An Ode to Fear

I opened the book again. The picture was perfect and the directions were simple, with small steps sweeping down the page. A string of safe words nodded up at Ellie: oats, seeds, a nut or two. I studied it closer, scrutinising the riddles snaking down the margin. Ingredients were planting calories like sugar-coated mines. They made the steps slippery, and threatened to trip Anonymous up. Determination would flat on it’s face. It was a list corrupted by lust. A seductive tbsp of sugary anxiety; several heaped tsps of guilty indulgence. A pinch of terror. And yet, the picture made it look so easy. How hard can it be to follow a recipe? I shut the book and retreated.

Anonymous took a pencil to the margin of that recipe book, and started to count. Her hand spread numbers down the list. Calculations scrawled like graffiti, burrowing between the lines and unearthing something she could understand. g, tbsp, kcal. I could plate up my defaced proposal, and wait to see if Fear devoured it.

We watched clouds of coconut oil melt in the pan. Those fluffy clumps turned glassy, stained by streaks of honey. I had done the maths: Ellie could afford some honey. Dancing beads of spice condensed and smoked over the surface. The air was humid, and Anonymous flinched as steamy calories licked my face.
I poured half the mixture over the oats, then stopped again. A thick lathering was swiping into the cavities between seeds. Their toothy grins became sticky. The feathery husks of oats became soggy, and splintered pecans were soldered together. A hand held the pan, and I fixed my eyes on it’s contents. The sweet romance of coconut and oil was turning sour. Anonymous sized them up, boring into the eyes reflecting back at me. Gold died as it disappeared down the plughole. I poured temptation down the drain, drowning Fear’s snarls under a furious gush.
Ellie sighed, and retreated back to the task at hand. Once stirred, the finished product lay before me. It was slightly dry, but my excitement was wetted.
I watched the oven’s heat flatter a crumpled heap into granola. Spice speckled oats blushed gold and began to sweat. Fear melted away as the heat of the moment crept closer. Ellie, you just made granola.

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Oh yes I did!

Fear is a thug. Some say it’s mouth is a gash ripped by the past, others that it has been worn open by diseased thoughts. The creed of Anorexia bleeds from Fear’s lips. Anxiety chooses to retreat into this small familiar space, and listen to it’s grey prophecies about the doom recovery would bring.
The face of Fear is said to be horrifying. Lingering in acceptance means I would never have to behold it, I would never have to look it in the eye. Instead, Ellie watches it’s shadow walk circles around Anonymous. Fear is Anorexia’s most loyal and effective protector. It provides a quality service for very little: it never even has to materialise into reality, or prove itself to be true. All Anonymous needs is for me to know that it is there, waiting to gobble me up.
Recovery regards Fear with morbid fascination. What makes Fear so trustworthy? Ellie has been encouraged by Recovery to engage with it. It is 9:27am. Why must I wait until 9:30am to take my dose of nuts?
Oh Ellie, why did you do it? Why did you bring about that great plague of confusion? Why Ellie, why, did you try and communicate with Fear? You know it doesn’t like confrontation.
A single question exposes Fear’s illiteracy. Put on the spot, terror squirms uncomfortably. It offers an explanation always starting with the only two words it knows: I can’t – then silence. Take a long hard look at Fear, Ellie. Listen. See, it cannot justify itself. It blinks stupidly when I can produce evidence even Anonymous would be proud of. Total kcal of my regular breakfast vs. total kcal of granola. Anonymous never told Fear why, it only told it what. Educated by Anorexia’s deprivation, Fear is starved of logic. I can relate to that, except I at least am hungry for answers.
I wonder if Fear will ever be able to justify why I’m not allowed to gain weight.

May has wrecked havoc on my hospital appointments. The aftershocks of bank holidays and technical glitches have rumbled long into the weeks that follow. Anonymous yelped when she heard that I was going to be weighed later in the day this week. My plan, my clinic routine, was ruined.
Fear spluttered: I can’t be weighed in the afternoon because I can’t sit in the afternoon because I can’t sit after lunch because lunch will be ruined too because of time there simply isn’t time. Anonymous was exposed to disruption, and she responded using Fear. I was forced into adapting for a day.
We waited for Fear’s predictions to come true. Covering my eyes, I got onto the scales after lunch. Don’t look. You know how heavy the consequences will be.
The number was the same. Nothing had happened.
Well, Anonymous, we weren’t expecting that were we?

