Anorexia pushed my body over a line, and it fell into the hands of the flu.
You’d think anorexia and the flu would be best mates. But no, this is a competition to see who could cause each other the most amount of pain. Anorexia calls the Flu lazy, and the Flu calls Anorexia weak.
I sit to rest, to break my fall before I collapse in a fever – and Anonymous catches me slacking.
I stand to calm Anonymous, to throw her a scrap of activity – and the Flu crushes the air around me in jealousy.
Insults are hurled in body and mind; whatever I choose to do I end up offended one or the other, and that illness flares up.
A breath of nausea, and the taste of salt. A cold wave lapping against a scorching fever. Sweat lubricating limbs as they twitch in shivers of denial. This cannot be happening, I don’t believe it.
Sludge stirs from the depths of my throat. Thick and sticky, every breath I take gets caught in phlegm and torn out of of my mouth in a hacking fit.
I watch the scarf around my neck pulsating at 50 bpm.
The fever broke. A million tiny pieces of the infection splintered, and a cold sunk in.
I can now sit up in bed. I can now raise my head and stand, move about a little. Soon the phlegm gets too heavy, and now it is time to rest again.
It is for this reason that anorexia is terrified of illness: though it be short lived, it be mighty. It will force my body to lay out on a bed or be still in a chair. It will drown all my thoughts – anorexic or otherwise – in the depths of despair and panic, and it relishes the crunch of breaking fight as I will back down, and surrender myself to sweet, healing sleep.
The flu confined me to my bed, and l became convinced that serious food would be thrown straight back up into anorexia’s face.
Eating anything at all was gruelling. Limbs quivering and posture weakened, I approached a glass of milk or scrap of toast. Anonymous dragged her feet with reluctance, unable to understand the necessity of it when all I was doing – could be doing – was moping about the house in a feverish reverie.
Ellie scavenged for encouragement to eat after nearly collapsing after I stood. After calling the clinic and asking Mum and Dad to yet again tell me that its ok to eat because I might have to, I did.
I have been documenting every meal I’ve eaten, and counting it so it barely scrapes the minimum of what I could manage.
Perhaps that’s why I still feel so grim. I think this might just be hunger.
I lost three days in a woozy haze. The time restrictions Anonymous so tightly enforced were swept up in the gruelling fight to drive out the flu.
Anonymous had no plans to eat breakfast, so reluctantly compromised not to set an alarm in the mornings. For the first time in a long time, my body could stir when it felt ready. Still, the pain drew me from a disturbed slumber at 7:30, as always.
Now I had the rest of the day to waste. Ellie hurled as many hours at rest as anorexia allowed her, in hope that it would coax the flu away.
This morning, I awoke and stood up, shaking the phlegm down my veins and blowing it out. I climbed under a hot gushing shower and let the stream draw liquid out of my face. Emerging with pink skin and panting, I was quick to wrap up in a fluffy towel and scrub every last drop of sweat, blood and tears of the flu out.
I’ve been here before.
The hairdryer roared and the sun grinned through the curtains. The window swung open on it’s hinges and welcomed clean air into my bedroom. The stench of skin is beginning to diffuse.
I downed some pills (paracetamol doesn’t have any calories, Anonymous,) and crawled down to the kitchen. I looked for something to settle my tummy. Violent cries for sustenance, please feed me.
Plump dollops of yogurt stiffened granola into tight balls. I folded a banana and a handful of blueberries in, then settled down to eat the first real meal I’ve eaten in four days. Guilt was an aftertaste.
Now what are you going to do? You’ve eaten, better get on and do something.
We’re about to go out to a nature reserve: normally a very enjoyable and relatively gentle family day out. I can see the line again. Please Ellie, please don’t let me cross it again so soon. Please don’t over-do it before the cold has gone, and get ill all over again.
I’ve been typing this out all morning, in fragmented bursts. Worry that the calories will grow bored with the cold and, in their temper, curdle in my blood vessels, keeps breaking my train of thoughts.
But here I can see written what I need to remember: you have to eat, you need the calories because your body is fighting an illness.
How ironic, this is exactly what my nurse tells me everyday – with or without the flu. Ellie, today you need the calories for the flu. But everyday, you need the calories for anorexia.
In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight.
0.5kg per week, until the symptoms subside.
In order to gain 0.5kg per week, one must eat 500 kcal more than their daily requirements. Everyday, for the whole week.
One has to eat an extra 500 kcal everyday, for every day of the week.
500 kcal, 7 days a week
That adds up to 3500 kcal everyweek. Extra. Everyweek.
In order to recover from anorexia, I have to eat 500 kcal more than what I do already. What I already do isn’t enough. A medicinal measure of progress: my weight – my number – has been unchanged since November. I need to eat 500 kcal more than enough.
The problem is, eating enough is already too much. It’s too much for Anonymous to cope with: so much disorder to be dealt with.
When will any of this ever be enough? I’ve had enough.
In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight.
Layers, and layers, and layers.
Doctors’ encourage anorexics to put it on one layer at a time, at a speed with enough momentum to maintain itself, but not too much to blow a fuse and send the carrier into a despairing, confused blackout.
It is a substantial layer of 0.5kg per week.
Try it on piece by piece, assembling a costume to crawl up the axis onto the next stage of recovery. There, the world will be waiting to see what gargantuan monstrosity appears. Anonymous can feel the thrill of the onlooker waiting to see my transformation. Another layer that will be stripped back sometime, to reveal reality’s chuckling face: don’t flatter yourself. Who would even be interested?
In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight.
500 kcal more than this ample diet working it’s way through the time I have yet to get through.
500 kcal more than a diet already bursting at the seams. A diet stuffed full, and futile.
500 kcal more to be melted down and trickled down shrunken veins. Great canals of blood pumping 500 kcal into my heart. Galvanising my brain into action for a while. 500 kcal lathered over porous, brittle bones. They shiver when I pass a wheelchair, or see someone on crutches. Rattled, I cross myself. That could be you if you’re not careful.
One must eat 500 kcal more than they need to function as they are.
Here is the great sadness: I only function. I do not flourish.
Increasing is wearing. Food dances on my tongue, swilled around with the poisonous words Anonymous mutters as I chew. Anorexia poisons food with her thoughts so I don’t touch it. Every missed mouthful is consumed by my illness, just so it can maintain itself. It grows strong with less, as I will with more.
I have to put on this weight.
It has been a while since I last recognised an actual increase. They are starved off, strangers in the midst of a treatment plan. Anonymous is so paranoid about them trespassing into my mouth, that she randomly arrests any morsel of food she suspects to be dense enough to smuggle in illicit calories, and then brands the word “increase” upon it. She has cheapened a label, causing the value of a real life increase to sore. When I find one, it is to be held in bewilderment and awe.
