This post arrives huffing and puffing.
It straggles behind the days that have passed since my deadline. I set it myself: this is my own downfall. Late.
I am so sorry this post is late.
I journal every day.
It is a small, achievable goal; one that eases the passing of time. Writing keeps me safe.
Blogging, however, is vulnerable to Anonymous. Deadlines are set to be constrictive, and they always fray a little, forking in different directions. They create a three line whip. My blog is helpful, but this fickle friend sometimes seems like a plot to push Ellie. To succeed, to earn something, prove something.
So here it is: the tarnished edition.
The late one.
Every word gasped in embarrassment for my tardiness in writing this up. Excuses may heave between the lines: I’ve had so many late shifts; my body aches by the time I’m allowed to write; the gaps Ellie squeezes her writing into during the day are getting thinner and thinner.
Days 22-28 have melted together.
Time bared down, the moments swam. Days are slipping between my sweaty palms.
The pages of my notebook have stuck together, and the events that plotted my week have sunk into illegible diary entries. I cannot tell what lead to what, not what lead me to stand on the scales at my weigh in and for it to read 49.8kg. Exactly the same as last time: the fine balance holding my recovery together. Not up, not down, but afloat.
And now, to write. Deciphering where I lost time is like trying to cut water. The days are submerged under work, sweat, and suncream. How can I divide time into paragraphs? How to separate this tender week into days, as if they are somehow apart from one another? What has time to do with wringing out opportunity, and squeezing out these thick, gooey memories?
So I shan’t try. I shall just marvel at this sweltering lump of good and bad, up and down. I shall look upon the week and admire how time changes when it is held up in euphoria, or dropped into the depths of anxiety.
Some things cling to the memory of this week like beads of sweat.
The ones that glitter are tainted golden. Formed as time oozed by pleasantly like syrupy drops of honey.
My body wept in an emotional reunion with the heat. After two years trapped in an anorexic winter, the shock of feeling sweat sweep down my brow was crushing. I am proud to say I moped it up with pride. I’ve worked so hard for the privilege to sweat again.
The sun smiled as Ellie took my hand and launched us into the day. When the endorphins were rushing faster than my thoughts, I found myself sucking every last drop out of the time I had this week. I tried new recipes and plucked up the courage to take on the food challenges I knew I’d win.
Day 24 was positive because I ate an unplanned banana when it transpired I’d be running sportsday. I needed the fuel, recognised this was so, and acted on it.
Day 25 was positive because I began dreaming again. Visions of a good job and a good life. It was only later I realised I was dreaming of recovery again.
There was more – a Shakespeare play, a yummy supper, seeing a friend. Every day, I’ve tasted the time and tried to savour it. Those that are left are rationed, and Ellie wants to enjoy them.
Other moments have made this week humid with worry. A series of consecutive late shifts rendered my body unable to hold itself up. I leaned against the wall, still hot from the heat of the day, and sapped energy from the bricks. On those days, I had to arrange my limbs carefully before my plate of food, and try not to give away to anyone how insufficient I knew those meals to be. Exhaustion is ravenous. I am so tired I find myself wanting to eat all the time, but I’m too scared to just in case my weight jumps again.
The days I’ve had to lock the windows just to keep the noise out.
Some days at work concede to the heat, and melt into listlessness. It is the combination of boredom and hunger that makes the bad moments so sticky. Even at home, when there is nothing else waiting for me but my book and bed, I can’t shake myself out of that hollow place. And still, the heat held me together, in place.
Other things hollowed me out that week. My newsfeeds were drowning under graduation gowns and champagne glasses. Every single on of my friends and several of my foes have now graduated. I’d then step out into the street in a city teeming with intelligence. Success pressed against me everywhere, and crowded me in my own inadequacy. I had to enforce social media quarantines to prevent the spread of shame from one day to the next.
Anxiety did not confine itself to the limits of a single week. No, as I approached the halfway point of my stay in Cambridge, the thoughts rounded on what will happen afterwards. They chastised me for letting my exercise get so out of hand, and began describing in detail how hard I’m going to have to work at reducing it when I get home. How distressing it will be. My thoughts loath the very idea of returning to a routine I now know to be futile: it will never be as good as it is here. Time’s tide turned at the halfway point, and began to suck me out to distress. How will I cope when everything returns to normal?
All the while, in every entry, I’ve just been reminding myself that I’m ok. That it is all going to be alright. I’ve proved I can survive time through thick and thin, and I’m just going to have to keep doing it. One day I’ll believe I can.
As time passed that week: thick, gooey and confusing, I let it lather itself over every moment. Sticky days dripping by, minutes clumped together like dollops of honey.
A warm, sweet taste to every bite at the day.
And tomorrow is Tuesday, and I have to start writing up the week we’ve just endured. Or else it shall arrive late, and the meaning I’m so lucky to have found in it will be lost.
From the second moment, we clicked.
On that sweaty summer’s day, the key slid into the lock and the door opened. Humid air melted into a cool breeze from windows here, here and here. Foreign sounds of cars, children and cities only just scraped through the gap in the panes. Light flooded into this small flat and made the walls lean back, make way.
Mum and I waded in, clutching several cold boxes full of anorexia friendly supplies that we’d almost certainly find on Cambridge high street. We didn’t want to leave it to chance.
The bedroom has a bed that doesn’t hurt. The mattress accepts the osteoporotic curl in my spine, but chooses not to provoke it.
The bathroom was clean, or at least, clean enough for me to clean it again only once.
Some things don’t click immediately, and need to be wiggled about a bit until they fit well.
The third moment I had been in the flat, Anonymous was baffled. Where are you expected to eat? There is a desk, yes, and a sofa and coffee stool. But where pray, will I be able to carry out the rituals of consumption, alert and sat up straight?
