A Life in the day

It starts with alarm.
Armed with a routine, Anorexia gets me out of bed in the mornings to confront them. Anonymous sets about emptying the day.

Act 1, Scene 3: Breakfast.
Everything ticking along nicely: the dishwasher emptied; curtains drawn. Radio 4 humming under an Anonymous monologue. The stage set for a successful breakfast.
Then Dad comes in a line early, and I am thrown.
The door clatters in it’s frame. The kettle groans; teacups clink; a teaspoon heckles me from the sink.
I lost my place in the breakfast script: there was no order to work through to ensure I measured every tablespoon accurately. Now I’m going to be late. Hurry, stop getting in my way. Let me get on with my life.
Cue: an anorexic panic. Insults, agitation –
and so the scene dissolves.

Act 1, Scene 3: Breakfast – take 2.
Everything ticking along nicely: the dishwasher emptied; curtains drawn. Radio 4 humming under an Anonymous monologue. The stage set for a successful breakfast.
Then Dad comes in a line early, and I am thrown.
The door clatters in it’s frame. The kettle groans; teacups clink; a teaspoon heckles me from the sink.
I lost my place in the breakfast script. Now, now what.

A daily grind bores away the day, a day structured to hold up anorexia.
What I’m going to eat later stalks me out of bed.
The breakfast sequence is followed by a string of stills in front of the bathroom mirror. I push the morning through the smaller hours by faffing and floating between rooms, gathering piles of socks and moving them from the bed to the cupboard. Back into a draw.
Time becomes bloated with movement.
I leave the house searching for something to do, somewhere to tip all these unwanted minutes. Sitting in the driver’s seat sends my heart racing, so I manoeuvre within a 25minutes radius. This is my tolerance limit. At traffic lights my legs jig and my back twitches. An angry exorcism of leftover calories is only complete when I am out of the car – standing.
My morning out is carefully choreographed between a narrow spread of aisles, alleys and side streets. Carpark metres, a street sweeper, a window displaying the same set of disguises it had the day before. And the day before that.
Ellie comes up for air for 20mins midmorning. A clash of meal plans and an anorexic plot, in which I have a coffee. I gobble up the extra minutes in situ, and stuff them under the nib of a pen. As I write this, I’m sipping on my regular skinny latte (“Is this definitely skimmed milk?”). I won’t reach the end of this paragraph. I only have a few mouthfuls left. We need to be getting home anyway, or I’ll be late for lunch
Before I eat, there is a 40mins palate cleanser: home, sink, scrub, change, down stairs for a bag, up stairs to replace the bag, downstairs and into the kitchen. Up again for that scarf I deliberately left there, just to squeeze another 14 steps into the day. Food preparation will take up enough standing space to justify hiring out time for lunch.
Are you bored yet? I certainly am.
But wait – the day has barely begun.
The sticky hours between 2 and 3 pass through me reluctantly. The clock hand crawls across it’s face to hide it’s shame. The impossible task of doing nothing: freezing bananas, rearranging the fridge, making trips upstairs with the laundry: half a pile at a time.
Standing up against the tyranny of time.
The final push to the summit of the day: my afternoon walk. Come rain or shine, sleet snow and sorrow: thou shalt roam aimlessly, with nothing to lose but kcal.
(With irony): Another nugget of anorexic wisdom.
It’s downhill from here. A shower washes supper gently down the steep slope of the day. Only then can relief rain between the pages of this notebook.
It is only by achieving anorexia, that I earn the right to write.
Soon, I can put this all to bed. Emptying a day means there is nothing to make dreams out of. Instead, I listen to Ellie snore through Anonymous’ regret at having survived another day in recovery.
Then it’s time to wake up.
How I wish I could ride that snooze button a few minutes longer.
But you can’t Ellie. You’ll be late.

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Seconds sank into the mud

Variations on a theme:
Weekends: 9hr shift at restaurant. A workplace routine is already in place.
Hospital clinics: subject to appointment type, doctor and duration. Move walks from pm to am accordingly.

A fluid family life was cut off by my routine. Coming and going with tides of day trips and mealtimes became stuck in the past. Anorexia diluted quality time together and reduced it to drips through the day: the gap between my snack and shower; an cross over around lunchtime.
In this arid loneliness, there is nothing to get in my way. No obstacle that helps inactivity hoard kcal into mounts of kg.
You’re in my way. My brother wakes up during the faffing phase and trips me up on my way to the bathroom. My Dad cuts the lawn on a dry afternoon, nuturing irritation into agitation. They abscond my radar and come home without sending out a precautionary text message, so I can plan around their arrival. Noise soaks into the air and makes Anxiety sweat.
They never speak to Ellie during the day, only tolerate Anonymous’ howling if they dare cook themselves a stir fry. The stench of food injures her. Like rubbing salt into a wound.
Billy, stop jumping up. No. No Billy. You cannot come on my walk: your little legs will tire, and why must you stop and sniff so often? Cuddles later Billy, you’re making me late. I’m late for my shower.
His wagging tail slows, and dies. When the day is tired out, there is a slot to cuddle my Billy. It is my favourite time of day.