I often find Ellie scavenging on these offcuts, desperately trying to find some indication that it had been real: she had really seen an increase. This usually happens the night before clinics, the night before she is to be put up and judged by her doctors: “So, Ellie. Did you increase?”
Let us look at last week’s plate of empty promise.
My milk measure bulges just over 200ml; four chia seeds spray onto my porridge as I open their packet; the barista making my skinny coffee looks shifty. Anonymous scrawls the word “increase” into my food log, and burns those extra calories before my eyes.
There is not enough fuel in these lies to maintain recovery.
In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight: 0.5kg per week.
In order to gain this weight, one must eat 500 kcal extra everyday, 7 days a week.
A heaped teaspoon of honey pales under scrutiny. That will have been an extra 22 kcal at the worst.
Anorexia has led Ellie to believe that 500 kcal is in touching distance. I am convinced that a small, painless tweak to my diet would be enough to send it spiralling up and out of this illness.
Everything becomes subject to calorie speculation. Predictions made based on anorexic data, drawn from the fact that any calorie will be a big one.
500 kcal is not as easy to get to as I think it is. Proof of how far anorexia addles a brain is found in my reluctance to face the ugly fact that 500 kcal is more than a heaped measurement, or even just an extra glass of coconut water at a dodgy time of day.
Ellie waves an avocado in my face: look, an increase! Well, this is certainly looks more like an increase. Half an avocado is a solid extra on your plate. A great lump of anxiety clogging up Anonymous’ clear run through the day, dodging food and triggers as she goes. Despite my wracked nerves comping through this meaty flesh – it isn’t enough.
Half an avocado? That’s 120 calories, tops. 380 to go now Ellie.
A banana? An almond? What about a smoothie?
The point only seems to show itself to me. Here is the point, sharpened and clear cut: I don’t want to get bigger.
I just want to be recovered. I just want the worst to be over. If only weight gain wasn’t so painful.
In order to recover from anorexia, I must forget where I left “enough”.
My “enough” was mine to find and mine to lose, my body’s requirements and my body’s right. My “enough” pales next to another persons, and there it awaits their judgement. My “enough” was left too long in anonymous hands, and was squeezed too hard.
My current “enough” looks too much by comparison: well over the recommended daily calorie allowance of a normal female of my age.
What was “enough” then, is not enough now. You need to eat more, Ellie.
It’s not enough.
I don’t know when recovery will ever be “enough”.
I have heard what is coming up there, above the ‘anorexic’ weight range. There, the anorexic is expected to roam, picking off food despite the number, no matter the feeling.
There will be so much matter to feel. The maintenance course is a heady dose with unpredictable, invisible side effects. Doctor’s will see me dragged upwards and ditch me at a BMI of 20: a number I have never let myself reach before. Not since I was 13.
Treatment starts with but is not limited to, a number.
I simply refuse to see how one can possibly make a story out of numbers. There is no character development or story twists when the plot just ambles up and down and across an axis, losing a bit of itself each time it looks down to check where it is, and where it might be heading.
Every week, my nurse repeats it.
Every week, my nutrition repeats it.
Every day, my parents remind me,
and every second, Anonymous avoids it.
500 kcal, everyday.
She doesn’t fight. She’s a coward. She’ll just shield her eyes to block out reality, and stay safe and stagnant in denial.
This week, I’ve been trying. I managed to meet a sort of increase, I think.
The moment to increase arrives and I feel unsure how to greet it. Should I just go for it? Stuff the ting in my mouth and hope it doesn’t come back to bite me later?
Or perhaps I’ll wait, give myself time to prepare for it. If I think it through, perhaps the thoughts will straighten out, order themselves on their own. The disorder will cease over time, won’t it?
Time is growing thick and going fast.
In order to keep up with time, I need to be putting on weight. I’m about to be left behind.
This morning there was a smoothie crisis. The smoothie in my meal plan was let out one or two kcal, in an effort to lure my diet up the great 500kcal. Ellie was granted permission to try a new smoothie, one she had been eyeing up out of a recipe book. This one would be thick and flavoursome, full and fruity. Frozen banana frothed up and foaming, thickened by avocado and sweetened with – get this – a medjool date. Spinach crunched in rapture. The calories would tip the day in favour of recovery, I could feel it.
So I did it. It slipped down, smooth and silky. It was heavy, leaning against the walls of my stomach and oozing through my intestine. A increase, surely – I finally found an increase.
The numbers lay low with the truth. They had to be lying when they denied an increase had ever passed through here. After running through it all over and over, I must concede here. That smoothie was not an increase. Anonymous simply replaced the original with a bulkier one, and docked a few calories later in the day, to make up for regret. All without me realising.
I cannot judge 500 kcal, but I will judge how I react to it. That increased feeling is both a punishment and a prize, depending on who I fight for.
All other variables aside, – confidence, communication, constant-crisis-aversion – the tale of treatment comes down to numbers. An incomprehensible series of numbers plotting Anonymous on her journey out of my life.
If I don’t gain any weight this week, I’m going to be in big trouble.
If I don’t increase my diet by 500 kcal in time to pull myself together, layer by layer, the doctor’s will carry out the fearful examination of my future in treatment they have been threatening since stagnation.
There will be a terrible reaction, and the rapid spread of anxiety and change; and it will be all my fault.
There is nothing else that will solve or explain weekly-weight-gain-gate, than fear. Only fear will tip me over the side of this crisis.
I have a banana in my bag.
Ellie said today, I’d eat a banana with coffee. With – not instead of. So she put a banana in my bag.
Now, I have a banana in my bag.
With three days until my weigh-in, this is all I’ve got. An inability to cram, clear confusion, and an extra banana in my bag.
An extra 100 kcal.
In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight until the symptoms subside.
Treatment tries to weight out a voice, wait out a feeling. Eventually, they are said to grow small enough to be manageable.
Food will recover me, not cure me. Treatment seems to be the gathering of layers, pinching them together, tighter and tighter, compress them and squeeze them slowly until the pressure finally drops, and a character emerges. Thus, a story may start: featuring numbers, yes, but also feelings.
In order to gain 0.5kg per week, one must eat 500 kcal extra.
Note: an increase will never be found in a feeling; for it is only a number.
Reader: I hope you have picked up on the repetition in this post. For it is only by saying it over and over again, can the realisation be summoned to stand on the present ground.
What will happen if you gain weight, Ellie? You’ll gain weight.
You’ll gain weight.
You’ll gain weight, and life will go on. So they say.
Only this time, you’ll be choosing to go with it.
There is nothing more I wish to add in this post. So long as I make a meal of weight gain, I don’t deserve to indulge myself sharing news and views.
Good things are important in recovery, but they are lonely without someone to be with.
I need to eat 500 kcal more today.
I need to eat 500 kcal more today.
I need to eat 500 more today, and everyday after that.
To recover from anorexia, I need to put on weight.
The future stretches ahead of me, a blank canvas.