We found a table folded up in the cupboard, and it now sits in the centre of the room. It is slightly precarious, and wobbles if it cannot be supported by the wall. It now sports a chair for me to sit at, today’s paper and a small bunch of sweetpeas. Their aroma froze home and bought it up here, to be with me for the next six weeks.
Ah, and the kitchen. This shrine to an eating disorder, a stage on which life hangs delicately in the balance. Which life will I choose today?
Ellie had tried to prepare herself for the eventuality of it being a disaster. She was armed with Detol and bleach, and confronted the kitchen door reciting an order of priorities she’d work through: fridge, floor, surfaces, handles, surfaces, cupboard doors … I was set up to scream.
The fourth moment in the flat, I lowered my antibacterial weaponry. The kitchen, like the rest of the flat, was fine. There were no festering carcasses or empty noodle cartons. No mould crusted the side and the oven door was at least visible, rather than being shrouded under layers of oily grime. The fridge door didn’t fall off, and there was air.
The fifth moment, Anonymous raised her cleaning utensils again, and attacked anyway. Just in case.
Mum and I set about unpacking my immediate necessities: out came a carton of Waitrose own organic semi-skilled milk, dates, avocadoes, bags of dry calories.
Next followed my blender – my most loyal companion in the fight to feed. I cleaned a draw and filled it with a single knife and fork, one cutting knife, a wooden spoon. Piled a stranger’s crockery into a random cupboard and installed my own yogurt bowl, breakfast spoon, milk pan. Even my glass measuring jug survived the long journey north.
I found this flat on airbnb, and it belongs to strangers. They have utensils, washing up brushes, graters and the like. But I can’t use them. We don’t know what they’ve been cooking, and I wouldn’t want to lick up any second hand calories.
I made room, and left room for anorexia. At least today, I know I am more comfortable than she is. I have somewhere safe, quiet and clean to prepare my food. That is a relief.
Day 2: Training
I had turned the corner and told myself not to run back. Mum had stood on a crowded pavement, told me she was proud. She waved me off into time’s unforgiving channel, and I was suddenly flushed away from the close support of my family, and into the world of independent living.
For six weeks, you are going to get to live alone.
I had expected loneliness, or anxiety, or one of anorexia’s friends to greet me. They didn’t come. Instead, I walked briskly down King’s Parade, and set about achieving my first goal on my own: to have my scheduled snack, even in the face of six weeks of uncertainty. I sat in the sun, and considered how potent my own company was.
You’ll be ok Ells, so long as you don’t lose sight of yourself in loneliness. Don’t forget what anorexia looks like: she looks different to you.
It is the beginning of the end of a very long day, and I want to write so much.
I want to write how frustration rose like bile as I stood on a stagnant bus, watching cyclists zip through the rush hour traffic.
I want to write and tell you where I have found anorexia in Cambridge: there, there, over there. How she glared at me all through training, where I had to sit throughout the 4 hour session.
I want to write how she loathes my exhaustion, when all I have done is sit, sweating. I want to write how I missed my second snack because I had sat through it. How I still feel so hungry and so frightened, it hurts. My mouth aches from holding so much saliva since catching a whiff of pastry in the corner shop. My cheeks are chaffed and bleeding from where I’ve been chewing, trying to convince Anonymous that she can wait for food, just a little longer. How my stomach has emptied into my bowels and erupted in a desperate call for digestive help.
I want to write about the terrible crime I’ve committed to help anorexia through the next few weeks. If I scratch her back, she’ll clamber on mine with less aggression.
I want to write how fate has been leaving signs for this inevitable failure everywhere. Snippets of local news ft crashes, death and disaster feed the hungry, paranoia beast who seems that much louder now I’ve nobody else to talk to.
I want to write how easy it is to hear her, even in this beautiful city. Even when I can’t hear myself think: even through the clatter of plates from the flat below, the crying child in the flat opposite, the raucous laughter of friends in an apartment a few blocks over, I can still hear her.
I want to write how excited I am about starting my job, but I can’t because I don’t know when that is. I still don’t have a rota or a plan. I can’t prepare myself for the summit of this challenge: I cannot plan my meals nor work out where and when I can eat. There is more: I don’t know how much to eat for breakfast tomorrow. Should I eat little enough so I can sit, or more than enough to move about?
I want to write how anxious all this is making me today.
But I won’t. Negativity makes such salivating reading, and I will not indulge in it. Too many good things have happened today, and ruined it’s bitter taste.
Tomorrow, I will deal with the consequences of my crime. I will also walk to training, just to take the edge off the stagnant stench of inactivity that awaits me in First Aid.
Day 3: Training
Someone has hurled some food for thought at a wall opposite King’s College. It’s a ghastly post-modernist construction eating into the ancient walls, and called art.
This masterpiece features a skeletal locust leeching on a clock. Each irregular second is devoured by the clanking cogs of this iron insect. With mechanic mindlessness, it clamps it’s mouth shut on every minute without tasting it. It just looks greedily onto the next.
A perfect metaphor for anorexia, methinks.
Anywho, back to today.
I had a better night’s sleep last night, and woke up feeling much less worried by this whole exercise. My bed felt cosy as opposed to claustrophobic, and the city stretched into the future rather than falling short in just a few days time.
Sleep shook shock from my eyes, and some elaborate scales have fallen away from my anorexic crime. Guilt is less potent. No doubt tomorrow, when I have more time and energy, it will all flare up again.
On energy: I have none.
My day gets hollowed out as time wears on. Coping with the seconds as they slide by in this strange place tires me out, before I can begin putting my mind to the exhausting task of making enough food to se me through the day tomorrow. I am rendered empty of thought and word enough to bulk out my limbs and fashion them into a presentable, upright state past 6:30pm.
