wish to donate and support her, please follow the link here.

A Heaped Tablespoon

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

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

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

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

IMG_5920
Behold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5860
(IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.)

Anor-versary

The end gave me somewhere to start. A year ago today, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. Finally, she had a name. It was such a relief. A diagnosis to point at, something to accuse.

The last year lies in pieces. Collected, chewed over and hoarded. They have swept me up and dumped me here: where I am now. One year into “recovery”, and shuffling along to the noise of a weight chart.

Weak synapses still suck information away from memory. So I am relying on evidence to trace the steps Ellie took to resuscitate the Will to recover, and show it how to breathe.
Anonymous keeps my food diaries; wrappers; calculations; inactive social media accounts; the litter collected after a blog brain storm. Evidence of a crime committed in the name of recovery. A point of reference should that graph spike. My bedroom has become a cemetery of dead memory. I have a whole box brimming with pocket notebooks. I can read her silence between the lines of this blog: there are somethings she won’t admit to – even here.

I turned the pages of my food diary, engrossed. In a year, a refeeding programme has grown into a meal plan. Out of a milky hue, the silhouettes of calorie increases swam into semi-skimmed focus. They trained my body to catch electrolytes in a shift, and slow weight loss. Stop weight loss. Ah, look. Here it began to reverse.
Increases have splattered colour onto my plate. An autumnal olive oil slick dripped in through fried spices; dressings; on vegetables. A carbohydrate assault looted fear of rye and wild rice, glimpsing the prizes still up for grabs. I started putting tastes to names: sourdough; buckwheat; couscous. Sugar rushed after it was introduced to me in a medjool date. Homemade falafel blocked the monotony of hummus at lunchtime. Remember the spring smoothie crisis?
I turned another page, blinded by colour. Highlights flared and died, dimming as they became habit. The winter “snack” massacre. That is a controversial one. Ellie has to use the politically correct term “afternoon pick-me-up”, to avoid an Anorexic riot. I can read emotion bleeding through the unspoken planning that goes into every bite.
Anonymous preserves my food logs in her archives, keeping tabs on any ill-judged decisions to lick a spoon, or eat a grape. Unsolicited.
I’ve kept every “afternoon-pick-me-up” wrapper, just in case.

img_5738.jpg
“Afternoon-pick-me-up” Archive

Mental progress can’t be monitored in the same way. There is nothing to hold, nothing to form a trend with. Yet perhaps there are tracks heading in the right direction, if we look hard enough.
Perhaps this: not always rushing to the end of a meal to meet Anorexia’s deadline, or drawing it out to waste the day away.
See here, these are my arms. It’s sweaty at work today (body heat is a thing now), so I have rolled up my sleeves. I am waiting for someone to say something. Look. My arms embrace silence.
And here, I’m putting on make-up. No, not trivialising these aged eyes, simply enhancing them a little.
My skin looks clear, you say? Well I would hope so. I’m using a very expensive scrub. It has almond extract in it. I know, I know there are no calories in it.
And no, I’m not wearing tracksuit pants today. They have a curfew: they aren’t allowed out until after a shower.
I could have told you all this had you called my mobile phone: I might have answered.
Oh yes, perhaps this. I’m weighing up whether or not to drop in on my friend’s birthday reception on Saturday. Only for half an hour or so, would that be ok?
Won’t we be seen? Perhaps.
Or worse: What if they don’t see me?

When Ellie awakes, she coughs up memories. Embryonic emotions are thrust upon me prematurely, screaming for me to cope with them. Refeeding myself rips the scabs off wounds, and now I struggle to stem the steady flow of unwanted, unplanned feeling.
I have a bruise on my forehead.
Marbled moss, mustard, burgundy. The crater left by black and blue emotion. I had to react. Purple flowers grow out of burst blood vessels. The bruise smarts when people’s eyes graze over it. They unstick themselves from my face, unsure where to look. Nobody could meet my eye anymore. These emotions were never mine. Ellie doesn’t let Anorexia starve feelings out, so they are neglected. Nobody will handle or accept responsibility for them. When they grow rancid, they will release themselves.
It was such a relief.
And now, I have a bruise on my forehead.