I can’t tell yet if Recovery will be a vandal, or an artist.
It is a rough sketch of the rest of my life. Recovery appears as a scar on the face of the Future, a blot on this perfect canvas. More and more over the last few weeks, I have foreseen recovery screw over time as it passes.
Thin lines cut through a ‘fine’ mesh – “totally fine”. They grow bold. They creep into my routine and I follow, kicking up anxiety as I tread. I would like to take a moment to stand back and admire the work it has done in the last week alone. Work I have done.
My routine coloured a little outside the lines of my control. My snack time jabbed out into the unknown, 20 mins early. Time allocated for standing was squeezed tight, and stuffed into a chair.
My new job at school clumsily fell over lunchtime. Food had to fall back an hour.
Adjustments had to be made to accommodate my ever ebbing energy levels at the end of the week, resulting in Sunday being shortened by an hour or two so I could indulge in sleep.
Let me draw your attention my big recovery wins.
Look at those bold strokes made at anorexia when I sat in the same seat for over an hour in my classroom. My student and Anonymous were crying to leap up and toss their reading books aside. They both just wanted to escape to another activity, more activity. Ellie battled them both throughout that hour. Anonymous, we must not fail this pupil. Anorexia’s own strength can sometimes be used against her.
The classroom sitting success that Thursday gave way to a Friday pushing borders into old territory. I found myself gingerly perching in the craft corner, holding a paintbrush for the first time in years. I bought the Future some watercolours today. I wonder if it’s allowed them.
These wins embellish the present, and offer inspiration for the Future.
Recovery scribbled all over a dull Thursday evening. It has taken control of them, free-hand. I had always fancied a design of the future that could use Spanish, especially as Ellie had been so invested in her studies of it at university all that time ago. A rush of blood to the head as it turned towards my future saw me book some evening classes at my local university. After an anxious reshuffle of supper and lunch, I found myself sat between two businessmen, reciting the subjunctive. “Me llamo Ellie,” and I remember my voice.
The class itself shaded my food. I had to eat supper away from my kitchen chair, risk preparing it in advance and banking that I’ll have the energy to last that long through the day to see my plans through. Simply being strong enough to cram my prescribed calories into such a short space of time is, in my present view, a victory in itself.
Spanish lessons are another tool I am using to reconstruct the Future’s face. The confidence boost added a glow to my lessons in the coming weeks. Homework is pulling me through the week. Golden hours spent having something to do ooze by, like thick drops of honey. A worksheet, a translation and some grammar. Achievable means to get to the end of another week.
These Spanish lessons cast me back into a university environment. A violent throwback, that I want to rebuke forward into the future.
I am still reeling from the stress of the UCAS calamity. Only now, standing back to admire that rushed application, can I appreciate Ellie’s signature thoughts presiding over anorexic ones. This University: 20 mins from home; 15 from my hospital. A good uni, with a good course and good support. A stable structure on which I can build myself on, on which I could construct a future. Not just a fantasy, as Exeter had been. Leaving so soon in treatment was just Ellie trying to elope with anorexia. Applying to this one here would brand the Future with a degree even whilst I’m in treatment. It would give me a hopeful high ground, in the fight for my Future.
This is Ellie’s current design for the Future, subject to approval from my doctors, Anonymous, and myself.
Presently, it looks motivated. Certainly there is patchy motivation. But it seems grainy, a bit scratchy for Anxiety.
All this uncertainly leaves me dithering at how to carry myself towards the Future, how to behave around it and understand it. It is a new friend of mine, and I still need to learn to manage it’s moody swings from one moment to the next, leaping on the past like a wild animal.
Reality’s sketchy face watches me. A harsh glare bores in the back of my head, it’s ugly presence looming each time I enter the classroom, or walk into a hard yoga class, or begin another day. You’re just not enough.
Working in a classroom is not for the faint hearted, and I am all too aware that Anonymous is unable to do my job as well as Ellie could. There is not enough room in her head to take it all in, and give back. Children think too fast and carry too much energy to keep up with. 10 hours shouldering the clamour and colour, worry and wonder leaves me drained halfway through the week. I have to get better, or it will all catch up with me. I am already being left behind by the next generation.
That is not what Ellie wants her future to look like. That was never my design.
There is always a snack-stand off at the end of the day. At 6pm I collapse into the car, and face the food in the glovebox. 200kcal cut into neat wedges and wrapped up in shiny foil. Anorexic friendly slogans splash across the front: “vegan”; “GF”; “wholesome”. I stare at it. Cold, tired, and covered in paint – this is never the time to poke Anonymous in the eye. Anxiety is already awake, the air poisoned by what will happen if I do eat it, and what will happen if I don’t. Reality holds my snack up to the future, a dangling carrot to guide me.
Or a threat. If I don’t have the energy for school, the children will sniff it out, and devour my confidence whole.
For my future, I must eat.
As a teacher, I doodle around the edges of children’s futures. Small embellishments here and there, stickers, smiley faces and time outs.
As a friend, I scroll through an exhibition on my facebook feed. I like these works of art. My input in their future is cheapened as I hand out token likes like sweets.
As a real friend, I behold work on other people’s future with wonder, and applaud.
As a person, I turn back to my own future. It is hard not to panic at the sight of a blank canvas. It stretches endlessly through the years, staring back at itself, and reliving an end that has yet to begin. A portfolio of late submissions or absences: relationships, job, any branded token of happiness that could be waved in someone else’s face, with pixel-glittered joy. Where would I start on that?
At least I could explain an anorexic picture of the future. These sharp and rigid lines, this confined and primal, perfect design. A black and white still capturing fear as it frosts over. A negative filter applied on this small, safe miniature of life.
At least that’s something to show. At least this life – my life – would have something in it. Signed, Anonymous.
Without it, the future would just be an empty space. A waste.
I behold the mess anorexia is making of my life, revulsion wells up behind my eyeballs.
My past was vandalised by the hands of life, then patched up badly by anorexia. She swung me low into the present, shedding the extra layers I couldn’t bear anymore. Anxiety and opportunity ebb away as my tongue becomes blunt and numb to Life’s bitter taste. This is the anorexic design.
Ellie clings to this illness because it used to work. It used to be helpful, it used to be something. If I lay anorexia down, I may not find another tool to fight Life with. Ellie needs Anonymous to sign her name, because I myself have no pen to write with.
January: the month Reality makes it’s return. Yet this January, recovery lead me to discovery. I found a future: blank and unassuming, stretching across the vastness of my life that has yet to be fulfilled.
I catch my mind’s eye wandering over the Future. This torn and tortured mind, lingering over blank space. Terrified of trying to make something of it, to vandalise the rest of my life with recovery.
My pen is poised, lingering over this blank space. Just do it. It must be a matter of just doing it. Get the future over with.
I just want the pain of weight gain to be over. For these would to heal over and for the scars to fade into nothing more than words on a blog post. If only I could just do it. Just put the weight on and see how you feel.