Fear is strong, but brittle. Recovery can strike success through it’s time-rotten hide and suck knowledge from it’s core.
Shards of a broken fear fly into my eyes, scarring Anonymous’ sight but clearing some of Ellie’s blind spots. I barely recognise the corpse of a broken fear.
Since I first tried my granola, I have had it four times since. It was glorious (slightly burnt – but I prefer the term ‘toasty’). Defeated Fear provides a reassuring history lesson, and Ellie is learning how to respond to it.

Recovery finally rewarded me this week. I could indulge both Ellie and Anonymous in a treat: a yoga class.

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Ready to go!

As I squeezed my toes over the mat, I tested the gravity of being allowed to try some exercise after almost a year. Despair almost choked me when I struggled – osteoporosis snarled in my back and my legs twitched in shock – but then I exhaled. I stretched, and pulled myself together again. Needless to say you’re not as strong as you once were Ellie, but stand up straight. You’re trying hard.
I think Anonymous missed the point of yoga. She panicked in the moments my teacher asked us to simply practice breathing: exercise? You call this exercise? Moments later she was appeased, high on movement.
Ellie had made an informed choice about yoga. She had chosen a class, because it would keep Anorexia’s obsession under control. The hour for exercise would pass and expire: stop. You need to stop now. The temptation to carry on, to push harder and faster, would be rolled up and stuffed away. Someone else would be in control of my exercise, someone else might know better Ellie.
I am proud that I chose this class, and proud to say that I shan’t be going back this week. I can still taste exercise’s addictive tang, even a year after being banned from it. I’m not strong enough to resist it yet.

I watched my yogi flex out of a shoulder stand pose, and fold her hands over her baby bump. The human body is capable of so much. Imagine what the mind could do, if it was allowed.

Some food for thought: I am excited to announce that the charity Youth Mental Health Matters has included “Eating for Ellie” in it’s awareness campaign. This new organisation brings mental health education into schools in the UK, and is spreading from the northwest nationwide with the gathering support of MPs. There is nothing more nourishing than education.

Horizons

I kept my eyes on the horizon. Restrained by a seatbelt and a speed limit, I handed my attention into the nervous hands of Distraction. They held my gaze over the landscape. Bushes flaked away like scabs as forests melted into moorland. My phone glared in disapproval as I scrolled. Lorde and Ludovico flooded the space between my ears. My focus slipped over Woman’s Hour and was dropped between the pages of the Times. Jenni Murray had been jeering at me through my headphones: I’m sitting too. I was contained in a car burrowing deeper and deeper down that tarmac canal. I felt Anxiety shudder when I accidentally looked at the dashboard, and saw the time. All those seconds saturating all those minutes – hours – now drained away into my lap, and into my thighs.
Keep your eyes on the horizon, Ellie. You’re over halfway now.

It was crowded in there. The ransom of being allowed to travel sat next to me in a cool box, packed tightly next to myself and my overnight bag.

Anonymous had been baiting me with Anxiety as the date of our departure crept closer and closer. I had to sit with it. Ellie and Anonymous had struck a deal that would allow me to sit in the car for a long period of time, and it was being carried through. Everything was planned, the horizon already sealed off.

Opportunity was panting when I hit “submit” on the UCAS website. Drunk on my smoothie increase, I had committed Ellie to a series of battles designed to test her. If she survives, she may be able to take her place at Exeter University in September. That single click shook panic out of dormancy, and it began to snarl.