It’s true what they don’t say about recovering from a mental illness. It is a journey, a psychedelic trip across precarious successes before coming down, hard. Regret is always there to pick you up, and reprimand you for loosing so much control.

I can feel restoration coming, slowly. Change snaked at a gradual gradient over an axis of the last year. It held still occasionally so Anonymous would let her guard down.
Anonymous knows physical restoration could jump on her at any point. She feels the trembling ground scatter noise across my weight chart. +0.2kg turns the volume up to an angry buzz. Anonymous covers her eyes, and my mouth. -0.2kg. There. Much better.
The line of best fit was kept snug, so my leggings stayed baggy. Fluctuations rose and fell in a stagnant dream. To wake Ellie from this nightmare, I had to turn up the noise. Even if only a little.

My mental illness has made a spectacle of itself. Recovery makes me blush because it humiliates Anonymous. It is embarrassing.
I dread the day when the numbers make “Anorexia” redundant. Anonymous needs her identity to be validated. If my body is ripped from her grip, she will have nothing to defend me with.
Earlier, I mentioned my leggings. Here’s the thing about those leggings. My XS leggings no longer pull a curtain over sharp boney corners. No, they cling to my thighs for dear life. They are only baggy at the crotch, and only ripple in a breeze. Can you hear her cry of shame?
Restoring weight is a blinding display of strength. She won’t let me face it. Anorexia can’t bear to witness my weakness degenerate. It would destroy her.
That is why change has to move slowly. Any sudden movements would make it prey.

Progress tastes better than it looks, and it is worth chewing over. Deciding to include a photo in this blog post traps me in a restrictive frame of mind. A single snapshot cannot capture progress, it is a moving and breathing target. It has feelings. And yet, Ellie wishes to use this picture as proof.

comparison
13.06.16 v. 13.06.17

I admit it. Ellie, you have come this far. You are ordering those numbers: +7kg; BMI 15.3; bpm 52. I dare you to turn back now.
My doctors have mapped out a route through unchartered territory: I still have a long way to go. I have barely restored half of my weight lost to Anorexia. I am still chasing that healthy horror. Perhaps when I catch up with it, it will scare away the ECG machines, and the blood tests, the needles.
Change hasn’t coloured over the lines of Anorexia’s rules, and the pale tinges complement my routine. But they are getting stronger, bolder. Life is starting to glow with progress.

 

IMG_5735
What a colourful start (to my day) !

“Recovery” is an unfinished story, without a beginning, a middle or an end, but with plenty of twists. This is my story, thank you for helping me get through my first year in recovery. Back then, I didn’t think I’d make it to the end of the week.

To my diagnosis: Happy Birthday. Anonymous, may you surrender many happy returns.

IMG_5733
Choosing recovery:

An Ode to Fear

I opened the book again. The picture was perfect and the directions were simple, with small steps sweeping down the page. A string of safe words nodded up at Ellie: oats, seeds, a nut or two. I studied it closer, scrutinising the riddles snaking down the margin. Ingredients were planting calories like sugar-coated mines. They made the steps slippery, and threatened to trip Anonymous up. Determination would flat on it’s face. It was a list corrupted by lust. A seductive tbsp of sugary anxiety; several heaped tsps of guilty indulgence. A pinch of terror. And yet, the picture made it look so easy. How hard can it be to follow a recipe? I shut the book and retreated.

Anonymous took a pencil to the margin of that recipe book, and started to count. Her hand spread numbers down the list. Calculations scrawled like graffiti, burrowing between the lines and unearthing something she could understand. g, tbsp, kcal. I could plate up my defaced proposal, and wait to see if Fear devoured it.