Recovery is surely just a series of blots across perfect possibility. And then the wait to see how it turns out, when the emotion dries out.
All my tools to start working on the future are lined up. My harp is tuned; watercolours set; meal plan written out and goals sketched out. New things may help smooth the present into the future.
To start, I just need to do it.
It could be so beautiful. Just how you want it, Ellie.
I can’t wait to touch the future.
I can’t wait to see what could happen if I was allowed to sit and play my harp, learn arabic, paint. There will be no stopping me, and no stopping time.
I can’t wait to see how it feels. Please don’t let it feel how it looks from back here. Don’t let it be that full and fat.
Oh Ellie, it won’t. You won’t feel fat.
Fat is not an emotion.
Christmas was there, peering over the cusp of just a few days. The atmosphere had mounted advent. It was building, it was beginning to charge. Excitement clashed with stress on the streets, fear melted down by nostalgia’s wrath at home.
Anxiety was lit up like a Christmas tree. Great flashing figures were frozen in a festive stance, dangling off anorexic branches. They’d slip – surely.
The tree was bloated with presents, my family feverish with festivity. I watched them in the grip of Christmas, and grieved for the joy I still cannot hold onto whilst clinging to Anorexia.
This year though, I touched it. I felt for the joy Anonymous has trained me to turn against, and I touched it. I unwrapped Christmas, and found a collection of moments.
They are mine forever, to treasure and keep.
Christmas day itself was so bright, I was blinded.
The pandemic of stress sweeping across the world’s kitchens on the 25th December was baying in the oven. My parents’ time plan was lathered in goose fat, and it began to slip about under the pressure. I had prepared anxiety for the onslaught of smell and stress and sobs and sighs that would ensue in preparation of my family’s Christmas lunch. Even walking the long way around the house, I felt my father sweat. That turkey was cooked by his concentration if nothing else. Perhaps it was the looming scrutiny of the nine family members, perhaps it was the heat. Perhaps it’s just because it is Christmas. It happens every year in every household, so I had to be prepared for it.
So it was to be that I would avoid the kitchen at all costs, and plate up a cold meal at the last minute. It was with some reluctance that I agreed to try something different for lunch on Christmas day. Something special, to celebrate a year of recovery wins. I opened my ‘safe’ cookbook, pulled my calculator towards me, and began to break down each recipe. Pencil marks branded each serving size a calorie content. It was by this process of elimination that I made my choice. A herbed nut loaf. This Anonymous-approved meal, prepared the day before, was not without it’s own festive surprises. I measured out a serving size – a sixth: 3cm – and began to saw away at the dry crust. Specs of nut fell away from the knife’s blade. The wrinkled skin cracked from side to side, and chunks of squash sank out of sight. The walls of my nut loaf trembled: and suddenly I couldn’t tell what was slice and what wasn’t. 3cm of crumble collapsed, again and again. I butchered the remainder of the loaf, eventually salvaging 2 cm of crust and a spoonful of crumble. Whilst my cousins filed past, plates piled with parsnip and potatoes, I glared at my plate. Daring it to be bigger than I had convinced myself it really was.
This dry pile of crumbs had some calories left over from my usual lunchtime quota, so Ellie cut up a fig and weighed out an apple. Anything to wet my appetite that was rapidly decreasing as the day wore on, pushing me towards my place at the dining table.
There was a saga with the sprouts. These green gems, these misunderstood buds of festive joy: the only part of the traditional Christmas meal I have ever negotiated with Anonymous. As the kitchen was hotting up, the lunchtime hour nearly upon us, I became aware that our deal was under threat. It was carnage in the kitchen. Too many hands and too many cooks manhandling too many of my clean, innocent sprouts. Anonymous had no idea how the sprouts were going to be boiled. She had always held her vegetables hostage, but now they were being lost in the family feast. Unable to hold it down, I threw these words over my parents as they edged down their to-do list. One solution would have been to take a handful, and boil them separately in the annexe. That way I could monitor them. But that wasn’t the point: this simply is not the point of a gathering at Christmas time. The whole day, Ellie had been fighting to feel included. I wanted to share the responsibility of sprout-consumption; I wanted to walk on common ground in the conversation after the meal: “delicious sprouts”. Thus I had to persuade Anonymous to hand over control of them. She didn’t want to let them go, she didn’t know how they would be treated. Would they be subjected to seasoning? Salt, sugar? Unnecessary sprinkles over their delicate skin? What of the saucepan: had it been washed throughly – was it clean enough? Was this not the pan you used to boil your ham in yesterday? I conjured calories from the dregs, and watched them sink beneath the boiling water that the sprouts were dancing in. Mum, Dad, how will I know?
You just have to trust us.
Yes, but how will I know?
Ellie considered this. She peered past their flushed, frantic faces, into the steamy kitchen. The stress sprouts were causing me was decidedly less than that of chaotic Christmas cooking, which my parents were just about on top of. They could do without this, Ellie. We could all use do without this. You just have to trust them.
Celebrate the trust I have, despite the doubts I am desperate to unload.
The sprouts survived the cooking. They made it to the serving bowl, to the sideboard. I nearly did too, only stumbling when I picked up a clean spoon to take some. There was meat on that sideboard; bacon. Bread sauce, gravy spittle. Nothing looked clean to Anonymous if I had been dirtied by a blind eye.
At the table, Ellie perched on her pain threshold. I picked up my knife and fork, which Anonymous swiftly took and began to stab me with: goodness, what enormous cutlery. The prongs were silver and strong, great gulfs torn between them. The knife would have flattened my nut loaf in one sitting. My first mouthful of that Christmas meal was air. I peeled away from the table unannounced, and reappeared clutching my small knife and fork. Ellie settled into her chair, and turned to her right. The conversations around the table were woven with each other. Voices layered over each other, pauses to pour wine or drink wine or dine with wine. Alcohol was an anxiety that ran away from me during the meal: I had expected it, for it was Christmas.
To my right, my grandfather and I shared sparkling water. I paced my mouthfuls, trying to match his so I might close the gap between finishing my meal, and waiting for others to finish theirs. With no food to watch, Anonymous’ eyes begin to wander, and they often settle on me, sitting there, wasting away under the onslaught of calories I just consumed just by waiting for someone else to finish their meal. The minutes restrained by etiquette dig into my side. My grandfather tore a shred of turkey off with his fork. He sliced a sprout, he speared it, he swirled it in thick, velvety gravy. The crust of roast potato crunched and crumpled against a smooth ball of stuffing. A small morsel assembled carefully, mindfully. He lifted it to his lips. Then paused. He finished his sentence: string of wise words spread before me. I couldn’t read them properly, anxiety was starting to blind me with spots of electric panic. The clock was ticking, and my nerves were racking up calories. When the full stop dropped, he placed this delicate forkful in his mouth, and began to chew. Once, twice, again. And again. Time sank back into my seat as he picked up the conversation again. That wonderful, soul-reviving morsel anorexia starves me of. Oh Ellie, I’m so hungry for this. I’m craving contact with people left on the other side of your illness. How sad for my grandfather’s wisdom was wasted on a narrow, anorexic rhetoric.