Looking into the future, I beheld the monstrosity Ellie had agreed to take on.
Hours of sitting was curled up in a bed made from fear. The pungent smell of inactivity choked me, sweating with the effort of staying still. Calories grew like warts over it’s time rotten hide. Fat pulsating as the car’s engine shuddered to a stop at traffic lights. Congested worry clogged up the roads and caused a jam.
Wait, there is more.
Anonymous beckoned me to the mouth of Fear’s lair, and there I saw it. Gravity was being ousted out of sight and the monster began to swell. I watched that greedy creature gobble up the time Anonymous had designated for movement: walking; standing; moving. It’s heaving breath tickled my legs and made them grow stiff. I was stuck like this: stuck between a rock and a crazy place.
I looked at the car journey, and asked what it wanted with Ellie. It began to foam at the mouth. Contorted with rage at my insolence, sound frothed from it’s lips. We couldn’t understand them: we couldn’t order the series of interrupted threats. I couldn’t work out what was so terrifying about that car journey. It just was.

Something is disturbing us, Ellie. Lets starve it out.

I responded to Anonymous. We sedated Anxiety by restricting my food. Had Ellie been allowed her meal plan, my Anorexia would have flared up. That’s the nature of the beast.

I met Anonymous halfway, and prepared all the food I would need for the trip. Pages of calculations was used as evidence for my Anorexic logic. Panic polluted thoughts clouded everything Ellie had been taught to recite in times of recovery hardship.
You need x no. cal to maintain your bodyweight.
Therefore, if you eat < x no cal …
Fact and fiction were chewed over and spat out in frustration. I cowered away from reason when I felt threatened. Everything became disordered. Problems were produced to fix a solution; interruptions conversed with denial; riddles revealed themselves in plain sight. Nothing made sense. Something was trying to trick me. Guided by the nervous hands of distraction, we managed to tiptoe through the trip.

When I arrived at midday, a wave of survivor’s guilt washed me out of the car. I felt contradiction rot into consequence: I hadn’t eaten enough. Anonymous cruised across familiar ground by starving me of food and feeding me words. It had felt so easy: we remembered every turning, every slippery spot. Mum and Dad praised me for winning the motorway battle, and Ellie shrank. You cheated.

Ellie blinked in the spring sunlight dancing off the harbour. Waves peeled off the sea and crept up the sand to greet me. The masts of a hundred yachts reached up to the cloudless sky, applauding it in the breeze. Salt frosted houses lined the weaving street, coloured pink, blue, stone and slate. People’s mouths sprang into smiles under beards, piercings and mouthfuls of pasty. I had been so terrified of the journey to Falmouth, I hadn’t been allowed to get excited about where I was actually going. The car journey’s enormous presence hadn’t let me see that I would wander across a beach with my parents, or be dragged down cobbled streets by my dog.

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It was magic.

Not being allowed to sit for long periods of time has meant that I have been contained by a small radius around my house: a seatbelt of disordered thoughts. Hope smelt salty, and delicious.
Oh Ellie, why haven’t you bought enough food. I ordered a glass of milk in a cafe, trying to atone for 48hours of restrictions. Nothing can compensate for effort.

It has taken me nearly two weeks to write this blog post, because I couldn’t face what I had done. The threat of the car journey still snarls, wounded but not slain. Waves of retrospective panic dump Ellie at Anonymous’ feet: what were you thinking? Sometimes, those billows lose momentum and drop back, defeated.
I remember Falmouth flirting with recovery, and the Exeter campus charming Ellie with it’s possibility of a life free from Anorexia. There was so much colour: societies; subjects; gardens and books – books with topics drowning each other out as they called from the library bookshelves. Conflicting, not contradicting.
I just sat in a car. Huh. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to sit in a lecture.

Regret sighs as I read this over. Ellie wants to be better, I just don’t want to get better. The journey is riddled with contradictions to the logic that doesn’t make sense, not while I let my brain shrink in hunger.
Ellie averts her eyes from the horizon, and focuses on the morsel of Anorexia she is gnawing away at presently. To navigate this journey through recovery, I just need to trust the horizon is there, and that hope is still breathing.

If anything, that trip gave me something to chew over, and now write about.

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I think Billy copes better in a car than I do!

Burnt Toast

The Eating Disorder Unit smells like burnt toast.
Secure doors throw open and embrace me into the waiting room. Sharp lights, purring phones, the shuffling of paper and slippered feet. And the stench of burnt toast.
A smell so pungent, it wakes the spectre of family breakfasts, flames in our Bombay kitchen and team briefings at the boathouse. I watch ghosts float down the hospital corridors, devouring slice after slice.
I sign my name in at 08:58. The dates have flipped and fallen away above my signature for a whole year. Welcome back, another week. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of another week. My Eating Disorder Unit smells like rotting time: it smells like an Anorexic feast.
I leave with lingering panic, and the smell of burnt toast.