We watched clouds of coconut oil melt in the pan. Those fluffy clumps turned glassy, stained by streaks of honey. I had done the maths: Ellie could afford some honey. Dancing beads of spice condensed and smoked over the surface. The air was humid, and Anonymous flinched as steamy calories licked my face.
I poured half the mixture over the oats, then stopped again. A thick lathering was swiping into the cavities between seeds. Their toothy grins became sticky. The feathery husks of oats became soggy, and splintered pecans were soldered together. A hand held the pan, and I fixed my eyes on it’s contents. The sweet romance of coconut and oil was turning sour. Anonymous sized them up, boring into the eyes reflecting back at me. Gold died as it disappeared down the plughole. I poured temptation down the drain, drowning Fear’s snarls under a furious gush.
Ellie sighed, and retreated back to the task at hand. Once stirred, the finished product lay before me. It was slightly dry, but my excitement was wetted.
I watched the oven’s heat flatter a crumpled heap into granola. Spice speckled oats blushed gold and began to sweat. Fear melted away as the heat of the moment crept closer. Ellie, you just made granola.

IMG_5502 copy
Oh yes I did!

Fear is a thug. Some say it’s mouth is a gash ripped by the past, others that it has been worn open by diseased thoughts. The creed of Anorexia bleeds from Fear’s lips. Anxiety chooses to retreat into this small familiar space, and listen to it’s grey prophecies about the doom recovery would bring.
The face of Fear is said to be horrifying. Lingering in acceptance means I would never have to behold it, I would never have to look it in the eye. Instead, Ellie watches it’s shadow walk circles around Anonymous. Fear is Anorexia’s most loyal and effective protector. It provides a quality service for very little: it never even has to materialise into reality, or prove itself to be true. All Anonymous needs is for me to know that it is there, waiting to gobble me up.
Recovery regards Fear with morbid fascination. What makes Fear so trustworthy? Ellie has been encouraged by Recovery to engage with it. It is 9:27am. Why must I wait until 9:30am to take my dose of nuts?
Oh Ellie, why did you do it? Why did you bring about that great plague of confusion? Why Ellie, why, did you try and communicate with Fear? You know it doesn’t like confrontation.
A single question exposes Fear’s illiteracy. Put on the spot, terror squirms uncomfortably. It offers an explanation always starting with the only two words it knows: I can’t – then silence. Take a long hard look at Fear, Ellie. Listen. See, it cannot justify itself. It blinks stupidly when I can produce evidence even Anonymous would be proud of. Total kcal of my regular breakfast vs. total kcal of granola. Anonymous never told Fear why, it only told it what. Educated by Anorexia’s deprivation, Fear is starved of logic. I can relate to that, except I at least am hungry for answers.
I wonder if Fear will ever be able to justify why I’m not allowed to gain weight.

May has wrecked havoc on my hospital appointments. The aftershocks of bank holidays and technical glitches have rumbled long into the weeks that follow. Anonymous yelped when she heard that I was going to be weighed later in the day this week. My plan, my clinic routine, was ruined.
Fear spluttered: I can’t be weighed in the afternoon because I can’t sit in the afternoon because I can’t sit after lunch because lunch will be ruined too because of time there simply isn’t time. Anonymous was exposed to disruption, and she responded using Fear. I was forced into adapting for a day.
We waited for Fear’s predictions to come true. Covering my eyes, I got onto the scales after lunch. Don’t look. You know how heavy the consequences will be.
The number was the same. Nothing had happened.
Well, Anonymous, we weren’t expecting that were we?

Fear is strong, but brittle. Recovery can strike success through it’s time-rotten hide and suck knowledge from it’s core.
Shards of a broken fear fly into my eyes, scarring Anonymous’ sight but clearing some of Ellie’s blind spots. I barely recognise the corpse of a broken fear.
Since I first tried my granola, I have had it four times since. It was glorious (slightly burnt – but I prefer the term ‘toasty’). Defeated Fear provides a reassuring history lesson, and Ellie is learning how to respond to it.

Recovery finally rewarded me this week. I could indulge both Ellie and Anonymous in a treat: a yoga class.

IMG_5619.JPG
Ready to go!

