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.

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“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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Mastering the Art of Time

We lost the summer. My last memory can be traced back from the first week in May:

“Eleanor Davies, please go to Dr A********** in room 6.”
I tottered around plastered arms and hacking coughs, watching wheezing frames double over in the line of patients snaking around the room. I pulled my coat up to my face and breathed into the fleece. A trickle of warm air kissed my chattering teeth. I shut my eyes and tried to drown the cacophony of wailing and moaning and groaning. I tried to think.
Ellie: what are you going to say? What are you doing here?
You are weak.
She had cold eyes. They skated over me once, and a sour smirk unfolded over her lips.
You’re a waste of time.
“I just – I can’t – I won’t eat.”
Pah.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Very convincing.
“I’m flying home in 10 days, I just need some advice. Please help me, I’m frightened.”
Her body shook with the force of that sigh. With pursed lips she began to click, click, click away at her computer. She kicked some scales out from under her desk.
Oh look, she is going to weigh us. How predictable.
“45kg.” Not good enough.
“Yes.” Go ahead, cry. See? Nobody cares.
“So … you think you have an ED. What do you want me to do for you? Why won’t you just eat?”
Nobody wants to help you.
“I’m scared. I just need to make it through the next 10 days, please help me.”
This doctor looked at me a moment, stretching out time. “HA” her laugh rattled through the chair and into my bones. “Well,” she said, trying to composed herself, “obviously don’t eat any less.”
Challenge accepted.
“Well, I could refer you to an Eating Disorder specialist …” Hell no. “… or I can tell you to toughen up.”
We waited. Not good enough. We left.

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At 45kg: my legs have finally joined up and I have … a but crack!!

In those 10 days, I lost 6kgs.
It has taken me 6 months to the day to restore the damage done in that doctor’s surgery.
Nobody cares, nobody will help you.
My weigh in today clocked on at 45kg. BMI: 14.9.
Time can’t be tempted, but Anorexia can.

I can control time.
It is a power Anonymous fed me in scraps. We made it smaller. Time is a wild thing, but I have been taught how to lock it up in a cage to waste away.
Woozy and drunk on depravity, it shrank with and away from me.
Anorexia tortured time: I was stretched thinner and life was squeezed smaller.
Routine rotted the day. Daylight would crawl from my 4:30 alarm to my midday black coffee, over treadmills and trembles, to the turning of Anonymous’ screw.
This will make you strong.

In recovery, I chase time around the clock. I check in at breakfast, lunch, supper. Each day, I am robbing Anonymous of her control over my time.
Recovery tames time so it can be used, not filled.
My days feel small, but are getting fuller, bigger. I can cope with doing more.
I can follow my train of thought just that little bit further; even if time does eventually catch up with me and my mind stumbles into a babbling outburst.
I can think ahead, and plan past the next hour into the next day. I don’t panic quite so often if lunch gets ruined: if I drop a carrot stick or the phone rings. There will be another lunch tomorrow. Tomorrow will happen, because I’ve planned for it.
Time will take me there.

I know time watches me.
Anonymous grooms the clock for opportunity, and makes me move. I still can’t sit still in the day, I still feel her fingernails scratching away at my nerves.
She makes me fill my daylight hours walking, pacing, twitching. Moving from one room to another requires detours up the stairs or around furniture.
Jump up. Move. Earn that food. Get through the next few hours.
My job is exhausting. Time spent at work is never compensated on my days off, because I find it difficult to sit still.
The bar of activity has been set now. Move.
If I keep myself distracted, the seconds won’t creep up on me.
My job may contrary to medical advice, but it is the reason I have clawed back that lost time.

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Celebrating the New Year as it arrived!

Time pushes Ellie through the present because it knows there is freedom in the future.
In small licks, I can taste it. On New Year’s Eve, I stayed up to greet 2017. I watched fireworks, I hugged my friends. Anonymous was collapsed, exhausted from the day’s work, no doubt revelling in the hunger high she had been saving for us to share.
Ellie swallowed her solitude, washed down with supper, and spent an hour with a sparkler in her hand, grinning.

Recovery is like light: just a bit slower. Happy New Year everyone x

Cold hands, warm heart

Loneliness has cold hands.
In the winter of Anorexia they have been cracked and blistered, gnawed until raw by the frosty bite of neglect. Ellie is always surprised by their strength.
As I wrap my fingers around this pen, I watch bloodless crevices rip over my knuckles, and fraying shreds of feathery skin litter the cradle of my palm.
Loneliness has no expectations. No seeds of doubt or suspicion are sown, and no plump clumps of self consciousness are harvested. It is desolate, but safe. Anonymous encourages Ellie to let these tortured hands guide her into hibernation, because Anorexia relies on lonely: it is part of her history.

This time of year is hard.
I felt the leaves curl into corpses and shiver off the trembling branches. I felt the fragile sunlight trip under the darkened skyline. I felt the breath of frost cast over the twinkling Christmas lights.
Facing the cold when I am already shivering is hard.
Enjoying the warmth of company when I am burning in furious paranoia is hard.
Sitting through a carol service when restlessness stole the pleasure of heavenly peace is hard.
The weather outside is frightful, and Christmas is proving terrific in it’s plight to thaw Ellie out.

Holding the hand of lonliness, I am often tempted to hide.
I cancel plans last minute, foolishly believing Anonymous that only her company will bring me comfort.
Friends smell of spring, and Anonymous panics. What if they tell me I “look well”? Surely, that means I look recovered? Fat even? That I must be a fake? That this illness isn’t there?
“Well” means none of these things, Ellie.
With only Anorexia as company, “well” is only a controlled cycle that begins and ends in winter.

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In June …
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… and now. I’ve come a long way.