I stood in the shower moments ago, and felt the ground pull me close. This is all just so tiring.
I’ve had to miss another staff social event. Last night they went to the pub (sticky beer patches, all nighters, plumes of smoke – it was a no from Anonymous), tonight they have gone to some pizza place in town for food. I’d never have managed eating there, even if I had the energy to navigate my way down an unseen menu.
But I would have liked to have joined them afterwards, say, in a few hours time, for a drink. I had been invited. As I can’t seem to make my mouth move enough to let words out (not that there is anyone to talk to here anyway) and still need to make supper and my night snack, I just wouldn’t have time. Plus the commute to get anywhere would be well over 20 mins without a bicycle.
Instead, I’m going to read the paper, and listen to Radio 4 in the kitchen. Small familiar comforts are enough to prevent me feeding time to Anorexia.
Today felt long.
It tasted tough and strung out. Hours spent waiting for someone to give me something to do. I suppose I have been trained in the art of patience if nothing else.
The College haven’t hired a nurse yet, so I’m going to have to wait to find out who will weigh me. That’s ok for now, but I just know that Anxiety can store this up for trouble later. How will I know it’s all ok, if I’m not being weighed?
Time has had more to eat than me today. I have found food incredibly difficult since coming here, and I want to write why, but can’t.
I can’t because I didn’t realise restriction was happening, until my stomach was groaning for me to realise how much I haven’t eaten. My intake has taken a deep breath in to make room for mistakes, and I am scared Ellie will start shrinking. She gets small and frightened when things go wrong.
I will do better tomorrow. I have to.
I shall also be less irritating.
It has been such a long time since I was around people my own age, it seems I have completely forgotten how to act at all normal. From across the room, I watch Ellie drown under hoards of uniformed graduates, accolades glittering in their eyes and intelligence billowing from their bicycles. I try watching every other person I come across, see how they react to me and act for me.
Only when time runs out, do I try and spot myself in the crowd again, and realise I’m lost. Spending too much time around people makes me feel anxious, because I lose focus on myself. And at the moment, I have to put myself first.
Anorexia never had to put up with any of this social anxiety crap. She just starved it out, and grew fat on time.
Day 4: First Day Off
I’m sitting beneath a Chinese Trumpet Vine (Campsis Grandflora), and my feet are burning. Anorexia’s feet are the first thing to go cold in a crisis, but today they have started to burn.
The scorching summer sun cannot squeeze beneath the canopy of heavy vine leaves, and so my head is quite protected. I can see straight out across the quad and onto the river through the branches, but can nestle here in nature’s protective embrace, and enjoy being with myself. My feet don’t fit. I’ve had to dip my toes into the world outside.
This must be what it feels to be inspired. For Cambridge really is a truly inspiring place. Even tucked under this vine, I cannot see all the Colleges around me – I don’t have to. I know they are there, just from the way my feet tingle.
What an honour it is to be here.
I found somewhere to meditate on myself. A retreat. I shan’t tell you where: but please know that I am well protected from the sun but still exposed to light.
In this light, I need to redefine what it is to be honest. I do so here, in a single sentence: It tingles.
Anxiety trembles and slips about on my meal plan, but positivity quivers in anticipation of something good, something great.
But now I remember my anorexic crime, and my feet begin to sweat.
The very thought of anyone finding out makes me come over faint and clammy, because if they did I’d lose it all. All this, all this greatness: burning desire and excitement, Chinese Vines, summertime gladness and independence – would be taken. Taken out of anorexic hands, for she might not cope with it.
It may not be that bad. But the fact I don’t want to tell you anything about it, nor want anyone to speculate it may be what it is, tells me I shouldn’t be doing it.
If I had had permission to do it I’d be fine right now. But I didn’t even ask, because I was afraid the answer would be a resounding no.
Day 5: Arrival’s Day
I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next 6 weeks.
Am wanting sleep.
Am going to be brief because of the latter.
Students began to arrive today. Twelve hours of smiling and greeting and to-ing and fro-ing has just about exhausted any anorexic concern about lack of activity. It was all absolutely fine until the end of my shift came – oh, glorious 8pm – and there were still students needing to be registered, roomed and toured. Nearly had an anxiety attack at the thought of the journey home and another full day of work tomorrow.
Still have no on-site nurse and no plans to be weighed. Still trying not to think about it. Still trying not to have an anxiety attack about that too. Still think I need to try harder.
Am so hungry, but it’s too late to eat anything now.
Tomorrow will be better, I want to write.
(Must not think about tomorrow’s night shift. Shhhh.)
Day 6: Night Shift
Can’t talk. Am exhausted. Wish I were in bed already but still have to wash up my tupperware, fill in my food and positivity diaries (tonight’s entries are party to it’s demise for simply demanding completion at this ungodly hour) and find my sense of humour. At 2 in the morning, it tends not to show itself. I had forgotten that. It has been years since I stayed up past midnight.
Oh no, I’m teaching tomorrow.
Have no lesson plan. Have no teaching experience of sullen sixteen year olds. Have no idea if they bear any resemblance to 4 year olds, instructionally speaking. Have no wish to find out. Have no wish to look upon the great void of originality with which I am supposed to pull this inevitable farce together.
Bed. Just let me go to bed.
Day 7: Creative Writing Masterclass
Anyway back to last night, or should I say this morning?
Only a few hours ago, I had been uniform-clad and chatting merrily away to my colleague in the dead of night. We swept the corridors every half an hour, prowling about for any rogue students railing against the injustice of a curfew.