Anonymous has stretched out my time in recovery. It has worn thin, and torn away from countless opportunities:
That media company who commissioned me to lead their mental health campaign frayed. I left a deadline dangling, because Anonymous wouldn’t let me sit long enough to produce any work. Torn fragments spent at my desk saw sentences dissolve into nonsense: I couldn’t get my synapses to sync. I was so hungry. Your time is up. Time to move.
That Russell Group University who gave me an unconditional offer, which I now have to turn down. Anonymous wouldn’t let me sit on a train to visit: it was such a long journey.
That job I was offered in a school, which Anonymous turned down in favour of my waitressing job. There is more exercise involved.
That phone call I didn’t pick up because it wasn’t part of my afternoon routine.
That firework display I couldn’t watch, because the cold air began to eat me.
I looked at the date next to my name, and breathed in burning bread.
How much more time are you going to feed to your illness, Ellie?

Anorexia can remember the future, and it is huge. From the archives of a starving brain, she plays out the disaster of weight gain, and relives the horrors of health.
As I eat, my stirring brain starts working thoughts to the surface of it’s wound. These heavy ones are called memories, and they have caused recovery to go stale.

I have been presented with a mouth watering opportunity: attend a coastal university to read English in September. Plump with juicy promise, it would mean I could leave my job, I could move out. I could begin again.
Opportunity ripens, but it is too far to pluck. Time puts heavy pressure on the doubts that are already shaking Ellie from her daze.
I looked at the date next to my name. It’s May. Surely, there must be more to look forward to than my next meal?

This week, Reality has reeled Ellie in after she spent so long delving into Anorexic archives. Here is my reality: I am Anorexic, and I struggle to function on a day to day basis.
I am surviving on rations. My greedy heart steals calories off my tongue so it can rattle blood past hollow bones. White and red specs bubble in plasmatic rhapsody, rushing to the aid of delirious organs. They move with exhaustion. Sometimes they slack, and the pressure drops. My spine screams in osteoporatic rage. I can’t afford to indulge energy on body heat, so my skin cracks and stains purple. My brain is a corrupt and nervous system being ravaged by two warring minds: I don’t see energy again after it disappears into that shrunken space. Anonymous splashes out on lavish panic attacks to celebrate Anxiety, whereas Ellie wastes concentration until it fuses, blowing thoughts out of proportion. Power surges are followed by instant blackouts. Only weight gain is going to solve this, Ellie.

Every whiff of burnt toast is a reminder from Anonymous that I will not restore weight in time to be allowed to leave the clinic. Every rusty note marks another week that I have dragged Anorexia through, and Ellie still hasn’t agreed to put on any more weight.
There is still plenty of time for you to get better, Ellie. Her whispering logic echoes in my stomach: one smoothie, and you’ll pile on the weight. I have been listening since January, and haven’t put on any weight since. I still haven’t seen any evidence to support my Anorexic logic.
You haven’t earned the right to learn.

Hope is precious, and neither Ellie nor Anonymous want to lose it. Instead they make me gamble away time on an empty promise of the future.
It is true that if I eat, there is a chance I will restore enough weight to be deemed medically fit to start university. It is also true that if I eat I will gain weight, and be left a half-formed but fed body. I will have used up my rationed time and be denied my right to learn.
The face of the future is scarred with this uncertainty, and it’s ugly grimace rattles my recovery to it’s core.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew, Ellie, you’re starving time. I break the day into chunks that are easy to swallow, making it harder to chew over the next one – and choke. This is taking my recovery tactics right back to it’s basics: not trying to reveal what is feeding Anonymous, but rather how to contain her until Ellie is strong enough to take her on.
I don’t have the energy to bear the emotional surge of looking forward, nor have I learnt how to look back without being blinded. Wait Ellie, one day at a time.
In one week alone, I have seen the benefits of moving the horizon closer. Anonymous denied me my smoothie increases since they were prescribed daily. This week, I turned my brain’s energy away from the doomed deadline of weight restoration, and instead focused on finding a small bite-sized win everyday. It has been a delicious week of attritious smoothie glugging.

