Make or Break

I watched the decision through the eye of a storm.

Indecision blew hot and cold. Time became a high pressured patch charged with anxiety. Self harm was up and mood plummeted. Depressive waves met a cold front of determination, causing the “whether” to break down in tears. Days dripped by.
Now, August has melted.
I could feel time rubbing against my thighs. I heard the deadline for my decision wade closer: Ellie, are you going to start university this September?

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What to do.

My design of university looks beautiful from afar. Honest strokes of luck and hard work, lines leading to a career and a family. A strong and stable template on which I could rebuild my life. Something to eat for, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The distance from home would shut my parents out of this ugly world of mental illness: they would no longer have to bear witness and the brunt of Anorexic attacks. The reasons to go are large and strikingly familiar.
University is in fashion. Whilst it is very stylish, it doesn’t suit everyone. Ellie looks at model students and longs to join their ranks. She would like nothing more than to strut through life, degree clad and morally high heeled. Two years into university I was tripped up on the catwalk, because my ambition became too thin to fit freedom. One year into my recovery, I am still hungry for brain food. I am starving for something to think about that hasn’t been soiled by Anorexia’s grubby fingers.
On this blank canvas, Ellie thought she could paint Anonymous out of the picture.

Come closer.

Of course, university looks a bit sickly for an anorexic. Lectures make Ellie salivate; but there are so many calories in sitting for so long, exercising nothing but grey cells. A whiff of vodka on someone else’s breath could make anxiety cough. A bit of a mouthful, but manageable, surely?

Come closer.

I followed my thought patterns, and noticed how they curled away from lectures and the library. Societies were stitched up to my anorexic exercise quota. Independence embroidered the opportunity to make food alone and eat alone. Trainers were shackled to my feet so I could run wild. Rushes of icy sea air stripped calories off my skin. Books were balanced by bargaining hours in the library vs size of meals, and there would be nobody I had to explain myself to. Anonymous measured how much time I’d have between lectures, and began to knit in extra exercise. Anonymous has been scripting how to ask my parents to let me bring my bike. She hasn’t got it quite right yet. We don’t want them to suspect anything.
On this blank canvas, Anonymous has already signed her name.

Anorexia was the skeleton structure. Anonymous built my desire to leave home as soon as she could, long before Ellie was ready. She just wanted to get away: she had a life to get on with. Something to work on; a gym to be in, a schedule to stick to.

Ellie caught me buying my doctor’s and parent’s trust with a forgery of recovery. I know how to make progress seem real. It is so easy to sacrifice a few kg to convince people to let me get on with what I’m doing. A perfect loophole to squeeze Anonymous through. Had I started university again this month, Anonymous would have reaped her reward for waiting.

My recovery is delicate.
It frays at the touch of disorder, and falls to pieces when Anxiety tugs it too hard. The mere thought of sitting in the car for too long caused Ellie’s resilience to split, and my meal plan fell through.
I’ve been collecting material for recovery for over a year, and it still won’t hold. As it is, it is nothing more than straw to clutch at. It won’t stretch to university: it can barely cover the car journey.

At the moment, all I want is to go to university. That is what worries me.
Just a little longer. Soon, you won’t have to carry another kcal more than you need to.

Anxiety stirred as I tried to tie together reasons to go. They didn’t feel genuine. It felt me feeling totally unfit to make this decision alone. But I have to. This has to be my decision, or it shall always taste bitter.

Ellie looked everywhere for inspiration on which to base her decision.
Anonymous’ rage wouldn’t listen to a word said against her escape plan. Conversations with my parents were locked down in silence. Anxiety attacks saved Anonymous if anyone dared tread on an eggshell she laid around the topic of deferring. It was a war of attrition.
Last week, I found a piece to add to my decision. A channel 4 documentary on Anorexia spat taboo out into the laps of its audience. Maddy Austin stood before me, living proof that recovery is possible. The camera panned around the very hospital I receive my treatment: one of the best in the country. I am lucky. Ellie, why are you pushing that away?

Accepting my place on a course at the far reaches of the country would move my illness into a dark corner. Depleted staff and funding lurks in the black splodges over the North, the south, east and west. Unlike the rich light that the Surrey NHS basks in, there dark patches are anorexic playgrounds. Illnesses grow and learn without supervision.
I am receiving some of the best treatment the NHS will buy. I am lucky. Even with such intense treatment, I am not ‘well’ enough to fit into anything bigger than size “anorexic”. My current challenge is peeling back the first layer of recovery: the task of restoring weight.

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Need support in every sense: guess who bought a bra this week!

Whilst the mirror cracks up as I pass it, and the ground shakes with the weight of an extra strawberry, it is now that I need the most help.
Pushing my increases deeper into fold of time I don’t have makes recovery harden around me.
Who else would tell me to escape support, but an illness?

Every good piece of art raises questions. Of course I questioned something as colourful as university. It simply couldn’t be true that I’d move away and leave Anorexia behind.

Here, in my hands, is my decision. I don’t know what to do with it now, or how to describe it to you.
It turned out to be sensible, just not very pretty. It looks easy from your eyes.
Come closer.
If only you knew the devastation it has caused me since I came to it.
If only you knew how hard it was to take away from Anonymous.
I will not be starting university this September. If I did, I would be saving Anorexia.

I need an extra slice of time.
University is a moveable feast. My recovery is not.
Today, it tastes bitter. I’m just a failing anorexic. My arrangement with Anonymous fell through: I tried so hard, and ate so much – for nothing.

There isn’t room in a single blog post to explain my decision properly. I don’t have enough time, I need more time.
My decision had to be made right. Even a wrong one needed to be made with complete honesty, not with cheap materials like doubt and regret. They are weak resources, and would fall to pieces in days.

I practice making the decision to recover every single day.
I could present you with an archive of finished decisions that have lined my stomach in the last year. Taking a shorter walk; clinging onto a dietary increase even after gaining 0.4kg last week. Leaving Dad’s dirty teaspoon on the side, where he left it, only because Anonymous wanted to scream for him to clean up after himself, for heaven’s sake. Really, Anonymous, what is in a teaspoon?

This feels like the hardest decision I have ever made. Choosing to stay under intensive treatment is choosing to recover: to do exactly what Anonymous fears. What I fear. It is a decision that rests in my hands, and I hold it up to you with pride. Come closer. I just escaped an anorexic trap.

The “whether” front has broken. Now, I am in tears.

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“She makes, the sound, the sound the sea makes,” – alt j.

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.