Where I hung off his every word, I felt Anonymous claw at them, shove them aside, hurry them along. And it hurt to watch: it was painful to endure. The Christmas dinner fight will be defined by my insistence on listening to my grandfather speak, at least until other people got up for seconds.
I lasted through that course. By the time heads were turning to their empty plates, inclining towards the kitchen where trifle and figgy pudding and cream and chocolates lay in wait, I was exhausted. So I retreated. I put my knife and fork together, and left them all to it.
I had identified possible black spots on Christmas day. The sticky bits I would be expected to sit still, and the stale ones where I knew Anonymous would force me into exile. The times Ellie would gasp for air, away from the fug of fun she still can’t quite manage in more than hourly bursts. On my time plan, I scheduled in scraps of activity I could chuck at Anonymous, just to keep her quiet. In the bleak midwinter of the afternoon, those sickly hours between 2 and 4, I shouldered Anorexia and heaved it outside into the cold. Onto a public footpath. Until I reached the summit of anxiety, and it all calmed down with the setting sun.
I needed breakfast before church: nobody sings well on an empty stomach. Nor can they walk up the rectory footpath, stand and sit and stand and sit at the organ’s cue. Without breakfast, Ellie, where will you summon the energy from to shiver in the pews, or cling to the words of God? How will you focus on your faith. This tattered faith. The one so unrecognisable in this anorexic war. Yet here it still is, it survived. What can this faith give you, but the courage to be still for an hour during this Christmas service.
Walking up the lane, I asked my Mum yet again if it was ok to sit. The third time, she took my hand and sighed. “Ellie, of course it is ok.” then she leaned in, making sure the gravestones were out of earshot. “That’s why God gave you a bottom!”
In the lead up to Christmas, I worked my way through a to-do list, staying busy, staying Anonymous. I was being chased towards the big day, when it became clear that I was missing something.
At the end of term, the reception class put on a Nativity play. Alas, this was not the simple tale of the birth of Christ. Lo, let it not be presumed that Mary and Joseph hunkered down in a stable before the divine child. This is not what happened, according to the children. What really happened, actually, was a cow picked a fight with Joseph. One of the Kings had a toilet break during their dance and the sheep were in fact better at herding a flock of four-year olds than the shepherds. The angels never did grasp just how far to not pull their dresses up on stage. The Inn Keeper had less to say about the whole thing than the Inn’s Door. As for the Inn Keeper’s wife, well. Disgruntled puts it plainly. Away in a manger, life went on. I was lucky enough to witness this retelling, and humbled by the hope they conveyed in their Christmas message, however unwittingly. Here, take this old news: this good, hopeful news. Fresh from a four-year old: here is a story of hope.
Here I present to you the Chronicles of Christmas, these acts of faith. I earned back confidence in myself. The best thing is: I coped with it too.
I made it to the summit of the festive season, overcoming the scarp of social events and high altitudes of emotions I can barely contain on a day-to-day basis.
I allowed myself an extra 50kcal at breakfast: because it is Christmas.
Even being able to eat breakfast at the kitchen table – for 7 consecutive days – without moving the clutter of Christmas decorations off it, is quite a feat. Not least because Anonymous has had me exiled into the utility room during my meals up until now. How wonderful it is to eat somewhere warm, to be allowed to enjoy a meal in entirety without sacrificing something.
Faith follows me like a shadow. I can never quite see it in entirety. Nor do I realise it is there, stalking every step I take. This Christmas made me grieve for what I lost, and protect what I have. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring it into the new year.
This Christmas gave me time with my family, the most precious thing Anorexia took from me.
A collection of moments: making crackers, decorating the tree, riding the air closer to the big day. We haven’t watched Love Actually yet, that’s tomorrow night.
’Tis the time of year to celebrate what we have, despite all we must carry.
There is no present, like the time.
No Mum. I can’t try just one Kale chip.
Which one? Of what veg:oil ratio?
There is, say, about 57kcal per 23g packet. Of that packet, what percent would I then be eating by having a single kale chip?
Let the value of the chip be unknown. Now, Ellie, find the meaning of eating just one.
Imagine how that will stick out in my food diary. Lunch: OUT @ Pret a Manger: Festive Salad box; 1 x Kale Chip. (And then what – describe it? Large leaf approx. length of index finger. Salt crusted and curling at edges, a deeper shade of green – suggesting longer cooking time?)
Work that one out on the scales. It will surely show up in my weigh-in. Uh huh, even that one.
Yes I do eat kale. And yes, it is considerate of the manufacturers not to adulterate these lush leaves with anything nasty; any additives; any anorexic pesticides.
But Mum, that’s not the point.
No, no thank you. I’d rather eat the whole bag than sneak one.
Well I’ll tell you. Look here at this neat little packet, very pretty yes? Decorated in all these numbers down the side, an exact measurement of kcal and g. Of course that’s exactly what will be in the packet. That or less. One can trust these companies to scrape by with the bare minimum: they cannot make a profit by being generous.
What are you doing? No I don’t want a packet Mum. That’s not what I meant. I was just making a point.
An exact, precise point.
Control variables in my life are being monitored.
This constant counting and recounting, documenting what I let happen today.
Anonymous applies precision theory to the science of weight gain.
Weight is an important source for my nurses. It tells the simple tale of my week in recovery.
But it is a clumsy and fickle thing, weight. I don’t trust it.
Every Monday morning between 10:02-10:07, I stand on the time and place to recover. Anorexia scrutinises the number flashing from the scales. Staring down, she stares it down and strips it back.
Immediate checks on that number are carried out. My weight could latch on to a heavier vest, or get stuck in the grip of an extra couple of hairpins. A wall of water may get stuck in my cells after that extra glass last night.
Anonymous counts and moderates all the variables controlling my weight, not just my food. My clinic uniform is thin, lightweight. A single cotton layer that is proving ever more difficult to maintain now winter is closing in. Six studs; one glass of water aloud at breakfastime. Four attempts to wee prior to entering the ward. I record the size and timeliness of stools as the pass, or not pass. Meals from supper the night before right through until breakfast are calibrated and checked by the clock.
Any reason to accuse weight it is lying. Things are not improving.
Precision cuts anxiety down to a size I can manage.
To achieve precision, Anonymous questions everything until every answer is the same. Nothing is ever worked out, yet here she is working on it all the time.
Tablespoons levelled, scales balanced. A full life, half emptied. Dressing on the side. Just in case something slips past, just in case something is added to my life.
Precision theory forces a solution to get comfortable, and forces a thin answer from the lips of change: soon. But not yet, we can’t be better yet.