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The smoothie is back the smoothie is back!! (I call this one “GreenGoddess” – that’s me!)

I can’t call what tomorrow’s weigh-in will provoke in Ellie and Anonymous, but that is for tomorrow. I’m just savouring this chunk of today, I must not think about tomorrow yet.

This blog is a collection of small chunks in my recovery. This is not the long story of my battle with Anorexia: that cannot be condensed into a single chapter. Rather, let it be that this is the tale of Ellie, and her win of the week. A manageable moral, not a myth.

I left my clinic last week with the warm smell of burnt toast lingering in my nostrils. The smell of possibility: something so delicious could come in time. Prepare for the best in everyday Ellie, not the worst in the future.
Not university in sight yet, but a smoothie.

Bite-sized

I don’t know what I’d do without Anonymous.
She keeps me busy, and gives me something to think about. This small body has a small life. A little, pointless thing; war torn and shattered from the ongoing battle life serves up on a plate. But Anonymous helps. She keeps me safe in boredom: it is predictable, and manageable.
Anorexia gives me a purpose: to manage every portion. The blitz of chewing fat through the day is something Anonymous and Ellie are both weary of. My meal plan slices the day into bite-sized pieces, each day, everyday. I navigate through each hour-long morsel filling time until my next appointment: my mid-morning nuts, glass of milk, that smoothie.
We fill time to trick it into moving that little bit faster through each day, everyday. We can make it lapse, and relapse. One day at a time.
I go to bed tormented, knowing the whole saga will start all over again when my alarm goes off in the morning. Rising in the morning is rising to a challenge: I will get through today.

Since reaching my first milestone of 45kg, Ellie abandoned me. She was frightened, and I was left with only Anonymous for company.
She has always been there for me, she was always there to contain and content me in her dead line of sight.
Time has turned the act of recovery sour in my mouth, and Ellie is dismayed to say that two months after my biggest recovery win yet, we hid. Anonymous got away, snacking on a few lbs as she went.
This body made it easy for her. Spoilt by a number of calories, the human body will find a plateau to stash them, and then threatens to shrink unless the governing mind gives them more. It demands an increase.
I will not.
Recovery expects so much.

Anonymous is starting to eat me again.
Anorexia is an animal, she adapts to threat. This is the survival of the fittest. She grew camouflage, hiding in the undergrowth of effort in plain sight. Her tactics have changed. I would give a blow-by-bite account of every gory detail, but I can’t. I never see her coming: I just feel warm satisfaction rise like bile when I succeed in cheating. Avoided that snack; choosing that smaller one; walking, walking, walking. You don’t need that increase. You haven’t earned that smoothie. A small achievement, for a small life.
Well done.

The evolution of Anonymous has given her the strength to devour opportunity.
My restless spectre rattles windows of opportunity for movement. If we plan, we can squeeze in exercise, unnoticed. We can wear down the numbers on those scales.
Empty legs are marched along the same footpath, worn down by excuses. Trembling knees are forced into mounting the stairs at work by the hand that volunteers to do an exhausting shift. This decrepit spine is made to stand, because I must not sit.
We achieved something today: we exercised.

Anonymous needs my job to keep me moving, but Ellie needs my job to keep me busy. Life is waved in my face in all it’s colourful forms. Customers, colleagues and catastrophes are clad in stories that could be Ellie’s, if she were allowed. A night out; a dinner; a date. My mouth waters only for Anonymous to clean it up, embarrassed by my weakness.
I dread the long empty days off, where I am faced with filling time as my body weeps with exhaustion from the previous day. I haunt my days off desperate for something to do, something to distract Ellie from her own head.
Anonymous makes boredom salivating. As guilt rots the food on my tongue, I realise I have not lost the desire to lose weight. She is just so tempting.

My clinician’s eyes locked mine in a cold, hard stare. She leaned forward.
“Anorexia is clever, Ellie.” Don’t blink. “If you are not 100% committed to beating it, this illess will chew you up and spit you out. It will beat you.”
I look down.
The threat of forced exorcism still rattles me in my cage. Bitter panic rings in harmony with “pills”; “inpatient”; “hospital”.
No, please, no. Don’t commit me.
I don’t want Ellie to shrink, trapped between the four walls of this ward.
What would that achieve?