As I squeezed my toes over the mat, I tested the gravity of being allowed to try some exercise after almost a year. Despair almost choked me when I struggled – osteoporosis snarled in my back and my legs twitched in shock – but then I exhaled. I stretched, and pulled myself together again. Needless to say you’re not as strong as you once were Ellie, but stand up straight. You’re trying hard.
I think Anonymous missed the point of yoga. She panicked in the moments my teacher asked us to simply practice breathing: exercise? You call this exercise? Moments later she was appeased, high on movement.
Ellie had made an informed choice about yoga. She had chosen a class, because it would keep Anorexia’s obsession under control. The hour for exercise would pass and expire: stop. You need to stop now. The temptation to carry on, to push harder and faster, would be rolled up and stuffed away. Someone else would be in control of my exercise, someone else might know better Ellie.
I am proud that I chose this class, and proud to say that I shan’t be going back this week. I can still taste exercise’s addictive tang, even a year after being banned from it. I’m not strong enough to resist it yet.

I watched my yogi flex out of a shoulder stand pose, and fold her hands over her baby bump. The human body is capable of so much. Imagine what the mind could do, if it was allowed.

Some food for thought: I am excited to announce that the charity Youth Mental Health Matters has included “Eating for Ellie” in it’s awareness campaign. This new organisation brings mental health education into schools in the UK, and is spreading from the northwest nationwide with the gathering support of MPs. There is nothing more nourishing than education.

Horizons

I kept my eyes on the horizon. Restrained by a seatbelt and a speed limit, I handed my attention into the nervous hands of Distraction. They held my gaze over the landscape. Bushes flaked away like scabs as forests melted into moorland. My phone glared in disapproval as I scrolled. Lorde and Ludovico flooded the space between my ears. My focus slipped over Woman’s Hour and was dropped between the pages of the Times. Jenni Murray had been jeering at me through my headphones: I’m sitting too. I was contained in a car burrowing deeper and deeper down that tarmac canal. I felt Anxiety shudder when I accidentally looked at the dashboard, and saw the time. All those seconds saturating all those minutes – hours – now drained away into my lap, and into my thighs.
Keep your eyes on the horizon, Ellie. You’re over halfway now.

It was crowded in there. The ransom of being allowed to travel sat next to me in a cool box, packed tightly next to myself and my overnight bag.

Anonymous had been baiting me with Anxiety as the date of our departure crept closer and closer. I had to sit with it. Ellie and Anonymous had struck a deal that would allow me to sit in the car for a long period of time, and it was being carried through. Everything was planned, the horizon already sealed off.

Opportunity was panting when I hit “submit” on the UCAS website. Drunk on my smoothie increase, I had committed Ellie to a series of battles designed to test her. If she survives, she may be able to take her place at Exeter University in September. That single click shook panic out of dormancy, and it began to snarl.

Looking into the future, I beheld the monstrosity Ellie had agreed to take on.
Hours of sitting was curled up in a bed made from fear. The pungent smell of inactivity choked me, sweating with the effort of staying still. Calories grew like warts over it’s time rotten hide. Fat pulsating as the car’s engine shuddered to a stop at traffic lights. Congested worry clogged up the roads and caused a jam.
Wait, there is more.
Anonymous beckoned me to the mouth of Fear’s lair, and there I saw it. Gravity was being ousted out of sight and the monster began to swell. I watched that greedy creature gobble up the time Anonymous had designated for movement: walking; standing; moving. It’s heaving breath tickled my legs and made them grow stiff. I was stuck like this: stuck between a rock and a crazy place.
I looked at the car journey, and asked what it wanted with Ellie. It began to foam at the mouth. Contorted with rage at my insolence, sound frothed from it’s lips. We couldn’t understand them: we couldn’t order the series of interrupted threats. I couldn’t work out what was so terrifying about that car journey. It just was.

Something is disturbing us, Ellie. Lets starve it out.

I responded to Anonymous. We sedated Anxiety by restricting my food. Had Ellie been allowed her meal plan, my Anorexia would have flared up. That’s the nature of the beast.

I met Anonymous halfway, and prepared all the food I would need for the trip. Pages of calculations was used as evidence for my Anorexic logic. Panic polluted thoughts clouded everything Ellie had been taught to recite in times of recovery hardship.
You need x no. cal to maintain your bodyweight.
Therefore, if you eat < x no cal …
Fact and fiction were chewed over and spat out in frustration. I cowered away from reason when I felt threatened. Everything became disordered. Problems were produced to fix a solution; interruptions conversed with denial; riddles revealed themselves in plain sight. Nothing made sense. Something was trying to trick me. Guided by the nervous hands of distraction, we managed to tiptoe through the trip.