To survive the gruelling two hours waiting around the College, we turned it into a game. It seemed as if the building itself were laughing along with us: floorboards creaked and doors slammed, deliberately belittling our effort to be as quiet as possible so as not to wake the students. The printer roared all night, and a syncopated stapler accented the cheerful crackles of laughter conducted by a Harry Potter trivia quiz. Who ever said nothing good happens after midnight? In what world is several hundred quick-fire questions to distinguish who was a bigger muggle not a good idea?
In what world did I ever believe I’d have the strength to find out?
There is more.
I’d like to point out to the less observant among you, that yesterday’s shift spanned 9 hours: 15:00-01:00. Yes, all very impressive by itself. But let us look closer at the details of it: Let us count how many meals I had to prepare in advance and eat in stressful circumstances.
Snacks could be eaten quietly at my discretion. Supper on the other hand, was rather more worrying.
I bought a fancy salad-specific tupperware on my day off, and set about packing it in advance yesterday afternoon.
There were all these cubby holes to put the dressing and garnish in. I could separate the feta from the squash so neither went soggy, and store the kale so it didn’t go limp. All very organised and cute; but looks questionable when produced in a university catered dining hall and decanted onto a plate. I carried it off well.
I had resigned Ellie to the fact that she wouldn’t be able to focus on her food completely at supper, and so packed a simple meal with fewer calories to keep an eye on.
I ate, and tried to taste more than the alarm of being around so many plates of steaming Yorkshire puddings, and under the scrutiny of so many eyes.
After four and a half hours sleep, I rose from my bed and went about my day as usual.
My eyes were upholstered by a puffiness that leaked a few salty tears. Gravity felt a little more unforgiving, and my legs were slightly swollen after a night roaming the College.
And yet, they worked.
They carried me from bed to kitchen to chair to sink; my ravenous brain worked it’s way through the day with a hunger for caffeine and adrenaline; my eyes could focus on the lesson plan in front of me. I swung from thought to thought in a straight line.
My energy levels finally gave up as I fell through the door that evening. Making and eating supper was a slow, sultry affair. A memory of going to bed: a blackout.
If I were to measure this interesting circumstance and how I coped with it against my Anonymous past, we’d be alarmed. Previously, I’d never have made it out of bed if I’d been up that late the night before. We’d never have known this of course: previously, I would never have contemplated even trying to work at night. The risk of screwing up my body’s metabolic clock, thus inflating no.kcal consumed and absorbed, was too great.
And yet this week, I was forced to do it without even thinking. Sort of.
The morning melted away quickly, and before long I was wading into my creative writing class.
I fumbled with the projector and rearranged the desks. I wiped equations off the whiteboard and doodled a few learning objectives under the workshop title.
The students filed in, and my nerves clung to me like sweat.
On paper, my lesson plan was sparse at best. A skeleton that I had to somehow bring to life in the next two hours.
I had forced Anonymous to sit for an hour that morning to organise how we’d manage the lesson. She choked at the very sight of a chair so soon after finishing breakfast. I was full, triggers brimming over my tolerance level already. Swallowing sitting was a big ask.
I raced through a powerpoint and punched quotes haphazardly at my keyboard. Any moment I could I could stand to cut something, check something, twitch or fidget, was leapt up on. Ellie gritted her teeth and sucked on the exercise I had done on night shift, walking up and down those corridors.
It’s ok, you can afford to sit.
Hello, welcome, hi.
I am teacher supreme.
At least, that’s how it felt afterwards. Euphoria and relief put a spring in my step as I paced between the desks, leaning over the students as they finished the final exercise I had set them. I watched perfection scratch out the attainable.
Self confidence was worked into a frenzy and screwed up in a ball, tossed into the bin. Some bent over their work, with words pouring onto paper like vomit.
It was fascinating to watch writers’ minds working faster than their pens. Every thought edited before being committed to paper, as if they were worried about what would happen if someone read the truth between the lines.
I know that feeling all too well.
That evening, honesty finally released me.
Six days chewing over the tough decision of whether or not I would confess my secret crime came to an abrupt end of the phoneline. I called home to issue a warning to my parents. Ellie did it to save herself: she was so looking forward to a day with her Mum and Dad, she didn’t want it to be ruined.
She didn’t want to be looking on a reunion across the gulf of dishonesty.
That which I now confess to you: I succumbed to temptation, and hired a bicycle.
We shall say no more for now, except that my journey has been slashed in half and I get more time to much needed sleep.
A win for Ellie, and for Anonymous.
And then the other thing I have to confess to them. That my nails are flaking away, that my bladder cannot hold itself together. That the warning signs have started, and that I better brace myself before I get on the scales.
Day 8: Mother of Motivation, Father of Faith
It felt strange at first. As if I had been woken from a dream and was gasping for air, and trying to work out where I was. For it was not the place Mum had left me in when we said goodbye this time last week. Ellie, where did we leave reality?
Over here: in the arms of the two people who are helping me prise Ellie out of Anorexia’s grip.
Mum and Dad came to visit me today. We arranged it over the phone, after I had called up after a long shift and burst into tears. Just because that is what I do, and it can seem alarming. It helps though, I promise.
I took one look at them and was bought back down to earth. Standing on the Citi 3 bus into town ready for a wander around this lovely city, I looked at my parents and remembered why I had come here, and what I wanted to achieve.
I’m not here for a job. I’m here for a change, and a chance.
It was so easy to slip into a dream. How lovely it would have been to believe that anorexia would have just let me go, just because we were busy and somewhere new. Different people and times, as if we could trick her into getting stage fright. Ellie, you still have anorexia. You still need to choose recovery, always.
We had a nice day. Lovely actually. We muddled our way down winding side streets, past the Colleges and into the Scholar’s Gardens. We sipped latte in the sun and took a picnic to the park. We watched punters wave big sticks from the river banks. We chatted gently about life and the universe.