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The long put off increase!

It bulged as my straw sank slowly into it’s thick, quivering depths. The scarred surface was flecked with the veins of dismembered mango, and banana torn limb from limb. Spice burnt coconut milk like acid. The aroma rose into my nostrils, and I was bewitched. The little bottle felt heavy in my hand. A little bottle, for a little life.
You have permission to eat.
I felt cold wash over my fingertips as pulp crept up the straw.
I waited, my petrified tastebuds yearning.
I waited to feel it ooze onto my tongue.
Oh.

So Ellie, what does this smoothie mean? What would food, recovery, mean?

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Feeling more and more comfortable cooking new things for myself.

It’s an increase, Ellie, it means more.That sip will make your life bigger. This helping won’t be so small, so manageable, so bite-sized.
It will be fuller, ripe and sun-blushed: the fruit of effort.
That smoothie is an achievement Ellie, well done. I’ve did it once today, maybe I can do it again tomorrow.

Getting ill was easy; I didn’t have to fight anything.
I don’t know when I am going to let Ellie believe that Recovery is an ever evolving achievement. I dragged Ellie kicking and screaming away from death’s door, and have never worked so hard at anything in my life since. It just seems to be getting harder.

I know what I would do without my eating disorder. I would sit and guiltlessly gorge through pages and pages. My pen wouldn’t be snatched from my hand nor my body from it’s seat.
– I would write.

Strength Testing

Anonymous ate my spine.
It was chewy, with splinters from the doormat nestling in the gristle. She slurped the pores dry of the nectar of strength; a rare find, because Ellie never had much to begin with.
Anorexia took my spine, and gave me osteoporosis.
Anonymous took my spine, and gave me nerves.
Emotion rages through the shell of my bones and rattles Ellie to her core.
A gift from recovery, but a tool for Anorexia.

I don’t have the strength to bear the weight of Thoughts.
There isn’t room for them: they put too much pressure on the tottering pile of food and time and adrenaline and numbers and adrenaline and people and adrenaline –
– so they slam down onto my legs.
Blotchy bruises blush in blue and black.
They’ll claw at my skin: grab handfuls of cheek and arm and thigh – then pull – and pull, and pull.
Their fingernails burrow into my elbows and rip ravines up my arms. Frayed seams flood with quivering bulbs of salty blood.
The wall coughs in disapproval when they bounce my head against it. I watch glimmering specs dance, dive and dissolve to the symphony of thunder cracks.
Thoughts are released, and escape me. Ellie escapes them.
The moment is broken. For a moment.

Sometimes, I believe Anonymous: it was easier when I was starving.
Anorexia relieved me of the nebular kaleidoscope of feeling.

Recovery is strenuous.
Becoming ill was comparatively easy: I wasn’t fighting anything. I simply let myself drift into the cool embrace of numb indifference. Nobody will hurt a thin girl.
Please don’t hurt me.

The training programme is extensive, and entails emotional resistance and maintenance coaching.
Ellie is learning to manage the portions life serves up to her: all different sizes, textures and tastes.
I have not acquired a taste for strength, so Ellie makes it palatable by lathering it in thick layers of grotesque effort.

I am building a spine out of the broken pieces of Thought.

Food only cracks Anorexia’s surface.
I do not have the strength to sit. Lazy.
My muscle tissues weep in stagnant frustration. The food – you haven’t earned it – wallows and oozes into my cells. You’re getting weaker.
See, I can feel it. Sitting here, pen in hand, I can feel it.
Feel it.
Fat is not an emotion, Ellie. No, you cannot feel it.
Please sit another minute, please finish this paragraph.

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Discovered the power of green juice to fuel a busy day at work!

I am not pacified until I fly high with exhaustion. You need to earn this.
I have tried flexing my muscles at that thought.
After work, as I hand over, I have accepted the invitation to sit in the office, rather than stand.
I counted a full minute in the car, during which I didn’t twitch unnecessarily.
I chose not to mount the stairs at work. There are 15 of them: they make my eyes drool and Anonymous’ mouth water.
When I cried yesterday, I sat down.