When I arrived at midday, a wave of survivor’s guilt washed me out of the car. I felt contradiction rot into consequence: I hadn’t eaten enough. Anonymous cruised across familiar ground by starving me of food and feeding me words. It had felt so easy: we remembered every turning, every slippery spot. Mum and Dad praised me for winning the motorway battle, and Ellie shrank. You cheated.

Ellie blinked in the spring sunlight dancing off the harbour. Waves peeled off the sea and crept up the sand to greet me. The masts of a hundred yachts reached up to the cloudless sky, applauding it in the breeze. Salt frosted houses lined the weaving street, coloured pink, blue, stone and slate. People’s mouths sprang into smiles under beards, piercings and mouthfuls of pasty. I had been so terrified of the journey to Falmouth, I hadn’t been allowed to get excited about where I was actually going. The car journey’s enormous presence hadn’t let me see that I would wander across a beach with my parents, or be dragged down cobbled streets by my dog.

IMG_5591
It was magic.

Not being allowed to sit for long periods of time has meant that I have been contained by a small radius around my house: a seatbelt of disordered thoughts. Hope smelt salty, and delicious.
Oh Ellie, why haven’t you bought enough food. I ordered a glass of milk in a cafe, trying to atone for 48hours of restrictions. Nothing can compensate for effort.

It has taken me nearly two weeks to write this blog post, because I couldn’t face what I had done. The threat of the car journey still snarls, wounded but not slain. Waves of retrospective panic dump Ellie at Anonymous’ feet: what were you thinking? Sometimes, those billows lose momentum and drop back, defeated.
I remember Falmouth flirting with recovery, and the Exeter campus charming Ellie with it’s possibility of a life free from Anorexia. There was so much colour: societies; subjects; gardens and books – books with topics drowning each other out as they called from the library bookshelves. Conflicting, not contradicting.
I just sat in a car. Huh. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to sit in a lecture.

Regret sighs as I read this over. Ellie wants to be better, I just don’t want to get better. The journey is riddled with contradictions to the logic that doesn’t make sense, not while I let my brain shrink in hunger.
Ellie averts her eyes from the horizon, and focuses on the morsel of Anorexia she is gnawing away at presently. To navigate this journey through recovery, I just need to trust the horizon is there, and that hope is still breathing.

If anything, that trip gave me something to chew over, and now write about.

IMG_5446
I think Billy copes better in a car than I do!

Burnt Toast

The Eating Disorder Unit smells like burnt toast.
Secure doors throw open and embrace me into the waiting room. Sharp lights, purring phones, the shuffling of paper and slippered feet. And the stench of burnt toast.
A smell so pungent, it wakes the spectre of family breakfasts, flames in our Bombay kitchen and team briefings at the boathouse. I watch ghosts float down the hospital corridors, devouring slice after slice.
I sign my name in at 08:58. The dates have flipped and fallen away above my signature for a whole year. Welcome back, another week. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of another week. My Eating Disorder Unit smells like rotting time: it smells like an Anorexic feast.
I leave with lingering panic, and the smell of burnt toast.

Anonymous has stretched out my time in recovery. It has worn thin, and torn away from countless opportunities:
That media company who commissioned me to lead their mental health campaign frayed. I left a deadline dangling, because Anonymous wouldn’t let me sit long enough to produce any work. Torn fragments spent at my desk saw sentences dissolve into nonsense: I couldn’t get my synapses to sync. I was so hungry. Your time is up. Time to move.
That Russell Group University who gave me an unconditional offer, which I now have to turn down. Anonymous wouldn’t let me sit on a train to visit: it was such a long journey.
That job I was offered in a school, which Anonymous turned down in favour of my waitressing job. There is more exercise involved.
That phone call I didn’t pick up because it wasn’t part of my afternoon routine.
That firework display I couldn’t watch, because the cold air began to eat me.
I looked at the date next to my name, and breathed in burning bread.
How much more time are you going to feed to your illness, Ellie?