They are so kind, and I am so lucky. I will never forget that, and so never forget myself. Not even amongst all these challenges and good things, and all this confidence. I will not forget myself, and must continue to recover it.
Look Ellie. Look at what you’re doing. Look how proud you’re making your Mum and Dad.
Tomorrow, I will register at a GP surgery as a temporary patient and get weighed; I’ve given up with the on-site debacle. I will also eat good meals and devour time as if I appreciated the luxury that it is, and how privileged I am to have so much of it.
Tomorrow, I will also start a new book and enjoy some of the homemade dhal Mum bought up for me today.
Tomorrow, I will try.
Ellie is taking part in an experiment this summer.
An extensive study on how far I have come in recovery, and how much further I have the potential to go.
From tomorrow, Change will be injected to all parts of my life. I will be leaving home awhile, and working in a land far away from my parents, doctors and comfort.
It is a job that people with long, important names thrive in.
Time will go haywire. Long days chasing students into activities, followed by curfew watches and counselling.
I will be away from an environment that nurtures the growth of recovery.
In order to adapt, I must test the power of the following belief: “If it is not trying to achieve recovery, you shouldn’t be doing it.” – Ellie, June 2018
This is going to force Ellie into uncomfortable positions. It will demand that she is flexible, that she pushes herself over the thin boundaries we have abided by for years.
She must bow down before her meals even after they aggravate Anxiety. She must lay herself down in favour of heavier responsibilities, and take up calorific arms against exhaustion to prevent failure. Over 500 students will push Anonymous over the limit, but Ellie must choose to tread carefully, following everyone else’s lead.
She will be expected to over-stretch the anorexic marks and, by doing so, will tear the knots out in handfuls.
This will be a juggling act. A never before seen routine: the spectacle of anorexia being forced to work with sleep, society, food and duties. They will all be tossed into the air and ordered, leading each other through each day, into a week. Two, six.
This is the purpose of this experiment: to see if a healthy routine can be developed and maintained in a new and threatening environment. This rich, crowded and exciting community could spawn all kinds of culture in Ellie. If I can adapt to unchartered territory and still navigate towards recovery, the ends of the earth could fall away to reveal more opportunities in the future.
During this experiment, we shall observe the anatomy of Change.
It’s skeleton could be made up of something so simple as belief. Might we direct it further, and establish what exactly makes a strong belief? What power might it have to manipulate the facts?
We might see a single positive belief topple Anxiety, one worry after another. A domino effect of realisations.
We may be able to identify signs of disease with ease. Even in that blurry future, we can already anticipate the vulnerable aspects of Change.
In this case, there are several areas of concern. One is exercise, the other is food.
How will Anonymous react when she is exposed to exercise? How might we prevent her catching the need to do any?
The spectre of different air, different scales and different mealtimes is already enough for Anonymous to predict that her weight will rocket the moment her adventure begins. This we know, this thought already established. What we are attempting to learn in this experiment, however, is what to do with that thought.
That infectious and frightening thought.
My meal plan will have wounds slashed into it by my timetable. What we must observe, is if Change can nurture the decision to cover the wound in calories so it can heal. Otherwise, it will simply leave a hole for hunger to thrive, and my recovery will start to rot.
Yes, we must scrutinise Change. I am so desperate to find evidence of independence. I am so desperate to prove I can manage.
There are other variables to consider.
Some have been easy to control: I have found somewhere to live that promises to be clean and quiet. A little kitchen for me to carry out the rituals of food preparation.
I have arranged medical provision when I arrive and will be weighed every week, just to check Change doesn’t have any destructive adverse effects. I will also be returning to my clinic mid-way through the summer. The corridors of the hospital wing I have haunted for over two years will be yearning for me almost as much as I will them.
Other variables are less compliant. The animal emotions that rage towards my plate, the thoughts Anxiety hurls my way to ward off Change. The unknown corners Anorexia can whisper from: I can walk that far.
Then there are them: the intruders.
They become so rowdy, so disruptive, they are just impossible to ignore. They peel my memory to shreds, piece by piece, and begin to rearrange it.
They call my memory a liar and retell a story of what really happened. A chronicle enhanced with extra senses and superpowers: oh, how I delved into another person’s head and rummaged around their judgements. How I chose the bad to take away; how I baited karma to bat it’s eyelid: a butterfly’s wing blinking in horror. The future is written off already. Intrusive thoughts take justice into an anorexic head, and squeeze it thin.
And of course, they’ve the additives that come with anorexia. Starvation syndrome, even when I feel so heavy, makes a light bite for anxiety. I’m so hungry for reason, I attach myself to the strongest one I can find. And normally, it an alien one. Imagined and unreal, but totally believable.
The damage isn’t what they take. It is what they leave behind. The ghosts of a paranoid future.
They come at their leisure.
At school, as I listen to a four year old child break down words – one letter at a time – time crawls out of my control. It lags behind my whirring thoughts, and soon I feel the chair under my bottom grip me, now for too long.
As the energy grounds onto my mat at the close of a yoga practice, I cast any energy back down into the mat. Ellie grounds herself on her spot in the studio, and retreats into herself. Waiting for her, is a thought.
An alarmed and angry thought suddenly pops up into my mind and refuses to budge. As the class quiets into stillness, it starts to fidget. It pokes and twists, stabs a knife into recovery’s back. It is the most difficult of all the yoga poses: shivasana – that of utter stillness. And an anonymous thought cannot hold with it. My energy is taken and ricochets up off on a tangent, flying sky high and terrified of the very thought of sitting still for 4 mins. The intrusion makes noise in my head, and disturbs my practice.
I cannot practice being me as I am in that moment, with an intruder hijacking my thought processes and driving them into a fat and maddening future.
What if this happens when I’m away?
This is what we are working on. This is an experiment on how well I can cope; even if only with my own excitement!