After marching about the floor at work, I applaud my muscles but worry for Ellie. Anonymous has gotten a taste for the activity on a working day, and she haunts me with it on my days off. Move.
I can’t find the strength to sit, and it makes me worry for the future of my recovery.

I shift the weight of thought from one shoulder to the other: when I do something brave, I stand up straight. I use my pride to straighten my porous posture. I choose not to react to a thought, but sit with it for a moment.
Recovery is training Ellie how to stoke fiery melancholy and thaw out anger. She is teaching me how to balance these emotions on my fragile frame.
She has promised to introduce me to Better: I will manage Better, because I will know Better.

An aftertaste: I re read this entry, and felt nothing. There is no room for more triggers, least of all for shame.

Mirror Mirror

Mirrors are moody objects, and they have unpredictable personalities.
One can understand why: the see so much, and show us the memories we’d rather forget.
Mirrors view time. They don’t watch it, but they look and show us the marks the past has etched upon ourselves.
Most mirrors want to be left in peace to reflect on all they have seen: so of course they become frustrated when we approach them demanding answers.

They tell us what we expect to see so we leave them alone: they are well practised liars.

Anonymous looks in the mirror asking to see defiance.
Before her, a resilient hard worker materialises, and Anorexia sees the potential.
Tired eyes are a sign of endurance; a sign that I can survive pain, alone.
Anonymous is pleased.

Ellie looks in the mirror asking to see achievement.
Before her materialises a resilient hard worker, and Ellie sees determination.
Tired eyes are a sign of satisfaction; a sign that I deserve to take up the space I stand in.
Ellie is pleased.

Today, I looked in the mirror and no longer knew what to ask for.
I tried beauty, but the mirror laughed: “I wouldn’t know how to describe it. What a waste of time.”
I tried happiness, but the mirror snorted: “would you even appreciate it for what it was? What a waste of time.”
Finally I asked for the truth, and the mirror was silent. All it could present before me was a pair of tired and confused eyes.

All I can see in the mirror is lost time.
Every day I starved myself of food, I watched the mirror squeeze my reflection.
Every day I passed running, cycling, swimming, pacing and jigging; I watched the mirror scar my reflection.
I watched the mirror unleash the ghosts of the past on Ellie.

Anonymous saw that I felt threatened and wanted to hide, so asked the mirror to show how truly obvious a target I was.
“Lazy, massive, greedy.”
Anonymous saw that I felt used and hurt, so asked the mirror to show me how truly worthless I was.
“Useless, dismal, empty.”
Anonymous uses my mirror as a weapon in her war against my recovery. She tells me to see things that often aren’t there: only phantoms from the past.

When I eat, Anonymous becomes restless.
On my bad days, I slip.
She makes park further away, or up a hill: so I can walk off that teaspoon of hummus.
I get up early and pace: so I can feel my body working off that banana from yesterday.
“Move. You’re greedy eating so much, you move so little.”
At the end of the day, I weep bitterly when I am forced to reflect on another day wasted.
A day sabotaging myself just to silence Anonymous, even if only for a moment, is lost time.

On my good days, Ellie is restless to see progress.
I never ask the mirror to show me progress, because mirrors live in the past. It will not show me the future.
I let myself withdraw from university to recover: “Ultimate failure”; “Lazy”.
I ruined Anorexia’s plans you see: she can hunt better when her prey is unhappy and isolated.
I don’t recognise myself anymore.
I am pinning my hopes that as the scales shift, Ellie’s reflection will start to emerge.

Each day I either delve into the past, or progress into the future.
As it stands, the scores are even.

Anonymous claims she is winning.
Her victories include the fit I had in a restaurant this week when I tried to eat out I was presented with a menu of the unknown: and it was too much, too big.
The trophy for Anorexia was when my doctor had to use the child’s arm strap to take my blood pressure. (It has purple dinosaurs on it, and I can’t tell if they are laughing at me or not.)

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Guess who ate soup!! (Spiced Lentil by Ella Mills, avec olive oil!)