Cage myself in precision, knowing I won’t survive in the wild and random world.
Ellie took me out there once last week.
I padded into the kitchen to find Mum bending over a pot on the stove. The air was thick, wrapped in a herbal hue. I could hear mushrooms cackling as they were tickled by tomatoes.
This ratatouille recipe had been giggling in the pan not five days ago. Enough for two. I watched my parents slurp the spiced sauce whilst I nibbled on a lonely creation of my own. Ellie looked on indignantly. She must have missed something: ratatouille didn’t seem to be as worrying as it was rumoured to be. A bit of olive oil, perhaps the tomatoes splitting their sides as they giggled in a sugar rush. Perhaps we hadn’t missed anything: perhaps it was just a miscalculation.
Anonymous scratched her head again as Ellie handed her mother three plates. Just a portion, please. An Ellie sized portion.
Thick wedges of stewed vegetables sank onto porcelain. We shared a supper together, delighting in the madness of not knowing who had that bigger slice of courgette, the larger spoon of sauce. They were roughly the same: and roughly was fine. Roughly was rustic, homemade. Marked out to be interesting and unpredictable. The same definition of life, wouldn’t you agree?
There were no numbers to add up. The supper just worked. This plate of food didn’t need to be questioned, for it was perfect.
The next day in the clinic, I wasn’t weighed. It’s a doctor’s way of throwing Anorexia’s eye off the ball. We will never know the impact of that Ratatouille.
I pondered the meaning of ratatouille, and tried to weigh up the possible impact it would have had on my calorie intake. An anomaly of 50-100kcal, perhaps? Ellie considered this no further that evening. She is learning, slowly, that a blip like this doesn’t tarnish the bigger picture. If anything, it adds some colour, some character.
Let’s look at the bigger picture. I see no points, only smooth learning curves.
When Anorexia focuses my sights on a small, sick number, it is difficult adjusting my sights onto the something as big as Life. I can’t bring myself to look this big brute in the eye. Look away so I don’t look back; not scare the future away by staring longingly.
I just stare down at the scales, focusing on the immediate and imminent anxiety the next mouthful of kcal could bring. Then let Precision be the only comfort when treading the exact route to nowhere.
Anorexia looks after the details. It’s all she can cope with, it’s all she can reach.
That’s why the portrait of an Anorexic Life is so bare, so dull.
Predictable brush strokes skirt life’s boundaries, missing them.
Barely scraping the edges.
Precision is an exact science, whereas Hope is only a theory.
I’m experimenting with Hope. Using the nut theory I mentioned in my previous blog post, I was weighed today.
I walked into hospital proud, prepared. I smiled and cried, and let relief rain down. The number went up, and so did the bar. Now, Ellie, you need to keep going. You need to keep gaining.
We never could have predicted the outcome of the Nut Experiment. Neither Ellie nor Anonymous thought it would give birth to a new age of Hope. A precise point, somewhere in the future.
A fresh piece of debris: a brazil nut. This fat, woody wedge. And look here, a handful of gnarled cashews. Splintered almonds. The buttery flesh of nature’s pills: natural capsules of good things. They had been a staple, rattling around my diet plan since I entered recovery. Then, I lost them. Anonymous shed them, shrugging off the extra weight: that extra 400 kcal that would get my weight moving again. They’ve been crushed underfoot as time trampled by. Listen to them crunch.
Here is the problem. The Nut problem. What is in a Nut?
What is the meaning of Nuts?
Let us step away from the scales a moment. Take a seat.
Shut my food diary and turn the clock’s face away. Switch off your screen’s harsh light, the glare will never see through this shiny surface.
Sit beside me, just here in my chair. There. Now, we can begin.
I step onto the time and place to recover, every Monday between 10:02 – 10:07. Let’s watch the numbers flash: a light show during a heavy downpour. It is over as quickly as it began. The sharp spike of kg digs deep and starts to bleed as I pull away from the scales. The numbers stare me down. My nurse is the only witness to the crime of change: up or down. Up, then down.
Weight is a fickle thing. We have to watch it every week, just to be sure. The progress across an axis is monitored, only colouring between the lines of the bigger picture. The number on those scales tell a simple tale of my week in recovery. Not the full story, but just enough to say whether or not Ellie did it this week. Did you try it, Ellie?
The stats from the last few weeks have been dull. The readings make up an Anorexic script.
Everyone else watches me, dithering.
Dithering in my chair, watching time lash against the pains.
The greatest challenge this anorexic faces is the small problem of weight gain. The Eating Disorder unit have been frowning at Anonymous’ behaviour patterns, concerned now. I just can’t seem to get my head around it, no matter how hard I put my mind to it. Somewhere, there is a leak.
Normally, I sit down in a chair opposite my nurse. It groans in protest as I lower Ellie and Anonymous into it’s arms. Clutching those pinewood arms, I confront my nurse’s questions. Grounded on the ward floor, I am the chair. Heavy and unmoving. Part of the furniture. Somewhere to put my life for awhile, before it has to be packed up and taken home again.
“Take a seat, Ellie. Just here beside me.” my nurse beckoned, waving me over.
Ellie rose from this chair, and took three steps across the room. Past the whiteboard, past the notes, past the window. Ellie sat beside my nurse, in the deep unchartered territory of an onlooker. Anonymous snuggled up, still on the other side of the room. This new chair held my back up, as if it were unused to being sat upon with such uncertainty. It was a very nice chair. Lots of support, and so much room.
I looked back across the room, at my lonely chair.
The silence began to growl. My nurse broke it with a prompt: “From here, what do you want to say?” Want.
You’re fooling nobody Ellie. Of course you know.
The more I interrogate her, the more she admits, the more she confesses. She is fascinating. She confides and condemns. From this unflattering angle, I noticed an ugly trend in the answers she gave to my questions. I was being ripped off by that three letter word that meant nothing to me: you. You are why. You are what.
The chair cowered, the only thing it was afraid of, was me. Ellie, you are the reason I cannot get out of that chair. Because of you.
Every question was an accusation. I shrank in my chair and listened to everything come down to me. The thin fault line we had been tracing thickened in my blood. I just wanted to leap up and out, and tear apart her peace of mind, her reason why. Peace, by piece.
You’re the nut.
From the other side of the room, I saw it happen. I watched Ellie tie herself up in knots, and hold herself back. She shackled herself to patienthood so she’d never escape and realise what she might be capable of. Only I can guess what I’m capable of doing,
Yes Ellie, maybe it is you I am most afraid of. How frightening you must be, for me to choose Anorexia instead.
I admit it. I know.
Back in my normal chair, I slotted back into Anonymous. Cringing, shame crawling all across my skin. I tried to sit tall, to uphold myself. Then I felt an osteoporotic bolt charge up my spine, and reality once again gripped me.