(Food for thought: define “well”?)
We expect Change to aggravate the intruders, so have made preparations for them. Intrusive thoughts never leave, but they can be encouraged to stand aside by distraction. I am expecting to be busy at work, and hope it will be enough to force a threat’s sharp point out from my side.
I think I can do it.
– Another thought, another belief. What power might positivity wield?
An Anonymous subject in a summer uniform.
Let us see what happens.
I’ve been trialling a new treatment for Anonymous this week.
It was prescribed by my nurse after she had briefed me on it’s previous success in other anorexia cases. A cheap and sometimes time consuming therapy, to be taken every evening just before bed.
Naturally, I was sceptical. Anonymous is suspicious of anything that might bring about the inevitable: she is wary of change. Why change, when my current prescription is working so badly? Why take the risk of finding something that actually does work, something that will pull me out of anorexia?
After one week, I am willing to believe this could be life-changing. I feel amazing, almost high.
The wonder drug? A “Positivity Journal”.
After I’ve brushed my teeth, put Anxiety in it’s pyjamas and filled out my food diary; I pull out a cloth-bound diary and a biro.
I write the date, three positive things that happened today, and three things to look forward to tomorrow. The first attacks fear, and the second attacks dread: the two strains of hopelessness. Three is a magic number, but doesn’t curse my entries as a rule. One day last week was simply crawling with good things, so I pinned all of them down under my nib.
Something positive is my final written word of the day, and I can go to bed and welcome sleep.
The best part is that I sort of understand the science of it. Whilst other treatments remain mysteries, this one is relatively simple, and completely under my control. Unlike weight gain – which has side effects more grotesque than the illness, so seems utterly pointless (in my anonymous opinion) – “positivity” is a relief. It is an instant painkiller for a bad feeling, and antidote to anxiety. “Antidon’t”, if you will.
Just like weight gain, I notice the medicine as it starts to work. Knowing I have to write three good things about the day later forces me to find the good things as time slips by. Each day has been turned into a treasure hunt for nuggets of positivity: the rain waited to start until I had reached the car; I made two old ladies on the train smile; I woke up to a crying cuckoo.
Better still is what can sometimes happen to the bad things. You see, when one single monstrous occurrence threatens to ruin an entire day of delicately placed positivity, Ellie gets defensive. She leaps upon this selfish fiend and pulls at it’s form, with the intention of turning it into something good. Failing that, she’ll tear off a handful an anxious period and call it a lesson, to be carried around and referred to as WORD. Only good things can come from being informed. It may keep a similar bad thing from happening in the near future.
This may not be a cure nor a sustainable source of help, but it is a diversion away from things that could aggravate anorexia. Fewer flare ups give Ellie more energy to focus on pulling thin pins from the side of recovery.
It gets better. No, it really does.
Writing down the good things in life is a natural remedy. Because it has no hidden agenda, no additives or calories – emotional or otherwise – anorexia just swallows it. It is an easy painkiller to administer.
Essentially, I am drugging Ellie with positivity. She is drip-fed the good stuff all through the day and a final shot in the evening sees the day pass into the night.
Positive features of the day mingle together and become a cocktail. Hope becomes a vision in these fumes. Every night for the last week, I have caught Ellie looking forward; already planning where she’ll look for good. This is a stark contrast to Anonymous, who still casts her eye around, anticipating the bad.
Journalling is a psychedelic experience.
Pulling a thought or a memory out of my head and forcing it onto paper has long been a comfort throughout my recovery. It always looks different down there, smaller almost. Not quite the monster it was when it was locked ink my head.
This “positive” journalling adds another dimension to the whole experience. An extra sense to guide me through the harsh terrain in recovery, which is mined with anorexic traps and triggers. The principal of evaluation remains the same.
Words stare at me from the paper, reflecting my thoughts back to me. There it is, all in writing. I marvel at them awhile. It is in these moments of reflection, that I am learning how to be grateful.
Having good things happen to you makes you grateful, not greedy. This is a pretty detail I’m gradually becoming aware of, even if I’m not convinced I’ll ever believe it. So much life can fall in the gap “knowing” and “believing”.
Yet it is this depraved and frightened belief that feeds anorexia. Anonymous justifies bad things happening by expecting them, almost greeting their occurrence with relief, as if I’ve repaid some of the debt to the universe I owe for simply taking up space.
How interesting it is to write that on paper.
Gratitude is a pleasant side effect to positivity, and is accentuated by reflecting on it.
It is a high like no other. I can’t believe what I’ve been missing, and what I still deny myself when I let Ellie retreat into black space.
By denying myself the pleasure of positivity, I have also been mistreating the good things.
Ellie, how do you treat the good things in life? As though you’re embarrassed by them, perhaps? As if they’re shameful, or somehow incriminating? Why must you push them away, as if you’ve no right to them?
Taking positivity has bought my fear out and demanded an explanation from it. Explain: explain why you cannot accept the good things for what they are.
I am one week into the course of “positivity”, and already I can feel the weight dissipating on my shoulders. Gratitude lifts the day out of my hands and casts it out of my control. It only invites me to chase the sun into the next day.
This week, I am grateful to have heard the cuckoo call. I am grateful to have felt a burst of rain lash against my face before the sun burst out like a boil. I am grateful to have heard the rain’s arrival: the sharp tap on a leaf or a window pane. I am grateful to never hear it descend, only arrive.
This week, I am grateful for space. I am grateful to have somewhere to roam, ponder, and grow.
This week, I am grateful for exposure: for good things to befall me disguised as baddies.
In the cinema, I sat next to large people eating large portions. The salty smell permeated the air, broken only by smacking lips. Ellie endured, and I thank her for proving science right: no, Anonymous, you can’t catch fat from other people.