Ellie has won some battles!
I have nudged my weight up by 1lb this week!
I also cooked with some olive oil, and I can confirm that defiance tastes delicious.
And not to boast about how brave I’ve been: but I also ate lunch an hour later than normal, and hardly noticed.
The trophy for Ellie was a job: now that I can adjust my mealtimes a little, I can get a job.

Everyday I feel the progress in my recovery.
I still see a pair of tired eyes, but that is because I am a resilient hard worker.
In comparison to this recovery thing, becoming ill was almost easy.
Changing what I see rather than how I look is draining, but I let myself get into this mess. Therefore, I know I can get myself out again.

(The beautiful featured image is a watercolour painting by Louisa Fox, a very talented friend of mine.)

Running from Recovery

The diagnosis was a sign of defeat.
I had failed: my body has failed me, and it has failed Anonymous. We were devastated, but we helped each other through it.

“Ellie, you need to stop running. You need to stop high impact sports and relax, or the consequences will be fatal.”

I have heard many variations of that prediction over the last few months from worried friends. For some reason, it sounded different coming out of a doctor’s mouth. Suddenly my whole life has been turned into a numbers game: kg; bmp; percentage.
First Anonymous raged, and she scared me. “You are lazy. You are worthless”. Ellie wept, then they made up.
“We will be together, forever. We can do this, we can endure, we can get stronger; keep pushing. We will make a plan for the future” So very comforting.

We rely on movement. We feast on the euphoric pleasure of endorphins and pain and Anonymous relishes my misery.
I would get up at 6am just to pace before cycling through the wind and rain to the gym.
On a breakfast of three almonds, I did a 5k run and weights session before power walking 30 minutes to an exam, just so I could justify sitting it. Three almonds had been greedy, really.
Keep pushing.
I left the cinema after 20 minutes because I had sat for too long; I left lectures after 15. I stopped meeting friends for catch ups over coffee because surely that was too lethargic, too indulgent. That’s what Anonymous told me.
I would shudder at the very idea of getting a bus anywhere; nowhere is too far to walk or cycle, no time unseemly.
Anonymous was pleased. Anything to keep the weight down, to slowly torture myself because it made me stronger. Anonymous made me stronger.
But she has made Ellie weak.

“You need to stop running.”
You are lazy.

Oh, my friend is clever. She’s been helping me since the bombshell was dropped, you see. She has found new ways of pushing, of burning, of pushing the weight down further still. We have found ways around resting, recovering, of relaxing. That would be lazy.
Keep moving, you’re so lazy.
Every mouthful tastes shameful, selfish and undeserved.

Ellie needs those mouthfuls. Ellie knows she is sick – Anonymous would surely take care of all that? “Of course, I will make you stronger still”.
Ellie walks everywhere in the heat of the day.
She has panic attacks for eating what she is told, then having to sit.
She gets up at the crack of dawn to do a few stiff and measly planks and sit ups; reminiscing how good it used to feel for her hips bones to rub uncomfortably on the hard floor.
Nothing is good enough for anonymous anymore. Everyday is war.
Moving, keep moving. You are lazy.

There is something about fear that has rattled Anonymous. The more Ellie feels it, the more courage she is given – the louder Anorexia screams, because she is frightened too.
Through the miserable, guilty bites of carrot, I am being forced to listen.
Doesn’t Anonymous make me strong? Doesn’t she help me keep the weight off? Isn’t she right?

Keep moving.
Everyday, I am making small steps to stop running from recovery. Ellie has realised she is tired: I am so tired of having to pick a side.

Is it an admission of failure and defeat to take a bus? To eat an apple AND take a bus? Will I gain weight? Should I gain weight? Do I deserve it? Have I earned it?

I really want to be allowed to run again. I want to be strong again.
The problem is, I need to accept that I need to stop running from recovery in the first place.

I have stopped running, and I have stopped denying it. This is a step.
I had the first lie in for 11 months yesterday, and it was beautiful. It was hard, it was controversial, but it was beautiful. This is another step.
Maybe tomorrow, I could read my book for half an hour? This would be a step.

I am going to keep moving, but this time I will have a direction: towards recovery; towards running; but mostly, towards Ellie.