Daily habits are props for Anorexia.
Reading a newspaper every mealtime gives food a side order of politics and opinion. The BBC and the Times feed productivity levels. I’ll sit at a little table in the laundry room, by the window. I know I won’t be disturbed in there. I’ll have the peace of mind to concentrate on my food and paper.
The washing up must be undone before I start eating, just so Anonymous feels she’s earned her carbs.
That smoothie bowl can’t just look the best: it has to be the best. Something to do with achievement, “some might think”.

Old hobbies were easily killed off by an obsession with exercise.
Broken strings curl around my harp like roots around a coffin.
Books gather dust as I struggle to keep on top of the pile with only 30mins of reading before bed.
If time goes spare and rests back in a chair, it hoards calories.

Beyond these four corners of this life lies recovery: Ellie is sure of it.
I can’t see the point of recovery whilst tripping along in a hunger high, waiting for change to calm shallow storms.
There is no point, only a smooth learning curve.

The challenge for a few months has been to throw pinches of disruption into my day.
Moulding my day around someone else’s plans had me withstanding a painful 20mins drive to meet a friend for a walk, instead of asking her to come here. To save the sitting.
Moving supper back by 45 mins meant I could eat with my family. So far, the calories haven’t surprised my body. As far as we can tell, Ellie hasn’t been tricked into snacking afterwards at all, even if she eats earlier. Huh.
My camera roll has depleted this month: not every meal has been captured and retained for future reference.
I set a timer at 15:02, and buried 15mins between the pages of Zadie Smith. Anonymous found me a whole chapter later.
I checked my phone before 6pm.
In the midst of the perfect breakfast, I let that teaspoon lie.
If I look after the habits, the routine will look after itself.

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It was magical.

Here is proof of doing something different: news. A change. This just in: I have been offered a job in a primary school. Yes: I put my anorexic confidence out there. Sat during the interview and everything! I even risked spending a moment sitting, reading through the application forms before 5pm.
How nice to do something that won’t hurt.

At the end of the day, one day, Recovery will work better than anorexia – Time tells me so.
Ellie struggles finding something to live for, in what she lives with.
But at least she is trying. Every exhausted time.

Try harder.
– and so the scene dissolves.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Behold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.)

Dress Code

It was feeding time on social media. A tag dragged my image kicking and screaming before an anonymous audience. Ellie looked to see if Anorexia had been lost in the post. I stalked my Anonymous appearance, scrolling through the costumes and props of a party, trying to spot her. She began to feel Fear Of Missing Out on an opportunity to display herself for all to see. She waited to reap reaction: like, love, anger, sad.
Somebody “liked” it, and another Somebody did too. I hid behind my screen, trying to reel in my imagination. It tried to climb behind Everybody’s eyes, and report back on what they thought of me. Then I saw it: that one photo that let off the aroma of progress. It gave Anonymous away. Compliments circled like vultures, and she realised she had been stitched up.

I had thrown the invitation away as soon as it arrived. There is nothing more offensive than being thought about when you claim to be Anonymous. The font curled like a claw across the card. “Ellie” was embellished with glitter. How had I let it be, that one of my friends had the tenacity to assume that I, the Anorexic, would be capable of attending her 21st birthday party?
Angry thoughts rattled me, and I threw the invite in the bin. Out of sight, out of mind: where we both belonged. The invite was a tasty morsel for Anonymous to chew on, to gnaw at me with. A challenge, thrown down at our feet through my letterbox. It demanded so much: to make an exhibit of this body; to subject it to the stares and judgement of Anybody and Everybody. It asked me to pose in a photograph with the wandering eyes and wagging tongues. To risk being caught in a crossfire of food or fun.
Anonymous was hurt. Anorexia wasn’t the one who had been invited: Ellie had. How insensitive. You see, Ellie, your friend doesn’t see that “anorexic” label hang from your name. She just sees your name. A name.

The dress needed to be confronted. I advanced towards it, holding up a garment I knew fitted: I needed a template. I needed something to size it up against. The dress hung it’s limbs, the silk straps recoiled and the waistline shrank away in my presence. Anonymous gathered her material, preparing herself for the inevitable destruction of her body image.
The dress didn’t look worn out anymore. It had served it’s time imprisoned in the attic, with all the other relics from my university years. The dress had debuted on Anonymous’ final show in Manchester: a society ball, where she put on a display of bones that gagged her friends. She had shoved Ellie to one side, and became the centre of Nobody’s attention. Stroking the silk, Anonymous relished the shapeless memory of starvation.
My Anorexic uniform seemed dull in comparison. I unzipped the dress – wait. I’m not ready yet. I couldn’t lie to Anonymous by trying on the dress on a full stomach. Hunched over the toilet for half an hour, I expelled every drop of liquid my body could muster. My tummy to backed down, mm by mm. I took the dress off the hanger – then Ellie stopped me. One more thing.
“Mum, I’m going to try my dress on.”
“Ok.”
A lot had to fit into that dress.

