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.

Quarantine

This illness is not a human nor is it an animal: it is a hybrid.
It is the product of galvanising two species: instinct and emotion.
It is a predator lurking in the shadowy blind spots of society. When it unleashes itself onto an unsuspecting carrier, it multiplies.
Anonymous and I evolve and adapt together as Ellie’s confidence waxes and wanes. We navigate our way through our surroundings as one.
A little girl pointed at me in the street yesterday, and said “That girl is hungry.” Anonymous was pleased, Ellie was horrified. I felt nothing. In order to survive, Anorexia has to live through me. She is nothing but a parasite: a highly developed one at that.

“Recovery” is an attempt to train the animal, and place it in quarantine.
The carrier must must manipulate the relationship between the master and the servant: it is all a question of dominance.

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I thought I was ready to go back …

I have been trying to attach a leash around Anonymous’ slippery neck in time for me to return to university this year.
Ellie and I have been working to contain the rampaging beast. I thought I had her secured, and that I was ready to go back this week.
Pride always comes before a fall, and I fell down into Anonymous’ lair when I went back for three days.
This has to be rock bottom – I am not fit to do what I love: Anonymous has stolen my ability to learn.

You see, Anonymous is a hybrid, and has highly evolved methods of adaption.
She was able to slip out of her cage and camouflage herself to sound like Ellie:
“I want to go back to university so bad, I want my life back.”
“I can do it on my own, I don’t need to listen to these people. They don’t know how strong I am, how resilient I can be.”
“Nothing will threaten me.”
“I will get better. I will be stronger. I can do it on my own.”
“I don’t need help.”
“I don’t deserve help.”
Yes, Anonymous knows Ellie’s weakness is her pride and ambition.
She also knows the Eating Disorder Clinic at university only has 3 trained staff, and doesn’t accept patients with a BMI lower than 14.
She recognised that I, with a BMI of 13.3, would never turn myself in and go to hospital, as would have been requested.
She persuaded me to hide my numerical value from the university, knowing they don’t allow students back with a BMI lower than 16.
“We’ll prove them wrong, Ellie.”
“I’ll manage.”

I tried to go back this week, blind to the fact that Anonymous was snapping at my heels.
University is the perfect habitat for Anonymous: it is an ecosystem of independence and unfamiliarity, and has a rich pool of opportunity to trick Ellie into self sabotage.
Within hours of being alone, Ellie started to panic.
“I don’t need to eat.”
“I can walk that far.”
“I can do this on my own.”
The infection was revealing itself in all it’s terrifying colour: and I realised Anonymous was not as securely contained in her pen as I had thought. She was reclaiming her old territory, and haunting me with phantoms from the last two years.
I had anxiety attack after anxiety attack. I walked alongside a ghost of myself, and I am only now starting to realise how unhappy I was before I acknowledged my illness.
I never want to feel that small and scared again.

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My final cappuccino in Fallowfield’s finest establishment.

I have chosen to come home and recover.
Ellie and I have realised that we no longer want to die. We have nothing to prove by making ourselves invisible; intangible; extinct.
I am not fit to return to university this year. To realise this, I had to go back. I had to venture out into the wilderness and come face to face with my own vulnerability. I had to accept that the doctors, my friends and my family may have been right.

I will get my degree if it kills me.
If I had gone back to university this year: it literally would have done.
I would have turned into the empty carcass that Anonymous desired to scavenge off.

It is the hardest decision I have ever made, but I know it is the right one.
I am furious that I allowed myself to be tricked into the cage I had built for Anonymous.
Now it is survival of the fittest: the battle over territory between two bitter creatures: Ellie and Anonymous.
Shame, disappointment and sadness may taunt Ellie, but they do not taint the anticipation for the sweet taste of triumph when I go back to resume my studies next year.
In the meantime, I shall keep busy. Anorexia is an attention seeking creature, and I will not feed her the satisfaction of being the central aspect of my life. I have my writing, I have campaigning, and I have my friends and family.
When I’m gone, what will she have?