Let us take a moment to admire the darling buds of recovery that are peeping out of the cracks in the ice:

This sprig here grew when I actually managed to go to that carol service, venturing outside after dark. A month ago, I had to leave fireworks night before the torches were even lit: I was so tired, and so cold.

This bud sprouted when I ate my soup at the table as my family devoured a succulent, steaming roast. I didn’t panic about the greasy aroma wafting around the dining room. We shall call that a practice run for Christmas day.

This shoot is particularly fresh: I went on a date. Quite an achievement for someone who is barren of desire but brimming with nerves.

This seed has a plumage of proud petals: I received an offer from the University of York to begin studying there next year. These roots of recovery are anchored deep into the ground, slowly squeezing Anonymous dry. I never want to go back to Manchester university: it is full of ghosts. This would be a fresh start, a sign of spring.

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Win of the week: using oil again!

Before we finish this horticultural spectacle, allow me to explain this tomato stained shrub here. It marks the spot where an unbroken rule was breached: don’t throw food at Anorexics. (This is not an endorsement.)
I was caught in a crossfire during a food fight at work (don’t ask), which resulted in a gleaming, grease coated tomato to land on my left shoulder with a sticky squelch.
Alas: I didn’t look down and scream. I didn’t look down at all, nor did I hear the shrill cursing of Anonymous, telling me the calories would diffuse through my skin – I think she was more taken aback than Ellie was.
Instead, I stripped on the spot.

Like loneliness, recovery battles are strong but brittle. I must confess my failure to win a war I have been waging for 3 weeks: that of the forbidden fruit.
Full, fleshy and ripe bulges blush in the fruit bowl. Apples with fine stretched skin; shining zests of oranges and smooth leathery bananas. Even a pomegranate, crimson and glowing.
Ellie loves fruit. Even Anonymous can tolerate it during wartime.
So, when asked by my nutritionist: why won’t I eat that “extra” portion? Why do I find it so hard to sink my teeth into something so submissive? Why am I filled with shame when confronted by these bursts of nectar?

It is the word “extra”. T’is the season to be “extra”.
Indulgence and anticipation saturates the air of Christmastime, and there is expectation to be “extra”.
I am “extra” nervous, “extra” restless, and “extra emotional.
When gathered in a crowd, Ellie feels “extra” distanced. I will not let the frosty bite of shame silence my tongue that is crying out for fruit. With the excitement of Christmas, I am “extra” on edge, and “extra” thankful.

Thank you, for helping me get to see Christmas with my family, and with my friends. I didn’t think I would make it this far, and I am so grateful to be home.

Merry Christmas, with love from Ellie xx

Rites and Rituals

“Eating” is an ancient tradition.
Preparation is holy, and meals are sacred. Food is not simply consumed: it is sacrificed.
This is a ritual of self care. It allows us to indulge in living rather than struggle through survival.
Anonymous’ preaching was easy to listen to when I had already lost faith in Ellie.
“Punish her.”
Anonymous never celebrates, she mourns.

Anorexia is a cult that seeks to punish, but Recovery is a religion.

“What have you done to be nice to yourself this week, Ellie?”
What indeed.
And why?

I find it hard to be nice to Ellie, because Anonymous has conditioned me to believe that she is sinful.
A requirement in the rites of Recovery is meditation on the positive aspects of yourself. Reteaching myself to see the good in Ellie is frustrating because light and shadows move in pairs: I am blinded by darkness.
“They’re unhappy. It must be my fault.”
“What did I do wrong there?”
“You’re useless Ellie. Useless.”
Surely, not everything is in my control. Not everything is my responsibility, so why am I torturing myself?

The rituals in recovery require practice to become habit.
The pilgrimage to the kitchen allows me planning time, so that I can carry out the “Eating” ceremony safely. Measures are put in place to dilute the corrosive conviction that I am breaking an Anonymous commandment by eating.
Quantities are important: I must have enough to appease Ellie, but little enough to keep Anonymous dormant. I have to eat in peace: food must be revered. Nothing disrupts a ceremony more than interrupting anxiety.
Eating still feels sinful. The myriad of tastes and textures that are unleashed upon my tongue never ceases to shock me. When you’ve been starving, everything tastes delicious.
Is it really so indulgent to expect to be treated well?

This week saw me carry out a blasphemous act against Anorexia: I celebrated my 21st birthday. I celebrated Ellie.
Months of torment lead up to the date. Anonymous walked me through images of university halls, carving the scars in my memory deeper. She talked me into the future and the catastrophes that would surely take place; the many expectations from other people that I would never live up to. She offered me the power to climb into people’s heads, and presume to know what they were thinking. She showed me the selfishness of taking up a whole day in the calender.

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My birthday “cake” made form a bunch of flowers!

On the 22nd November, she was silenced by shock. I have never felt more loved than I did on that day.
Knowing I would never be able to face an actual cake, my parents put candles into a bunch of flowers and made a birthday “cake”.
We had a quiet evening where I managed to eat in front of my grandparents. I was able to enjoy their company and forget for a moment what I was putting in my mouth, and why.
The card my friends at work gave me touched Ellie: surely, she must be doing something right.

I did something to celebrate on that day to: I told Ellie I was proud of her.
I am proud that she let me sit still for an hour and write this blog post.
I am proud that she nudged her BMI up to 14.6.
I am proud that she can climb all 14 steps at work and not collapse.
I am proud that she made it to her 21st birthday: in June, it didn’t seem likely I’d make it here.

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Biggest recovery win yet!

In Recovery, I am able to mark the passing of time with the gift of time. With ‘the present’ in question: it is the thought that counts.
The gift of thought Ellie gives me is tearing me away from Anorexia’s sadistic cult, and I am proud.
That is what counts.