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Well hello there.

It seems only fitting to accept it. My dress fitted, properly this time. The clasp hugged me around the bust, not shunning my ribcage. The hem only grazed the floor, instead of being dragged along: I wore osteoporosis with pride, and stood up that much straighter. I had taken off an Anorexic layer for the evening.

The impending party tore disorder through my day. 19:00 crept closer, pushing my routine further into disarray.
Suppertime took a direct hit. It is embedded between 7 and 8pm. Ellie had to extract it, and transplant it to 6:15. Anonymous only approved this operation because an early supper would rip my “afternoon pick me up” out of the day altogether. A week before the party, we had stitched together a plan.
It was a misjudged decision, with no get out clause. On the day of the party, Anonymous began to feed scraps of my shredded routine to Anxiety. By 2pm, with four hours left until reaching the summit, I stumbled. The ‘weeping waitress’ must be becoming a regular sight outside my work: I wonder why she has been sent home this time?
Anonymous smacked her lips, then spluttered. She had been far too greedy, and felt sick: bloated on too much time. Being sent home from work bought Ellie an extra hour to fill. She had no excuse not to stuff it with her “afternoon pick me up” – my afternoon snack had been resurrected. Our plan to restrict had split under the weight of that extra anxious hour.

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Milk for pre-drinks 🙂

Minutes melted by. I ticked tasks off my time plan: 4:30 – pack lunch for work tomorrow; 5:00 – afternoon pick-me-up; 5:15 fix hair; 5:20 fix hair again because it won’t sit tight; 5:40 – start preparing supper. My timetable supervised me from my pocket, and we checked on it every few minutes to make sure we were on schedule. It was the only morsel of reassurance I had as time dried up around me.

I made a meal of choosing what to eat. Every mouthful of soup poked Anxiety awake, gagging in horror as it caught sight of the clock. Calories flooded my mouth in an unstoppable stream. It was too early: this body won’t have been ready to intercept all that food. My cells would be caught off guard, and drowned. I felt my belly grow stiff. Bloating would betray me. The small swell of my stomach is a mark of refeeding: I can’t help it. Bloating is just something that happens to me. My tummy still parties hard when it receives sustenance, and that afternoon it began to raise it’s roof.
I swallowed soup with a side of air. Hiccups accompanied many trips to the bathroom.
I was so nervous.
I had been stitched up in a dress by fear.

We had gathered together the material to rise to the occasion. When I arrived at the party, I wrapped myself up in it.

I recognised four faces in the crowd: Everybody, Anybody, Somebody, and Nobody. Nobody knew Everybody, but Everybody had Somebody to talk to. Nobody left Anybody out. I was weary of Anybody who brandished a camera, and carefully held My Body away from them.
Somebody rounded up a group and introduced Everybody. Of course, Everybody was trying to impress Somebody.
“This is Somebody, they are graduating with first class honours this summer.”
“Everybody meet Somebody else, they have been travelling. Around Denmark.”
“Has Nobody met Anybody? They have just been recruited in the city of London.”
“And this is Ellie.”
I looked down, not able to look Anybody in the eye. Silence ripped through that delicate thing that held me together.
“Ellie writes a blog.” Everybody looked at me, whilst Nobody laughed. They were interested. What do you write about? I write a blog about Somebody called Anonymous, I said to Everybody. It’s for Anybody to read, but really Nobody has to.
Sparkling water was put on ice, and I felt the party grow around me. Anonymous waited for Somebody to say it: she waited for Somebody to say I looked “better”. Instead, Nobody did. It had been so long since Anybody had seen My Body next to Some other Body. What Everybody thought of My Body is Anybody’s guess.

Adrenaline was worn out by 9pm. The layers of noise became incarcerating: clinking glasses, breathy sighs, piercing laughs.
Nobody said it, but Everybody knew I had to leave. Exhaustion escorted me back to my car just as Somebody served platters of food. Everybody, please be seated.
I’m sorry, I have to leave. I’m Anorexic, remember?

My imagination had been left behind at the party. It was stuck there, walking around in someone else’s shoes. I had watched other people relish the joy of being healthy, felt hunger bring a lump to my throat.

At home, tears washed away the shreds of my patched up day. Ellie, you did it. So much effort went into making an appearance at that party. So much managed to fit into that dress.

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Anonymous, you are not in my circle of friends.

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.