(Observation: I wanted to write “paralysed with fear” here, but worried I might jinx it. That by saying it, I might give fate permission to let something bad happen. Anxiety speaks for me, just so I don’t mess that up too.)
That session came home with me. Ellie began to pay attention to her thoughts as they raged and rumbled through her head. She caught them as they turned in on each other. Ingrowing thoughts pile up and protrude, blinding my mind’s eye. A cancerous, sticky lump that blocks up the way out of Anorexia.
If I track my thoughts, I can turn them on Anorexia. Away from me – get away from me.
When I had asked where to start off again down the road to recovery, the answer had been you. Where did you last see it?
When I start to lose the plot of my writing, I walk away. Leave it a day or two, take the time to gather the angry mob trying to break out of my pen. I reorder these thoughts, carry out some background checks: themes; opposites; synonyms; origins … words soon form an orderly queue, and ink floods the page.
When I lose the plot of my life, I do the same. Retreat into my bedroom, turn off all the lights and curl up on floor. There, no light can contradict what I know is lurking in the dark.
Now I’ve lost the plot of my nuts, I must also do the same. I stood away from the scales. I cut off Nuts and numbers, and began my interrogation. Unpicking the problem, spreading it’s innards across a spider diagram. (See Fig. 1)
Nuts = 400kcal = +0.4kg = weight gain = change = possible recovery = n/a. No reliable sources to say what “recovery” would mean, or if it would be ethical to explore it.
Fiction and fact became inbred and raised a new species of anxiety: where recovery was immune to weight. Where the nuts needed to be extinct – because of the ill will of nature.
Thus, I deduced the following answer:
Life = Nuts
Therefore: Life = nuts x time.
Or, Nuts every time.
Ah, but what is x happens? Recovery: the unanswerable theory of Everything.
Oh Ellie, what if it doesn’t?
My clinics are getting heavier.
Unpicking me from the grip of Anorexia leaves punctures in the thick skin I’ve been hiding beneath. I bite into a memory then spit out the shell of shock. Question marks are swallowed only to get stuck. The answers rise as lumps in my throat. Words crammed together by hyphens and ellipses. Silence is strung out, before something gives. A story, or a tear. Anything we can work with:
Once, and again – Anxiety was put on ice. A tongue tripped me up, a glass became charged with obligation.
That time I typed Trouble into the search box.
Where I was, and wasn’t. When. Why.
My birthday, lurking only a few days away. I need to talk about that, if I can get it into the room without Anxiety dragging me away, and attacking.
Grounded on the ward, my nurse has asked me to prepare for sessions, not brace myself for them.
I heave an issue into the room with me, and sit it between our two chairs. Sometimes, that’s all I’ll manage in a day. Other times, we can pull it apart. Piece, by peace.
I’ll go away and do my homework on it. Diaries, unpublished blogs; spider diagrams, tight chests and angry outbursts.
This is the revision of my life, and it is hard. Heavy. Just so I can attempt to answer this question: Why not find out what recovery would mean?
Imagine what you’d be able to do, Ellie, if you put all this work into something that wasn’t trying to kill you.
No cliche can make up for the reality. A leap or a jump is a sorry apology for what it is to just do it. To stop chewing over the gains and losses, the theory of nuts and theory of thin.
Anorexia questions everything until all the answers are the same. I cannot think my way out of this eating disorder, it has to be weighted out.
This we know: it is a scientific process.
This, a problem so big – so heavy – that I got stuck in this chair. I can’t bear it.
I need extra help getting out of my chair. This conclusion was drawn from last night’s spider diagram on treatment options.
Let the weight drop, and I can move out of the chair – into a hospital bed.
Stay as you are if you wish Ellie, but your treatment won’t. Eight hour days, seven days a week as a day patient awaits you to force those numbers up to the high altitudes that accommodate those clouds of rationality.
Or go – just let Ellie go, and discharge yourself. Stop wasting all this time, all this money. Stop wasting space.
Neither Anorexia nor Ellie can stand being like this. Not ill enough to finally die, not well enough to realise what a privilege it is to live, to be free.
I want out of this chair: I want out of this Anonymous life. Ellie has been offered an extra day a week in this chair, and we intend to take it. A final push over the edge: to see if I can do this for me.
Look at all this work.
Look at what you did for yourself last week Ellie: you quit that job. When the air turned rancid with dread, when you looked at toxic in the face and rightfully ran away. It’s hard being proud of quitting my job as a waitress, because I did it for Ellie.
Anorexia doesn’t understand what’s hit her. Already, she is calculating the exercise loss. Trying to balance out the equations with a pilates class, an extra walk.
She can already feel pieces of my person breathe a big sigh of relief, grateful to make it through that final shift and come out alive. Grateful, because she found she could try.
Look at these scales. Start here.
Just do it.
For one week, try eating those nuts. See what happens.
All the variables are controlled by you, Ellie. I’ve got it all worked out. You’ll lose or gain 0.4kg, according to science.
Just try it: see if you’re worth it.
A hand reached out to take a sandwich.
Amongst muddy knees, running noses and paint splashed cotton, I watched the boy push his hair out of his eyes and bite into it. Marmite squeezed between his fingers. My breath stiffened, and waited.
His face cringed. “Wow, that is STRONG.”
“and so SALTY.”
Marmite is not a political issue in my household. Anorexia hasn’t wasted kcal considering it before. I had tried to prepare for the responsibilities of my new job, but not this. Not a marmite sandwich.
Fresh out of lessons, the children teemed into my classroom. As “Miss Davies”, I stuff their snack, activities, tea and energy into three hours and clean the set ready for the next day. In a week, “Miss Davies” survived the administrative health checks, and passed the food handling assessments (I’m laughing too). “Miss Davies” built a den in the woods; modelled paper hats; dressed Barbie in Ken’s clothes; and conducted bulb-planting in the playground. Alas, the competent facade fell away when “Miss Davies” had to make a batch of marmite sandwiches for tea.
I’ve never been confronted by a marmite sandwich before in my life. Anonymous, unhelpful as ever, volunteered the logic that other people need more. To make Ellie feel better, other people need to be eating more.
The knife scooped out a gleaming blob of that satanic spread. Like an oil spill, it engulfed the bread. A rusting of breadcrumbs was the only evidence there had been any in the first place. More guesswork and suppositions were spread, layered and quartered. Served up on plates as the children began to cheep.
He swallowed. I held my breath.
“There’s NEVER this much marmite!”
“… can we have some MORE?”
Miss Davies waited, then released the air she had cornered in her lungs. “What do you say?”
“Can we have some more PLEASE?”
The comments about the next batch were thinly spread. Yet the content quiet devoured every last mouthful.
I looked down at Miss Davies’ hands, now covered in food. For the children, it seems Ellie can wash her hands of that fear. She has no choice: let them eat marmite sandwiches.
Anonymous drew back from my new job as soon as it was offered to me. She plucked words from the job description and twisted them into an anxious script.