In the car, I was strapped in with intrusive thoughts. I rode the day with a premonition: a threat glaring at me in my rear view mirror. Ellie endured, and I thank her for getting me home safely; for scrapping Anxiety’s script and rewriting how the day would be.
At home, we have been plagued by noise. Road-works and car horns, the crack of clicking bass from next door’s summer party. The house quivered anxiously. My nerves stretched past the point of anorexia’s tolerance with every day spent under house arrest from other people’s selfish intrusions. Ellie endured, and I thank her for not tearing all her hair out.
This week, I am grateful for exposure, because it shines a new light on my resilience. Still pale and flakey, but a hide strong enough to withstand small portions of life.
This week, I am grateful to have been rootling in the moment for something good, not scraping around in the future for something bad.
Of course, like all treatments, this one has it’s limitations and side effects.
Being on standby for something good is almost anxiety inducing. When time runs dry of nice things and I am left clutching at straws by the end of the day, I become aware of how desperate I feel. My life dwarfs next too everything I hoped to achieve today and everyday. Eventually I’ll retreat into myself to wallow in my misery, and let myself shrink.
Some days are easier to swallow with a positive pill than others. Time sometimes chokes on a trigger and too many thoughts churn reality into a sticky mess. It is easy to lose sight of the good when it is drowned in all the bad. It’s absence haunts me.
And of course, there’s that all too familiar sensation of failure when I am unable to see any good, or even any point. Blinded by anorexia, anxiety, or just the dull, a surrender is inevitable. I am hoping that with time and “positive” treatment, I can turn away from “failure”, and instead learn to manage it as “disappointment”. A hard task for anyone I think you’ll agree, especially if one hasn’t the ability to think straight anyway.
I know one shouldn’t get too excited by the initial results of a new medicine, but I can’t help feeling that this is some sort of magic pill. Time goes down smoothly, like thick drops of syrup.
Can you overdose on positivity? Imagination run away with the idea of the future, and forget that I’m not invincible, only inevitable.
Here are my three biggest positives this week: I made a new friend, I managed to do a headstand in yoga (perseverance and practice pays off!), and I put on weight.
Let me write that again, just so we can reflect on it. I put on weight.
A whole 0.4kg of positive energy, for which I will be grateful. Perhaps not quite yet, but soon, I will believe that this too is a good thing.
This too, is inevitable.
We must be grateful for the inevitable; else we will simply grieve.
A feast for the ears and heart, a score of temptations.
Ellie used to gorge herself on music, spending years binging behind her harp. She stuffed chords into the air and felt the notes grow fat, wobbling as they resonated off her harpstrings. She’d indulge herself in a joy nobody else could touch, not down there in the audience. Power ripened on her harp through grades and concerts. The horizon dilated, and I tripped towards it high on adrenaline. The strings shook, and notes blurred.
Music was a temptation away from dieting and exercise. It was a safe haven to install Ellie, a place she could lose herself in and know she’d always be able to find herself again. She could hide from herself, and drown her thoughts out in a melody.
To recover from Anorexia, I have been prescribed food.
Food to provide calcium, protein and potassium. Food to fix osteoporosis, amenhorea and a broken body image. Food for thought and food for esteem: food to give me strength to see myself clearly again, and food to pass judgement thereafter. Food to build up muscle, and food to build up self-worth. Love. Love?
Self-love is by far my biggest fear food.
Being presented with it makes my mouth water, and I become afraid. Trapped in this denial is all part of the punishment. It’s all part of the cleansing I must go through to rid myself of Ellie, and become Anonymous.
I haven’t indulged in self love for a very long time. It has always looked too tough, too chewy and complex to swallow, to understand.
My doctors and family sing a different tune. Their’s is a forgiving one. The tone is sharper, but melts into the background of reality like butter.
The lyrics clash horrifically in my ringing ears. The syncopated jangling of my nerves unsettles their “It’s ok” preludes. “Stop punishing yourself” a rhapsodic rasp and completely out of tune with the anthem I’ve sung all my life, and still do.
Anorexia treatment is trying to retune my thoughts so they are brighter, so that I may climb more major scales.
My Anonymous melody works. It speaks for me, sums me up with all my sins and contains me on a downward spiral.
To recover, I must tune in to reality. I listen out for it above the grainy images in my head, and try to sift through each one, sorting fears between ‘real’ and ‘imagined’.
Practising self love is a highly strung affair. Anonymous simply won’t swallow it: most of it won’t even make it to my plate.
A surge of inspiration was washed up after my Dad tuned my harp, and Ellie’s thumbs pricked. I plucked up some courage and a few strings, and with encouragement, I did it. I played my harp, and chewed on a sweet morsel of love and relief, peppered with nostalgia that sprung tears from my eyes in the final bars.
These strings have been plucked a thousand times, but not for the last two years.
Anonymous is a fool to suppose that playing the harp is any less a workout than standing, or taking the only light exercise I’m allowed. Twelve bars in, cramp killed the moment and my arms stiffened where they lay. My muscles froze over, petrified by the work that lay ahead. These fingers groaned in protest and these feet – in those shoes – shuffled clumsily along the pedals. And my back. Oh, my barren back. The ghost of posture’s past rattled in the empty pores of my spine. Holding up an armful of rosewood, 46 strings and a dead harp career, it was my back that cried out first when I plucked that first string.
Anorexia is finely tuned in to any form of sitting, and so harp practice causes a clash of peripatetic emotions: mostly alarm and panic. One or two attacks thereafter.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve managed to ease Ellie into a chair and force Anonymous to sit there and listen for 5 or 10 minutes, here and there.
For now, that’s all I can manage. And for now, that’s enough.