Anorexia can remember the future, and it is huge. From the archives of a starving brain, she plays out the disaster of weight gain, and relives the horrors of health.
As I eat, my stirring brain starts working thoughts to the surface of it’s wound. These heavy ones are called memories, and they have caused recovery to go stale.

I have been presented with a mouth watering opportunity: attend a coastal university to read English in September. Plump with juicy promise, it would mean I could leave my job, I could move out. I could begin again.
Opportunity ripens, but it is too far to pluck. Time puts heavy pressure on the doubts that are already shaking Ellie from her daze.
I looked at the date next to my name. It’s May. Surely, there must be more to look forward to than my next meal?

This week, Reality has reeled Ellie in after she spent so long delving into Anorexic archives. Here is my reality: I am Anorexic, and I struggle to function on a day to day basis.
I am surviving on rations. My greedy heart steals calories off my tongue so it can rattle blood past hollow bones. White and red specs bubble in plasmatic rhapsody, rushing to the aid of delirious organs. They move with exhaustion. Sometimes they slack, and the pressure drops. My spine screams in osteoporatic rage. I can’t afford to indulge energy on body heat, so my skin cracks and stains purple. My brain is a corrupt and nervous system being ravaged by two warring minds: I don’t see energy again after it disappears into that shrunken space. Anonymous splashes out on lavish panic attacks to celebrate Anxiety, whereas Ellie wastes concentration until it fuses, blowing thoughts out of proportion. Power surges are followed by instant blackouts. Only weight gain is going to solve this, Ellie.

Every whiff of burnt toast is a reminder from Anonymous that I will not restore weight in time to be allowed to leave the clinic. Every rusty note marks another week that I have dragged Anorexia through, and Ellie still hasn’t agreed to put on any more weight.
There is still plenty of time for you to get better, Ellie. Her whispering logic echoes in my stomach: one smoothie, and you’ll pile on the weight. I have been listening since January, and haven’t put on any weight since. I still haven’t seen any evidence to support my Anorexic logic.
You haven’t earned the right to learn.

Hope is precious, and neither Ellie nor Anonymous want to lose it. Instead they make me gamble away time on an empty promise of the future.
It is true that if I eat, there is a chance I will restore enough weight to be deemed medically fit to start university. It is also true that if I eat I will gain weight, and be left a half-formed but fed body. I will have used up my rationed time and be denied my right to learn.
The face of the future is scarred with this uncertainty, and it’s ugly grimace rattles my recovery to it’s core.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew, Ellie, you’re starving time. I break the day into chunks that are easy to swallow, making it harder to chew over the next one – and choke. This is taking my recovery tactics right back to it’s basics: not trying to reveal what is feeding Anonymous, but rather how to contain her until Ellie is strong enough to take her on.
I don’t have the energy to bear the emotional surge of looking forward, nor have I learnt how to look back without being blinded. Wait Ellie, one day at a time.
In one week alone, I have seen the benefits of moving the horizon closer. Anonymous denied me my smoothie increases since they were prescribed daily. This week, I turned my brain’s energy away from the doomed deadline of weight restoration, and instead focused on finding a small bite-sized win everyday. It has been a delicious week of attritious smoothie glugging.

IMG_4824
The smoothie is back the smoothie is back!! (I call this one “GreenGoddess” – that’s me!)

I can’t call what tomorrow’s weigh-in will provoke in Ellie and Anonymous, but that is for tomorrow. I’m just savouring this chunk of today, I must not think about tomorrow yet.

This blog is a collection of small chunks in my recovery. This is not the long story of my battle with Anorexia: that cannot be condensed into a single chapter. Rather, let it be that this is the tale of Ellie, and her win of the week. A manageable moral, not a myth.

I left my clinic last week with the warm smell of burnt toast lingering in my nostrils. The smell of possibility: something so delicious could come in time. Prepare for the best in everyday Ellie, not the worst in the future.
Not university in sight yet, but a smoothie.