This 3 hour window each weekday lets in a blast of uncertain energy expenditure, and sucks her afternoon walk away. Anonymous’ calorie budget gets scrubbed out by random bursts of sitting or standing, bending and crouching.
The children’s menu was sniffed at when she spotted smelly foods and sticky foods.
‘What-Ifs’ and ‘Protection Procedures’ decorated the walls with worry.
Anxiety swept the classroom and could predict the acoustic bedlam: riotous laughter clashing with squeaky shoes and marble run. Noise still shakes me like an alarm: one day, it might shake me so hard I’ll fall into distraction, and something bad could happen.
Getting this job at this school would scavenge a day away from my other job as a waitress: would save a day treading Ellie slowly into the ground.
Everything about working in that restaurant hurts.
The moist and dingy conditions sustain anorexia, and Anonymous strains have become tangled in the strings of my apron.
Anxiety runs riot across a floor mined with shopping bags, ducking as the blitz of shattering glass rains into my shoes like water. Puddles of anorexic sweat mingle with the unidentified fluid objects that claw at my toes, the smell clinging to my shoes. Paranoia is placed precariously down the crooked stairs into the dungeon: the kitchen that imprisons a handful of exhausted chefs and one poor, unfortunate waiter. The tribute, who was volunteered by some higher power to run food to table 10 – 63 – 42 –
My nurse watch in horror as shifts devour 8 or 9 hours apiece. Time is swallowed up standing, summating the lunchtime rush, trekking as far away as possible from the carnage tearing through my own head.
Anonymous enjoys the show. She watches me dodge a fistful of peas thrown by another perfect toddler. She grits my teeth and takes orders for steaks, fish pies, burgers. Anonymous nestles Ellie under the people whose mouths fill with saliva, sugar and salt – but never a please or thank you.
The air in there assaults me, and my anorexia flares up. I hold offensive articles at arms length and march at a pace, just to get to the table in time to escape again.
My breaths are rationed, and confined to several ‘safe spots’ near the ventilation. Ellie literally holds her breath until the end of the day. Fumes rise off customer’s plates even after they’ve finished.
Miss Davies’ hands are protected by napkins each time she has to pick any dishes up. They provide a thirty second grease barrier, before they too become sodden. A wheezing disinfectant spray cannot save the cloth that wipes up all manner of sin.
Anonymous sometimes breaks out in a nervous rash when serving overweight people. I cannot reuse the air around them in case I catch fat. Their money is held by the corners, their card payments contactless. It is one of the most shameful symptoms of my anorexia, one of the most hurtful.
With the high risk of exposure, any cross contamination is washed away in the sink next to table 56. Every time I walk past it. My hands are cracked from the chemical sterilisation.
In the car, my waitressing costume is quarantined. Shoes are removed and placed in a plastic bag, wet wipes wiping the grime off my forehead, the cleft in my nose, my frown lines.
Work will always follow me home, and catch up with me just as I walk through the door. There Anonymous is confronted by the trauma of her job, my parents, Billy. Please Billy, please don’t lick me. I’m filthy, I’m filthy.
In the shower I wash away the day.
A day’s work somehow makes the ends of reason meet, and I can afford a better snack: Anonymous lets me have a slightly bigger date, or heap my teaspoon of honey. Only by enduring a gruelling day do I earn that.
There is a thin reason for staying in this job. I just need that hit of High Intensity Harm. It is an expensive addiction. It has already cost me kcal, days in recovery pcm, and car parking.
Anonymous won’t cut the apron strings. It fits Anorexia: the monotonous routine, the warm superiority I am wrapped up in watching someone else eat whilst I starve. The Anonymous waitress is an ironic character: almost the fool, only better. She thinks.
I need to quit, I need to get clean.
Just not yet. If those 8 hours of exercise are stripped back, I don’t know what will be uncovered.
I watch Autumn’s generosity, and am in awe. Trees lay down their leaves before the retreating daylight, and welcome the violent, blustering storms as they pass through. The air releases the pressure, and nature lets go. All the energy stolen by summer is now returned to the earth. Sinking under piles of dead leaves. This, the seasonal retreat away from things that are over-ripe, chewy, no longer useful. I watch Autumn simply let’s itself go, and drift slowly back to earth.
Anorexia’s mother tongue will die out as the weight comes on. A dialect riddled with baggy pants will slip into the past tense. Only my words will retain an Anonymous accent. Struggle is covered up in Anorexia:
the stamp of a diagnosis.
– join dots of blood with drops of sweat
piece together broken
promises and roll,
roll strands into a joint or a line but thin keep it thin
bottle it up and put it on ice,
drink me dry, lick me clean
use the s word or r word or x word against mine, and your own;
then leash a tag, a stamp, #metoo –
Explain the holes.
– what Change forgot to take away.
There is a conspiracy of silence. One day, it will be uncovered.
I’ll kick a pile of leaves talked down from their twigs. My thoughts will straighten into a strong, natural line.
My nurses are going to start pushing me now: our approach thus far has been too weak, too baggy. I need to eat in front of them, but I also need to talk to them.
A job gives me something else to chew over during the day. Something that isn’t myself, a piece of my mind, or food. I chew so vigorously polishing cutlery, or herding children, just to drown out the sound of my thighs expanding. In the clamour of the classroom and racket of a restaurant, Anonymous sucks on a sweet peace of mind.
I know which job Ellie enjoys the most. I know which job is sustainable in recovery.
Being anorexic makes me a good waitress.
But Anorexia is a language children don’t understand: they want to be sat with. They want a marmite sandwich. Long may that be the case.
In the mirror, I can see Change smile in all but myself.
I still can’t put my nuts back into my meal plan: not since they were taken out weeks ago. They are stuck.
Yes, I watch Autumn declutter with apparent ease.
I need to face the cold, icy reality of anorexia and recovery.
A winter of weight gain is inevitable: nature needs me to let go, and trust that the sun will rise on the other side.
Practice makes perfect: perhaps the first step is just closing your eyes, and swallowing. Get it over with.
I learned something delicious at school today.
Ellie has been practising so hard at thinking about sitting during the day. She learnt the theory, but didn’t have the conditions to test it. A pupil pushed me into it. She stood before me clutching a book, and wanted me to read with her. Oh, reading. That nourishing, liberating joy – that needs practising over, and over, and over. We sat for an unprecedented length of time, we devoured a chapter.
She learnt a new word, and how to train a dragon.
I learnt a new meaning: one that could help without hurting.
The sitting became irrelevant: it just didn’t mean anything anymore.
Looking at myself, I never found happiness. Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong thing: maybe it is meaning that will be uncovered,
if i recover.
I’ll never learn what it could mean to recover, unless I do.
(An aftertaste: Anonymous is a fool to think looking after children is any less exhausting than walking. They are exhausting, but not draining.)