I chewed on this treat, listening to symphonic joy tremble my very being. Somewhere inside, I felt Ellie danceng again. She knotted and unknotted my tummy, lifted my arms like the willow trees in Marraconelo Way – my childhood home – and delved back into the music.
Thought process got caught up in this hedonistic party, and then I gave myself away. In a stuffy staffroom, I let slip to the headmaster that I played the harp.
Nice one Ells. You’ve done it now: you’ve sealed your fate and cast it into the music.
I wasn’t sure how to approach it at first. A harp performance in front of the whole school blocked up my future with exposure, humiliation, and ultimately, loosing my job.
My performance lurked in the corner of coming days, a real and gasping fear. There was so much that could go wrong, so many strings to hold and so many thoughts to order, reorder, disorder. How heavy would the silence be when it eventually fell?
I saw how it would be: held down and nerves wracked, fate screwing tighter.
No. Scratch that. We won’t make it to the end of the paragraph, I’ll lose you in the gloom.
I need to change the narrative.
Is it possible, Ellie, that your character had been feeling a little bit excited?
I waited in the wings.
Today, Ellie, you are not anxious. Feel that pleasant flutter, that fluid knotting, that movement? This is not the work of anxiety, who’s hand constricts around every sense and squeezes it tight, tight, tighter.
No, today you are nervous.
Oh, nervousness – my familiar friend! Oh, oh, oh – all is forgiven. Welcome back, you dithering twit. You are quite pleasant in comparison to your high-flying elder sibling. Anxiety is such a bore, you’re much more exciting.
Nerves, thanks for being here. Thank you for helping me.
How lovely it is to write that: that I felt something so normal and benign as stage-fright.
Ellie pulled me on stage, gripping me by my hair as it stood on end.
My fingers hovered over the strings, circling and skirting. They nestled between in the intervals. The silence was thick, and squeezed out from in-between the strings like honey. My fingertips traced the strings. C,D,E.
My harp hid me well. The scene was strung up and sliced into thin, bitesized chucks. Every face in the audience was blocked by a strip of nylon or brass, I couldn’t see my colleagues lining the hall, I couldn’t see the way out.
I had to hold this harp, this head, and the children’s wandering and wondering attentions.
I couldn’t hear the buzz of anticipation, only my silence, quaking in it’s final moments.
The wood weighed heavy on my shoulder, but held me close. I let the silence fall, and embraced music.
A far cry tuned in to where I was, and why.
The first note – that very first B – tore. It grazed the quiet and the melody frayed my nerves. Chords sparkled and strings sang. I nestled closer into my instrument.
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed performing. Enjoyment: another nourishing and indulgent treat.
That first B plucked the poison from my head and I was let go, lost in rolling chords. I played on, on and on, into the softness of the room. Then the peace ended, and I had to stop.
My portion of enjoyment was dwarfed by that of the school. I have never known 200+ children sit so completely and utterly still. One could have heard silence splintering. I made grown men cry and succumbed under the layers of myself.
Then the peace ended, and I had to stop. When the last child had left and the final note hummed, I fell over the stiffened corpse of who I used to be, and burst into tears. Awe-struck by what I had just found, terrified of what to do with it now.
There are so many calories in enjoyment. I was hit by a sugary rush of adrenaline and tripped through a day at work high on endorphins. I had so much energy, I simply couldn’t contain it beneath this skin. Surely, to sustain this feeling, I must make more room for it. I clung to the confused ecstasy like my leggings do my thighs, and let it carry me through the meals, trials and tantrums over the coming days. Eating food, for a moment, was easy. Logical. I had just seen what nourishment meant, how much power it gave me.
Only now, a day later, is that feeing beginning to ebb away.
Anorexic guilt bit gently into how long I sat for, how deceitful it is to pretend I’m anywhere near as good at the harp as Ellie was.
She’s biting down on her own lip. Not out of nerves, but anxiety.
I hope Anorexia feels threatened by my performance. I hope she saw and heard every tiny detail: putting myself out there, facing a fear; identifying and understanding how I felt and what I felt. Distinguishing between the reality of Nervousness, and the monstrous Anxiety that embellished my mind’s eye.
This has to be another step, another push into the next movement of Recovery.
If only a rest could come, and for my thoughts to quieten down.
I weighed Ellie.
I weighed an undergraduate at the University of Manchester.
I weighed a global harp career, playing in embassies, cathedrals and weddings for audiences including the Clintons, Barbara Streisand and David Walliams.
I weighed bow seat in MUBC Woman’s VIII.
I weighed a 10k PB.
I weighed a family.
I weighed friends.
Now, I weigh 22 years, and Anorexia.
Kg, bpm, kcal.
My Eating Disorder ate me up and left a statistic.
#whywait to weigh enough to be too much.
#whywait to diagnose and treat Eating Disorders: the mental illnesses with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illnesses.
It is the end of Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2018: let it be the beginning of a conversation, and the beginning of change to how we all manage the weight of Eating Disorders.
More awareness will throw time, money and attention behind healthcare services and education.
Awareness will throw weight at the wait: the 6 month gap between diagnosis and treatment must be filled out.
Families who witness these illnesses assaults must be given the support to manage the side effects inflicted on their own mental well-being,
Sufferers must know they are never alone, and that it is #oktosay .
I am lucky.
I was diagnosed and treated immediately. My clinic is a 45 mins car journey.
I am now 2 years into recovery, and have the constant (often undeserved!) support of everyone around me.
This should not be luck. This should be the norm.
Our postcodes are not sorting numbers. Everyone deserves swift and effective treatment, wherever they live – or survive.
I will not be including any pictures of me and Anorexia.
If you really want to, you may flip through any photos of me in the last 10 years: she was always there. Between BMIs 12.8-20, she was always there.
We just didn’t know what to look for.
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.